Love and Secrets

By NiteMar <nitemar@att.net>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: December 2002

Summary: What would have happened if Lois had not slammed the door in Clark's face after their first date? This Second Season story explores one scenario.

Disclaimers and Acknowledgements: These characters aren't mine; I'm just playing with them. This is a rewrite of portions of the 'Lucky Leon' episode, so there is some dialogue and recognizable things from the show with a bit of a twist. No copyright infringement is intended.

I want to thank my beta readers: Amac, BrightFeather, Wanda and Carrie for all their help and encouragement! If it weren't for their and others help on IRC to bounce things off, I never would have completed this L&C fanfic.

For all those who wondered what may have happened if Lois hadn't slammed that door in Clark's face on their first date. This story is one possibility…

Feedback welcome at nitemar@att.net.

I hope you enjoy reading…

***

Lois absently toyed with the strand of pearls around her neck as she considered Clark's question. She looked across the table into his eyes and answered candidly. "No, I didn't see my dad very much. He was always away. And I saw my mother more than I wanted to. She was…" Lois started to explain as dessert was brought to the table. The server quietly set a sumptuous chocolate creation in front of Clark with his coffee and put a glass of burgundy wine in front of Lois.

"Thank you," Clark said in acknowledgment to the server. He looked back to Lois and smiled at her expression. Lois' mouth suddenly watered and her eyes widened at the luscious dessert. "Are you sure you don't want a dessert, Lois?"

Lois quickly relaxed her gawking stare. "Oh no, Clark," she insisted, bringing her wine glass to her lips for a sip. "I couldn't eat a whole dessert after that meal. That does look good though. Maybe I'll have a bite before you finish."

"Of course," Clark agreed, sliding the fork into the decadent dessert and taking his first bite. "Mmmm," his brows raised in approval as he savored the rich, chocolate taste. "And talking about desserts, did I ever tell about the time I was in…"

Lois watched Clark as he spoke, observing a side of him she rarely let herself see. Why was that? Because Clark Kent was her partner—the man who had become her best friend. Why mess with a good thing, right? How could she have not seen how wonderful he was? Not as a partner or friend, but as a man. Oh sure, he had faults. What man didn't? But she couldn't think of a single one right now. Maybe they would come to her later, she thought as she smiled inwardly. Much later.

Sitting across from him now, completely at ease and enjoying his company, Lois wondered why she had been so hesitant to go out with him. She'd kept making excuses for postponing the event, using her busy schedule as the reason. But when Mayson had shown up at the Planet and invited Clark to go to a play with her, Lois had surprised herself as much as him by informing Mayson that she and Clark had plans together that evening. Technically, Clark had only asked her out, and they certainly weren't exclusive, but when Mayson tried to push into *her* territory, it irked her. She had quickly claimed Clark for the evening—and every other evening if she had anything to say about it, at least as far as Mayson was concerned.

When Clark first picked her up at the apartment, there was an element of nervousness between them. She had wondered if they would make it past that awkwardness due to their evolving relationship. But now, well over three hours into their first real date, she realized her fears had been totally groundless. The evening had been fantastic; her time with Clark had been wonderful. It was as if the past two years of getting to know one another had been leading to this exact event in their lives. She had been so afraid that any romantic involvement with Clark would be disastrous, as it had been with Claude. But she had forgotten how different the two men were—even at work. She couldn't burden Clark with that reputation. He hadn't done anything to deserve that.

Clark Kent was always the gentleman, always considerate. He did not involve himself in the degrading, sexist joking around that some of the men at the Planet took part in and sometimes directed towards the women that worked there. Clark respected her and considered her an equal partner. Oh, he sometimes got too protective of her. But in a way, it was flattering that he cared what happened to her. She understood that was why he was so protective—because he cared, not because he thought her an incapable woman. Of course she couldn't let him ever know what she thought as she rolled her eyes. But he trusted her, as she trusted him and they had learned that they could count on one another. They had become the Planet's prize-winning investigative team—because their styles complemented each other, and they depended on their differences to turn out the best stories possible. It was their respect for each other combined with their abilities that made them a success. Could success carry over into other areas, as well?

She had sensed early in their relationship that Clark had feelings for her, but she had not been ready for anything more than what they had in a working relationship. Now tonight, she was so hopeful that much more was possible. Clark had been so attentive, the love and longing evident in his eyes, yet he had been the perfect gentleman. It had been a pleasure to listen to him tonight as he relayed tales from his youth and world travels. She had learned so much about him as he spoke of things he was passionate about. And she had opened up to him, revealing so much more of herself than she ever had before.

"What happened between you and your dad?" Clark asked as he took a sip of coffee, drawing her back from her thoughts. Clark knew that she had resented her father's absence, but he wondered if there had been some specific incident that had occurred between them that Lois had never confided before.

"Oh, we had a huge fight when I was a senior in high school and I moved out," Lois explained, trying to keep the pain out of her voice. She hated that something which happened so many years ago still affected her so deeply. Taking a sip of her wine, she added, "He was always disappointed that he never had any sons."

Clark listened sympathetically as she shared the painful memory. "So, you went out and became a world famous reporter just to prove him wrong?" Clark ventured as he took another sip of his coffee.

Lois smiled at Clark's appraisal. "Maybe," she said softly. Her eyes drifted to the many-layered chocolate confection before Clark, and her mouth watered. Perhaps she'd have just a small bite. "Are you going to finish that?" she asked, pushing the rose vase aside to clear the space between them.

Focused on this new tidbit of information into what made Lois Lane tick, he prompted her, "So why don't you quit? I mean, now you could do anything you want." Clark wondered if she continued as a reporter today only because of her father.

Lois smiled. "I guess I found out I like it." She learned forward, her eyes on his dessert, and abandoned any pretense at disinterest. "Did they give you two forks with that?" she asked.

Clark chuckled, "I'm sorry." He scooped a bite-sized portion of his dessert with his fork and offered it to her. He watched as she smiled coyly and leaned toward him, her lips parting to accept the morsel. His mouth unconsciously opened and closed as she wrapped her lips around the fork. He watched her savor the morsel, her tongue slipping out to lick away any lingering taste.

She closed her eyes in ecstasy, blocking all other sensations save for the rich chocolate taste. "Mmmm," she finally moaned rapturously before opening her eyes and meeting Clark's attentive gaze. "I hate myself," she said softly, with an embarrassed smile.

"Are you ready for another round?" he asked huskily.

"I think I need a moment to recover," she laughed, and rolled her eyes dramatically. Relishing the taste like this seemed almost like… Lois blushed at where her thoughts were headed. Yet, she wondered what Clark would be like as a lover. Would he be slow and considerate like he was in his treatment of people? Or would he be like all the other men she had met—selfish and simply taking what they wanted? But Clark was so… different.

"So what about you?" Lois asked after a few moments. She really needed to steer her thoughts in another direction before she embarrassed herself.

"I'm fine. It's all yours," he said, pushing the dessert plate over to her.

"No, I mean you and your parents. Did you ever have any big fights with them?"

Clark thought for a few seconds. "Little ones, nothing really big. I guess you could say I was your basic goody- two-shoes," he commented.

Lois replied, "The perfect son."

"You know, it's not easy being perfect," Clark joked. He reached and pulled at his earlobe, saying with a frown, "Actually, Jimmy still thinks I should wear an earring."

"Clark Kent—the rebel without a flaw," Lois teased as she took another sip of her wine.

Lois observed him as he sipped from his coffee and realized that she had already fallen in love with Clark Kent a long time ago. Tonight she had allowed herself to recognize what her heart already knew; no barriers were needed because he had nothing to hide. They had grown to know each other so well over the past two years.

After a quiet moment, Clark added, "You know, when you think about it, the only time that people ever really seem to express themselves is when they're passionate, when the polite veneer of society drops off, you know, like when they're fighting…"

Lois chimed in, "Or make love." Lois held Clark's gaze for several moments, both of them held captive by her words. Suddenly, she covered her mouth in embarrassment, realizing what she had said to Clark. "Oh, my God," she said behind a laugh. Why did she say that? Because she had been thinking of it, that's why. Lois suddenly recalled the vivid image Clark had burned in her mind the day he had answered his door in nothing but a towel. She blushed as she thought of what it must be like to touch that hard body and feel that body against her own.

Oh God, did Clark realize she was thinking about having sex with him now? No, no he wouldn't. He's too much a gentleman to expect anything like that on a first date. Damn, Lois mentally slapped herself. Get hold of yourself! Nervously, Lois looked down at Clark's watch and commented on the time. "Oh Clark," she said, trying to control the anxiousness in her voice. "It's almost midnight. We'd better be going."

Clark smiled, laying his napkin down. "You're right. We have a busy day tomorrow."

***

Clark had to concentrate to keep from floating as they walked the short distance to Lois' apartment. Since the moment he had met Lois he had wanted to take her out. He wanted to have a chance to get to know her—not as just a friend, but a woman he could potentially spend a lifetime with. Despite their initial nervousness, it hadn't taken them long to start talking and sharing things they had never before revealed to each other. They had spent hours talking and enjoying each other's company, revealing childhood hopes and dreams.

Lois walked close at his side, commenting in awe, "Clark, it is such a beautiful clear night. Look at the moon and stars."

He glanced upward briefly, following her gaze. It was indeed a clear night for the city, and had he been alone, he might have enjoyed stargazing for a time. But all he could see tonight was the amazing woman who walked by his side. "So beautiful, Lois," he murmured, taking her hand in his.

Lois blushed at his obvious meaning. "Did you ever just wonder about things in the universe, the beauty of it? Wonder what's out there?" she asked, trying to turn his attention back to the sky.

"All the time, Lois, especially as a child. Growing up in Smallville, I saw a lot of nights like this, nights with so many more stars," he said as he gazed upward, lost in thought. He thought of all those nights as a teen when he wondered who he really was, why he was so different, and if he would ever find out the answers to his questions.

Lois chuckled. "Of course, I almost forgot. I remember when we were there investigating Trask. It was amazing to me how many stars you could see when you're away from the city lights. It was so beautiful there in the country." Lois squeezed his hand in hers.

Clark looked at her in surprise. "I thought you hated it there." Clark recalled how much she had complained and teased him. Although she did seem to enjoy herself eventually, once she gave it a chance, he thought with a smile.

Lois smiled. "It was different. But in a good way," she replied. She glanced down shyly. "I loved it a lot more than I let on," she said softly, leaning into him.

Clark chuckled as he slid his arm around her waist. "Will wonders never cease? I learn new things about you every day."

They walked in silence for a few moments, and Clark relished the closeness he was sharing with her tonight. He committed everything about the evening to memory: the things they talked about, the animated looks that had graced her face as they spoke, her ecstatic reaction to tasting the chocolate. He concentrated on the feel of his arm around her waist and the light floral scent of her perfume, not wanting to forget anything about tonight. Most of all, he did not want this feeling to end. Hopefully, there would be many more such evenings.

Clark took a deep breath as they approached her building. He hesitated, unsure of the next step. Would she ask him in? Should he kiss her goodnight by the door? He had never felt so awkward on a first date before—not even as a teenager. But then, no date had ever mattered as much to him as this one did.

Clark held the door open for her as he escorted Lois inside the building. After exiting the elevator, he walked with her down the hallway, still holding her hand in his. Lois was very quiet as they approached her apartment, giving him little clue as to what she was thinking. But he noticed that she had drawn physically closer to him as they walked. That was a good sign, wasn't it?

Clark released her hand as they reached her door. His heart beat loudly as she unlocked her door and he stood close behind her. The lock clicked open and she turned to face Clark with a smile. He gazed at her, hesitantly, waiting for her to make the next move.

"Okay, look, Clark. I had a really nice time," she started.

"So did I." Clark's heart stopped as he anticipated the next words from her lips.

"No, I mean I really had a wonderful time. One of the best times I ever had," Lois said, hoping Clark understood she wasn't just saying this to be nice. "It just seemed to work," she added. She looked into Clark's expectant face, realizing he was waiting for a cue from her. "Really nice," she repeated as she mentally made a decision. "That's why… I mean," she said timidly, peeking at Clark through her eyelashes. "Would you like to come inside for some coffee?" Oh God, that sounded so lame. Clark had been in for coffee many times and he usually made it. And he had just had coffee with his dessert. It sounded so dumb now.

Surprised at the question, it took a moment for Clark to respond. It was not what he had been expecting from her nervous words summing up their date; she had seemed ready to end their evening. But then he smiled and said, "I'd love that, Lois."

Clark sensed Lois' nervousness as he followed her into the apartment. He knew that Lois was cautious about expanding their relationship and that was partly due to her parents' experience, as well as the negative experiences she'd had with men in her past—jerks like Claude. He realized she was probably uncertain about what was going to happen next. He had been to her apartment many times before, but that had been as a partner working on a project, or as a friend spending some down time watching a movie. This was the first time he was here as her date. Yet she had invited him inside, extending the evening. Discarding his jacket he waited just inside the door as Lois walked into the kitchen to make the coffee. "Do you want me to do that, Lois?"

She turned back with a smile. "No, I can handle it, Clark. Why don't you just sit down, and I'll be right there." Just because he often made the coffee or tea when he was over didn't mean that she couldn't. She turned back, determined to prove her worthiness in the kitchen—at least with coffee.

"Do you want cream? Sugar?" she asked as she opened cabinet doors, looking for the coffee and filters. She looked over at Clark as he stood there, hands in his pockets, still watching. Had she just asked Clark how he wanted his coffee? She saw a smile creep over Clark's face. "Oh," she said, catching herself. "I know how you like your coffee." She turned back to the cabinets, embarrassed by her blunder.

Calm down, Lois told herself. Why was she acting so nervous now? She'd just spent the most wonderful four hours with Clark getting to know him better than she thought possible, affirming how deeply she had felt for him all along. This was the man she shared almost everything with, was the most comfortable with—the man she could trust more than any other. Then why was she so flustered?

Because she couldn't get that image of him with nothing but a towel wrapped loosely about his hips out of her head. Her heart had stopped for a beat that morning when he had opened his door, standing there after having just gotten out of the shower. She had been mesmerized by the droplets of water trickling in rivulets down his chest, and had breathlessly watched their descent as they were absorbed by the towel. Never had she been so affected by the sight of a man's body. Not unless she counted their 'almost first date' when she had seen him undressing behind the frosted glass. But that hadn't really counted, she reasoned, because she had never really seen any skin. He had been behind the door. Yet even the knowledge that he had been naked behind that door had had an unsettling effect on her.

And then she had to mention 'making love' at the restaurant tonight. Now she couldn't get the possibility out of her mind. She knew Clark was not the type of man to expect anything like that on a first date, but that didn't keep her from speculating on the notion. What type of lover would Clark be? Slow and gentle? Rough and passionate? Caring and considerate?

Clark watched Lois' frustration grow as she fumbled around in the kitchen. Then he remembered that the last time he had been to her apartment he had helped her put away groceries. Walking up behind her, he noticed she had the coffee out on the counter but was still searching for the filters. "Here, Lois," Clark said as he reached around her into the cabinet where he had placed the filters.

Unaware that Clark had come up behind her, Lois gasped at his words. Clark lightly placed a hand on her shoulder to calm her, reassuring her of his presence.

"Sorry. I didn't mean to…" Clark started to apologize.

Lois turned to face Clark, gazing into his eyes, her back against the counter. She felt the heat from his closeness, and her breath caught in her throat as his eyes held her captive.

Clark paused, uncertain what it was he had been saying. Her dark eyes captured his full attention, and he heard her heartbeat accelerate. He slowly raised his hand to cup the side of her face, caressing her skin lightly with his thumb. His other hand moved from her shoulder to cup her other cheek as she gazed expectantly into his eyes. Clark slowly closed the distance between them, his heart pounding in his chest with anticipation. He lightly touched his lips to hers, testing her response.

The heat rose swiftly in her body as his lips set fire to hers. She had never felt anything like this in her entire life. She hungrily pressed her lips to his and slid her arms around his waist, leaning more fully into him. Clark's fingers slipped through her hair as he deepened the kiss, and her lips parted willingly to the gentle thrust of his tongue. The sound of their lips clasping and parting was punctuated with soft moans of pleasure as they explored each other's mouths.

Lois' head was spinning. Never before had a man's kisses affected her in this way. All rational thought was gone. All she wanted was more—more kissing, more touching—just more. Oh God, this was too fast! Lois pulled her arms back, resting her hands on his chest. She gently pushed him back and gasped against his lips, "Wait."

Clark pulled back as he became aware of her apprehension, and his hands slid down to her waist. "I'm sorry, Lois," Clark apologized as he took a step back. He hadn't meant for things to escalate so quickly, but the innocent kiss he had intended had flared out of control the moment their lips touched. "I didn't mean to…" How stupid could he have been, losing control like that? He knew he needed to move slowly; he had no intention of pressuring her into something she wasn't ready for.

Lois smiled, realizing Clark was as nervous as she was. She had panicked for a moment, but she could see that it was okay. "No, Clark," she said, reaching for him again. "I just…that was so…" She closed the distance between them and captured his lips again in a brief kiss.

After parting, Clark looked at her questioningly, seeing the passion in her eyes. He knew that if he let things go any further tonight, he might live to regret it. Besides, he had so much to tell her yet about himself. He sighed and summoned all his strength. He gently cupped her face in his hands. "Lois," he began.

Lois smiled. Clark was stirring feelings in her that she didn't know she possessed. This was way more than two friends who happened to be attracted to each other. She loved Clark. She had known Clark as a partner and a friend for two years now, and she realized that she had been falling in love with him all along.

"Lois, you're right, it's too fast," Clark reasoned with her. "Remember, we were afraid of ruining our friendship? I want to take things slow, sweetheart. I don't want to lose you." As Clark spoke the words he hoped his own body would listen, yet part of him wanted nothing more than to make wild passionate love with Lois.

Lois listened to his words, thinking through what she was feeling. She thought of what they had talked about, their hesitation in dating, their fear of losing their friendship. Was Clark uncertain now about moving forward in this relationship? Maybe the date wasn't what he had expected. Tears welled in her eyes, and she grew embarrassed. Perhaps Clark didn't feel what she was feeling.

Clark saw her blush as she turned her eyes from his, and he knew immediately what she was thinking. He guided her face back to his again and smiled gently. "Lois, look at me. I love you. That's why I want to do this right. Come on, let's sit," Clark said, steering her towards the couch.

Lois let him lead her to the couch, still feeling embarrassed at her confusion. Thoughts of how Claude had used her crept into her mind and threatened to confuse her even more. Why was she thinking of that now? Clark wasn't trying to use her. He was trying to slow things down. For a moment she hesitated to sit close, but Clark made no advances. She had been so caught up in the moment that he could have easily taken advantage of her and she would have let it happen, but he hadn't. Why was she having these mixed emotions? What was wrong with her?

"Lois…"

Lois looked at him as he searched her face with such caring. "Clark," she choked. This man was really different from any other she had ever met. He hadn't changed just because they went on a date. He was the same man she had come to know as her friend. The only man she could confide in and trust.

Clark drew her into an embrace, comforting her with softly murmured endearments and Lois calmed in his arms. Her thoughts collided as she snuggled into his warmth. It had been so long since she had been held and loved by a man. She trusted Clark—knew intuitively that she was safe with him. She heard him groan and realized that she had been unconsciously stroking his chest through his shirt. The sound drew her eyes back to his and she saw they were dark with desire.

Clark drew her closer and tentatively lowered his lips to hers. As she responded to his kiss, his tongue explored her mouth, and he moaned when she sucked on it gently.

Lois was lost in the sensations he was creating in her, and she wrapped her arms more tightly around Clark. Lois finally broke the kiss, and pushed back a little to look into his eyes.

Panting slightly, he asked cautiously, "You ok?"

Lois nodded as she wiped her eyes. "Yeah. You know, I was thinking, Clark," she started.

Clark reached out to push a strand of hair away from her face, and then rested his fingers against her cheek in a soft caress, waiting for her to continue.

"Maybe it makes sense that things are moving so fast for us, faster than we expected they would," she reasoned, leaning into his hand.

Clark listened, wondering at her logic. He had dreamed of Lois for so long and now she was here in his arms. It was a true test of his will to rein in his emotions.

"You're my best friend, Clark," she said with a shy smile.

Clark smiled. "And you're mine, Lois," he said huskily.

"I mean, we know each other so well, we already care a lot about each other, and trust each other. We already have a great relationship as friends," she continued, trying to explain her inner turmoil.

Clark nodded with a smile, his conscience prodding him that he still hadn't revealed his secret identity to her. His intention to tell her as soon as possible weighed heavily in his thoughts. He had always known that one day he would confide his secret to the woman he would spend the rest of his life with, and he knew now that Lois was that woman.

"And now we're starting to explore another kind of relationship," she offered.

Clark caressed her cheek as she spoke. "I knew I loved you when I met you. And as I've grown to know you better, I love you even more."

Lois blushed at his heartfelt words, and her eyes dropped to her lap. She knew he had been attracted to her from the beginning, but hadn't realized that he had continued to love her during their rocky beginning as partners. She had been so rude and, occasionally, downright cruel.

Realizing he was making her uncomfortable, he rushed to assure her. "It's okay, Lois. I've loved you a long time already. I know you don't feel that strongly about me yet. I can wait."

Looking back into his intense gaze, Lois explained, "That's not it, Clark. I do love you. I think I have been in love with you for a long time." She watched the uncertainty in his expression as he digested her words. "Looking back now, I see how I fought my feelings for you for so long. Maybe it just makes sense that this new relationship for us falls into place faster than usual. I mean, we already love each other as friends. Falling in love just seems so natural."

Clark searched her questioning gaze and thought about what she was saying. "Are you sure? It seems too fast, and yet I feel like I've been waiting to hear those words forever."

"I'm sure, Clark. I mean, doesn't it make sense—that being close friends makes falling in love so easy?"

"Maybe," he said thoughtfully. "But there are things we may not have talked about before that we should discuss as a couple."

It all made perfect sense—falling in love with Clark this fast. Lois leaned into him and kissed him again. "Like what?" she murmured against his lips. "Would you like to hear what I'm feeling right now?" She kissed a trail from his lips to his ear. "Would you like to hear about how I sometimes lie in bed at night, dreaming of you?" she whispered teasingly in his ear and she heard him groan in response.

The sensations of her warm lips against his skin as she breathed the confessions into his ear sent shivers through his entire body. He wanted so much to touch her, to pleasure her, to make love to her. Could she really have thought of him in that way—the same way he had thought of her as he lay dreaming of the impossible? Heat rushed through him so fast he became lightheaded, making it that much more difficult to think. "Oh God, Lois…"

Lois continued feathering kisses down his neck and she loosened his tie. Clark quickly grabbed the tie and pulled it the rest of the way from his shirt collar as Lois' fingers fumbled with the buttons of his shirt, exposing more skin to her lips. She slid her hands gently under the opened shirt, caressing the firm, silken flesh.

Clark tried to focus on what Lois had said. Maybe she was right; maybe they had held back so long that this was meant to happen. Oh God, this felt so good. Clark suddenly pulled away and yanked his shirt from his pants, tossing the garment to the floor. He pulled Lois to him again and pressed his lips to hers gently at first, then with a building passion that almost surprised Lois.

Lois melted into Clark's embrace. With a need she had never known before, she whimpered into his mouth as he deepened his kiss. Lois pushed her tongue forward to explore his mouth as Clark's fingers threaded through her hair.

Clark broke their heated kiss and looked at her with eyes grown dark with passion. The soft cry she emitted brought a slight smile to his face. His hands moved to her slim shoulders and he slid his fingers under the thin straps of her dress. His eyes followed the movement of his hands where they rested near her breasts. Breathing rapidly, he looked into her eyes, silently asking for permission.

For a moment Lois was afraid he would stop them again, even after what she had said. But when she saw the desire in his eyes, she knew he felt the same. He wanted more, and his hands and eyes were seeking her consent. She smiled slowly in answer.

Clark reached behind her back and slowly unzipped her dress. His other hand slid a strap off her shoulder and the dress bodice gaped forward, unveiling newly exposed skin to his hungry gaze. His hand moved to caress her, gliding his fingers gently over her soft skin.

A moan escaped Lois's lips at his intimate caress and her head fell back as she arched against him. "God, Clark, that feels so good." When her eyes opened again, she saw that he was watching her intently, gauging her response.

"I'm glad." He pulled her to sit astride his lap as he continued his intimate caress. He held her firmly against him as his hands moved over her body.

Her eyes drifted closed as she submitted to his sensuous caresses and her hands grasped his thick hair, holding him. He was driving her wild. "Oh God, Clark."

He pulled back to look at the pleasure on her face and to be sure she was still okay with this.

Without the distracting strokes of his hands, she was able to regain some of her composure. She slid her hands from his head, down the back of his neck, and gently caressed his firm chest. Her lips sought the smooth skin of his chest as his hands slid over her back.

"L-o-i-s…" Clark moaned. His hand moved beneath the edge of her dress and slid along her inner thigh. He watched as her tongue flicked out to wet her lips. He captured her lips in a passionate assault, his hands roaming over her flesh in intimate exploration. His heart pounded in his chest, all reasonable thought pushed to the back of his mind.

"Oh God," Lois gasped as his erotic touch ignited a fire deep inside her. Her eyes closed as she forgot all else, his exquisite strokes nearly driving her mad. All sensations were centered on his touch. After a moment, she gazed back into the dark eyes penetrating into her soul. Then, as she gave in again to his sweet caresses, her eyes fluttered shut.

"Lois, look at me," he said huskily.

She instantly opened her eyes and looked at him, his face heavy with passion. She focused on his eyes as he continued massaging her sensitive flesh, taking great pleasure in the expressions flashing over her face.

Clark centered all his concentration on Lois' enjoyment. He never knew he could have such satisfaction in her pleasure. He hungrily captured her lips in the last moments of her greatest delight, thrusting his tongue into her greedy mouth.

She collapsed against his chest as her breathing returned to normal. As her body quieted, Clark gently caressed her back in circular patterns. After a few minutes, she pushed up to look at him, smiling mischievously. She trailed her fingers sensuously over his chest to his abdomen.

Clark stilled her hand. "Lois, I don't have any… I never expected anything like this…" he started to explain, embarrassed.

A smile crept over her face as she realized the reason for Clark's hesitation. She leaned forward to plant a gentle kiss on his lips. "It's okay, Clark. I'm on the Pill."

Clark pulled her to his lips again, thrusting his tongue into the warm recesses of her mouth, and his hands explored the bare skin of her back.

Lois' caresses elicited a moan from Clark as his kisses left her mouth and trailed a line of fire down her neck. Her fingers slid through his thick black hair as the sensations he was creating in her threatened to overtake her sanity.

Reluctantly, Clark pulled back and gazed into her passion- filled eyes. "Lois, I want to take this into the bedroom if that's okay. If that's what you…"

She looked back at Clark with a smile. "Yes, let's go to the bedroom." Rising from his lap, her dress slipped to her waist and she stood in front of him almost shyly. Clark grasped the loose garment and helped push it the rest of the way down her slim legs. Clothed only in her panties, pantyhose and pumps, she raised her arms around his neck and he crushed her to his chest.

"God, you are so beautiful," he gasped.

Lois blushed at his open admiration of her body, and then gasped in surprise when his arm came around her back and knees and he lifted her in his arms. "Clark!" she cried out in surprise.

Clark swiftly carried her into the bedroom and gently set her onto her feet next to the bed. Throwing back the comforter as Lois kicked off her shoes, he turned back to face her.

Lois reached for Clark's trousers, undoing the button and unzipping them. "I think you've had these on long enough," she said huskily. She heard Clark exhale as she carefully slid the pants over his hips. As she pushed them down his legs, Clark quickly toed off his shoes, stepping out of the trousers and pushing them aside.

"Lois," he said before capturing her lips as he pushed her gently down onto the bed. She inched backwards towards the pillows, and Clark followed her, smiling. He positioned his body between her legs, and cradled her in his arms. "I love you," he told her, all he felt for her reflected in his eyes. He lowered himself to her mouth and hungrily kissed her lips. He moved down Lois' body, kissing a trail down to her abdomen.

What was it about the way Clark was kissing her and touching her that made her feel he was worshipping her? She hadn't had much experience with men, but none of them had ever made her feel quite like this. "Clark," she breathed. Her hands grabbed at the bedding, twisting it in her fists as his devotion to her pleasure drove her wild. His gentle ministrations soon had her crying out his name.

Clark crawled back over her body, kissing a sweet trail along her skin. Leaning on his elbows, he cupped the sides of her face and stared into her eyes. Imparting his love to her without a word passing between them, he met her lips in a blaze of mutual need. Their bodies shifted together on the bed as Clark strove for the ultimate pleasure awaiting him.

He collapsed over her, weak and gasping, supporting himself on his arms to keep from crushing her. Incredulous and stunned, he lay there unmoving as his breathing and heartbeat returned to normal.

"God, Clark," she whispered between breaths. "That was… incredible." She lay boneless underneath him, euphoric from their lovemaking.

Clark smiled against her hair, and kissed her cheek. "I love you, Lois." After several minutes of holding her, he finally lifted his head and gazed into her eyes, and then kissed her, imparting all the love and passion he felt for this amazing woman. The woman of his dreams.

***

Clark tightened his arm around Lois, pulling her closer as she lay curled at his side. He had dreamed of this moment for nearly two years, to hold Lois in his arms intimately as he was now, lazily basking in the afterglow of their lovemaking. He smiled as he gazed down at Lois as she traced lazy circles across his chest, the images of their lovemaking replaying in his mind.

Lois looked up at Clark, sensing his gaze upon her. Seeing the love in his incredible, chocolate brown eyes, she couldn't stop the smile from spreading across her face. How did she find this wonderful man? Actually he had found her, she realized. It was more than the fact that he had come to the Planet looking for a job, but he had continued to seek her affections, despite how she had treated him at first. She had been cruel—all because of what men in her past had done to her.

"Tell me what this man did to you that made you hide from me for so long," Clark asked softly, almost as if he had been reading her mind.

"Claude," Lois said, not breaking eye contact with Clark. "Are you sure you want to talk about him?"

"Yeah," Clark said as he shifted to hold her closer. "I know he hurt you. You told me a long time ago that he betrayed you by stealing your story. But what really happened?"

Lois cuddled closer, enveloped in Clark's love. "I thought I loved him," she started, tears cresting in her eyes. She choked back on her emotion, surprised that it still had such an effect on her after so long.

Clark soothed her with soft caresses and a gentle kiss to her forehead, encouraging her to continue.

"He came to the Planet from a paper in France for a summer stint here in the States. He was good-looking, charming, and… I was young." Lois glanced at Clark to make sure he wanted her to continue.

"I was just a fresh new reporter then; Perry had just promoted me from research. Claude didn't seem to want to give me the time of day. But when stories I was working on started to pan out, he asked me to dinner. We became lovers and I fell hard. I never connected it with my growing success as a reporter. I kept getting more and more challenging stories to work on. One night while I was sleeping, he took off with this really big story I had just broken. The next day the story was in the newspaper with his byline."

"When I arrived at the Planet, there were hushed whispers whenever I approached. From what I found out later, he had started ugly rumors about me, telling intimate things about me. Not very nice things either. He wanted to deflect anything I might bring up about stealing my story, to ruin any credibility I had."

"When I confronted him, he acted like I was nothing to him, just another girl fawning after him. Not only did he take the story for himself, but he treated me as if…" Lois wiped at her eyes. "Sometimes I thought the only thing I could do was quit… or crawl under a rock. Sometimes that's all I wanted to do—to run away."

"But Lois Lane doesn't run away." Clark smiled at her as he comfortingly caressed her back.

"No," Lois continued. "I lived through it, but it was hard to get through those first weeks. He left shortly afterwards for another paper, but it affected my confidence in myself as a reporter, as a woman. Perry was great about it all. He believed in my reporting skills, and he pushed me to prove it to myself."

Clark understood the history behind her special relationship with Perry. "That didn't help with the damage he did to you as a woman though, or your confidence in men. And I guess your relationship with your father didn't make it any easier—feeling that nothing was ever good enough for him."

"I cut people out of my life, didn't let anyone close. I think I just decided that if I couldn't please the men in my life, why should I even try? Perry noticed the change in me, but he never said anything about it. I think he knew what had happened; I never told him though."

"Perry is a good judge of people," Clark offered. "He probably knew the type of man Claude was."

"Yeah, he does size up people pretty good." Lois looked back at Clark with a smile. "He hired you; he liked you from the start."

"Yeah, it was that article on the knob-tailed gecko," Clark teased at his own expense.

Lois playfully slapped his chest, but her hand quickly soothed the sting, moving in soft caresses across his upper torso. "What was it like, Clark," she asked reflectively, "to travel the world like that?"

Staring at the ceiling, Clark replied, "It was an amazing experience, seeing people in different cultures, learning about their differences… their similarities." He paused as he reflected on his traveling years, running from one locale to the next, and never able to stay in one place for fear that someone would figure him out. That's when it dawned on him what he hadn't told Lois tonight. How could he have forgotten something as important as that? He had to tell her… but not now. He couldn't ruin everything yet. The time wasn't right. Would it hurt to wait just a little longer? Maybe he would tell her later tomorrow.

"But you've stayed here in Metropolis," Lois pointed out, curious about his change in habit.

"My life here in Metropolis has been fulfilling a dream of mine," he added as he gazed back at her. "This is where I want to build a life."

"You mean working at the Planet," Lois said.

"No… I mean, yes," Clark faltered as he tried to explain. "I've always wanted to work at the Planet. But more than that, I've wanted a place I could call home, having friends, a woman to love, to feel connected. Moving around the way I did, I could never really get close to anyone before I was moving on again." But now, he reflected silently, he could hopefully stay. Thanks to Lois, he had Superman to give him a private life and still be able to help people.

Lois watched Clark as he described what it had been like moving around. As exciting as the prospect was to her, she saw the loneliness in Clark's features as he spoke of it. "But you had relationships, didn't you? Like that Nigerian princess who taught you dancing?" Lois questioned, remembering what Clark had told her at the ball.

Clark chuckled. "No, she just taught me to dance," he said, as he recalled the memories. "There was no real relationship."

"Ohh," Lois uttered, her fingers tracing patterns on his bare chest again, deep in thought. "Well, you had to have… I mean, you learned about making love like that somewhere, and…"

Lois looked up at him, unable to make out his mumblings. "What did you say, Clark?" He was obviously blushing.

"I said I learned from books," Clark repeated, almost too embarrassed to look at her. He took a deep breath. "You're the first woman I have ever made love to."

Not sure she had heard him right, Lois asked, "You were a vir… virgin?"

Clark added quickly, "Yeah… I mean, I wasn't totally inexperienced, but I never crossed that final threshold." The reason he was a virgin, he recalled, was a little thing called Superman—not that 'Superman' had existed as a persona before he came to Metropolis. He had just never felt it right to cross that threshold without the woman knowing everything about him, so he had held back in that regard—until tonight.

"Clark!" Lois said in surprise. "Inexperienced you are not! My God, if all men made love like you did… not that I've had all that much experience myself," she added quickly in embarrassment. Her hand reached up to caress his cheek. "You were wonderful, Clark. No man has ever taken the time to bring me such pleasure," she said lovingly.

"Lois, it was the greatest pleasure for me to watch you, to see the satisfaction in your face and your body, that I had that kind of effect on you," Clark explained softly.

Waiting until tomorrow didn't seem right now. Should he tell her? Should he tell her she just made love with someone from another planet, an alien? How could he confess now? She would surely track down the nearest kryptonite fragments.

The silent explorations of their hands while they talked had slowly brought their passions back to the surface, until the need to talk became secondary.

He covered her lips with his own, his healthy male ego having been properly fed. He rolled to lay halfway on top of her, pressing her into the bed as their hands roamed in their exploration of flesh. He would deal with Superman tomorrow, once they were away from bed. He couldn't think straight with her touching him, her warm skin pressed against him.

"I can't believe you are a virgin," Lois mumbled between kisses. "And that I am your first."

"I'm not a virgin anymore, Lois. And you're not just my first, but my only," he said seriously before kissing her lips again. Would she ever let him hold her like this again once she knew everything? He had to hope that she would.

***

Clark awoke as he heard the distant screams and cries. Sensing unfamiliar surroundings as wakefulness returned, he opened his eyes, only to be greeted by the darkness of night. His arms moved along the body curled at his side, his memory of the previous night returning. He glanced down at the pressure he felt against his chest and in the shadows, observed Lois resting her head there. He carefully smoothed his hand along her hair as he quietly listened to the distant sounds, trying to determine if he was really needed. He did not want to leave, but in the next few moments he made out that there was a major disaster involving a lot of people. The rescue workers were unable to handle the magnitude of the injuries.

Clark took a deep breath and, lightly kissing Lois' hair, he quietly slid out from under her body. Last night he had forgotten to tell Lois about Superman, lost in the heat of the moment. Funny how that slipped his mind when she had kissed him with such abandon. How was he going to handle things now? He was Superman and he had made love to Lois Lane last night and she had no idea.

He stepped out into the kitchen and living area to spin into his clothes to avoid possibly waking her. A quick stop at his apartment and another spin into the suit and he would be ready. He hated having to leave her like this. He knew it would look bad for him when she woke up alone, especially with what she had told him about Claude. How could he have let last night happen without telling her who he was? He could very well lose everything.

He glanced around the room and spotted a pad and pen. With super-speed, he jotted a quick note and slipped back into the bedroom, positioning the note on the nightstand so Lois would see it. Maybe the note would show her that his absence was not what it appeared to be. Laying it on the small table, he sighed, hoping he wasn't ruining everything by his early morning departure. But it couldn't be helped. Superman was needed.

As he was about to turn to leave, Lois stretched in her sleep. Clark froze in his tracks. If she saw him now it would complicate his leaving. But Lois quietly settled on the pillow, mumbling to herself.

Clark quickly left for his apartment before any other close calls could threaten and he sped to the disaster which had awoken him moments ago.

***

Awareness slowly came to Lois as she stretched lazily in bed. She felt cocooned in a wonderful feeling as she awoke. All of a sudden the memories of what happened last night came crashing down on her mind. Oh God, did she really make love with Clark on their first date? She reached over to the spot where he had been laying to find it empty and cold. She listened to the absolute silence in the apartment, unbroken except by the muffled hum of the refrigerator. She sat up with a bolt and rubbed her eyes of sleep. Sobs bubbled from her mouth as she realized all her fears were coming true. Why did all the men in her life hurt her like this?

She reluctantly pushed herself up and strode into the bathroom to shower and get ready for work. She knew she was going to have to face Clark at the Planet and she wasn't looking forward to it. As she went through the motions of her morning routine, images of what had happened with Claude flooded into her thoughts. The snickering she would walk in on, the quiet stares, the lewd comments from other men were too much to bear. Claude told stories behind her back, spreading rumors about how easy she was. God, it was happening all over again, she thought in a panic as she rushed to get ready for work.

As she reached for her shoes in her closet and slipped them on her feet, she spotted the notepad on the nightstand for the first time. Why hadn't she noticed it before? She walked over to the nightstand and sat on the bed's edge. Tearing the note from the pad, she held it to read:

*Sweet Lois,

I am terribly sorry for having to leave so early this morning. I had an emergency that I couldn't ignore. I'll see you when you get to the Planet and explain then.

All my love,

Clark*

Tears welled in her eyes as she read the words. She hoped the note was true, that he hadn't meant to avoid her the morning after, and that he would explain later. Maybe he wasn't pulling a Claude. She wiped her eyes and rose to leave, stuffing the note into her jacket pocket.

Just before she was about to leave she looked in the mirror, totally panicked. "Calm down," she told herself aloud. She took a deep breath as she again thought over the events of last night. "This is stupid. Clark is not Claude," she repeated to herself. "He left a note because he is not the type of man to disappear like this." She adjusted a stray hair and stepped towards the door.

As she drove the Jeep to the office, she tried to analyze why she was so panicked. Maybe she was afraid of herself more than the men. She had fallen for Claude hook, line and sinker. And he had used her, lied to her, put up a pretense of loving her to get what he wanted. It certainly hadn't been beneath him to stir things up by chatting about her to deflect any accusations she might make later.

But Clark wasn't like that, was he? He was what he appeared to be… most of the time, anyway. Except when he disappeared the way he did sometimes. Overall, he was a good man, honest and always bending backwards to do the right thing. He almost had standards as high as Superman. And last night was… Last night was… There must be an explanation. There just has to be.

No, it was falling for the men in her life and believing in them. It was her own judgment she didn't trust. Could she trust her judgment regarding Clark? Was Clark really the man he appeared to be? Would dating change him, change the way he treated her? What would he be like at the Planet today? She looked in the rear view mirror as she parked. She continued to stare at herself in the mirror after turning off the engine, judging herself critically. She frowned. "Oh God, what have I done?" she whimpered.

***

The rescue workers at the scene were evaluating the injured that had been extracted from the collapse. Superman scanned the building rubble one last time to make sure everyone was out of danger. Everything seemed under control and the need for his special help unnecessary. Hours had passed since he first arrived on the scene. Now he only needed to come up with that explanation for Lois that he promised. What emergency would explain why he had to leave her bed in the middle of the night?

Superman crossed his arms in his usual superhero stance as he approached the supervisor directing the disaster site. "No one else is trapped inside. Can you handle it from here?"

The busy man looked up at the superhero and took a moment to extend his hand. "Yes, Superman. Thank you for everything," he said in gratitude as Superman grasped his hand with a firm shake. The supervisor choked back the emotion he was dealing with. "Without your help, we would have had deaths here instead of injuries. Now that everyone is away from the falling debris, we can do our job. Thanks again."

"I'm glad to be of help," Superman stated before turning and reaching into the sky and zipping away from the site.

Clark knew he had to tell Lois the truth of who he was, but did he really want to tell her the truth as an explanation for his absence this morning? He had to think of some other excuse for why he had to leave so early. He wanted to tell her about his alter-ego in his own way, not because the situation dictated it. What was he thinking? Of course the situation dictated it—he made love with Lois last night and she deserved to know who she made love with.

If only Superman hadn't been needed, he could have wakened along with her. They could have had breakfast together and gone into work together. Wait! He paused in the sky as it came to him. Superman—that was the answer. The emergency was the building collapse. And Clark got a Superman exclusive. Yeah, that was it. With renewed energy, he sped off towards home so he could super-shower and get that exclusive turned in.

***

As Lois rode the elevator up to the office, she braced herself to see Clark. According to his note, he would be here by the time she arrived. With the case they were working on, he would already be at his desk, probably going over some last bit of information on Lucky Leon before they went out again. Would he look at her differently? Would he treat her with the respect he had always in the past, as an equal partner? Did last night change everything?

The doors dinged open and she made her way to her desk, glancing over at Clark's desk. Umm, he wasn't sitting there. Maybe he was getting coffee, she thought, as her eyes glanced over to the coffee table only to see Ralph annoying the new research assistant. Lois rolled her eyes, looking away. She set her briefcase at her desk and glanced around, not seeing Clark anywhere. She walked over to his desk and, after taking a closer look, noticed his computer wasn't even turned on.

A panic swelled inside her. He hadn't been in yet. Was he out on his own, taking over the case? She snapped her head up at hearing Perry's voice.

"Uh, Lois, hon…" Perry called from his office doorway. "I saw you looking for Clark there. He called just a few minutes ago and wanted me to tell you he would be later than planned." He started to turn back to his office, but remembered something else. "Oh, and he said he got a Superman exclusive," Perry added with a smile.

Lois stared at her editor as his words sank in. Clark really hadn't been in at all, yet he had the time for an exclusive without her. Lois threw up her arms expressively. "Oh great, he goes out and gets a Superman exclusive and leaves me with the message he'll be late. I guess I'm supposed to do all the work on this other case and then have to share a byline."

Perry watched his top reporter's outburst and started to open his mouth in response. "Lois…" Perry started, but changing his mind, he added, "Never mind," as he turned and walked back to his office. He figured letting her rant would let off some steam. Besides, she'd best work it out with Kent, not himself.

Lois was steamed. She stomped back to her desk and, roughly picking up her briefcase, she pulled out her notes to organize. She plopped into her chair and turned on her computer. "So that's what you snuck out for so early," she mumbled to herself. "What are you doing now? Off somewhere to steal the Lucky Leon story too? This really stinks, Clark." She opened the file and started to sort through the notes, but the tears welling in her eyes kept her from seeing anything clearly.

Would Clark really do this to her? She kept trying to fight the feeling that he was pulling a Claude on her. Maybe he really did just get an emergency that turned into a Superman exclusive. He's had them before. That didn't mean he was out trying to steal their Lucky Leon story. She reached for the note in her pocket and looked at it. The tone of it was filled with love. The fact that he even left a note instead of just disappearing meant something, didn't it? An emergency had come up and he had to leave.

Wait! How did he even know there was an emergency? He had been with her all evening and even spent the night in her bed. That scumbag! He had intercepted a call on her phone, probably from one of her sources, and slipped out while she slept to get the exclusive. It was a tip from her source; he stole her story!

She crumpled the note in her hand and tossed it into the wastebasket. How could she have let a man do this to her again? Closing and pushing aside her folder, she rose and walked purposefully to Perry's office. She opened his door and quickly closed it behind her, prompting Perry to look up from his desk at her abrupt entry. She intended to nip this one in the bud, before Clark had a chance to turn it against her.

Without waiting for his question, Lois demanded, "I need a new partner." She paced quickly back and forth in front of Perry, trying to organize her thoughts. She was going to stop this; Clark was not going to get the upper-hand on the story. No way! Next thing you know, he'll be spreading stories about her bedroom performance. She was dumping him right here and now. She stopped in front of Perry's desk. "I can't work with Clark anymore," she stated firmly, her arms crossed in front of her.

Perry looked up at his best reporter, her jaw set in its determination. Perry's face showed his frustration. He threw down the papers in his hand and stood, leaning against his desk. "I knew it. One bad date and there goes my whole newsroom. Why don't you just shoot me now and send me up to Elvis?"

"Perry…" Lois tried to interrupt his rant.

But Perry was worked up and continued his tirade as he walked around the desk. "No, no, no, Lois, don't say it. You know, I have stood on the sidelines, hoping against hope that Mother Nature would smile on you two, that the bluebird of happiness would come down light on your shoulder, that four-leaf clovers would sprout up wherever you walked, and all the time my gut is singing a different aria."

"Perry…" Lois repeated again louder.

Perry didn't hear her as he continued. "Lois, anybody with half a hemisphere for a brain can see that you two are gasoline and fire, TNT and matches, two trains headed toward…"

Lois firmly called her boss' name again. "Perry!"

Perry stopped and looked at her, Lois finally having gotten his attention.

"Thank you. The problem is we didn't have a bad date," she explained. "It was a really great date and… and," Lois paused, not willing to tell Perry how Clark spent the night, "I think it was great and now I'm completely panicked, and I have no idea what to do next." For the first time this morning since she woke up, she realized that they really did have a great date. It was the morning after that was the problem. Perry had an uncanny ability to get her to be honest with herself. He had always been like a father to her and right now she was feeling very vulnerable.

Perry, recognizing Lois' real fear, only wanted to comfort her. "Oh, oh, darlin'. Come here, honey." Perry enveloped her in a fatherly hug, rocking her back and forth, calming her.

Perry released her from his embrace and looked at her, confused by her statement. "Lois, what do you mean you think you had a great date? Don't you know, honey?"

"Oh Perry, I had a great time. We just… it was just perfect," she said as she started to cry again, unable to put her fears into words.

Perry watched her, knowing there was something on her mind. "But…" he prompted her.

"I'm not sure how Clark feels, what he thinks of me now, if he feels different. He was gone this morning and…" and realizing what she had said, quickly rephrased her words, "I mean, he's not here this morning and I have no way to gauge how he is feeling or… if he'll be like… you know… and tell lies…and other things." She thought about the Superman exclusive, but didn't mention it. In a way, it sounded paranoid, especially since they both had had Superman exclusives before. It was only her fear that he would cut her out of the Lucky Leon story. He hadn't given her any reason to think he would do that.

Perry carefully watched Lois as she poured out her fears. Then it dawned on Perry what she was talking about. Claude. Perry pulled her into his arms again. "Oh honey, you know Clark is not anything like that French scum- suckin' pig." He reached to grab some tissues for her. "Here, wipe your eyes."

Lois took the tissues and wiped her eyes as Perry continued to tell her how he wished he could gut that poor excuse for a man for what he did to her.

"He didn't have a moral bone in his body. Now take Clark here. He's got strong morals and a fine character, always trying to do what's right. The man has real integrity. He would never purposely hurt you."

Lois sniffled at Perry's words about Clark. That was the Clark she thought she knew. Perry was right.

"And if he ever did, he'd have me to answer to. You can bet on that, hon," Perry promised.

Lois smiled at Perry's promise. She quickly hugged him. "Thanks, Perry." And she turned to leave.

"You okay, now?" he asked, still concerned.

Lois nodded as she turned the doorknob and left.

Perry watched out his office door as Lois walked towards her desk where Clark was already waiting. Clark must've arrived while Lois and he were talking. Perry was somewhat concerned over Lois' slip in describing that Clark was gone this morning. Was it just her words coming out wrong, or did things really go that far last night? He hoped his estimation of Clark's character was correct. He couldn't stand if his judgment of Clark was wrong, and Lois was hurt again. As he watched, he saw loving concern etched in Clark's face, probably due to Lois' obviously reddened eyes. Yes, Clark was a man that would be good for his Lois.

***

As Clark walked through the bullpen to his desk, he passed Lois' desk and noticed the computer on and files on her desk regarding the story they were working on. Just as he sat at his desk wondering where Lois was, two large bulky packages arrived—something called 'Desk Friend' for him and 'Bath Friend' for Lois. While he fiddled with the gaudy desk organizer, he heard the voices coming from Perry's office with his super-hearing. He couldn't help but overhear some of the conversation.

Lois was panicked, worried about another Claude incident. That was the creep Lois had confided to him about last night. And he had left her alone to wonder about his own intentions. God, he never meant to do this to her. He never meant for things to go so fast either. Did she really think he had left this morning to avoid her? Did she see his note?

He had to show her how much he loved her, show her he would always be there for her. He would never betray her. But hadn't he done that already by not telling her who he really was? He never intended things to get so intimate between them without her knowing everything. Clark looked up guiltily as Lois was making her way across the floor from Perry's office. "Lois, that came for you when you were in there with Perry," he pointed out.

Seeing Clark there as she approached her desk just scared her more. She couldn't let him know how she was feeling, that he had affected her this way. Despite Perry's encouraging words, she was having her doubts still. She needed time to sort things out. Avoiding direct eye contact with Clark, she made her way straight to her desk.

She picked up the note on the Bath Friend sitting on her desk. "I thought I'd save you the trouble of ordering. Lucky Leon," she read aloud. She picked up the item, looking over its features, feigning intense interest.

Clark rose from his chair and walked over to Lois, not wanting their conversation to filter throughout the office. "Lois, about last night…" he started.

She couldn't talk about last night now, not here. She pushed the images of last night to the back of her mind. "These things are kind of attractive in a hideous sorta way," she said, not looking up at Clark.

"I thought last night was very special, Lois. I'm so sorry I had to leave like I did. I'm just a bit confused," Clark continued in a low voice.

Lois couldn't allow herself to think about how she felt when she woke up to find him gone. She couldn't start crying here in the open, she couldn't let Clark see how he had hurt her. Lois walked over to Clark's desk, eyeing the Desk Friend product he left sitting there. "Oh, look. Yours has a stapler and a radio, pencil sharpener… That's pretty convenient."

"I thought you wanted last night to happen too," Clark whispered, conscious where they were and keeping his voice low. He looked side to side to make sure no one was snooping. "Was I wrong about that? Or was it that I had to leave so early? I left you a note and hoped we'd have a chance to talk more today," Clark said, noticing Lois still was not looking at him. "Or did I do something else to offend you? Because if I did, I apologize."

"Oh my goodness, imitation wood paneling! Must be the Deluxe model," Lois said excitedly, as if she hadn't heard a word he had said.

Clark took a step closer to Lois and lowering his voice, said, "Lois, I know that last night things went faster than either of us expected. We need to talk about this, please. You have to know what you mean to me."

Maybe I mean nothing at all to you, she thought. You slipped a story in behind my back. You stole a tip while I was sleeping after a night in your arms. How can I trust you? But accusations would have to wait for another place. She couldn't trust herself to contain her voice or her tears here. "Oh, batteries are included," Lois said, again changing the subject.

Frustrated with her interruptions, Clark turned and grabbed the Desk Friend from his desk. Turning back to Lois, he thrust the bulky item towards her and offered, "Here, you wanna trade?"

"No. No, no, I love mine," she replied, hugging hers possessively.

"Believe me. I've been looking for something like this for a long time." Clark took the Bath Friend from her.

"Clark, I don't…" Lois started saying as he placed the Desk Friend into her hands. She stopped speaking as she finally looked into his eyes. Oh God! What she saw in his dark brown eyes was confusion and pain. And love. But that didn't explain this morning. Maybe she at least owed him a chance to explain.

"Oh, Clark…" she said softly. "About last night—"

"Yeah," Clark acknowledged. It was the exact place he had started the conversation when she began interrupting. "About last night… I wanted to say that…"

"Stop the presses!" The loud shout interrupted them.

Both Lois and Clark turned to the source of the shout to see Mayson, the District Attorney, approaching as she chuckled at herself. "I've always wanted to say that in a newsroom."

Lois stared at her as if she had grown horns. "No one ever says that, you know. It's just on TV."

Slightly embarrassed, Mayson replied, "Well, sure, but it still felt good."

Lois stepped to her desk, setting the Desk Friend down. "So what's the deal with Jimmy?" she asked, turning back to Mayson. It had been Jimmy's arrest on a murder charge that had started the whole Lucky Leon investigation.

"The judge wants to revoke bail and bring him in," Mayson said, addressing Lois. "He thinks he's a flight risk after his car escapade."

"That was an accident," Clark chimed in.

"I got him 24 hours more, but that's it," Mayson replied, turning to Clark. "Meanwhile, I've been doing some digging. I called a friend of mine in D.C. He's going to call me back after he finishes his background check on Borges and Lucky Leon."

"And you came all the way down to tell us that in person?" Lois asked sarcastically.

"Actually, I came to ask Clark to lunch," Mayson said hurriedly. "One of my New Year's resolutions is to be more decisive. Plus, it's much harder to reject somebody in person." She looked at Clark, waiting for his response.

"That's nice, Mayson, but…" Clark started, feeling very uncomfortable.

"Go, I'll hold down the fort," Lois snapped. She couldn't help but wonder if he would go out with her. Did last night really mean something to him as he said it did?

Stunned, Clark looked back at Lois. What was she doing? "Lois?"

"No, look it's okay. If anything breaks, I'll call you. Have a good time," Lois insisted, subconsciously making sure Clark would disappoint her.

Mayson grabbed Clark by the arm with a look of victory flashing on her face. "Look," she explained to Lois, "I told my office I'd be here or at Mara's Cafā, so if they call…"

"Absolutely," Lois responded quickly to hide her jealousy.

As an afterthought, Mayson added, "Oh, by the way, Borges was poisoned. Someone killed him with synthetic curare."

"What?" Lois exclaimed in surprise, as she watched the two walk away. Her thoughts were interrupted as her phone rang. She turned back to her desk and picked up the receiver. "Lois Lane."

The phone rang at Clark's desk and Jimmy quickly reached over to answer. "Clark Kent's desk…Who?…No, I'm sorry. Ms. Drake just left."

Lois looked up at the mention of Mayson's name and wildly signaled Jimmy. This might be the break she had been looking for. She pressed the hold button on her phone.

Jimmy asked the caller, "Can you hold on a moment?" and covered the mouthpiece before looking back at Lois.

"Who is it?" Lois asked.

"Some guy from Washington," Jimmy replied.

"Tell him you just found her, she'll be with him in a second. Line 2 is for you." Lois scrambled out of her chair and mentally prepared to play her part.

"You know what?" Jimmy said cheerfully into the receiver. "I just found her. Here you go."

Lois took the phone, sitting in Clark's chair. She cleared her voice and coughed, hoping to disguise her voice. "Hi, excuse me. I'm having some sorta weird allergy attack. My voice sounds like a bullfrog. So what did you find out?" Her eyes widened at the information. "That's incredible… Oh, well. Thanks. And your voice sounds sexy, too." She quickly hung up the phone just as Jimmy approached, having just finished his own phone call.

"Lois, that was Gregor," Jimmy relayed as he stood by Lois. "He said he just overheard Lucky Leon say there's a big shipment coming in today… only there's nothing officially scheduled." Jimmy grinned.

"Bingo." This was it; they had him.

***

As Mayson and Clark neared the elevator, Clark steered her off to the side and around the corner.

"Clark, what are you doing? I thought we were…"

Clark took a deep breath and apprehensively gathered the strength he needed to do what he had to do. He led Mayson to the bench against the wall. "We need to talk, Mayson."

Mayson smiled at Clark. "That's why I asked you to lunch, Clark. We can talk there," she said as she started to rise again. She grasped Clark's hand to pull him along with her.

Clark didn't budge as she urged him to stand with her. "No, Mayson," he said firmly.

Puzzled, she sat back down next to Clark. That's when she noticed the hardened set to his jaw and lack of his usual smile.

After an obvious sigh, he forced himself to look at Mayson. "I'm not going to lunch with you. I realize that you have feelings for me, Mayson. And I care about you…" he tried to explain.

"Then what's the problem, Clark?" Mayson prompted as Clark looked down.

"How do I say this?" Clark knew this would be difficult. He never liked having to hurt anyone and he knew she was going to be hurt no matter what.

Mayson grasped Clark's hands. "Just tell me. Look, Clark, I'm a lawyer. I know you're hiding something. Something's keeping us apart."

Clark looked into Mayson's eyes, determined to end her affections for him now. "I like you, Mayson, but not in that way. I am involved with Lois; I love Lois," he stated firmly.

"But she practically pushed you to go out with me. I don't understand," Mayson pointed out.

Clark looked away, breaking contact with her, and brushed a hand through his hair in frustration. "I know she did," he mumbled. Looking back at Mayson, his features somewhat softened, he added, "But that's between Lois and I. Trust me, I am not available."

Mayson looked away and stared at her hands sitting on her lap, any hopes of involvement with Clark ripped from her. "Why didn't you tell me before now, Clark?"

"I'm sorry, Mayson. You're a beautiful woman, a nice person. I never meant to hurt you," Clark offered, yet knowing he just had. But he also knew he had to stop stringing her along like he had been by not saying anything. His relationship with Lois may not have been as certain when he first met Mayson, but he was always certain of his feelings for Lois.

"I think I'll be going then," Mayson said as she stood, flustered. The conversation with Clark wasn't bearable any longer.

Clark rose with her. "Are you going to be okay?" he asked.

Mayson nodded, as she strode off to the elevator and pressed the button.

Clark watched in helpless sympathy. Another woman in his life was hurting because of him. Then he glanced back towards the bullpen and saw Lois talking with Jimmy. He started down the ramp towards them to see what plans they were making.

***

Curious about the information Lois had extracted from her phone call, Jimmy asked, "What did the guy from D.C. have to say?"

Lois rose from Clark's chair, the notes from her call in hand. Walking back towards her desk, she chanted with a smile, "Surprise, surprise. Raul Borges used to be a drug smuggler, got caught and was given a choice—either go to jail or start work for the CIA."

Jimmy frowned with a gleam in his eyes. "Ewww, I hate career decisions."

"He's an expert in the clandestine shipment of men and material. He's been working for the CIA for over three years," Lois read from her notes as she sat back in her chair.

"Lucky Leon?" Jimmy asked, wondering about the colorful personality.

"Real name—Vasili Savchenko," Lois read from the paper in her hand. "Former Chief of the Technical Department, Executive Action Section, First Chief Directorate, KGB." She looked up at Jimmy with a smile.

"Like 'Q' in the James Bond movies?" said Jimmy with a smirk.

"Exactly," Lois said, leaning forward on her desk, the investigative thrill evident in her eyes. "Everything from toy planes that are really remote controlled bombs to poison tipped umbrellas. Umbrellas, I might add, that are tipped in the same poison that killed Borges."

With the new information revealed about Leon, Jimmy remembered something. He excitedly ran back to his desk. "Lois, this morning I was checking out my car, trying to see why it went crazy," he explained as he grabbed something. "I found this attached to my carburetor," Jimmy said, returning with a small electromechanical gadget for her to see. "It's some kind of remote control thing—which means my accident was no accident. It must've been Lucky Leon."

Silently, the camera and microphone inside the Desk Friend monitored Jimmy and Lois as they made their plans. Lucky Leon chuckled along with Gregor at his trickery as he watched the pair walk into his trap.

Lois looked at her watch. "It's 12:30. We have a date on Route 128. If I'm right, we're going to get Lucky Leon."

"Want me to call Clark?" Jimmy asked.

"Did someone say my name?" Clark asked, surprising the two schemers as he walked up behind Lois. He wore a guarded smile as he gazed at Lois when she spun in her chair to face him.

"I thought…" Lois started to question Clark, but saw a curious thing as she looked past him. Mayson Drake stood at the elevator, furiously pressing the button as if doing so would bring the car to the floor faster. Lois glanced back at Clark, noticing his guarded expression. She heard the elevator doors ding open and she looked back to see Mayson rush into the car, averting her gaze and staring at the elevator panel until the doors closed.

"Why didn't you go?" Lois asked coolly, disregarding what seemed apparent. "Just because we had one date, doesn't mean…"

Clark met Lois' eyes, his face showing the hurt he felt at her implication. "You are the only woman I want to date," Clark stated without hesitation. "I thought that was obvious last night."

The passion in his eyes seared through her soul, his words flustering her resolve. She looked away unable to withstand his gaze, bashfully realizing that maybe Perry was right. This was Clark Kent, the same man she had known for almost two years—her partner, best friend, and now maybe more.

"C.K.," Jimmy interrupted. "We have new information about Lucky Leon and we're going to catch him this time," Jimmy said excitedly as he placed his arm around Clark's shoulder. "Come on, let's go. We'll tell you what we've got on the way."

***

Lois had the Jeep running by the time Clark and Jimmy reached for the doors. As soon as they jumped into the Jeep, Lois pulled the vehicle from the curb and sped down the street and on their way through Metropolis.

Clark didn't doubt that she would have left them behind if it had taken them a moment longer to get into the Jeep. He already knew they were after Lucky Leon. Jimmy had babbled on their way down the elevator that thanks to some new tips, they knew Lucky Leon had an unscheduled shipment arriving.

"So, where exactly is this shipment supposed to be transferred?" Clark asked, trying to get the final details of this tip. He glanced from Jimmy to Lois.

Jimmy fell against his door with a groan as Lois maneuvered a sudden left turn. "Route 128. North," he gasped, trying to regain his balance.

"Where did you get the tip?" Clark asked.

"Well first Lois took a call…" Jimmy started to explain, but stopped abruptly as Lois swerved and turned to Jimmy, leveling a glare at him that would burn Antarctica to a puddle in seconds.

"Uh…" Jimmy stumbled. "I got a call from my man, Gregor, at Lucky Leon's. He overheard about a shipment coming today. An unofficial one."

Clark noticed the exchange between Lois and Jimmy; it was hard not to. It was just one more thing that had made him annoyed about the way she had been acting today. She had been treating him like he meant nothing, pushing him into the arms of a woman he didn't want to be with, and now she was keeping things from him. "What don't you want Jimmy to tell me, Lois?" he taunted her, knowing he would regret it. "Because you better tell me if it has to do with this story. You are my partner."

Irritated, Lois careened through the streets of Metropolis towards the city limits. Lois finally replied matter-of- factly, "I just intercepted a call that came for Mayson, pretended to be her, and got some information about the case. No big deal. I'm sure Mayson will call for the information when she wonders why she didn't receive the call."

"No big deal? Lois! You shouldn't do stuff like that. She's the DA!" Clark was furious now. "You know, I didn't appreciate you throwing me at her when she asked me to lunch. I can choose my own dates. In fact, I told her that I was unavailable; she is just a friend." Clark glanced briefly back at Jimmy listening to this all rather intently. "Especially after our date last night," he said in a lowered voice. "Didn't our date mean anything to you?" Clark asked, still upset at what she had done.

"Me?" she accused angrily, quickly glancing over at him. "And just how did you get that tip for the Superman story you turned in this morning?" There she had said it. "You stole my story, you… just like…" She knew he had to have intercepted a tip that came to her home and then used it for himself, but she could only say so much in front of Jimmy.

"Lois!" Clark started. She thought he stole a story from her. He closed his eyes in frustration. Of course she did! How else did he get a tip for the story when he was in her bed? He could be so dumb sometimes. What could he say with Jimmy present without revealing they had slept together? Turning to Lois on the seat, he insisted, "I did not steal the tip from you, I would *never* do that!"

Lois didn't dare respond to Clark for fear of crying. She just couldn't carry on this argument now. Could there really be a reasonable explanation? Would Clark steal a story? Thinking back over the past two years with Clark, the prospect seemed impossible. There were times he had even added her name to a story when she didn't deserve it. When she had asked him later why he had done that, expecting some ulterior motive, he had simply replied that they were partners.

Clark had asked if last night meant anything to her. Of course, it did; she was in love with Clark Kent. But she wasn't sure Clark was in love with her. He did just admit having broken things off with Mayson, telling her he was not available any longer. She was so frustrated; she didn't know whether to trust herself.

Clark studied Lois as she battled with her emotions, trying to keep them buried for the time being. He knew she was struggling because of her past experiences with men, but it was so maddening. Sometimes she just acted like she couldn't care less about him and, no matter how hard he tried, it hurt him deeply.

He closed his eyes, contemplating his situation as he leaned back on the headrest. If he hadn't let his hormones dictate to him last night, she probably wouldn't be struggling with this so much. Opening his eyes, he tilted his head and looked over at Lois as she concentrated on the road.

God, how he loved her, how he wanted to assure her of his love. He cautiously reached his hand out and lightly touched her thigh in an unspoken gesture. He didn't know if she would jerk away, slap him or wreck the Jeep. Surprisingly, she did none of them. The tenseness in her leg seemed to relax and she glanced over at Clark as he watched her with his soft brown eyes and a smile. Her hand briefly covered his hand on her thigh before returning it to the wheel and her attention to the road again.

When Clark had first touched her leg, she felt the electricity and warmth. How could his touch melt through her like it did, even as she fought to deny her feelings? As she glanced at him, her heart softened even more. Was she a načve fool? Or was Clark Kent her knight in shining armor? He warmed her heart and made her want to trust again, gave her reason to believe again. Was he truly the gentleman Perry said he was? But first things first; she had to concentrate on this story. She could deal with Clark later.

Lois reached the turn onto Route 128 and, with renewed energy, sped down the road and pushed all other thoughts from her mind. She rushed to find the secret shipment and their story. The Jeep flew down the road, her two passengers not daring to question her about her driving skills or anything else at this moment.

Jimmy groaned nervously from the backseat. Clark just braced his hand on the dash board as they approached the turn up ahead.

"Keep your eyes peeled," Lois instructed, speeding around a curving section of road at the speed of 90 miles per hour. The Jeep not going fast enough, Lois coaxed the vehicle, "Come on, come on."

Clark might normally make a comment or urge caution at this point, but with the volatile nature of her changing moods today, he felt it better to bite down on his lip and deal with the remainder of the drive in silence.

"Hey, what's that up ahead, Lois?" Jimmy said upon seeing someone in the middle of the road, waving them down.

Suddenly Lois slammed on the brakes as they approached the man that was blocking the road. Just beyond him there was a van wrecked in the ditch. They came to a stop mere inches from the man, a soldier dressed in army fatigues and with one arm in a make-shift sling.

Lois jumped out of the Jeep with Jimmy and Clark right behind her. "What happened?" Lois asked, in full reporter- mode.

"I can't tell you, ma'am, but by any chance, would you have a phone?" he asked calmly.

Peering beyond the soldier, Lois scrutinized the wreck more closely. A van marked as 'Moby Rick's Fresh Seafood' was crashed into the ditch while several soldiers with varying injuries were sitting or lying beside it.

"Sure. It's in the car," Lois said.

"I'll get it," Jimmy said, already on his way to retrieve it.

Gregor, disguised as a soldier with sunglasses and fake moustache, strode up to the reporters, pushing the younger soldier aside. "Lois Lane? Clark Kent?"

"Yes?"

"Yes?"

They both briefly glanced at each other as they realized they had spoken simultaneously, and then they turned their attention back on the soldier addressing them.

"I'm Colonel MacNeill. Is there anyway you can get in touch with Superman? We're in the middle of a national emergency. Some terrorists have just hijacked a van load of nuclear warheads."

"Nuclear warheads!" Lois questioned with concern.

"Lois, I'll be right back. I forgot something in the Jeep," Clark said and disappeared before she could respond.

She looked to her side where Clark had been standing. "Clark, where are you…"

"Ms. Lane? About Superman," the Colonel prompted.

Lois turned back to the Colonel. "Right. You mean, can I call him? No," Lois answered. "Sometimes I just scream and he comes."

Jimmy finally arrived back with the phone. "Here you go."

Gregor took the phone and handed it to the soldier standing behind him. "See if you can reach the base," he told the soldier. Turning back to Lois, he strongly suggested, "Scream loud then, ma'am. We need his help desperately."

Lois replied, "It may not work, Colonel. But…" She shrugged and taking a deep breath, yelled, "Help, Superman!" at the loudest pitch she could manage.

"Superman!" Jimmy exclaimed as the blue-and-red-clad superhero landed beside Lois and Jimmy.

"Wow, it worked," Lois said excitedly. "Superman," she said addressing the superhero, "we didn't know how else to reach you. Thank God you're here."

"I'm always nearby, Lois." Clark remarked with almost a flirty tone in his voice. Clark smacked himself mentally for his comment. She was going to find out who he was before he had a chance to tell her privately. What a mess he would be in then!

He shifted to his solemn Superman expression and faced the Colonel. "What happened here, Colonel?"

"Terrorists have just hijacked a load of nuclear warheads, Superman," the Colonel explained. "They weren't ours. They just arrived from one of the former Soviet Republics. They were brought here to be dismantled… and to keep them from being sold to terrorists."

Superman interrupted. "Where are they now, Colonel?"

"The terrorists are headed north on Route 128," the Colonel said, looking northward down the road. He turned back to Superman. "And they're dressed like American soldiers and driving a van just like ours that says 'Moby Rick's Fresh Seafood'."

"Holy Mackerel," muttered Jimmy as Superman streaked through the air after the terrorists. They watched in the direction where Superman had flown, continuing to stare long after he had disappeared.

***

Anger radiated from Lois as she drove back to the city. "National Security," she repeated in disgust. They had tracked down one of the best stories of the year and the Colonel had told them they couldn't print a word of the events that took place. She sped through the sharp turn, throwing Clark and Jimmy against their doors.

"Are you sure you don't want me to drive, Lois?" Clark offered sweetly as he strained against the door.

Lois shot Clark an evil glare. "And with all this going on, where did you have to go so suddenly, uh Clark?"

Clark stared at her. "I told you, I had to get something from…"

"From the Jeep. I know," she finished sharply. "But you weren't at the Jeep. We found you around the bend in the road past the Jeep. Where did you go?"

Clark opened his mouth to answer, but nothing came out, blushing at his loss of words. He didn't have an answer she would buy. Return a video? Cheese of the Month Club? Those wouldn't work this time. He closed his eyes in defeat and sank back into his seat, relieved that Lois had at least slowed down a bit.

Jimmy leaned forward and whispered into Lois' ear and then sat back in his seat.

Lois looked over at Clark and grew beet red. "Oh, I'm sorry, Clark. I didn't even think…"

Clark opened his eyes at her apology and noticed her embarrassment. He glanced back at Jimmy for some indication of what he had said to her.

Jimmy mouthed the words 'take a leak' and shrugged with a smile.

Clark turned back abruptly and stared straight ahead, realizing the reason Jimmy gave for his disappearance down the road. At first, he felt slightly embarrassed, yet as he mulled it over, he realized it was a good excuse. He found it hard to keep the smile off his face.

After a few moments, Lois added, "Well, you missed Superman. He was able to go after the terrorists and return the warheads safely to the military. But now they won't let us print a thing about it."

"What's important is that the warheads are out of the terrorists' hands," Clark said. "We'll still get Lucky Leon, Lois." He reached over and squeezed her arm, smiling at her.

"And Jimmy is as good as cleared," she added, glancing back at her friend, accused of murder. She looked back at Clark, recognizing that he was right. Even if they couldn't write about the hijacking attempt, there would be a story to tell. More importantly, the terrorists had been stopped. Clark had a way of calming her and helping her to see what was really important.

***

Lois and Jimmy exited the elevator with Clark right behind them. "All men do the same thing, Jimmy. They play stupid games in relationships. Men can't be direct about their feelings," Lois reasoned.

Jimmy shook his head excitedly. "Not necessarily, Lois. Guys want to be happy just like anybody. We don't want to be alone the rest of our lives. The right woman—and direct is our middle name," Jimmy said as he walked up to the vending machine and got a soda.

"Oh, come on, Jimmy. I see you after a new intern every time I turn around," Lois accused, her hand on her hip.

"Hey, a guy has to meet lots of women to find the right one," Jimmy reasoned playfully as he rushed ahead of her towards the ramp.

Clark had listened to the two battling it out all the way up the elevator and so far, had remained quiet. Clark had a feeling Lois intended all this for his benefit and he finally needed to speak up. "Men can be direct with their feelings, but sometimes people mislead others and can't be open out of necessity. Maybe they need to hide something important. The question is—why are they hiding that something? The reason can explain an awful lot, Lois."

Lois looked at Clark for a moment wondering what he was talking about, but as they walked into the bullpen, they noticed that everyone seemed to be congregated around the monitor. They walked to the back of the gathering and stood by Perry to watch.

As Clark looked over the heads watching the newscast, he was startled to notice Mayson standing in the front, right under the monitor. He briefly wondered what she was doing back here. He was pretty sure she wouldn't have returned for any personal reason. Maybe she was here regarding the murder charges against Jimmy.

Any further consideration of her presence was interrupted by the activity on the screen. The monitor displayed the name 'General Jason Jackson' across the bottom of the screen as the General stepped up to the podium with the Joint Chiefs of Staff Seal on it. The TV newscaster announced, "…and we now will be going live to the Pentagon."

The General looked solemnly at the cameras. "I will read a brief statement." Then looking down at the paper on the podium he read, "At one-seventeen this afternoon, a secret shipment of nuclear warheads destined for dismantling was hijacked by Superman and turned over to terrorists masquerading as U. S. soldiers." The General looked up again at the cameras and paused before reading the next part of the statement.

Lois and Clark gasped in shock at the announcement, causing several reporters to turn around. What those reporters didn't know was the fact that Lois, Clark and Jimmy had been the cause of the now grave situation.

"No!" Clark shouted as the pain was evident on his face. "It's not true." How could this have happened? He recalled the words of the Colonel on Route 128. 'Nuclear warheads scheduled for dismantling were hijacked by terrorists.' They were using a van just like the van the military had used.

"By command of the President," the General continued, "and Executive Action Order number Thirty-Seven-Oh-Eight, the combined forces of the United States are ordered, and will be solely dedicated to, ending this threat and bringing Superman to justice."

Lois guiltily looked at Clark as the announcement ended and most people dispersed, returning to their desks. Clark was stunned and in shock. They had all been tricked, but she was the one who had screamed for Superman. Superman had taken her presence at the scene as confirmation of the legitimacy of the situation and now nuclear weapons were in the hands of terrorists.

Perry was dazed and saddened as he turned away from the monitor, facing his two top reporters with his arms folded across his chest. "I never thought I'd see the day that Superman turned to crime," he said, obviously disappointed with the superhero.

Mayson approached just in time to hear Perry's remark. "I've said all along he was a menace. Now, he's proved it," she added uninvited with a smug I-told-you-so expression gracing her face.

Ignoring Mayson's callous remark, Clark faced his boss and insisted, "He's been tricked, I'm positive, Chief!"

Lois crossed her arms as she eyed Mayson. "Superman would never help terrorists," said Lois sharply, the very idea disgusting that Superman would even consider such an act. How could anyone even think Superman capable of such a thing?

"Yeah, well, why isn't he out trying to make good?" Perry asked angrily.

"Because he's a criminal, that's why," Mayson said matter- of-factly, "which brings me to the reason why I'm here."

They all finally looked at Mayson and replied together, "Why?"

"Can we talk somewhere more private?" she asked.

***

Mayson crossed her arms and paced in front of them. "I have been in contact with the Pentagon, or rather, they have been in contact with me. They have requested my help in this case, since the offense occurred in my district." She stopped and faced Lois and Clark, resting her hands on her hips. "It is not that difficult to figure out that you two have the ability to reach Superman at times, or at least have some sort of relationship with him," she accused.

Lois and Clark exchanged wary glances.

Determined that she was in for a fight, Mayson continued, "This isn't some stupid little thing about protecting sources. There are terrorists out there with nuclear weapons. Doesn't that mean anything to you? Superman has turned against justice, or in my opinion, is showing his true colors at last." She took a few steps pacing in front of Lois and Clark, keeping her eyes on both reporters.

"He may not be the frontrunner of an alien race planning to conquer the earth as some extremists believe," she said sarcastically, "but no being with the capability of that much power is going to be the goody-two-shoes you two claim he is and merely 'help' people. He is a vigilante, pure and simple, acting above the law."

Mayson stopped in front of them again, anger flaring in her eyes. "I don't care what he has done for you in the past. I need to bring him in and you are going to help me." Mayson halted as she faced the reporters, pointing accusingly at them.

Lois was steamed and ready to explode as she took a step forward. When Clark reached for her shoulder in silent communication to stay calm, she turned to him, her hands up and palms out. "No, Clark, don't."

Clark bit his lip, almost pitying Mayson who was totally unaware of the coming eruption. He could feel it emanating from his partner's pores. Of all days for anyone to cross Lois!

"First of all, Mayson," she started as she turned back to the object of her disdain, saying her name as if it were poison. "Protecting sources is not some stupid little thing! We depend on being able to protect sources in the news business. Our paper would be blank pages without it. We have a right and obligation to protect them. I have sat in jail to protect sources—people who tell us their stories only because they trust us to keep their identity protected," Lois said expressively as she paced. "Tell me, have you ever heard of people being protected for information before? Let's see—ah, Witness Protection Services, maybe?" Lois asked mockingly. "So don't tell me that protecting sources is silly," she spat at her. Lois took a step closer, her fire just getting stoked. "And I know exactly who is out there," she said, pointing briefly at the outside wall, "with nuclear weapons. I watched the same broadcast that you did. Don't you dare act like the situation means nothing to me… or Clark. Or that we are being petty in our protection of sources. The circumstances that exist mean we are *all* in a lot of trouble if something isn't done soon," Lois said, pressing forward angrily.

Mayson realized she had never seen Lois this explosive before and cautiously retreated a step. In the background, Clark and Perry watched with arms crossed, slightly amused.

"Next," Lois continued. "Superman did *not* do what that General said he did, I mean, he was tricked or something," she said with a wave of her hand. "I can't prove it yet and I haven't figured out how, but Superman would never do anything like that," she spewed out venomously. "Your opinion of Superman and what he stands for is duly noted. It's a shame you can't see the good in him without thinking there is some ulterior motive in what he does. You have always hated him despite all that he has done for the city and the entire world," she said with a wave of her hands. "What would have happened with the Nightfall asteroid if it hadn't been for Superman? You would be dead, that's what— along with the rest of the world. I would have died a long time ago if he hadn't been around to rescue me countless times. I know how to appreciate someone who is there for me. And he *always* follows and respects the law. He could stand in judgment of all the criminals he stops and summarily destroy them if he wanted to. But he doesn't. He turns them over to the authorities to deal with. Just the other day he…" she said, but realizing she was getting too far off the subject, she added harshly, "Anyway, he has never asked for anything in return, but we owe him our lives. I pity you for your mistrust."

"And most importantly, talking to us in here," she said as she pointed towards the floor, "is keeping us from tracking down the real criminals and bringing *them* to justice!" Placing her hands on her hips, Lois faced down Mayson. "I, for one, have had enough of your accusations about Superman and about how we do our job here at the Planet. I intend to track down the real culprits and make sure they are brought to justice." Lois turned and strode to the door to exit Perry's office, her rant now complete.

Mayson was shaken, but not incapacitated. She grabbed Lois by the shoulder before she was out of reach. "Don't get too comfortable with your high and mighty opinions, Lois. I may not be able to make you talk right now, but I can get that court order before you can shout 'SUPERMAN!'" With her threat issued, Mayson pushed Lois aside and exited the office.

Clark was so proud of his Lois, standing up for what she believed, standing up for Superman, for him. On the other hand, she had every reason to do so since she was present when the superhero was duped. He was starting to wonder what was so wrong about Lois' affections for Superman. It was certainly better than hatred and suspicion.

"Clark!" Lois said again, finally getting his attention. "We need to get on this, figure out how this happened."

Clark knew what he needed to do was get away as Superman. Perry had said it himself. 'Why isn't he out trying to make good?' Clark rushed for the door and muttered in excuse, "You know, I just remembered that I have something really important I have to do."

Perry bellowed, "More important than a bunch of terrorists trying to blow us all from here to Elvis and back?! Get your butt in your chair and start typing."

Clark stopped in place, crestfallen at how his behavior must appear. He would have to stop the terrorists and vindicate Superman without the superhero for now.

Perry turned to Lois and pointed out his door. "You, too, Lois. I want everything you've got on this mess and I want it in half an hour!" he commanded and he turned back to his desk.

Lois replied in agreement, "Right, Chief!" and followed Clark back to their desks where Jimmy waited.

Clark was extremely humiliated over being fooled by the fake military setup. How could he have been so stupid? Superman was now being hunted as a criminal because of Leon's deception and he wanted to know how it had happened. Clark looked at Jimmy and asked, "Your source at Lucky Leon's was the one who tipped you off about the shipment, wasn't he?"

Jimmy admitted in a cracked voice, "Yeah, C.K. I thought he was a friend…and all his other information seemed to pan out. He must've been in on it all along, just pretending to be my friend. He tricked me."

Clark sympathized with his young friend, patting him on his shoulder. "It's okay Jimmy; we were all tricked. Now what are we going to do to stop them?"

Lois added, "If I hadn't been so gullible and believed them, I wouldn't have called for Superman and we wouldn't be in this mess." She, too, was feeling responsible for the dire situation.

Clark knew they needed to snap out of this mood. It wasn't going to solve anything. He stepped closer to Lois and rested a hand on her shoulder in reassurance. "Why wouldn't you believe them, Lois? You thought Jimmy's source was legit. It's not anyone's fault."

Lois scrutinized Clark as he attempted to console them both about how they had been conned. Was this the caring man she thought stole a story from her? And did she actually think that he would tell scandalous bedroom stories behind her back at her expense? A man who also knew other personal things about her, including her history with Claude, and had kept her secrets to himself, not telling anyone?

Lois smiled at Clark, seeing the man in front of her without all her fears clouding her vision. Lois suggested, "The really big story is going to be who's going to find those warheads. It's a shame we don't have Lucky Leon's forwarding address."

Jimmy snapped his head up with a thought. "What about the reverse?"

Lois and Clark stared at him, puzzled.

"I mean, what if he went to an old address? One you'd never think he'd go to, like the old factory where he first started?" Jimmy paused, uncertain. "It's stupid, right?" he mumbled.

Lois and Clark glanced at each other as they realized the idea wasn't so bad after all.

***

"…You have the 900 million?" Lucky Leon asked as he munched on a bunch of grapes.

"Certainly, but first I'd like to inspect the merchandise."

"Absolutely!" Lucky Leon said as he escorted his buyer inside the warehouse.

Watching from behind a mass of old machine parts in a dark corner of the warehouse, Clark, Lois, and Jimmy watched Lucky Leon show one of the warheads to Mr. Darryl from Intergang. Leon carefully lifted the panel cover off, exposing the arming mechanism.

"Okay, we've seen enough," Clark whispered.

"We can't leave now. It's just getting good," Lois complained softly.

"Famous last words," Clark warned.

"When people say that…" a strange voice said from behind, prompting the three to turn around abruptly. The voice belonged to Gregor, no longer disguising his Russian accent. He stood there with several other men with guns, an evil smile spreading across his face. "…it usually never comes true. But today's your lucky day."

***

"What about them?" Mr. Darryl inquired, indicating Lois, Clark and Jimmy.

The three were chained around a large piece of machinery in the warehouse, each facing out in different directions. Lucky Leon and his guests made plans as the warhead sat ominously between the criminals and three unlucky snoops.

They could hear the criminals map out their fate in the distance. "Either we leave them to starve, or we shoot them," Lucky Leon suggested with a sneer.

"Lois?"

"Clark?"

They both called out to each other almost simultaneously. Clark spoke first. "Lois, there's something I have wanted to tell you for a long time, that I need to tell you. I certainly wanted to tell you before…" He hesitated, realizing Jimmy could hear. "You know, with what happened on our date last night."

"What happened on your date, C.K.?" Jimmy wondered what could have happened on their date to prompt a need for C.K. to reveal something at this moment.

Clark directed his slightly irritated response to Jimmy, "Later, Jimmy." He wished he could speak to Lois privately, that he could tell her everything right now with no reservations.

Lois jumped in, anxious to say something to Clark too. "Clark, I know. I'm sorry I've been so crazy over things today. I've been so afraid of another Claude incident, afraid of trusting my own judgment. But I kept forgetting you're Clark—not Claude. I kept imagining things, I…" she choked out.

Jimmy's eyes widened with understanding as Lois spoke. She talked of comparing Clark with Claude, and according to rumors, Claude had slept with Lois and turned around to betray her. Jimmy swung his head around to look at Clark. That meant Lois and Clark… had really hit it off last night.

Clark's focus was on Lois as he confessed further, "Lois, I want to tell you so much… I promise I will when we… and we will get out of this, Lois, but I want you to know how much I love you. Please believe me, I love you." His voice was filled with emotion.

"Oh, Clark, I believe you. I love you, too," she cried.

In the distance, Clark saw the men start to lift the warhead off the stand. He had to do something fast, but what could he do without revealing himself. Maybe it didn't even matter anymore. If the three of them died, none of it would matter. Then he had an idea. He zoomed in on the warhead itself as the men were lifting it to pack up in the van. He x-rayed the panel covering the arming mechanism and focused a beam of his heat vision, burning through a micro-circuit. The timer beeped and the clock started counting down, just as he expected.

The men with the warhead set it back down in alarm. "Come on, let's get out of here," they shouted in panic as they ran out of the warehouse.

"Get the truck!" Lucky Leon yelled after them, running with Mr. Darryl in their escape. The truck pulled away before Lucky Leon and Mr. Darryl could get on, so they continued to run after it. "Wait! Wait!"

In all the commotion, Clark quickly snapped the padlock, freeing the chains around them, acting like it was actually the cutting disks on the machinery that had severed the lock. "Run to the Jeep. Run."

Jimmy and Lois ran towards the Jeep, with Clark right behind them. After a few steps though, Clark double backed from their retreat and ran back into the factory in a red and blue blur.

As Lois and Jimmy approached the Jeep, Lois finally noticed Clark wasn't with them. In a panic, she shouted to Jimmy, "Get it running. I have to find Clark." She tossed him the keys as she ran back towards the warehouse, not waiting for a response from her younger companion. She called frantically, "Clark!"

***

Superman quickly, but confidently, stepped up to the bomb to disable it. "Piece of cake." With his heat vision he quickly zapped the timer, but the mechanism continued counting down. He x-rayed the interior and saw a second clock beneath the top one, but with a lead casing he couldn't see through. "Uh oh" he said.

Lois stopped running as she found Superman examining the bomb. "Uh oh?!" Lois repeated.

Looking up from the bomb, Superman asked, "Lois, what are you doing here?"

"I couldn't find Clark," Lois said anxiously.

"You have to get out of here now," Superman insisted.

Lois took a cautious step forward. "Can't you stop it?"

"I tried, but there is a lead shield on the backup timer. I can't read it, so I can't stop it," he explained.

"Twelve seconds," Lois read the timer worriedly.

"Looks like it's time for a field goal," he said, with a smile.

He carefully set the bomb on the floor of the warehouse near the wide open door, took two steps, and kicked the ticking bomb high and out. It exploded safely in the sky as they watched its trajectory.

Lois excitedly cheered, filled with relief they had averted disaster. And she knew Clark was safe, too—wherever he was.

***

Clark, Jimmy and Perry laughed as Lois finished telling how Superman had caught the real culprits, Lucky Leon and Mr. Darryl. She always loved to bask in the thrill of a completed investigation that put the bad guys out of commission and righted all the wrongs.

"…then Jimmy came back," Lois continued as she leaned against her desk.

"And we loaded them into the Jeep and drove them to the police. We found C.K. about a half mile down the road," Jimmy added with a chuckle.

"I guess I got a little lost in the dark," Clark offered.

"Everyone else has been rounded up," Lois added.

"Plus, the Pentagon has cleared Superman of any wrong doing," Jimmy said.

Clark sighed with relief.

"I'd give my eye teeth to know how he got duped," Perry said with a chuckle.

Lois bit on her lower lip, feeling guilty. "Wouldn't we all," she said, Clark smiling at her. "But we wouldn't have thought of that old factory if it hadn't been for Jimmy," Lois said.

Perry beamed and slapped Jimmy on the back. "That was inspired, Jimmy. I'm proud of you."

"Thanks, Chief." Looking over at Lois and Clark, he added, "And thanks, you guys, for clearing my name."

They nodded.

"Now, Jimmy," Perry said as he put his arm around the young man and guided him across the floor towards his office. "Let me tell you about something I noticed the other day. Remember when I was talking about Elvis' cape? Well I forgot to mention that a lot of people think that Superman got his idea for his cape from Elvis…"

"See?" Clark said, turning back to Lois. "Sometimes men can be direct."

"And sometimes men say what they mean," Lois added as she smiled.

Slightly confused at her words, Clark asked, "I thought you didn't trust what men said?"

"Some men I trust," replied as she gazed into Clark's eyes.

Clark gently reached for her hand while holding her look, aware of the bond again opening between them, the heat between them palpable.

Perry stuck his head out of his office door as he appraised the situation. "Hey, you two, why don't you get out of here! Jimmy and I'll put the paper to bed."

Clark looked at Perry, calling out, "Thanks, Chief. We promised Mayson Drake we'd stop by her office as soon as we could and give her our statements. We're already late."

"All right, beat it then," Perry said, closing his door and disappearing back in his office.

Lois lifted her briefcase onto her shoulder. "The one thing I can't understand is how Lucky Leon killed Borges. Or even knew that the clues he was feeding us were working?" She said, thinking aloud.

She picked up the Desk Friend and handed it to Clark. "Here, I want you to have this back."

"No, we made a fair trade," Clark said, pushing it back into her arms.

"No, really, Clark," she insisted as she placed the Desk Friend back in his hands.

"No, Lois, please," Clark repeated, but losing his hold on it, the Desk Friend fell to the floor and cracked open. He picked the wreckage off the floor, examining the broken pieces. "Uh-huh, digital satellite uplink and remote control camera," he said, turning the small parts over with his fingers.

He peeked up at Lois as she watched him. "Let's just say it's a good thing you didn't keep the Bath Friend," he teased with a waggle of his brow.

Lois blushed before finally laughing.

***

As they left the Planet, Clark paused at the door. "Lois, let's walk from here. It's a nice evening and it'll give us a little time to talk."

Lois looked at Clark and realized that it was long past time for talking. After their confessions at the warehouse, they needed to talk this out; *she* needed to talk this out. At least they could start their conversation on their way over to Mayson's office. She smiled at Clark and held out her hand in reply to his invitation.

Clark took her hand and stepped close as they made their way down the sidewalk. After a few moments of quiet, Clark asked, "Jimmy said you ran back into the warehouse looking for me. Why did you do that? I mean, you were running back into an atomic explosion."

"I know. It doesn't make too much sense, does it?" Lois looked over at Clark, noting his confusion. "I just couldn't leave you there. I couldn't bear to lose you."

"All day you have been treating me like I abandoned you this morning on purpose, that I wanted to leave without a word, hurt you…" Clark tried to hide his own wounded feelings. "Even steal a story from you."

Lois listened to the turmoil in his voice and thought carefully. "That was a mistake, Clark. I know you didn't steal from me. I don't know where you got the tip from. Yet. But I know you wouldn't do that," she said with a smile. After a few quiet moments, Lois continued, "Last night you awakened emotions in me, feelings I've had for you a long time. And I felt out of control, scared." Lois suddenly felt vulnerable with her admission.

"I know last night you said something about thinking you had been falling in love with me for awhile. Exactly how long is awhile?"

Lois smiled. "I think I've had feelings for you way before I was willing to admit them. But I think I was first aware of it during my wedding to Lex," she revealed.

Clark was now totally baffled. Before her wedding to Lex, he had opened his heart to her, told her that he loved her and asked her not to marry Lex. Then it felt as if she had slapped him in the face when she told him she didn't feel that way for him, that she only loved him as a brother.

Lois saw the uncertainty playing across his features. "Did you know that I said 'no' to Lex before Perry arrived with the police? *I* stopped the wedding, not the police."

Clark was surprised. No one had ever told him that. He had assumed that the police had interrupted the wedding. "You did? Why?"

Lois threaded her fingers through Clark's and tightened her grip. She gazed into his eyes before she began to speak. "Because all the while I was getting ready for the wedding and while I walked down the aisle in the church, I never once thought of Lex, the man I was supposed to be marrying. I could only think of one man—you."

Clark stopped in place. "Me?"

"I couldn't marry Lex. Not after realizing how important you were to me," Lois explained.

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Lois took a step and, prompting Clark to walk close along side her, continued on their way to the DA's office. "I almost did," Lois admitted, looking ahead. "That day outside the Planet when you took back that you loved me."

Clark frowned. He should have let her speak first that day. It could have saved them months. "I always did love you, you know," he finally said.

"I sort of figured that," Lois mumbled, looking up at Clark. "Later."

Clark started to understand a bit more of why last night happened. They both had been holding back their feelings, not revealing to each other the extent of their growing love. Their love had been developing for a long time, hidden from each other. They had been afraid to acknowledge their love, either to each other or themselves, and when their feelings for each other had been revealed last night… Still, he felt bad that he had let intimacy develop so fast between them. "I'm sorry, Lois, for rushing things between us last night."

"I wanted last night, Clark, as much as you did," Lois said. She couldn't let Clark take the blame for how fast things happened between them.

"But I should have realized how your past relationships would affect you, that you might have needed more time to trust me." Clark knew he should have restrained himself. After all, it had been their first official date. He should have given her the time, instead of listening to what his hormones were telling him.

Lois stopped, turning to face Clark. She had to make him understand. "Clark, I do trust you. I just needed to realize you were the same man I had grown to trust as my best friend. My fears took over this morning, and my mind and heart have been at war all day. Now I really do recognize that you are the same Clark Kent I've known for nearly two years—my best friend and partner, and now…" Lois looked at him shyly as she continued, "The man I love. Not Claude. I know Clark Kent."

Clark glanced down as he felt a sudden stab of guilt at what she didn't know. Looking back up into her eyes, he said, "I still have something to tell you, you know."

"The thing you mentioned back at the factory?"

Clark nodded. "Yeah."

Lois bit her lower lip as she thought a moment. "Clark, how about telling me later? If you couldn't tell me around Jimmy, let's wait until we're somewhere more private… with no interruptions this time."

Clark closed his eyes for a moment. "I don't want to put it off too long, Lois."

"Maybe after giving our statements, we could go back to my place and talk," she suggested.

Clark opened his eyes, smiled and replied, "That would be perfect." Almost imperceptibly, Clark inched forward and gently captured her lips. Then he pulled her close in a passionate kiss, pouring all the love he felt into the embrace. He hoped and prayed that telling her this secret would not cause him to lose her.

Lois' arms slipped around Clark's neck, her heart pounding as their kiss deepened. The last word Clark had spoken, 'perfect', echoed in her mind. It described exactly how she felt in his arms.

The sound of a ticking echoed in the back of Clark's mind, reminding him of how short his remaining time with Lois would be before she knew the truth—before she would hate him and never want to see him again… or maybe not. Yet, he had to tell her. He should have told her everything before now. Clark again noticed the ticking sound and this time realized it was real.

Clark broke the kiss in a daze and, turning his head towards the sound, realized he was hearing a bomb ticking down. He broke away from Lois and ran towards the sound around the corner.

As he turned the corner, he saw Mayson in her car and made the connection in an instant. In a panic, he called out, "Mayson! Noooooo!" as he ran across the street towards her.

Halfway across the street, the explosion shook and Clark fell backwards with the force of it. "Mayson!" he shouted as he rose from the pavement and ran around to the driver side of the burning car. Yanking on the car door, it pulled off in his hands and he tossed it aside. He turned back to Mayson and tenderly lifted her from the wreckage.

"Mayson?" Clark urged.

Mayson stirred in Clark's arms and she opened her eyes, looking up at his soot-covered face. She reached a hand up to his cheek. "Clark," she moaned as her hand slid down over the front of his suit and stopped at his chest.

Clark looked down at where her hand lay. Somehow, in the explosion and his attempt to remove Mayson from the burning car, his shirt had been ripped, exposing the suit underneath. His eyes followed along her arm back to her eyes that were looking directly at the red and blue material.

Mayson gazed back up into his eyes. "Clark, so that's what you've been hiding," she mumbled as she almost lost consciousness.

"Mayson!" Clark called out again, trying to keep her awake.

She concentrated and looked up at Clark once more, caressing his hidden suit with her fingers. "Resurrection," she whispered as she looked up into his eyes with a warm, weak smile. Cradled in Clark's arms, she died.

He should have been able to save her. He was Superman. She shouldn't have died. He brushed aside the hair tenderly from her face. She died knowing his secret, but never understanding what Superman stood for. She died on the very day that he had finally told her she could never be anything but a friend, that he loved Lois. How could he ever live with what happened?

Clark laid her gently on the pavement just as Lois ran up from behind the car to witness the horrible scene. "Oh my God!"

Clark pulled his coat closely around him to hide his torn shirt and the exposed suit underneath, numb from the pain of her loss of life and his failure to save her.

***

Lois rode the elevator up in the Daily Planet building, still feeling empty and cold from the night before. Being witness to such a thing, especially the death of someone you knew, was devastating, no matter how you felt about them. Clark had taken it very hard, having arrived at the car just moments after the explosion. They hadn't been able to leave the scene until much later when they had given their statements. By that time Clark had effectively withdrawn from her, not even able to look at her much less say anything.

When the elevator doors dinged open, she stepped out and made her way down the ramp. Automatically, she glanced towards Clark's desk, but she noticed he wasn't there yet. The computer was off and his desk was just as he had left it the night before. She set her briefcase down at her desk and slipped the jacket off her arms to drape over her chair.

She looked over again at his desk and felt herself drawn there, as if touching it and the things on it would help her to deal with this tragedy better. She stepped over to the desk, looking for clues that he had been there while softly running her fingers over its edge as if somehow that would provide Clark with the support he needed to get through this tragedy.

Perry stuck his head out of his office and yelled, "Lois. My office. Now."

His booming voice shook Lois from her thoughts as she raised her head. "Right away, Chief," she replied half- heartedly.

When she had closed the door behind her and faced Perry as he sat at his desk, she saw the softened look on his face. "Lois, you didn't have to come in so early. I know you and Clark were up late at the police scene last night."

Lois looked away and fiddled with her fingers in front of her as she started pacing. "I'd rather be here, Perry, working on this thing. Besides, Clark needs my support. He was a real wreck last night," she started.

"That's another thing I wanted to tell you, hon."

When Lois looked up in anticipation, Perry continued, "Clark called early and asked for a few days off. He said he wanted to get away to sort things out. Anyway, I gave him the time. If you need any help on your stories, I've already talked to Steve about being available to you. And of course, there's Jimmy, too."

Lois stared at her boss, her mouth slightly gaping open as she took in what he was telling her. Moisture gathered in her eyes, blurring her vision as she tried to hold back her tears.

Noticing that Lois was upset, Perry rose from his chair and walked over to her, putting his arm around her. "Hon, it won't be that bad. It's only for a few days," Perry said, trying to convince her to put up with the temporary circumstances. He knew she didn't care for Steve that much.

What Perry didn't realize, Lois mused, was that she wasn't upset about Steve. She was upset about Clark leaving like that without even telling her. Maybe he sent her an email. That was it. She hadn't checked her email yet. He surely wouldn't take off without saying anything. She wasn't thinking straight.

Lois, anxious to return to her desk, broke free from Perry and assured him. "Oh, no, Perry. That's fine," she said, backing away from him, glancing towards the door. "I need to get back to work," she explained, Perry eyeing her suspiciously. "Really," she said as she opened the door and quickly exited out of Perry's office.

Perry watched her retreat towards her desk. Lois never failed to leave him guessing, he reflected.

Lois slid into her chair and quickly booted up her computer. She recalled those moments with Clark right before the explosion. They had left the Planet, sharing their feelings and hopes about their relationship. Clark had planned on coming to her place after giving their statements, but then everything had changed with Mayson's murder. Now, everything was so uncertain.

She started her mail program and checked to see if there was new mail. After the closeness they had felt last night, surely he wouldn't leave without a word to her. She would have understood his need for time alone, but she just wanted to know. She glanced at the screen and smiled at a sender's name, "Clark Kent". She opened the email.

*Sweet Lois,

By the time you read this, you probably will know that I took a few days off. I'm sorry I didn't tell you personally or give you any warning. I just needed some time to myself. I hope you understand.

I love you,

Clark*

Lois touched the screen as if she were touching Clark, her eyes shining with unshed tears. Even in his grief and whatever he was dealing with, she was still in his thoughts and heart. As evidenced by the timestamp on the email, he probably had shot off the email to her after calling Perry. She would wait until he returned, giving him the space he needed. Even though he had told Mayson he didn't want to date her and considered her only a friend, she knew he cared about her. Lois hoped he was all right.

***

Clark sat at the table, his head hanging as he fiddled with his second piece of pecan pie. So much had happened in just one day; he felt overwhelmed comprehending all that had occurred. Superman had briefly been hunted as a criminal, a friend was murdered right under his nose in a crime that he should have been able to stop, and the woman he loved and had been intimate with still didn't know his biggest secret. He lifted the glass to his lips, sipping at the rich buttermilk, washing away a bitter taste that did not come from the pie.

"You've nearly finished that bottle of buttermilk, Clark," his mother stated as she sat down at the table with him. Up until now she had mostly left him to his thoughts. He had arrived hours earlier obviously sick at heart, not willing to talk about what was bothering him. Jonathan had returned back to working in the barn shortly after Clark's arrival, but would come into the house soon. She had set down some of Clark's favorites at the table and went about some of her chores on the other side of the kitchen, watching her son from the corner of her eyes.

"You think maybe it's time you told me what's bothering you?" she asked, knowing he needed to talk. "We saw on the news about how you were tricked about the missiles. But that was all straightened out, wasn't it?" She suspected the missile situation was not what had her son upset, but it was a place to start.

Clark looked up at his mom. The weight of what he carried on his shoulders was reflected in his eyes. "It's not that, Mom. Yeah, I was tricked, but that's all straightened out now."

Martha reached her hand out to cover her son's in support. "Then what is it?"

Clark looked down again. "Mayson's dead. She was killed half a block away from where I was standing," he said summarily. He looked up into his mother's understanding eyes. "I should have been able to stop it; I was right there," he said angrily as he pounded his fist onto the table a bit too hard, shaking everything on it. He closed his eyes as he sought control. "I save strangers around the world every day," he started again, but more softly. He opened his eyes, and honestly wanting an answer, asked, "Why can't I at least save the people I care about—my friends and family?" But the only answer he received was her sympathetic gaze. "The bomb went off before I could get there."

Martha scooted closer to her son and squeezed his hand in support. "Clark. You can't blame yourself. You can't save everyone in every situation and you can't pick who those people will be. You have to know that."

He frowned as he admitted, "I know, Mom. It's just… I guess with everything else, it's…" Breaking from her, he leaned back in his chair and ran his hands through his hair, aggravated. "Earlier yesterday, I had told Mayson I didn't feel the way she did, that I only wanted to be friends… but Mom, I did care about her. I didn't want her to die."

"Clark, you sound like you are blaming yourself for her death just because you were honest with her about your feelings," Martha said in alarm as she searched his eyes.

Clark looked up, realizing the way it sounded. "No, I know that's crazy, but I can't help feel bad that I hurt her earlier like that. I told her that I loved Lois."

Martha's eyes opened wide at her son's revelation. She knew Clark loved Lois, but she wasn't aware that he was declaring this to others. "Don't you think you should tell Lois before telling others?"

"I have told her," he explained. "But that's a whole other problem."

"Problem? Why is that a problem?" she asked, thoroughly confused.

"I really messed up, Mom. I…" Clark winced, unable to finish as he choked back the emotion. "Mom, I can't talk about this anymore." He stood and carried his dishes to the sink.

Martha followed and grasping his shoulder, prompted Clark to turn. "Clark, you look at me. You know that whatever you did, your father and I still love you. That we will always love you." She willed her words to sink into his hard-headed thick skull.

Jonathan had just entered the kitchen from the porch, having heard the last few words and sensing the seriousness of the discussion. "Your mother's right about that, Son. We're always here for you."

"We may want to tan your hide… but we'll be here for you," Martha added with a smile.

Clark glanced at both his parents, his eyes heavy with tears. How did he get so lucky to have arrived on Earth in the very place to be raised by the best parents possible?

"Lois and I went on a date," he started as he leaned against the counter. He noticed the spark in his mom's eye. She always did think the two of them would end up together, taking a liking to Lois from the beginning. "Things kinda got out of hand. We… got very close," he said uncomfortably, embarrassed to talk of such things with them. He looked away. "The thing is, she still doesn't know about Superman, about my powers."

"Clark Jerome Kent! That woman deserves to know everything," Martha scolded, smacking at him lightly.

"I know, Mom. I just… I'm so afraid that now I'm going to lose her. I couldn't bear to lose her… but I might anyway. I had to leave that morning early because of Superman and…"

Martha placed her hand on his arms crossed in front of him. "You can't delay telling her, Clark. And I'm sure she'll love you all the same."

"You don't think she'll be mad?" Clark asked in surprise.

"Of course she'll be mad," Martha snapped. Then she reached out with open arms and hugged her son tightly. "But if I know Lois, she'll love you and forgive you," she said. Pulling back to look at her son, she added mockingly, "Eventually."

Clark smiled at her unique way of encouragement, yet the frown wouldn't leave his face. He had a lot to sort out yet.

Jonathan patted Clark across the shoulder and suggested, "How about helping me with some of the machinery in the barn, Clark?"

The two men walked towards the barn, comfortable in their old habits of working together. Jonathan told Clark about the tractor and fence problems, his plans for the new season, and the new mayor in town. Clark told Jonathan about the earthquake rescue from two weeks ago and the new way he had used to reverse some damage to a town.

After a time, Clark grew quiet as he worked silently along with his dad, thinking over what his parents had said and over what he hadn't told them. As they were finishing, Clark finally said aloud, "I had planned on telling her about Superman that evening, the night Mayson died."

Jonathan knew that more was on his son's mind than he had revealed. Now, maybe he was ready to talk more. "Then why is it so difficult to tell Lois now?"

Clark was silent at his dad's inquiry until they exited the barn. "Mayson knew, Dad," Clark finally said as they walked over towards the fence. "I guess the explosion ripped my shirt and before she died, she saw the suit." Clark leaned against the fence and stared out over the field, watching the darkening sky.

Jonathan put a hand on Clark's shoulder in quiet support, listening to his son's pain.

"I couldn't even talk to Lois about what I was going through," Clark explained, glancing at his dad. "Lois and I can talk about anything… except Superman, and when I found myself disappointed because of what I couldn't do as Superman, it hurt that I couldn't talk to her. How am I ever going to explain that now?"

"Clark," Jonathan started, placing a firm grip on his shoulder. "You know that I have always wanted you to be cautious, that I was afraid of your secret being exposed. You are used to keeping this from people your whole life, but it's time to that you told her. It's long overdue now, Son."

"I know," Clark said with a wince, leaning back against the fence again. "It's so ironic. Mayson hated Superman, despised what he does… what I do, yet in the end, she knew the truth. And Lois, the woman I love with all my heart, trust more than I thought I could, doesn't know who I am."

"She knows who you are, Clark. She just knows you by two different names," Jonathan said, trying to lighten the mood.

"That's the point, Dad," Clark replied, turning towards his dad. "She knows both Clark and Superman as two separate men; she has a relationship with each man, not knowing they *are* the same."

"You really have to stop talking about yourself in…"

"The third person," they said together.

"Yeah, I know," Clark smiled, recalling the first time his mother had said that. "You know why I kept it from Lois? Because she loved Superman too much." He turned from his dad, disgusted with himself.

"You used to treat Superman like he wasn't part of yourself, but like he was a part you played. You don't feel that way anymore, do you?"

Clark looked back at his dad, wondering what had made him say that.

Jonathan explained, "You admitted that Mayson despising Superman was the same as despising you. And you said that Lois didn't know the two were the same. They are the same, Clark."

Clark realized his dad was right. That would mean she was in love with part of him all along, even when he thought she barely noticed him. He looked out over the fence at the darkened sky as a smile crept over his face.

***

The next morning Clark walked into the kitchen, freshly dressed and shaved. His parents turned, surprised at the apparent change from yesterday. It was more than his appearance, but his attitude.

"Clark?" Martha inquired. "I wasn't expecting you up yet. How about some breakfast?"

Clark smiled. "I'd love it, Mom." Clark sat at the table with his dad, who was already eating. "I'm going home today," Clark announced. "There are things I have to do and the funeral is tomorrow."

Martha set a plate of eggs, bacon and hash browns in front of Clark. "Have you decided what you're going to do?"

"I know what I need to do," Clark said. "But I'm… It was such a dumb idea to keep it from her because I wanted to prove she loved Clark." Clark scooped some eggs onto his fork and started to eat.

Martha sat down at the table, pouring coffee into the mugs. "She does love all of you now, Clark. You do see that?"

Clark sipped at the fresh coffee. "Except that she thinks I'm two people," he said. He raked his fingers through his hair. "God, this is so confusing."

Martha reached her hand out to capture her son's. "Just eat now. Think it through on the way home. You've said flying always helps you sort things out. We know you'll do the right thing."

Clark replied with a half-smile and took another bite. "Then how come I didn't figure things out on the way here?" he asked.

"Because you had to talk to your parents first to give you the courage to do what you always knew you should," Martha teased as Jonathan chuckled.

Clark smiled and continued to eat his breakfast. He knew he had to tell Lois; it was the right thing to do. But could he tell her despite the possible consequences? Would she forgive him for not telling her sooner? For keeping it from her for so long?

***

Lois opened her door to find Clark with his hand raised as if he were about to knock again. For a moment, she simply stared at the man facing her. She had not seen him for a few days, not since the police had taken their statements after Mayson's murder. Clark had been understandably devastated, but she still couldn't help feeling hurt that he had left to deal with this alone as if he couldn't even talk with her. They had always been able to talk with each other. He did leave her an email that he needed the time off and she realized he needed some space, but she had hoped that he would have contacted her before now. But what did any of that matter, really? What was important was that he was here now to talk it out.

"Can I come in to talk?" he asked hesitantly.

Realizing she was still just standing there at the open door, she quickly reached for him and pulled him inside. "Clark, I've been so worried. Where have you been?"

"I'm sorry, Lois. I had a lot to think about," he said, relieved she was inviting him inside. He had had no idea what reaction to expect from her since his disappearance. Would she be mad about his abrupt departure?

After closing the door, Lois walked towards the couch so that they could sit and talk. But as she neared the couch, Lois sensed Clark was not following her. She glanced back to see him still standing just inside the door. "Clark, let's sit down so we can talk."

Shaking off his brief moment of reluctance, Clark joined Lois on the couch, sitting on the opposite end. He leaned forward, his hands resting on his knees, still hesitant. Words he had practiced for hours swirled around in his head from multiple scenarios he had played in his mind.

Lois studied him as he sat there. He was wearing clean, neat clothes and had shaven, yet he looked ragged, worn- down and tired. Had Mayson possibly meant more to him than he had realized or admitted to himself? Was his declaration of love to herself maybe premature? She tried to push her fears aside; it could be the grief over a friend's murder, but it was difficult to not wonder considering Clark's mood. There seemed to be almost a finality about his manner.

"I'm sorry for just disappearing like that, Lois," Clark finally said. "I know I should have at least… I hoped my email would be enough for you not to be angry with me."

"Angry? I'm not angry, Clark." A friend of his had just died violently and she'd be less than a friend herself if she couldn't allow him some space to grieve.

With a deep breath, Clark suddenly looked up and faced her with sad eyes. "Lois."

"Clark, I know it must be hard for you," Lois said as she grasped his hands. "I know you and Mayson went out a few times. And being so close to the explosion must've been… but you couldn't have helped her, Clark. You would have been killed, too."

If he had had any doubts about his decision to tell Lois tonight, they vanished as she spoke, her words ringing in his ears. No matter the consequences. "I came here to talk to you tonight. I need to tell you something, something I should have told you before." The pain was evident in his eyes. "Lois, do you remember that night when we were going to go back to your apartment and talk? That I was going to tell you something—a secret?"

Why was he bringing that up now? Did he think she was going to push him for that now when he is so obviously upset? "Clark," she said as she scooted closer. She reached out to caress his cheek. "Shh, it's okay. We don't have to go into that now."

Clark closed his eyes, memorizing her touch, hoping he would again have opportunities to feel her soft touch after he had told her the truth. Gathering his courage, he opened his eyes and covered his hand over hers, pulling her hand away from his cheek. "Yes. We have to. I have to tell you now."

Lois studied the somber look in his eyes and the set of his jaw as he carefully removed his glasses and laid them on the coffee table. She watched as Clark slowly lifted his gaze to her, holding eye contact with her, sensing but not understanding his fear and reluctance. She noticed his dark eyes unconcealed behind the glasses he usually wore. It was odd how the lack of glasses changed the appearance of his face. She gently reached out with one hand and stroked his cheek, searching his eyes for an answer to explain the peculiar sensation in the pit of her stomach. Then she reached up with her other hand and pushed his hair back from his face, exposing his forehead, and she gasped in recognition. Releasing his hair, her hand moved to his other cheek and she held his head between her hands, staring into his deep brown eyes. And time stood still. A thousand images flashed through her consciousness—images of the two men, images of Clark using all those crazy excuses, images of flying with Superman, moments with each of the men. Moisture swelled in her eyes as she realized the truth, the truth that the two men that had meant the most in her life were one and the same.

Clark patiently watched as the emotions played across Lois' face, waiting for some sign that she didn't hate him. But he was also afraid of her reaction, wanting time to stand still indefinitely, not wanting to face her wrath. Would she still love him? He gasped softly as he noticed the tears threatening to fall down her cheeks.

"Why?" she finally choked out, not believing that the man in front of her had kept such a deep secret from her. "I thought I meant something to you," she accused, pulling her hands away. She stood, turning away from him, needing to place the physical distance between them.

Clark was on his feet immediately. "You mean *everything* to me, Lois. Everything." How could he convince her?

Lois wiped the tears from her face and turned to face him, anger flaring on her features. "I mean that much to you, do I? So much that you present yourself to me as two different men? Not that that makes me special, mind you," she said, raising her arms in emphasis. "You presented yourself as two men to the whole world." Lois started to pace in front of him.

"Lois, I never intended it to happen that way," he tried to explain.

Lois paused, facing him with the hurt evident on her face. "But why, Clark? Why couldn't you tell me the truth? Did you feel you couldn't trust me?" Placing her hand on her chest, she admitted, "I have trusted you with my heart, which is saying a lot for me. I've shared so much about myself with you."

"I know that you have trusted me with your heart and I cherish that," Clark said, stepping closer and gently resting his large hands on her shoulders. When she didn't resist his closeness, he continued, "I never told anyone before, Lois. My parents are the only ones that know. I'm new at this. When do you tell someone you're from another planet? That you can fly and bend steel, or that you can overhear their private conversations and see through their clothes?"

Lois blushed at his last admission, and then she grew irritated and stepped back from him. She remembered the many hours she had spent with Clark. Had he really… "Clark!" she shouted, her eyes wide with comprehension. "You didn't? You looked?"

"No, no! Lois, I wouldn't do that," Clark insisted vehemently and Lois relaxed at his assurances. "But I can't say I haven't been tempted," Clark admitted blushing softly.

Lois studied Clark's features in what seemed like slow motion—his frustration, his startled assurances, his blushing. "You never told anyone?" she repeated, astonished. The words 'I'm here to help' popped into her mind. Superman was Clark's way to help people who needed it. Suddenly, Lois' mind cleared and she saw one recent image in her mind's eye, one of Clark rushing off to Mayson's exploding car. Clark had run off *before* the explosion. Why hadn't she remembered that? She stared into Clark's deep brown eyes. He must've heard the bomb and is blaming himself… Overcome with compassion for Clark, she enveloped him in an embrace. "Oh, Clark, Oh God. Mayson dying is not your fault, oh God, it's still not your fault."

Clark closed his eyes, savoring the feel of her arms around him and the comfort he felt there. "I should have stopped it," he mumbled into her hair.

Lois pulled back and stared at him, the images of the two men continuing to meld in her memories. "Clark, you can't stop everything. Even as close as we were to her, you can't expect that you could have stopped it in time."

"I know I can't. It's just…" Clark broke contact with her eyes and looked down.

"Clark, look at me," Lois said, lifting his chin to face her. "I told you before that whatever you can do is enough. Do you understand?" she said firmly.

"You said that about Superman," he reminded her.

"So I did," she said with a smile and leaning closer, tenderly kissed his lips.

Clark gazed back at her, surprised and amazed. "You haven't said anything more about… you know."

"I guess I'm still sorting that out," Lois admitted. "I have a lot to think about. In a lot of ways, you are still two men in my mind."

Clark looked down, ashamed. "I never meant to become intimate with you before telling you," he finally offered quietly, then raised his head to face her.

A brief flicker of anger returned to Lois' features. "That wasn't something I thought you would do—hold back something that important before making love to me."

"I'm so sorry, Lois. I never should have… You had the right to make that kind of a decision with all the facts, and I didn't give them to you." He observed the anger flicker across her face and met her eyes. "I never did that on purpose, I intended to tell you before things went that far," he said.

Lois could see the honesty and sincerity in his eyes. She knew he was hurting over the situation. She guided him back to the couch and they sat down again, sitting closer than before. "Clark, why did you take off for two days? Was it more than Mayson's death?"

"It was partially Mayson," he said, gazing into her eyes. "But mainly it was not being able to face you."

"Why?"

Clark sighed before continuing. "When I arrived at the car and ripped off the door to get her out, I had ripped my shirt somehow. She saw the suit. She died as she found out who I was."

Lois reached out her hand and slid it across Clark's shirt, slipping a few fingers between the buttons, while Clark watched her quietly. She glanced up at Clark as she felt the texture of the spandex suit, confirming for herself what Clark had already told her. "You wear it under your clothes," she stated.

Clark reached out to caress her hair and his hand slid to hold her cheek. His lips pressed against hers in a gentle touch.

"Do you think she changed her mind about Superman before she died?" Lois asked sympathetically, recalling her terrible reaction about Superman when he was thought to have criminally hijacked those missiles.

"I hope so; it hurt knowing how much she hated Superman." Clark cupped her cheek in his palm and smiled. "You always believed in Superman, understood him. Sometimes you understood him better than I ever did," Clark admitted. "I never had to worry about you liking Superman."

Lois blushed and then it dawned on her. "That's why you didn't tell me, why you held back so long. Because of my infatuation with Superman," she said as she recognized the truth. "That must've been just as bad as being pursued by a woman who also hated Superman."

"No. You never hated me in either identity. But I was afraid if you knew the truth, I'd never know who you really liked, Clark or Superman," he admitted, embarrassed at his reasoning now.

"But you are both," Lois added, confused.

"I know that now. It just took me a while. Maybe it was dumb, but when you felt so differently about Clark and Superman, I just needed to know you liked Clark." Clark recalled how he had wanted Lois to like him, and even take notice of him as a man. It all seemed so silly now. "I thought that Superman didn't really matter, that he was just some fake image I portrayed, but Mayson hated him. You heard her talk of him, Lois. It upset me when she said those horrible things. I discovered that Superman *does* matter. I had been so worried about you loving Superman instead of Clark that I didn't even consider that he was part of me too. The Clark I show the world is not all that I am."

Lois shook her head, holding her hands up. "Wait. I mean, why couldn't you face me after the explosion? You said you left because you couldn't face me. What does this have to do with that?"

"Lois, I love you," Clark said, grabbing her hands and pulling them to his lap. He ran his thumbs over her palms, trying to soothe her. "But the other night, I found myself unable to tell you all that I was feeling or going through, because in my stupidity, I decided you shouldn't know that I was Superman until I was sure you loved Clark. I needed to talk with you so badly, I needed your love. I had planned to tell you that night, but now it seemed… It was a mistake to keep it from you so long."

Lois replied, "Yes, it was a mistake."

Clark gazed at her with saddened eyes, not comprehending what she felt was a mistake. "I never meant to deceive you or hide anything from you. I just wanted you to love me."

"I do love you," Lois said, choking on her emotions. Lois slid her arms around Clark's neck and closed the distance between them. She tenderly pressed her lips to his as her fingers lightly caressed his neck. As he responded to her healing caress, she deepened the kiss and crushed her lips against his. As a fire grew inside her, she surrendered to her passion.

Clark, surprised momentarily, soon responded to her kiss, returning it with fervor. His arms slipped around her waist and pulled her closer still. His tongue pressed forward through her parted lips and he explored the sweet taste of her. How could he be so lucky to have a woman like Lois to love him? It almost seemed too good to be true.

Lois' fingers slid up through his thick hair as the kiss deepened. She should be a lot madder than she was feeling, and maybe it would hit her later, but all she could think of was how much she loved the man in her arms and how much he needed her.

They parted, gasping for breath. Clark almost whimpered in pain as Lois stood from the couch. Momentarily, he was confused by her withdrawal, but then she reached back for his hand, coaxing him seductively, "Come on, Clark."

Clark looked up at her and accepted her hand as if in a trance, rising to follow her. Did Lois intend what it seemed? Was she taking him to the bedroom?

Lois turned back to him when she realized he wasn't following her across the room. "Clark?"

"I don't think you understand, Lois," Clark mumbled.

She stepped closer to him and softly touched her hand to the side of his face. His hand came up to cover hers, wrapping his fingers around hers and pulling her hand away.

"I'm Superman. I'm not human," he said nervously.

She smiled and her eyes walked over the length of his body in appreciation. "I don't know about that, Clark. You seem pretty human to me," she commented, "and you seem to have all the parts of a man."

But Clark was serious. He knew he was not the man that Lois thought she made love with the other evening. That man did not exist. He couldn't let her think he was the same man.

Trying another approach, Lois reached for his hands and squeezed. "Clark," she started slowly. "I know who you are. I know the man who has been my friend and who I have fallen in love with. And I know Superman. I just didn't know they were one and the same."

Clark sighed. "I'm sorry, Lois—"

"I wish you had told me sooner, a lot sooner than tonight." Lois interrupted him, not wanting him to start apologizing again, going off in an unproductive direction. "I don't know why you didn't trust me earlier, but we can talk about that later. We'll talk about a lot later." Her hands caressed along his arms to his chest, and said lovingly, "Right now, all I need to do is hold you, touch you, and love you… all of you."

Clark gently reached his hands up to cup her cheeks and leaned forward to kiss her, unable to resist anymore. When he broke the kiss, he stared into her loving eyes and waited for her to make the next move.

She grasped one of his hands with a smile and turned as she guided him into the bedroom, her heart pounding in her chest with anticipation. At the edge of the bed, Lois released his hand and turned to face him, flushed with desire. Her hands slowly caressed his firm chest through his shirt and she peeked up at him through her eyelashes.

Clark placed his hands on her waist and pulled her close against him as her arms slipped around his neck. Pressing his lips to hers again, he expressed without words his consuming need and desire for her. He moaned as she pushed her tongue forward, invading his mouth in welcome exploration. He pulled her tightly against his body, leaving no doubt as to the intensity of his desires. This moment was new to him—this special woman accepted him, knowing all that he was.

Much to Clark's disappointment, Lois reluctantly broke their kiss. She slowly unbuttoned his shirt, exposing the brightly colored suit underneath. She pulled the shirt loose from his pants and slid it off his shoulders, letting it flutter to the floor. She took a moment to splay her hands across his spandex covered chest and gaze up at him as he watched her.

As Lois reached for his pants, Clark gasped at her sudden move. While Lois continued to tackle his pants, hastily unzipping and pushing them down his legs, he quickly toed off his shoes. Stepping out of the legs, he kicked them out of the way and reached down to remove his socks. When he looked back up, he noticed Lois' eyes wandering over his body in the tight-fitting suit.

"Where are the boots and the cape?" she asked in confusion.

"Do you really want me to explain that now, Lois?" he asked huskily.

Lois again scanned her eyes over him from head to toe, realizing no one had ever seen Superman quite this way, his face flushed with desire and his eyes dark with passion. Sliding her hands back up and over his chest, she asked, "Now how does this thing come off?"

"There's a zipper in the back," he replied hoarsely.

She reached behind him and, touching the center of his back, felt the zipper running down the suit. "Huh, I never noticed that before," she said surprisingly.

"The cape usually covers it pretty well," he replied with a grin as Lois had already reached for the top of the zipper and pulled it down as far as it went. Clark eased the tight sleeves off of his arms and let the front of the suit fall forward.

Lois reached for the buckle covering the briefs and tried to undo the latch when Clark covered her hands to stop her. "You don't need to do that," he explained, and grasping her hands, brought each hand to either side of his waist and slid her hands under the edge of his suit. "It's like a bodysuit. It just comes off as one piece."

Comprehending what he was explaining, she pushed the edge of the suit over his hips with her hands. As she eased the suit down, the exterior briefs came with it and she slid it down his legs.

Clark pulled the rest of the tight leggings off and tossed the garment aside with the rest of the items already lying on the floor. Turning back to Lois, he grasped the edge of her shirt and eased it over her head, exposing her lace- covered breasts. Her beauty amazed him so much it took his breath away. Clark studied her face as his hands cupped her breasts through the thin fabric. Then, moving his hands away, he unzipped her pants and pushed them over her hips.

Lois slipped off her shoes and kicked her pants aside just as Clark reached to unclasp her bra and pull it off. Lois gasped as Clark pulled her against him. He gazed into her eyes moments before touching his lips to hers and whispering, "I love you."

Lois responded by leaning into him, pressing her lips to his in a hungry kiss. Her tongue pushed through his parted lips, tasting him in sensual exploration.

Clark pulled back the comforter and gently guided her to sit on the edge of the bed. But before he could coax her back up onto the bed, she placed her hands on his waist and kissed his abdomen. He moaned as she slid her hands upward and caressed his silky, firm chest. Then, she suddenly reached out with her tongue, tasting his salty skin. "Honey," Clark croaked.

Lois tilted her head up and smiled.

Lois backed onto the bed and Clark crawled on the mattress, following her to the pillows. Clark lay beside her on the pillows, as they faced each other on the bed. His hand gently caressed along the curves of her body over her waist and hip, and holding her there, he edged closer as he slid a knee between her legs.

Lois gazed into his eyes as he shifted closer against her body and her hands drifted over his firm chest. She pressed her lips to his, the heat between them rising. Tongues touched and played, and the kiss deepened. Lois leaned into his body as she broke their kiss and trailed kisses down his neck, pushing him onto his back.

Clark moaned as she broke the kiss, but as she slowly moved down his body trailing kisses over his responsive flesh, he sighed with the pleasure of her touch. He gently grasped at her hair as he allowed himself to give in to the sensations her mouth and hands were creating in him.

"Oh God, Loiiss…" Clark moaned as he impulsively tightened his fingers in her hair, and then a moment later, loosening his grasp as he became aware of his tight grip.

Eyes heavy with passion, Clark closely observed her caresses. Moaning, Clark lost himself in the sensations. His hands stroked along her sides and breasts as he watched her. His pleasure was in her complete control.

"Lois, I want to kiss you," he pleaded. When Lois leaned forward into his arms, his hands held the sides of her face as his lips found hers. His tongue swept across her lips, begging entrance. The request was granted and his hands drifted to caress the soft skin of her back. His kiss deepened as he expressed all the passion he had for her. Then, without breaking contact with her skin, his lips kissed a trail of liquid fire along her neck.

Suddenly she felt disoriented, and she grasped onto his strong arms. She released her lips from his and Lois' eyes grew wide in surprise at the sudden change in their position. They were now floating several inches above the mattress. "Wow," she muttered. Then a sense of losing her equilibrium made her grasp firmly onto his shoulders. Before she could panic, her mouth was covered with his lips and she knew she was safe. Her hands tangled in his thick hair, holding his head close.

Clark broke the kiss, uncertain if this was too much all at once. "Are you okay? Do you want down?" he asked.

Lois relaxed her grip on Clark and looked at him. "No, I was just surprised," she finally said, a smile slowly spreading across her face. "Wow, I like this," she mumbled, and she grew more comfortable with her position. "Yeah, I really like this," she repeated as she shifted her legs.

"Loiiiss," Clark groaned as she moved against him. His hands slid over her skin in urgent caresses and his face contorted with ultimate pleasure.

Lois' eyes fluttered closed for a few moments as the tension reflected in her face reached its peak. She fell against his chest as he firmly wrapped his arms around her.

Clark moaned at the continuing sensations spreading through his body, and he slowly drifted them down to the bed, holding Lois close in their retreat from ecstasy.

Lois felt cocooned in his love as he snugly enveloped her in his arms. As their heavy breathing subsided, her stray hand tenderly explored the expanse of his chest. "Clark, that was amazing… I could really get used to this super- sex," she teased.

Clark tightened his arms around her a moment before he found his voice again. "I'm through keeping secrets from you." He was overwhelmed and at a loss for more words to describe all that he felt. He grasped the sides of her face resting on his chest and she raised her head to look at him. "I love you, Lois Lane," he choked before capturing her lips.

After breaking the kiss, Lois gazed at him, reaching her hands up to gently stroke his face. "I love you too, Clark Kent."

Sated, and resting in each other's arms, Clark tenderly caressed her soft skin, his hands roaming over her body as her hands roamed over his, memorizing each inch. Clark had never thought the evening would end this way with Lois when he decided to come to her apartment and tell her everything, not even in his wildest dreams. He continued gazing at her, wishing this evening would never end. "I don't want to fall asleep," Clark whispered into her hair. "I'm afraid that I'll wake up and this will all have been a dream, some wonderful dream." He tightened his hold on her as if she might escape from his present reality.

Lois pulled back enough to gaze into his eyes. "Why do you say that, Clark?"

"Oh God, Lois," Clark sighed, "I had always hoped, but never actually believed, that someone could love me, the real me." He choked on the strong emotion surging through him. "And then I met you and my hope had a name."

Lois gazed into his eyes, seeing the pain and loneliness this man had endured all his life. His whole life he had concealed who he was from everyone, from anyone he might grow close to, except for his parents, and he never knew if people could ever really accept *him*, love *him*. She saw all the intense longing in his dark eyes.

"Oh, Clark," she said soothingly as she stroked his cheek. "I do love you." She searched his eyes as they seemed to glisten with emotion. "You'll never be alone again; I'm here now."

Clark slowly and tenderly captured her lips in a sweet kiss, comforted by her words. He murmured, "I love you" into her mouth before he covered her mouth in a hungry caress.

***

Lois slowly stretched at the first signs of awareness and, for a moment between sleep and consciousness, she was afraid he would be gone. But as she leisurely became alert to her surroundings, she felt the warm weight of his arm around her as he held her close against him. She turned in his arms and snuggled against his chest, wrapping her arm tightly around him, not willing to wake up just yet. She drifted asleep again, smiling and content.

"Morning, sweetheart," Clark mumbled as he woke her later, stirring her from a satisfying sleep.

Lois smiled as she slowly awakened again and responded with a kiss to his chest where her head lay.

"Mmmm, this is great waking up with you," Clark said happily.

Lois finally opened her eyes and gazed up at Clark, noticing the expression of pure bliss on his face, the same one she must no doubt be wearing herself. "Do we really have to get up?" she teased.

Clark pulled her close and kissed her hair. "I wish we could stay in bed all day," he said longingly. Hating to break the current mood, he reluctantly reminded her, "But the funeral is at nine."

Suddenly reality crashed down around her, and she felt a bit uncomfortable. How did he want to handle this? Did he want time alone before the funeral? She knew what he had confided last night had alleviated some doubts, but she still had some uncertainties about what he wanted now. Would he need to back off emotionally for a bit?

Clark noticed the smile leave her face, replaced by hesitation. He lightly massaged along her arms, imparting to her that things were fine. "Hey," he said, softly caressing his fingers along her cheek. "Why don't you use the bathroom and get dressed while I get coffee and some breakfast ready," he suggested.

"Okay," she replied with the smile he brought to her face with his assurances. Lois moved to the edge of the bed and stood, but she was astonished by the sudden flurry of color that swirled in front of her. After a few moments, Clark stood in front of her fully dressed. "Wow… that was so… wow."

Clark watched the amazement on her face and smiled as he stepped closer to cup her cheek and lightly press his lips to hers. That was the first time he had ever done that in front of anyone besides his parents. Sharing his life, his whole life, with her was going to be quite an exciting journey.

"Do you do that… uh, spin thing to undress too? Why didn't you do that last night?" she asked, still flabbergasted by what she had witnessed.

"You asked how the suit came off. I showed you," he replied teasingly, his eyes scanning slowly over her body. "Besides, I thought it would be more fun letting you take it off me last night." He pressed his lips to hers again, and pulled her body against his, massaging along her sides and back. He pulled away slowly not really wanting to lose the warm touch against his lips or the feel of her body against his. "I'd like to stop at my apartment to get a change of clothes before the funeral, so we should get going," he added reluctantly.

Lois was dazed a moment longer, but finally broke away from her reverie. "Well, I can't do that spin thing," she said dryly and she spun her finger around in a circular motion, "so I better get started."

Clark laughed quietly as his eyes followed her into the bathroom and she disappeared from sight. He sighed deeply at the image of her moving away from him, wanting nothing more than to chase after her into the shower. Another time, he told himself, and he turned to the direction of the kitchen.

When Lois had finished getting ready and entered the kitchen, it smelled of fresh coffee and cinnamon. "Mmmm, that smells good," she said as she walked up to Clark. Spotting the cinnamon rolls on the plate, Lois was baffled. "I didn't think I had any cinnamon rolls."

Clark turned with a smug smile and handed her a hot mug of coffee fixed just the way she liked it. "You didn't have any. I didn't see much in your fridge for breakfast, so I dashed out to the bakery," he explained.

Lois glanced up from her coffee and stared at Clark, realizing how much he had hidden from her all this time. She was seeing him through new eyes, her image of this man reforming in her mind. Yet, were they really important things? Being able to dash off for breakfast faster than anyone else on earth could? Being able to undress or dress in a flash of a few seconds? They were extraordinary abilities, but that's all they were. Clark hadn't really changed, had he?

Clark picked up one of the rolls and tore a piece off. "Here, Lois," he said as he fed it to her waiting mouth.

Lois accepted the bite and licked her lips to capture the cinnamon there. She smiled coyly at Clark's gesture. Actually, she thought, there were some nice perks with Superman being your lover. She took a few more sips from her coffee and ate a few more pieces of the roll as Clark continued to feed her the rest of it.

After a few minutes, they left for his apartment in the Jeep. They spent a mere five minutes there as Clark super- showered and dressed. When he re-entered the living room, freshly showered, shaven, and dressed in a clean suit, Lois couldn't help but be amazed. She knew he would be fast. At least she was expecting that much by now, but it still didn't stop her from being stunned.

Clark again noticed Lois' expression. Maybe he was exposing her to too much too fast, that he needed to be careful or he'd freak her out. But time had been limited this morning and they really had needed to hurry. He reached for her hand and said, "We should be going."

As they rode in the Jeep, Clark was quiet except for an occasional yes or no answer to her questions. The closer they were to arriving at the cemetery, the more Clark seemed to withdraw into himself. Possibly he was just dwelling on the events that had brought them here this morning. By the time they had arrived at the graveside funeral and parked the Jeep, they were both solemnly quiet. Lois wondered if Clark was rehashing his guilt over the situation. As she shut off the engine, she turned and touched him lightly on the shoulder. "You okay?"

Her touch brought Clark back to the present and he gazed into her concerned eyes as he forced a slight smile. "I'll be okay. And Lois… thanks," he said softly.

Lois nodded as they exited the Jeep and strode over to the gravesite in companionable silence. Other mourners were arriving as they approached, and those spotting familiar faces nodded in recognition and said a few words to one another.

Perry and Jimmy stood nearby Lois and Clark after they arrived. They both expressed their sympathies to Clark since they knew her death had affected him enough to have taken a few days off. They also knew that a relationship was developing between Lois and Clark, so they chose their words carefully. Being the cheerleaders of Lois and Clark that they were, Jimmy had confided to Perry how the two had expressed their love for each other that night at the factory. In talking about it, Perry had warned Jimmy that people often say things they don't mean when they're in stressful situations. But Jimmy was convinced that there was a lot that had happened in the relationship, and that it would only be a matter of time before they found out. It wasn't that Perry didn't believe Jimmy; it was just that he had seen a lot in his years as editor. He knew there was a lot of sparks between Lois and Clark, but sparks could start both slow-burning fires and out-of-control explosions. What happened with Lois and Clark had yet to be determined.

As mourners finished gathering and the minister took his place, Lois and Clark stood side by side with Perry and Jimmy behind them, waiting for the service to commence. They quietly listened to the minister's words as they reflected on the tragedy and loss to which they had been witness.

"Into your hands, oh Lord, we commend thy faithful servant, Mayson Drake. Receive her into the arms of thy mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace. Amen."

Clark unobtrusively reached for Lois' hand, slipping his fingers through hers and squeezing her hand in silent communication, needing her support.

Perry noticed the gesture as he stood behind the couple just about the same time Jimmy did. They exchanged glances quickly before turning their attention back to the solemn words spoken by the minister.

***

A passenger van slowly drove along the road past the gravesites. The man sitting in the passenger seat opened a large bottle and popped several Vitamin C tablets into his mouth as the van slowed and pulled to the curb. "You realize that getting rid of Mayson Drake only solved half our problems."

The driver, the older man's assistant, replied, "We have people out looking for the pill, sir."

Irritated at the incompetence of his men, the older man said, "I don't want looking. I want finding. Let's go."

The driver shifted the van into gear and slowly accelerated.

***

As the mourners filed past Mayson's coffin, paying their final respects, Lois stood just a few feet away from Clark as he stood silently by the coffin. She wanted to give him a little space to say his goodbyes.

Clark glanced at Lois and reached out a hand to her, silently asking her to stand with him.

She stepped to his side, placing her hand in his. "You okay?"

Clark stared back at the coffin covered in flowers, sharing his thoughts. "I don't think I told you what she said to me just before she died. 'Resurrection'. The last thing she said was 'Resurrection'."

"Oh, Clark," she said compassionately, "You can't keep blaming yourself. She probably knew she was dying. Was she religious? What were her beliefs? Was she possibly saying she was going to live on in The Resurrection?"

Clark looked at Lois. "That's what I thought at first. But I've been replaying that night in my mind over and over. It was after she realized *who* I was, recognizing *what* I had been hiding. That's when she told me." Then it all clicked in his mind. "In the end, she understood… about *me*. She trusted me in the end. 'Resurrection' is a clue, Lois. I'm sure of it," he said as his face lit up with hope.

Lois listened intently to what Clark was saying; he may be right. 'Resurrection' may be a clue Mayson confided to him in her last breath. Or it may mean something else. But if he was right, it could lead to her murderer and it could mean that Mayson understood what Superman stood for in the end, besides being a heck of a breaking story. Lois reached a hand to Clark's cheek in a light caress. "With the top reporting team in Metropolis and Superman on this case, the bad guys don't have a chance, do they?"

Clark had been ready for an argument from Lois about his theory and was shocked by her words. Clark studied her and understood that she wasn't just humoring him, that she really believed him and wanted to help look into it. He smiled into the palm of her hand and kissed it softly. Clark had always dreamed of being loved by someone who understood and accepted his differences, but he never really knew how it would change his world. Loving Lois, and being loved by Lois, with no more secrets between them, was the beginning of an exciting new life. He couldn't wait to get started.

THE END

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