An Affair to Remember

By David <ckdavid85@gmail.com>

Rated: PG

Submitted: December 2005

Summary: When you have no idea who you are, no idea what your life is like. When you can't remember a thing and you're faced with the end of the world… sometimes it's easier to believe in a dream.

Now, the thank you list for this story is, as usual, far longer than it should be. Well, by some's standards anyway. <g> Some came in later than others and, because of my slow writing schedule, some weren't able to get back to me before I put parts out there, but I've found each and every one of my BRs invaluable, even when our opinions differed slightly. ;)

You've kept me on my toes and you've kept me in check. You've kept me going when I was ready to give up. Thank you doesn't seem to cover it, but thank you. Sara, Wendy, Yvonne, Saskia, Sorcha, Jackie… you've made writing this an absolute pleasure. :)

I'd also like to thank everyone on IRC who helped me brainstorm and listened to me ramble Julie, Mere, Rat… thank you. :)

To everyone who read and commented on the boards, you're absolutely wonderful. To those of you who nagged, and you know who you are… perhaps you deserve the biggest thank you of all. ;)

I want to send out a big thanks to Wendy for GEing, and an enormous thank you to Sara for making a trailer for the story (watch it, it's fantastic! http://www.lcficmbs.com/ubb/ultimatebb.php?ubb=get_topic;f=13;t=0 00402).

This story is dedicated to Sara. Happy birthday, Krafty. :)

And finally, a quick note about the timeline. It'll become obvious fairly early that this is set during All Shook Up. In my universe, ASU aired as the 12th episode, and hence Honeymoon in Metropolis happened before before ASU.

As always, all types of comments are welcome.

***

He shifted on the hard wooden chair, looked around the sparsely furnished room and quietly rattled off the names of the items.

"Chair… table… mirror…"

The swell of frustration caused the knot in his stomach to coil tighter and his hands to clench on the grimy tabletop. He *knew* what a chair was…

He knew so much, but at the same time… he didn't. He just didn't know. He couldn't remember the important things, and it frustrated him. He glared at the chair on the other side of the small table and ran an agitated hand through his hair.

Why didn't he know who he was?

He *should* know who he was. After all, that wasn't something you were supposed to forget. It wasn't like he'd misplaced his keys or forgotten to turn the oven off…

His eyes darted around the room, the oppressive grey walls looming over him. The chair scraped backwards as he stood quickly and strode over to the mirror on the opposite wall. Five full strides. Just like the time before, and the time before that. The walls weren't closing in on him. He wondered again if he might be claustrophobic…

He sucked in a deep breath. He was fine. Really.

He was just locked in a crumbling interrogation room at the Metropolis Police Department and he had no idea who he was.

Yeah, he was fine.

Or he would be, if not for the niggling feeling in the back of his head… he knew he had to be somewhere. Somewhere important. Doing something important. He just… he couldn't remember what that was or where he was supposed to be.

He closed his eyes and forced himself to concentrate. Where did he need to be? What did he need to do? But the effort was in vain. Every time he closed his eyes and tried to remember, all he saw was a vast darkness broken up by tiny splinters of light flashing in front of him, gone as fast as they appeared. Hurtling past him like bullets… Memories, just out of his reach. He knew if he could grab one, hold onto it… understand it… just one of the tiny specks…

He opened his eyes slowly and a quiet sigh escaped as he regarded the stranger in the mirror. The empty eyes that stared back haunted him.

"Who are you?" he mumbled at his reflection.

He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. He should be somewhere doing something, not stuck in an altogether too small room at the police department. Locked in like a criminal.

"Clark?"

The voice startled him. He spun around quickly and… froze. His breath caught in his throat and warmth… warmth he could remember on an elemental level, blossomed in his chest and spread through him. It wasn't just that she was the most beautiful creature he was sure he'd *ever* seen… it was the feeling of… rightness he got just from looking at her. From being in the same room as her.

He recognised the tingling feeling spreading through him.

He knew her.

He lo… he… Lois.

He *knew* her.

"Lois?"

Her face lit up, and his heart skipped when she smiled at him.

"You remember me?"

He felt a grin spread across his face as he nodded his head. He might not remember a lot of things… he might not remember who *he* was, but how could he forget *her*?

She was his wife.

***

Clark smiled and slipped his hand back into hers as they boarded the elevator. He felt her tense before she relaxed and shot him a worried look.

"You're going to be fine, Clark."

"Yeah…" Clark trailed off.

Every time he'd touched her she'd tense… he didn't understand. Surely they'd been very affectionate, he *loved* touching her… the warmth of her skin next to his. The way his heart raced… It couldn't be because he needed her, couldn't be because she was the only anchor he had. It *had* to be because she was nervous… he'd lost his memory, his identity. She was just nervous and worried about him…

They were happy. He was sure.

Memories, snapshots in time, had started to flitter back into his mind after he'd recognised her in the interrogation room… Precious moments of their lives together, unveiled behind his closed eyelids. Their first kiss. Their first dance. Their wedding. The first time they made love…

His eyes drifted towards her abdomen… their… the moment she'd told him about their baby. He could feel the smile spreading across his face. They were going to name him Jon, after… after…

He scowled. He couldn't remember.

Dr. McCorkle had said it'd take time, that he needed to be patient, but time was not a luxury he had. Lois had filled him in about the asteroid on the drive over… she'd filled him in about a lot on the drive over. At the time he'd let her flow of words wash over him, revelling in the feeling of familiarity her babble bred in him, but the enormity of their situation was starting to sink in.

He let his eyes settle on her still flat stomach… time wasn't something anybody had a lot of anymore.

The ding of the elevator pulled him out of his morose thoughts. He followed Lois submissively as she led him into the bustling newsroom. She'd sounded so sure earlier when she'd told him that Superman would save them… so certain. He had to trust that, to trust her. He had to trust that everything would work out and in the mean time… he had a life to rediscover.

The newsroom was pulsing with energy and he fought the urge to cover his ears or shield his eyes. His senses were working on overdrive, overloading him with lights and sounds and smells…

"Are you ok, Clark?" Lois asked, squeezing his hand. He imagined he could feel her heart beating between their clasped palms.

He opened his mouth, but the words were lodged in his throat.

"I…"

And then it was over; the moment had passed. The sounds returned to normal, the brightness turned down a notch, the smell of the coffee brewing on the other side of the room gone. Back to normal, only everything seemed… muted. Less than it was before.

"Clark?" She sounded worried.

"I'm fine, Lois," he reassured her. "I'm just… remembering what it feels like to be in here."

"It can be a little overwhelming," she said, offering him a small smile, dropping his hand and moving further into the newsroom.

The rush of sensation… he wasn't sure what it was. It felt like so much more than a memory… a panic attack, maybe. He'd certainly felt panicked… but it felt so real.

"Look familiar?" Lois asked, standing at a desk and holding up a name-plate emblazoned with the name of a man he couldn't remember how to be. Clark Kent. In black and gold lettering, smooth beneath the pad of his thumb. Substantial proof of the life he had, the life he had to get back to — not only for his benefit, but for the sake of the woman standing next to him.

"I'm sorry. No." He tried not to let his frustration show, but it was difficult… they had so little time left together… too little time to rebuild a life.

His eyes strayed to her stomach again. "How are you, Lois?" he asked softly.

She paused mid-stride, a small, confused frown puckering her features. "I'm fine, Clark."

"Are you sure?" he asked. He wanted to ask after the baby, but something held him back.

"Yeah, I'm sure." She smiled a real smile. "That's just like you, you know?"

"It is?" he asked, unable to help the smile brought on by the sight of hers.

"Yeah," she murmured, ducking her head. She cleared her throat, turning back towards the break area. "You always get a donut when you come in. You usually like these cake things."

The tension bled out of his shoulders. He might not know who he was, he might have lost his identity, he might die, trapped eternally in a state of confusion, but… he felt like the luckiest man alive. How many men got to fall in love with their wife twice? She was trying to be so strong, so solid… he felt the warmth spreading through him, soothing him. He loved her so much.

"This one's a little stale," she said, offering him the donut. "Are you hungry?"

"I can't really remember…" He trailed off. He wasn't hungry but he accepted the donut and tried to smile.

"Oh!" She exclaimed, as she scurried around to the other side of the desk. "You keep an extra pair in here."

He popped half the stale donut in his mouth and grimaced as she searched through the drawer. She handed him a pair of glasses he didn't need and he slipped them on. It felt so natural that he didn't question it. Simply handed back the pair the homeless man had given him and slid on the new set.

"Now look at me, Clark," she began, placing her hands on his arms. Initiating contact for the first time. "You really don't remember anything else?"

"I remember you, Lois. I remember us," he said, shaking his head. "And I guess… some random crumbs of nothing are starting to come back. But beyond that…"

Her brow crinkled. "You remember us?"

"Yeah… and we're a reporting team. Isn't that what you said?"

"Well, I'm more like the senior partner," she clarified.

He nodded his head. That made sense. He could tell already that she was very take-charge and in control.

"So you call the shots?"

"You could say that," Lois said, grinning at him.

"Ok… so what do I do?" he asked, eager to start. To get his life back together.

He watched her face change, her lips slide from a smile to a grimace.

"We're full partners, nobody works for anybody," she said, letting out an annoyed growl. "Although I do think in the immediate future you should follow my lead."

He hid his confusion with a nod of his head. Why would she lie to him about that? Unless… it was a private joke and he wasn't meant to take it literally. He'd probably upset her…

She squeezed his arm to grab his attention and an image flashed through his mind, gone as soon as it had developed. Too fast to grasp substance, but… The elevator. Her hand touching his shoulder and… bananas. Top banana.

"You like to be on top?" he asked, a smile spreading across his face.

He saw her face flush and an amused twinkle light her eyes. She opened her mouth to respond. "Don-"

"Clark, what's the fashion statement here?" The husky feminine voice sliced through the air.

Clark held his breath as he looked over and caught sight of a striking older woman with auburn hair, tanned skin and brown eyes. She held herself with an air of confidence and an almost predatory gleam lit her eyes.

He was waiting for the shock of recognition to hit him the way it did when he first entered the newsroom, but… nothing. Not a tremor of a memory. He only felt uncomfortable as she eyed him. He supposed he did look rather odd, standing in the middle of a sea of professionals wearing the rumpled clothes of a homeless man. Still… he shifted closer to Lois, resisting the urge to take her hand again.

"The statement is," Lois began, unfazed by the older woman, "Clark has amnesia. Clark, this is Cat Grant. She writes the gossip column for the paper. We write the *news*."

He clasped Cat's outstretched hand, biting down on his reaction to her name. He thought it was rather… fitting. Her high cheek bones and long thin eyebrows were very… feline.

"Is there a punch-line I'm missing?" The smile was still pasted on her face.

He shook his head ruefully. "No, it's true, Ms. Grant. I really can't remember much of anything."

"Would you excuse us?" she asked, and without waiting for a reply grabbed onto his arm and whisked him off. He really didn't want to leave Lois's side, but he allowed Cat to lead him away.

"Honey, it's me — Cat! How could you not remember what we meant to each other?"

Clark thought he could hear something under the pleading tone in her voice. His eyes sought out Lois, ambling over to her desk on the other side of the newsroom, far too far away. He had a sinking suspicion that he wouldn't like where the conversation was heading.

"I guess we work together, right?" he offered, hopefully.

"We do a lot more than that," she said, confirming his worst fears with her husky sigh.

Clark felt his heart sink. What kind of a man would cheat on his wife with a woman in a strappy pink dress?

He blinked and an image flickered behind his closed eyelids. He concentrated, trying to draw out the memory… he remembered… Cat's hand on his knee, moving up his thigh. A plate of grapes. Lois on the phone, her angry voice demanding where he was, and… drums.

Clark's eyes shot open. What kind of a life did he lead? If he would cheat on his wife, the woman he *loved*… he just… he couldn't have. He knew, deep inside, that he just wasn't that kind of person. The evidence was there, playing out behind closed eyes, but the thought left a sour taste in his mouth.

"We kept it a secret," she whispered. "You're so worried about what people think."

He shook his head in disbelief and she squeezed his upper arm, turning to look at Lois.

"Especially her."

His heart was breaking. He couldn't… he wouldn't… it *couldn't* be true.

Was it possible that he loved Cat? Enough to have an affair? He searched deep inside himself, but no matter how hard he looked he couldn't find it. He couldn't feel her imprint on his soul.

Not like Lois.

He loved his wife. He *knew* he loved his wife. Maybe they had problems… maybe… but they were happy. They had to be happy.

He *remembered* being happy.

He just… he wasn't… what kind of a man had he been?

Obviously Cat thought… and Lois hadn't mentioned anything, but… could that be why she wasn't wearing his ring?

"You don't even remember… us?" Cat's teary voice barely broke through the haze of his thoughts.

He took a step backwards, even as Cat started to sob dramatically. He knew he should probably offer some form of comfort, but… he couldn't. An adulterer. A liar. He realised with a sinking feeling that he didn't want to be that man. That wasn't something he *wanted* to remember.

Clark closed his eyes. Was that why Lois flinched every time he touched her?

Did she think he was an adulterer? Did she think he was having an affair? Was she trying to spare him the humiliation of being told their marriage was falling apart? He shook his head roughly. No. It was impossible…

He concentrated, trying to recapture the flashes of memory, to make sense of the madness, but once more all he could see behind his closed lids were the lights, shooting past him on their way to oblivion. He started to panic as a breathless sensation overtook him. He felt like he was suffocating. Suffocating in a field of shooting lights.

"Excuse us, folks," a gruff voice interrupted. "Clark, Perry White."

Clark snapped open his eyes, the darkness receding into the depths of his psyche and the newsroom refocusing around him. He forced himself to reach out and calmly shake the hand shoved in his direction. He noted absently that the stern-looking man before him was nothing like Lois's description had led him to expect.

"Sorry to hear about what happened, son." Mr. White paused awkwardly before introducing the young man standing next to him. "This is Jimmy Olsen."

Clark tried to smile at the boy, but the twist of his lips took more effort than he expected. He felt like he was watching the scene play out from a distance. A part of it, but… not. He didn't know how to react to these people. These strangers that knew him.

"Hi, Clark," Jimmy said, thrusting out his hand. "Actually, I always call you 'CK', CK."

He tossed the name around in his head as he shook the young man's hand. He didn't feel like a CK. But then… he didn't feel like a Clark either. A quick glance at the woman scurrying away reminded him… he might not want to.

He sensed Lois's familiar presence at his side and slipped his hand into hers. The feel of her small hand squeezing his caused the anxiety knotting his shoulders to bleed out. Her message was clear — no matter what he'd done, she was still there for him. He wanted to thank her, he wanted to pull her into his embrace and never let go, but he knew he couldn't.

"Now, how you feeling?" Mr. White asked, his eyes riveted to their clasped hands. "You feel up to doing a news conference?"

Clark looked at Lois, who was nodding her head encouragingly. He opened his mouth to assure Mr. White that he was, but no sound came out. He wanted to say yes, but he felt uncomfortable lying. He was still trying to wrap his head around everything, and he didn't think he could handle any more without the fragile shards crashing around him. His thoughts were swimming, his mind working on overload, and he was dangerously close to shutting down completely.

"I don't know," he admitted. "This is… there's just so much to take in."

He saw Mr. White's eyes flicker between Lois, himself, and their clasped hands.

"That's understandable, son," Mr. White said. "Why don't you take the afternoon off? Both of you."

***

The drive to the apartment had been tense. Though she might not have said anything, he could tell Lois was upset. He'd had a lot of time to think about Cat's allegation in the silence of the Jeep's cabin, and no matter which way his mind twisted it, he refused to believe it. Clark had tossed around the fragments of memory a hundred times, a thousand times, he'd tossed them around until the pieces started to meld together to create a whole scene. He'd been trying to find the clue he'd missed. The one that would tell him it wasn't true… the drums… the grapes… her hand… He'd felt… uncomfortable. Awkward. Embarrassed.

But not guilty.

He hadn't felt guilty, and he and Lois were happy. He loved her *so* much. He simply couldn't fathom sleeping with another woman. He just… he was… he couldn't be that kind of man.

"Clark? Come in, this is your place," Lois said, her voice drifting through the open door in front of him.

He hid a frown. 'Your place'. Not 'our place'. The apartment certainly didn't look like newlyweds lived there. But they lived busy lives. It *was* possible they hadn't moved into a place of their own yet. Or that she hadn't moved her stuff in.

"Does it look familiar?"

He let his gaze roam through the room, taking in the earthy colours, moving over the worn furniture… It was nice, but it didn't feel like home.

"Not yet," Clark said in response to her hopeful look.

She patted his arm affectionately and moved further into the room. "I'm just going to turn on LNN and try to catch the news conference. Why don't you have a look around?"

Clark nodded, even though her back was turned, and moved slowly down the stairs. He trailed his hand down the banister, ridiculously disappointed when the fixture on the end didn't fall off. He made his way further into the room, stopping at the bureau to let his fingers run over the leather of the football displayed proudly. He brought it to his nose, closed his eyes and inhaled deeply, hoping to capture a beam of light, but… nothing. The bullets continued to fly by.

With a frustrated sigh, he opened his eyes and let them wander over the photo frames, skipping over faces he didn't recognise… there were no pictures of them together. Not even their wedding photo.

"Damn it!" Lois exclaimed. "They aren't even looking for him!"

"Who?" Clark asked, startled.

"Superman!" she huffed. "He's our only hope and they're not even looking for him."

"Oh." Clark tried to temper the sudden burst of jealousy burning a hole in his stomach. He refused to think about how familiar it felt. "This Superman, he sounds like he means a lot to you."

"Superman means a lot to everybody, Clark."

Her words did little to reassure him. He wondered, briefly, if that was where she turned after he'd… but he quashed the thought violently. Because he hadn't, and she hadn't. They were happy.

"And as much as I'd like to sit here and twiddle my thumbs like Perry suggested, *someone* has got to start looking for him. He needs our help." She reached for her purse. "Will you be all right?"

"Is work all our lives are about?" He knew he shouldn't have raised his voice, but his frustration was starting to overshadow his common sense. Clark bit his lip against the emptiness tearing through him. He didn't know anything about himself beyond what he felt for the small woman before him, and the only thread of sanity tethering him to the world was about to leave so she could chase after a man in a bright blue suit.

"What do you mean?" she asked carefully, her eyes narrowing.

"I know you'd prefer to have been at the news conference. To be there for *him*…" He let his voice trail off, his eyes carefully avoiding her face. His heart was aching as he started to accept the evidence. He'd been a bastard of the worst kind, and his marriage… his life was falling apart because of it.

"Work is… a huge part of my life, Clark. Maybe… I've let it dictate too much of my time." He could hear the sadness in her voice. The poorly-disguised regret. "But I'm a reporter. It's too late to change that. It's who I am, and if this is the last great story to cover for the last edition of the Daily Planet… what else could I do? Where else *could* I be?"

Her words sent a painful stab through him, and his shoulders slumped as the resentment drained away.

He wasn't angry with her; he was angry with himself.

"How about here… with me?" he asked softly. It might be too late for him to fix the mistakes of his past. He might never understand why their life had turned out the way it had or what had driven him to make the choices he'd made, but if nothing else was clear to him, one simple truth held. He didn't want to live his life, however long he had left of it, without her in it.

He could see the war raging behind her eyes. She wanted to stay, but…

"Please, Lois," he begged. "I need you."

He could see her start to waver. "But Superma-"

Clark moved closer, squashed the strange feeling of relief when she didn't back away, and cupped her cheek with his palm. Familiar. It felt so familiar. The warmth of her cheek beneath his palm, her scent rising up around him… "I need you here. I *want* you here… please, Lois."

She didn't answer him. A small, confused frown crossed her face as she worried her bottom lip between her teeth. He drew his thumb across her cheekbone, and she looked up, meeting his eyes.

Her face softened and she let out a long breath. "I'll stay if you need me, Clark."

Clark smiled as he leaned down slowly, his eyes never leaving hers. He brushed his lips against hers gently, softly, barely a whisper of a touch. Their first kiss. Their thousandth kiss. He let it linger… the feel of her lips, the softness… the warmth was so familiar, so comforting, and yet so new and exciting. Intoxicating. He pulled back, and she followed him. Her hand wound into his hair, pulling him back to her, her lips fierce against his. He could taste her desperation, feel her need. Clark let the fire that was building in him take control, let his hands slip around the back of her head, let himself meet his wife's passion and let the world melt away.

***

Their cups of tea had long since gone cold, content as they were to lean further into the back of his couch and forget the rest of the world for a while.

His side was tingling where she rested against him, tiny sparks of sensation, of electricity, jumping between them. He revelled in the familiar sound of her voice, the heavy warmth of her head against his shoulder, the smooth skin on the back of the hand he was playing with… She'd tensed, at first, as he'd slipped his arm along the back of the couch, but once she'd started talking she'd drifted towards him, nestling comfortably against his still tingling side.

He'd remembered kissing her. In an explosion of light and colour and sound… he'd remembered. Her lips beneath his, the cool smoothness of the red silk sheets, the warm smell of… Lois… He'd remembered his urgency… dragging her to him as the wind whipped through their hair… her hand fisting in the hair on the back of his head… the whisper of the blue chiffon around his neck. The soft look in her eyes as he'd said… goodbye?

"I think you were surprised when I picked him…" The soft sound of her voice drew his attention back to the woman beside him. "You know, I still have that teddy bear… somewhere."

Her hesitation went unnoticed as he leaned back and let her flow of words wash over him. As she told him about his life… let him share in her memories of their time together. A corn festival. Of all things…

"I'm sure your parents hated me after that trip."

"My mother loves you," he blurted out, squeezing the hand in his lap.

He felt bereft of her warmth before he'd noticed she'd sat up. Realisation started to dawn as he took in the almost surprised look on her face.

"She does?"

He nodded his head silently and a grin slowly spread across his face. He closed his eyes, focusing on the flickering beam… he remembered… a cosy house that smelt of baking treats and a small, smiling woman, mouthing her praise for his wife. His mother. He remembered his mother. "She told me."

"You remember?" Lois asked, her excitement seeping through into her voice. "What else do you remember?"

"I remember… pie," he announced, his eyes twinkling.

"Pie?"

"Yep," he said, tugging her back to him. "The kitchen always smelt like apple pie."

"Of course you'd remember that." He could sense her grin as she settled back against him easily.

"Of course," he agreed.

"Your parents really are wonderful…" she murmured as she shifted against him, taking his hand in hers. "It's no wonder you turned out to be such a great guy."

She must have noticed the change in him. Must have noticed the way he tensed. He felt her slide away, her shoulder rubbing against his chest as she turned to face him and leaned back against the crook of his elbow. He felt her eyes watching him, but he didn't look up.

He ran his thumb across her knuckles and down, over the smooth skin of her fingers.

After a long moment of silence, she squeezed his hand gently. "Clark?"

"Am I, really?" he asked softly, his eyes still glued to their joined hands.

She didn't answer him and he looked up, finally meeting her confused gaze. Her free hand moved to the side of his face, her fingers caressing his slightly stubbled cheek. Her voice was soft. "Of course you are."

"Lois…" He paused, unsure how to continue. He closed his eyes and he was back in the field of lights. Suffocating.

"What is it?" Soft. Her voice was soft, caressing his senses like the hand that had moved up to thread through his hair.

"Why don't you wear your ring?" he asked, opening his eyes and dropping his gaze to watch his thumb continue its motion over the smooth, uninterrupted skin on her ring finger.

The hand in his hair stopped moving, and he looked up to meet her eyes.

"What are you talking about?"

He could see the confusion in her eyes being slowly replaced with suspicion as she pulled away from him.

Clark sucked in a deep breath. He was determined to see this through. She'd kissed him back. She'd *kissed* him. She must… want this to work too. She must want to work out what was between them as much as he did.

She had to understand how much he loved her… no matter what he might have done in the past. The way he felt about her… was all he had to offer the world. The only mark he had left to make.

There was no turning back now.

"Your wedding ring, Lois. Is it because of Cat?" He saw her mouth open and continued quickly. "Is it because of what… she said we'd done? Or is it… is it because of Superman?"

"What wedding ring?" She stiffened as a flame of colour burned her cheeks. "And what the hell does Superman have to do with anything?"

He frowned, uncertain. Was she trying to deny it? Did she not… did she not *want* him to remember? Or… had he misread the situation? Did she… oh, God… did she not know about Cat? And… what about the hole burning in his stomach when he thought of the caped hero… the suffocating emptiness that consumed him. The… *panic*.

"I know I lost mine some time before they found me in that ditch, but…" He trailed off when he saw something flicker across her face. A moment of longing… a shadow of regret… the light of dawning realisation… and then she was on her feet, pacing a hole in his floor.

"Clark… you and me… we're not…" She paused, swallowing. "Clark, we're *not* married."

He opened his mouth, ready to… *needing* to deny her words, but his breath caught in his throat…

Not married.

The echo of the quiet words was deafening. He stood up, shaking his head, even as his heart was shattering. "But I *remember*."

"You can't remember it," Lois replied. He could hear the almost sad note in her voice through the thundering in his ears. "Because it never happened."

"But I *remember*, Lois." His voice cracked on her name. "It's… it was the first thing I remembered. I remember the way you make me…"

He trailed off as he watched her eyes widen. He could see the wheels turning in her head, her thoughts playing out across her face. Her mouth opened, as if she were about to speak, but she closed it and shook her head. Her teeth found her lower lip as her gaze caught his. She looked… she was… and then she closed her eyes and exhaled slowly.

"What do you remember, Clark?" she asked, her voice soft as she moved closer to him. Her hand found his chest, supporting him as the world he'd been rebuilding started to crumble around him. "Describe it to me."

"I remember you… I remember us… our wedding." Clark sucked in a steadying breath. "You… you took my breath away when I saw you, standing at the other end of the aisle in a white dress. You were so beautiful, Lois. We were so happy… *I* was so happy. And… I… the baby. Our baby, Lois." His eyes stung as they dropped down to her flat stomach. "What about our baby?"

Clark looked up as she inhaled sharply. Silent tears were sliding down her cheeks… He'd made her cry. He dropped his eyes to the hand still covering his chest, unable to face her tears.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, pulling her into his arms. "Please, don't cry."

The pain was… unbearable, even as she returned his embrace. Even as her arms snaked around his waist, it was killing him. Not married. Not his wife. Everything he'd thought he knew… shattered memories… that weren't his.

He held her anyway, desperate for the pain to go away, but unable to help himself.

He loved her… he loved her so much. He could *feel* it. And… it was killing him.

Not married.

He'd give anything to wake up, in his bed, next to his wife. For the nightmare to end.

His arms tightened around her. He couldn't believe it. He *refused* to believe it. If it wasn't true… if it was a lie… then all of it… How could he trust anything he'd remembered?

The weightless feeling he'd gotten when he'd spotted Lois across the crowded room in that blue dress… the small, blonde-haired woman in the big old farm house… the way Lois had looked when he'd slipped her ring on her finger…

He closed his eyes as her hesitant whisper reached his ears. "Were you happy about the baby, Clark?"

He nodded his head. His son. Their son. The son… who'd never be born.

He didn't want to believe it.

"You were nervous," Clark began. He ignored the hole in his gut that the need to deny her words that was burning. "But we were so excited… a little boy with your eyes — a little person with your smile… Yeah, I was very happy."

She pulled back, moving out of the circle of his arms and he let them drop to his sides limply. The darkness swallowed him every time he closed his eyes, the pin pricks of light blurring as he soared pa… as he…

"We're not married?"

"No," she said softly.

"And you're not… we're not…" He paused, unable to continue past the lump in his throat. He swallowed roughly. "There's no baby?"

She shook her head, her eyes downcast.

Clark's limbs felt heavy, as if something were weighing him down. Hands reaching up through the blackness, grabbing onto him, and pulling him down.

He didn't want to believe it, but…

Why would she lie to him?

He slid his palm around her cheek and tilted her face upwards, hoping to see the truth in her eyes, but they were closed. She couldn't look at him. He'd lost her… she was standing right in front of him, but he'd lost her… apparently, he'd never had her.

She wasn't his — was never his.

His wife, the mother of his child, the love of his…

Clark shook his head roughly and turned away. That wasn't something… His love for her was like a physical ache in his chest… a wonderfully warm ache, pulsing through him. Overwhelming him. It… it was very *real*.

They might not have been married, but the emotion he felt for this woman was real.

The air rushed out of his lungs and his shoulders slumped as the memory of her voice echoed through his head.

'Don't fall for me, farm boy.'

They were never married.

'Don't fall for me.'

But he had.

The image of her standing before him in a flowing white dress was getting harder to hold onto. The details blurring until it was almost dream-like…

Her whispered words drew his attention but he didn't turn around. He couldn't face her. Not while he was still… mourning…

"No, we're not married, and we're… there's no baby, but… it's a beautiful dream, Clark. I… I almost wish it were true."

***

She was gone.

She'd been halfway out the door by the time he'd spun around. He'd watched her leave in slow motion, a million thoughts running through his head.

She wished it were true.

The echo of the thudding door had snapped the world back into focus. Like a rubber band that had stretched too far. It'd left his ears ringing.

He wasn't ready to accept it, but he couldn't deny it.

He couldn't believe she was lying to him. Not about that. Not with the sky falling and his world ending.

The memories… the feelings… were still there, replaying in the back of his head. The loop of images fading a little more each time. The images in his head… his memories… were fading into a blur of colour, sound and… emotion. Each time becoming a little rawer. A little more abstract. A little harder to hold onto.

He didn't know which ones were real — if any of them were.

He couldn't trust what his head was telling him… couldn't trust what his heart was telling him. Not anymore. She'd shattered everything with her shocked words, but he couldn't believe she would have lied to him.

The evidence had been staring him in the face all day. The way she'd flinch away from him when he'd touch her. The wedding photo that wasn't on his mantle. The longing that wasn't in her eyes…

Lois Lane wasn't his wife.

Wasn't his lover.

Wasn't his.

He tried to convince himself, even as he swiped at his stinging eyes, that he hadn't actually lost anything. He tried, but it was that thought, more than any other, which was the hardest to bear.

Clark stared at the door, too afraid to open it and step out into the world. Too afraid the rest of it would crumble around him. He wished he could see through it. Wished she was on the other side. Wished that she hadn't really left. The grain of the wood dissolved before his mind's eye to reveal the street beyond and the image of a crying woman huddled on his doorstep.

Clark shook his head. She wasn't really there, he was sure, but he could almost imagine the piercing sound of her quiet sobs.

The nagging feeling was back, pulsing through his veins, overwhelming, like the roar of a jet over an uncharted valley. He needed to be somewhere. Needed to do something. The sense of belonging that had calmed him, the warmth that infused him, had retreated with her, leaving him cold and empty. He'd felt bereft as the feeling of… rightness had shattered with the slamming door.

He needed… to know. More than anything, he needed to know. Clark closed his eyes, desperate to remember, and let the darkness swallow him. The bullets of light hung in the air around him, suspended in the vast nothingness. Like a country sky on a crisp winter night. If he reached out…

But he didn't. He couldn't. He was too… scared…

Clark shook his head roughly and snapped open his eyes. He needed to get out, to find some place where he wasn't… suffocating with the need to be Clark Kent. He needed to… find Lois. Even if it… the dream… wasn't true. He needed to find her. He was lost without her.

He bounded up the stairs. He had no idea where to start looking. No idea where she might go or who she might speak to, but he had to try. He wouldn't let that stop him. He wouldn't let anything stop him. He had to find her. He needed to find her. More than anything, he needed to see her again, if only to soothe the ache in his chest, the burning need to have her near him…

And then she was. She was huddled on his stoop, just as he'd imagined her.

"Lois?"

Her head snapped upwards. Her wide, red eyes met his briefly before flickering away and settling near his shoulder.

Clark felt his heart clench.

She *had* been crying.

… just as he'd imagined…

"You've been crying," he stated softly. He ached to reach out and brush away the tear stains on her cheeks but he held himself back. She probably wouldn't welcome his touch… she'd probably think…

"I'm sorry," she mumbled, turning away from him. "I'm sure… I know you're… confused. You don't need to be around someone who's going to fly off the handle because you…when you… you don't need that."

Clark pushed his frustration aside. He longed to touch her, and he would have a mere hour ago. But now… nothing was… entirely comfortable anymore. He wasn't even sure he had a *right* to touch her. She wasn't his wife. She wasn't even his girlfriend. Still… he ached with the need. He longed to… and he would have, if not for the terrifying fear that he'd shatter whatever was keeping her there and scare her away. The last thing he wanted was for her to leave again. To feel that emptiness again. She might not be his wife, but he loved her.

He needed her.

"Lois… why don't you come back inside?" he asked, reaching for her hand. "Before the sky starts to fall."

Her eyes darted back to his, and he grinned.

"That's not funny, Clark." Her voice held a warning note but he could see the smile creeping into her eyes. The… relief?

"Come back inside," he urged, gently. "Maybe we can talk about…"

"I can't, Clark," she said, cutting him off. "I'm sorry, but I can't deal with… that. Not right now. That's why I had to…" She waved her free hand helplessly, letting her voice trail off.

"But you didn't leave," Clark pointed out.

"No," she affirmed, squeezing the hand that held hers. "I couldn't leave."

"I'm sorry," Clark breathed. "That I messed everything up so badly. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable."

"No, Clark," she insisted. "You didn't… it wasn't your fault. You were just… confused."

He was confused. She wasn't his wife, and he… he knew that, but it still hurt. Clark nodded his head. He'd been confused. He was still confused…

"You kissed me back… in there, you kissed me back."

"Yeah." Her face flushed. "Yeah… I did."

The flashing images kept replaying in his head. Vivid. Strong. The feel of her lips against his, her hands in his hair, her body pressed against his… "And you've kissed me before?"

"Yes, I have." She hesitated, took a deep breath, and raised her eyes to meet his. "We've kissed a few times."

His shoulders sagged, and a weight he never realised he'd been carrying lifted. They were real. Some of them at least, the one with the blue silk… that was still negotiable. But some of them had to be real. Which meant he hadn't… he hadn't imagined it… there *was* something between them. They might not be married or dating. She might not be his wife or his girlfriend, but… there was *something*… that feeling of warmth… that spark of electricity…

Some of them had to be real, and if some of them were real…

"Can I… kiss you again?"

"Clark…" She paused and sucked in a deep breath.

He didn't wait for the denial he was sure was to come. He pulled her towards him and brushed his lips against hers gently, tentatively. Her resistance melted away and she whimpered against his lips. His kisses became firmer, more insistent, as his confidence started to build.

She was kissing him back.

His senses filled with her. Her soft whimpers, her warm lips… He was breathing in the very scent of her… Everything faded into the background as he pressed his lips against hers again and again. Her body swayed towards him, her hands fisted in his shirt, pulling him closer… pulling… and then pushing. Pushing him away. She tore her lips from his suddenly, and he stood still, stunned, his chest heaving in unison with hers.

"Don't… don't kiss me, Clark," she pleaded, her shaken voice breaking through the silence of their ragged breathing. "It makes this harder to do, and I… have to do this. I don't want you to hate me if… *when* you get your memory back."

Clark shook his head in silent denial. He didn't want to mention that he might never get his memory back — that they might not even have enough time to find out, but even so… his heart revolted at the idea. He was sure… "I could never hate you, Lois."

Hate her?

He was certain he could never hate her. He couldn't trust his memories of her, but he couldn't deny the way he reacted to her on an elemental level. The way she brought light into the darkest corners of his life. He knew how he felt about her. How much he loved her. Didn't she know? Didn't she…

"We are friends, aren't we?" he asked, horrified as the thought struck him. He didn't… did he resent her?

No.

It wasn't possible. He *loved* her.

"Oh, Clark. Of course we're friends," she said, her voice slightly softer. "We're… close friends."

"How could you think I'd ever ha…" Clark's voice trailed off as he remembered the panic that that had infused him earlier. The jealousy. The superhero. "Is there… are you seeing someone else?"

"No," she admitted, looking away from him. "I'm not… involved with anyone else."

Her words hung heavily in the awkward silence that followed. The hesitation in her voice stung. If she wasn't…

"Am I? I mean… I'm not seeing Cat, am I?" he asked, shifting awkwardly and staring over her shoulder.

"Cat?" Her surprised gaze flicked back to his face. "No. Cat's been chasing after you for months like a… Where would you get the idea that…" He saw her eyes narrow as she drew the obvious conclusions about his interlude with Cat earlier that morning.

He almost felt guilty at the relief that coursed through him. He'd never… he'd known that he'd never… not with Cat. Not when he loved Lois.

His attention was jerked back to the woman in front of him as her voice continued to rise. "That no-good… I can't believe she'd…"

"Then why, Lois?" he asked, cutting her off. "Why can't you let me love you?"

The angry expression that had been simmering disappeared, and her features twisted, an emotion he couldn't place playing over her face.

"You can't…" She paused, sucking in a deep breath and crossing her arms over her chest. "You don't love me, Clark."

His stomach twisted. She didn't believe him. Of course she wouldn't believe him. But then, he'd known that. He knew that…

He *remembered* that.

There was… fire… mud… and… Lois's sad voice. She was… she'd been hurt in the past. That was why he'd never… why he'd waited. She… the things she'd told him… that was why he'd never said… and why he had to now…

She deserved… she needed to know that someone loved her.

"But I do love you, Lois," Clark said, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "You… you don't have to love me back."

"You don't remember me, Clark!" She paused, closing her eyes. Her next words were quiet… barely a whisper. "I'm not… I'm not someone you'd love. I'm not… a nice person."

His heart clenched. She looked so vulnerable… so lonely… standing there, afraid to look at him.

"What changed?" he asked quietly.

"What?" Her eyes snapped open as her brow crinkled in confusion.

"If you're not normally a nice person…" Clark let his voice trail off as allowed himself to touch her. He wondered if she felt that jolt of electricity, that spark that existed between them. "What changed?"

He watched her gaze wander, dart across his porch, flicker upwards, and then, finally, settle on him.

"Everything," she admitted on a soft sigh. "Everything's changed… I'm not ready to die. I haven't done what I need to do. I haven't… I don't want to die alone, Clark."

She was in his arms before the first choked sob escaped. "You're not alone," he murmured into her hair, pulling her tighter against him.

Feeling her tears soak through his shirt was… heartbreaking… it tore at him, but at the same time, it was… grounding. Real. His memories might have been false, but what was between the two of them, right then, in that moment, was real. He had her in his arms, her tears staining his shirt, and he had her trust. He might not have her love, but he had her trust, and he knew… somehow, that was important.

"Come inside," he whispered after her sobs had quieted down. "You can use the bathroom to freshen up and then show me where I keep the coffee."

***

It had been uncomfortable rummaging through a strange man's cupboards, but he'd found the coffee while Lois was still in the bathroom. He'd started the machine, waited for it to filter, and poured two mugs. Three sugars, full milk. No sugar, no milk. Like a reflex. He'd grabbed the two mugs and settled on the couch to wait.

He'd flicked on the TV in a desperate attempt to avoid pacing. He didn't want to seem anxious. He didn't want to put any added pressure on her. He didn't want to scare her away. Again.

He'd turned on the TV to try and avoid his anxiety, but the images, the voices, washing over him were causing a swell of panic to rise in his chest.

They were still talking about it. About hopes resting on the rocket. About the missing hero.

Clark picked up his coffee cup, trying to distract himself from the images he was unable to tear himself away from. That feeling… that he needed to be somewhere… The terror gripping him increased as he watched the world fall into bedlam. He needed… to be out there… he needed to help, somehow. He needed to help, but… he couldn't…

He dipped the tip of his finger into his coffee absently and swirled it around. It'd gone cold.

And Lois was still in the bathroom.

He sighed and considered flicking off the TV as they cut to the old newsreel film. He didn't need to see a replay of Superman's final moments on Earth. He didn't *want* to see the hero. But he couldn't bring himself to turn it off and simmer in the deafening silence.

The small figure on the screen was… familiar. So incredibly familiar. The man in blue and red, the hero, looked oddly… ordinary. He held himself confidently, but Clark could sense the fear… it coursed through him as he watched the man turn to leave the assembled crowd. He held his breath as the image zoomed in. That face…

That was…

It was…

That was *him*.

The panic… the fear… Superman.

*He* was *Superman*.

No. He closed his eyes and shook his head. *He* was *Superman*. But he couldn't be… he couldn't… The blackness swamped him, the never ending darkness… only… he could breathe. He wasn't suffocating. And the bullets… lights… were hanging around him. Suspended in the darkness. Stars. He was floating amongst the stars.

Yes, Superman.

There were voices in his head, telling him to move forward, asking him to keep going. His arms moved in front of him, his arms, clad in a shiny blue material, his hand fisted, and he started moving. Gliding. Soaring. Past the stars, into the darkness. Moving faster and faster until everything was a blur…

Superman.

He was Superman.

He snapped his eyes open in time to see the brunette on the screen grab him. The brunette, Lois, grab him, spin him around and kiss him. *Lois* spin him around and kiss him, fiercely, passionately.

Him. Superman. *Him*.

He could see the flashbulbs behind his closed eyes, hear the wild whispers of the gathered crowd, feels her hands fisting in his hair…

Yes, he was Superman.

"That didn't… I didn't… it didn't mean anything, Clark. It was just for luck." Her guilty voice startled him.

He stood up, turning to face her slowly, a frown on his face. Didn't mean anything…

"That was more than…" He shook his head, determined not to let her get away with denying what his own eyes were showing him. His voice was soft. "You kissed me."

It was impossible, but… it made sense. A terrible kind of sense.

He continued, ignoring the confused expression on her face. "Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't anybody tell me?"

"Tell you what, Clark?" She asked, her frown deepening.

"That I'm him… that he's me." The mug rattled as he put it on the table with an unsteady hand and stepped around the couch, moving closer to her. "Why didn't you tell me that I'm Superman?"

"Superman?" Her eyes were wide and she paused to swallow. "Clark, you're *not* Superman."

He shook his head. The stars. The fear… the *panic*. It all made sense. "Of course I am."

"You're… you're not," she whispered, shaking her head. After a moment she continued, her voice a little steadier. "You're friends, you and Superman, but you're not him, Clark. You're just… you must be confused, like you… like you were about us. You can't be Superman."

Can't.

She'd used that word a lot.

Can't be Superman.

Clark shook his head… Of course he was Superman. Not only was watching the news like looking into a mirror… he might not remember being Superman, but… he *knew* he was.

"You can't be Superman, Clark," she repeated. She was closer to him. She'd moved closer to him and he hadn't noticed. "You're… sometimes you're jealous of Superman."

Jealous? Yes, he had been… he… was jealous of the hero.

He was jealous of himself.

She… she'd wanted Superman, she'd kissed Superman, she'd… she'd mooned over Superman, and he… he loved her. He was Superman and she wanted him. He should have been happy, but…

Clark closed his eyes against the assault of images. It'd been dark… quiet… late. She'd been alone in the newsroom when he'd landed, like she'd been waiting for him… his stomach had been alive with nerves, and she'd asked. He'd told her… Superman had caught on.

His breath hitched. "You didn't know."

She didn't know. Nobody knew. None of the millions of people… all the secrets, all the lies… she didn't know. And he hated it. He *hated* all the years… the lies, the secrets, the loneliness… she didn't know, but he'd wanted her to… eventually.

"Maybe you should sit back down," she said, keeping her voice low, soothing. Placating. He let the hands on his shoulder and forearm guide him back to the couch. She was shaking her head, her eyes sad. Her voice was a whisper, but he heard it. "Talk about a Superman complex."

He caught her hand as she started to turn away. "Lois, I'm not crazy and I'm not making this up. I *am* Superman."

She shook her head, her eyes sad. "How do you know that, Clark?" She brushed the hair off his forehead gently. "After everything else… how do you know you're not just confused again?"

"I'll prove it to you," he announced rashly. He *was* Superman.

"Okay, Clark," she said, pulling her hand free of his and stepping back. "Okay, Clark, fly. If you're Superman, fly."

Fly.

She wanted him to fly.

He didn't know… he didn't remember how, but… he was Superman. He *could* fly. God, he could *fly*.

"Okay," he said softly. Okay. He would fly.

Her eyes widened as he stood quickly and strode past her towards the balcony. "What?" she squeaked.

"Okay, I'll fly."

"What?" She grabbed at his arm. "Clark, no! I was only kidding."

He shrugged off her grip, slowing only to slide open the doors. He *could* fly. He *would* fly.

He had to.

He was right, the same way he'd been right about the way he felt about her. This was a part of who he was. There was no way he could be wrong. He was Superman. He *could* fly. And if he couldn't, if he didn't, well… he was invulnerable.

"All right!" she called when he'd reached the edge. "I believe you. Please, don't do anything stupid, I believe you."

He hopped up on the ledge and turned to look at her. He could see the terror bleeding through her features, through her desperate eyes. "Please, Clark." Her voice broke on his name. "Come back inside, please!"

His heart clenched. She was petrified. Terrified for him. She didn't believe him, but… he was right. He had to prove it.

"It's okay, Lois," he said, trying to keep his voice soothing. "I'm not wrong."

"Please, Clark…" Her voice trailed off as her tears broke through and spilled down her cheeks. Her shoulders were tense, and she was shaking. "Please!"

He stepped down and took a tentative step towards her. He couldn't do it.

"I'm sorry," he whispered and then she was in his arms, her small form shaking as she clung to him desperately. He knew he was right, but he couldn't do it. How could he, when her tears were the cost?

She choked down a sob. "You crazy bastard."

"I'm sorry," he repeated, dropping a kiss on the top of her head. "I didn't mean to scare you."

"If you ever do anything that crazy again." Her voice was a whisper against his neck, her arms locked in an almost painfully tight grip around him. "I swear, Clark, I'll kill you myself."

He chuckled, running his palm in soothing circles around her back. If it weren't for the way she was holding onto him, he could almost say he knew this Lois. Could almost say he recognised her. "I'm sorry," he whispered for the third time.

"You were really going to jump, Clark."

It wasn't a question, but he answered anyway. "Yeah, I would have. I would have been fine, Lois."

She released him, finally, and stepped back. "You wouldn't have been fine, you idiot. You'd have been…"

"I'd have been fine," he said, cutting her off. He slid his palm around to cup her cheek again, embracing the feeling of familiarity.

"You just don't get it, do you? I *can't* lose you, Clark." Her hand covered his on her cheek. "Since… well, for a while now, I've been thinking about what's important to me… about who's important to me, and…" She looked up, meeting his eyes. "You're the closest thing to a best friend I've ever had, Clark… I *can't* lose you. I mean, I love you."

He saw her eyes widen as her words sunk in. She opened her mouth… and then closed it, a small frown wrinkling her forehead. "I… love you."

A spark of light ignited in his chest, the warm embers spreading through him. She loved him.

"I love you, too," he said, stroking his thumb over her cheek.

His hand fell when she shook her head and stepped back. "You can't, Clark. You don't remember."

"But I *do*, Lois. I don't need to remember to know that I do." Clark sucked in a deep breath and forced his tense shoulders to relax. "Not when my heart flutters every time I look at you. Not when everything inside me is screaming at me to grab onto you and never let you go. I know I love you, Lois. I don't need to *remember* because I can *feel* it."

"Clark…" Her voice wavered.

"Don't, Lois. Don't say anything," he snapped. He couldn't handle another denial…

Clark closed his eyes and welcomed the darkness. Welcomed the emptiness. He focused on the flicker of the starlit sky beneath his lids. He focused on the feeling of gliding, of rising… and then he was. He snapped open his eyes as he felt the ground fall away beneath him. He hovered an inch off the floor, pushed himself up to a foot and then two… and then he was *flying*!

"Oh my God." Her startled gasp made him falter, and he landed heavily.

"I just wish you'd believe me."

"You…" Her eyes were wide. "You're him!"

He couldn't help the grin that stretched his cheeks. He was Superman. He'd known it. The same way he'd known how he felt about her.

"You're him, but… you can't be! You're sick! You… you lost your memory. And you can't get sick!" Her face had gone pale. "How is that even possib… the asteroid! It must've been… the asteroid! Oh my God, Clark! You have to go back to EPRAD…"

Ice wrapped around his heart. The asteroid… the fear… the panic… A hole ripped itself through his gut as reality crashed around him.

Nightfall.

"No," he whispered. She paused mid-babble. "No, I can't go back up there."

***

It'd missed.

Hours later, the words were still echoing in his head.

'The Asgard rocket has missed its target.'

Clark stared up into the night sky. The lights were out across most of the city, and the sky… the sky was lit with stars. He'd never… you never saw the stars in Metropolis. It was beautiful. Peaceful.

Deceptive.

A gentle squeeze caught his attention briefly. Lois had taken his hand when they'd watched the rocket soar past the asteroid, and she hadn't let go of it. She'd yelled at him, she'd pleaded with him, she'd listened to him, and the whole time, she hadn't let go of his hand. Since they'd found out…

Somewhere out there… the end of the world was hurtling towards them.

"Clark?" Her voice was a whisper on the edge of his consciousness.

He dragged his eyes away from the sky and turned to look at her. Her face was soft in the moonlight, her features delicate. She smiled at him weakly, and his heart flipped. She was being strong for him again…

He'd believed her, earlier, when she'd told him Superman would save them. He'd believed in her unwavering faith. Like thousands… millions of people, he'd believed Superman would save them. He'd trusted in that.

He'd believed Lois when she'd said Superman would save them, because he'd had to.

Clark swallowed roughly as his gaze dropped, involuntarily, and settled on her flat stomach. On the child they'd never have. He'd had to believe her then, and… he had to go now.

He had to save them.

When it came down to it… when he put everything aside. The expectations. The fear. The urgency… There was no choice. When it came down to it… if it was between his life and hers…

"You're the only chance we have now."

"I know," he said, dropping his gaze to the floor. He was the only chance left, and he knew that. He knew he had to go, but he couldn't bring himself to pull his hand from hers.

Clark raised his eyes, watching her in the moonlit silence, his heart aching. No, there was no choice. He'd pick her. Every time.

"You're going to be fine, Clark."

He tried to smile as he let his hand slip from hers. "I know."

"Really," she said, catching his hand again. "You're going to be fine. You're going to go up there and kick some butt. And then you'll come back, and you'll remember everything so I can kill you for lying to me."

Clark grinned, pulling her into his arms. He breathed her in, committing her to memory. He'd need the memories… He'd need to remember the way her curves moulded against him and the silk of her hair under his fingers. He'd need to imprint the rhythm of her heart as it beat next to his…

He tightened his arms around her, not ready to fly off into eternity.

Her breath was warm against his neck. "Is there anything I can do?"

He turned his head, burying his nose in her hair, breathing her in, for one last time. One last embrace. "Marry me when I get back."

She tensed in his arms and he loosened his hold, pulling back slightly and watching her face.

"Clark…" She let her voice trail off as she raised her eyes to his. The apology written in them… "I love you, but I can't marry you."

The breath rushed out of him and his shoulders slumped. He'd known she'd say no, but he'd thought… he'd hoped she might say yes. Now that she knew everything, now that she'd admitted how she felt too, now… that he had to face Nightfall…

He'd thought she'd give him a reason to come back.

"I'm sorry," he whispered, dropping his arms and turning away. "I shouldn't have asked."

The silence hung in the air between them. Awkward. Heavy. Loaded.

"Clark?" Her hand found his back. He could feel her palm burning circles on his back through the shirt he was wearing. A speck of warmth against the sudden chill. Her voice was soft. "Why *did* you ask me?"

Why?

He loved her. And he needed her. He needed to hold onto the fantasy that he might have her… to the dream that she was his…

"I love you, Lois," he whispered. Her hand paused on his back and he continued. "I asked you, because I want to marry you. I asked you, because I can't remember being happier than I was when I thought we were married. I asked because I can't leave without knowing you'll be here if… when…"

"I'll be here *when* you get back," she said, her arms sliding over his shoulders, her cheek against his shoulder blade. Holding him in a backwards embrace. "You don't need to hold onto a dream, Clark. I'll be here when you come back."

He let out a shuddering sigh, leaning back into her. "I'm scared, Lois," he confessed softly.

"I know."

"I'm not going to make it back."

Her arms tightened around him. "You *are* going to make it back."

He pulled free and turned to face her. "You're not… scared? You're not scared I'll fail?"

"No, Clark, I know you can do it." Her eyes caught his, and her words caused a prickle at the back of his mind. "And I think you're scared enough for both of us."

The words flashed through his consciousness, leaving his ears ringing.

'This will work. It has to.'

He started as her hand brushed his cheek. "You're going to come back."

"Last time… it won last time, Lois," Clark whispered, shaking his head. "It won, and I knew what I was doing then."

She tilted her head to the side, worrying her bottom lip and watching him. There was something about her face… her eyes… a quiet confidence. Bold faith. Conviction. She believed he'd come back.

Her voice was quiet when she spoke. "I always thought you the other you was so invincible. So perfect. There wasn't anything that scared you. You were *Super*man, but… you're Clark. Underneath it all, you're Clark. I thought there wasn't anything Superman couldn't do, but when I found out you had to face Nightfall… I was scared. I was really scared. But now…" She paused, drawing in a deep breath. "I'm not scared, Clark. I know you'll make it back, because you're so much more than just Superman. You've got so much more to live for. Your parents, your friends… me."

Clark's heart was beating in his throat. Her faith in him was… her faith in him was what kept him going. Her faith, and his love.

"You beat it once, Clark. You'll beat it again."

He couldn't tear his eyes from hers. He was trapped by their fire. Enchanted by their confidence. "You're amazing, you know that?"

He'd already decided he was going, but he was just starting to believe that he might make it back.

"C'mon, Kent. I've been telling you that since we first met," she said, smiling and ducking her head.

"I want to kiss you," he whispered, as if imparting a secret. As if she had no idea how much power she held over him. "Can I kiss you?"

Lois raised her head slowly, catching his eyes with the flicker of a new flame in hers. She leaned forward, stopping, hovering a hair's breadth away from his lips. He could feel her exhale. Could feel the puff of air when she spoke.

"No," she whispered, before she crushed her lips against his.

***

He could still feel her in his arms. Could still feel the weight of her cradled against his chest. The press of her forehead against the side of his neck. He'd held her in his arms, sprawled on his couch, all night. All night, feeling her heart beat against his and letting the whisper of her words wash over him until… until she was ingrained in him.

A part of him.

The woman who wasn't his wife. The woman who could have been… the woman who might be, one day.

Her words were still ringing in his ears.

'Ask me again some day.'

He'd been drifting to sleep, on the cusp of dreams, when she'd murmured her request. 'Maybe… one day, you can ask me again.'

His heart had fluttered when he'd realised… and he'd kissed her. Gently. Softly.

Completely.

Clark moved his arms in front of him and sped up. He half expected to see the blue material he hadn't changed into. He almost missed the feel of the cape flapping against the back of his legs. He'd thought it'd be best if he went in costume, but he hadn't been able to find a suit. He hadn't been able to tear himself away from Lois long enough to really look.

The stars around him, crisper and brighter than in his memory, started to blur into continuous lines of light as he pushed himself faster. Faster and faster towards the end of the world.

He hadn't remembered the biting cold of space. He'd remembered the piercing light of the stars and the feeling of emptiness against his skin, the frictionless glide through the stars, but he'd forgotten how cold it was.

The need for breath burned his lungs and the cold pinched his skin, but he didn't slow. He didn't stop. He knew it was in his head. Instead, he pushed himself faster. Through the darkness, past the lights, further from home. He could still taste the salt from her lips…

And then he saw it. A speck. A fragment. A dot on the horizon, growing larger and larger as the distance between them shrank.

Faster.

He couldn't stop to think. Couldn't stop. He couldn't give himself time for the fear to rise up. For the acid to churn in his gut.

Faster!

He hurtled towards it, pushing himself to his limits. His heart was warm with the ghost of her presence, his arms full with the feel of her, his lips stained with the taste of her tears… he pushed himself faster still… until it was all he could see. All he could… and he closed his eyes.

He would beat this. He would win. He would, because he had to.

He knew, even as the lights exploded around him… he'd beat this, because she was waiting for him.

THE END

Keep an eye out for the epilogue. With any luck, it'll be available on the 2006 Fundraiser DVD.