Starwood In Aspen

By Lynn M <>

Rated: PG 13

Submitted: November, 2002

Summary: What if Lois and Clark hadn't made up after she slammed the door in his face in Lucky Leon? Eight weeks down the road, they're both dating other people, but there's a yearning between them which remains unsatisfied. But have they lost their chance at love?

Author's Notes:

Thanks to all of the FoLC's over on the LCFic MBs for all of their positive feedback. With their encouragement, I was pushed to add the epilogue which I think was a nice finishing touch, tying up a lot of loose ends.

A big thank-you goes out to my GE, Wendy Richards, for her patience in putting up with my continual refusal to use commas properly and mangling of speech tags. Also, if not for her, Lois and Clark would still be staring at each other because I would have had no idea how to show more within the PG context <g>.

This story is set about two months after the "Lucky Leon" episode. However, this story takes a look at how things might have gone after Lois and Clark's first date if Mayson Drake had not been killed in a terrible car explosion, and even more importantly, if Clark and Lois had never had their walk and talk after the unfortunate door slamming incident. It's all about having something you don't want and wanting something that you don't have.

Standard Disclaimer applies: all characters from "Lois and Clark" are the property of Warner Brothers and DC Comics. The song "Starwood In Aspen" (music and lyrics) written by John Denver. The story idea is mine, and no infringement on anyone's copyrights is intended.


When the elevator doors slid open with a mechanical grind and a retractive jerk, Lois took an almost imperceptible step to the right, moving just enough to dislodge Dan Scardino's arm from its comfortable perch across her shoulders. The offending limb fell heavily, and he gave her a sideways glance. She stared straight ahead, lips pursed, pointedly ignoring the stare he'd fixed on her cheekbone.

His gaze failing to receive the desired reaction, Dan, a danger-lover by nature, gave voice to his suspicions. "Lois, if I didn't know better, I'd think you were trying to hide something."

"Dan, we've been over this," she interrupted over her shoulder as she exited the elevator. "I'm not hiding anything. It's nobody's business what I do outside of the office."

They'd discussed it before, her aversion to public displays of affection at the Daily Planet. Dan saw nothing wrong with a peck on the lips or an arm draped possessively across her shoulders as the entire staff watched and took notes while she inwardly cringed and suppressed the urge to crawl under her desk. With a determination that she suspected was born more of her own irritated reaction to the discussion than any real opinion on the matter, Dan persisted in trying to convince her that it made her appear more, well, human, to her fellow coworkers if she were seen engaging in, well, actual human behaviours.

After several rounds of point/counterpoint, she'd played the it's-MY-place-of-employment trump card, insisting that he just respect her wishes. Mad Dog Lane would be reduced to Puppy Love Lane quicker than Perry White could snatch up a banana cream donut if she was seen engaging in hugs, kisses and hand-holdings.

Besides, it went against every fiber in her independent being to attach herself to a man in such a public fashion. Strolling along the street holding hands wasn't a sign of affection. It was an annoying display of self-absorption as some dewy-eyed couple took up too much room across the sidewalk. Kisses that turned into make-out sessions on a park bench, hands placed intimately in a mate's back pocket. This was stuff that the MPAA deemed inappropriate for kids under seventeen, so why should she have to watch it? Her particular pet peeve was the freakish sight of a couple smashed together on the driver's side of a pick-up truck, the asymmetrical silhouette of bodies weighing down one half of the cab as if a piece of chewed gum made the passenger's seat uninhabitable. What kind of needy, sex- starved people were these hillbillies, anyway? Boyfriend or no, she wasn't about to become one of them.

Lois's eyes swept the expanse of the bullpen, barely lingering on the desk set a scant ten feet from her own. Empty.

Duly noted by her subconscious, she relaxed slightly and turned to give Dan an apologetic smile, placing her hand on his arm as added balm to soothe the sting of her rejection. "Thanks for lunch."

"Don't thank me yet," he said with a wide grin. "Service is door to door." He gestured down the stairs toward her desk, placing a hand on the small of her back and giving a gentle nudge to propel her forward.

His easy forgiveness warmed her heart and confirmed her suspicions that her public display of indifference really didn't wound him very deeply. Dan Scardino loved life too much to waste energy on small annoyances. Other than the criminals he encountered in the line of duty, there was very little about the world that could generate negative energy in the man. It wasn't that he had no passions. It was simply that he was fine with the old adage "live and let live." Dan felt no need to convince anyone that his view was the right one. He knew who he was and had the confidence not to care what others thought of him, nor the desire to convert anyone to his way of thinking.

As she journeyed to her desk and opened the bottom drawer to deposit her small clutch, Lois tried to remember if they'd quarreled at all in the eight weeks they'd been dating. Nope, never a disagreement that she'd term a bona fide argument. Debates and animated discussions, certainly, but nothing with a volume over five to be sure. They got along just perfectly, as it should be.

"So, about tonight," he started as she picked up the short stack of phone messages sitting atop her inbox. "Pick you up at five?" He poked at the crisp grayish-green leaves of the dead ivy lingering on the corner of her desk, another casualty of Lois's brown thumb. "Plant's dead."

"Mmmm, yeah," she murmured, her attention on the blue and white message forms. Her dentist office, confirming her appointment for next Tuesday. Lucy. Wonder what that's about? Bobby Big Mouth returning her call about the…she jerked her head up. "No, wait. Better make it six. Or maybe even seven."

Like clouds rolling in to cover the sun, Dan's expectant smile was replaced with a scowl. "Lois, it's gonna take at least two hours to get there. More if there's weather."

His complaint bordered on petulant, and she struck away the annoyance that bit at her. It made sense that he would be disappointed. They'd been planning this weekend for a month. It meant a lot to him. To her, too. Yes, of course, it was important to her. And she was disappointed, just like Dan.

But this was the call she'd been waiting on for nearly two days. The last check before she could sew up the Senator Steinman bribery expose. The familiar tingle of anticipation fired in her chest over the prospect of meeting with Bobby Big Mouth and having all of her facts confirmed. It was the thrill that she lived for, that drove her. Weekend plans or no, this was just too important.

"I'm sorry. I have to meet with this source. It's already after two, and by the time I track him down and get all of the food." She explained the time math as gently as she could. A twinge of guilt plucked at her stomach, and that fact irritated her more than the unplanned delay. "This is going to take some time."

"Can't it wait until Monday?" Dan asked, like a child hoping that his parent would relent and give in on the extra hour before bedtime.

She shook her head. "Nope. If I don't catch Bobby today, we'll miss the chance to run in the Sunday edition. By Monday, this'll be old news."

She hated the fact that she had to justify herself. She was a reporter, and the story came first. It certainly wouldn't be the last time they had to postpone plans. The sooner Dan came to understand that reality, the better off he'd be.

Dan sighed, out of arguments and resigned. "I was hoping we'd be up there in time for an early dinner. Some wine. Maybe some dancing. A little…you know."

Lois felt her face flush. "Dan! Shhh!" She glanced around to see if the Planet's ears had perked up. "I don't want to be today's fodder for the gossip column."

He followed her eyes around the pen, his frown twisting upward into a devilish grin. "What? Are you trying to tell me you've got a reputation to protect? Lois Lane, hard hitting journalist, sacrifices all for the story. Doomed to remain forever sex-less."

"No!" she protested with a hiss. "I just don't want every ninny in this place whispering at the copy machine about how I ran off for a weekend just to get some…some…peace and quiet."

Dan reached for the hand she used to pluck the miniscule bits of gum residue from the pre-padded telephone message forms, stilling it until she lifted her eyes to his smiling face.

"Lois, I'm sure these people have more interesting things to talk about than your…" He dropped his voice to an exaggerated whisper. "…sex life. Or should I say, lack thereof."

The subtle stress placed on his final words caused her to redden and look away from the eyes that now held an expectant heat. It was another point of…debate…that they'd touched upon gingerly over the last eight weeks. More so recently as the planned weekend approached and with it all of their mutual expectations.

For reasons she couldn't explain to herself and translated into lame excuses offered to Dan, their relationship had remained several notches below intimate. There had been deep kisses and many caresses that threatened to lead to more, but always she'd backed away with a gentle press of her palm against his chest and a murmured "Not yet." Dan had been patient, but even she had to admit that enough was enough.

This weekend away held two purposes. By booking the cabin for two nights, the intention that finally they would take the giant plunge to the next level was clearly understood by both even if still left unspoken. Days spent together would lead to evenings spent together and then nights spent together. *All the way* together.

So together that she'd visited Victoria's Secret and picked up a new black teddy, intentionally resisting the urge to buy the matching robe. With a forced smile, she'd assured the sales girl three times and herself several more that she wouldn't need it.

Not this weekend.

The second agenda, known only by Lois's inner workings, was less physical but no less important to her. After eight weeks, she'd mentally accepted that Dan was her boyfriend. They dated. They called each other at work. He knew that she liked coleslaw on her pastrami-on-rye and hated walking around in wet socks. His number was programmed into her cell phone, and she'd met his dog. She accepted his dangerous job and he accepted her stubborn insistence on paying for dinner at least half the time. All of the details had been covered.

There was only the matter of this last, little chore and then her heart would accept him as well. The last item on her list could be checked off with a flourish. When she returned to the Planet on Monday, she felt certain that she would glow with the aura of a woman truly in love. And she'd hopefully be a little bit more relaxed, tensions relieved in ways that they hadn't been in far too long, she admitted to herself ruefully.

Now, desperate to regain control of a conversation veering far off the rails of her comfort level for such a public place, Lois ignored the intended slight. "Dan, this is just a delay, not a catastrophe. If we leave here by seven, we'll arrive in time for a late dinner. Or we can pick up something on our way out of town."

"I know, Lois," he admitted with a wicked grin, his hand squeezing hers. "It wasn't the dinner and the dancing I was looking forward to, anyway. Guess it doesn't matter if we're late for —"

"Late for what?"

Lois jumped when the familiar drawl sounded right behind her. She felt an uncontrollable tightening in her stomach, her shoulders involuntarily pulling back to stiffen her spine. Drat! She'd hoped Dan would be gone so that she could avoid this.

"Kent." Dan nodded at Clark, his boyish grin narrowing to a smirk that held none of its former warmth.

"Scardino," Clark replied. Still at her back, Lois couldn't see his face, but his voice held derision. As if a male lion entered the domain of a rival, the air filled with a sudden electric menace.

"Late for what?" he asked again.

"Nothing - " she started as Dan's words fell on top of her denial and smothered it.

"Lois and I are going away this weekend," Dan answered with what Lois thought was more than a small amount of boastfulness. "A few hours later than planned, so it seems."

She turned around to explain and nearly crashed into Clark's broad chest. She hadn't realized he was so close, and she took a jerking step backwards in reaction. He reached a hand out to steady her, then quickly removed it when he was assured she wouldn't land on the floor in an undignified puddle. The heat from his hand where he'd grasped her arm lingered, as if she'd been burned through the fabric of her black cashmere sweater. She resisted the urge to place her own hand over the spot in an attempt to trap that warmth and keep it from fading.

"Bobby Big Mouth called," she said, trying to fake some semblance of composure. "He has time to meet this afternoon. I need to show him the photo of Nelson and confirm that he's the same guy that Senator Steinman paid to buy off Charles Dormann."

She prayed that Clark would be so distracted by her news that he wouldn't expect details about her weekend. She hadn't told him she was going away with Dan. After all, it was none of his business. Not anymore.

"I can do it. Meet with Bobby," Clark offered in that friendly, helpful way that for some reason irritated her more than usual.

"No. It's OK." She pasted a smile on her face. "You don't need to do that."

"Really," he said, "I don't want you to get a late start on your…weekend."

His offer sounded magnanimous, but Lois detected the hint of sarcasm that she'd come to know well. Her fury mounted as he winked at her, his eyes snapping in a knowing way while he tried unsuccessfully to hide the smile that tugged at the corners of his mouth. He was mocking her!

"That's big of you, Kent." Dan grinned, clearly pleased that Clark was offering a solution to the problem that moments before had been insurmountable.

"No, Clark, I think I should meet with him," Lois protested again, a little more vehemently, although she kept the bright smile for Dan's benefit. "I wouldn't want this to fall apart now."

Clark rolled his dark brown eyes. "Lois, I'm perfectly capable of talking to Bobby by myself. I think I've advanced past the point where I need a babysitter."

Lois clenched her teeth, resisting the urge to scream. She took a deep breath and applied her I'm-a-consummate- professional approach. "I still have some finishing touches to put on the story. I was just waiting to meet with Bobby, so really, I should stay to finish this up."

Clark's brows lowered in exaggerated confusion but the knowing twinkle still shimmered in his eyes. "Geez, Lois, it almost sounds like you're trying to come up with —"

"No, I'm not!" she shouted. Noticing that several people had stopped their work to watch the scene unfolding at her desk, she lowered to a strident whisper. "It's just, I've put a lot of time into this, and I don't want to leave it hanging. It's my name on the by-line. I should be the one to put it to bed."

She added a sharp glare at Clark as she bit out the last words, daring him to cross her. Clark gave Dan the I-tried- to-help-you-out-pal shrug, and Lois glanced at her boyfriend, blinking at the confused amusement on his face. She offered him a weak smile, suddenly embarrassed by her vehemence. Following his gaze, she realized that, during her exchange with Clark, she'd crumpled her phone messages into her tightly clenched fist. With a disgusted snort, she tossed the blue and white paper ball onto her desk and crossed her arms defensively.

"So, where are you two going, anyway?" Clark shoved his hands in his pockets and rocked back and forth from his heels to his toes, apparently not satisfied with the havoc he'd already caused. Lois flashed him another glare, trying to shoot daggers from her eyes and straight into his thick skull.

"Skiing," Dan supplied, still looking at Lois with a bemused expression. Then he turned his attention to the man who wouldn't get the hint. "There's a little resort a couple of hours north of here. It's no Aspen, but there's about a dozen runs and some great views. You ski, Kent?"

Lois laughed out loud. "Dan, Kansas isn't exactly known for its skiing."

"I've skied," Clark stated, ignoring her pointed jab at his home state.

"You have?" Lois gaped her surprise.

The thought of Clark swishing down the slopes was hard to imagine. He did have a muscular physique, she acknowledged, but the actual participation in athletic activities didn't seem to be very Clark-like. He just wasn't competitive enough. Clark took the phrase "good-sport" to a new level.

"Yep," Clark affirmed. Lois and Dan stared at him in stunned silence. He nodded slowly, looking at them as if they were addled. "Alps. Pyrenees. Andes. You know. Skiing?"

"Mostly bunny hills, then?" Dan guessed with a snort.

Clark released a single laugh. "Yeah, right."

Lois felt the tension again, the heavy air of two rams about to butt their horns together in a display of supreme male stupidity. She almost expected them to whip out their…skis and compare lengths.

"Well, after the Alps, I'm sure the place we're going is pretty tame," Dan speculated.

"I know the resort. Not bad skiing for this area," Clark noted agreeably, then added with a wink, "Of course, it's nothing like Kansas skiing."

"Maybe you should come along," Dan suggested, and Lois gaped at him in horror. What in the world was he doing!? "There's plenty of room in the place. It's actually a double cabin that shares a living room and kitchen. Been there a couple of times with some of the guys on the force. Lois tells me she can ski, but I have my doubts. It'd be nice to have someone along who can tackle the black diamonds."

Lois stared at Dan, amazed. He was serious. "Dan, I don't think Clark wants to go with us. Do you, Clark?" she stammered, searching desperately for a way to undo the idiotic thing that Dan had done. "I mean, you probably have plans this weekend. Or…or…maybe your parents are in town?"

Clark looked up into the air as if consulting an imaginary calendar. "Nope. No big plans."

"There you go." Dan gestured at Clark, proud of his accomplishment. "Of course, I gotta warn you, Kent. Once the sun sets, you're on your own for entertainment. Lois and I got big plans."

"Dan!" She was surprised that he didn't give Clark a big wink and a heavy nudge. This was going from bad to worse, and she was powerless to stop it. Turning to Clark, she nearly pleaded for him to catch her barely veiled hints. "Clark, really, I don't think this is a good idea."

"Why not?" Both Dan and Clark asked in unison, and she suddenly felt as if the two had planned this whole thing from the beginning. It was some sort of conspiracy to drive her crazy.

She took a deep breath and tried to sound reasonable. "Well…well…he's going to feel like a third wheel. You know, ski lifts are made for two, and I wouldn't want Clark to have to ride up by himself all the time. And I'll bet the cabin doesn't even have a TV. I mean, what's he going to do when it's too dark to ski?" With a slight incline of her head, she leaned toward Dan and lowered her voice. "Besides, I thought that this was our chance to get away. Alone," she stressed.

"Hmmm. Yeah. You got a point," Dan conceded, and Lois felt a momentary wave of relief. Finally, he was coming to his senses and would retract his offer. "So, Kent, you got a girl?"

Lois froze, disbelieving that this conversation had taken another tragic turn. Not only had Dan invited Clark to come along, now he was telling him to bring a date? She tried to remember how many drinks Dan had had at lunch. Anything to explain his sudden loss of any kind of intelligence.

With a flash, she saw a way out. Clark could never manage to get a date this late in the day. She grasped the lifeline, shaking her head sadly and clicking her tongue in mock disappointment. "Yeah! Too bad you can't get a date. So last minute and all."

"I can get a date," Clark supplied.

"Clark, it's almost three. Who would you get on such short notice?" Lois asked, incredulous.

"I can get a date," he insisted, and she wasn't sure but it looked like he puffed out his chest.

"Great!" Dan's enthusiasm almost matched Lois's building panic. "Call her up. There's plenty of room. It'll be fun. Besides, I've been telling Lois here that we should spend some time with her friends. She's starting to give me a complex, keeping me hidden like I have two heads or something."

Both men laughed like two fraternity brothers contemplating a great keg party, and once again, Lois wondered if this whole thing hadn't been prearranged. It was pretty close to her worst nightmare. A weekend with Clark and his…date.

"Clark, really, you don't have to." She tried one last time but all of the fight had gone out of her. Short of an avalanche or a sudden heat-wave, they were all going to go skiing. Together.

"No. I'd love to join you." His comment was directed at Lois, and this time he didn't try to control the dazzling smile that showed nearly every one of his perfect teeth. It was a grin of victory, and Lois felt thoroughly defeated.

Dan was speaking, and Lois forced herself to tune in. He was probably offering to let Clark and his girl share their bedroom. "I'll tell you what. I'll head up there now. I just need to check in at the office, and then I'll try to beat some of the traffic, maybe get in a couple of runs." He turned to Lois. "You and Clark and…"

"Mayson," Clark supplied.

Lois winced at the sound of the assistant D.A.'s name. Of all the people she least wanted to spend five minutes with, much less an entire weekend.

"Right…Mayson," Dan continued. "You three can come on up when you're finished with your source. That way you don't have to ride up alone."

"Um…well…I guess," Lois stammered.

Happy with the way things had turned out, Dan's smile was wide and genuine. "Sounds like a plan. See ya tonight, Kent."

"Scardino," Clark repeated his greeting of earlier, but this time it held no sarcasm. She wanted to smack the goofy smile from his face and clenched her hand into a tight fist to resist the urge.

Lois walked numbly with Dan to the bottom of the stairs. What had just happened? In less than five minutes, her romantic weekend away with Dan had become the double date from hell with Clark Kent and Mayson Drake. A flash of anger filled her and she directed it all on the man grinning at her like he'd just arranged a nuclear disarmament treaty.

"Dan! Why'd you invite Clark? I thought this weekend was About…well, you know."

"Lois, the cabin has two huge bedrooms separated by a lot of space," he said, trying to placate her. "And unless you're trying to tell me that you're incredibly loud…"

"No, of course not!" she fumed, flushing yet again in embarrassment. "But I don't know if I'm going to be feeling very…romantic…with my partner and his…partner…in the room down the hall doing what it is that we're supposed to be doing."

Dan took a step back and study her face thoughtfully. The same bemused expression that he'd worn earlier during her volley with Clark brought his eyebrows down, but he maintained the sly grin. "Why would it bother you if Clark and Mayson are doing what we're supposed to be doing? I mean, he's just your work partner, right?"

"Of course he's just my work partner," she said. "And I don't give two hoots what he and Mayson do when they're together. They can hang from the ceiling for all I care."

"Good. Then it shouldn't be a problem." Dan sighed and put his hands on her upper arms, rubbing them lightly in a reassuring gesture. "Lois, I think having another couple along might lessen the pressure a little. Get the focus off…well, you know. You need to relax. You do know how to do that, don't you?"

Lois crossed her arms, still angry although she was no longer sure who she was angry with. "I know how to relax. But there's a time and a place for everything, and this weekend isn't about relaxing."

"It's not?"

She rolled her eyes and sighed loudly. "Well, you know what I mean."

He gave her arms a squeeze then dropped his hands. "Listen, give me a call when you get on the road so I know when to expect you."

She hesitated a moment, as if she might be reconsidering the entire weekend. Finally, she relented. "OK."

"Lois, we're going to have a great time. Trust me." With a brotherly chuck under her chin, Dan gave her a dazzling grin then took the stairs two at a time, waving at her before the elevator doors shut and took him out of sight.

Lois stared at the elevator doors for a moment, then turned with a huff and marched directly to Clark's desk. The anger that she'd directed at Dan but had not been completely spent now found its outlet on the man setting his phone back on its cradle. "Way to go, Clark!"

At the sound of her strident reprimand, Clark looked up. "What? What'd I do?" he asked, his mask of innocence fueling her anger until it regained its earlier intensity.

"You know very well what you did!" She placed her hands akimbo on her hips and tapped her foot on the linoleum. "You're horning in on my weekend with Dan, trying to ruin it."

"Ruin it?" Clark repeated. "Hey, I didn't invite myself up there. It was your boyfriend who suggested it."

"Yeah, well, you didn't have to be so agreeable," she shot back. "Geez, you practically drooled at the chance to bring Mayson along. What a coup for you, scoring a great weekend away with your girlfriend."

"Exaggerate much, Lois? In fact, it seemed to me like it was Scardino who drooled at the prospect of us coming along." He stood, placing his hands on his hips, meeting her challenge. "Maybe you want to think about why he felt compelled to invite another couple on your weekend getaway in the first place."

Lois gasped. "And just what are you implying?"

He paused for a split second, letting the momentary silence speak volumes. "Nothing."

"That's what I thought." She glared at him.

"Fine!" He crossed his arms and glared at her in return. Stalemate.

The silence stretched over a few minutes and neither one would break the icy glare passing between them. Lois fumed at Clark's implied conclusion that Dan felt the need for a buffer couple. How dare he suggest that Dan didn't want to be alone with her. Of all the nerve! If only he knew how badly Dan wanted to be alone with her!

Finally Clark released a big sigh. "I don't know why it's such a big deal if we come along. Dan didn't seem to mind."

"Dan's a nice guy. He wouldn't want to hurt your feelings," Lois explained. Feeling petulant, she didn't try to hide the pout that tugged on her lower lip. She didn't much care if she was a professional or even a grown up. "This was supposed to be a big weekend for us, and now it's ruined thanks to you."

"A big weekend?" Clark's eyebrows went up and again a smile tugged at the corners of his mouth.

"Yes, a big weekend." Lois looked away, unable to meet his mocking brown eyes. "Dan and I…well, we haven't…and this weekend we're going to…"

"Build a snowman?" Clark choked as he held back a laugh.

"No, Clark! You know very well what people do in ski cabins." Why did she even feel that she needed to explain anything to this contemptible man!

"What, ski?" If he tried to look any more innocent, Lois thought he'd qualify for sainthood. It disgusted her.

"You are thoroughly obnoxious, do you know that?" With a snort, she turned and stalked back to her desk. Pulling out her chair, she dropped into it with a toss of her head. "You think you have everyone fooled by that nice-guy act. But I know the truth."

Clark had better be prepared to be really embarrassed, she determined with a smug grin, because she and Dan were going to be all over each other. Maybe they wouldn't even leave the cabin to do any skiing. Maybe she'd do a little screaming after all and leave no doubt whatsoever in Clark's mind how much Dan was enjoying his weekend!

Clark didn't even bother to humor her, letting the deep laugh pour out. "Yeah, Lois. You know the truth. Just like I know the truth about you."

Determined to get the last word, she remembered her brief hope that Clark wouldn't be able to find a date on such short notice. Feeling a bit more optimistic, she moved some papers from one stack to the next, clearly showing him that the topic no longer held any importance for her.

"Besides, I'm worrying for nothing. I mean, what's the chance that Mayson is just waiting for you to call and invite her away for the weekend." Lois laughed. "I mean, honestly, I don't find her that attractive, but I'm not a man and you men seem to have some funny ideas about what you like. So I doubt she's the kind of woman who just sits around her apartment all weekend waiting for someone to call. And even if she did, she'd have to be pretty desperate to accept such a last minute invitation, like she was waiting for you to ask her —"

"I've already spoken to Mayson," Clark interrupted. "We're picking her up after we meet with Bobby."

"Oh." She exhaled, her last hope deflated. She wondered if the weather service was predicting any kind of sudden hot spell. A quick glance out the massive windows showed a light snow falling, dashing that one last grasp.

Resignation tinted with a heavy confusion washed through her. It wasn't in her nature to make lemonade out of lemons. That was what she had relied on Clark to do. But now he was the lemon, so to speak. She couldn't decide if she was more upset by the fact that Clark was coming or that he was bringing Mayson.

Mayson Drake annoyed the hell out of her. She felt no guilt about admitting that fact, knowing that she inspired the same feelings in the tall blond. It was a mutual dislike that they both accepted. Of course, neither woman had been put through the test of spending a weekend together, and really, it was above the call of duty that they should have to endure each other's company just because their respective boyfriends felt the need to bond over especially challenging ski runs.

Lois refused to venture into what would happen once each couple disappeared into their separate bedrooms. How could she and Dan ever consummate anything when another couple was doing exactly that with only the protection of a few thin doors to block out any sounds? In her experience, such as it was, Lois had discovered about herself that to even come close to enjoying sex required very precisely controlled circumstances, and the cries of another couple's enjoyment of each other was not on her list of approved atmospheres. She'd never be able to lose herself in the moment. Her imagination was simply too active, and even without auditory confirmation, she'd be wondering what they were up to, no pun intended.

It didn't help that one half of that couple was a man whom she'd not only dated but had actually enjoyed dating. Knowing that Clark…her Clark…was with another woman, even one she despised, was about as romance-inspiring as a visit from Sister Agnes Roberta, the nun who had taught Lois's sixth grade gym class. Of course, the Clark that was coming along might very well be the one she'd dubbed Mayson's Clark, so it might not be as pain-inducing as she feared.

The Clark she had known before, slow to show anger and frustration, had changed. No longer willing to hold back, he often let loose with his hard-nosed opinions in direct defiance with her own views. Unwilling to compromise merely to please her, it was as if he were actively trying to find reasons to dislike her. But beyond the general annoyance of having someone disagree with her, she found herself oddly attracted to this new side of him.

She refused to blame herself for his change in attitude toward her. After all, he was the one who kept disappearing. What kind of relationship could they have had if every time she tried to talk to the guy, he decided it was the best time to replace the batteries in his smoke detector? As the days after their first and only date passed by without any opportunity for her to explain her feelings, she'd decided it was probably for the best that she'd slammed the door in his face. It served as both a figurative and literal closing on any possible relationship they might have had save a professional one. Sadly, even that partnership had suffered a near-fatal blow, and it remained in critical condition, touch and go.

She missed their easy friendship. Since that night, a tension existed between them that they just couldn't manage to dispel. Their interchanges swung between a rigid politeness and a heated anger with absolutely no degrees in between. It made for long work days, and the joyous enthusiasm with which she had looked forward to arriving at the Planet every morning over the past year had waned considerably.

It didn't help matters when Lois was constantly reminded that although she had been the one to put a full stop on the forward motion of their budding romance, Clark had apparently had no trouble redirecting his love train in a different, more easily traveled direction. Mayson appeared at the Planet at least twice a week for lunch, and nearly every Friday night Lois knew that he met her after work for dinner and…whatever. It wasn't that she intentionally snooped. She was a professional reporter and knowing things just came with the territory.

If he thought that Mayson Drake was the kind of woman that he wanted, then Lois was more than willing to step aside. She'd be darned if she would fight for his attentions. It wasn't dignified, and in her whole life, Lois Lane had never stooped to fighting for a man. Besides, she had Dan now, and he was a whole lot easier to handle than the intrepid Clark Kent.

The man himself walked around his desk and came to perch on the edge of hers. She tried not to notice how the fabric of his pants pulled tight against the hard muscle of his thigh. Maybe she could imagine Clark skiing, she mused absently, then banished the thought from her mind and reminded herself that she was still angry with him.

"Lois, you're OK with this, aren't you?" he asked, his dark brown eyes searching her face carefully, his anger of moments before gone. She wasn't surprised. Even with his new willingness to express his darker side, Clark still didn't believe in holding grudges.

Lois, on the other hand, held no such trepidation and took the form of sulking to a new level. "OK with what, Clark? You and Mayson coming along on what was supposed to be a romantic weekend with my boyfriend?" she replied sarcastically. "Sounds like…fun."

"No, I mean, you're OK with me and Mayson?" His voice held a gentle concern that unnerved her, and for a brief moment, she thought of saying no.

No, she wasn't OK with it.

She squelched the urge immediately.

"Oh. Well, yeah. Sure. Of course I'm OK with you and Mayson," she stammered. Then, realizing how it might sound to him, she gathered herself together. With a confidence that didn't quite reach her heart, she lifted her chin and forced herself to meet his steady gaze. "Why wouldn't I be OK with it? I mean, like I said, I don't really see what all the fuss is about with her, but if you like her, then I guess that's all that really matters, right? Yeah, I'm OK with it."

"Good. I wouldn't want to make you uncomfortable." He stared at her, unblinking, and she squirmed uncomfortably under the scrutiny. Why did Clark always make her feel like he could read her mind?

"Nope." She smiled brightly. "I'm perfectly comfortable with it. Perfectly."

He looked away and his voice held a sudden coldness. "Great."

"Great," she echoed. As an uncomfortable silence settled between them, she looked around her desk, trying to find a suitable distraction. The phone message from Bobby. The whole reason she was in this mess in the first place. She snatched it up, thankful to turn her attention back to work. "So. I guess I should give Bobby a call."

Clark nodded, and as he returned to his own desk, Lois picked up the phone and began to dial.


Clark watched Lois as she spoke in low tones into the phone. It would take her several minutes to confirm that Bobby Big Mouth had the information they needed and to set up a convenient yet secure meeting location, and he was glad for the time. He needed to settle his whirling mind.

What in the world had just happened? he asked himself with a bewildered shake of his head. In less time than it took him to change into his suit, he'd gotten himself into a situation so horrifying it belonged in a Wes Craven movie. He was looking at spending two days, and more importantly, two nights, in a cabin with Lois. And Dan Scardino. And Mayson Drake. It was a mixture that spelled disaster any way you looked at it.

He hadn't been able to help himself. For so long he'd played the part of modest, self-deprecating good guy. But when Lois had suggested that he couldn't ski, something snapped. He'd opened his mouth before he could stop himself. Then he'd topped it off by insisting that he could get a date. Where had his mind gone during all of that?

It wasn't a complete mystery. For the last two months, his ability to control his anger and frustration had been sorely tested. He seemed to be walking around in a perpetual funk, and such a state was so foreign to his generally good-natured personality that he knew of no effective way of combating it. He'd found himself frowning more, and once, in a display that mortified him immediately afterward, he'd actually snapped at an unfortunate research assistant whose only mistake had been to take the last cup of coffee from the pot just as Clark approached the machine looking for a jolt of caffeine. Sincere apology not withstanding, he still felt uncomfortable every time the poor girl and he crossed paths.

Luckily, the worst of his foul temper tended to find its outlet on Lois, who was more than equipped to handle it, armed with verbal assault weapons that could slay the harshest tongue. In fact, he almost reveled in the moments that they argued, the release of the pressure building within him like that of Yosemite firing at regular intervals. The resulting calm acted like a drug, and he wondered if perhaps the past year of being kind wasn't maybe the worst approach he could have taken. If Lois felt no compulsion to hold back, maybe he should let his own inner most feelings, no matter how dark, have some chance to see the light of day.

It didn't help that there was just something about Dan Scardino that brought out the worst in Clark. It was as if Scardino presented a constant challenge that begged to be countered. Had they existed centuries earlier, Clark had no doubt that he and Scardino would eventually find themselves counting paces with pistols drawn as an early morning mist swirled about a lonely English field while seconds looked on in morbid anticipation.

His whole life he'd suppressed any competitive urges he'd had, knowing that, with his abilities, there would be no such thing as an even playing field if he were on it. By the time he'd reached college, he'd eschewed athletic endeavors that involved spectators and genuine competition, satisfying his love for all things sports with friendly games of touch football and one-on-one that never contained the drive for victory at any meaningful level.

However, Scardino ignited within him an overwhelming need to win. He wanted to best the man in every way possible, and he wanted to do it without the aid of any of his super powers. For that reason, he found it impossible to back down from any challenge, implied or real. If Scardino could ski, Clark determined he would ski better. And if Scardino could take his girlfriend away for the weekend, Clark would have the time of his life as well. Of course, Scardino still held the trump card that ensured ultimate victory.

Clark didn't even attempt to delude himself to the real reason he felt so combative with Scardino. No matter how hard he tried, Clark would never win the only game that mattered. Scardino had won in the pursuit of Lois.

Now his arrogant need to show Lois how wrong Scardino was for her had put him in a fine mess. Sure, he might be able to smear Scardino's butt across the slopes, but at night, when the ski boots were hung up, Scardino would be the one holding Lois in his arms.

A bubble of joy had exploded and traveled the neuro paths of his body upon Lois's admission that she and Dan had not yet consummated their relationship. For whatever reason, after eight weeks of dating, Scardino hadn't crossed that particular finish line, which meant that Clark wasn't completely out of the race.

Perhaps that was another reason that his brain had failed to keep him out of this ridiculous situation. He believed he still had a chance. But his more sensible self, which had finally shown up many minutes too late, pointed out his faulty reasoning. His presence this weekend would make absolutely no difference to Lois and Scardino when they found themselves alone, which was bound to happen at some point. Eventually, the ski lifts would shut down.

The thought of the two of them together twisted Clark's stomach painfully. Until fifteen minutes ago, he'd been blissfully unaware of their getaway. Now he'd give anything to remain so ignorant. Not only was he aware of their big plans, he was now an intricate part of them. Instead of torturing himself by imagining what might be occurring in some remote ski cabin miles from Metropolis, he'd be mere feet from where the reality was actually happening. Dear god, he'd probably even be able hear them.

At that thought, Clark leapt to his feet, unable to sit still. There was no way he would be able to stand by knowing that Lois and Scardino were together in every sense of the word. It would kill him, sure as a kryptonite bullet. He'd have to leave. Just fly away and pretend that it wasn't happening.

But then there was Mayson. With a feeling of overwhelming helplessness, he sank back into his chair, resting his head in his hands. He couldn't fly away because of Mayson.

It was the flip side of the coin of hell he'd managed to forge. Not only did he have to face the blossoming of Scardino and Lois's relationship, he'd now have to deal with the reality of his own relationship with Mayson. And by inviting her away for the weekend, he'd implied that he and Mayson were officially a something. He'd announced it to Lois, to Scardino and, even worse, to Mayson. With a simple phone call, he'd insinuated that he and Mayson had a future and one that held much more than he was sure he could give.

When Lois had chosen Scardino, Clark had instinctively turned to the blond assistant D.A. He'd needed her open adoration of him, the confirmation that an attractive woman found him desirable, a necessary bandage on his wounded pride. As Scardino became more and more of a fixture in Lois's life, Clark countered with increased involvement with Mayson.

Often he worried that he wasn't being fair to the woman. He knew that his feelings for Mayson weren't those of love, but he did have a deep affection for her. She interested him intellectually in ways different than Lois did, and he enjoyed Mayson's insights on the things that were happening both in and around Metropolis. More open-minded than Lois, he found his discussions with the assistant D.A. much more of a give and take, where with Lois conversation tended to have the feel of kill or be killed.

Additionally, Mayson's open disdain for Superman presented him with a challenge he found refreshing. Most dates included at least one conversation that consisted of Clark's attempt to turn her opinion on Superman around and her dismissal of the topic as a matter of course. With Mayson, he never had to wonder if she cared for him or for his amazing abilities. He kept his secrets from her for a whole different set of reasons although they were no less impossible to overcome.

In response to his guilt, Clark always held back with Mayson. Not just on a physical level, which he insisted remain fairly tame by the standards of most men his age. Indeed, Mayson must have thought him some kind of modern- age monk because it was always he who put a stop to their heated exchanges before they passed a certain point. He'd come to know that, even if he never declared undying love and the prospect of marriage to Mayson, she'd probably still be willing to share his bed, happy for the time and intimacy offered by even a strictly physical relationship. She wanted his love, but he suspected she'd be happy to have his body if it was all he was willing to give.

He'd toyed with the idea. Considered it carefully on several occasions, usually at the end of a long day when Scardino showed up at the Planet to take Lois to dinner. How easy it would be to turn his frustrations into pure sexual energy and unleash them with the willing Mayson. But always he turned back before crossing the point of no return. It was part of what he held back. No matter how he looked at it, he couldn't forget the fact that sex for him meant so much more than the physical sharing of bodies. It was the one part of himself that he couldn't share with Mayson that kept him from sleeping with her. He couldn't give her his heart. That part of his body was already taken.

As he stared blankly at the blurry type displayed on his computer monitor, he realized that he was going to have to overcome that particular hangup, and pretty quickly. He'd just called Mayson and invited her to spend two nights in a ski cabin with him. There was a slim possibility that she might believe that it was a purely platonic weekend, but the speed with which she had agreed to come with him left little room for that hope. And once Scardino and Lois disappeared into their own bedroom, he'd be faced with an expectant Mayson and no excuses. Talk about performance anxiety!

He groaned, dropping his head on his desk. He felt sick. Why had he been so stupid as to let Scardino goad him? Of course, he'd never imagined it would lead to an invitation. But Lois had given him ample room to back out. He'd just been so idiotic as to ignore her offered excuses and, like a locomotive completely out of control, he'd plowed ahead toward inevitable disaster.

And why, exactly, had he ignored them, he wondered. Was he just some kind of masochist who liked to torture himself by putting himself in the same place as the woman he loved and her boyfriend? Whatever the reason for his temporary insanity, he now possessed a front row, nonrefundable ticket to the Lois and Dan Scardino horror show, complete with a bucket of Lois's heated anger.

He glanced over to where she sat, nodding her head emphatically and jabbing her pencil into the air as if trying to make a point to Bobby Big Mouth despite the fact that he couldn't see her through the telephone wires. His breath caught as she smiled suddenly, a sight that even after a year never failed to cause his chest to tighten painfully. She was just so incredibly beautiful. And he'd come so close. So close but not close enough.

They'd had one date. One perfect, magical date. And up until she'd slammed the door in his face, he'd thought he'd finally succeeded and his dreams were about to come true.

When Lois started to date Scardino in little over a week after that night, he'd blamed her completely. Anger filled him as he stewed, feeling as if he'd been tricked or cheated. She'd led him along, never intending to give their elusive romance a chance. Why, she'd slammed the door in his face, for crying out loud!

As his anger receded and he forced himself to take a cold hard look at the situation, he saw that he had to shoulder a lot of the blame. On several occasions the days following their date, Lois had tried to talk to him. Unfortunately, he'd been called away to save the day, offering her limp excuses and a weak smile while she gaped after him, disbelieving that he'd just walk away while she was trying to explain. He had to admit that she most likely was trying to apologize or at least explain her behaviour, yet he hadn't taken the time to hear her out.

By the time Scardino's flowers arrived on her desk, Lois had turned a frigid shoulder in Clark's direction, and he'd despaired of ever thawing her attitude. With Scardino on the scene, any hope Clark had held was all but decimated. He'd had his chance and he blew it. All that was left was to sit back and watch as she moved on without him. Of course, he'd never imagined that through his own stupidity, he'd have a close-up view of the event that haunted his worst nightmares.

With a satisfied bang, Lois hung the phone on its cradle and turned her wide smile in his direction. "We're all set! Four o'clock in the alley behind Fortino's Bar and Grill."

Clark nodded silently. Lois stood and retrieved her purse from the drawer. "So, do you want to get the cheese steak sandwich or the double fudge layer cake from Henley's Bakery?" she asked as she waited for him to shrug on his charcoal suit coat.

Her anger was gone, replaced by the excited glow she always got when she was on the trail of a hot lead or an undisputed source. He was glad. He didn't think he could bear an entire afternoon of her accusations. Kicking himself was punishment enough.

"I'd better get the cake. You remember what happened last time you got that," he teased.

"Clark," she retorted, outraged that he would remind her of the incident. "I hadn't had lunch yet. Besides, there was plenty left for Bobby."

Clark laughed, happy that for at least a couple of hours, he could forget about what was going to happen at the end of the day and how he was going to handle the giant mess he'd managed to get himself into. For the moment, he and his partner were simply on the job.


"Dan?" Lois called out, smacking her hand along the wall just inside the door until she located a light switch.

She flipped it upward, and the cabin flooded with light. Yanking the key from the lock, she muttered an expletive under her breath, wondering why Dan would have locked the door in the first place when he knew they were coming. Thank god he'd given her the extra key at lunch. She would have been mightily put out if she had to stand outside in the freezing cold, pounding on the door. It had been an unbearably long drive. An unbearably long night, and she had no patience left at all.

Standing in the small flag-stone entry, she took a moment to let her eyes grow accustomed to the light, then looked around. She gasped, delight at their accommodations overcoming her weariness momentarily. Now this was a cabin!

In front of her was large living room, sunken a few steps below the entry level. The room, although easily twenty five feet across and as many feet deep, was warmed by the massive stone fireplace taking up nearly the entire wall opposite the front door. A large couch and a couple of overstuffed chairs were clustered in front of the hearth, suggesting cozy nights spent in front of a roaring fire with a warm cup of hot chocolate. A round table with four chairs sat on one side of the room, a nice place for breakfast or a game of cards.

To her right was a powder room and to the left, a darkened kitchenette. All of the walls were of rough hewn logs giving the whole place a woodsy smell. It was a cabin all right, but it was Lois's type of cabin. Modern, clean, and supplied with electricity, hot showers, and a flush toilet.

On opposite sides of the vast living room, she noted two closed doors and imagined them to be the bedrooms. Dan had been right. There was plenty of space for two couples. Under different circumstances, she could actually imagine being glad to have the company. Of course, they would have to be radically different circumstances.

After her initial appraisal, she swept the living room again, frowning when she didn't see any sign of Dan. No lamps had been clicked on, nor was there a fire in the fireplace. She'd expected a warm welcome, or at least some kind of welcome. Could he be asleep already? A glance at her watch revealed that it was just almost eleven, way too early to end the night.

Lois moved down the steps and into the living room. At that moment, Mayson entered the cabin and stomped her boots on the welcome mat, dislodging the snow collected from the path to the front door. Clark followed behind, carrying all of their luggage with amazing ease considering there were five full bags.

"Wow!" Mayson exclaimed as she scanned the space. "This place is great!"

Lois opened one of the closed doors, confirming that it was a bedroom. "Dan?" she called softly into the darkness, but as her eyes adjusted, she saw that the bed was neatly made. He hadn't gone to sleep without her. At least not here.

"Where's Scardino?" Clark asked as he placed the luggage on the floor and came to stand next to Mayson at the top of the stairs. He issued a low whistle of appreciation. "Wow, nice."

"He's not in that bedroom," Lois supplied, crossing the space and repeating her search behind the second closed door. "Nor this one," she added when her scan revealed a another bed also neatly made. Confusion wrinkled her brow. Where could he possibly be? She'd left a message for him when they left nearly three hours earlier but he hadn't returned her call. She'd assumed he'd been skiing.

"Maybe he's still skiing," Clark conjectured as he accepted Mayson's coat and returned to the front door to hang it up along with his own. "In the dark," he added with a laugh.

Mayson had moved down into the living room and stood next to a small desk, looking for a scrap of paper that would solve the mystery. "No note. The light on the phone is blinking. Maybe it's a message."

Lois crossed to the desk and picked up the phone. The directions for retrieving messages were neatly printed and laminated on a handy card, and she quickly punched in the appropriate numbers, suppressing a massive yawn that threatened to split her head apart.

As she maneuvered through several phone menus, Lois watched Mayson and Clark from the corner of her eye. They murmured to each other, Clark's dark head bending down to touch Mayson's blond one in a sharp contrast. They were like salt and pepper.

The generic voice of the phone-prompt lady came on, announcing in her neutral, accent-free tone that there were two unheard messages waiting. Lois listened, surprised when the first message was delivered in her own voice.

"Hi Dan. It's me, Lois. I've just finished up the story. It's going to be great! Really, I'm glad I stuck around to meet with Bobby Big Mouth. This expose's going to blow Senator Steinman out of the water. That man'd better look into a trade school 'cause his days as a politician are over. Anyway, it's almost eight, and we're leaving the Planet now. Should get us up there around ten or so. See 'ya then."

While her message to Dan played out, Lois noticed Mayson gesture to one of the bedrooms. Clark nodded. He picked up his and Mayson's luggage, leaving Lois's two bags standing starkly alone in the entryway. Abandoned.

When he disappeared into the darkened room, followed by Mayson, Lois fought down a wave of nausea. Suddenly Dan's voice came on the phone, offering a blessed distraction.

"Hey Lois. This is Dan. Listen, I'm really sorry, but I won't be able to make it up there until tomorrow. OK, calm down! I can imagine the look on your face. Anyway, I was walking out of the office, and Sergeant Walker caught me. There's been a break in the Hobbes Bay drug case. Our informant finally…well, it ends up we got the bust planned for three a.m., and I gotta be here for it. I tried to catch you before you left but you didn't answer your phone. Glad I gave you that extra key. I hate to do this, but it's only one night. I'll be there when you wake up, I promise. Or at least in time to hit the slopes in the afternoon. Geez, I feel really bad about this. Hope you understand. It's work…Hey, try to get a good night sleep and I'll make it up to you tomorrow night. I promise. Well, I better go. See 'ya tomorrow."

Lois slammed the receiver down, not bothering to erase the message. "Damn!" she muttered. Damn! Damn! Damn!

"What's wrong?" Clark had emerged from the bedroom in time to see her slam down the phone.

Lois looked away from his concerned frown, not wanting to tell him what had happened. For some odd reason, she felt embarrassed. Basically, she'd just been stood up.

For a brief minute, she wondered if she could fake it. Pretend that Dan was in the bathroom all this time and couldn't come out of the bedroom because he was…undressed and…exhausted. With a sigh, she realized that sooner or later Clark would figure out that something was wrong. Especially when Dan failed to show up for breakfast. Or lunch.

"Dan's not coming up until tomorrow. He had a break in a case he was working on and had to stay in Metropolis." She tried to sound upbeat but it came out a little more on the shrill end of things.

"Oh. Hmmm." Clark shoved his hands in his jean pockets and looked very uncomfortable. "Well, do you want to go back?"

Lois thought for a minute. What she really wanted to do was throw something across the room. If the gods had conspired to plan her worst possible weekend, they couldn't have done a better job. First the whole double date fiasco. Now Dan was standing her up. For work! How lame was that?

The thought of another two hour plus ride back to Metropolis with Clark and Mayson nearly brought tears to her eyes. Despite the frustration she felt building underneath her skin, she forced herself to sound reasonable. "Uh, no. No, that's crazy. It's already eleven and besides, why go back just to turn around and drive up again tomorrow. No, I'll be fine."

Mayson chose that moment to emerge from the bedroom. "What's up?" She looked expectantly from Clark to Lois and back again. Lois resisted the urge to scream.

"Dan can't make it up until tomorrow," Clark explained, talking very slowly as if Lois had received news of some tragic accident and required very gentle handling. Mayson gave him a perplexed look. "Work," he added with a nod.

"Ohhh," Mayson said, sudden understanding lifting her blond eyebrows. She looked at Lois with a tinge of what Lois thought might be pity. "Wow, that really sucks."

"That's one word for it," Lois muttered, crossing her arms tightly across her chest.

She caught the sideways glance Clark and Mayson shot at each other and it served to fuel her mounting rage. Here she was on what was supposed to be a romantic weekend away with Dan, suddenly finding that she had become the biggest third wheel since the invention of the tricycle. Her anger bounced from Dan and his stupid drug bust to Clark for the smug smile she thought she'd seen him give Mayson, then back to Dan for inviting Clark in the first place.

A heavy silence filled the air while Lois fumed. Finally, Mayson gave voice to what they were all feeling. "Yeah…this is kind of awkward."

Lois started abruptly and marched up the stairs to where her luggage sat. Grabbing a bag in each hand, she turned to face Clark and Mayson who watched her with wide eyes. What, were they afraid she was going to have a meltdown?

"I think I'm just going to turn in. It's been a long day, and I'm really beat." She beamed like a beauty contestant and walked down the steps, heading for the vacant bedroom that had just become her own private suite.

Clark stepped forward, reaching a hand out as if to stop her. "Lois, are you sure you're all right?"

She smiled so wide her face hurt. "Yep. Fine. Just great. See ya tomorrow." She nodded at Mayson. "'Night."

"Night," Mayson replied. Both Clark and Mayson watched her silently as she crossed the room, and she felt like somebody's poor, ugly cousin who got dumped on prom night.

She reached the door and a new, horrifying thought crossed her mind. Just because she and Dan wouldn't be getting any action didn't mean that Clark and Mayson would refrain. The fireplace was in that great big living room, and what if one thing led to another…she felt a blush creeping up her neck.

"Um. I shouldn't need anything out here so you can Just…well, I'll be in my room, and I won't come out unless it's really, really important so I shouldn't see anything. I mean, if you two are…I wouldn't see it so…don't worry about me." With every word she spoke, her mortification multiplied, and she silently prayed that a giant hole would just swallow her up right then. "I'll be fine and just see you in the morning. Tomorrow. Morning."

With a click, Lois closed the door and leaned against it heavily. This was it. She was in hell.


Clark stared at the closed door, his heart pounding. It had worked. By some magic, his very presence at the cabin would prevent Lois from consummating her relationship with Scardino. Had his powers surpassed the boundaries of the physical world and moved into the ethereal where dwelt such wish-granting creatures as leprechauns and fairies? If so, he was going to have to rethink this whole altruistic attitude. It could get out of hand.

In truth, he felt sorry for Lois. She'd looked so dejected, a state he couldn't quite reconcile when it applied to his partner. Disappointment he would have completely understood. Anger had been more than expected. But Lois looked as if she'd lost her best friend. Did she really care so much for Scardino?

The prospect that she held such strong feelings sent a stabbing pain through Clark's heart. Had she really been looking forward to spending time alone with Dan? That reality hurt almost as much as it would have had Scardino been waiting to greet her with open arms and a bottle of chilled champagne. Almost.

Besides, he knew that Scardino's delay only meant avoiding the inevitable for a few extra, blissful hours.

He'd never personally had the experience, but he'd seen it in action. Apparently, removing a band-aid slowly was far more painful than ripping it off quickly, in one violent action that occurred so fast the shock overpowered the pain. Instead of facing it head-on and getting it over with, Clark was going to be forced to stew a good twenty four hours, knowing what was to come. And the knowing was almost worse than the doing. Almost.


Clark blinked, pulled from his thoughts. He offered a sheepish smile. "I'm sorry. What were you saying?"

"Just that I feel kind of bad for her. Do you think we should do something?" Mayson wondered, glancing back at the closed door.

He shrugged. "I don't think there's anything we can do. Besides, she'll get over it. If anyone should understand sacrifices made in the name of one's job, it's Lois."

"He's DEA, right?"

"Yeah." Clark sighed.

He'd always suspected that part of what Lois found attractive about Scardino was his exciting career. It was one line of work that offered as much danger and intrigue as her own. Now Clark thanked heaven that Scardino's job had been the thing to keep him away. Maybe if it provided enough inconveniences, she'd decide he wasn't worth it. Lois tolerated such annoyances from her own professional life but he doubted she'd be so understanding when someone else tried to offer the same excuse more than a couple of times.

Mayson retrieved the purse she'd left sitting on the desk, carrying it to the large round table where Clark stood, leaning against the high back of a chair placed around it. "How'd Lois get hooked up with a DEA agent?" she asked as she began to search through the various pockets and compartments of the black leather bag.

"He was investigating a car bomb that we connected to a story we were working on. Had to do with the Resurrection Pill and a guy named Stanley Gable," Clark offered by way of explanation, wondering what she might be searching for. Women's purses always offered such mystery to Clark, full of the odd bits and pieces that made the whole sex so intriguing.

"Gable. Gable. That name sounds kind of familiar." She stopped rummaging in her bag, looking ahead with slightly squinted eyes as she tried to place the name. Her face brightened when she made a connection. "Was he an ex-STAR Lab guy?"

Clark nodded. "Yeah. Gable was smuggling this Resurrection Pill to some prisoners to get them out. The pill made it seem like they were dead. He was behind the car bomb that killed a security guard who we think was about to confess that he'd helped smuggle the pills in or knew what was going on. Turns out the explosives expert who made the car bomb killed Scardino's partner a few years back."

"I remember, now." Mayson started nodding, placing one hand on her hip. "About two months ago, right? I almost got that case but the DA assigned it to another assistant. Didn't this Gable guy try to release some kind of deadly virus all over town?"

"That's the one," Clark confirmed.

"And our old pal Superman stopped him just in time." She chuckled under her breath, a short derisive bark that made Clark shift uncomfortably.

"Superman helped out a little," he admitted, offering no specifics. He knew she wouldn't appreciate them regardless of what this particular rescue had entailed.

"Man, I don't know how we all got along without him. It's a wonder that Metropolis managed to function before he dropped into town and…" She paused, looking up with a small smile of contrition. "Sorry."

Clark smiled his acceptance of her apology, but he didn't think her spoken sentiment was completely heartfelt. Mayson simply refused to see any good in Superman. No matter how many times he pulled off some kind of miraculously heroic effort, she always found the thread to unravel the whole thing, making Clark feel somewhat stupid and quite often a bit like a glory hound. He did his best to avoid the whole topic, having determined that he might never be able to tell this woman who he really was.

Mayson looked upward and stuck her tongue out of the corner of her mouth as she allowed her hand to do a deep sea exploration of the darkest depths of her handbag. "So, why's he still in Metropolis?"


"Dan," she clarified, then pulled her hand out with a small object clutched tightly in her fist. "Ah-ha!" she shouted triumphantly, showing him a black tube that he guessed was a lipstick. "I mean, those DEA boys are a pretty wild bunch. They don't usually stick around too long after a case is wrapped up."

"Yeah, well, this one stuck," he muttered. Stuck like chewed gum sticks to the bottom of your shoe.

Mayson had removed the top of the tube and was carefully stroking a deep red crayon of color across her lips, confirming Clark's guess that what she'd found was lipstick. His satisfaction in his accuracy was quickly replaced by an odd sensation in his stomach, the way that she was applying the cosmetic making him feel a little like a teenager looking at a forbidden magazine. It was such a sensual thing, so female and so intentional in its implication.

He looked away and cleared his throat. "Do you want some tea?" he asked, his voice still slightly scratchy.

Mayson stopped her application and looked at him. "Uh…yeah. Sure."

"I think Lois brought some groceries." He told the lie easily to probably one of the few people in Metropolis who would believe it flat out. Mayson had no knowledge of Lois's aversion to all things domestic. He started for the door, calling over his shoulder as he grabbed his coat. "They're still in the car. I'll go get them."

Mayson stared at him, her lipstick poised in mid-air. He gave her a big smile as he closed the door, exhaling loudly in the frigid darkness.

He figured he had about three minutes to fetch the tea, so he took his time flying back to his apartment, letting the night air cool his heated face. While there he gathered a tin of cookies his mom had sent as well as a bottle of wine and some cheese and crackers. Enough for a picnic.

By the time he touched back down in front of the cabin, he felt much more in control. He took a deep breath and entered with the brown bag of groceries clutched tightly in his arm.

"Whew, I think it's getting colder," he remarked, a bit too jovially.

As he moved into the cabin's small kitchenette, he glanced out to the living room to see Mayson bending over a small cabinet. She stood when she heard his voice and smiled.

"I put on some jazz," she called out, gesturing at the cabinet which he assumed held a stereo. "Is that OK?"

"Yeah." He listened for a moment, the soft Miles Davis filling the room. "Sounds nice."

Clark grabbed two mugs from a mug stand sitting on the counter. The kitchenette was small but included all the necessary equipment for an easy meal.

"This place is really great," Mayson observed appreciatively as she explored the living room. "That stereo is state of the art. I think there must be speakers hidden in all of the walls."

"It is nice," he agreed, filling the mugs with water. He decided against using his heat vision and placed the mugs in the small microwave. "How'd Lois find this place?" she asked.

Clark studied the control panel on the microwave, wondering how long it would take to heat up the water sufficiently. "I think it belongs to a friend of Dan's at the MPD. He mentioned coming up here a couple of times," he explained absently, deciding that three minutes was probably long enough.

"Geez, I didn't know the guys at the MPD made such good money. This place must have cost a fortune."

"Too rich for my blood, that's for sure." He'd moved to the door of the kitchenette and watched Mayson make her tour of the living room.

"Maybe there's a story there," she mused, picking up a brass bookend that was shaped like an eagle and examining it closely.

"You think?" At that moment, the microwave beeped, and he returned to place the tea bags in the perfectly heated water. Locating a spoon, he allowed the tea to steep, then removed and discarded the bags.

"This must be the guy. Here in this picture with the two kids." Mayson held up a framed photograph that showed a man and two teen-aged kids dressed in full ski gear, smiling happily at the camera as they leaned on upended skis, surrounded by snow-covered trees.

She put the photo back in its place on the top shelf of the bookcase and accepted the mug he handed to her. "Thanks."

They both took a tentative sip of tea, and Mayson smiled a little. Clark smiled back, totally unprepared for what came next.

"Clark, I was kind of surprised when you called to ask me up here. You've always been so…hesitant before…" She trailed off, watching him closely.

Clark swallowed hard, a big gulp that would have surely scalded his esophagus had he been a normal human. "I know. I guess I was just waiting to…make sure," he stammered.

"And are you sure now?" She took a slow sip, looking up from the mug through her eyelashes.

He paused for a minute, thinking how he could answer the question honestly. "As sure as ever."

"I'm glad. I really like you, Clark. I mean, I *really* like you." She set her mug on the table and placed her hand on his chest lightly.

Clark tightened his grip on his own mug, stopping just before the ceramic handle was crushed. He suddenly felt like a deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming Mack truck.

Before he could respond to her declaration, she continued. "It's been great these past few weeks, getting to know you better and all. But, I don't know. It just felt like something was missing. Like you were holding back."

As she made her observation, Mayson ran a slender finger down the center of Clark's flannel shirt, slipping it between the overlapping edges and brushing the wooden buttons with a perfectly manicured fingertip. It was a thoroughly intimate gesture, and Clark felt his chest tighten. She'd touched him before, but this was the first time he had no reason to stop her.

He coughed away his discomfort and stepped back, glancing around for a suitable distraction. His gaze lighted on the massive fireplace and the neat stack of logs ready for use. "Uh…maybe I should build a fire."

Mayson gave him a small smile. "That would be nice. Then maybe we could work on making a little of our own heat."

His eyes widened and a warm flush crept into his face. Trying to hide his embarrassment over her bold statement, he quickly turned to the cold hearth. Retrieving her mug, Mayson followed behind and curled up at one side of the deep, chenille-covered sofa, tucking her feet beneath her. She watched him as he placed logs onto the grate and arranged them with more care than an entire troop of Boy Scouts working on a merit badge.

Clark took deep breaths, trying to quell the panic that had settled into his stomach. This was it. The moment he'd waited his entire life to reach. It couldn't have been more perfectly arranged, either. A cozy ski cabin. Fire burning in the fireplace. Attractive woman eyeing him beneath her long lashes. It was the stuff of romance novels and late night cable movies. So why wasn't he running to take advantage of the situation?

Unlike it might for most men his age, Clark's virginity didn't cause him a lot of inner turmoil. Perhaps it was because he knew that this state was purely a result of conscious choices he'd made and not a lack of opportunity. He didn't suffer doubts about his desirability that would serve to hack at his confidence. As modest as he was, he didn't try to deny the fact that his well muscled body was an asset. There had been women in his life. Willing women. And when the time was right, he didn't believe he'd have a problem ending his self-imposed celibacy.

At first he'd avoided intimacy because the unpredictable nature of his burgeoning powers had proven too frightening. He'd lacked the ability to control his strength and responses under the most ideal of situations. Adding the lethal mix of teenage hormones and high sexual energy wasn't something he wanted to risk, so he'd ended nearly all of his high school dates with some lingering kisses and a tight hug or two. It had been the beginning of his nice- guy image, one that had caused him to blush in the locker room but had kept him out of trouble.

By the time he'd reached college, Clark had gained control of his abilities but a new fear took up residence in his mind. Becoming physically involved with a woman would mean allowing her into his world, possibly exposing his secrets to someone who might, intentionally or unintentionally, hurt him. Trust became paramount, and the more he saw of the real world, the more tightly he'd held that virtue to his chest. It would take a special woman to break through his carefully constructed defenses, and until he met her, he would wait.

In truth, he'd never considered the one night stand as an option. There was the little bit of the Midwestern moral upbringing that lingered, stressing the importance of sex as part of a loving relationship. Not quite sold on the absolute of marriage before sex, he had no unwavering conviction that drove him to wait for his wedding night if the right woman and the right moment arrived fortuitously into his life. However, in nearly thirty years, he'd never felt so strongly about a single person that he'd had to give much thought to the choice of whether to "do it" or not.

More importantly, the thing that had held him back from meaningless relationships based on a purely physical attraction was the iron-clad bond between Clark's body and his mind. Because his body was the source of all that made him different, he could not divorce his emotions from it. He'd spent a lifetime melding his mind with his muscles so that he could control the powers that were both his gift and his curse. He could no more imagine separating the two so that his body could experience the pleasures of the flesh even if his mind held no such connection than he could imagine putting his brain on a shelf.

It wasn't that he had never experienced desire or the urges natural to any healthy man. He'd just learned to control them, as he had learned to control his extraordinary strength, his heat vision, and his ability to fly. For Clark, sowing his wild oats had consisted of many heated kisses, caresses and the occasional grope, but nothing that would land him anywhere near the Stud of the Month column in a skin magazine. The ladies in his life had never minded his hesitancy or lack of experience. He had never dated any one single woman long enough for it to become an issue. Until Mayson. And after two months, it had become an issue.

Now, as he struck the match against the tinder and placed the small flame to the kindling, he knew that his reasons were gone. He had control of his strength, and his fear that he might hurt Mayson was nonexistent. They'd been dating for a while. He knew that he could trust her. She cared about him and he cared for her. Neither of them was going anywhere, and theirs was a relationship that had a future if he chose it. The time was right.

Standing up, he brushed his hands on the front of his jeans. Taking a deep breath for courage, he turned around. He was ready. Ready!

"That should do it," he said, trying to cover up his nervousness. He noticed the way Mayson relaxed against the sofa, so comfortable and trusting. She certainly didn't seem to be feeling any nervousness.

"It's kind of late for a fire, actually." He glanced at his wrist as if consulting a watch, but the fact that he wasn't wearing one only emphasized his discomfort with the situation. "I mean, if you're tired, I understand. We don't have to…I mean, it's OK if…"

Mayson smiled and patted the spot next to her, and he moved stiffly to join her. Perching on the very edge of the sofa, he leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees while he watched the flames take hold of the perfectly stacked logs. Yep, he was ready. Oh, so ready.

He just wasn't quite sure how to start. Should he just kiss her? Or maybe he should ask her if she wanted to go to the bedroom and change into something more comfortable. Or maybe he should go change into something more comfortable.

Suddenly, Mayson's hands gripped his shoulders from behind, squeezing in a gentle massage. He jumped at her touch. "Geez, Clark. You're really tense," she noted as she kneaded the hard muscles between her fingers and thumbs. "You need to loosen up."

Yep, loose. He need to loosen up because he was ready. Rea- dy! Closing his eyes and leaning his head back slightly, he tried to let the rhythmic motion of her hands lull him into a relaxed state. Instead, as her fingers moved lower to stroke the upper edges of his pectoral muscles, the fluttering in his stomach increased to the intensity of a small hurricane.

"So, do you think she's asleep yet?" she murmured softly.

"Who?" he croaked out, startled by her question.


"Um, yeah. I guess so. She seemed pretty tired," he offered feebly as she kneaded the muscles of his arms and then moved back up to his shoulders.

"I feel kind of funny about this," Mayson remarked, her voice huskier than Clark could remember it ever being. "You know. I mean, before…when I thought that she and Dan would be…well, now it seems kind of weird for us to…you know."

He nodded absently. "Yeah. I know what you mean." Weird didn't even come close to describing this situation.

"Well, if you think it would be better, I suppose we Could…wait. Or…something." She paused in her massage, and he could tell by her tone that she wanted him to disagree with her.

The sad thing was, her words filled him with an odd relief. A second miracle had occurred, and he had been presented with an open door he could use to make an easy exit. With a simple word of agreement and an expression of sympathy for his partner's bad luck, Mayson might understand his reluctance. He could postpone indefinitely taking the final step that would make his break from Lois complete.

He felt a twinge of guilt. "Yeah, I suppose that would be the nice thing to do."

She took his neutral comment for what she hoped it would be and resumed her massage, which was becoming more of a caress. "Of course, it's a shame if all of us had to suffer just because Dan got caught up at work. I mean, after all, we wouldn't expect her and Dan to sit around playing cards if one of us got called away."

"Mmmmhmmm," he agreed with a squeak as her arms wrapped around his neck and she unbutton the top button of his shirt, dipping her hand down his now open collar to brush across the center of his chest.

Having perfected the supreme awareness of his body and its reactions as he'd needed to do, Clark turned his attention to the sensations spreading throughout his belly. This wasn't nervousness. It wasn't fear, he determined. What he was feeling was…desire. Good old fashioned, red-blooded male desire.

Because why wouldn't he feel desire in such a situation? A beautiful blonde was using her hands to massage his chest, her warm breath caressing the back of his neck. If that didn't inspire desire, then he had problems way bigger than he'd ever imagined.

Twisting around to face her, he pulled her close, kissing her tentatively. Mayson gasped with surprise, then wasted no time. She wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling him down with her as she reclined into the cushions of the sofa.

"Mmmmm, Clark. This feels so nice."

He took her encouragement and deepened his kiss, sending his tongue on an exploratory search of her welcoming mouth. He'd certainly gotten to this point before. No uncharted territory here. He could handle this. No problem. The churning in his stomach stilled a bit, and he focused on what he was feeling. Overall, he had to say he felt…nice. Yes, this definitely felt nice.

Mayson was warm and soft beneath him, moving seductively and pressing herself into all of the right spots. Her fingers stroked the hair at the nape of his neck, then moved forward to the top of his shirt. Deftly, she undid the rest of the buttons, sliding her cool hands inside the soft cotton fabric and around to caress his bare back. Whoa! This was definitely something new. He was far from naked, but suddenly, he felt very exposed.

Clark focused on the sounds around him, trying to still the twitch that resumed somewhere near the region of his stomach. There was the pounding of his heart, which he was pretty sure that Mayson could hear even without the aid of super hearing. For her part, Mayson's heart was beating quickly, like stiletto heels on a tile floor. The sound had an almost urgent quality, driven by anticipation. Her breathing was rapid as well, and he thought he heard a low moan from somewhere deep inside her chest.

Around them, the room was full of familiar sounds. The fire crackled and sparked. The refrigerator issued a low hum from the kitchenette. The vanity in the powder room had a slow drip. Across the room, something was thumping slowly. It was slightly muffled, as if it was coming from inside the bedroom.

Momentarily distracted, Clark stopped mid-kiss and lifted his head. Who or what could be thumping on the wall? Scanning the length of the room, he didn't see anything unusual. He frowned, trying to determine the source of the odd sound.

Before he could use his x-ray vision to search inside the bedroom, Mayson looked up at him. "Clark? Is something wrong?"

He gave a small shake of his head, and she leaned up to recapture his kiss. Trying his best to ignore the odd sound, he found he just couldn't. The reporter in him had kicked in. He had to know what was making that thump.

It was a steady, slow and rhythmic. The pulsing was oddly comforting, an almost familiar tempo awakening memories of warmth and safety. Mayson had moved from his lips and was gently nibbling at the side of his neck. Tilting his head slightly, he honed in on the beat, tuning out every other sound around him. Thump-thump. Thump-thump. Thump-thump.

It was another heartbeat.

Lois's heartbeat.

He felt a gasp erupt in his chest and held it back before it could escape. He could hear Lois's heartbeat. No wonder the sound had been so familiar. It was a rhythm he heard subconsciously nearly every day of the week and dreamt about every night. It seemed to be calling to him, asking him to remember that she was only a few yards away. Reminding him that there was something left undone.

It was at that moment when he realized how he'd managed to find himself in this place. Honestly, there had been at least twenty ways he could have gotten out of the invitation, but he hadn't really tried that hard. And the excuses he'd given himself on the long drive up were just delusions, distractions from the real reason he had placed himself within hearing distance of anything having to do with Lois and Dan. The reason he'd invited Mayson when it would have been an easy white lie to say that she already had plans without even making a single phone call.

Clark needed to see Lois with Dan. Needed to know that she had made the choice to be with another man and actually witness it with his own eyes, at least as far as something like that could be accomplished respectably. Only by forcing himself to look the ugly truth directly in the face would he be able to move on himself. He just didn't know how else to let her go. Like a red hot poker placed against a gaping wound to cauterize it, it was a drastic measure that was far from pleasant, but in the end, an effective way to heal a wound. If you survived the procedure at all.

In one night, the final cut was supposed to have been made. By sharing themselves with other people, they were declaring a mutual surrender to the fates conspiring to keep them apart. Now, one of them had reneged on the bargain, albeit unwillingly. The romantic umbilical cord connecting them had failed to be severed cleanly, the remaining attachment strong enough to send a shared pulse back and forth between them.

Lois's heartbeat was strangely slow, and he imagined that she must be sleeping. He'd seen her asleep before, and the image of her dark hair contrasting with the white pillow, her thick eyelashes fanned in a crescent on her creamy cheeks made his own heart quicken. The sheets would be draped across her, molding to her curves like a gentle caress. When she slept, Lois lost every edge that the alert woman prided herself on. She became soft. All woman. His stomach contracted sharply, and he felt a stirring that had yet to occur with Mayson's touches.

Dear God! He was kissing one woman while he was thinking of another. What kind of man was he? He was using the image of Lois to generate the passion he needed to be with Mayson. This was just so wrong on so many levels, and he felt furiously ashamed.

Forcing thoughts of Lois from his mind, he shoved Mayson to the front. It wasn't silky dark brown hair that he was stroking. It was blond. And those weren't dark brown eyes that were lidded with desire. They were clear, bright hazel ones. The responses of his body were the direct result of the gentle caresses and heated kisses that Mayson was trailing along the bare skin of his neck and chest. And she deserved nothing less than his full attention.

Besides, Lois's failure to meet the unspoken terms for the permanent dissolution of their non-existent relationship was temporary at best. Soon she would pay her part of the tab and they would leave the restaurant. Partners at work, yes. And hopefully, friends. But lovers, never. He didn't need to hear Lois making love with Dan Scardino to know that now.

Lois was a dream. Mayson was real. Warm and receptive and real. With a fierce determination, he wrapped his arms around Mayson's slender frame and drew her against his chest. She pulled back slightly to look into his eyes, her own full of questions at his sudden fervor, and he lowered his mouth to hers with a new forcefulness, sinking them both deeper into the plush cushions of the sofa.

He was tired of waiting. He was ready.


Sitting up slightly from where she reclined against the headboard, Lois reached for the bottle sitting on the bedside stand and noted that over half of the liquid in it had disappeared. Had she drunk that much wine? She must have because a painful pressure in her abdomen indicated that she had to use the bathroom in the worst way.

Swinging her legs over the edge of the bed, she ignored the slight spinning of the room. She wasn't drunk or even tipsy. It wasn't dignified to get drunk alone. She'd just figured it was stupid to waste the wine, still slightly chilled from its day spent in the trunk of her car, tucked next to the new black teddy which, unlike the wine, remained wrapped in her suitcase. Too bad for Dan that there wouldn't be any left for him. He'd better bring his own bottle.

Hitting the light inside the bathroom, she groaned when she noticed a piece of brown cardboard attached to the closed toilet lid with some pieces of silver duct tape. Squinting, she leaned down and read the words scrawled in thick black marker. "Toilet broken. Please do not use." A plunger stood next to the commode, an exclamation point of warning in case she doubted the plumber's diagnosis.

With a heavy sigh, she leaned against the sink. Man, she didn't even have the luck to pick the bedroom with a working toilet. With a frown, she recalled that Mayson had taken dibs on the other bedroom. Therefore, it was that woman's fault that she couldn't even pee. In fact, this whole miserable weekend was Mayson's fault.

Well, it wasn't Mayson's fault that Dan hadn't shown up, she admitted grudgingly. But it was her fault that Lois felt so miserable about it. Mayson had her man and Lois had her…wine. Or was it because Mayson had Lois's man and Lois had…nothing? It was just too hard to figure out. Just leave it that Mayson had someone and Lois had no one.

She had no one, and she was stuck in this room with nothing to do but think. She wasn't sleepy. She'd endured the endless drive up to the cabin, curled in the back seat of the Cherokee feigning sleep so that she could keep her eyes closed against the sickening displays of affection between Clark, who drove, and Mayson, who flirted. Mayson reaching across the seats to finger the well-trimmed hair at the back of Clark's neck. Clark's low chuckle at some clever bon mot from Mayson. It had been enough to turn her stomach.

Now she was paying for her defense strategy. Pretending to sleep had resulted in an actual half-hour cat nap, enough to give her a second wind which she had planned to use up with Dan. The extra energy along with the adrenaline boost from her anger at…well…everyone conspired to make sleep impossible for at least a couple of hours.

She'd made several laps of the bedroom, and while more than adequate in size for its intended uses, it was far too small a cage for her. She'd opened every empty drawer, examined the five framed prints scattered about the room, and tried to discern why anyone had ever thought that the brown and gold bedspread was attractive. A glance behind the two closed doors revealed a walk-in closet and a darkened bathroom.

Fetching her cell phone from her purse with the intention of returning Lucy's call, she'd rolled her eyes in disgust when she'd discovered the battery was dead. No wonder Dan hadn't been able to reach her. She was sure that somehow, it was Clark's fault that she'd failed to charge the battery the night before but she couldn't quite work out the actual connection.

Briefly, she'd thought of doing a little work, but that option was preempted when she encountered the bottle of wine while digging through her bags looking for a pen that actually contained ink. The bottle held one of her favorite Napa Valley merlots, and she'd packed it thinking that she and Dan would enjoy a glass or two. Now she viewed it as survival rations.

Lois had made neat work of the cork with her handy Swiss army knife, glad for the millionth time that she had purchased it instead of the souvenir cuckoo clock on that post-college graduation trip around Europe. Solving the problem of a glass had proven to be more challenging, and eventually she gave up the ghost, deciding that it was only her germs after all as she began swilling directly from the dark bottle.

Of course, now she was paying for her over-indulgence. She glanced around the bathroom, taking in the various options. She could try to ignore her bladder, but that idea was quickly discarded. In fact, if she didn't do something soon, the whole point would be moot, and she'd be standing in the middle of an embarrassing puddle. She glanced at the shower. She hadn't done that since she was four, and she'd be darned if she'd stoop that low now.

Pursing her lips in thought, she remembered the powder room just to the right of the entry. Leaving her room might mean she'd run into Clark and Mayson. Her bladder pinched painfully, and she returned to the bedroom, glancing at the clock sitting next to the bed. 12:30. Surely they'd have…left the living room by now? Really. It had been over an hour since she'd slunk away in mortification. And if they weren't gone, well, it served them right!

She pressed her ear to the door, listening. For what? Voices? Heavy breathing? Moans of passion? She snorted with disgust. That was all she needed. For Mayson to be a screamer. The distance between the two bedrooms was well over twenty feet and two thick log walls offered sound insulation, but if she heard even the tiniest whimper, she'd lose it.

With a determined sigh, Lois cracked open the door and peered out carefully. No one in sight and the door to the second bedroom directly across from her was tightly closed. A bright fire burned in the hearth giving the room a warm glow that, although pleasant, was surely some sort of fire hazard, she noted with a frown. It wasn't like Clark, the original Boy Scout, to leave a fire unattended. Maybe they were so carried away by their passion that they had forgotten to put it out. The thought twisted her stomach painfully, and she turned away from it. Let the place burn down for all she cared.

Even assured that she was alone, she tiptoed across the space and up the four short stairs to the small powder room. In short order, she relieved the painful pressure in her bladder and washed her hands, all without the aid of light. She didn't want to risk catching a glimpse of herself in the vanity mirror, her redden eyes and splotched face evidence of her misery that she didn't need.

A mere five steps from the safe haven of her bedroom, she heard the rustle. With a panicked jerk and practice born of many a night raid, she pressed her back against the wall, flattening herself into the shadows cast by the flickering firelight. Focusing all her energy on slowing her breathing so the rapid rise and fall of her chest would not give her away, she glanced toward the menacing sound. It came from the space in front of the fireplace, blocked by the low- backed sofa that faced the crackling flames. Damn! How had she not noticed that spot, perfect for an intimate interlude in front of the fire?

Terrified of what she might witness, she stared transfixed as Clark stood, looking down on what she guessed to be Mayson lounging on the sofa. His blue flannel shirt was untucked and, it appeared, unbuttoned. With the fire burning behind him, his features were darkened, but she had no trouble imagining the firm expanse of smooth chest that Mayson was most likely admiring. Lois suddenly felt cheated, as if someone had taken the last cookie from the jar leaving only the sweet aroma behind to tease her.

Extending his arm downward, Clark pulled Mayson up from the sofa. Lois exhaled inwardly, grateful to see that the blonde still wore her own sweater and was not showing Clark the same amount of skin that he felt no compunction about showing her. Her relief was short lived when Clark gave a gentle tug and Mayson stood only inches from him, her head tilted back in open invitation.

Lois cringed, desperately wishing she were any place but in that room. She'd rather spend a month alone on a deserted island with her mother than be watching this. Or a year covering dog shows and bar mitzvahs. Anywhere but standing against the wall while Clark and Mayson kissed right in front of her.

Lois shuddered. What had she been thinking? When this whole tragedy was constructed, why hadn't she put her well-shoed foot down? This was supposed to be her romantic weekend as much as Dan's, and she should have insisted that they leave the…horny teenagers…in Metropolis. For crying out loud, when had she ever led someone railroad her like this? She was Lois Lane, for Pete's sake!

Unless, of course, some deep part of her had wanted Clark to come along. She tossed that idea out the window immediately. It was ridiculous. Beyond considering. Why in the world would she have wanted Clark to come with them? Clark along on a romantic weekend with Dan was like rain on a picnic. Sand in your ice cream cone. Anchovies on your pizza. He would have made it completely impossible for her and Dan to do what it was they had planned on doing, sucking every romantic impulse out of her. Then her list would have remained incomplete, the final item unchecked. Instead of her woman-in-love glow, she would have shown up to work on Monday with nothing more than a raccoon tan from her ski goggles.

Besides, even if she ever did admit that maybe she might have possibly in some small remote way wanted Clark to come along, which of course was completely ridiculous, there was absolutely no way she wanted Mayson there. It was bad enough watching the woman throw herself at Clark every day. Lois certainly didn't want to watch it on her romantic weekend away.

The minutes stretched until Lois was sure that she'd been standing in the shadows for an hour, yet Clark hadn't make the final move. Finally, Mayson placed her hands on his shoulders and lifted up on her toes, placing her lips upon Clark's. He placed his hands on her waist, and their kiss deepened.

As Lois watched, she felt the heavy lump that had settled in her stomach split into smaller pieces, one of which traveled upward to stick painfully in her throat. The back of her eyes started to burn, and she blinked hard, forcing the sting to recede to the back of her mind. A bitterness spread across her tongue, and she swallowed hard against it.

Their two bodies cast in silhouette by the firelight looked exactly like the cover of a romance novel, two lovers embracing, totally lost in each other and oblivious to the world around them. Lois vowed at that moment that she would never read another romance novel again. Or at least one with such an image on its jacket.

Thankfully, before Lois could catch a glimpse of a rogue tongue or any other intimate gesture, Mayson broke their embrace. She stepped back, trailing her fingers down the length of Clark's arm as she walked slowly away, toward the closed door of the bedroom that Lois now knew had not yet been used. Lois held her breath, afraid that the blonde would see her hiding out in the open as she was, but the door shut with a soft click, leaving Lois alone with Clark.

Clark stared at the door, still motionless after Mayson's seductive departure. When finally he moved, it was to turn to face the fireplace, his thick arms reaching up to grasp the mantle as he leaned against it heavily, his head dropping slightly.

Lois watched him as he watched the flames. She took deep breaths, a tentative calm replacing the near hysteria of seconds earlier. Feeling a bit more in control, she felt her muscles relax, an odd sensation as she hadn't realized they'd seized up in the first place.

<What's he waiting for?> she wondered bitterly. Mayson probably had divested herself of that sweater by now. If he didn't hurry, the woman might slap him with some kind of contempt order or something. Lois suppressed a laugh, imagining Mayson's argument in front of a judge. "I'm citing him for failure to provide services in a timely manner."

Come to think of it, Lois mused, what was she waiting for? Clark's back was to her and she could slip into her room, finish off the bottle of wine and try to forget the sight of Clark and Mayson standing in front of the fire, melded into one being.

Instead, she remained where she was, fixated on Clark's broad back. The firelight created a halo that surrounded him, putting his body in high contrast silhouette. She admired the way his wide shoulders tapered into his trim waist and hips. She wondered if his skin would feel warm from the fire burning so close to him. If she were to run her hands across the length of his arms and down his back, would he feel as solid and hard as he looked? Was his dark hair as thick and silky as she imagined it would be if she were to run her fingers deep into it?

For a moment, she felt compelled to go to him. She even took a step forward before she realized what she was doing and slammed back against the wall. She must be drunk.

Suddenly, Clark turned and looked at the door to Lois's bedroom. She held her breath, praying that he hadn't seen her standing like some kind of voyeur. That was all she needed, to have Clark think she was some kind of sick-o who got her jollies watching him and Mayson just because her own boyfriend was too busy to make it up to giver her some action of her own.

Her luck held and he looked away, across the room at the door where Mayson had disappeared. He raked a hand through his dark hair, and Lois felt her pulse quicken. Hadn't she just imagined doing that herself? Even concealed by the dark, she could feel her face turn red in embarrassment, as if she'd been caught peeking through his window to watch him undress. That thought made her gasp. If he took off his shirt, she would certainly give herself away when she landed on the floor in a heap.

Thankfully, he didn't remove any clothing. Instead, he leaned down closer to the flames and, with some rustling that she couldn't make out, the light from the flames dimmed. She smiled to herself. Yep, the Boy Scout hadn't forgotten about the fire. Safety first. Even before sex.

With a sigh so heavy that she could hear it from where she stood, Clark walked to Mayson's closed door. He paused in front of it for a long minute, and Lois thought that his shoulders drooped slightly. It was almost as if he didn't want to go into that bedroom, and she felt a strange surge of elation pass through her. Then he softly turned the handle and pushed the door open. He closed it behind him silently.

Lois felt herself sliding down the wall to the floor, a movement made painful by the rough logs abrading against her sweater-clad back. She bit her lip and focused on the pain, welcoming it as a distraction from what she had just witnessed. Only a half hour ago, several doses of wine had finally stopped the tears that now coursed down her cheeks once again. This time, she didn't fight them.


The front door shut firmly, and Lois paused in her pacing, looking up expectantly. Clark took the time to remove his snow-covered boots and placed them neatly on the boot mat, adding fuel to her irritation. Pushed way beyond her patience threshold, she waited only until he turned to see her standing there before she launched her attack. "Where the hell have you been all day!?"

Accustomed by now to Lois's random accusations, Clark let her words roll off his back. "Uh…skiing. This is a ski resort. Seemed like the appropriate thing to do." He shrugged out of his red ski jacket, the paper lift ticket swinging from the zipper testament to his claim.

Hanging the garment on the hook placed conveniently for such a purpose, he walked down the four steps to the living room, blowing on his reddened hands as if to warm them. Lois tapped her foot impatiently, and he readied himself for a tirade of undetermined origins. It had been one long day, but it wouldn't be complete without a fight with Lois.

His calm, lazy pace infuriated her. All day she'd spent waiting, a pastime that she hated more than anything. Lois Lane had absolutely no tolerance for unfilled time. Lines and delays were unacceptable and to be avoided at all costs. And now he just waltzed in after a day of skiing, completely unaware that she'd just wasted an entire day of her life waiting for him to return.

"Well, I'm glad you were enjoying yourself. Didn't you wonder why you never saw me on the slopes?" she accused heatedly. "You didn't even come to check on me! I mean, I could have fallen off a cliff, and you wouldn't even have known I was missing until my body was found frozen solid under two feet of snow. Would it have killed you to pick up a phone?'

Still unaffected by her outburst, he smiled wryly. "Geez, Lois. It's a pretty big place. I just figured you were on a different run. Besides, it's not like you were all alone." Glancing about the room, his thick brows lowered in confusion. She was alone. "Where's Scardino?"

"Not coming. He's not coming!" she cried, throwing her hands in the air dramatically. "He called this morning and told me that the bust blew up all over the place. Can you believe it! Not only are those jerk drug dealers peddling drugs to little kids but they've totally screwed up my weekend!"

Clark fought back the urge to laugh, knowing that such a response would only get him in more trouble. Leave it to Lois to make such a comparison. He crossed his arms over his broad chest and stared at her with an amused glint. "Yeah, can you believe it? How could they stoop so low?"

"Watch it, Kent. I'm in no mood," she warned, her voice dropping dangerously.

That morning, Dan's phone call had pulled her from a deep sleep, starting her day badly. It had since dropped to downright ghastly. She had a pounding headache from the wine, and the aspirin she'd taken was starting to wear off. If Clark didn't take care, he'd find himself the target of every evil thought she'd nursed as she fumed the hours away. Of course, since most of those thoughts revolved around him anyway, it was a pretty sure bet that he'd hear about them at some point.

"I've been waiting all day for you to get back so we could get out of this place, and now it's already dark. I just hope it doesn't start to snow again or we'll be on the road for hours!" Lois stormed to a set of French doors that led out to a wooden deck, glancing up into the dark sky to check for ominous clouds. If it snowed and they had to creep home at five miles an hour, she just knew she'd go mad.

Clark took a deep breath, ready to deliver the death blow that would knock Lois completely over the edge. He started to speak, then paused to listen. Music was playing softly throughout the room, pumped through the sound system that he knew also played a pretty mean jazz. He concentrated, trying to decipher what it was he was hearing.

*It's a long way from LA to Denver

It's a long time to hang in the sky

It's a long way home to Starwood in Aspen

A sweet Rocky Mountain paradise

Oh, my sweet Rocky Mountain paradise*

"John Denver?" he determined quizzically, placing the folksy strains and easily recognizable voice. "You're listening to John Denver?"

"Yeah. So?" Lois replied as she leaned her forehead against the icy window pane and peered heavenward. She felt a bit better when she saw stars twinkling above in a cloudless sky. Didn't look like it was going to snow.

"You like John Denver?" he repeated, mystified. He would have thought her tastes ran more along the lines of a Carly Simon or that new singer, Alanis what's-her-name. The angry one.

She turned back to Clark with a defensive shrug. "There's not much of a selection in this place, you know. It was either this or some eighties hair band I've never heard of. Besides," she said, "he relaxes me."

She moved to the table where she had been working on the start of her follow-up to the Senator Steinman expose. Quickly gathering the few papers and notes she'd spread about, she felt buoyed by the knowledge that at least she'd be able to wake up in her own bed the next morning. She'd read the Sunday Planet and maybe get in a couple of hours of work on the follow-up. Perhaps she could salvage something from this horrible weekend.

"Man, I can't wait to get back to Metropolis. Those drug dealers don't know what they're up against now. I mean, it's one thing to mess with the DEA but it's far more dangerous to mess with me," she threatened, her mind already buzzing with angles. Shuffling the papers into a semi-tidy pile, she glanced over her shoulder at Clark. "My stuff's already packed, so you and Mayson better hurry up."

When Clark remained standing in the center of the room, watching her gather her papers, Lois frowned. "What are you waiting for, Kent? An engraved invitation? Tell Mayson to get her stuff and let's get out of here…" She glanced toward the entryway, searching for Mayson. She'd been so caught up in her tirade against Clark she hadn't seen the blonde follow him in. "Where's Mayson?"

"What?" he asked, still trying to imagine what other kinds of music Lois might find relaxing.

"Mayson?" Lois repeated.

Blinking himself back into the discussion, Clark looked away from her, staring blankly in the general direction of the fireplace. "She's not here."

"I can see that, Clark. I'm a reporter, remember? So, where is she? She's not still skiing?" Lois guessed, incredulous. "Oh, that'd be just like her. Trying to prove what a hard- core skier she is, getting in one more fabulous run before the lifts close down."

"Mayson left this morning," he clarified, "before you woke up."

"What?" She'd been so exhausted when she finally fell asleep that she doubted a bomb outside her window would have awakened her. Still, it was hard to believe that Mayson had packed and left without Lois even noticing.

"She went back to Metropolis." Clark held his voice carefully neutral, devoid of emotion. He'd spent the entire day reliving what had occurred between him and Mayson, and he still wasn't ready to share it with anyone, least of all Lois.

"Why? Wait, no, let me guess. Something about a case that she had to deal with. Not a drug bust?" she asked, momentarily distracted from her impatience to leave what she had now named the Cabin of Hell. Oh, this was too rich. Both she and Clark ditched on the same weekend because their significant others had to go back to work. Some kind of poetic justice in that, she had to admit.

"Yeah, she decided she'd better get back. It's a long story." Clark sighed loudly. This was going to get ugly. Really ugly. "But I'll have a lot of time to tell you about it 'cause we're not going anywhere."

"What do you mean?" she asked warily, sure that she wasn't going to like his answer.

"Mayson took the Jeep." He shoved his hands in his pockets, bracing himself for the shriek he knew was coming.

"She what!?" Lois shouted.

"She took the Jeep." Clark walked over to the fireplace and crouched down in front of it. He took the black poker and jabbed at the burning logs, sending sparks flying up the chimney. "I figured I could ride back with you and Dan tomorrow, so I let her take it back."

Lois strangled on a laugh. "This has got to be a joke! You mean you and I are stranded here?"

He finished adjusting the logs to his satisfaction, brushing his hands together as he stood to look at her once again. "Looks that way," he offered with a small smile.

"Oh, this is just great," she fumed, pacing again. "First my boyfriend invites my partner and his girlfriend to join us for our romantic weekend away. Then he doesn't even bother to show up. And not only does he ditch me, he leaves me stranded with…" She gestured at Clark with her hand, so flustered she couldn't speak. "…you!"

"Don't hold back, Lois." Clark's smile faded into an annoyed frown. "Let me know how you really feel."

"How could you let her take my Cherokee? That car's my baby, Clark. And you just let a stranger drive away in it." The witch took her car! Wasn't taking Clark enough? "What if she drove it into a ditch?"

Clark rolled his eyes. "Mayson's not a stranger. I wouldn't have let her take it if I didn't trust her. Besides, you've been talking about trading it in, so I know your sentimental attachment is temporary at best," he noted pointedly, ignoring the accusing stare that she'd fixed upon him. "The Jeep'll be fine. She needed to get back, and it was the only practical way."

He walked over to the table where Lois had abandoned her efforts to tidy her papers. He picked up the top sheet, skimming the notes she'd started about Senator Steinman. Looked like she had a good start on a follow-up, and he nodded absently as he read what she'd written. If Lois was done with her lecture about his irresponsibility, maybe they could get something worked up for the Monday edition.

She watched him reading, only slightly mollified by his obvious approval of her work so far. What did he know about how she felt about the Cherokee? So what if she'd already made arrangements at the dealership for a new 95 model?

And now, because of him, they were stuck up in this god- forsaken place. "Why didn't you go back with her, anyway?"

Clark glanced up from the page, taking in the defiant flash in her eyes. Even if he could have told her, something obstinate inside him would not have allowed him to admit that he himself had driven the Jeep to Metropolis and delivered Mayson to her apartment before flying back to the resort. He'd only returned at all because he worried about her being alone in the cabin, but he'd planned on leaving as soon as Dan showed up. He'd been trying all day to come up with a plausible excuse as to why he wouldn't be needing a ride back to the city, but so far the best he'd been able to manage involved a fellow skier named Jim who could give him a lift.

"I didn't want to leave until Dan showed up. It's a good thing, too. You'd really be stranded." He waited for her expression of appreciation, and when it was not forthcoming, he put his hands on his hips, her page of notes clutched in his hand. "You don't have to thank me."

"Good, because I'm not going to. This is all your fault anyway," she muttered.

"My fault?" his eyes widened, brows shooting up in stunned surprise.

"Yes, your fault," she insisted. "If you hadn't gotten yourself invited up here in the first place, Dan would have waited to ride up with me. Then he would have cancelled before we left, and I'd be in Metropolis right now."

"Oh, I see." He threw the paper on the table. Her logic was baffling. "Now it's all my fault that Dan ditched you. For his job, no less. Something you of all people would never understand."

It was his turn to be accusing. "If you would have just let me handle the meeting with Bobby Big Mouth in the first place, you and Dan would have left on time, and he would have missed the bust all together. But once again, you couldn't let it go. Lois Lane had to keep her finger on every little thing."

"I'm a professional, Clark," Lois explained heatedly. "I'm not going to walk away from a story just because I want to get a little…" She flushed, unable to finish her sentence. She seemed to be doing that a lot lately. Flushing. It was getting kind of ridiculous.

"A little what, Lois?" He couldn't resist teasing her. She had turned such an attractive shade of pink, he almost forgot that she was accusing him of intentionally sabotaging her plans.

"None of your business!"

She marched past him, returning to snatch up her notes. With an impatient jerk, she grabbed the crumpled page he'd been reading, adding it to the stack. He made her so mad! No one could send her blood boiling like Clark Kent. And the fact that he enjoyed her anger just made her more furious.

"Definitely not my business, that's for sure," Clark muttered under his breath. Somehow with Lois, he could never win. He'd thought he'd been doing the right thing by sticking around to make sure Dan arrived, and now he just wished he'd stayed in Metropolis and phoned in his excuses. Leaving her up here would have served her right.

Giving herself a moment to cool her heated face, Lois geared up. She'd spent the day shining her armor and preparing her verbal bullets, all of them now targeted directly at Clark. Whirling back to face him, she launched her jabs with increased vigor. "Boy, didn't this just turn out great for you. I'm the one who planned this whole romantic weekend and instead, you're the one who got to get a little action."

Unbidden, the image of Clark and Mayson melded into an impassioned embrace floated into her mind, and she stomped on it with increased fury. "Ha! I'll bet you and Mayson just laughed out loud all night thinking about me sleeping all alone."

Clark folded his arms across his chest and gave her a smug grin. "We didn't do much laughing, Lois."

"I don't want to know what you did!" she shrieked, holding her hands up to her ears. "Spare me the details, please."

She stalked away from him, heading up the stairs to the kitchenette. She needed some wine, but since there was none of that left, she'd settle for tea.

"Why?" Clark followed right behind her. "Would it bother you to know what happened between us? To know that we spent the night doing things that you wish you could have been doing? Are you jealous?"

"Of course not!" Lois started opening the cabinets, searching for a coffee cup. "You're crazy, Kent. Me, jealous? Of what? The fact that you and Mayson spent the night in a romantic cabin, kissing and…hugging and…kissing!? Really, you flatter yourself, Clark."

Since there were only two cabinets in the small kitchenette, she'd opened and closed each one several times. Finally yanking a black ceramic mug from its place on the stand resting on the Formica counter, she whirled to face Clark. The closeness of the space put him only a few inches away, and his unexpected nearness was unnerving.

"Besides," she continued, trying to ignore the heat radiating from his chest, "I would have been doing what you were doing if Dan hadn't gotten hung up. And believe me, I would have done it much better."

To make her point, she jabbed her mug in the general direction of the cabin. "Who do you think planned this whole weekend? Me, that's who! Just because it was supposed to be me and Dan and it ended up being you and Mayson, I'm not jealous. I could have been doing what you were doing. I was going to do what you were doing. And when I get back to Metropolis, I'm going to do it. I'm going to march right over to Clark's place and do it. I'm going to make up for lost time. No more waiting for the right moment or planning for romantic weekends away —"

"What did you say?" Clark's eyes narrowed.

"What?" she asked, her rant interrupted.

"What did you just say?" he repeated. He knew what she had said, but he needed her to say it again. Just to be sure.

"I said no more waiting for the right moment or —"

He shook his head. "No, before that."

"I'm not jealous."

"Between 'not jealous' and 'no more waiting'."

She sighed loudly, humoring him. "I said that when I get back to Metropolis, I'm going over to Dan's, and we're going to make up for this weekend. We're going to do everything you and —"

"No, you didn't," he interrupted. She hadn't said Dan's.

"Clark, what are you talking about?" Maybe all of this fresh mountain air had addled his brain because he was making absolutely no sense. Or worse, maybe it was lack of sleep.

"You said Clark's."

"I did not."

"You said Clark's," he insisted. "You said when you got back to Metropolis you were going to march right over to Clark's place."

"No, I did not," she protested a little more loudly. Had she really said Clark's? No, he was crazy.

"Yes, you did," he argued back.

Turning her attention to the drawers, she opened and slammed each one. "Clark, you've lost it. I know what I said."

Clark grabbed her hand, stopping her before she could shut the same drawer for the fourth time. "So do I. You said Clark's. My hearing's pretty good, Lois." He reached in and picked up a spoon, holding it out to her.

She snatched the spoon from his hand and waved it at him. "Believe me, I did not say Clark's. The last thing I would have said was that I was going over to Clark's. You just wish that I said that, so you're imagining that I did. Really, Clark, I think it's you who's jealous." She slammed both the mug and the spoon on the counter and shoved past him, back down the steps.

Once again, he was close on her heels. He'd known for a long time how stubborn she could be, but this time it actually got to him. "Oh, now I'm jealous. And why would I be jealous?"

"Because I'm dating Dan, and this was supposed to be our weekend. And you thought you had the perfect revenge by bringing Mayson up here to flaunt in my face. But now she's gone so your plan is all falling apart." Lois gestured widely to the empty room. She'd moved to stand in front of the fireplace, and her eyes landed on the sofa where Clark and Mayson had lain together. With a sneer of disgust, she crossed her arms over her chest and looked away from it.

"Lois, you've been sniffing something, haven't you?" Clark guessed, incredulous. She was something else. He collapsed onto the sofa, completely at a loss as to how to deal with this irrational creature. "You really think that I masterminded some grand plan to get Dan Scardino to invite me up here skiing with you just so I could invite Mayson and rub it in your face that I've met someone great who actually wants to be with me?"

Lois nodded emphatically. "Sounds about right. You never miss a chance to shove her in my face. It's sickening how you let her throw herself at you just to make me jealous."

"I don't let Mayson throw herself at me, and I certainly don't shove her in your face," he snorted.

"Oh, yeah? So why is she always showing up to take you out to lunch and meeting you at the Planet so you can have dinner after work?"

"We're dating, Lois. Lunch isn't out of the question, and a lot of dates include dinner," he replied mildly.

"And Jimmy told me about the weekend you went to meet her parents. What was that all about?" She regretted the words almost as soon as they left her mouth. For crying out loud, she did almost sound…jealous.

"You need some hobbies," Clark chuckled. "You're far too absorbed in what goes on with me and Mayson."

"I am not!" she denied heatedly. She grabbed a throw pillow from the sofa and squeezed it mercilessly, venting some of her anger on the unfortunate object. She was losing too much ground in this argument for her comfort. "I just hate to see you make a fool out of yourself, that's all."

Her comment intrigued him, and Clark momentarily forgot his growing frustration. "Why is dating a wonderful woman making a fool out of myself?"

"Because obviously you are only dating her because I'm dating Dan," she asserted breezily. It was so obvious, she couldn't believe he thought he'd fooled anyone, least of all her. She sniffed out falsehoods for a living.

Clark laughed out loud. "Lois, does anything in the world not revolve around you?"

"You're mad because I chose Dan over you," she stated. It was a fact, even if he didn't want to admit it.

He leapt to his feet, unable to stay seated during such an accusation. For weeks now he'd been festering, and she'd just lit a match to his already short fuse. "And why would I be mad about that? I mean, you and I went on what seemed to be one really great date. I thought we had a chance at something. The next thing I know, I'm staring at the wrong side of your door, and Dan Scardino's taking you to dinner."

"We weren't dating exclusively, Clark," she retorted, feeling a small tickle of guilt that she quickly turned into indignation.

"Oh, I see. And did you slam the door on his face, too? I would imagine not since he sent you flowers," he speculated hotly. "I wasn't quite sure what the proper etiquette was for our special situation."

Clark had taken several steps toward her and she moved to close the distance. "And what about you, Mr. Indecisive? One minute, I'm hearing rumors all over the Planet about Your…crush…on me, the very next you're running off to lunch with Blondy." Her voice had steadily increased in volume, and she was nearly shouting as they stood face to face.

"Lois, you slammed the door in my face! What was I supposed to think? That you wanted to get married? You made it pretty clear that you weren't really interested in having any kind of relationship with me outside of friendship and the occasional shared by-line." This wasn't the way he'd imagined this conversation would go, but now that they had started, he didn't seem to be able to stop himself. He felt like a boiler with the pressure valve opened for maximum release.

"I don't know how you'd know that. You never stuck around long enough for me to explain what I wanted." Oh, he had a lot of nerve! Blaming her for the fact that he didn't have a clue.

"Are you telling me now that that's what you want?" He shook his head, correcting himself. "Wanted?"

"What I wanted then is a lot different than what I want now." They'd moved so close to each other she could see the fire flashing behind his glasses, his dark brown eyes wide with the anger that he'd unleashed on her for weeks now.

"Well I've always known what I wanted," Clark shouted back, his frustration mounting to an unprecedented level.

"Yeah, well Dan knew what he wanted, too, and he took it," she snapped, satisfied with the stunned expression that crossed his dark features.

Clark gaped, disbelieving. "Are you telling me that the only reason you're with Scardino is because I didn't bulldoze my way into your bed?"

"You know what they say, Clark," she threw over her shoulder as she whirled away from him, heading for the steps and the front door. "You snooze, you lose."

"Then I won't be sleeping tonight!" Clark growled as he reached for her arm, halting her retreat.

Before she knew what was happening, he was kissing her. He'd spun her around and hauled her up against him, his arm wrapped around her waist to keep her from pulling away. Although surprisingly soft, his lips were unrelenting as they slanted over hers, demanding a response from her that she was helpless to deny.

As the initial shock wore away, a tingling heat ignited in her belly, sending waves of electric current down her legs. She felt off balance, as if her whole sense of equilibrium had been upended. If his kiss had been unexpected, her reaction to it was inexplicable.

His intention had been to shock her, but as Lois responded to his kiss with a surprising heat, Clark's exasperation swiftly disappeared to be replaced by an even stronger emotion. Desire. His free hand moved upward, and he entwined his fingers in her hair, holding her head still as his assault on her lips grew bolder. Never had he imagined that she'd taste this sweet. And never had he imagined that his own reaction to a simple kiss could be so strong.

Lois dropped the throw pillow and lifted her arms upward, her hands coming to rest on Clark's chest. Through the soft cotton of his shirt, she could feel the heat and strength contained just beneath her fingertips. He did feel just as hard as he looked. And just as warm. As his thumb stroked small circles in the sensitive hollow beneath her ear, she felt her knees weaken, and she clutched handfuls of plaid flannel, trying to steady herself. Clark responded by tightening his grip around her waist, holding her upright. She felt a moan rising from deep in her chest, settling in the back of her throat where it became a pleading whimper.

Her fingers were driving him mad, stroking his chest in a way that he guessed was completely instinctive. Nothing intentional could have felt so good. He splayed his hand across the small of her back, pulling her tight against him and reveling in the feel of her length pressing along his. She fit him perfectly, like he had always suspected she would. He felt an overwhelming need to know every inch of her. To taste every millimeter of skin, to explore every curve and valley, to trace every freckle until he knew her body like he knew his own.

He broke away from her mouth, trailing small kisses along her cheek and down her jaw. She arched her head back, giving him access to the length of her neck. While the feel of his lips on her skin was quite distracting, the change allowed Lois to take a deep, ragged breath. What was happening to her? Her insides had turned to molten lava. One minute she was fighting with Clark, and the next all she wanted was for him to carry her to the bedroom. She didn't even care which one. Although she'd rather it not be the one he shared with Mayson.

Mayson! Less than twenty-four hours earlier, he'd stood in this exact same spot and kissed Mayson. And now Mayson was gone and Lois was standing in her place. The realization was like a bucket of ice water, turning her heated blood icy cold. She was nothing but a substitute!

Pressing her palms hard against his chest, she pushed him away. "How dare you!" she gasped, trying to catch her breath while the sensation of his touch lingered on her neck.

Clark felt her strong shove, heard the fury in her voice with a dawning confusion. How could she be angry about something that they both so obviously wanted? As his mind pulled itself out of the pool of desire, he saw the fire snapping in her dark brown eyes, the heat of anger replacing the heat of passion. He released her immediately, and she stepped backward with a jerk as she lost the stabilizing support of his arm around her waist.

"What's the matter, Lois? I'm taking what I want," he pointed out, not caring how insensitive it sounded. If he was being penalized for holding back, for keeping his true feelings so tightly under wraps, then it was a sentence he would not bear quietly. "Isn't that the way to get through to you?"

"You jerk!" she fumed. She looked around, trying to find something to throw at him. "I know what you're doing. Mayson ditched you, and you figured that since Dan isn't here, maybe I'd be interested in taking her place. What a stud you are, Clark. Jumping from her bed and right into mine!"

Clark's anger surfaced again, fueled by the lingering intensity of his desire. He took in her closed stance and the rigid line of her full lips that had been so fluid and malleable under his own. She'd gone from fire goddess to ice princess in less than ten seconds. It had to be a world record.

"And again, the intrepid Lois Lane figures out the real story." He didn't even try to hide his contempt. Instead of trusting him to treat her fairly, she suspected him of intentions so low that he wondered if she even knew him at all. "Not only did I plot to get myself invited up here to ruin your weekend, I figured I'd add a few notches to my bedpost while I was at it. See if I could pick up a couple of ski instructors on the side."

"I wouldn't put it past you," she bit out. So what if what she was suggesting was completely out of character for Clark? How could he possibly explain kissing her when he'd just spent the night with Mayson? There was absolutely no excuse that she would buy.

Clark stared at Lois, dismay mixing with horror at what she believed he would do. He laughed, the sound cold and sharp. "Lois, I've said it before, and now I really mean it. You've gone totally off the deep end. You are crazy!"

"Yeah, crazy because I let you kiss me." She was shaking with rage.

Oh God, she had let him kiss her. Not only let him, but actually encouraged it! And darn, it had felt really good. Too good. In her haste to put as much distance between them as possible, she turned quickly and stumbled into the arm of the sofa, wincing as the firm edge clipped her hard in the thigh. Rubbing the spot, she felt stinging tears burning the back of her eyes, and she fought them back with every ounce of self discipline she possessed.

"Seems to me that you enjoyed it just a little bit," he taunted. She hadn't been indifferent to his attentions. In his arms she'd become a liquid, pliable woman who felt the heat between them as surely as he did. But instead of grasping that fact with open arms, embracing it and using its power to strengthen the bond between them, she was rejecting it flat out.

"Not as much as Mayson, I'm sure!" she nearly spat. "I can't believe that you'd make a pass at me after sleeping with her last night."

A new feeling clawed at the fury consuming her. It was hurt, raw and stinging. Hurt that he could kiss her that way, like he really cared for her, when he had just slept with Mayson. Lois much preferred the anger. She grasped at, a lifeline keeping her from drowning in the pain churning in a deep pool just below the surface.

"How do you know that I slept with Mayson? What, did you put a glass to our door?" He and Mayson had been incredibly quiet during the night, so unless Lois had intentionally spied on them, he couldn't imagine how she would know anything. The thought that she would go to such lengths was both pleasing and disturbing.

"Oh, don't be coy, Clark. I saw you. I saw you kissing her last night." When he still looked puzzled, she let out an exasperated sigh. She'd be darned if she'd let him think she cared enough to spy on him. "I had to go to the bathroom, and when I was coming back to my room, I saw you two going at each other. My God, you were practically tearing each other's clothes off. It almost seared my eyes out."

Clark skimmed the events of the night, remembering the moments he and Mayson had spent in front of the fire. He'd thought he'd heard a shuffling but had pushed it aside, needing all his concentration for the task at hand. With a sinking feeling, he realized when she must have been making her way across the room. "You saw that?"

"Yes, and then you practically chased after her into the bedroom." OK, so she exaggerated a little. He hadn't actually ran into the bedroom. But what did that matter now. The deed was done.

"And of course you assumed we were making love," he stated, matter-of-factly, the pieces of the puzzle falling neatly into place.

"No, Clark. I figured you were probably working on her taxes together!" Her anger flared. It was bad enough that he thought she would welcome his attentions even after he'd slept with Mayson, but it was far more insulting that he was trying to make her look like a clueless idiot who had no idea what had occurred in that bedroom. "How stupid do you think I am?"

Like water flowing out of a drain, his anger emptied. Lois had every right to accuse him of foul play. He'd be upset, too if he thought she was playing him for a fool, not even trying to conceal the fact that she was doing so. If the situation was reversed, he'd be more than angry. He'd be furious.

But he wasn't quite ready to concede the victory to her. There was something he needed to know first. "Did it bother you?" he asked, watching her face carefully.

"Did what bother me?" She wanted to scream.

"Seeing me with Mayson. Knowing what we were going to do when we went into the bedroom…"

"Of course it bothered me!" she hollered. "I don't want to watch you making out with your girlfriend."

"I see. It was the making out part that was a problem. Not the fact that I was kissing another woman," he clarified. He didn't really believe that Lois was a prude, but in this case, he had to be sure.

"Clark, I don't care who you kiss." She held back the tears, knowing they would give her away. It did matter who he kissed. Well, it didn't matter who he kissed, it only mattered when who he was kissing wasn't her.

Clark noticed a new shininess in her dark brown eyes. Any last drop of frustration fled, and he was overwhelmed with a need to comfort her. "You seemed pretty upset just a minute ago. Maybe you care more than you think," he remarked gently.

Still in attack and defend mode, she refused to give him an inch by admitting anything. "I care when you sleep with one woman then try to sleep with me. You may be cute and have a really…great body, but you're not man enough to handle two women at the same time. Especially if one of them is me. You chose Mayson. You can't have us both."

He let the remark about his manhood or lack thereof go by, focusing instead on what she'd said after. She'd said he'd chosen Mayson. He'd chosen. "I didn't know that I had a choice. Seems to me like you pretty much decided for both of us when you started dating Scardino almost immediately after slamming the door in my face."

"I didn't start dating him immediately," she refuted, ignoring his reminder about slamming the door. That little detail didn't help her argument, so really, it was irrelevant. "I tried to talk to you, but every time, just as I was getting somewhere, you ran off like your hair was on fire."

Clark squelched the bubble of guilt that surfaced with her accusation. She was right, but given the current status of their argument, he couldn't afford to award her any extra points. He'd have to deal with that truth later. Much later, when he was ready to deal with a lot of other, even bigger truths.

He crossed his arms over his chest and stared at her, challenging her. "Well, I'm here now."

Lois shrugged. "It doesn't matter anymore. Things have changed." Like, he'd kissed her. And it felt really good. And he'd slept with Mayson. And that fact hurt way too much.

"Yeah, you're with Scardino," he muttered bitterly. And Lois had seen him kissing Mayson.

"Besides, it wasn't a slam," she blurted.

"Huh?" In typical Lois-fashion, she'd thrown him completely off the track.

"It wasn't a slam," she repeated. "I didn't slam the door on you."

Clark rolled his eyes. "Lo-is."

"It was more of a…firm…closing."

"Lois, it was a slam," he insisted firmly.

She ignored him, trying to control the confusion that was quickly overpowering the anger. "That was what I was trying to tell you all of those times when you ran off to check on your neighbor's dog or get the latest copy of the Bowler's Gazette."

Clark held his breath, seeing a light at the end of the tunnel he'd been in for over two months. "You were trying to tell me that you didn't slam the door, you just closed it. Firmly," he echoed carefully.

"Yes. Exactly," she confirmed. How was she ever going to explain it to him if she didn't quite understand it herself? Or maybe it wasn't that she didn't understand it. Maybe it was that she was afraid of it. But admitting she was afraid was even more scary because it meant that there was something to be afraid of.

"I'm sorry. I've always thought of myself as a fairly perceptive guy. But I'm just not getting it here." Feeling a bit like he was swimming through jello, Clark decided to start from the beginning. "I thought we had a really great time when we went out. I really felt something that night. And it seemed like you felt it, too."

"I did feel it. That's why I slammed the door in your face." She'd felt it that night, all right. The feeling of completely losing control. Of falling head first over a cliff, hurtling toward the unknown. And that same feeling had resurfaced when he'd kissed her, only it had mated and multiplied a thousand fold.

"Thought it wasn't a slam," he reminded her gently, unable to resist the urge to tease. "I'm glad we didn't have a lousy time. Who knows what you would have done then."

Lois sighed loudly. "Clark, I really don't like this new sarcastic side you're showing me. That's my area of expertise, if you'll remember."

"Lois, I'm just trying to understand," he began again, determined not to provoke her more than necessary. "For months we tried to ignore this…whatever…between us. When we finally gave in to it, I thought that it might turn out to be something pretty great. The next thing I know, I'm eating wood and you're dating Scardino."

"I only slammed that door in your face because I was scared. You scared the hell out of me, Clark. You were so nice and fun to be with, and you looked so…good in that dratted charcoal suit," she muttered. He had looked good. And smelled good. And was witty and charming. And tall. And perfect. Way too perfect.

"You say that like that's a bad thing." He really wanted to understand. Really, he did.

"It is a bad thing," she nearly wailed. "After just one date, I was all misty eyed and ready to do something really stupid like…name a teddy bear after you or doodle 'Lois Kent' all over my notepads."

"A bit sophomoric," he agreed, "but still, I don't see what the problem is…" Did she say 'Lois Kent'? The very sound of those two names paired together made his heart hammer suddenly.

"Clark, that's not who I am. I'm not some simpering love- struck female who swoons when her man walks into the room."

Clark held back the laugh that threatened to erupt over the image of Lois swooning on the floor of the Daily Planet and Perry calling for smelling salts. "I don't think anyone would expect you to swoon. Ever."

"Don't you see?" she implored. "If I let myself…" She couldn't do it. She couldn't even bring herself to say the words. "I can't afford to lose control, Clark." So she'd run shrieking in fear directly into the safety of a relationship where she could maintain control.

He smiled inwardly. Lois…his Lois…was afraid of losing control. Fearless, foolishly reckless, and brave beyond good common sense. Still, she was human, and she was afraid. Afraid of loving him. And if she was afraid of loving him, she must believe that it was a very real possibility. Clark felt a sudden shift in the air, as if the clouds were making way for the sun and shafts of light were breaking through.

"What about Dan?" he asked, taking a tentative step into territory laden with land mines. If he was wrong, this could blow up in his face, an explosion the likes that even Superman would not survive.

"I don't know. With Dan, I don't feel like I'm careening out of control all of the time," she admitted softly, almost talking to herself as she tried to explain. With Dan, she felt safe. Or at least, her heart felt safe, like it was insulated. "With him, I feel…steady."

"Sounds boring," he remarked, keeping his tone neutral.

A flare of defensive anger swelled in her chest. Why should she have to explain why she was with Dan, especially to Clark? "Well it's not. It's a good foundation for a solid, lasting relationship."

Sensing her building anger, he changed tactics. They'd come too far to start all over again. If he'd learned nothing else in the last year, it was the fact that Lois Lane didn't always respond to the gentle approach. Sometimes she needed to be hit over the head with a sledge hammer. "Let me ask you this. If being with Dan is so wonderful, why haven't you slept with him?"

Lois blinked, startled by the blunt question. "How do you know I haven't slept with him?"

"This was supposed to be your big weekend," he reminded her, bringing up their heated conversation at the Planet only the day before. "I mean, I don't imagine Dan was planning on doing a whole lot of night skiing, so I assume that…"

"You don't need to spell it out." Lois flushed, a bit outraged that he would bring up that sore subject. "If you must know, no, Dan and I…haven't…slept together. This was supposed to be the big weekend until everyone and their mother stepped in to totally ruin it."

"Maybe not," he observed. "Why haven't you slept with him?"

Feeling obstinate and more than a little irritated that he was grilling her about such a personal topic, she chose to misunderstand the question. "I haven't slept with him because he's not here, if you'll remember."

Clark wouldn't let her off the hook. "That's a load, Lois, and you know it. You can't tell me that in eight weeks you haven't had a least a dozen chances to sleep with Dan. What have you been waiting for?"

"I've been busy," she retorted flippantly, trying one of the excuses she'd used on Dan. After all, it was the same question he'd been asking for at least six of the last eight weeks and the one she'd been asking herself for at least the last four. "And so has he," she added lamely when Clark gave her a knowing look.

He rolled his eyes. If these were the excuses she'd been giving Dan, he almost felt sorry for the guy. "Let me tell you, no one is that busy."

"Clark, I really don't know what your point is." She sidestepped the question. The fact that she hadn't slept with Dan meant absolutely nothing. Heck, a lot of people dated for years and didn't sleep together. For all Clark knew, maybe she and Dan were waiting for their wedding night. She choked back a laugh, coughing as she imagined the look on Dan's face should she try that excuse on him.

Clark frowned when Lois started to cough and choke, concern replacing all other thoughts. He wondered if he should get her a glass of water, but when he started to go to her, his arm poised to pound on her back, she lifted a hand and shook her head.

Assured that she was all right, he explained his justification in such a personal line of questioning. "You've accused me on several occasions of messing up your plans to be with Dan this weekend. In fact, I think you hold me personally responsible for this whole fiasco. But it doesn't seem like you're very angry at Dan for his part in all of this. After all, he's the one who invited me up in the first place and then got called away for work."

"Oh, believe me, I'm mad at Dan," she assured him. "You're just the lucky one that I get to yell at."

His eyes narrowed as he studied her. "So you aren't really mad at me, then?"

"Well, let's see," she started, wondering where she should begin the list of complaints against him. Oh yes. Number one. "There's the fact that you just kissed me less than a whole day after sleeping with Mayson. That might be one little insignificant reason."

He shook his head, crossing his arms. "I don't think that's it."

Lois laughed. As if she needed any other reason to be furious with him. "And just why do you think I'm mad at you?"

"I think you're mad at me because you don't really want to be with Dan. And instead of blaming yourself, you're blaming me." He stepped around the couch, moving cautiously toward her as he made his observation.

"Geez, Clark, with logic like that, it's amazing you haven't won that Pulitzer yet." She'd always suspected it but now she was sure. Clark was crazy. Certifiable. Why would he think she didn't want to be with Dan?

He ignored her jab, focusing instead on her nervous smile that he knew hid something. "And I don't think you're mad at me because I kissed you after sleeping Mayson. I think you're mad because I kissed Mayson in the first place."

"Yeah, Clark. You've got it all figured out now," she snorted with false bravado. He was a little closer on that last guess. Uncomfortably close.

"Why haven't you slept with Dan, Lois?" he asked again, locking his eyes on hers. The effort was actually quite difficult since he'd just noticed the way her long cream sweater clung to her body, emphasizing her curves as it molded to them like gentle hug. It was some sort of after- ski thing, he guessed, because the soft fabric ended mid thigh like a dress, and she didn't seem to be wearing any real pants. Just some cream tights that emphasized the dizzying length of her legs and the firmness of her calves and thighs.

"Haven't we already covered this?" Lois asked innocently, trying to head him off before he latched onto the uncomfortable topic once again. That eerie feeling that Clark could read her thoughts sent a shiver down her arms, but his dark brown eyes were like magnets, and she felt unable to look away.

"You never answered the question," he reminded her, taking a step closer.

"I still don't see why it's any of your business," she stammered, feeling like a rabbit about to be pounced upon. She remained rooted in place, completely unable to move away.

"Why haven't you slept with him?" he persisted, taking another step.

"Because," she tried, growing a bit desperate. If he kept asking, she would be forced to answer. "I'm hungry. Are you hungry?"

He shook his head, not accepting it. "Because why?" The distance between them was down to a few short steps. He could see that her hands shook slightly

"Because I don't…" She faltered. He was way too close, and she was having trouble concentrating.

"Don't what?"

"Because I don't…I'm not…"

Suddenly, Lois felt exposed, like she'd been pinned to a board and was about to be dissected. He was asking her to answer a question that she hadn't been able to answer herself.

She'd given up on trying to understand why she hadn't slept with Dan, deciding that she would just do it. This weekend. Whether she really wanted to or not. But Clark had shown up and Dan hadn't. And Clark had kissed her. And now she was so confused.

Clark watched the emotions play across her face, the confusion and vulnerability in her eyes tearing at him. He wanted to help her, to ease the pain that she was feeling. But if he had any hope of a future for them, she had to figure out for herself what she felt. If he was the one to suggest it, she would only deny him as a matter of course, becoming more entrenched in the lies she'd been telling herself, just as he had.

"I didn't sleep with Mayson."

"Clark, I don't think it's fair that you're putting me on the spot like this. After all, if Dan understands then I don't know why you think you deserve…" She stopped, frozen in mid sentence. "What?" she whispered.

"I didn't sleep with Mayson last night," he repeated softly, handing the trophy to her at last. "It's why she left this morning."

She'd seen them together. Kissing. Really kissing. "But you were kissing…and your shirt…I saw you go into the bedroom with her."

"All we did was talk," he confessed. They'd talked, all right.

Lois gaped at him, stunned by his admission. "Oh."

"Wow. Lois Lane speechless. Give me a moment to savor this historic event," he teased, enjoying the astonished look on her face. It was rare that he could shock her, so he had to enjoy it when he did.

"Clark," she admonished softly, trying to come to terms with this bomb he'd dropped on her.

"I'm sorry," Clark apologized, instantly contrite. "Last night, I realized that I couldn't sleep with Mayson. No matter what argument I gave to myself, I couldn't get around the fact that I just didn't want to do it. She was a little less than understanding about my decision, if you can believe that. So she decided she'd better leave, and I agreed with her."

"I don't understand. I thought you and Mayson had a thing going. I mean, you seemed so…attached on the drive up. And I saw you kissing her…" The image of Clark and Mayson kissing in front of the fire floated into her mind, and she winced inwardly. They'd surely seemed attracted to each other then. Too attracted.

Clark shrugged slightly. "Yeah, well, it's amazing how much you can fool everyone, even yourself, when you're motivated."

There was a whole heck of a lot of truth in that statement, she was quickly coming to see. A warmth had started in her stomach, and now it was blossoming to wrap her heart in a strange elation. He hadn't slept with Mayson! She felt the urge to smile really big, but she squelched it.

Still, why had he even invited Mayson along if he had no intention of sleeping with her? "And this weekend. When you asked her to come up with you, didn't you think that she'd expect that you'd…well, you know."

"I thought that I'd be able to do it." He decided not to go into how hard he'd actually tried. Some things she didn't need to know. "Then Dan didn't come and things changed."

Suddenly, the joy that had been growing inside her at his confession started to wane. "You mean if Dan hadn't stayed in Metropolis, you would have slept with her?" Was he trying to tell her that this had been some bizarre game of chicken? Which of them would sleep with someone else first? And if so, had she won or lost?

"No," he stated flatly, determined to ward away the anger he saw flickering across her eyes before it could be fanned into a full blown fury. "Even if Dan had come, I wouldn't have slept with her. I don't have those feelings for Mayson. I realized that they aren't something you can manufacture, no matter how hard you try. And really, the truth is you shouldn't have to try so hard. You shouldn't have to convince yourself that you want to be with someone. If there's any doubt in your mind, then it just isn't right."

Clark took another step, coming to stand within arms length of her. He could smell the perfume of her hair, and he wanted to reach for her again, but he kept his arms locked at his side. "Besides, it wouldn't have been fair to Mayson. I couldn't sleep with her knowing that the whole time I would have been wishing I was with someone else. I don't love her."

"I see," she whispered, feeling immediately better. In fact, a whole lot better.

"Why didn't you sleep with Dan, Lois?" Clark asked, his voice becoming husky with emotion. He'd told her his truth, and now he needed her to tell him her own truth. He wouldn't relent now. Not when he was so close.

"I don't know," she stammered, suddenly feeling afraid. He'd just removed the main reason for her anger. Without it, she had nothing to hang on to. She could feel herself falling again. Losing control.

"Tell me, Lois." It was almost a command, issued low and silky. She shivered, a mixture of fear and anticipation.

"Stop badgering me," she whispered, almost pleaded. She needed time to think. To dredge through the confusion that swirled in her brain. She needed to get away from him and the heat that was spreading throughout her body. "Are you really sure you're not hungry? I think I saw some cookies in there, but I don't know how long they've been here."

She turned and took a step toward the kitchenette. Clark placed his hands on her upper arms, holding her still. She stiffened slightly, bracing herself against the wave of sensation that sent a shiver down her spine, the heat from his hands passing through her angora sweater to scald her.

"Say it, Lois." His breath was warm against her ear, and she could feel the solidness of his chest at her back. She closed her eyes, letting herself lean back slightly to graze against him.

Clark turned her around slowly, tipping her chin upward with one long finger so that she was forced to look into his eyes. She gasped when she saw the naked heat they held, so dark and bottomless that she knew she could become lost in them forever. But for some reason, she couldn't remember why that was a bad thing…

"I didn't sleep with Dan because…" She lost her train of thought, focusing instead on his full lips that had moved over hers with such gentle fierceness only a few minutes ago. She wondered what she would have to say to get him to kiss her again.

"Because why?" he murmured, already satisfied with her answer. She might not know why, but he was pretty sure that he did.

"Because…" Lois faltered as he moved in closer, so near that she could count each one of his thick eyelashes. What was it he wanted to know?

"Because of this?" Clark leaned down and captured her mouth in a kiss that made her toes curl.

His hands had remained on her arms, but it was as if he had touched every inch of her skin. Every nerve ending felt as fragile as glass, and a deep ache took up residence in the very center of her being. His earlier kiss had been demanding, full of anger and desire. This kiss contained a tenderness that reached in and wrapped around her heart.

When he pulled away, she felt herself sway slightly. "Yes," she whispered, breathless, her eyes still closed.

It was the answer he was waiting for. He grasped the sides of her face, framing it gently with his large hands. Driven by the powerful need that had been building for over a year, he lavished kiss after kiss upon her welcoming lips. It was if he'd been starving and a twelve-course banquet had been laid in front of him. He feasted on the taste of her. The smell of her skin, warm with the lingering scent of vanilla body lotion. The richness of her hair, like silk flowing through his fingers. He wanted to devour her.

Lois didn't fight it. She didn't try to reason with herself why she should or shouldn't be kissing this man. She only knew that it felt right. So right. As his arms wrapped around her and drew her into him, she felt as if she were falling. But she was falling into a warmth and softness that enveloped her completely, forming a cocoon of exquisite sensations that overwhelmed her. She returned his hungry kisses, reaching her hands up to grab fistfuls of his thick hair as she pulled him in deeper.

He marveled in how easily it all came to him. He didn't have to think about what he felt or if what he was doing was right. Every cell in his body felt alive and tuned in to Lois. Like a song he'd known since childhood, each note could be predicted before it followed the one proceeding it. His confidence was absolute, and with her responses, he became bolder, his hands moving down her back to press against its gentle curve, pulling her tightly to him, wanting her to know how much she affected him. They clung to each other, their lips slanting together with an intensity that bordered on frenzy.

Lois arched against him, molding herself to his strong, lean body. Her hands left the soft net of his hair to run down his shoulders, trailing onto the flexed muscles of his arms that were holding her so gently, before returning to wrap tightly around his neck. With his free hand, he skimmed a path from her hip upward, brushing against the side of her breast where it hesitated for a brief moment before coming to cup against her cheek. She sighed, the fleeting contact enough in her heightened state to weaken her knees and send a shiver of pleasure down her spine. She felt herself buckling, sliding downward.

When she sagged against him, he pulled her closer. Her curves molded to him perfectly, like waves contouring themselves to the shore. Where he was hard, she contrasted with soft. Everything about her felt so good. And so right. Unlike the previous night, he didn't have to convince himself of anything. Every nerve in his body knew what it felt and wanted more. So much more.

Her lips parted slightly as she sighed, and not pausing to think, he slid his tongue into her mouth. As he swept the warm cavern, she met him eagerly, her tongue seeking his to caress it and tease him to a new level of need. The low moan that came from somewhere deep inside her fueled the fire inside him.

He left her mouth to trail kisses across her closed eyes, down her temple on a direct course for her neck. His whispered "Ohhhh, Lois," was warm and moist in her ear, his voice thick and course. Her heart surged, the intimacy with which he spoke her name causing her to shake slightly.

Suddenly, it became intolerable to have anything between her fingers and his skin. Lois sought out the buttons on his shirt, pulling at them desperately as she reveled in the feel of his tongue swirling over the delicate skin around her ear. She laughed softly over the memory of feeling cheated the night before, when she'd believed that Mayson had rights to the firm chest that was now being revealed to her. It wasn't Lois who'd been cheated, but poor, poor Mayson.

Clark heard her small laugh and returned to her mouth, capturing the sound with a searing kiss. He didn't know what amused her, only that the sound of Lois enjoying herself made his pulse race. Her hands pushed aside the open edges of his shirt, and he shifted his shoulders back and forth, assisting her with its removal. When her fingers glided over the planes of his chest with a whisper softness, he felt his muscles twitching reflexively. It was an exquisite torture, one that he'd gladly endure for eternity.

Lois splayed her palms against him, applying gentle pressure to break their contact. He pulled back slightly, a sudden panic pushing aside his building desire. Had she changed her mind? Did something about him displease her? Was he doing something wrong? His confidence of moments earlier ebbed, and he searched her eyes anxiously. She gave him a languorous smile, and her eyes were so dark with passion that they seemed almost black as they traveled the length from his face, down his chest to the silky line of dark hair that disappeared into the waistband of his jeans. He relaxed, understanding her need.

She just had to look at him. Had to see the ripples that she felt beneath her fingers as her hands skimmed the smooth hardness that contained such a finely controlled strength. Lois's breath lodged in her throat when Clark pulled away from her. Never had she seen such a beautiful man. The fire colored his skin a golden bronze, and like a Greek statue, every muscle was chiseled into a rock-hard contour. He fairly glowed with a light sheen of sweat from the heat they'd created together, and she wanted to run her tongue down the center of his chest, tasting the salty essence of him.

His thick hair was tousled from her attentions, giving him a slightly dangerous look so unlike the buttoned-up reporter who appeared neatly combed to sit at his desk at the Planet. Bare-chested and wild, his faded jeans riding low on his narrow hips, he reminded her of some untamed cowboy torn from the pages of a period western or romance novel. Only his glasses kept her from losing herself completely in the imagery.

She drank him in, wondering if she would ever grow tired of looking at him. She definitely knew that she'd never be able to sit across the table from him in a meeting without needing to cross her legs.

Clark allowed her to look at him, but when her fingers started to trace the ridges of his abdomen, sliding down to dip into his navel and skim the waistband of his jeans, he could bear it no more. It was almost a growl that escaped him as he recaptured her lips with a new fierceness. As his naked chest brushed against her, the soft angora of her sweater tickled his skin while her fingers raked down his back. He hadn't known it was possible to feel such an ache, such a need to meld with another person until it was impossible to know where she started and he ended. His entire life he'd worked to control his body, and now, under the touch of this woman, he was completely unable to stop what was happening to him.

He realized with a start how truly wrong he'd been the night before. He hadn't waited all his life to reach this moment. He'd waited all of his life to meet this woman. Without her, the moment could never occur. Eventually, his virginity would have been forfeit, and most likely to someone he cared for deeply. But no one he had met or ever would meet in some undefined life time could have the power to awaken such deep emotions. Such an overwhelming desire to possess not only her body, but her heart and her soul as well, along with an unquenchable need to be completely possessed in return.

His hand slid downward along her hip, following the soft curve onto her thigh. Reaching the edge of her cream sweater, his fingers worried under the downy fabric. As he skimmed upward on a return journey, the sweater, now hooked on his wrist, came upward as well. The soft angora was as light as a feather, brushing up his forearm with the warmth it retained from its direct contact with her body.

When his fingers brushed her bare skin, it was unclear which of them gasped the loudest. She was so smooth and warm, the near concave plane of her stomach making way for the delicate ridges of her ribs. He'd always admired her trim figure, but as his hand spanned her rib cage, he realized how petite she was. Her smallness made him feel powerful, a surge of masculine protectiveness for this delicate creature who sighed under his touch.

Lois felt her stomach contract, his fingers trailing a scorching path across her belly and up to her ribs. White hot sparks flared through her chest, like a Fourth of July sparkler gone out of control. She arched against his hand, trying to retain contact.

Clark employed his other hand, sliding it underneath her sweater in an identical path taken by its mate. Lois raised her arms obligingly, allowing him to lift the cream sweater over her head. He tossed it to the side where it joined the soft puddle of flannel.

He took his turn to admire her, gazing down at the creamy skin glowing golden with the flickering firelight. As his eyes roved downward, he appreciated the inward curve of her waist and the slight flare of her hips, a figure earned by hours spent at the gym and a lucky mix of good health and heredity. She was exquisite.

Lois stood still, warm under the weight of his stare. His eyes returned to her face, and the wonder she saw in them made her flush with an embarrassed pride. She was glad she pleased him, for he certainly pleased her. He waited a second, a mere heartbeat, before he clutched her to him, crushing her against his chest.

So smoothly that she wasn't even aware that it was happening, Clark lowered them to the floor, his arm tightening just enough to provide a cradle that supported her weight easily. He reached for the pillow that she'd dropped so long ago, dragging it toward them and placing it under her head. Through the entire maneuver, his lips never stopped their assault on hers. If she hadn't known him better, she would have sworn it was a move he must have practiced a hundred times.

He covered her body with his, careful to bear most of his weight on his forearms which were placed on either side of her. Through the thick blanket of desire that had enveloped him, Clark felt a pull of conscience. They were about to pass a point where regrets could be made and cemented. Already, things had changed between them so that they could never go back to the place in their relationship where these moments were but a fantasy. Never again would Lois be just his partner or friend. No matter what happened afterwards, this memory would linger, and it was now that they needed to determine how that memory would shape up.

In Lois, he had found the woman able to stir his body and his heart to an equal fervor. He knew without a doubt that she was the one. But he also knew she still had her reservations. Her heart still had some road to travel, and until she had chosen the path herself, he had to make sure that he protected her. If not from him, from herself.

"Lois," he murmured against her lips, "I want this. I want this so much…but we need to…" He trailed off, distracted as his hand skimmed down her chest. He just wasn't able to stop himself from touching her even as he knew it wasn't helping him regain control or convince her that he had something important to say.

She shook her head slightly, arching back as his hand explored languorously down the length of her. With a sharply indrawn breath, she found herself incapable of forming words, the lightning shooting through her chest and straight down to the very center of her desire making basic thought processes impossible. Her need had coiled into a tight spring, a building torrent of sensation pushing the walls that held it back until the pressure proved unbearable and cried for release.

But there was a slight change in his kisses, a hesitancy that she found intolerable. Determine to distract him, she ran the sharp point of her tongue down the side of his neck, working her way into the hollow formed where the thick column connected to his shoulders. "Mmmm…Clark. Nothing…we need this."

He groaned when her fingertips swept under the waistband of his jeans. To hell with his conscience, he decided, determined to ignore it as rays of pure pleasure shot through him. He wanted this. She wanted this. Nothing else mattered but this woman beneath him and the heat flowing between them.

But for too long, his conscience had been his constant companion, and even in this moment of sweet oblivion to everything that existed beyond the walls of the cabin, it wouldn't let him forget.

With every ounce of strength he possessed, he forced himself to pull away. "Lois, we have to stop for a minute. I can't promise you I'll be able to if this goes much Further…and I need to know…"

Lois heard him from the heavy haze that filled her mind. He was asking her something. He needed to know. She groaned. Know what? That she wanted him? She wanted him. Wasn't it obvious? She grasped his face between her hands, pulling him back down to her, demanding that he kiss her again. "Yes…I…I…want this…oh, God…" she moaned as his fingers trailed along the delicate ridge of her collarbone, all while his mouth reclaimed its own course down the length of her neck.

But there was something else. She started to remember. The sensual cocoon that had blinded her started to tear, and she became aware once again exactly where they were. In front of the fire. In the ski cabin. The real world started to come into focus. Not something else. Someone else.

"Clark…you're right. We have to…stop," she pushed against him gently, forcing him to abandon his quest down her belly. "There's Dan. And Mayson."

Her words infused him with a self discipline that he hadn't realized he possessed. Leaving the addictive warmth of her body, Clark rolled away from her to lie on his back. Staring up at the beamed ceiling, he struggled to slow his pounding heart and to regain control of the heated blood surging through his body.

As his breathing slowed, he became aware of the music still playing softly in the background, forgotten during their moments of heated argument and broiling passion.

*And I tell you I'm happy to be here

To share and consider this time

For I see here the shadows of changes

And a feeling of new friends to find

And I see here some new friends to find*

*But it's a long way from this place to Denver

It's a long time to hang in the sky

It's a long way home to Starwood in Aspen

A sweet Rocky Mountain paradise

Oh, my sweet Rocky Mountain paradise*

He smiled slightly. Lois must have set the stereo to loop the John Denver CD. They'd come full circle.

Rolling to his side, he propped himself up on his elbow. Lois's eyes were still heavy with her desire, her lips swollen from his attention. The knowledge that he had the ability to bring her to such a state re-fired his own barely dampened need. He almost abandoned his self-control, aching to lift her up and take her into the bedroom. Or to forget the bedroom altogether and finish what they'd stared right there on the floor.

But she was right. There were still two people too many standing between them. Well, actually, only one.

Clark focused on her eyes, now turned to look at him with mixture of longing and what he thought might be fear flickering in their endless depths. The total effect was one of vulnerability that he could barely stand. His heart twisted, and needing to touch some part of her, he sought out her hand, picking it up and threading his fingers through hers. "Lois, Mayson and I aren't going to be dating anymore. We ended it last night."


She was happy to know that the break between Clark and Mayson had been clean and total, but she was still trying to regain some semblance of control over her body, which seemed to have completely revolted against her better senses.

She'd come within a panty's width of sleeping with Clark. The thing was, she didn't feel near the level of compunction that she imagined she should. And in fact, if he hadn't stopped them, she had no doubt that the deed would have been done with no immediate regrets on her part. Even now, as he lay next to her with the full force of his deep brown eyes trained on her, she realized how easy it would be to give into the temptation that overwhelmed her. Only the flickering curiosity about the strength of her need for him kept her from reaching her hand across the inches of space between them to place a hand on his chest, a signal that she was sure he would interpret correctly.

She looked at his hand as it played with hers, stroking each finger and rubbing her palm with the pad of his thumb. It had almost a hypnotizing affect. It felt so incredibly good, as had every touch he'd lavished on her over these last long glorious minutes.

"Now, about Dan…" he said as he lifted her hand to his mouth and placed a soft kiss in the center of her palm, sending a shiver down her spine.

Lois sighed. Dan. It was hard to believe that she'd been planning to do this with Dan. Would it have been the same? Without even thinking about it, she knew instantly that it wouldn't have been. She'd made a mental decision to sleep with Dan. With Clark, it had been her heart that had responded to his kisses and caresses. But it was her heart that she most feared for.

Reluctantly, she pulled her hand away from Clark's and sat up, pulling her knees to her chest and wrapping her arms around them. Without the closeness of Clark's body, she felt chilled, even with the fire burning so close by. Somehow, she knew that it wasn't just his body heat that had warmed her, and it wasn't just her skin that now felt bereft without it.

As if he could sense how she felt, he sat up and reached for his shirt, wrapping the voluminous garment around her shoulders to offer her protection from the cold. She smiled her thanks, feeling a little better now that she wasn't sitting nearly naked while they had such a serious discussion.

Clark adjusted his shirt to his satisfaction, taking care to overlap the ends to cover her completely. It had taken all of his will power to pull away from her, and he imagined he didn't have too much left. If he hoped to maintain even some semblance of concentration, he couldn't have the tantalizing expanses of Lois's warm, velvety flesh so easy to reach and just begging for his touch. Assured that, at least for a while, he could keep control of the desire that simmered so close to the surface, he settled next to her.

They sat side by side, watching the fire in a silence that was not quite awkward but was filled with the weight of their mutual desire for each other and the words they still needed to speak to cross the final bridge leading to any hope of satisfaction.

"I don't love Dan," she broke the silence, finally answering his question. "It's why I haven't slept with him yet. I don't love him."

Clark nodded neutrally, but inwardly, relief washed through him, making him slightly weak. He'd guessed it, but hearing her admit it removed all traces of doubt. She didn't love Dan.

"But, Clark, I still don't know. About us," she admitted, her voice shaking slightly.

It was this last, lingering hesitation that had given him pause, kept him from taking that final step that would have made him one with her. He'd had her body, but she'd not given him her heart. He needed that part, too. In fact, without it, the rest was meaningless.

"What don't you know?" he asked, nearly holding his breath in fear.

"Clark, what if…what if it doesn't work out? I mean, what if we give this a shot, and it turns out to be a big disaster?"

These were the questions that she'd needed him to answer that long week after their date, when she'd chased him around the Planet trying to talk to him. His constant elusiveness had nearly convinced her that her prediction of doom was most likely accurate. That's when she'd accepted Dan's invitation to dinner.

Clark tried to find an answer that would alleviate her concern, but he quickly realized that there was nothing he could say. He himself held the same fears. The difference was, he'd long ago decided that he'd rather risk the hurt than miss out on something so amazing it defied his ability to grasp it.

"I can't offer you any guarantees, but if it makes you feel any better, I feel pretty good about things working out," he offered, trying to transfer some of his own hopefulness to her.

"You could really hurt me, you know?" Lois choked back a small sob, horrified to find herself so close to tears. "If it didn't…if we didn't work out, I'd be losing so much more than a boyfriend or lover. I'd be losing…you. My partner. My best friend."

"You think that I would hurt you?" he gasped, horrified by the thought. Not that he might hurt her, but that she feared it so much that she would hold herself from him. Hurting Lois was the last thing he would ever do, and if it took him all night…all of his life…he would convince her that she could trust him to keep her heart safe. "I would never hurt you, Lois."

She smiled, reassuring but sad all the same. "No, never intentionally. But maybe you would, not on purpose. And I don't know if I can handle that."

Clark resisted the urge to wrap his arms around her and pull her head down on his shoulder. If he did, he had a strong suspicion that she would break down completely. He wouldn't put her in that position. She needed to hold onto what control she had. It was the crux of their problem, and he wasn't about to demonstrate why her fears were accurate.

"What about Dan?" he asked softly, after a long, silent moment. "You're not afraid that he might hurt you?"

Lois thought on that for a minute. She took a deep breath before answering, determined that she wouldn't come so close to crying again. "Dan's different. He couldn't hurt me."

He paused, confused by her choice of words. "Couldn't or wouldn't?"

"Couldn't." As the word left her mouth, she paused, thinking on the difference between the two. It wasn't that Dan wouldn't hurt her. It was that he couldn't hurt her. Dan couldn't hurt her. But Clark could. And it was too late to change that fact.

"Then I guess you have a decision to make," he said quietly.

"You said that once before."

"Yeah, but this time I mean it," He reached out and brushed a stray lock of her hair away from her face, tucking it behind her ear. "Lois, I would wait for you forever. But I can't stand around and watch you with someone else. It's just too hard."

She frowned. "Are you saying that if I don't break it off with Dan, you'll, what…end our…" She struggled to find the word to describe the new status of their relationship, finally deciding to downgrade it if only to make things easier on her confused heart. "…friendship?"

"It's not a threat, Lois," Clark answered simply. "It's self preservation."

It was an ultimatum, but he couldn't apologize for it. Instead, he tried to make her understand the agony he'd been through the past eight weeks. "Can you honestly tell me that it didn't bother you to believe that I was sleeping with Mayson?"

"It bothered me," she conceded, then quickly qualified her admission. "A little." She flushed. "OK, a lot. It bothered me a lot."

"So you can understand why I can't watch you and Scardino anymore. It bothers me. A lot more than a lot. To think of you and him like this." He gestured to their undressed state, indicating what they had shared already. "I can't stand it. It makes me crazy inside."

She nodded slowly, understanding completely. She'd seen him kiss Mayson, and even now that she knew he had none of the feelings for her that he held for Lois, the pain flared fresh and hot when she remembered the image. If she thought that he was touching Mayson the way that he'd touched her, kissed her and…Lois felt sure that she'd go crazy, too.

"I care about you." Clark stopped. They'd come too far to hold back now. It was all or nothing. "No, that's not true. I love you. And no matter who I go out with, that's not going to change. It's too late. So I'm not going to try to fool myself anymore. You have to decide if you want to keep fooling yourself."

Clark stood and went to the fireplace, giving her time to mull over his words. While he added logs to the fire, she studied his form, so familiar but now so new and exciting at the same time. Every contour and hard edge was defined, rippling with his movements. She was reminded of a trip to the zoo as a child, watching the tigers walk about their enclosures, their lean muscle and sinew an amazing display of strength and grace. The memory of the steely warmth beneath her fingers sent sparks shooting from her stomach, a sensation like that of jettisoning down the first drop of a roller coaster.

"Why are you so sure that I'm fooling myself?" she asked softly, marveling in her reaction to something as simple as staring at Clark while he moved about so gracefully.

He turned to look over his shoulder at her. "Because you're still here."

At her confused look, he stood and turned around. "Lois, you're a resourceful woman. More than resourceful. If you really wanted to make it work with Dan, you would have left this place as soon as he told you that he wasn't coming. Car or no, you would have been out of here."

Clark laughed at the next thought. It was an irony but so true. "Hell, you would have hollered for Superman to give you a lift. In fact, if you want, I can make a call or two and track him down for you. Have you back in Metropolis in ten minutes."

He crouched down in front of her. "Is that what you want?" he asked softly, the vulnerability in his eyes pulling at her heart.

Lois didn't answer. Was it what she wanted? Was Clark right? Had she been fooling herself, trying to convince herself that any guy would make a great boyfriend when, really, she only wanted one man? This man?

"I tell you what. I'll go get another shirt while you think it over. Let me know what you decide." He stood and looked down at her with a warm smile. He'd been honest with her, and more importantly, with himself. That was the best he could do. It was the only way he knew how to fight. "Either way, it's up to you now."

He disappeared into his bedroom, leaving her alone. Lois leaned forward, placing her folded arms on her knees and resting her chin on them as she stared into the fire. Clark's shirt enveloped her completely, wrapping her in the lingering scent that was clean and masculine and uniquely Clark. She breathed deeply, trying to absorb the essence into her own skin.

For a woman who had always known what she wanted, she was proving to be pretty wishy washy. Or maybe she had known all along what she wanted but just didn't have the courage to admit it.

For eight weeks, her head had been trying to out-think her heart, trying to convince it that Dan Scardino was the right man for her. She'd relied on check lists and empirical data as justifications for dating him. But her body and her heart had known the truth all along. As she'd admitted to Clark, she hadn't slept with Dan because she didn't love him. More importantly, she now admitted to herself, she would never love Dan.

That was why Dan couldn't hurt her. Not wouldn't, but couldn't. With him, her heart was insulated, protected from pain because she had found someone who never had a chance of touching it.

And while her mind had been trying to convince her that she could someday love Dan, her heart had been waging a defensive war against it, fighting her on every front until it forced her into this last showdown. As body and heart screamed in her ear, forcing her to face directly the truths they had been trying desperately to tell her, she realized that it was too late to protect herself from being hurt. She was already far too exposed to retreat, and the only way to end up the victor would be to surrender gracefully.

With Dan, it was a matter of mind over heart. With Clark, it was a matter of heart over mind. And with a dawning clarity, she could see which of those two parts of her she could trust more. Taking a chance with Clark was fraught with peril. He could destroy her. If she stuck with Dan, she'd be safe.

With a sigh, she stood and walked to the small desk where the telephone sat, the light still blinking with Dan's original message. She picked up the receiver and punched in the familiar numbers, growing more sure of herself with each motion. As the phone rang, she hugged Clark's shirt tighter around her.

"Dan? No…that's OK. Really…I understand. No, I'm not home. I'm still at the cabin. I decided to hang around for a while. Listen, Dan, we need to talk." Lois glanced at the bedroom door. Clark had left it open for her. "No, it can't wait until I get back…"


Clark stared at the white ceiling, his hands clasped behind his head. An icy breeze flowed through the window, but he remained immune to its chilling effects despite the fact that he hadn't replaced the shirt he'd donated to Lois. He'd opened it a few inches, hoping that the cold air would aid him in his efforts to cool down. If it was helping at all, which he doubted sincerely, it sure was taking a long time.

It was curious, he mused with a small smile. His body felt no pain associated with extremes of temperature. Nor did he suffer when the trials of superhero-dom inflicted various and sundry injuries and stresses on his body. It was as if his nervous system was devoid of pain receptors or his brain has such a high tolerance for such stimuli as to render it ineffective. Yet he had discovered at a fairly early age that pleasure was within his grasp. Indeed, the lightest touch from the right woman had brought forth sensations so exquisite that they bordered on pain, unbearable yet enough to make him nearly mad with the desires and needs they invoked.

From what he'd learned in college biology, pain and pleasure were intricately linked, sensations sharing common neuron paths and stoking similar areas in the brain. The opposite sides of a coin, like love and hate, the two existed together in an imperfect balance, one never far from the other. It was why tickling was both painful and pleasurable. And much like salt enhances the sweet, experiencing pain increased the sensation of pleasure, providing the contrast needed to heighten its happier mate.

How was it, then, that he had been blessed with the ability to enjoy one while avoiding the other? Perhaps it was payment for the burdens placed upon him with his other gifts. A consolation prize for being so different and suffering gracefully what that entailed. If so, he would take his prize and be happy with it. Very happy. In fact, he feared how his body might react if he had the ability to experience pain. The pleasure that Lois had wrought was bliss. He couldn't imagine the experience should it be super-charged in any way. He'd surely go mad.

Lois. He sighed. Leaving her had been hard. More than hard. But she needed space, and he wouldn't blow it all now by denying her some time to work things out for herself. It was why he'd stopped them from making love. When and if she ever came to him, it would be because she made a rational decision formed when her body was not possessed by the desire that led even stronger people astray.

He didn't allow himself to think of what he would do if she came to him and asked him to summon Superman. His offer had been a bluff, but Lois was notorious for calling him on them. Then again, if she decided she wanted to stay with Scardino, he would insist that one of them leave anyway.

When he'd offered to take Mayson home, he'd had no intentions of returning. After all, Dan was coming up to take Lois home, and throughout the night, Clark had come to see that he no longer needed to witness the final nail being placed in the coffin of his and Lois's potential relationship. He loved her, and her sleeping with another man wasn't going to change that. Knowing that she was going to do it would just cause more pain that he didn't need.

He'd hung around his apartment most of the day until he realized that he'd forgotten to leave Lois a note explaining why he and Mayson would not be appearing that night. He'd tried to call her on her cell phone but received no answer, and with growing frustration, he realized that he had no idea of the phone number for the cabin. Glancing at his watch and noting that it was going to get dark soon, he'd debated back and forth with himself, finally deciding that he'd never be able to sleep if he didn't check on her. After all, he'd basically stranded Lois at that cabin.

When he had arrived and noted no car parked in front of the cabin, Clark had muttered an expletive. Now he would have to go in to make sure that Dan had arrived. It was possible that the couple had stepped out for a bite to eat, but he had to know for sure.

For long minutes he'd stood in front of the cabin door, dressed as Superman. He could go in as the superhero, but how in the world would he ever explain how Superman just happened to be in the neighborhood and thought to stop in and say hello? At last, he'd spun into Clark, complete with ski jacket and lift ticket, figuring it was easier to come up with an excuse to leave than to find one explaining Superman's presence. It was a gamble that paid off, for even though they were now technically stranded, he'd finally had his long-overdue discussion with Lois, and they had definitely made some progress. Definitely!

Clark glanced around the room. He hadn't turned on the light, but the moon shone brightly enough to illuminate the furniture. It was a nice space, comfortably furnished with an easy chair in addition to the large bed where he currently reclined, propped up on several pillows. He started when he encountered a face staring at him, tensing reflexively until he realized that he was looking at a reflection of himself in a full sized mirror standing in the corner. Funny, he hadn't noticed that mirror there the previous night.

Of course, he'd been a little preoccupied the previous night. As he waited for Lois, Clark let his mind wander, going over the events yet again as he'd done all day. He wasn't sorry that things had ended up the way that they had. He was only sorry that someone had to get hurt along the way.

After Mayson had suggested that they take things to the bedroom where they were assured some privacy, he'd needed some long minutes to collect himself before following her. Drawing from deep inside of himself to a pool of steely determination that had gotten him through a lot of scary firsts, he'd left the warmth of the fire to journey to the bedroom. After all, he'd told himself, if he could fly, surely he could handle this.

He shut the door silently, his eyes growing accustomed to the dim light. A shaft of moonlight spilled through the window landing in a bright square on the floor. He didn't hear Mayson and guessed she was in the adjoining bathroom. A cloud passed over the moon, dulling the puddle to a soft gray glow, and he stepped forward blindly, knowing that the bed lie somewhere straight ahead.

As he neared the center of the room, the cloud moved away, and the light source was replenished. He caught a movement, and Mayson stepped into the pool of silver light. It was if she had cued the cloud, directing it to provide her with a grand entrance.

She was dressed in a long, white negligee. The pale shine of the moon colored her skin a pure alabaster, and with her blond hair, she looked like a statue carved in pristine marble. He took in the length of her, from the tips of her toes peeking out from the satiny skirt to the thin straps holding her gown in place while exposing her creamy shoulders and a good bit of her decollete as well. She looked beautiful.

"I was starting to wonder if you were coming," she commented softly as she moved toward him, out of the bright light and into the dark shadows where he hid.

"Yeah, I just needed to take care of the fire." He offered his excuse, his voice strangely rough. "Sorry."

"It's OK. I'm just glad you're here." She'd reached his position and laid a hand on his chest, between the open edges of his shirt on the smooth, bare skin. He flinched slightly, surprised by the coolness of her hand.

At his reaction, her eyebrows lowered slightly, a small frown creasing her brow. "You are here, aren't you, Clark?"

He smiled and placed his hand over hers, trying to reassure her. "Sure. I'm sorry."

Appeased, she smiled widely. "You don't have to say that."

"Sorry," he muttered, then shrugged sheepishly. He just couldn't help it.

Pulling her hand out from under his, Mayson reached up with her other hand and pushed the edges of his shirt apart. While she maneuvered the garment down his arms, she placed several small kisses in the center of his chest. He watched her bent head, strangely detached. The sensation of her warm mouth on his skin was pleasant, but still he felt as if he were watching something that was happening to someone else, and his reaction was merely what he would have expected it should be in that particular situation.

Dropping his now-free shirt from one hand, she stood on her tiptoes, kissing his lips softly. He responded with a gentle pressure, letting her move against him as she wished. Pulling back, she gave him a lazy smile. She slid her hand down the length of his arm, taking her time as she appreciated the contours of his biceps and triceps. Finally reaching his hand, she grasped it gently and pulled, walking backwards as she guided them to the bed.

When they reached it, she turned to face him and grasped his free hand with hers. Keeping her hazel eyes locked on his, she sat back on the edge of the bed, pulling him forward with the momentum of her descent so that he leaned near her face. It was only natural that he should kiss her, the position of their lips so close that to do otherwise would have been absurd. He leaned in to do so, pleased when she sighed lightly against his lips. So far, so good.

As the kiss continued, Clark wondered what he should do with his hands. She had released them to grasp his face in her hands, and they now hung uselessly at his side. Finally deciding that he would most likely need to use them if this was to reach its natural conclusion, he placed them on her shoulders, lightly rubbing the bare skin.

That decision proved to be a mistake, however, for with his massage he knocked the thin straps of her negligee, dislodging them from their precarious perch to slide over the rounded ends of her shoulders and down onto her arms. That resulted in the pointed slips of satin that covered her to slump slightly, giving him a view of a good bit of Mayson that he hadn't seen before.

Clark blushed furiously, thankful for the dark that hid his reddening face. "I'm sorry," he mumbled, trying not to glance downward.

Mayson laughed softly. "Clark, it's OK. I was hoping you'd figure out how this works."

He laughed awkwardly, the sound silenced when she reached around his neck and pulled him in for another kiss. When her lips parted and he felt the tip of her tongue stroke against his lips, he opened for her immediately. The action elicited a groan from her and she laid back, pulling him down with her. The new position gave him something to do with his hands, supporting his weight as he leaned over her. One knee lifted awkwardly, glancing off the edge of the bed as he sought a place to rest it. Finally deciding that it belonged between her knees, he left it there tentatively.

Lifting slightly, she slid herself upward on the bed to rest her head on the pillows. He followed, keeping the same distance between them as if their bodies were two parallel lines never destined to join together. When she seemed comfortable, he leaned down, his hands planted on either side of her making the gesture feel somewhat like a push-up performed in high school gym class.

They kissed for several long minutes, and Clark waited for something to stir. Everything felt nice. Very nice. But none of it seemed to lead anywhere, and he started to get distracted. She'd been rubbing her hands up and down his back, dipping a bit lower with each pass until her fingers brushed against the top of his jeans. At this rate, she would be traveling over his backside fairly quickly, and he imagined he'd better be ready for such an eventuality.

At least Mayson seemed to be enjoying herself, he noted with some satisfaction. He started to think that maybe if he concentrated on giving her pleasure, he would find his own by knowing that he had that power. With that in mind, he lifted a hand and started to rub her upper arm gently, working up the courage to venture near the swell of flesh still hidden by the white triangle of satin. Mayson moaned, and he patted himself on the figurative back.

Thinking that perhaps she might enjoy it if he kissed her neck, he turned his attention there. With small butterfly kisses, he started near her ear lobe and worked his way down. The fragrance that he'd come to associate with Mayson, a slightly sweet spicy smell, seemed concentrated in this spot, and he felt a tickle in his nose as he inhaled an especially strong whiff. He remembered that women often put perfume behind their ears and suspected that maybe she'd recently refreshed her supply. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the smell. It was just that it was a bit distracting.

More determined, he moved back to her lips, but he felt the gentle pressure of her hand and pulled back immediately. Mayson scooted herself toward the headboard, struggling to sit up, and he removed the rest of his weight from her instantly. Swinging his legs downward, he sat on the edge of the bed and looked at her, wondering at her sudden change of heart.

"OK. Listen, Clark. I hate to bring this up because I imagine that in this situation, it could cause more problems. But it really seems that you're kind of…hesitant…or something. I mean, out there on the sofa, you seemed really into this. But now…Is there a problem? I mean, are you having problems with…"

"No!" he denied vehemently, mortified that she sensed his awkward problem. "No. I mean, I don't think so."

She raked a hand through her hair, sending waves of blond away from her face. "Well, is it me? Am I doing something wrong?"

He hurried to reassure her. "No. You're doing everything right. Really right, Mayson."

"I don't understand, then." Mayson leaned against the headboard, placing her hands in her lap as she waited for his explanation.

He'd never before considered using it as a get-out-of-jail- free card, but Clark decided that desperate times called for desperate measures. He sighed loudly, ready to confess one of his secrets in an attempt to buy himself some latitude. "I guess I should have mentioned this before but, I'm not exactly the most…experienced guy around."

"Experienced?" she echoed, her eyebrows raised in confusion.

"I haven't actually…well, this is the first time…" he stammered, suddenly wondering what had possessed him to tell her this.

She gaped at him, her eyes becoming very large and round. "You mean you've never done…this?" She gestured at herself and then at him, sans shirt.

"Nope. Gotten kinda close a couple of times. But never…this." He repeated her motions, indicating how far they'd come.

With a smack, her hand fell back heavily onto her lap. She looked away from him. "Oh, geez. Wow," she said, making him feel even more like a freak. "Well, no wonder you're…hesitant."

"It's kind of embarrassing."

Her head snapped back to look at him, and her eyes softened a bit, becoming less astonished. "Oh, don't be embarrassed!" she rushed to assure him. "I think it's kind of sweet. I mean, these days, it seems like every guy you meet only has one thing on his mind. It's great to meet a guy who's actually waited."

"Yeah, well. It's not exactly something I announce in the locker room."

Mayson stared at him, as if he were some rare specimen that should be placed under a glass bell jar. He shifted uncomfortably, convinced that if this was the death knoll of any romantic intentions for the night, he didn't know what it would take.

"So, if it isn't too personal…" she asked with a note of curiosity.

"Mayson, I just told you I'm a virgin. I think we've gotten past 'too personal'."

She smiled sheepishly "Oh, yeah. OK. Well, you've waited and all. Why? I mean, what are…or were…you waiting for?"

Clark thought a moment, deciding between the real reason and the reason that she'd understand. It was a pretty clear choice. "I don't know. The right woman, I guess."

"I see. And since I'm here now, and we're…" she gestured at them in what had now become the code sign for sleeping together, "does that mean that I'm the right woman?"

Oh, this one was so much tougher than why he'd remained a virgin. And once again, he wondered what demon had possessed his mind and convinced him that bringing this topic up could be anything at all other than tragic. Must have been the same guy who got him to agree to coming up to the cabin in the first place!

Clark sighed, trying to think his way out of answering a question that he himself could not figure out. Was Mayson the right woman? Probably not. But who was to say there was only one right woman for him? Could she be a right woman? He was banking on it. It was the only reason he was in that room at all.

Slowly nodding his head, he picked up a hand from her lap, giving it a tight squeeze. "I think so."

"This is kind of a lot of pressure. I mean, being your first time. I hope I don't disappoint you. I've had some experience, but not that much…"

"Mayson, stop worrying. Really, it's no big deal." As if to prove his point, he leaned over and kissed her.

She responded eagerly, but he felt as if the balance of control had shifted. Whereas before, she had been leading him, now she seemed to be looking to him to take the next step. And the next. Clark started to panic. He'd been relying on Mayson's momentum to carry him through, and he really didn't know if he would be able to propel this…adventure forward by himself. He only had his learner's permit, for heaven's sake. And now she was expecting him to drive an eighteen-wheel semi.

"Clark, I love you," she whispered when he pulled back to give her a chance to breathe.

He felt his heart sinking. He didn't want her to say it. He didn't want her to feel it. "You don't have to say that, you know."

"But I mean it. I've known it for a while. And when you invited me up here, I was kind of hoping that you might feel the same way."

The near pleading tone in her voice ripped through him, sending waves of guilt that made him slightly nauseous. He would never lie to a woman about something so important. He would never lie on principle, but along the spectrum of lies, he viewed this as one on the most vile end.

And he would never lie to himself about it either. He didn't love Mayson.

"I do care about you. A lot," he whispered, kissing her to stifle any protest she might offer in response to his less- than-adequate reply.

At first she was slightly stiff, unyielding. But in a few moments, her hands lifted to wrap around his neck. He knew then that it didn't matter to her if he loved her or not. She would take what he would give her and be happy with it.

It wasn't any use. He just couldn't do it. He didn't love Mayson. He wasn't going to love her. He loved Lois. And having *a* right woman wasn't enough for him. It had to be *the* right one.

Reaching up, he gently grasped her forearms and unwound them from his neck. He pulled back, giving her a sad smile in response to the question in her eyes.

"I'm not the right woman, am I?" she said, as if reading his thoughts.

Clark turned to sit on the edge of the bed, putting distance between them. "Mayson, it's really complicated. I really care about you. And I really want this to work. But…no," he choked a bit, then cleared his throat, shoring up his courage. He'd made this mess and he had to face up to it. "No, you're not."

"Is there a right woman?"

"No. Yes." He shook his head, trying to explain the situation as gently as he could. "I mean, no, I'm not dating anyone else."

"But there is someone else?"

She was right. It didn't matter if they were dating or not. There was someone else where it counted most. In his heart. "Yes."

Crawling on her hands and knees, she climbed off the bed. Reaching for the lamp on the bedside table, she clicked it on with a sharp snap, and the light that flooded across the room nearly blinded him.

"Well. I guess that explains a lot. Why you were always holding back. Why you never wanted to do…this." Her gesture at herself was a jerk.

Blinking to clear the spots dancing in front of his eyes, he started on his litany of apologies. "I'm sorry. I never wanted to hurt you. I thought I could forget about…well, I thought we might have something great. And we did, I think. I mean, you are a wonderful woman. Smart. Gorgeous. Really great. And any man would be lucky to have you…"

She placed her hands on her hips in a move very reminiscent of Lois, fire flashing across her pale eyes. "You know, do they teach you that stuff in high school? Platitudes to use when you break up with your girlfriend? Is it a required class or just an extracurricular thing?"

In his whole life, he'd never imagined that the emotion he'd be feeling when confronted with a curvaceous blond wearing nothing but a negligee would be contrition. But she was right. Everything he said sounded stupid and condescending. "Mayson, I'm not trying to placate you. I really mean what I said."

"Well, thank you, Clark. I feel so much better now." She crossed her arms tightly across her chest, looking at the floor by his feet. "Listen, I really think I should leave. I mean, I know it's, what, two a.m. but I don't think I could face Lois and her smirk tomorrow morning."

He jumped off the bed, nodding emphatically. "Sure. Of course. I'll drive you home." He'd have offered to fly her home if he thought she'd endure Superman for the brief trip, but given the current circumstances, he didn't bother.

"What I want to know is why you invited me up here in the first place? I mean, couldn't you have dumped me back in Metropolis? It would have saved us a really long drive."

Clark winced at the anger in her voice, knowing that he deserved it but hating it all the same. In his life the only women who'd ever been really mad at him had been his mother, when he used her favorite guest bath towels to dry off their dog who'd been recently skunked, and Lois, who was more often mad than not. Having Mayson's fury directed at him, no matter how well earned, made him feel like he was three inches tall.

"I never planned on dumping you. When I asked you to come up, I planned on this," he made the gesture, a move that seemed somewhat tasteless now. "Just like you did."

"I see. There's someone else, but you figured that I'd do fine as a stand-in. Was she busy this weekend?" Mayson bit derisively.

"I never thought of you as a stand-in. Like I said, I really care for you, Mayson. And I thought that it was enough," he finished lamely, realizing how bad it sounded even as he said the words.

"Enough to sleep with me? You don't love me but you like me enough to sleep with me. Kind of along the lines of 'she was really ugly so I put a bag over her head and it worked out fine'." Mayson had started to pace, and Clark wondered if she would actually go so far as to throw something at him. Lois would, but Mayson had always proven to be a bit more level headed. "Clark, maybe you'd better stick with platitudes because you're really blowing this big time."

He wanted to sit down, and he glance behind him at the bed. Deciding that it wouldn't be the best choice, he crossed the room to the arm chair and perched on the edge of it. He needed to find a way to explain so that she'd understand. She deserved that. And maybe in explaining it to her, it would gel in his brain into a form that he could actually grasp and keep hold of.

"I thought that if I cared for someone enough…cared for you enough…" he specified when she stopped pacing to glare at him, "it wouldn't matter if I didn't…love you. And I thought maybe if I took the final step, it would bring us closer together. Then maybe I would…love you."

She seemed somewhat mollified by his admission, abandoning her trek across the floor to look at him steadily, like a teacher with a delinquent pupil. "But now you know that it doesn't work like that. You can't fake love, Clark. You either feel it or you don't."

"And I guess I have to feel it to do this." He lifted a hand, then dropped it when she gave him an exasperated stare.

"Most guys don't need to feel love to sleep with someone, but I guess you're the exception. And as pissed as I am right now, I have to respect that. A lot." Mayson gave him a small smile, making him feel a little bit better. "In fact, it's part of what really attracts me to you. That you won't say anything just to get laid."

"I'm just sorry that I hurt you, figuring all of this stuff out."

"Believe me, I would have been hurt a lot worse if we'd gone through with this and then you dumped me. Now I'm only marginally humiliated," she muttered, glancing around the floor of the room. "Would you please turn around."

Clark looked at her, confused, and she gestured at the clothes laying in a soft pile on the floor. He blushed, realizing that she wanted to change, and turned away quickly. He walked to his own shirt, scooping it off the floor and shrugging into it slowly. As he buttoned it up, he wondered if he should leave the room. He was about to do just that when she spoke.

"Just tell me one thing," she asked from behind him. "If it weren't for this other woman, do you think, I mean, do you think you might have…?"

He knew the answer immediately, but in deference to her feelings, he pretended to mull over her question for a few minutes. Finally, he shook his head, glancing over his shoulder carefully. "I don't think so. There are things about me that you don't know. Things that I don't think you'd ever be able to accept."

"What, are you a criminal or something?" she snorted.

"No, of course not." Assured that she was decently covered, he turned back to face her, feeling that she deserved to know the truth. She'd donned her jeans and was working on her shirt. He noticed the satin negligee pooled on the floor and winced, guilt shooting through him. "It's just, when I'm with you, I don't feel that I can completely open up. Tell you everything about myself and the way I really feel about certain things. Like I have to hide stuff because you wouldn't understand."

"You don't trust me?" she asked, stopping her efforts to get dressed to stare at him.

"Mayson, honestly, I don't think there's anyone I completely trust," he admitted, telling her something that he hadn't told anyone except his parents. Not even Lois.

She looked at him for a long moment, and he thought he detected pity in her hazel eyes. "I feel sorry for you, Clark. That makes for a lonely life, if you can't trust anyone."

"Yeah. I know," he agreed sadly. She didn't know the half of it. "Listen, I know you really want to get back. And I promise I'll drive you. But it's starting to snow, and I'm kind of worried about the roads. If we leave now and have any problems…well, it is the middle of the night. Would you mind if we waited until it's light?"

She glanced at the window as if she needed visual confirmation to his claim. When she saw the flakes hitting the panes, she sighed and her shoulders dropped slightly. "No. I suppose it's been a horrible enough experience without the extra bonus of getting stuck in a snowdrift in the middle of nowhere."

"I'll sleep on the couch," he offered quickly.

"Yeah. I'm thinking that's a pretty sure bet."

He turned before he opened the door. "Mayson. Really. I am sorry. For everything."

She looked up from where she was working to button her blouse to give him a sad smile. "I know."

They'd left as the sun was breaking over the tree line, and other than occasional observations about the condition of the road, they remained pretty silent for the two hour duration of the journey. They'd already said all that needed to be said. He'd dropped her at her apartment, giving her one last apologetic smile before she had turned and bolted up the steps. Long after the door had shut behind her, he had sat in the Cherokee, staring ahead at his hands grasping the steering wheel tightly. And it was an odd mixture of guilt, regret and relief that filled him when he took off back for the cabin, flying high above the clouds.


Lois leaned against the door frame, watching him silently.

"Hey," he called softly, brought back to the present when she cleared her throat slightly.


He sat up, drawing his knees upward and resting his arms on them casually, doing his best to affect a non-threatening pose. It was kind of hard to pull off considering he still hadn't put on another shirt and sat bare-chested like he was ready and waiting. "I thought I heard someone talking."

"Yeah, I was on the phone."

"Oh." He tried not to look anywhere but at her face. He'd noticed how good she looked in his shirt, her bare legs long and silky below the plaid flannel, and it was better for both of them if he just avoided that particular view.

"I called Dan," she explained.

"Hmmm." After years of discipline, it had been fairly easy to resist the urge to eavesdrop, so the fact that he had guessed who she called was a fair win.

"I told him I was going to stay up here until tomorrow."

Clark released his breath, not even aware that he'd been holding it. He wouldn't need to be calling Superman. At least not for a little while. "Did you tell him that Mayson went home?"

Lois crossed her arms in front of her, frowning slightly. "No. I didn't figure it was any of his business."

Shaking his head, Clark slid to the edge of the bed and stood up. "Lois, he should know that we're up here together, alone. It's not fair to…"

She took a step forward, holding up a hand to stop him. "I've made my choice."

"You have?" he asked, forcing himself to sound completely neutral. Really all he wanted to do was grab her and kiss her until she knew that he was the only one she should be with.

"Yep. It was pretty easy, actually. I just started thinking through this whole thing logically." Lois started to make a tour of the room, taking in the bed and the chair, running her finger along the top of the long dresser, all while she explained her logic. "I didn't sleep with Dan because I don't love him. I mean, I just never wanted to that bad, and when I finally figured out why, it all made sense. And with you, well, I mean, you were there!" She nodded her head in the direction of the living room, indicating their interlude in front of the fireplace. "It's pretty obvious how bad I…wanted to. With you. So I figure, since I seem to want to sleep with you so badly, it must mean something."

He watched her walk around the room, trying to understand what she was saying in such a convoluted, roundabout way. "I see. If not wanting to sleep with Dan means you don't love him, then wanting to sleep with me means you…"

"Well, yeah," she said, satisfied with his summary.

He chuckled. It was such a Lois way of doing things. "I wonder if Hallmark would be interested in putting that on a greeting card."

"Clark!" She stopped to glare at him.

"Lois, I think I know what you're trying to say. And as much as I admire your deductive reasoning skills -" he skimmed her appreciatively, giving her a devilish grin. "- and as much as I would love for you to give me my shirt back right now, I don't think that your logic is sound. Just because you want to sleep with someone doesn't mean that you love them. It means that you're physically attracted to them. And normally, that would be enough. Really, you don't know how much I want that to be enough. But it isn't. I need —"

During his rant, she'd moved to stand directly in front of him. Now, she placed a finger on his lips, silencing him. "Clark, I love you."

He grasped her hand, resisting the urge to place her finger in his mouth and suck on it. Instead, he lowered it, but he didn't let it go. "Based on what you just said, you don't love me. You want me. I can't believe I'm saying this!" he muttered, disbelieving that he'd ever have this kind of conversation with this woman.

"No, I love you," she insisted.

"It's lust, Lois. Good old fashioned lust. We're in a remote cabin, half naked. It's lust."

"I know what I feel," she retorted, her voice growing louder. "It's love. Yeah, there's a whole lot of lust in there, too. But I'm pretty sure it's love."

His eyes narrowed as he eyed her skeptically. "More love than lust?"

"Well, if we never made love, which I hope is just a huge hypothetical to make a point here -" She trailed her finger down his chest, sending a shiver straight down his spine. "- I would still love you. So I guess it is more love than lust."

"Are you sure?" he whispered, his voice slightly choked both from the weight of what she was telling him and the sudden surge of heat that had traveled through his body faster than…well, faster than him.

"It took me eight weeks of fighting it, a trip to this cabin, and watching you make out with another woman," she teased with a glimmer in her eye that he hadn't seen there in over two months. "But yeah, I'm sure."

He grinned at her, taking her other hand to hold it tightly against his chest. The mischievous glint left her eyes to be replaced by a seriousness that sent his heart racing.

"Seriously, Clark. I was fooling myself, just like you said. I knew it when I realized that Dan couldn't hurt me, but you could. Now don't say it because I already know." She stopped him as he opened his mouth to protest. "You would never hurt me intentionally. That's not what I'm talking about. I don't love Dan, so nothing he could do would ever cause me a lot of pain. But you…well, I'm afraid that whether I like it or not, you've got the power. I can argue against it all I want but it doesn't change the fact. And after tonight, I don't really even remember why I would want to fight it. Seems like there's an awful lot of good stuff between us, and I'd rather focus on that than be afraid of what bad stuff might happen."

"Lois - " he started, ready to tell her about all of the good stuff he was going to make happen.

She kept going, the seriousness pushed aside to reveal a lighthearted Lois that made him catch his breath. "So I guess you're stuck with me 'cause I just told Dan that I didn't think we should see each other anymore."

"Lois - " he choked.

"And I have absolutely no idea how we're going to get back to Metropolis tomorrow. You may have to call Superman even though I really hate to bug him with something so stupid —"

Laughing out loud, he thought about just kissing her to make her stop. "Lois, would you just shut up."

"I love you, Clark," she whispered, her eyes shining brightly.

"Oh, Lois. God, I love you," he groaned as he pulled her against him, leaning down to capture her sigh.

When he pulled back, he grinned at the expression of wonder on her face. Her eyes were closed, her lips parted slightly. She looked please, and when she licked her lips as if savoring the taste of him, he bent down, ready to sweep her on to the bed.

Sensing what he was about to do, she opened her eyes and laid a hand on his shoulder, stopping him. "So, I know that nothing really happened in here, but still, it is where you and Mayson were last night. And the fire was kind of nice, so maybe we could move this back into the other room."

He kissed her lightly, then a little more intensely. "What did you have in mind?" he murmured against her lips, pulling the lower one inside his mouth to nibble on it gently.

Against his chest and stomach, he could feel Lois's hands making methodical movements, like the fluttering of a butterfly traveling down his skin. He paused, curious. As he pulled back to see what she was doing, she twisted nimbly, escaping the circle of his arms. He caught the flash of creamy back as she ran from the room, the billowing plaid flannel falling like a parachute on to the floor.

"There's your shirt," she called out with what he could have sworn was a giggle.

Clark smiled right before he raced after her.