By Alicia U. <email@example.com>
Submitted: October 2003
Summary: Lois and Clark's blissful celebration of Clark's birthday is interrupted by Superman's duties and, more ominously, by a crazed Superman groupie.
"Happy birthday, dear Cla-ark," Lois Lane half-sang, half- whispered into her husband's ear. With each word, her mouth inched closer. Her hot breath on his neck made him shiver involuntarily.
Snuggled close together in a small, secluded booth in a dark corner of Luigi's Italian Restaurant, they were glad the two candles burning on the table provided the only light around them providing the illusion of complete privacy.
"Happy birthday to you," she finished in a deep, seductive tone.
By the end of the song, Lois was practically sitting on Clark's lap with her mouth poised mere centimeters from his soft skin.
Her every breath teased him mercilessly.
He wanted her … now.
As the song ended, Lois closed the last few millimeters between her lips and Clark's face. She trailed a diagonal line of warm kisses from his earlobe across his cheek towards his mouth. When her lips softly connected with Clark's earlobe, he shuddered slightly in anticipation. She had deliberately planned to elicit just this reaction. He was going to get an uninterrupted night alone with his wife for his birthday, the best present ever.
They hadn't had much time alone together in the last few weeks. Lois couldn't even remember the last time they'd had an entire evening to themselves with no interruptions from work or from Superman. Tonight, she was planning to change that. Although, to Lois's dismay, she could never control emergencies, she could control almost every other variable. She had meticulously checked and rechecked schedules to make sure they were completely free all night tonight, checking everything she could imagine. The next twenty-four hours would be her husband's most memorable birthday ever.
Lois had planned a special surprise and she was hoping to get just as much satisfaction as Clark surely would.
Before she kissed his lips she pulled away slightly, ignoring Clark's groan of protest. The sexual tension was palpable with her hands slowly rubbing circles along his upper thighs, tips of their noses touching, mouths millimeters apart. They wanted each other. Badly.
Even though Clark's heart raced wildly and his skin tingled wherever Lois's mouth or fingers had touched, he knew that they were still in a public place. He needed to regain at least *some* control of his libido or else …
"It's not even my real birthday until tomorrow," he sputtered. Clark certainly wasn't complaining, but he needed to say something, anything, to get his mind away from the pleasure Lois was giving him.
Lois drew one of her hands away from his leg and rested it on his chest, whispering almost dismissively, "It must be tomorrow somewhere in the world."
She snuck a quick kiss, giving him a taste of what was to come. It was a wordless promise of so much more. He couldn't even imagine what she had planned for later!
"Mmm hmm," Clark blindly agreed. He hadn't even heard what she had said. It hadn't taken much prodding, but Lois had broken his powerless resolve.
He was weak, so weak. Kryptonite had nothing on Lois Lane's kisses.
So what if they were still in the middle of a crowded restaurant? They would give the other customers a show very shortly. Clark wrapped his powerful arms around Lois's slim body and pulled her onto his lap. He captured her soft, moist lips in a hungry, desperate kiss. Groaning deeply, he longed to release the pressure and tension that had built up for over a week. It had reached a virtual state of emergency tonight when she started this seduction.
He tasted the remnants of the chocolate mousse dessert still on her lips and tongue. She tasted so good. He hoped it would never end. Lois was like a drug; he could never resist the addiction. He needed Lois in every facet of his life.
Lois moaned softly as his kiss became harder, more demanding. He pulled her as close as he could with one arm as he ran the other hand up and down her back. Lois's fingers tangled in his soft, thick hair, pulling his head as close as she could. No, she hadn't planned this development, but she certainly wasn't arguing. It was an unexpected bonus, a situation where she didn't mind losing control.
They explored each other's mouths with an uninhibited hunger and passion. Their tongues danced an erotic tango neither wanted to end.
"Ahem," a fake cough, loud, obnoxious interrupted the couple's reverie.
Whoever it was, Lois wanted to scream, "GO AWAY!" but Clark's lips kept hers too occupied to speak.
They were still in the middle of a crowded restaurant. Nothing could change that fact, as much as they both had prayed for the crowd around them to disappear. It had been so long since they had been alone together, yet they still weren't truly alone. At times like these, they needed a magic wand to make everyone else disappear. Too bad Lois wasn't Samantha Stevens from 'Bewitched'. Then she would only need to wiggle her nose to create an illusion of complete privacy. Why didn't Superman come with a vanishing power? His other powers were cool, but that would be perfect!
Too bad it was a fleeting fantasy and would never happen in real life. Even Superman's powers had some limitations.
Lois and Clark reluctantly pulled apart and stared at the small waiter who had so rudely interrupted. The little bug was wearing a knowing smirk both Lois and Clark wanted to wipe off his face. In the same annoying, obviously fake Italian accent that he had been using all night, he said, "Can I get you anything else? A room?"
"Um, no, no, thank you," an embarrassed Clark said quickly.
"Just the check," Lois said simultaneously. The sooner they could get out of there, the better for everyone. She hadn't even snapped back at that stupid waiter for that sarcastic comment. He had better consider himself lucky that she was in such a good mood tonight.
As the waiter sauntered away from the table, obviously thinking himself very witty, Lois and Clark turned to each other again.
Lois's cheeks were flushed and her lips were slightly swollen from the pressure of their kisses. She looked absolutely beautiful, even with her slightly mussed hair and smudged lipstick. Clark wanted nothing more than to ravage her once again.
Clark's cheeks were flushed. He looked slightly disoriented, his eyes still clouded with passion. His hair was sticking up in the back in a way that was incredibly endearing, making him look like a little boy. Although he was Superman and resistant to any physical harm, his reaction to Lois's kisses rendered him more vulnerable to her charms than any red-blooded American male. She delighted in knowing that she could make the strongest man in the world crumble under her soft touch. Looking at him now, Lois wanted nothing more than to kiss him senseless.
To break some of the tension until the waiter returned with their check, Lois said, "Hmm, I think the closest he's ever been to Italy is watching Godfather Part II."
Clark laughed and had to physically hold his arms back to keep from grabbing her and pulling her to him. "Mmm, true. Probably not even that close."
Lois leaned against his shoulder and said, "But we can't hold that against him. I mean, it's not everyone whose husband can fly to Italy on a moment's whim."
"Well, uh …"
Clark didn't have to answer, for the waiter had returned with the check. Lois quickly took some bills out of her purse and folded them into the billfold on the table.
"You had this all planned, didn't you?" Clark asked in amusement at his wife's quick action. He'd known she was planning something for his birthday, and had been waiting all day to see what it would be. So far, she hadn't disappointed him — not that she ever could. Anything she did would be amazing.
"You'd better believe it, Kent," Lois said in a suggestive tone. Everything was planned to the letter. He knew her well enough to expect that. She laughed as she stood up, pulling him with her.
Clark chuckled good-naturedly as he leaned down to grab Lois's jacket from the back of the chair. As he helped guide her into the wrap, his hands glided against the soft, warm, bare flesh of her arms and shoulders. The feel of her smooth skin sent torturous pangs through his body. They needed to get out of here … quickly. He could already feel everyone in the restaurant staring.
As Clark guided her jacket over her shoulders, chills raged through Lois's body. As good as it felt, Lois knew she had to get out of there … quickly. If Clark didn't stop soon, she was going to turn around and kiss him senseless, and they'd put on a show for the rest of the restaurant.
Lucky for both of them, as soon as Lois's jacket was in place, Clark's hand instinctively fell to rest on the small of Lois's back and they began to walk quickly toward the exit. Soon, they were finally outside in the cold winter air. They were free!
Not exactly free. They still had the whole street to worry about, but at least they had escaped the shackles of the crowded restaurant. People were less likely to stop them if they started kissing on the street. If it got too hot and heavy, they could always slip into an ever-present dark alley and Clark could change into Superman and fly them away to absolute privacy.
Lois shivered involuntarily as she tried to acclimatize herself to the cold air as they began the short trek home. Thankfully, Lois had chosen a restaurant that was only two blocks from home. Was that ingenious planning, or what?
"Are you okay, honey?" Clark was sensitive to his wife's every discomfort since his body didn't seem to have any active pain receptors. Clark wrapped his arms around her and wrapped his jacket around both of them.
"Mmm, much better," Lois said softly. The heat of Clark's body against hers was doing more than the jacket to ease her suffering … or to create an entirely different kind of discomfort. She quickly glanced at her watch. "Clark, in just over two hours, you'll be thirty-one years old."
"Don't remind me." He groaned audibly; of course she had to remind him of how old he was getting. It seemed like everyone and their brother had to remind him of his age right around his birthday. And now Lois was doing it too. What a mood killer!
Lois laughed at his tone. This was the one time she could make fun of him for being an old man — after all, she hadn't even turned thirty yet. Okay, her birthday was coming up, but that was a moot point right now. Instead she said in a fake, whiney tone, "Aww, but, Clark, don't you want to see what I have planned for your special birthday celebration?" Her voice dropped as she finished, "You, me, all alone …"
"Just the two of us?" He inwardly gulped, as he guided her up the steps to the brownstone. She could have anything planned for tonight, and he was desperately excited to find out what it was. Tonight was going to be memorable; of that he was positive.
As Lois forced the door open, she said, punctuated with kisses, "Just … the … two … of … us. No interruptions, no distractions, just the two of us … alone … together."
Clark shivered at her words. Just the two of them. Alone. Together. For a night of … closeness. His mind raced with ideas of just what she could be thinking about. All he knew was that he'd be a fool to stop her, whatever she had planned. It had been too long since they'd been able to have an uninterrupted night, or even thirty minutes, alone together; he would be happy with anything she could imagine.
In the doorway, Lois turned in Clark's embrace so they were standing face to face. She stood up on her tiptoes and reached out to capture his lips with her own. This wasn't at all how she had planned the evening to go, but he was just so irresistible. His lips were like double chocolate fudge ice cream, sweet, soft, and addictive. She could never get enough.
Clark stepped through the door and somehow managed to shut it. She had caught him by surprise again, but he wasn't complaining. Her lips felt so wonderful everywhere they touched. He reached under her jacket and helped her slide it down her shoulders, but didn't want to break contact to allow her to shake it off.
"Mmm, this is *so* good," Clark moaned when Lois broke the kiss. Her hands had reached underneath his suit jacket and he shrugged out of it. "Lois, you're driving me crazy. You *know* what pasta does to me."
Lois giggled coquettishly. "Yes, I *do* know. It's all part of my master plan."
"When are you letting me in on this master plan?" he asked as he kissed her cheek.
"In due time," she said softly. "It will be worth it. Believe me."
Thinking about their recent bad luck and lack of intimate contact, Clark sobered into a pensive tone. It had been too long since they had been together, something he couldn't live without for much longer. "I've missed you so much."
She turned to catch his eye as she whispered, "I've missed you, too." After planting a soft, teasing kiss on his lips, she continued, "Every part of this evening has been so …" She paused, allowing Clark to press her back against the couch. "… wonderful."
"Mmm, you've hit a home run." He quickly pulled away and sat up starkly, his arms falling limp at his side. "Oh my god, a home run!"
"A home run?" Lois had no idea why he had pulled away, but she knew that she wanted to keep close contact with him. She didn't care about sports metaphors, so why was he analyzing his own in the heat of passion? Why had he pulled away?
Lois tried to move back to the position they had been in previously, but Clark wasn't cooperating. What a spoil sport! She inched closer to him and began kissing his neck and moving up towards his mouth.
"Oh my god, I totally forgot," Clark said before Lois's lips caught his mouth, again making him forget how he was going to finish his sentence.
Lois pulled away reluctantly as his words registered. Oh no! Wasn't this how it always started? "Forgot what?"
This couldn't end well. He had that deer in the headlights look he always seemed to get whenever he had something he didn't want to tell her.
Why did he have to remember this now? Why had he scheduled something for the night before his birthday? Was he stupid? He didn't want his subconscious to answer that question.
"Superman what?" When he didn't answer, she offered her own suggestions. "A scheduled hostage situation? A forest fire? A Middle Eastern peace summit?" Her voice was edged with skepticism. Clark would leave, and her meticulously planned birthday evening would be ruined. Even worse, their string of evenings without making love would grow to an unbelievable level. Both felt an all-encompassing passion for each other, but they hadn't been able to act on it in so long. Their separation was becoming painful.
Lois was mad; he knew it. Even though it would sound trite and insufficient to express his pain, he needed to preface everything he said with a profuse apology. "Honey, I am so, so, so sorry." He tried to pull her close again, but she squirmed away. The mood was effectively ruined. Sighing deeply, he cursed his treacherous memory. "I just remembered, Superman promised to umpire a celebrity softball game tonight."
"At 10 pm?" Lois looked at him incredulously, still not believing their night had been ruined so quickly. She wasn't exactly mad; the feeling was more frustration than anything else. During the evening she had so intricately planned, Superman got in the way. Did the universe hate her?
Clark sighed loudly. "It's only seven on the West Coast."
Why did he have to remember this right now? He had killed the mood for the entire night — before he had learned anything about Lois's surprise. Why couldn't he have forgotten? Then Lois wouldn't be mad at him now and they would be well into his birthday surprise. But then the Pediatric AIDS Foundation would suffer without Superman at their event. It was a tough choice, one he resented having to make.
The Pediatric AIDS Foundation would have survived if he hadn't volunteered his time. His relationship might not fare as well. He hadn't considered his own needs. Another night of separation might kill him.
"Really, Clark? Umpiring a celebrity softball game?" Emergencies she could understand, but celebrity events? He couldn't *expect* her to sympathize.
"It's for charity." He shrugged, unable to offer any further explanation. "You know I have trouble saying 'no'."
Lois's eyes flashed a spark of anger. "But you can say 'no' to me." The second the words left her mouth, she regretted them. She couldn't compare the two! He wasn't exactly saying 'no' to her. This was a choice between a night alone with his wife and an event that could raise thousands of dollars for an important charity. As much as she wanted her husband at home with her, she knew the charity needed his help. She was selfish for wanting to control him. No, she wasn't! The charity was selfish for taking her husband away from her! She didn't want to control him, but that didn't mean she had to share him!
Clark had backed himself into a corner and he couldn't escape. "No, honey, I mean, of course not. You know I'd rather be here with you, but Superman …"
Lois sighed deeply. Such was the peril of being married to Superman; she had to share him with the world. "Just go. I guess the charity needs you more than I do tonight."
"I never said that!" He was so stupid, forgetting he'd even made this commitment and then remembering it at the most inopportune time. Hoping she wouldn't resist this time, he reached out to try to bring her close again.
Lois shrugged out of his embrace, forgiving him, but still not wanting to touch him. "Just go, Clark. The whole night is ruined anyway. What's one more night that we're not together?"
Clark sighed loudly. He looked at her, the pain of their intimate drought more than evident. "One more night might kill me. I can't believe it's been eight days, seven hours, nine minutes, and two seconds since we've made love. I can't take another second. I may go insane."
Lois smiled at him slightly. He was obviously just as desperate as she was, counting the seconds since the last time they had been together. "What's another three hours or so," she teased, her light tone clouded by an undertone of desperation.
"Three hours! It sounds like an eternity," Clark moaned.
"Just go. Maybe the game will be over quickly so you can hurry home for your surprise, birthday boy."
Clark groaned deeply; he was going to miss the birthday surprise. It would be at least another night until they would be together. Surely, Lois would be asleep by the time he finally got home. "I don't *want* to go, honey, but Superman …"
"*Has* to go," she finished, resigned to the fact that she couldn't make him stay.
"I'll be back soon, honey. I promise." He didn't want to go, but he couldn't back out of a promise Superman had made more than a year ago. Why did he have to be Superman? He and Lois were probably the only couple on earth that had to deal with the husband literally flying off to save the world. If only he were normal, they would be upstairs right now celebrating his birthday in the way she had intended.
Lois nodded slowly. "Very soon?" How long could a softball game take?
Clark leaned down and kissed her softly on the lips. "Wait up?"
Lois half smiled, and whispered, "Always."
"I love you, too."
Even though neither wanted him to leave, Clark slowly got up and spun into his Superman Suit. He kissed her softly on the forehead and then on the lips before he flew out the window, leaving Lois alone … again.
Lois watched the window and imagined him flying back in the way he had just left. Maybe he had gotten his days mixed up. Maybe the softball game wasn't today after all.
He hadn't; it was. Clark *always* remembered the right day. Damn Superman and his photographic memory.
The night had been so promising. She had been sure their drought would have ended by the end of the night. It just wasn't meant to be. They were obviously meant to be celibate forever. The fates were always working against them in a deliberate plot to make her crazy.
She had planned to give Clark a birthday to remember for the rest of his life. Dinner had gone by swimmingly. The food had been excellent, and the atmosphere of the restaurant just perfect for a little fooling around. She had planned that part of the evening flawlessly. But that hadn't been the important part of the evening. It had been a little taste of what was to come.
Instead of the romantic birthday evening with her husband dressed in the birthday present she had bought for him, she was now resigned to a night alone with the television, dressed in her fuzzy, flannel pajamas.
After she had changed into her warmest set of pajamas, Lois came back downstairs and snuggled up in the corner of the couch, wrapping herself in a large, warm afghan. If she wasn't going to have an exciting, sexy night, she was going to opt for comfort and warmth. She fully intended to stay up until Clark got home and ambush him when he flew through the window. At this point, she didn't need to be dressed in anything sexy to entice him. It had been so long since they'd been together; he would undoubtedly be ready to ravage her even if she was wearing a paper bag. Maybe she should abandon the seduction idea and opt for the paper bag option.
She grabbed the remote control and flipped through the channels, subconsciously wondering if the charity softball game was going to be televised. If she couldn't spend the night with her husband, at least she would hopefully be able to watch him. It almost made her feel more involved.
With over four-hundred channels, there was a good probability this game would be on one of them. Channel forty-four looked promising; it was running some sort of celebrity event. When the familiar blue and red flashed across the screen, Lois put the remote control down and settled more comfortably into the couch. Clark's jacket was lying on the floor, so Lois picked it up and wrapped it around herself. Even though her night was ruined, at least she could feel close to him, even if they weren't together.
These ruined nights were coming more frequently. Before she had decided to marry him, Lois had realized that being married to Superman would be difficult. They would never be truly alone. She would always be required to share him with the world. But knowing and accepting were two different things. Superman belonged to the world, but Clark Kent was *hers*. Sometimes, she had trouble accepting that Clark belonged to the world as well. Clark was *her* husband.
But he had been Superman first.
Couldn't she be selfish sometimes and want him for herself? Didn't she have that right as his wife?
She wasn't exactly mad at him for leaving — she knew and accepted why he had left. It was more a sense of painful tension escalated to a boiling point. Of course there was sexual frustration, but there was a deeper pain as well.
She was angry with Superman. There, she admitted it. Superman kept coming between them, always invading their privacy at the most inopportune times. The reality of being married to both Clark and Superman was beginning to wear at her nerves. She wanted to spend time with Clark, but Superman always had something else to do.
She needed to stop thinking of her husband as two people.
But he really *was* two distinct people — Clark *and* Superman. They both had full, distinct lives.
She loved both parts of him. They melded together seamlessly to create the man she had fallen in love with.
He had two separate lives, and she wasn't exactly sure where she fit.
Tonight wasn't the first time he had left her like this. Just two nights ago, they had been ready for bed when Clark remembered Superman had promised to attend a hospital reopening in New Zealand. And she couldn't protest that. After all, the charities Superman chose to help were very worthy and deserved his help.
Her husband wasn't leaving her, but it did cause them to be separated. There wasn't any way she could go with him to most events without having to come up with some kind of wild explanation. If the functions were in Metropolis, she could cover them for the Daily Planet even though she didn't work for the society desk, but for oversees functions there was just no explanation for her presence.
Right now, she was frustrated, sexually repressed, and missed her husband desperately.
She felt abandoned and excluded.
Clark had a whole other life. And she felt almost jealous of it. No she *was* jealous, and angry. She was so mad that it hurt. No, not mad, frustrated. She just wanted to spend one uninterrupted evening with her husband, no strings attached. Was that too much to ask for?
She was so angry with Superman, but the more she thought about it, her anger faded. Unfortunately, she couldn't hold a grudge against him. It was funny how love worked. When she thought about what he had done and how he had left her, she knew she should be angry with him. Yet she was already starting to forgive him.
His gift was flying while hers was staying angry. He still had his gift, but hers had changed. Yes, she still could hold a grudge, but not against her husband. What had happened to impartiality? She used to be an equal opportunity begrudger.
Her love was so strong; it displaced her anger almost immediately. Stupid love!
She could let him believe that in his absence, her anger had festered for a few hours and had morphed into a horrible rage. And maybe she would be able to get something out of this. If he believed she was mad at him, he would do almost anything she asked to make her happy. She could take this opportunity to extract some promises from him before she could let him know that she had completely forgiven him.
No, she couldn't really force him to promise anything. She couldn't take a bargaining table approach to marriage. It was something her mother would do. Very early in her relationship with Clark, she had promised herself she would never turn into her mother. She involuntarily shuddered at the thought.
Now she was trying to control Clark just like her mother had tried to control her father.
To this day, Lois was sure that her mother's behavior had played a large role in her father's infidelity and eventual desertion.
She didn't want that to happen to her marriage — not that Clark was anything like her father.
The last thing she wanted was to lose Clark. Even though he made her crazy at times like this, he was still the best thing that had ever happened to her. She loved him with every cell in her body — ached in his absence, delighted in his presence.
Poor Clark would be beating himself up over this. He had to hurt just as much as she did.
She knew what to expect from the whole thing. He had probably set a punishment for himself.
Groveling, well, that was a given. Clark could grovel with the best of them. He was an absolute pro. And this offense definitely warranted many hours of groveling. And dinners from all over the world — China, Italy, France, Japan, she could think of enough countries to keep him busy for a while — he could probably think of even more.
Maybe she could ask him for the dinner in Australia he had promised her so long ago. They'd share a beautiful, romantic dinner at the tiny restaurant they had been to many times overlooking the beautiful Sydney harbor.
She didn't care where they were, as long as they were together.
They needed a minimal amount of time together, and she wasn't above penciling it into his calendar every week. No, every day.
She was incredibly desperate. But she couldn't force him to spend time with her. He had to want it, too.
Maybe he'd volunteer to be her sex slave for a month. Clark was just as desperate as she was.
As she mulled over her plans, her eyelids began to droop. Before she knew it, she had fallen asleep curled up in the corner of the couch under Clark's jacket, dreaming of an unforgettable night alone with her husband.
After the softball game, Clark zipped cross country, eager to get home. The game hadn't even been fun. It paled in comparison to even the imagined picture of the night he had missed at home.
The game had been horrible! He hadn't had any fun.
In fact, players and spectators alike had probably realized how unhappy he was. He obviously didn't want to be there. Every time he had called someone "out" at the plate, he couldn't help but add under his breath, "If I can't score tonight, no one will!" Hopefully no one had heard him — he didn't want it to show up in all the morning tabloids.
He loved helping worthy charities as Superman, but he would much rather spend this time with his wife.
Ribbon cuttings, softball games, hospital visits, and other charity events allowed him to see the good in people. As Superman, he so often only saw the bad, the evil things humanity could do that it was very refreshing to see people helping each other. It renewed his faith in the world.
But Lois could do the same thing for him. She sustained him. Without her, Superman wouldn't exist. Lois was his life, his love, his world. So why had he left her high and dry for the second time this week?
What must she be feeling?
Hurt, anger, frustration, desperation, loneliness, rejection, or something even worse!
What an idiot! How could he have done something like this to her?
She shouldn't have to share him with the world.
Clark had promised himself that he would never make Lois suffer. He was sure that he had broken that promise. Superman had come between them, had driven them apart.
If he knew Lois Lane, and he was sure he did, she was livid. He didn't relish the thought of facing her wrath, but he knew he deserved every ounce of it. She would probably make him do some sort of penance as reparation for the emotional damage he had inflicted.
He deserved anything she could do to him and then some.
He wasn't sure if Lois realized it, but he secretly loved her little punishments. The last one, she had made him her sex slave for a week. Like he was going to protest that! Really! He was happy to oblige.
He was desperate. The pain had reached a fevered pitch. It had been eight days, thirteen hours, fifteen minutes, and thirty-two seconds since they had last made love. With every second, the tension mounted. He was going to explode.
Maybe Lois was still awake … and not too mad at him.
He was probably hoping for a miracle. Even if she was awake, would she want him? She was probably so mad at him she wouldn't want to see him, let alone make hot, passionate love to him.
If she was asleep, would she mind if he woke her? This was an emergency and Superman needed help.
He flew through their bedroom window, expecting to see Lois curled up in bed fast asleep. His pessimistic side had already accepted the fact that she likely hadn't waited up. It was almost 3am; he couldn't have expected her to stay up that long. They'd been up early that morning to go to work. She had to be exhausted.
When he saw their empty bed, his heart raced. Maybe she *had* managed to wait up for him!
He zipped downstairs to look for her. By the dim light of the flickering television, he saw Lois's small body curled up in the corner of the couch. His heart fluttered at the sight of his wife wrapped up in his suit jacket. She'd been thinking about him after he had left.
His heart sank. She had missed him so badly that she sought comfort from his jacket to feel close to him. It was all his fault; he had made her suffer.
Lois looked like a sleeping angel curled up in her little corner of the couch. As much as he desperately wanted to end their drought tonight, he didn't have the heart to wake her.
He was a jerk. How could he think of himself and his needs at a time like this?
A better man would try to make his wife happy at all times. But Clark, the Superhusband, had done nothing but cause her pain. It had never been intentional, but he couldn't help but hate himself.
How had it come to this? Superman was alienating him from the woman he loved. He couldn't help but hate that piece of himself.
He picked Lois up off the couch and kissed her softly, lovingly hoping to portray his sorrow. As he floated up the stairs to keep from disturbing her, her eyelids fluttered and her eyes opened.
"I love you, Clark," she whispered groggily.
Clark smiled at her and planted a soft, loving kiss on her forehead. "I love you, too, Lois. So much more than you'll ever know." As he set her down on the bed, he kissed her again and said, "You deserve so much better than me."
Lois rolled over in bed and whispered, "I chose you, Clark. I love you."
In the middle of the virtually deserted maze of desks at Diticom Technologies, one woman sat alone reading a magazine with Superman on the cover. Her desk was a gaudily decorated virtual shrine to Superman, with every collectable imaginable — even a plush doll. The cubicle's walls were lined with news clippings, tabloid articles, and even photographs taken from afar.
The tall, blonde woman reclined in the chair, allowing her eyes to gaze longingly at the pictures of her hero, imagining what it would be like to have Superman cradle her in his large, strong arms, what it would be like to be kissed by those soft lips…
Sighing dramatically, she pulled the largest picture off the cubicle and gazed into his large, expressive eyes. He was the world's most perfect being. Those abs, that smile, that hair, that tight suit leaving almost nothing to the imagination … He was a veritable god!
She kissed the cold, smooth, glossy photograph. "Mmm, Superman, baby! You're amazing."
"You're still on that Superman kick?" another woman, who had come up behind her, asked. The older woman shook her head disdainfully. "Really, aren't you over him yet?"
"Doris, I'll never get *over* my future husband." Penny shook her head dismissively. No one understood that Superman wasn't just an obsession for her. He was a prize she would win.
Doris shook her head again. "Oh, Penny, don't you think you should let go of that illusion and start looking for a real man?"
Penny whirled around in her chair to glare at Doris. That was absolute blasphemy! "*Superman* is as real as they come!"
"Penny, honey, you're chasing an idle fantasy."
"Superman is no fantasy — he's my reality." Penny tossed her hair behind her shoulder flippantly. Doris had no idea what she was talking about.
"Don't you think it's time to abandon that youthful idea? You're pretty, smart, educated — honey, any man would melt into a puddle just looking at you."
"And if that's true, Superman would too." Penny was getting sick of arguing with her co-worker. Doris — like everyone else — just didn't get it.
"Okay, how are you going to meet him? Stage an accident?"
"No, of course not. I have a *much* better plan," Penny said. Like she would stage an accident! As if! That was something an amateur would do!
"Oh, do you? *This* I'd like to hear." The older woman shook her head incredulously.
Penny rolled her eyes. "It's a *secret*. I'm not about to go around telling everyone my top secret plan!"
"Blissfully insane, Doris. We'll see who's insane when I'm married to Superman." Penny stared at the older woman, hoping her cryptic answers would pacify her friend. The truth was, she didn't really have a solid plan. Now she knew she needed one — and was going to come up with it tonight. She had thought about staging an accident to make Superman come to her, but how would that set her apart from the millions of other women who did the same thing? She needed a hook, something to make him fall for her completely.
"But, Penny, how are you planning to meet him?"
"I *told* you, Doris, it's a secret!"
"Okay then, Penny. You keep your illusion alive. I'm outta here."
"Okay, bye." Good riddance. She smiled and added, "See you tomorrow."
She was sure of one thing — underneath all that spandex, Superman was a red-blooded American male. He had needs, feelings, and desires no different from any ordinary man. And she would be the one to satisfy all of his worldly desires. It was a monumental task, but she was definitely up for the job.
Sleep was futile. He couldn't close his eyes. As hard as he tried, the blissful, restful REM sleep would not come.
Lois. She was so close, yet so far away.
Lois. He needed her. He wanted her. He was dying to touch her.
Superman was desperate. Underneath the spandex, he was a man with primal needs and desires. And his one worldly desire was so near, but so far away.
Lois's soft, warm, inviting skin was a mere arm's length away. She was so close; he needed to touch her. But he couldn't.
Maybe he could.
It wasn't expressly prohibited. Lois had never told him *not* to touch her. But given how he had left last night, he was afraid of how she would react if he did. She was undoubtedly furious with him and maybe even angrier than he was with himself.
It wasn't just the physical closeness that was so painful. Okay, yes the close proximity was contributing to his distress. He wanted to ravage her, to take her into his arms and relish in her closeness. He wanted to end their week-long drought immediately. But he couldn't do it, not after what had happened last night.
He was so stupid! Oh, so stupid. Such an idiot.
Why hadn't he remembered that stupid celebrity event until a few minutes before he had to be there? What had triggered his memory? He had been totally engrossed in everything Lois — her touch, the soft scent of her shampoo, her soft, wet lips — intoxicated by her every move.
And then bam, it was all over. How had the simple word "home run" triggered his memory? It wasn't fair. His mind was obviously plotting against his body and his heart.
Why had he remembered at all? It wasn't like the softball game couldn't have gone on without him. And why hadn't he left the game after making an appearance? He could have pretended to hear a siren or something just after he got there. No one would ever question him about something like that. Yet he hadn't taken advantage of that opportunity for an out. Instead, he had spent an entire night calling balls, strikes, and outs for a bunch of whiney, annoying, stupid celebrities — none of whom were any good at softball! He could have been spending a quiet … okay, not exactly quiet … night of pleasure with his dream lover.
He was too noble for his own good.
The unknown masses would have forgiven him if he'd had to leave because of a Superman emergency. They wouldn't have even doubted his reason for leaving. But he wasn't sure if Lois, the one person he absolutely needed in his life, would forgive him so easily … or at all.
This certainly was an emergency for Superman, one he wasn't sure he could handle.
And now she was mere inches from him, and he desperately ached to touch her. Every muscle in his body ached with tension — some more than others. Oh, he wanted her so much.
But he couldn't have her.
Lois wouldn't welcome his advances — not after everything that had happened. She had to be fuming. He wouldn't blame her if she never wanted anything to do with him. His suffering would never end. The pain might kill him.
What an idiot! He wouldn't blame her if she left him over this.
If she did, he wouldn't survive.
He was fairly sure Lois would never leave him — at least not without telling him. Was she as madly in love with him as he was with her? It didn't seem possible. If she was, then she was the most tolerant person in the world. She was the only person who could accept him for his flaws — love him for both Clark and Superman.
How much longer would that tolerance last? Even though she might love him, how could he be sure she wouldn't reach a point where she wouldn't tolerate him any more? And there would be no one to blame but himself.
She was so close, so painfully close. His body ached to be even closer.
Beyond his self-imposed restriction, he knew he couldn't wake her for his own personal gratification. Unlike a Kryptonian, Lois needed to sleep. She didn't have a seemingly infinite solar energy source like he did. He couldn't satisfy his physical and emotional desires at Lois's expense.
He found himself almost praying for a Superman emergency so he could escape this self-induced torment. Funny, why hadn't he prayed for one last night to get him out of that horrible celebrity event? His mind worked in the strangest ways.
Before she had rolled over and succumbed to sleep, Lois had told him that she didn't hate him. It was a sleep-clouded declaration, though. She couldn't have known what she was saying.
He couldn't beg for her forgiveness when he hated himself so much.
He let his eyes drift shut as he pondered his bad choices. It was his fault their evening had turned into a disaster. They could have had a night of unbridled passion instead of another day of separation —but he had made the wrong choice.
A plan. She needed a plan.
The key to a successful attack was always a foolproof plan.
But she didn't have one. Yet.
Why was this so hard? She'd been planning to meet Superman and win his heart for years.
How hadn't that foolproof plan materialized?
Because she hadn't been trying hard enough!
Maybe Doris had been on the right track.
As much as it pained her to imagine using such a plebeian method, Penny was getting desperate. Maybe she should consider its merits.
Meeting Superman wouldn't be as easy as she had anticipated. She couldn't think properly in the large, empty office, so she decided to head home to her apartment.
Why hadn't she thought this through?
Sure, she had always *known* she would marry Superman. That had always been a given. But first she had to meet him. Obviously. Even someone as clueless as Doris had realized that.
Oh how stupid was she? Even though she had tried to convince Doris otherwise, she had no idea how she would meet Superman.
A plan. She needed a plan, a foolproof plan!
Meeting Superman should be easy. He was an attractive man, she was an attractive woman — theirs would be a magnetic attraction.
All she needed to do was arrange an event where they would be at the same place at the same time. Then she would let nature take its course. But actually finding the perfect meeting place was a bit tricky.
Doris had been right. Surely, it would be easy to stage a horrific accident. He was bound to show up. It was foolproof, but it just didn't seem … classy.
Was that the way she wanted to meet her future husband for the first time? It wasn't exactly … romantic.
True, tricking him was definitely foolproof, but was it the best way to start their life together? The best relationships were based on trust and honesty. Or pure passionate lust — and her relationship with Superman certainly had that.
Of course it had the potential to be an amazing first meeting. A hero saving the heroine in need … a legend in the making.
He would save her from a gory demise, plucking her from the jaws of death. As he flew away with her cradled in his powerful arms, their eyes would meet. Sparks would fly between them and they both would know true love for the first time. It would be the fairy-tale beginning to a love affair to remember.
Their romance would be a story told throughout history. It would be an epic romance between two exceptional individuals. Robin Hood and Maid Marion, Sir Lancelot and Queen Guinevere, John and Jackie Kennedy, and Romeo and Juliet couldn't hold a candle to Superman and his beloved Penny.
She took a deep breath. Aah, it would be incredible. Once Superman found and fell in love with her, she wouldn't be working as a stupid secretary at stupid Diticom any more. She would be Mrs. Superman.
Mrs. Superman — that had an incredible ring to it! Mrs. Penny Superman.
Yes, a love affair made in heaven.
Only one important obstacle remained: meeting her lover boy.
She had to be above staging an accident. What would Superman think of her if he found out that her accident was staged? Would he be able to love her the same way?
Of course he would. He was Superman, Mr. Perfect. Any woman would be lucky to have someone so kind, so good, so honest, so pure. He didn't have a flaw; he was a living Adonis. Of course he would always love her no matter what. They were meant for each other.
Mmmmmm, Superman — absolute perfection.
Oh how would she meet him? How else could she contact him to initiate their love? How else could she meet him?
Actually, what did she even really know about him beyond the fact that he was absolutely perfect?
Well, she was sure of one thing: Superman was a man with primal needs and desires. And she would be the woman to satisfy those desires — no matter what.
What else did she know about Superman?
Superman. The Man of Steel, with real needs and desires. But how would he express those needs and feelings? Did it really matter? Penny Barnes was willing to make Superman's every whim and desire a reality.
For a man like Superman, she would do anything he asked her. Yes, when she said anything, she meant anything. Even though she had no idea what she would be getting herself into, knowing it was with Superman made anything worthwhile.
She was slightly worried because he was an alien. Could he be intimate with a human woman?
Yes, of course he could. Someone that looked so human couldn't be a different species.
Even though she didn't know much about her hero, she was sure he was definitely a potent man specimen. Someone that looked *that* good had to be virile.
The spandex suit he wore was possibly a little more revealing than even he knew. It left little to her imagination. Yes, he definitely had all the … plumbing … of a real man. She was sure that he was a man in every sense of the word — a very well endowed man at that.
Hmm, that suit. That wonderful, smooth, shiny spandex suit … Her mind created a picture of her hand trailing along the S shield tracing the pattern around his hard, muscular chest and …
Before she had completely driven herself into the gutter, she was struck by an intriguing question. Did the spandex come off?
Somehow, she had trouble picturing Superman without the blue, red, and yellow suit. He had to have skin under it, though. It wasn't like it was glued on or something, right? Um, duh, of course it wasn't. That didn't even make sense.
After all, if it never came off, how would he ever be able to do any routine bodily functions? How else would he be able to shower after a smelly rescue? She seriously doubted that he sweated, but many of his rescues took place in chemical plants or toxic waste dumps. He would have to take a shower if he wanted to get himself clean. Plus, he would have to take the suit off to wash it.
Maybe one of his unknown powers was some kind of self- cleaning function. Like if he got dirty or smelly or something, maybe there was something that automatically cleaned him and his clothes. Maybe it was like a car's windshield wiper system or something.
How cool! A self-cleaning man. She could probably patent his technology and make millions of dollars marketing it.
Unfortunately, it was highly improbable.
Then again, if Superman could fly, maybe he did have windshield wipers. Improbability was no longer a word in her vocabulary.
And for other functions …
If he were a real man, he would need to remove the suit to satisfy his needs. And judging from some pictures she'd seen on the internet, he definitely was … a real man.
But how did the suit come off? When she met him for the first time, that would be a skill she would definitely need. Wouldn't he be proud of her if she instantly knew how to remove his suit?
The cape, shirt, briefs, and tights looked like one fluid suit. But why would he need a cape? It didn't work like wings, obviously. The cape seemed ornamental on his suit.
Could it be hiding something? Like maybe a rocket pack that propelled him to ultrasonic speeds. Or maybe it was hiding a tail or something. Did Kryptonians have tails? That would be too weird.
She was about fifty percent sure he wasn't hiding a rocket pack under the cape, and maybe seventy-five percent sure he didn't have a tail.
No, he didn't have a tail. Of course he didn't have a tail.
No, really, he didn't have a tail. Seriously, if he had a tail, surely someone would have seen it by now. It would have been in some tabloid newspaper at some point.
Good, Superman didn't have a tail. Now that was satisfied — and she was about ninety-five percent sure of it.
What about wings? Could he be hiding wings?
No. He didn't have wings. Someone would have definitely seen them already when he flew. It wasn't *that* easy to hide large flapping wings under a loose, flowing cape.
But if he wasn't hiding a tail or wings and probably wasn't hiding a rocket pack, what could he be hiding?
Oh, the cape would be the perfect place to hide the mechanism to remove the suit.
What if it was something as simple as a zipper? It would be easily hidden under that large cape. Yes, of course that's where a zipper would be hidden. And it made perfect sense. If he needed to take the suit off, that would be the best solution!
She would love to be the woman who slowly reached up along Superman's back and slowly reach up behind her back and slowly ease the zipper down until the entire suit fell off. And she would see his incredibly beautiful, smooth, muscular chest and run her hand around his hard pectoral muscles slowly easing her hand down his stomach and even further …
Before she knew it, she had drifted off to sleep, pleasantly dreaming about the love of her life. She still didn't have any semblance of a plan to meet her lover, but now she had a definite plan for his seduction. If he didn't fall in love with her at first sight, she would win him over by the end of their first night together.
Was she a little obsessed? Sure, a little obsession never hurt anyone. She was going to stop at nothing to win the man of her dreams.
As Clark's eyes eased open, he was assaulted by streams of light.
Where had the darkness gone?
Maybe he had actually fallen asleep at some point — possibly longer than he had realized.
It was morning, the beginning of a new day, full of promise. It was the fresh start that he had been looking for. He would atone for everything that had happened yesterday and they would end their long separation as soon as they resolved their problems.
He desperately needed to talk to her.
Clark would admit he was at fault. He would tell her that he was an idiot, that he was desperately in love with her. He just hoped it would work — and he wouldn't blame Lois if she didn't forgive him. What he had done was absolutely unforgivable.
He flipped over to look at his wife, hoping to catch a glimpse of her beautiful sleeping face.
But she wasn't there.
Her side of the bed was cold and empty. She had been gone for a while. She probably couldn't stand to be in the same bed with him. Why had he thought anything else? Lois was still mad at him. He would never be able to make up for what he had done to her last night — for the compilation of everything he had done to her in their marriage.
Yes, it was morning: the beginning of yet another day of his agony. She was still mad at him; he knew it. His worldly desires would have to wait.
Where was Lois? She couldn't have left him before they could talk … right? She would give him the chance to apologize profusely, to try to make up for what he had done … right? Then where was she?
He frantically scanned their bedroom for any sign that she had left him. Her clothes were still hanging neatly in the closet. The book that she had been reading was still on the stand next to the bed. She couldn't have left him. Unless she had decided that she needed to leave quickly figuring she would be able to get her things later.
Clark was jumping off the deep end assuming the worst. With everything he had done recently, he wouldn't blame her in the slightest if she had decided to leave him this morning.
Suddenly, a flash of light caught his eye, interrupting his wallowing, and he turned towards the light source. There was a package on the dresser wrapped in shiny, reflective red paper with a large blue bow on top.
He slowly got out of bed to explore the box. It was perfectly wrapped — Lois had probably gotten it done professionally — and the bow was meticulously placed so it held a small piece of paper. The paper had a short message written in Lois's familiar handwriting.
"Happy Birthday, Clark," he read aloud.
Right, it was his birthday. He had almost completely forgotten about it. It reminded him again of the celebration Lois had planned for last night. Maybe she didn't hate him after all. She had drawn a little heart next to his name. Or maybe she had written this note before the events of last night.
He continued reading. "Here's your first present. Open it before you come downstairs. P.S. I was planning to give you this one last night." She had written the note this morning — maybe the little heart next to his name was a sign that she wasn't as mad at him as he had thought. But it was completely out of character for her not to be at least a little bit mad about his behavior of late. He couldn't have escaped his wife's fury. If the tables were turned, he knew he would not be happy. Therefore, he couldn't blame Lois at all if she were mad at him — if she never talked to him again — if she left him.
Clark groaned softly. This present was yet another reminder of what he had missed last night. He hated himself so much right now — and he hadn't even opened the gift yet.
Did he actually want to open it? It would serve as another reminder of everything that had gone wrong.
Why hadn't he looked at it yet? He had x-ray vision, so he didn't even need to open the package to know what was inside. His vision gizmo was really strange — he had to decide consciously to use his vision powers before he could use them. Since he hadn't told his eyes to look into the package, he hadn't seen its contents. He didn't want to see what he had missed.
Instead of further deliberation, he carefully untied the bow and slowly ran his finger under the tape that held the wrapping paper in place. He slowly, deliberately pulled the paper away from the box, sighing as he saw the store's logo.
Ambiance: the Store for Lovers.
She had planned to give him this gift last night. Now he wasn't sure if he actually wanted to open the box. It would make him regret leaving even more.
Clark bit his lower lip, steeling himself to look at the contents of the box. It was his fault that he hadn't gotten to see it last night. He deserved to punish himself by seeing exactly what he had missed.
As he slowly eased the lid off the box, his breath caught in his chest. She knew him so well — it was exactly the item he had described to her as his ultimate fantasy.
What an idiot he had been. *This* had been part of Lois's surprise. She had been planning to give him his greatest fantasy. And he had missed it. He was ready to hit himself as his mind pictured exactly what would have happened last night. The contents of the box would have led to a night to remember instead of a night he desperately wanted to forget.
It was red. And silky. And lacy. And tiny …
He ran his hand over the soft material and then pulled it out to examine it more closely. Clark groaned appreciatively as his fingers passed over the soft lace negligee and held it at arms length picturing Lois wearing it, her smooth, white skin glistening against the shimmering red fabric …
She had been planning to wear this last night.
And he had missed it for a stupid celebrity softball game.
Oh, he was such an idiot! He hadn't even enjoyed himself last night. The evening had started out with such promise — and now he knew it would have been the most exciting night of his life.
After he had left, he had been beating himself up, second guessing his choice to leave. If he hadn't been positive before, now he was sure that he had made the wrong choice. The softball game, forget it! The charity would have survived without him. He should have been at home experiencing the realization of his greatest fantasy instead of spending time with stupid, egotistical celebrities.
He knew Lois wouldn't want to reenact her plan for last night, especially after everything that had happened. And he couldn't expect her to or even ask her to forget last night. Regardless, he needed to talk to her, to tell her how wrong he had been, how sorry he was. He needed to tell her how much he loved her, needed her, and longed for her. He never wanted to leave her again.
Where could she be? He desperately needed to talk to her, to apologize profusely for everything that had happened.
He quickly exited the room, and as soon as he got into the hallway, he was greeted with the strong scent of freshly brewing coffee drifting up the stairs.
Lois. She was awake and downstairs making coffee. That meant at least she hadn't left him.
But how would she react when she saw him? Last night she had been asleep and probably hadn't been consciously aware of what she had said. She couldn't have let him off so easily. He had hurt her so badly; he deserved anything she could do to him.
Even though he wasn't sure how she would react, he was desperate to see her, to apologize for his insanely horrible behavior.
She was still so close he could almost feel her, but she was so far away emotionally. After what he had done to her, how could he face her? But he desperately needed to see her.
Finally, his desperation outweighed his fear, so he made his way down the stairs. With each step, his anticipation grew. When he saw Lois, any rehearsed script or plan would escape him anyway.
He needed to show her just how sorry he was; though he knew it would be insufficient. There was no way he could express his intense emotions to make Lois understand how bad he felt.
Clark paused at the kitchen door when he saw Lois. She was talking to herself and angrily strumming her fingers on the counter. She was mumbling seemingly random words at a pace even Superman couldn't follow.
Lois hated Superman. He had hurt her so deeply, so profoundly, he didn't blame her. Stupid Superman!
Why was he cursed with so many superhuman powers? Why did he want to help everyone in the world? It was a double edged sword. He could help everyone in the world, but he couldn't help himself.
Clark had always known he had the power to inflict horrible emotional pain on the woman he loved. When he had realized what a drain Superman was on his life, he had promised himself to protect Lois from all of the bad things that he experienced as the Man of Steel. He hadn't realized that *he* would become the enemy he had always feared.
He had hurt Lois in ways he never could have predicted. This wasn't an isolated incident. Lately, he had been neglecting her, giving preference to everything Superman.
It had been okay before they were married for him to take on too many Superman responsibilities. He needed to realize that his life was different now and that recreational Superman activities were no longer necessary. He wasn't doing anything right. Maybe he was doing *some* things right … but he hadn't done any of *those* things in over a week!
Clark leaned against the doorway leading into the kitchen and sighed unconsciously. Lois immediately sensed his presence and slowly turned around to face him.
When she looked into his pleading eyes, she felt sorry for everything that had happened. Last night, she had been so hurt when he had left her. But she had come to terms with everything and had decided that she wasn't mad at Clark. She was mad at Superman. It was just too bad that Clark and Superman were the same person.
She also knew that she still loved him, more than anything else in the world. There was nothing he could do as Superman that could make her stop loving him. But that didn't mean she couldn't be a little angry with him. She loved him and would never leave him and almost felt bad for him, but she had the right to be livid at Superman. Her husband's second personality was interfering with her marriage.
Last night, she had decided that she wasn't angry. However, when she had awakened this morning, she had realized just how upset she was. It was developing into a pattern. Clark abandoned her for some Superman engagement several times a week. Their relationship was suffering. She had every right to be angry! The rest of the world seemed to be replacing her in his affections.
No, she wasn't exactly angry. She was hurt, profoundly hurt — he was treating her like she was second best.
Anger was a powerful tool when wielded correctly. Hurt had no external power — it was a completely internal emotion. It had the ability to well up inside like a time bomb waiting to explode.
She had known marrying Superman would be difficult. Emergencies and international peace talks, she could understand, but celebrity softball games … He couldn't expect her to accept his jetting off to celebrity events at every opportunity. It made her feel like she wasn't important to him.
Intellectually, she knew that he was as in love with her as he had always been. Whenever he looked at her, she could see the same passion and admiration that had always been there. His view of her hadn't changed — he still loved her and found her desirable. Yet the newlywed feeling had worn off. He was falling back into his old Superman habits, not making time for them to be a couple. Maybe the end of February was his busy charity season or something. For some reason, Lois was a bit skeptical.
He just needed to learn to prioritize. With the regular Superman emergencies alone, they didn't get enough time together. With the other events added in, they rarely saw each other.
And Lois missed him desperately.
Lois forced herself to smile, however weakly, at Clark in greeting as she averted her eyes. To break the silence between them Lois said, in what she hoped was a calm voice, "Coffee's ready."
Clark smiled slightly, noticing that Lois's eyes never met his. She was mad — and had every right to want to kill him after what he had done, how he had treated her. He softly responded, "Thanks," as he poured himself a cup.
He didn't really want coffee, but he wasn't sure what to say to her. Coffee was a good distraction. She was bound to find any apology he could offer trite and insufficient.
With his coffee in hand, Clark eased himself into a chair. "Lois," he said softly, "I know you're …"
Immediately, almost in a rehearsed voice, she interrupted, "I'm not mad, Clark." She didn't raise her eyes from her cup.
Clark stopped before he was all the way down into his chair, startled, and said incredulously, "You're *not*? Lois, honey, I am so sorry. I know …"
Again, Lois stopped him mid-sentence. She didn't want to hear the long, drawn out apology she'd heard hundreds of times before. "I'm really not mad. I'm hurt, and frustrated, and not even sure who I should be mad at any more." She shook her head.
He walked towards her. "Honey …"
She felt his hand on her shoulder and that was her breaking point. How could he be so close to her? How did he have the right to pretend as if nothing had happened? "Yes I am mad! I am so mad." She shrugged away from his tentative embrace and turned around to face him.
Clark pulled his hand away like he had just touched a hot oven. As much as he'd hoped Lois hadn't been mad, he knew that he had been just fooling himself. Of course she was mad. He had acted like an idiot by putting the rest of the world before the one person that mattered most in his life. "Oh, god, Lois, I am so sorry."
Lois shook her head again. She didn't really want to hear whatever apology he was going to offer. "I am mad, Clark. Just not in the way you think. God, I'm not even sure who I'm mad at, of even if I should be mad. I'm not really mad at you; I'm mad at Superman. But I know you are Superman, so I should be mad at you. But I'm really not, and I know I shouldn't be so angry, so I am even madder at myself. Whichever way I look at this, it seems like it's my fault in some convoluted way."
"Your fault?" Clark tried to reach out and touch her again, but she stood up and walked the other way. "Lois, honey, this isn't your fault at all. It's my fault. Everything is my fault."
"I'm really not sure if it is really your fault at all." She sighed loudly. "I'm feeling guilty again."
"Guilty for what? None of this is your fault!" Clark ran his hand through his hair in exasperation. He hadn't expected Lois to react this way. After playing countless scenarios over in his head, he'd thought he had covered every possible reaction. However, he had never dreamed that *she* would be the one feeling guilty. He had expected she would be mad at him, although he wasn't sure of the level of anger. The last thing he had expected was for her to be mad at herself.
"Guilty for being so mad, Clark." Lois shook her head quickly. She knew that everything that was going on was absolutely absurd. Having a husband that was two people was really a drain on her common sense. How could she love one part of him so much, but hate the other part? It wasn't right! "I hate everything that happened yesterday, Clark. And I hate myself for hating it! Is there something wrong with me?"
She looked at him quickly. The pain evident in his eyes tore at her heart. Nothing good was going to come of this, she was sure. It was the main reason she hated herself so much. Clark really hadn't done anything to make her so mad. She hadn't been this mad last night. But after thinking about nothing else all morning, she'd realized that she was really upset about what had happened. And even more upset that it seemed to be happening more and more often.
And she hated herself for wanting to claim Clark. She was being selfish. The last thing she wanted to do was control her husband, but she didn't want to lose him either. It seemed like he was making everything else take priority — everything but his wife. And she hated herself for feeling that way.
Yesterday had been the icing on the cake. It was his birthday, his first as a married man. It should have been a wonderful, unforgettable day for both of them. It wasn't just that they hadn't been intimate in over a week. She'd wanted to make him a birthday surprise he would never forget. Yes, she had plans for that icing from the cake.
She'd gone through so much trouble to make everything absolutely perfect. It had taken her weeks to plan, but it had been worth the effort. The thought of how happy Clark would be when she walked to the bedroom dressed in his first birthday present made everything worthwhile.
It was going to be incredible. A romantic dinner followed by an incredible dessert …
But it hadn't happened the way she had planned. Instead, they had spent yet another night apart, which seemed like the growing trend.
"I hate myself for being so mad. I know it's wrong, but I can't change the way I feel. I don't even know if I am really mad or not. Maybe I am just frustrated, so frustrated! I don't think we've spent more than two hours together all week — and that was just sleeping or at work. I miss you."
Clark weakly smiled at her. "I miss you, too, Lois. You have every right to be mad at me, honey. *I* am the one who's been wrong."
"See, I'm not exactly sure if you *have* been wrong."
"Trust me, Lois, I know I have. Last night, I spent three hours with a bunch of stupid, egotistical, boring celebrities when I could have had a quiet evening alone with the one person in the world I actually wanted to be with. Tell me that's not stupid, honey."
"It is stupid," she said softly.
Clark winced, but didn't respond.
Lois sighed loudly and continued, "Clark, I can't believe you left like that. And you didn't even have a good time. I'm not sure if I really wanted you to have a good time or not. I'm just so confused about everything."
"Honey, I am so sorry. I know I was wrong for leaving. God, I've been replaying last night over and over in my mind, but I have no idea what I could have done differently."
"Did you see your present?" Lois smiled slightly as she tried to change the subject.
"Oh god. Just picturing you wearing it makes me so … wow. It takes my breath away."
"I was going to wear it last night for you." There she was, bringing up last night again when she had wanted to change the subject.
Clark smiled woefully. "God, I can't believe I missed it." She was so amazing. But right now, even though the thought of physical intimacy was so paramount in his mind, he wasn't sure when he would get to experience it again.
"I can't believe you missed it either," Lois answered simply.
Clark turned around and began to pace anxiously around the kitchen. The thought of what he had missed last night was really unsettling. "I don't even like celebrities."
Instead of wondering why Clark had chosen to change the subject to celebrities, Lois chose to go with the flow. "Aren't you a celebrity? Superman is probably the most recognizable person in the world."
Clark stopped mid-stride and turned to face Lois. Even though she was technically right, he'd never thought of himself that way. To him, celebrities were actors, athletes, and politicians, people who loved being in the spotlight and took advantage of every opportunity to assure that their faces were on television — not unassuming Superheroes! "Well, yeah … I mean, I guess so. I just can't think of myself as a celebrity, though."
"If you *don't* think you're a celebrity, then why do all those celebrity events?"
"I'm not really sure." Clark shrugged slightly before he continued. "The charities ask?"
"You just can't say 'no', can you?" Lois retorted. She knew it was unfair, but the words flowed from her mouth before she could stop them.
She was right; he did have a problem saying 'no'. "I guess," he said noncommittally, "they ask for my help, and they're all worthy charities. How can I judge which charities are the worthiest? I've always felt like Superman owes it to the world to do as much as he can to help."
Lois took a deep breath, knowing she wanted to tell him that she was worthier than any charity, but that wouldn't have any positive consequence. Plus, she wasn't sure if she *was* more important than a charity. Instead, she tried to stay calm when she said, "How much are you really helping them, though? What about a monetary donation? Wouldn't that do more to help them?"
Clark shrugged again. He'd really never considered a monetary donation before. "But we don't have that much money to donate to every charity I help."
"The Superman Foundation does," Lois answered quickly. "Can't the Superman Foundation donate at least some money to every charity you deem worthy?"
"Yes, the Superman Foundation does, but we are already giving to so many charities. I don't know, I guess I see the amount of joy on so many faces. It has always sort of renewed my faith in the world, seeing the good people. It sort of reenergizes me and helps ground me in the knowledge that what I do is really worthwhile."
"I thought I did that." She could no longer keep up the pretense of trying to rationally solve their problems. Her emotions were beginning to overtake her. She knew she was being selfish and that he did have a valid point, but right now that didn't matter.
"Oh, honey, you do. Believe me, you do. You *sustain* me. You give me the strength to *live*."
Lois smiled at him slightly. She loved to hear him say things like that, but today everything he said seemed sort of empty. "Then why do you need the rest of the world? I mean, I can understand your having to leave me for an emergency, but I really don't understand how you can choose charities over me — especially when the Superman Foundation supports every one of them. I think I just realized that I must be like a chore for you. I cut into your special time for the world."
"Lois, I never meant …"
"I understand. Superman needs to see the good in people."
"I just can't help it if I'm having trouble seeing the good in Superman right now."
"Lois, honey …"
"No, I know it now. I can't cut into Superman's time." Tears began to stream down Lois's cheeks and her heart broke as she saw the look on Clark's face. She hadn't really meant to hurt him, but sometimes she spoke without thinking.
"Oh, Lois, honey, no! I can't believe I ever made you think that!"
Lois shrugged, unsure of how to respond. Sure, there were tons of things that she could have said, but they would have made Clark feel even worse. That wasn't what she had intended. She had wanted to tell Clark how she felt, but she'd never meant for him to feel as horrible as he obviously did.
Clark bit his lip and slowly continued, "I'm a horrible person. I hadn't realized how much I've been hurting you. I love you so much; you're the only thing in my life that really matters. And I've been abandoning you. I completely understand if you want to leave me."
"Clark, don't think like that, ever! I love you," Lois answered automatically. God, how could he think she would ever consider leaving him? "You know I would *never* leave you. I can never stop loving you." After looking at him again, though, she realized she was still mad at him. "But that doesn't mean I have to like you right now." She looked up at the clock, hoping to have an out. "Come on, it's almost time to leave for work. You still have to get ready."
Clark stared at Lois slack-jawed. Even though he had expected her to be mad, he hadn't expected their conversation to end so quickly. He wanted to hash everything out, to apologize for everything he had done. Lois, on the other hand, didn't want to talk because she couldn't even look at him right now!
"Come on, let's go, Clark. We can't be late again today."
Obeying Lois blindly, he took off up the steps at Superspeed and hopped into the shower. In under a minute, he was showered, dressed and ready for work. Lois was waiting in the Jeep by the time he had made it downstairs.
Before he walked out the door to join her, he looked at his abandoned coffee cup on the table, and up through the ceiling at the box on their bed and said, "Happy birthday to me."
The new day dawned brightly for Penny. She had slept beautifully. Her dreams of her idealized first encounter with Superman had been too hot for words.
In her dream, they had met, he had taken her into his arms, called her the love of his life … and the vision just kept getting better!
Now that she was awake, she was filled with a burning desire to formulate a concrete plant to meet her idol. Obviously, once they met, everything would fall perfectly into place.
But then there was another weird element to her dream. Superman had been wearing regular street clothes. How absurd! Like Superman could ever downgrade himself to wearing a regular business suit!
She was sure he would look exceptionally hot in a black suit. Superman would look good whatever he wore, but it was an oddly unsettling picture. In the street clothes, she hadn't immediately recognized Superman.
How could *anyone* not know Superman instantly, no matter what he wore. His face was universally recognizable!
His strong chin, beautiful nose, pink, rosy, kissable lips, thick, dark hair, blue eyes …
Wait, blue eyes? Were they really blue?
Yeah, they were blue.
Or were they brown?
Oh no! She was slipping. Shouldn't she know every detail about her dream man, her future husband?
In the grand scheme of things, eye color didn't matter. If they were blue, they were surely as clear as the sky, and if they were brown, they were surely as brown as her favorite dark chocolate bar!
Regardless, Superman had the type of beautiful face that anyone would recognize anywhere he went. Even if he did happen to wear street clothes, he wouldn't be able to blend in with the masses of nonSuper people!
How could she think of him in street clothes?
Like Superman would really even try to blend in with the common man.
But maybe he would.
Everyone would know him instantly.
Or would they?
What if it were just the bright blue spandex suit that set him apart from the masses?
She had to admit that she rarely looked at his face because she was *blinded* by the sheer beauty of that suit.
What if everyone else in the world did the same thing?
Maybe he could blend in with the rest of the world if he tried. It seemed improbable, but it *was* possible.
She was going crazy. How could one figment of her dream cause her to have such crazy thoughts about Superman?
Or were those thoughts so crazy at all?
What did she really know about Superman? Well, other than the fact that he was the most incredible man that ever lived. That was just a given.
Considering it again, she realized that she really knew nothing about Superman, the man. Maybe he *did* dress up in street clothes and try to blend in with the rest of the world.
After all, she wasn't sure how he could be Superman all day.
Did he sleep? Did he need to sleep?
Where did he live? Did he just fly around all day looking for people to save? Did he do laps around the world?
If he did, then why was he always in Metropolis? It seemed like Metropolis was his home. And he hadn't been there forever. When had a first appeared? Four years ago? Five years ago? No, definitely four years ago.
It was so weird! Superman had only been in Metropolis for four years. It seemed like he'd been a fixture in their lives forever. She almost couldn't remember life before Superman.
He looked like he was in his late twenties or early thirties. He couldn't have just been born four years ago! What if he had arrived on a space ship from a distant galaxy just four years ago?
If she stuck with her theory that Superman was a real man, she had to believe that he had flown in on his space ship. But that would be so weird — he seemed quite acclimated with their culture, spoke English fluently, and seemed completely comfortable ever since the first time he had appeared on television.
Then she was struck by a strange idea. What if Superman had grown up on Earth?
No, it wasn't possible. Someone would have noticed him. How could he have lived for more than twenty years without saving anyone's life? That seemed to be against everything she believed about her hero.
But could he be Superman all day? If he seemed to spend most of his time in Metropolis rather than circling the world, it must get pretty boring. Even in a busy city like Metropolis, he couldn't have a rescue every minute of the day. He probably did *something* in between rescues. But what on earth was that something?
Maybe he led a normal life in the middle of his Superman jobs. But how would he ever do that? Even if no one would recognize him in street clothes, which she highly doubted, how would he get around in the world? He couldn't just introduce himself, "Hi, I'm Mr. Superman, give me a job."
No, it was impossible. The ideas were getting more absurd the deeper she thought.
Was it really impossible, though?
If she looked at the facts, they seemed more feasible. Maybe he *did* have another life during his down time between rescues. And that would strengthen her assumption that Superman was a real man with human thoughts and desires. If he masqueraded as a real man in his free time, then he would have the time for a girlfriend, a lover, a wife … and Penny was more than willing to fill each of those roles for her dream man!
How would he have this other life? Wouldn't people know him?
What if he had a secret identity? Yes! A secret identity! Superman had a secret identity. It was the only way!
And she would find out his secret identity. It would only take a little digging. Maybe she could use the computer to search more in depth.
Good thing she worked at a large computer company that developed the most cutting edge software on the market. And they had just announced that they would be giving their employees access to a new program that allowed the user to search for people based on several criteria.
Now if she could just make a list of Superman's character traits, she'd be able to use the new software to narrow down her choices. And then, she could look at the people with the closest affiliation with Superman in the past. And if that didn't work, she would stage an accident.
She left her apartment and headed towards the subway station, a woman on a mission. She would discover Superman's secret identity and *that* would be her way of meeting the man of her dreams.
Absolute silence. Uncomfortable, almost painful.
He slowly turned his eyes to look at her, but when he noticed her eyes looking at him, he quickly averted his eyes.
Silence. They couldn't talk, couldn't look at each other, and couldn't share the simplest touch.
The air was thick, stifling. It was a sense of separation they'd never experienced with each other. They were uncomfortable, unsure of what to say.
As Lois tried to navigate her Jeep through the Metropolis rush hour traffic, she realized this was the first time she and Clark had ridden together since they were married that neither had spoken. Even when they'd had disagreements, they had at least pretended to be cordial … or screamed at each other … on the ride to work. But now it was different.
Lois was tempted to turn on the radio, but she was almost afraid to break the silence. While uncomfortable, it seemed a necessary accent to their respective moods. The air was thick and Lois was afraid the slightest movement would spark an explosion.
She turned towards him, wondering how he was feeling. He looked so pained, so sad, maybe even on the verge of tears. Poor Clark!
Poor Clark? What about poor Lois?
Maybe she had been a little too hard on him, too unfair to him. He hadn't meant to hurt her so badly last night. And if she knew Clark, and she did, the poor guy was probably beating himself up over everything that had happened.
She couldn't make Clark think that she hated him completely. Even though he had hurt her profoundly last night, and she had hurt him this morning, they couldn't play a game of who could hurt whom more. They needed to talk about their problems — after all, this wasn't an insurmountable obstacle.
Talking. Yes, that was something they could do. Yes, talking.
Yeah, that had worked out so well this morning.
They both needed to cool down. Okay, Clark wasn't hot headed; Lois needed time to cool down. She was sure of one thing — she was going to forgive him. She couldn't stand making him suffer.
Even though he had made her suffer.
No, she couldn't think like that. It was so petty. She couldn't adopt a system where she'd take an eye for an eye.
Clark wasn't exactly wrong. He certainly hadn't meant to hurt her.
He needed to prioritize his Superman engagements.
She realized no obstacle was insurmountable. Their love was far stronger than any obstacle in their way. They couldn't let Superman come between them again.
To show Clark she wasn't as mad as she appeared, Lois tentatively reached out and softly placed her hand on his upper thigh and patted it several times before letting her fingers rest just above his knee.
It wasn't fair to either of them to spend the short time they had together fighting. When she looked at him and saw his pained repentant eyes, she realized that although she had every right to be mad at him, it was counter productive. She loved him and wanted to show him how much she needed him.
Clark felt her hand on his thigh. A shiver coursed through his body as he thought about what this could possibly mean.
Was it a gesture of peace?
"I love you," Lois said. She squeezed his thigh, hoping to reassure him.
Clark smiled weakly and said, "I love you, too."
Peace. A treaty. The end to a war.
Maybe Lois had forgiven him.
They lapsed back into silence, but it wasn't the same painful silence. Both were lost in their thoughts, but they were no longer thoughts of anger and pain.
It was going to be okay. Their love would survive.
Superman couldn't hide from her much longer.
Penny was going to find him.
On the subway on the way to work, Penny pulled a piece of paper and a pen out of her purse and began a list of Superman's physical traits, and some rough character traits as well so she would be able to utilize Diticom's new search program.
What did she know about her hero?
Enough to know he was the man of her dreams.
Maybe she should start with the physical traits.
Eye color. Blue, definitely blue. He had piercing, beautiful blue eyes.
Hair color. Black. Or maybe really dark brown. Most likely, it was black, though. That was an easy one! He had short, straight, black hair.
Age. Young. But he had been in Metropolis for four years, so he couldn't be *that* young. Maybe in his twenties. But not early twenties. Maybe late twenties. There could be a *remote* possibility that he was thirty. No, he couldn't be thirty! Superman wasn't that old. God, thirty was totally ancient! So he could be between twenty-five and thirty. Maybe twenty-four.
Height. Tall. Really tall. He towered over everyone in the city. So he had to be tall. Maybe seven feet tall. No, that seemed too tall. He was definitely over six feet. Maybe six-five. That seemed pretty accurate. Somewhere between six-five and seven feet tall.
Build. Muscular. Very muscular. His physique was legendary. He was the Man of Steel, which meant he was probably the most muscular man in the world.
That seemed like all the physical traits the program would need to know. What else did she know about him?
Obviously, he was single. And of course he was straight. She didn't have any proof for either of those facts, but they were very important to her. Superman couldn't have a significant other. If he did, it would have been plastered all over the tabloids. And if he were gay, again, the tabloids would have been all over it. So she felt justified in keeping to her assumptions.
What about a job? He had to have some sort of job if he lived in Metropolis. It had to be something where he would be in touch with emergencies — and something he would be able to leave at a moment's notice. What about a policeman? But if he were a policeman, why would he have to be Superman? True, he would hear about all the crimes quickly, so that would be an advantage, but would he be able to leave for long periods of time? What about a fireman? But why would Superman show up at fires? If he were a fireman, wouldn't they notice if he weren't with them?
What if he were something completely different not associated with emergency services? Who else would be associated with reports of crimes and disasters as they happened? The news! Who else was associated with news as it happened? Maybe he worked for the Daily Planet or the Star or LNN. Now that was interesting. A news organization seemed almost likely for him.
So he might be a police officer, a fireman, a news anchor, or a reporter. Or else he was none of the above. She had no idea. There were just so many possibilities!
When the subway train arrived at her stop, Penny was very satisfied with her work so far. She was ready to start entering criteria into the program. By tonight, she would know Superman's secret identity!
It was the best feeling in the world. Soon, she would finally meet the man of her dreams!
Why did the elevator have to be full? It was the worst feeling in the world.
Clark looked at Lois longingly; she was the woman of his dreams. He ached to touch her, to gather her in his arms and kiss her senseless. But first they needed to talk, really hash out what had happened yesterday. Even though they had made peace in the car, they still hadn't resolved their problems. There was still a strange, uncomfortable, unresolved tension between them.
It was a disturbing trend — Superman was interfering with their relationship. Clark needed to do something to control the Superman factor.
But they couldn't talk now. There were six other people in the elevator, so they couldn't even mention the word Superman. Why did the elevator have to be full today? The ride up to the newsroom was agonizingly long, and the tension mounted as they inched closer to the newsroom.
When the elevator doors opened, Lois made a large gesture of peace, reaching out and grabbing his hand. She squeezed it reassuringly and whispered, "We need to talk."
Clark squeezed back in response. "Conference room?"
Lois nodded as they made a beeline to the empty conference room without even making an effort to stop at their respective desks.
As they made their way through the newsroom, they were greeted by birthday wishes from almost everyone. Darn it, why did Clark have to be so popular?
"Happy birthday, CK!" Jimmy exclaimed as he made his way over to the couple, obviously expecting a long chat.
"Thanks," Clark said simply. He really didn't want to think about his birthday. It just wasn't a happy day. The knowledge of how badly he had hurt his wife, the woman of his dreams, was gnawing at his heart.
Before Jimmy could start a conversation, Lois interjected, "Jimmy, Clark and I are really busy right now. Can this wait until later?" She knew she was being rude, but Jimmy usually didn't get subtle hints.
"Oh, um, sure. Big story?"
"Thanks!" Lois squeezed Clark's hand again and led the way to the conference room, leaving a stunned Jimmy in their wake. Jimmy would get over it!
They almost ran into the conference room to avoid any further confrontation. Both Lois and Clark had one thing on their minds — they needed to talk about what had been happening between them. And they needed to do it now. They couldn't let this go on any longer.
Lois pulled the door closed behind her and took her time closing all the blinds in the room. She knew what she wanted to say to him, but she wasn't sure how to do it.
When she turned around to face him, her breath caught in her chest. She had never seen him look so vulnerable. He looked like a sad, abandoned puppy! That look was irresistible. Even though she was mad and hurt, she had the inexplicable desire to make him feel better. Her body ached for him.
She needed him. Now.
Forget talking, she wanted action.
She slowly wrapped her arms around his neck and brought his head down to hers. Their foreheads touched lightly and before Lois kissed him, she whispered, "I love you."
Lips mere millimeters apart, Clark, almost too shocked to speak, whispered, "I love you, too."
Lois closed the gap separating their lips and brushed her lips against his.
All inhibition left Clark's body as he brought his arms around Lois's back and pulled her close. Her lips were so soft, so wet, so inviting.
Their mouths melded together, forming a gigaohm seal that couldn't be broken. It was almost like their lips were covalently bonded together, impossible to separate. Two became one.
All the tension that had been coursing through their veins had surfaced. More than a week of separation had taken its toll on them both, and they ached for something more than a mere kiss. However passionate it was, it could never satisfy all their desires.
When their kiss finally broke, Lois stared into her husband's desire-clouded eyes and whispered, "Happy birthday."
Clark smiled weakly, knowing there was still so much more they needed to do before all of their problems were resolved. At least now he was sure that she still loved him — she had at least partially forgiven him.
"Thank you," he breathed.
After a brief silence, where they looked into each others' eyes, hesitant to even speak, Lois took the initiative to be the one to broach the looming discussion.
"We need to talk, honey."
"Yeah, we really do. Lois, I know …"
"No, let me talk. I really need to say this."
Clark nodded anxiously, eager to do anything to fix what he had done to her yesterday — what he had been doing recently. Yesterday wasn't the beginning. It was the culmination of a bigger problem.
Lois sat down at the table wearily before she continued. "You really hurt me yesterday."
Her voice was icy and her words stung Clark's heart. But she was right. What had he done to her? From the first day he met her, he had told himself that he would do everything in his power to keep her happy. He had promised himself that he would never hurt her.
But he had.
She took a weary breath. "How could you leave me like that?"
Clark shrugged — he had absolutely no idea why he had done it. He had left her for a charity softball game. What could have been more stupid? "I, uh, I don't know."
"You left me, Clark. I would have understood if it had been an emergency, but it wasn't. You left me to play softball with people who aren't even worth your company. You left me."
She was right. That was exactly what he had done! "I did," he said simply.
Clark knew he had to prioritize his schedule better. He needed to stop Superman, the vile interfering force that always seemed to play an instrumental role in ruining his life. And he needed to tell Lois how incredibly stupid he had been, how sorry he was. He needed to make sure Lois was the most important person in his existence.
"And this wasn't the first time. If it's not softball, it's ribbon cuttings, golf, hospital reopenings, rescuing cats stuck in trees …" Tears that had been welling up began to stream down her cheeks. "I just, I just, I just feel like I'm not important …"
"Lois, no! You know you're the most important person in my life." He quickly sat down next to her and his eyes met hers. Tears streamed down his face as he stumbled over his words. "I'm so sorry for making you think that! Lois, you are the only person in the world that matters to me. I love you so much it hurts."
"I love you, too."
"I can't believe I hurt you so much. I didn't even realize what I was doing. I don't know if I can tell you how sorry I am. Before we got married, I promised myself I would never hurt you."
Lois listened in rapt attention, tears streaming down her cheeks. She knew Clark hadn't meant to hurt her, but that didn't change how much he had hurt her, however inadvertently.
"But now I've hurt you so profoundly, I don't know what to do." He took a deep breath and waited for her response. She probably wouldn't accept his apology — and he wouldn't blame her at all.
"I know you didn't mean it, Clark, and we can't change what's happened." She reached out and touched his cheek, wiping away his tears, her own tears still streaming down her face. "But we *can* fix it."
Clark fought against his tears and forced a smile. "I love you so much, Lois."
"I love you too. I love you so much it hurts." She took a deep breath and continued. "But I don't like what you did. *You* have to remember that we're married now, so Superman can't accept every offer he gets. The charities can survive without you at their every event. I can't survive without you with me every night."
"Oh, god, Lois, it's *I* who can't survive without *you* next to *me* every night." He shook his head woefully.
"You just have to cut back. We don't see enough of each other as it is with just regular emergencies. We *never* see each other when you add in the charity appearances."
"As much as I want to cut back, I'm not sure I can. Some of these events have been scheduled years in advance — before we were a couple."
Lois shook her head. How had he made arrangements years in advance? Hadn't he considered what his life might have evolved into in that short time span? "Superman can break his engagements," Lois said definitively. "People will forgive him. Everyone knows how busy he is." And she was right. No one would question Superman's motivation for canceling — they would just believe that he had other emergency priorities.
Clark sighed. She was right. He really could cut back on most of his engagements — and the charities were bound to understand, especially if the Superman Foundation increased its donations.
He couldn't cut back on his marriage.
"You're right. I can't believe how Superman's taken over my life. When I created him, I just wanted an outlet to help people in need …"
Before Clark got lost in a hole of self-pity, Lois interrupted, "Superman is the world's greatest asset. You help so many people and have saved so many lives. And that is so amazing. You do so much!"
Lois reached and squeezed his shoulder, trying to reassure him.
"But you have to realize that you don't belong to the world anymore." She took a deep breath before saying, "You belong to me."
"I'm glad you still want me." He kissed her on her cheek and hugged her close.
Lois turned her head so she could look in his eyes. "I'll always want you. I'm just glad *you* still want *me*."
"I've always wanted you."
She reached up and wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him. It was almost a let down from all the tension that had built up in her body since last night. She felt like they deserved a bigger, more dramatic resolution.
"We just need to prioritize a little better, Clark. We need to put our relationship first in our lives. Before work, before Superman, before anything else."
"How do we do it?"
"I don't know. Maybe we need to set aside some time each week specifically for us." God, 'us time' sounded so stereotypical. But after everything that had happened, she was desperate.
"Good idea, honey. We can do that." If they set an organized time each week to spend together, it was a start.
Clark pulled a planner out of his briefcase and opened it, flipping aimlessly through the well-used pages.
"Oh, um, it's my day planner."
"*That's* your planner, Clark? I've never seen it."
Clark shrugged. "I guess I've never showed it to anyone."
"But what about your other planner? The one with the different colors for when Superman is committed to do various things? The one I used to plan last night."
Clark smiled weakly, guiltily. "That's *Clark's* planner. This one is Superman's."
Lois looked at it quizzically. "Superman has his own planner?"
Clark shrugged. It seemed only natural — secret identity, secret day planner. "How else would I keep everything straight?"
"It doesn't really help, you know." That was a cheap shot. But he deserved it.
Clark shrugged, knowing she was right. "I guess I don't check it as often as I should."
Lois flipped through the pages and exclaimed, "You're booked into the next century!"
"Don't worry. A lot of those are just tentative. I can easily get out of most of them."
Lois looked at the book and then back at him. "I don't want you to stop helping charities. I'm just asking to be more involved in your life."
"And you will be, honey. Starting with planning at least one day a week to spend alone together with no distractions, no interruptions."
"Starting tonight?" Lois wrapped her arms around his neck again and put her head down on his shoulder.
"A romantic dinner somewhere exotic — Australia, Sydney Harbor? We've been planning to go there forever."
Lois smiled at the sentiment, remembering her plan for penance from last night. But that wasn't what she wanted. She'd much rather have him as her sex slave. "That sounds wonderful. But I think tonight I want to stay home. Alone. With you. No distractions, no interruptions."
Clark shivered unconsciously, knowing what she was thinking. "Alone, together. Without the rest of the world." Would she give him a replay of what he had missed last night?
"Happy Birthday," she whispered, looking into his eyes.
"Thank you," he answered, his voice dropping the closer his lips edged to hers.
Their lips met and Clark kissed her, releasing the tension that had been building since their fight this morning. He surrendered to the feel of her lips against his, her hands on his neck, her tongue in his mouth. She loved him and had forgiven him.
Lois closed her eyes and reveled in the feel of his lips against hers, his fingers tangled in her hair, his other hand rubbing her back. She couldn't stay mad at him. He had so many good intentions, but he needed to remember that he couldn't help everyone on Earth. Sometimes he needed to help himself.
Lois knew she needed more. Eight days was too long. She was desperate, so desperate. If it wasn't considered unprofessional, and they wouldn't have an audience, she would take him right here on the conference room table.
"Let's go home. I need you now."
Clark groaned. She had voiced every thought he was feeling. He was so desperate — and she was desperate, too. But again, it wasn't the right time. If he could, he would make love to her right here on the conference room table. "Lo-is, don't do this to me! We have to work."
"Screw work. This is an emergency."
"Eight days, six hours, fifteen minutes, and thirteen seconds isn't just an emergency, it's a disaster."
"Let's go home, Clark. We'll tell Perry we're sick."
Clark nodded quickly. Lois stood up and pulled Clark with her. As they headed to the door hand-in-hand, Clark stopped abruptly and stiffened noticeably.
"Oh my god, not now!" His heart sank as the sound of a police scanner invaded his brain. Why him? Why now?
"What is it?" Lois sighed deeply. Superman again. This had better be something good, or else …
"Fire in Suicide Slum."
Almost instinctively, she exclaimed, "What are you waiting for? Go!"
"Are you serious?" Even though he knew he had to go, thousands of lives were at stake, he wondered if the fire department could manage without him this once.
Lois kissed him quickly and pushed him towards the door. Even though she needed him with her, she wasn't *that* selfish. When lives were at stake, Superman had a duty. She could wait. It wouldn't kill her. "Go! I'll see you there."
Without a second thought, Clark took a deep breath and hurried toward the staircase, the feel of Lois's lips still fresh on his lips.
Penny looked scornfully at the pile of papers on her desk. How could she have work to do today? She *never* had any real work! On the one day she actually had something *important* to do, she had to do stuff for Diticom.
Didn't her bosses realize she had *much* more important things to do?
It was times like this she wished she had superpowers … or a man with Superpowers. Then she could finish this mundane work in seconds. Or maybe she wouldn't even need this stupid job!
As she mindlessly entered data, she noticed the television flickering in the corner of the room. There he was! Her future husband. LNN was broadcasting a story about a massive fire in a warehouse on Hobbs Bay, but Penny didn't care about something stupid like a fire! Superman was there!
He looked so wonderful, so intense, so gorgeous when he was working. His muscles rippled under the royal blue spandex with each move he made. Penny was in love with the most beautiful man in the world.
In the grand scheme of life, it didn't matter. Superman, he was the most important person in her life.
She was going to find his secret identity. It was time for her to pretend to be doing "work" as she entered the parameters into the search engine. She'd "worked" enough for today. Now it was time to get down to business!
As she waited for the search program to load, she pulled her list of Superman's traits out of her bag. These were her ticket to discovering her hero's secret identity.
Again she was stricken with self doubt. Wasn't this secret identity idea too easy? How would he go around every day without anyone recognizing him? Then again, most people don't often look below the surface. Once, she had almost run right into her favorite actor on the street in broad daylight, and she'd had no idea it was him. He'd certainly looked a lot different than his character on television.
Maybe that was the same for Superman. Could the television reports and newspaper pictures create a different image for public consumption?
What if his secret identity looked absolutely nothing like the Superman everyone knew? What if he had some kind of power to morph into a completely different form, sort of like the Hulk? He could be *anything*. What if he morphed into an animal? Superdog? Supercat? Superbunny? Superbird? Well, he could fly. Maybe he *did* morph into a bird.
No, that was crazy. He couldn't morph into an *animal*.
But maybe he could morph into a human that looked *different*.
How would he do it? She had no idea of the extent of his powers, so she couldn't absolutely say that he *couldn't* morph into a different look. If he did, there was no way she'd ever be able to find him.
What if he didn't have that morphing power? Didn't it seem a little absurd? It sounded like something from one of her stupid little brother's comic books.
Why couldn't Superman hide in plain sight? It *was* possible. He could make a few minor changes to his hair style or something equally superficial and no one would recognize him.
It would be too hard for her to search for his secret identity if she didn't assume he was hiding in plain sight. She was already making so many assumptions, what was one more?
And if she were wrong, she could always stage an accident. She wanted to try the more professional way first before she gave in to the easy, foolproof way.
When Penny next glanced at the computer screen, the program was prompting her to enter the search criteria.
Penny shrugged and glanced at the screen and then down to the list and began typing.
Address/length of residence: Metropolis, New Troy, 4 years.
So far, so good!
Eye color: Blue, Brown
These were a little … less solid.
Job: Police, fire, news, mass communication.
Associated with: Superman
Well, that was everything she had right now. She still didn't know anyone else he associated with and didn't realize the program wouldn't let her enter personality traits. How stupid! If she entered this, she'd have five million matches! Maybe she should narrow *something* down a bit.
Eye color? No.
She could start by searching news and mass communication, eliminating police and fire.
Job: News, mass communication
She would get tons of results still, but at least she had narrowed it down slightly. Metropolis had far fewer young men involved in the news industry than in emergency services.
With great trepidation, she clicked on the button and the search commenced.
As the program ran, Penny decided to do more research about her superhero. She wanted to know everything about him by the time she finally met him. He was going to be so impressed!
It still seemed like this was way too easy. Someone else *had* to assume the Superhero had a secret identity. It was so obvious! She *was* smart, maybe even a genius, but this idea wasn't *that* difficult.
Then again, she didn't pay attention to the newspaper other than the pictures of Superman. She never actually read the articles. And she never watched LNN or the local news. There were so many other, better programs!
This was her weakness. She couldn't let Superman know she didn't usually associate herself with the news — especially if he worked in the field!
How would she research old news stories?
The internet? She could try to search the internet for any reference to "Superman" and "Secret Identity". If it were in recent news, it *had* to be on the internet. Thank goodness for computers! They were her life saver!
Luckily, Diticom had a contract with the "Daily Planet" developing a system to archive their old news stories. And Penny had full access to that cache of news stories from the last year or so. Sometimes it paid to work for the biggest software firm in the world.
"Superman" + "Secret Identity"
A hit! Someone *had* investigated Superman's secret identity! And it had made the newspaper! It was really recently — only about 14 days ago.
She began reading …
Tempus? Who was he? Oh, John Doe.
John Doe? He was certainly a darn nice guy!
John Doe thought Superman was really Clark Kent, reporter for the "Daily Planet." Interesting.
How would John Doe know something like that? He did seem to have it out for Kent because he had helped to crush Doe's campaign.
Shame, John Doe was Papa. He was going to shepherd the flock.
No, he was a crook!
Kent had refuted his claim. But …
Kent and Superman did have a strange resemblance. They looked almost like brothers. Same strong chin, same nose …
Could they be related?
Could they be one and the same?
No, Kent was clearly different. He wore glasses. His hair was a little curly. No, he wasn't Superman.
While Penny was fully engrossed staring at the picture of Clark Kent and Superman, the computer beeped loudly indicating the search was complete.
The first result of 192 was a 98% Superman match …
Clark J. Kent.
Really? Clark Kent? Was the computer serious? Could John Doe have been right?
But she had been looking at a picture of Clark Kent and Superman together. How was that possible?
She printed the picture and held it close to her face trying to study both men intricately. They looked so alike but so different. Kent had glasses. Superman didn't need glasses.
Maybe Kent's glasses weren't real. Maybe they were like a disguise or something. It didn't seem like people recognized him as Superman on the street, so maybe if he were Superman, the glasses deterred people from discovering his true identity. A flawed man couldn't be Superman.
If it was his disguise, it was so simple, yet so ingenious! But maybe he needed the glasses. If he did, then he certainly wasn't Superman! But they looked so alike. The resemblance was uncanny!
Penny took a pen and drew glasses over Superman's face. Then she made some little curls on his forehead. They looked … almost like the … same person.
Could they be twins? Was one man Superman while his twin was lowly Normalman? It didn't seem possible.
Clark Kent. Was he Superman? *Could* he be Superman?
She had a lot more research to do, but now she had a solid lead.
What a horrible day. It had started out so painfully, then it had gotten better with the promise of romance, and now it was a horribly mundane day at work without even a new, juicy investigation.
And Clark wasn't there.
He had never returned after he had left to put out the fire in Suicide Slum. Lois had been left alone at work … actually *working*. It was the last thing she wanted to do today!
Plus, she'd had to fight off questions about Clark's birthday all day. It seemed like everyone and their brother expected her to try to throw him a surprise birthday party, and they all expected invitations.
Please, all they both wanted to do was spend a couple of uninterrupted hours together! Alone. Not surrounded by fifty of their closest friends! Right now, Lois didn't really like any of them!
Lois had followed Superman to the massive warehouse fire both to watch her husband and to get the story for the "Planet". She couldn't stand to watch as his muscles rippled in the suit as he flew around trying to control the fire. It almost ruined her concentration.
She regretted having to go back to work and hated it even more that Clark wasn't coming with her! When the fire was finally under control, he had heard a news report, this time about an earthquake in Japan.
How rude! Didn't Japan know how to control its tectonic plates? Why did they have to move right now? Superman needed a day off.
At four o'clock, when it didn't seem like Clark was going to come back to work today, Lois decided to leave. She had done more than enough. It was her husband's birthday and this time her birthday surprise would go off without a hitch!
"Lois, darlin', where's the birthday boy?" Perry touched Lois on the shoulder stopping her attempt to flee from the newsroom.
Argh! Why hadn't she heard him come up behind her? Was everything in the world against her? How could she explain this one? It was Clark's birthday. He wasn't at work and hadn't been there all day. Maybe someone had noticed them fighting in the conference room this morning and told Perry.
"He's … um … well … he's at home." She decided to go the noncommittal route.
"At home? Aren't you working on that …"
Lois interrupted, "Check your inbox." She and Clark had finished the investigation earlier this week, and she had finished confirming with sources and writing the article earlier this afternoon. It had alleviated her boredom somewhat and had almost made the day bearable.
Perry's face lit up and he patted her on the back. "I knew I could count on you two! It's a shame I can't congratulate the birthday boy."
Lois shrugged. She wasn't sure how to answer. "I'll tell him for you, chief. I had him get the car from the shop while I finished the story. I didn't want to make him work on this birthday." Hopefully, Perry wouldn't press the issue.
Perry nodded, and said, "Okay, Lois, get out of here and see that husband of yours. Tell him 'happy birthday' from me!"
"I will!" Lois smiled at her boss before she turned and made her way to the elevator.
Soon, she was in the parking garage and finally ready to escape the shackles of work. A plan for tonight had been circling in her mind for hours and she couldn't wait! She sped home, hoping she'd have enough time to get ready before Clark got home.
It was going to be amazing. She hoped to give him the best birthday present he could imagine. There was still a chance to give him a birthday he would never forget.
Clark Kent. Superman. They had so much in common.
Penny spent the rest of the day, gasp, at the library! And she found *a lot* of strange coincidences! Beyond the facial similarities, Clark Kent and Superman seemed to have so much in common. Clark Kent was born in Smallville, Kansas. When those weird New Kryptonians came to take over Earth, their base was in Smallville, Kansas. Jason Trask, that insane government agent went to Smallville, Kansas to find Superman's space ship. And there was an abundance of Superman stories written by Clark Kent.
She found some biographical information about him as well.
Clark Jerome Kent was born on February 28, 1966 in Smallville, Kansas, to common farmers, Martha and Jonathan Kent. Wow, that meant that today was his thirty-first birthday! He played high school football, was the salutatorian of his class, went to Midwestern State University on a football scholarship and graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Journalism. He began working at the "Daily Planet" in 1993, around the first time Superman appeared on the scene in Metropolis.
So it was possible.
In October, Clark Kent was married to Lois Lane another reporter at the "Daily Planet". She seemed to be his partner. Her name appeared next to his in many of the articles Penny found.
Superman was married? To Lois Lane? Well, that made sense! Then the "National Whisper" had been right! He *did* have sex with a married woman — because he was a married man!
Could Superman really be married?
It didn't seem possible! He didn't wear a wedding ring.
There were too many coincidences. It *was* possible. Even though he was married, there was still a high probability that he was Superman. Someone had beaten her to the man of her dreams!
It wasn't possible.
*She* was the woman Superman was destined to be with. Superman was her soulmate. They were supposed to be together.
Still, thirty-one *was* a little old for her. But not *that* old. She would be able to deal with it. He was Superman. She could deal with *anything* he threw at her.
Except another wife. They didn't live in Utah and definitely weren't Mormons, so she wasn't sure she if he would be able to take her on as his wife! No! That couldn't be possible! Oh no! Her plans would be ruined.
Or else once he met her, Superman would immediately divorce that stupid wife of his so he could marry her and she would become Mrs. Penny Superman. The name just flowed off her tongue. Mrs. Penny Superman. It was destiny.
She wasn't completely sure that Clark Kent was Superman after all. Sure, they had a lot in common, but maybe they were just good friends. They might have grown up together.
Or they might be the same person. But maybe they weren't.
Penny needed to find out. Superman *could* be Clark Kent. But he could also be any one of the over one-hundred other people that came up in her search.
She needed to do some more detailed research. Maybe she could talk to the people he was close to — and by that, she meant Lois Lane. Or maybe she could just go straight to the source.
Staging an accident. It was the only foolproof way to meet Superman. Sure, it was a very plebian method, but it was the only way. She couldn't resist any longer. The more elegant method had given her a lead, but she couldn't waste any more time. Tonight she would meet Superman and determine once and for all if he was Clark Jerome Kent, investigative reporter for the "Daily Planet".
It was twilight by the time Clark finally reached Metropolis. The earthquake had caused a lot of damage in Japan, and it had taken him hours to assist the clean up effort. The whole time, visions of what he could have been doing with his wife invaded his mind. He needed to pull himself together!
Now he was so close to home, he could let the images flood his mind again. Lois. Lois. Lois. He needed her. He wanted her. He was desperate for her. Stupid fire! Stupid earthquake! Stupid Superman!
What a great birthday. The world didn't stop for Superman's needs, as much as he begged and pleaded.
He needed his wife. Or else he would go crazy.
Lois, Lois, Lois.
One thought was on his mind as he approached his bedroom window. He needed her so badly. The desire increased, the closer he got to her.
When he flew through his bedroom window, the room was dark, but the bed was not empty.
Lois. Lying on the bed. Wearing a robe. Only a robe.
She stood up to meet him as he landed lightly on the floor. She needed him. Now. Right now. She couldn't wait another minute. No, change that. She couldn't wait another millisecond!
Lois reached up and cupped his face with her hands, bringing it down to her level. She hungrily captured his lips with hers, and it felt like a spark of electricity passed between them. They were energized with a tension that was dying to be released.
He sighed deeply as Lois guided his hand to the tie on her robe. Lois pulled away from the kiss and whispered, "Happy birthday!"
"Lois," he breathed.
She took a step back, pulling the tie, hoping to give Clark the hint of what she wanted him to do. "Open your present, honey."
Lois grinned at the lustful expression on her husband's face. She had managed to surprise him. He obviously hadn't been expecting this ambush she'd planned.
Clark didn't hesitate and pulled at the one piece of thin terrycloth that held his wife's robe in place.
Suddenly, he froze with his hand on her robe's tie.
Lois moaned in protest, but she immediately realized what was happening. Now? Why now? Why did his Superhearing have to work even when he was sexually aroused?
"No, no, no!" he exclaimed.
"What is it?" she asked. She was resigned to believe that Superman would ruin every night they tried to share together until the end of time. If it wasn't an earth shattering international disaster, she wasn't going to let him go.
"At the International Trade Building."
"You've got to be kidding."
"I don't think I *could* joke about something like this."
"Oh *that* old excuse again. Sorry, honey, not tonight, there's another hostage situation. Jeez, can't the criminal element be quiet for just one night to let me have sex with my husband?" It was getting almost hilarious.
His eyes were filled with pain as he nodded slowly. "I can't believe it."
Lois sighed and said, "Just go. The sooner you leave, the sooner you'll be back."
"God, Lois, it's been so long. I need you."
"Don't go," she said simply.
Clark shook his head. "No, I won't go." He pulled her close and kissed her.
Lois stepped back and said, "You have to go. People might be killed."
"I … can't … go." Each word was punctuated by a kiss.
Lois pulled her mouth away and said, "You have to, Clark."
"I have to." His hearing picked up a gun shot from the scene and someone frantically calling for him. "It's been so long," he moaned.
"Almost nine days, honey."
"Eight days, fourteen hours, forty-two minutes, and three seconds."
Lois smiled woefully. As much as she wanted to tell him to stay, she couldn't forget the people waiting for Superman to save them. "What about the people being held hostage?" She sighed and said, "What's another few hours?"
"Oh god, it shouldn't have to be like this! One night with you, Lois, that's all I asked for!"
Lois traced the "S" shield on his chest and said, "Come home soon. I love you."
Clark looked at her pitifully, knowing that he *had* to go or lives would be lost. But he didn't *want* to go. "I love you, too," he said simply as he flew out the window.
Sometimes the sacrifices he had to make to be Superman were more than he could handle.
Late that night after the hostage situation was finally resolved, and everyone had gotten out safely, it was *finally* time for a weary Clark to go home. He wanted, no, needed, to finish what he and Lois had started. The memory of what had happened before he'd been called away tortured his mind.
He picked up his pace and flew at full speed towards his bedroom window, praying he would find Lois in the exact same position as he had left her.
But, no, of course not. Someone *else* needed his help. What would this city do without him? Couldn't the world give him just one night off? Didn't they realize how much he needed to be with his wife tonight? Come on, it was his birthday! Didn't that count for something?
"Help, SUPERMAN! SUPERMAN, HELP!"
"I'm coming!" he muttered under his breath. No, the world wouldn't let him rest.
He wasn't sure what was going on, but this woman seemed to need him desperately. He changed direction and raced towards the desperate voice.
He landed in a dark, abandoned alley and looked around for the person in distress. Instead, he saw a young, pretty woman with long blond hair dressed in an evening gown staring at him.
"Superman," she breathed, her eyes fixed on the S.
"Can I help you, Miss?" Clark was always uncomfortable whenever anyone stared at him like that. It made him feel objectified.
"Superman! I can't believe you're really here, that I'm finally meeting you! I'm your biggest fan!"
Clark sighed deeply. She wasn't the first woman who had tried to meet him like this. He had no respect for someone who cried wolf. What if there were another emergency going on somewhere else in the world that he missed because he was here with this woman? And *she* had pulled him away from the biggest emergency in his life. He wanted to spend the rest of his birthday with his wife! Instead, he was here with this crazy woman! How unfair! What an utter waste of his valuable time!
"Well, thank you, but, what's your trouble?" He had to deal with this somewhat diplomatically. Even though he wanted to fly away and never think about this again. He needed to get back to Lois. His birthday was fading away so quickly. And it had been so long since he and Lois had been together.
"Oh, no, I just desperately wanted to meet you." Penny grinned at him, hoping he would notice her beautiful pearly, white teeth. She was such a good catch! And he, well he was an absolutely beautiful man specimen. He was even more gorgeous in person than she had ever imagined. Pictures didn't do him justice! And he had brown eyes. Beautiful, large brown eyes. He was so awe-inspiring. She was in love.
As much as he hated it, he did have to deal with this diplomatically. It would ruin his reputation if he snubbed this woman. Why did he have to be a nice person? He needed to be selfish once in a while! "I'm really flattered, but …"
The woman extended her hand and interrupted, "Like I said, Mr. Kent, I'm Penny Barnes and …"
Clark's breath caught in his chest. What did she say? Clark Kent? No, no, no, no one was supposed to know that! How did *this* woman know? God, what a horrible birthday! She must be a criminal. It always seemed like the criminals found out his true identity. Yet she didn't look that dangerous. He interrupted, "Who?"
She was right! The expression on his face said more than his words. He looked shocked, like someone had caught him in the biggest lie of his life. Well, she had caught him in the biggest lie of his life! Her! Penny Barnes! Genius! "Mr. Kent, don't try to pretend you don't know what I'm talking about. I work for Diticom Technologies …"
Clark's heart raced as he tried to talk his way out of the situation. "I'm sorry, but you're mistaken. I'm not Clark Kent. He's my friend, but we're not the same person."
Someone had found out his secret. But how on Earth? Diticom Technologies? The software firm? What did he know about Diticom? They were working with the "Daily Planet" to set up an online archive of all old articles. *And* he and Lois had done an article recently about the new people search software they were developing and its legal merits and invasion of privacy.
Apparently they were still developing the software although it was deemed illegal.
"Mr. Kent, don't try to deny it. I have solid proof."
Clark didn't want to deal with her right now. He needed to talk to Lois. She'd know what to do. "Look, if you're not in danger, I have to leave."
Penny wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled him close. "But I am in danger. In danger of falling, falling madly in love with you." She placed a soft kiss on his cheek and moved to his lips.
Before Penny could kiss him on the lips, Clark shrugged out of her embrace. "I'm sorry. I hear another cry for help. I have to go now."
Why hadn't he thought to do this last night? Well, at least he had done it now. He needed to escape! A crazy, obsessed fan who knew his true identity was five-million times worse than a group of boorish celebrities!
Before she could protest, Clark took to the air and flew home as fast as Superhumanly possible.
Before he knew it, he was home and in their dark bedroom again. He spun into a pair of shorts, and exclaimed, "Lois! Lois, honey, where are you?"
Lois came out of the bathroom quickly, again dressed in her robe. "Clark, you're home! Are you ready for a replay?" Then she noticed the frantic look in his eyes. "Are you okay? What happened? Is that *lipstick*?"
"Some crazy woman ambushed me. She *knows*. Lois, she *knows*!"
"She knows I'm Superman."
"She's crazy. We have to do something. How can she know?"
"Calm down, Clark." Even though Lois's heart was racing, she knew she had to be the rational one in this situation. Clark was traumatized knowing that someone knew his true identity. "What happened?" She put her hand on his arm and guided him to the bed. "Take a deep breath."
"After I helped resolve the hostage situation, I was flying home when I heard someone calling for me. She sounded like she was in a lot of trouble, so I hurried to help her. And to make a long story short, she kissed me and called me 'Clark Kent'. What are we going to do?"
Lois took a deep breath before she said, "Honey, what did you say?"
"Well, I told her she was wrong, obviously. But she didn't believe me."
"Okay." If Lois knew Clark, he wasn't very convincing in his denial. Poor guy never learned how to lie correctly. How had he had a successful secret identity for so long? It seemed almost counter intuitive that a man that couldn't lie successfully protected the biggest lie she knew!
"I'm scared. How do we convince her I'm not Superman? I *know* she isn't going to be pacified so easily."
Lois squeezed his thigh, hoping to reassure him as she said, "It will be okay; I know it. We'll think of something."
They needed to come up with a plan to change this crazy woman's mind. She realized that Clark needed her as "Superman" just as much as he needed her as "Clark".
They would get through this. Together.
For the moment, Lois wanted to get Clark's mind off his problems. There wasn't anything they could do about it tonight. They would be able to deal with it in the morning.
And that bare chest was driving her crazy.
It was still Clark's birthday, and he deserved to celebrate. "Make love to me, Clark," she whispered.
And then …
There was a frantic knock at the door.
"No!" Clark exclaimed. "No, no, no!"
"Ignore it!" Lois inched closer to him, hoping the person at the door would go away. She needed her husband. Now. They were so close, so ready to consummate their marriage again.
"What if it's important?"
"Who could it be at this hour, Clark? We both know it's probably Jimmy. He can wait!"
Clark looked down through the door and sighed loudly. "It's her."
"Her? Senorita Psychopath? Make her wait!"
"The woman who knows about me. What are we going to do? I think we *have* to answer it."
"Fine, that means you're volunteering."
Clark moaned, "Lois! I can't answer it! Not like *this*. I'm gonna need a minute or two."
"Or three for both of us. It's been that long."
The doorbell rang again.
"Fine! I'll get it. But you owe me." She gathered her robe and reluctantly put it back on. This girl was in for the wrath of Mad Dog Lane. That little hussy had better watch out!
Lois glared at Clark, angry that they had been so rudely interrupted … again.
Before Lois could launch into another full-blown protest, the doorbell rang again. That stupid woman was nothing if not persistent.
"I'm coming!" Lois exclaimed in frustration. Didn't she have any patience?
She jogged downstairs and adjusted her robe to make sure everything was covered before she flung the door open. "Hello?"
The young, blonde girl outside bubbled with enthusiasm as she said, "Does Superman live here?"
"Excuse me?" Lois looked at her in exasperation. "Do you know what time it is? Who are you?"
"Lois Lane, I presume." The girl extended her hand and said, "I'm Penny Barnes. Superman and I met earlier. I wanted to talk to him."
Lois's jaw dropped. How could this woman be so bold, so forward? She was obviously a force to be reckoned with. Clark hadn't been exaggerating. She was insane!
"And you came here? Why would you come here to see Superman?"
"Aren't you married to Superman?"
Lois looked at her incredulously. "No. My husband's name is Clark Kent. I am *not* married to Superman."
"Don't you know? Clark Kent *is* Superman!"
"What are you talking about?" Lois answered automatically. "Don't you think *I'd* know if my husband were Superman? I *do* see him every day. And I know him quite intimately. In fact …"
"Well where is he? Is he on a patrol of the city?" Penny looked around looking for some evidence of Superman.
Instantly, Lois came up with a plan. She hoped Clark was listening. "No, he's upstairs. He's not feeling well today, so he was sleeping. It *is* 11:45. Some of us have to get up for work in the morning."
"He's sick? He can't be sick. He's Superman."
"How did you ever get that idea? Clark and Superman are friends, but definitely not the same person. Not even close." Lois laughed internally at the look on the younger woman's face. "I love Clark, but he's no Superman."
"They look *exactly* alike!"
"Well, they do sort of look alike, but not really. They look totally different in person. I think the resemblance is just their hair color. Superman's a lot taller and a lot more muscular. His voice is a lot deeper, too. And Clark's vision is horrible. He can't see two inches in front of him. And he gets sick all the time — terrible allergies. The poor guy is allergic to everything."
"But he can't be allergic to anything. He's invulnerable."
"I guess the only way I'll ever be able to convince you how different they actually are is for Clark to come downstairs." Hoping Clark had heard everything she'd told this Penny, Lois called up the steps, "Clark, honey, can you come down here for a second."
Seconds later, a groggy-looking red-cheeked, sweaty Clark appeared at the top of the staircase dressed in a robe that was too big for him. "Lois, what is it?" Then he collapsed into a fit of sneezes.
Wow, he had definitely heard her. No one would believe he was Superman from the way he looked. She didn't really want to know how he had made himself so sweaty and red- cheeked, but she had a pretty good idea.
"Mr. Kent! Are you okay?"
Clark gasped for breath as he walked down the stairs hunched over. He collapsed on the couch and said, "Fine, thanks. It's just a little cold."
Penny walked towards him with her mouth gaping. Maybe he *wasn't* Superman. He almost looked like he was dying! Superman didn't get colds. She glanced at Kent's face and gasped. Blue eyes! Kent had blue eyes! Superman, he had dark brown eyes.
Maybe she had been wrong. Kent and Superman couldn't be the same person, could they?
Lois moved to get Clark a pillow, inwardly laughing at his Oscar-worthy performance. As she leaned down to give him a reassuring kiss, she noticed something different about his face. His eyes were blue! Clark must be wearing those blue contact lenses she'd tried to wear as a teenager! What a good idea! He was brilliant. She was brilliant, too. No, *they* were a brilliant team.
"But what about Superman?" Penny flopped down into the chair and sighed dejectedly. "I may never find his secret identity."
"Secret identity?" Lois gasped in mock-shock.
"How else would he have a normal life? He's the love of my life."
Clark looked at Lois and said, "Superman can't have a normal life."
Lois added, "He belongs to the world. It's a full time job."
"With overtime. And he doesn't get paid a cent."
"But he loves it." Lois stroked Clark's arms calmly. "I don't think he would trade it for the world."
"Doesn't he want a normal life, a job, a wife, me?"
Clark bit his lip, willing himself to tell a huge lie. It was for self-preservation. No one would get hurt. "I think Superman is content with the job he already has. I don't know him that well, but to me, he comes off as almost asexual. I don't think he needs a wife to be happy. He's married to the world."
Lois added, "I don't think it's fair for him to take a wife. They wouldn't have any time together, beyond his regular rescues around the world, he has tons of charity events, fund raisers, hospital reopenings … no time for a wife."
Penny stared at them slack-jawed. She hadn't even considered it that way before. Maybe being married to Superman wasn't exactly everything she had imagined. It wouldn't be glamorous, and it would involve so much suffering. Was he worth it? After the way he had treated her tonight, she wasn't sure any more. Maybe Doris was right. She needed to meet a real man. One that would want her just as much as she wanted him.
Penny turned around and headed towards the door. "Sorry to bother you, Miss Lane, Mr. Kent. I think I've realized Superman might not be the man of my dreams."
Before Lois or Clark could respond, Penny was already out the door.
"Good riddance," Lois whispered.
Lois climbed on top of Clark and spread out languidly. "Very well done! And the contacts, nice touch!"
Clark laughed slightly. "I wasn't sure I'd be able to do it fast enough."
"You're Superman," she whispered. "You're always fast enough."
"Did you really mean what you said to her?"
Clark took a deep breath, almost afraid of her answer. "Do you really think it was unfair of me to marry you?"
Lois laughed. "Only if you think you're asexual and married to the world. I am *not* your mistress!"
"No, Lois, I didn't mean that! See, that's the problem with lying. Someone always gets hurt."
Lois tried to calm him, kissing him on the top of the head. "Clark! I was kidding. Sometimes lies are *necessary*. Honey, I don't think you're married to the world. And I *certainly* don't think you're asexual. I'm *glad* you chose me and I'm *proud* to be married to Clark Kent *and* Superman."
"Really? Even after everything I've done to you?"
"That's all minor stuff. It can be fixed so easily. It's just a matter of prioritizing, of giving me a bigger part in your life."
Clark nodded slowly.
"I don't want to do anything to control you; I just want us to communicate better. I want to be involved in your life."
"I promise. You will come first in my life. We're married now, and I have to remember that I'm not alone any more."
"You'll never be alone again."
"I love you so much," Clark breathed into her hair. "I can't guarantee it will never happen again, but I can promise to try."
"That's all I ask of you."
"Superman just needed to get his priorities straight," Clark whispered, his mouth poised inches from hers.
"Mmm, where are Superman's priorities now?"
"Right where they've always been … right here, right now. I am only interested in you and me and our time together. You are more important to me than anything Superman can do. I love you, Lois; I love being with you. I want to spend every waking moment with you."
"I'll never put our relationship on the back burner again. And I *promise* we'll *never* go nine days without making love again."
"Oh, god, nine days!" Lois was at her wits end. They needed to resolve this situation immediately.
Lois kissed him so passionately they both shuddered with anticipation.
"I love you, Clark. I love you more than I ever thought possible. Happy birthday, honey."
Clark glanced at the clock and saw that it was 12:06. "It's not even my birthday any more."
Lois stood before him and said, "You still need to open this one last present!"
As Clark pulled her to him, he realized how much he needed her. She completed him. He couldn't live without her.
After everything they had been through in the last day, he knew they could survive anything. They were so much stronger together than either was alone.
Their love could survive anything.