For Old Times' Sake

By Sara <sara_farneygal@eircom.net>

Rated: PG

Submitted: October 2005

Summary: When Clark loses his memory in the episode "All Shook Up," he and Lois decide to spend their last few hours together. What will they learn about each other?

Thanks to Mere, who read the first draft of this about a year ago, came up with a fantastic idea that I ended up hooking the entire story on, and then re-read it for me and was just incredible :) Thanks to Sas for her encouragement and help. Thanks to everybody who read this before I posted it and who nit- picked, nagged and giggled in all the right places. Thanks to my fantastic GE, Tricia.

This one is dedicated to the starry Sara Kraft, fellow musketeer, comrade-in-arms and beta-reader-nagger-friend-extraordinaire. Thank you for everything, Eviller One!

Standard disclaimers apply.

***

"Did we like each other right away?"

I have absolutely no idea why, but the question suddenly means forever to me. Like it's the most important thing I've ever said in my life before. Like the answer's important — a key, a whisper of the past, a reminder of something essential.

For a few short seconds, the bustling newsroom behind melts away as I struggle, trying desperately to swim past the murky blackness in my brain — the thing that chokes me, the thing that cuts off my air supply when it proves impenetrable.

Maybe it *is* the most important thing I've ever said in my life. I have no real way of knowing. From the blundering lack of eloquence that colours my tongue whenever I try to express something, I'm guessing I'm not the best with words. I'm guessing I never was.

I'm nothing anymore. I'm a shell, left on a shore of broken memories and half-remembered dreams, like a worthless piece of flotsam from the storm of my mind. How is it to be alone? Let me tell you — nobody knows. Nobody knows what it's like to be alone until they've lost themselves.

She's confused. I can tell. If nothing else, I can tell when somebody's confused — the expression I feel twisting my face every time I'm confronted with something I inexplicably know I should recognise is there in her features. In the line of her mouth and the hook of her eyebrow.

I really don't blame her. It's obviously not a common thing for me to ask.

Then again, for a man with amnesia… *nothing* is a common thing to ask.

"We didn't… *not* like each other," she replies, looking at me strangely. Shrugging her shoulders as if to brush a bad feeling or memory off, she goes back to pouring her coffee into her mug.

Didn't not. Which means did. Like. Did like each other.

<…hack from Nowheresville…>

"You're sure?" I ask, anxiously. "I have this really niggling feeling that I didn't like you…" I pause, frown and shake my head. Impossible. "…or more likely, that you didn't like me, or…"

I see her worried expression, falter for a moment, then fumble and slip — that oh-so-apparent Kent eloquence playing up again.

"Lois, relax." I give her a weak smile. "For all I know, we could have fallen in love at first sight, or something crazy like that."

I grit my teeth. No! No, *bad* sentence! I see the withdrawal in her immediately — her face tightening as she stares shocked at me, her knuckles turning white, the corner of her mouth going slack.

I hasten to apologise, eager to alleviate the errant, disobedient thought.

"I'm sorry! I'm so sorry, that was dumb."

I watch her swallow in agony. I have no idea why, but it hurts that she should be so shocked at the thought of us in -

//Of course she's shocked, you absolute idiot. You've just basically told her you fell in love with her the second you saw her…//

I shake my head, viciously. Not possible. Not. Possible. I'm insane, but not that much.

Lois. We're concentrating on Lois, here. Lois, who's still looking at me like I'm sprouting scaly purple wings and breathing smoke through my nostrils…

"I have absolutely no idea what I'm saying," I hurry to say, with a self-deprecating smile. "I'm lost, I guess."

Great comeback, Kent. Not only do you have to make her hideously uncomfortable, but now you're making her feel sorry for you.

A sad expression crosses her face, and I feel an inexorable tightness in my stomach as she lays one hand — one slender, delicate, womanly hand — on my shoulder and takes a seat beside me.

"I never really thought about it," she admits, staring into my face, her eyes dark and troubled. For a second, my heart skips a beat, until I remember what statement she must be referring to. "What you must be going through right now… I never realised, or if I did, I never really dwelt on it.

"Oh, but you shouldn't!" I blurt, before I can stop myself. "You shouldn't dwell on me. Not when… this stuff is happening." I gesture to the ceiling, as if it will suddenly melt away and expose the darkness that's threatening all our lives. "You have enough to worry about without adding a confounded working partner to the list."

Her hand darts across the little table that separates us. Before I can breathe, before I can even think, her fingers are squeezing mine. Hard.

"You're a lot more than a partner to me, Clark," she says softly.

I can only stare. My jaw hinged open, the colour rising in my cheeks, my heart pounding.

Does she mean… is she hinting that… that…

The tidal wave that rises in my chest every time I think of her.

That's okay?

I'm… supposed to feel like that?

It's allowed?

I deflate as she notices my expression, as she hurries to explain, even before I've finished my tiny, hopeful, idiotic thought.

"You're a very great friend of mine, Clark," she admits shyly. "My best friend. I don't know what I would do if I lost you."

I can only wonder.

She looks at me from under her eyelashes, in an expression that makes my heart skip a beat. "I'm afraid I don't exactly express my feelings clearly," she says, an undertone of guilt threading through her voice. "Not even when you're… normal."

"I'm not normal, Lois." The words come tumbling out of my mouth before I can stop them, but unlike similar declarations, this time they make sense.

Even though they don't.

She looks at me, and something in my face makes her inhale sharply. Her lip trembles, her fingers constricting again in mine before releasing fully.

I want to weep for the loss of her touch. I want to stand up and pull her to me. I want to hold her and never let her go. I want to kiss her until the world stops turning.

I'm an idiot.

Just good friends, Clark. *Just good friends*. Nothing more. Nothing less.

"I suppose you're right, Clark," she says flippantly. "I don't accept normal people. Only the best get to work with me!"

She smiles brightly at me and I can't help but twitch the corner of my mouth up in response, wondering, marvelling. How does she *do* that? How does she ignite warm embers in the pit of my stomach by just smiling?

I might be an idiot, but I'm a pretty high standard of idiot. Even I know that this isn't normal — nobody else affects me like this.

This woman is special to me. In some intangible, feather-light, teasing way, she's special to me — almost unbearably so. Even if she doesn't know it.

But this is an impossibility. Because how could she mean so much to me, how could I l… like her so much, without her knowing?

Surely, surely I wasn't as dumb in the past, *surely* I've told her? Surely I've let her know, every single day, just how much I… just how much she means to me?

Because if I haven't… if I haven't…

How could I have existed alongside her for a year without telling her how completely I…

My mind reels down through a list of verbs. How much I like, respect, admire, revere…

…love…

I swallow hard, my eyes focusing on her face, suddenly intent. I scan every inch of it, taking in her dusky eyes, her nose, her lips, the perfect curve of her neck, her creamy skin, tinged with a delicate flush of rose along a high, elegant cheekbone…

I close my eyes, then snap them open again and meet her gaze as I do so. Her eyes are somehow darker than normal — my *idea* of normal — and more fathomless. She looks fascinated, in a shocked kind of way, and I let myself fall mesmerized. Caught like a fly in amber, like a bee in honey — struck dumb in the face of her beauty.

The moment passes, and suddenly it's back to familiarity. Warm with friendship — camaraderie and absolutely nothing more.

"I guess… we should get back to work," she reminds me softly. I exhale unhappily, watching as she smiles in farewell and starts to turn.

I don't know what it is, but I've grasped something in the last five minutes — a silken whisper of familiarity, a lingering echo of a feeling I once had — and I'm darned if I'm going to sit here and let it slip away.

I stand hurriedly. "Do we have to?"

Her backward swing and the tilt of her eyebrows indicate that she's listening, if not fully comprehending. I smile nervously, gesturing at the milling newsroom.

"Everybody's busy with this asteroid, and with looking for Superman, and look -" I hold out my left hand, ornamented with my watch "- it's already quarter past five. Surely Perry won't mind if we leave a little early?"

She purses her lips, clearly trying to figure out whether or not I'm joking.

"I know you don't remember much, Clark, but surely some basic common sense would tell you that Perry…"

"Lois!" I interrupt her, holding my hands out to her. "There's what — twenty-four hours left until impact?"

Something fixes her face into rigidity. "Something like that."

I sigh, hating myself for using the impending doom as an excuse. "We have so little time left… I just want to make the most of it. Perry's not going to mind if we get out of here now."

Those eyebrows jump again. God, she's so full of life. She uses every single feature when she's talking. Full of passion, and so easily read when somebody knows her well enough.

And I do. Did. Have. Have known her well enough. Obviously.

I've lost my whole identity, everything that I was, am or hope to be — but somehow I still know her well enough to read her thoughts by the look on her face.

"I thought you'd want to be doing Clark stuff. What about your parents?"

I shake my head. "They… wanted to come," I tell her haltingly. "Wichita couldn't manage two seats for them on such short notice. Mrs… Mart… uhm… Mom… left a message on my machine telling me they'd call later to discuss another mode of transport, but I really don't see how they'll manage to be here."

I swallow. I regret that I'll never me… see my parents again. But the feeling pales in comparison to the ones I have for the woman standing in front of me.

"Oh, Clark, I'm sorry," she says softly, putting her hand on my arm. "That must be really tough."

I look at her. "No regrets, Lois. I don't want to have any regrets. I don't want to waste any time. Not a minute, not a second."

She's hesitating, and I push harder.

"Please. Come back to my place. I'll make dinner… I just want to get some sense of… *being*. Before everything goes."

She looks unsure for a few minutes more, and I almost lose hope, but then her brow smoothens.

"I'll see what I can do."

I grin at her, fighting the urge to punch the air and whoop.

"Don't go getting your hopes up, farmboy!" she warns, before striding down the ramp into the bullpen.

<Don't fall for me, farmboy. I don't have time for it.>

I shake my head, putting one hand up to my forehead. Where the heck did *that* come from? And why does it sound so… ironic?

Biting my lip, I follow her trail down through the bullpen, stopping to collect my coat and hers. She's barely with Perry five minutes before sashaying out, a smug expression on her face. I smile, something inside of me recognising and responding to it.

"Well?"

"What's the use of having strings to pull if you don't give 'em a tug now and then?" she asks haughtily as I help her on with her coat.

"I have this deep, gut feeling that it's less of 'strings to pull' and more of 'chains to rattle', Lois." I duck to avoid the teasing swipe of her hand.

"Your memory is coming back way too quickly for my liking, Kent," she grumbles as we head up the ramp. "I'm going to go home to shower and change first, okay? Will your rampant lust to spend time with me drive you to distraction, or can you live without me for an hour or two?" She bumps my hip with hers playfully, not noticing the wry smile I can feel twisting my lips.

I make some casual response as I step into the elevator. My heart thudding along at the irony.

//If only you knew, Lois. If only you knew…//

***

"So… when did we become partners?" I ask, after a satisfying meal, taking a swig of my wine. She looks up at me, the spoon from her slice of pecan pie falling limp in her hand. She's done that an awful lot tonight — given me the deer-in-the-headlights look, paused, looked at me like I was nuts.

She looks as if she's pondering it — and now she's shrugging. Obviously she's decided the question is harmless enough.

"Well… Perry sent you along with me to get you some experience, way back when. I guess we just… clicked. After some mild protesting on my part -"

She grins and looks at me here, like I'm supposed to fill in the blanks, and then she frowns and looks discomfited when I don't.

"- he kind of threw us together, and, well… the rest is history." She spears another piece of pie, apparently deciding that the question was over and done with.

"So… we're friends as well as partners?" I watch her, intent to gauge her reaction.

She shrugs. "I get thrown out of the airplane, you correct the spellings, we write the story. You've saved my life a couple of times. After going through things like that, you kind of can't help but to become friends."

"But you've saved me, too — right?" Seeing her confused expression, I elaborate a little. "I have this hazy memory of you… saving my job? Definitely giving me grief about something, anyway." And I flash an uneasy grin at her.

<You're not a quitter!>

No need to tell her I also remember leaning over and taking her lips softly with mine, my heart aching to see the glisten of tears in her eyes… no need to scare her with what's surely just another fantasy.

I'm no stranger to fantasies where Lois is concerned. That one — the one where my heart aches as I kiss her, and then do the unthinkable by *leaving her behind* — pales in comparison to the one with the blue chiffon and the golden bangles, or the one with the long, tanned, toned leg stretched ever-so-casually along my desk…

Her voice takes me back to the present.

"Oh, that must have been around the time of the heat-wave — when everybody thought that Superman's powers were drawing the rays of the sun to Metropolis. I didn't believe it, though, and eventually we proved them wrong. You had some kind of crazy impulse thing and quit, but as soon as you found out that he was innocent, you came back." She takes a bite of pie. "Figured if I could forgive Superman for giving up, I could do the same for you."

"Superman — he sounds like he means a lot to you." A thin blanket of unease creeps over my chest. She shrugs, suddenly leaving down her spoon — like she isn't hungry anymore.

"He does, Clark," she admits softly. "He means the world to me — to everybody. I don't know what I'll do if he doesn't come back."

I reach over to lay a hand on her shoulder. "I'm sure he's doing his best," I murmur quietly.

Now, why in the world did I say that? I know less than nothing. False sympathy is just going to annoy her… besides, I have an irrational, nagging feeling that I should get off this subject as quickly as I can.

But she doesn't look annoyed. On the contrary, before I can retreat and switch the conversation to a lighter subject, she reaches up quickly and covers my hand with hers.

"Always making me feel better, Kent," she scolds lightly, with a tiny, barely-there catch in her voice. "I should be the one looking after you!"

I don't even think about my reply. "I love looking after you, Lois."

She stares at me, seemingly spellbound. I'm trapped again in those eyes, in the strange intimacy spun around us — not friends, not lovers, something inexplicably in-between.

"Why does it feel like I've said that before?" I whisper finally.

She clears her throat, releasing her hand and blinking quickly. "Maybe because you have?" She ducks her head and looks at the tablecloth, reaching her hand up to tuck a piece of hair behind her ear — in a gesture that tugs at my heart, because I recognise it.

"Lois…" My voice, faltering. "Lois, I…"

Her head shoots up, and suddenly she's meeting my gaze firmly. "You what, Clark?" *Daring* me to shock her. I plunge ahead.

"I… love you?" It comes out like a question, but she smiles anyway.

"Like a sister. Yes, I know."

I frown and shake my head infinitesimally, feeling as if I'm on the cusp of an epiphany — something fleeting but pivotal.

"I asked you if we were friends," I say carefully, "and you told me that we were."

She nods, looking unsure.

"Are we… more than friends?"

She looks dumbstruck. Mother of Pearl, what am I saying?!

"Lois! I'm sorry, that was entirely out of order. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable, and I should never have…"

"Clark, I…"

"It's just that I've been having these really strange dreams…"

<Minute's up, Clark. Come to Mama!>

"…well, maybe you could call them fantasies, nothing X-rated but fairly… ahm… vivid, all the same, something about you in a harem costume…"

She reels back, as if she's been slapped, white and shocked. I jump, horrified at the change in her, and reach out my hand, desperately trying to bring her back. I'm sure if somebody had the time and interest, it would be quite possible to fry an egg on my cheeks.

"…but it doesn't make any difference, I should never…"

"Clark…"

"I don't know anything about… *anything*, and I just…"

"Clark!"

I blink at her, startled by her outburst. "What?"

"Stop. You're babbling worse than me!"

"You babble?"

At her nod, my shoulders slump. "See, I don't know anything," I exclaim dismally.

"Oh, of course you do," she snaps at me. "What's the capital of France?"

I wave my hands in the air, irritated. "I don't mean things like *that*, Lois, I mean… me. Us."

She moves her shoulders in an agitated fashion. "You probably know as much about us now as you did before you got amnesia, Clark," she mumbles. "Our relationship has always been… hard to define."

"Suppose I asked you to do just that?"

At her look, I push my chair back and stand up, pushing my hand through my hair as I pace around.

"Lois, I honestly don't know what's happening. I can barely remember my own name, but the one thing that I'm definite about — well, as definite as I can be about anything — is that every time I look at you, I get this kind of… ache…"

I look at her, take a deep breath. I need this. I know I need this. I need to put this woman where she belongs in my heart before the earth collapses.

"I have nothing to lose, Lois. We have so little time left. I… can't keep on this way — not knowing. No regrets, remember?"

She looks up at me, and I see her struggling. Wanting so desperately to get the conversation back on to safe ground, and we can discuss the subject later — in a few months, or years, when she feels ready.

But oh, Lois, tomorrow never comes… please.

"No regrets," she whispers finally, and my heart clenches.

Clearing her throat softly, she looks down at her hands, focuses on them. She gets up. Runs her hands through her hair. Paces. Looks at me. Paces. Looks at me again. Finally, she groans.

"This is so stupid, Clark," she says, her eyes darting with pain. "I keep wondering… I keep shying away from this, because I think… I don't know what you'll think, and that… that kills me. I don't want to… I don't know if I can…"

"Lois, you can tell me anything," I murmur.

"But I can't," she whispers back, her face bleached of all colour. "No matter what I say right now, it changes everything."

I reach out a hand to her, and stop halfway. She doesn't need that. She doesn't need me to crowd her.

I look at her there, so beautiful, so lost, and I know that whatever she says, she won't drive me away. Not if she tells me she loves me. Not if she tells me she doesn't.

"Say what you feel, Lois," I say quietly. "That's all I'm asking."

She takes a breath. Exhales. Takes another one. Opens her mouth, struggling to get past the blockage of tears in her throat. Closes it again. Like a fish out of water, trying to gasp for air.

"I don't know if I can do this," she says miserably, finally. "I *want* to, Clark — I want to tell you how I feel, I want to be strong enough for both of us and to tell you what I think, but… I'm not. I'm not strong enough. I'm not used to it." She swallows, looking away from me for a split second. "I'm not," she whispers, quietly this time.

"Lois…" Unable to resist, I battle through the wall of thorns surrounding her and pull her into my arms, rubbing her back in a circular motion and cradling her head in my hands. Her arms, in turn, wrap themselves around my waist, and she leans against me, her body shuddering.

<It would just make me feel… so much better if I could…>

<Stay here tonight?>

<Yes.>

"Lois," I whisper intently, "You are the bravest woman I know. Please… this is all my fault. I didn't mean to make you uncomfortable. Just forget about it… it's not important… just forget it…"

She chokes, suddenly clenching a fistful of my shirt in her hand.

"Don't let me forget about it, Clark! Don't let me run… don't let me hide… please, don't let me push you away ever again… I need you to make me see you… make me see us…"

And suddenly her hands are on my head, pulling me towards her — caught by surprise and not entirely unwilling, I succumb readily, and then her lips are on mine and it suddenly doesn't matter that I barely know who I am. My mind and body dissolves into an amazing rush of bubbling emotions and sensations, and I close my eyes, lost in her…

I groan, crushing her to my chest, one hand coming up to tangle in her hair while the other drags her closer than close, pulling her so deeply into me that it feels like we're one form. Two halves of the same whole.

I let my last shred of consciousness go, losing myself in her — her hands, her mouth, her kiss. Moaning softly into my mouth, she tugs my shirt out of my jeans, running her hand lightly along the sensitive skin of my back. I grow dizzy, light-headed — drunk on the woman in my arms. Finally, I break the kiss off, preferring instead to run a blazing trail of whisper-light caresses down her neck.

"Clark…" she whispers breathily, her hand fisting in my hair. I groan quietly in response, intent on my task.

"Clark…" Her fingers are moving, now, running through my hair and down my back…

"Clark!"

I jump back in shock at the changed tone in her voice, releasing her in a hurry…

And I watch as she falls through the air, landing with a surprised squawk on my couch.

I watch. As she falls. Onto my couch. In my apartment. Ten feet from where we started kissing.

Not from. *Above*. Ten feet *above* where we started kissing.

I look down at her, befuddled.

*Down* at her. I'm *above* her.

I yelp, and flail my arms wildly, suddenly scared. Like some sort of magic spell has been broken — exactly like how Wiley Coyote can run on thin air after the Roadrunner and only fall when he realises what's happening — the air pocket I've been suspended on bursts, and I'm left to tumble freely through the air.

Time slows to a crawl as I drop. And I know it's one of those defining moments in my life. I can hear myself telling my grandchildren about this one in the future. "I could tell right away that there was something special about Lois Lane. There was this instant connection with her. She made me coffee, took me home, kissed me… watched in open-mouthed silence as I fell on top of her from a height of more than a metre…"

"Clark!" There's feral rage in that voice now, and definitely outrage. "Get off me right now!"

I spring to obey, recovering my face from where it's been buried in her shoulder. She almost explodes underneath me in an attempt to get away, bolting off the couch to stand, arms folded, some distance away. Her face is a tight, taut mask of shock.

We sit there, frozen in our positions, for some minutes. Finally I can't take it any more. Clearing my throat, I attempt to puncture the inflated silence with a joke.

"I've heard that you float on air when you're in love, but this is ridiculous…"

Her reply is immediate. "Shut up."

I comply meekly, staring at my tightly folded hands. A prolonged pause…

"You're Superman," she accuses in a flat tone of voice. I reply distractedly, not concerned overmuch.

"No. Superman is what I can do, Clark is who I am."

She freezes in the centre of the room, staring at me in shock. My mouth falls open.

"I… I mean…" I close my mouth abruptly, afraid of what could fall out. More mystifying sentences.

"You're Superman!"

I blink, incredulous. "No, Lois, no! I can't possibly be Superman! You think I fly around in a pair of tights all day? And my underwear, Lois? I wear it on the *inside*. Not… not…"

She barely pauses to roll her eyes before flinging her hand out, gesturing to the kitchen area. "Well, how do you explain what happened there?"

I pause for a moment, thinking.

"Sunspots?" I try, weakly.

She moans — a decidedly different sound than a moment before — and pounds the heel of her hand into her forehead. "Please tell me this is not happening," she hisses through gritted teeth as she rocks back and forth.

A moment later she jumps up. I watch, disinterested as she rifles through my things — keepsakes and knick-knacks that were surely precious to me once. Curiosity eventually gets the better of me. I slink over to her, hands buried in my pockets. "What are you doing?" I ask, finally.

"Well, Clark, I sure *hope* you're invulnerable," she mutters, before swinging around. A baseball bat arrests itself briefly into my peripheral line of vision, and a second later, it smashes into my stomach with an ominous thud.

Oh…

Ahm…

Uhh…

She's grimacing and wringing her wrist in an expression of pain, and I can see that the recoil has bitten her. I look at the mutilated head of the baseball bat, puzzled, before spotting the other piece of it — lying broken on the floor, five metres away.

I look at her. "Ow?" I ask uncertainly.

She stares at me, trembling, her eyes wide and staring. One hand reaches up to cover her mouth. She drops the mangled bat and takes a step backwards.

"Y… you're… him…"

I shake my head furiously, childishly holding my hands over my ears. "Don't finish that, Lois! I don't want to hear it!"

"But where do you keep your…"

"My what?"

"Your… your…" She gestures futilely at my chest. I glance down quickly, puzzled, and back up at her.

"What?"

"The *suit*, Clark," she exclaims impatiently. "Where's the suit?"

I look at her strangely. "Um… I hung it up in the wardrobe when I was finished with it?"

That metaphorical light bulb just about explodes above her head. I can nearly see it. She makes an abrupt turn to the right and stampedes her way through the arch, into my bedroom. I follow at a much slower pace, reluctant to rush to my doom.

"What are you doing?" I ask half-heartedly, coming up behind her. My closet door hangs wide open, and she's rifling frenetically through my suits.

"Looking for your suit," she mutters, distractedly. Twisting slightly, she thumps me on the shoulder. "Where the heck is it?"

I raise my eyebrow at her and grab the nearest one to hand, holding it up to demonstrate. "Take your pick, Lois."

She looks at me in exasperation. "Not *those* ones!" Turning her back on me, she dives deeper into my wardrobe, looking for… *what*?

And suddenly there's a creak, wood sliding over wood, and Lois shrieking, and… disappearing.

No more Lois. Instead there's…

Blue. Absolutely… *assaulted* by a blaze of blue. Frozen into position by the primary colours ganging up on me, pummelling me into a state of complete and absolute…

It's not that the colours are particularly bright, just that they're so… so…

So out there. So noticeable. And so unlike me.

This isn't possible. This is not possible. No. Not. Not. No.

"Clark, want to think about getting me out of here?" comes the long-suffering, highly-annoyed voice from behind the secret… from somewhere in the wardrobe. I push my glasses back from where they've slithered down my nose, and watch the panelled wood with dubious caution.

I sigh resignedly, pull one of the slinky Halloween-reminiscent costumes from its hanger and give the back of the secret… the… the back of the… the big wood thing a hard push.

Lesser of two evils, I think dolefully to myself as the thing moves instantly and without complaint. Nothing like the lengths Lois had to go to for it to move, which doesn't prove a *thing*, not a thing.

She's there sprawled among my suits — my *regular*, safe, ordinary-man suits — and belts and ties, looking up at me balefully, the twin flames of her eyes burning. And I look down at her, shake my head firmly.

"Lois," I say earnestly, "I'm not Superman."

I'm not. It's an impossibility. Laughable. To think I could be an icon like that, to think I could do those things… no. No way.

She regards me defiantly. "Wanna bet?"

I sigh. "I could have dealt with the flying. And the… the freaky baseball bat stuff. And… and whatever else. But… but trust me, I wouldn't… *couldn't* wear those… those *things*!"

She cocks an eyebrow at me, and I pull at the material to illustrate my point. And I moan as I realise what the thing is made of.

"Spandex, Lois?! *Spandex*? You think I'd go out like that in *public*? Flash myself around like a piece of meat in a butcher's shop?"

I take her hands and lead her out, pushing her down to sit on the bed and kneeling before her.

"This is all a big mistake," I say earnestly. "In fact… I bet we're hallucinating, or… or dreaming, or something. Just… it's just because of the asteroid, that's all…"

"Did that kiss feel like a dream to you?" she asks quietly, and my mouth falls open.

Atypical of Lois Lane, to say something like that. She's clearly all shook up.

But…

But she's right.

It didn't feel like a dream. Or a hallucination. Or a fantasy.

That kiss… it felt real.

I swallow deeply as two soft, feminine fingers pull at my glasses. Admitting to myself what I knew before — I don't need them, have never needed them.

She stares into my face as if she wants to brand it into her soul, her lips moving silently.

"I told you… so many things…" she says finally, faintly."Oh, god."

I squeeze her hands. "I don't remember them," I say comfortingly. "It doesn't matter."

She thumps me on the shoulder. Hard. With her little clenched rock of a fist. And yet… nothing.

"That's not the point, Kent," she growls. "I confided in you… and you… you *lied*… and you made me believe you were two people… and now…"

"Now?" I ask, a cold ball of dread tightening in the pit of my stomach.

"Now you have to go out and stop this… this thing," she says, frowning. "Which is just the worst case of bad timing *ever*…"

I raise an eyebrow at her.

"I'm going to have to wait till you get home to bawl you out," she explains.

I swallow repeatedly, feeling sick — and not just because of that oh-so-casual threat.

"Lois," I say, struggling to stay calm, "I… even if I *were* Superman, hypothetically, I still don't remember how to… how to *be* him."

She regards me silently.

"Well, we'd better get working on that right away, hadn't we?"

***

Okay. Breathe, Kent. You can deal with this. You're okay. You're just fine.

A small whimper escapes my parted lips as I regard myself in the mirror.

Breathe. In. Out. In. Out.

I'm okay. I'm just fine.

See, I've never thought of myself as a vain person. I'd probably still be shlumping around in the clothes that old tramp gave me if Perry hadn't objected. But this… this is just…

This thing hides *nothing*. Absolutely *nothing*. I'm sure if you looked hard enough at my left pectoral muscle, you'd see a terrified little heart-shape beating there.

And my mother? My *mother* made this for me?

<…cuts down on wind resistance…>

I actually… wore this? I fle… I walked around for a year, wearing this? In *public*?

It's no good. I still look like Clark Kent. And I'm still absolutely petrified at the thought of doing any weird stuff.

I knew this wouldn't work, I just knew it…

"How's it going in there?" I hear Lois pipe from behind the door.

"Uh…" I say uncertainly. "It's a little… uh…"

A soft feminine giggle reaches my ears, along with a muttered something about revenge and embarrassment and my tendency to blush.

Was I meant to hear that?

I shake the uneasy thought to my mind and step into the boots there for me, grimacing as the shiny material cracks around my calves. All that's missing is the long white beard and troop of reindeer.

"Let's take a look at you," she says with a barely-smothered snort of laughter, then steps inside the door. I turn to her, folding my arms at chest level — not at any attempt to look serious, let me assure you, I'm just trying to hide this idiotic crest and my beating heart behind my pectoral muscle and all the rest of it — and I hear her gasp a little.

Her eyes sweep me in a way that makes me fidget. From head to toe and back again. And boy, she's taking her time about it, isn't she?

"What?" I ask, uncomfortably, aware that my cheeks are once again acquiring that glow-in-the-dark quality.

"Oh," she says faintly, with a — shy? — smile. "Nothing. I just… I just kind of forgot for a second how… ahm…"

"How what, Lois?" I ask curiously. Is Lois Lane actually *blushing*?

"N-never mind," she stammers, and I quirk an eyebrow. Hmm…

She's looking at me again — at my *face*, I notice in relief — and her expression changes a little.

"You still look like Clark," she says, frowning. "That's not right."

She comes further into the room, then starts circling me, her fingers cupping her chin slightly, her brow furrowed. I squirm, then try to stand still. No need to let her know of the power she has over me, that wouldn't be good *at all*.

"What?" I ask uncomfortably, as she switches course and starts moving back the other way. "I feel like I'm being graded according to bone structure and likeliness to produce milk!"

This prize-cow-in-the-marketplace reference is obviously lost on her, and she ignores me completely for a moment.

"I know." Her hand rests on the small of my back, then pushes in sharply. "Stand up straight. Shoulders back, head up, butt tucked in -"

"Lois!" I protest, feeling my cheeks flame once more.

"- try and act like you don't care that the fate of the world is resting in your hands."

I moan softly. Does she have to remind me?

Her eyes are sweeping over my forehead. "Your hair," she says sharply. "Push it back."

I move my hand through it once and look at her hopefully.

"Oh, you're such a guy," she says scornfully, and turns away. "We need some hair gel. Where do you keep your hair gel?"

Hair gel? I use *hair gel*?

"Um…" I say, uncertainly. Am I really that… that… obsessed? "Maybe try the bathroom cabinet?"

She regards me suspiciously. "Right."

Mere seconds later, she's standing before me, screwing the bright purple — of course, it would *have* to be purple, along with the electric blue suits, have I been taking styling tips from Elton John? — container open. "Only a little left," she says with a frown. "We'll have to do the best we can."

I watch in open-mouthed silence as she lobs a giant sticky splodge of it onto her palm and rubs her hands together briskly, then approaching me with her hands dripping blobby white stuff.

Clearly, resistance is futile.

I sigh, and sit on the bed so she can reach my hair. She threads her fingers through it, and let me tell you, she's none too gentle about it, either. I guess she's being noble about waiting to shred me to pieces until later. I guess it's only fair that she should vent her frustrations on my scalp.

No need to tell her I can't feel a thing, other than her petite hands and small fingers moving their way over the crown of my head, pulling pieces of my hair viciously as they go…

"There," she says after a pause, leaning back. "Now you look more like Superman."

"Well, that's okay, then," I say sarcastically. "Who cares about the flying stuff, as long as I *look* the part…"

She flicks me under the chin with a sharp nail. "Don't get uppity, Kent."

I close my mouth in a hurry. So much for the burst of rebelliousness.

"Now." She stands back, wipes her hands briskly on my cape — blech — and raises both her eyebrows inquisitively. "Come one, come all. See this amazing display of Clark Kent's superpowers. Once in a lifetime experience."

"Huh?" I ask, intelligently.

"Pick a superpower, any superpower, ladies and gentlemen, watch and be astounded at Chumpy Clark's strut of antics…"

"Chumpy? What kind of word is *chumpy*?"

<It's my word. Someone's a chump, therefore he's chumpy.>

She continues blindly with her booming circus-ringmaster's voice.

"Burn with glee with his heat vision, shiver with delight with his cooling breath, feel ever-so-slightly overexposed with his x- ray eyes, soar to cloud nine with his flying… thingy…"

"Whoa, whoa," I say, holding my hands up. "Rewind, hit mute and freeze. I can do all that?"

That flummoxes her. "You don't *know*?"

"Lois, how *would* I know?" I ask, annoyed. "You don't seem to get the whole man-with-amnesia thing."

Suddenly she looks hideously uncomfortable. And I hang my head.

"Sorry," I mutter. "Sorry. I didn't mean to… I'm sorry. This is all so darned… *frustrating*!"

She nods, with something that looks oddly like sympathy. "I realise that, Clark, but we have no time for moping around."

I sigh in defeat. "I guess."

"You really don't want to do this, do you?"

I look up, surprised. Not only because it's the one comment she's made since she found out that relates directly to me without sarcasm or guile, but also because it's… well. It's pretty darned accurate.

Is it possible that she can read me as easily as I can read her…?

"It's not that I don't want to do it, Lois," I say, watching her warily. "I mean, I'd kind of like to keep the planet from exploding. If I'm able to. As an afterthought. But… I guess I'm just not sure that I can."

She shook her head. "Clark, you're *Superman* -"

"But I'm *not*!" I burst. "You don't seem to realise that. I haven't one clue of who I am. I don't remember how to be this… this big hero, this… *icon*. Frankly, I'm finding it pretty hard to believe that I ever did all those things."

"What things?"

I sigh. "Lifting a space shuttle into orbit. Halting mud slides and diverting volcano eruptions. Getting rid of giant tidal waves about to engulf Metropolis. Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. It just seems… alien to me."

She takes a seat beside me, and I can feel her edges softening.

"To risk landing us both into an episode of Days of Our Lives," she says quietly, "the fate of the free world does kind of depend on you. Looks like you're going to have to deal with this blockage in a bit of a hurry."

I look at her. Her beautiful face. She must be so afraid — her life in the hands of a cracked hero.

Like I can refuse this woman. Like I ever could.

"Where were you thinking about starting?" I ask hesitatingly.

***

"Oh, come on, Clark, don't be such a baby."

"Lois," I say, through gritted teeth. "I'm standing on the edge of a *very* narrow brick wall, a couple hundred feet above the street below, which by the way is made of concrete and not rubber or cotton wool or duck feathers, and you're telling me to jump off. If you don't mind, I'm going to take my own sweet time about it."

She drives her elbow into the back of my calf, and I wobble alarmingly. "Lois! Don't *do* that!"

She sniffs haughtily. "Like you didn't deserve it."

I take a deep breath, and look down again. Dumpsters litter the street below. From my vantage point, I can see the sun glisten on a pane of broken glass. A cat wails mournfully from somewhere among the rotting banana peels and old milk cartons.

//Oh, why couldn't it have been a big fluffy mattress I could have jumped onto… or a nice big sheet, I'd settle for a nice big sheet… a trampoline, or… or a giant marshmallow…//

"Clark, if you don't jump, I'm pushing you," comes the impatient voice from somewhere below my feet.

"Give me a minute," I say, petulantly.

She wouldn't really push me, would she?

A small hand grabs my ankle and jerks up and off. In my surprise, my other foot slips off the brick, and suddenly I'm tumbling into freefall.

She would.

***

"Okay, Clark, let's try again."

"Lois, this is clearly hopeless."

"Come on. Last time."

"You said that the last *five* times! Someone's gonna notice the crash. That poor cat's never going to recover if I land on her…"

"Everybody is out with their loved ones. We're the only two left in this entire apartment block. The losers trying to save the world. Now shut up and jump."

"But Lois…"

"Humour me, farmboy."

"Farmboy? More like human-rubber-boy."

"Good. Go with imagery. Just… just try to bounce somehow, and you'll end up soaring. Effortlessly."

"Effortlessly."

"Uh-huh."

***

This is getting ridiculous.

I rub my back, which certainly feels like a couple inches of asphalt has lodged there. Not that it hurts, exactly, more like a niggling itch and a feeling of grittiness.

If this has proved nothing else, it's proved that I'm one hundred percent, without a doubt, definitely Man of Steel. I've jumped off this building at least ten times, and I'm not even scratched.

Though I can't say the same for the street. There's a bit of a hollow from where I've landed continuously. Oops. That one's gonna be hard to explain away.

Not bothering to search the rest of the apartment, I stride right through my bedroom and onto my balcony.

And Lois isn't there.

"Lois?" I call cautiously. "Where are you?"

I find her in the sitting room, standing in front of the television, both hands gripping opposite elbows — as if she's trying to contain herself, hold herself in, prevent her body from collapsing by those two iron pincers.

"Sixteen hours till impact," she says, dread colouring her voice. For the first time in what feels like years, she doesn't sound cocky or impatient or martyred.

She sounds like what I am — what I've been for the past couple of days.

Lost. Afraid.

"Lois…" I say, wanting to go to her, wanting to take her in my arms. Wanting to hold her for all of time, so she'll never be afraid there isn't enough of it.

She shook her head, her body trembling. "It's fine, Clark," she says with forced lightness. "It's fine. We'll solve this thing and… and you'll go off and bust the meteor up and… and everything will be fine."

I watch her, unsure of what to do.

"You want to have another go?" I ask half-heartedly, and make a gesture towards the bedroom.

She looks around at me, sniffs, smiles.

"Sure," she says, "sure."

I smile into her eyes. Mad Dog Lane appears to be softening…

"Watching you plummet off that balcony is saving me hundreds of dollars in psychiatrist's bills."

…or not.

I walk through the arch, right behind her. Stand beside her at the balcony, begin to heft myself up there for another plunge to the street below…

<Help, Superman!>

I stop suddenly.

Lois is falling, falling, falling… out of a plane and into empty space, into a huge vat of bubbling poison, and I'm powerless to stop her…

"Lois!" I say in horror. And she turns to me. Those dark eyes, moving, questioning.

She's all right. It was a flashback, or a dream. She's right here in front of me.

"Oh… god," I say weakly, my knees trembling. "I think I just got a clue of what our relationship was like before all this."

She raises an eyebrow. "You did?"

Lois. Falling. Falling.

That terrible, bone-crunching, stomach-turning fear that I'm losing her, that I'll be too late…

"Were you constantly in mortal jeopardy, by any chance?"

Her brow quirks again. "You remember that?"

I look at her. This brave, strong, capable, passionate, fragile woman.

"I remember," I say quietly.

Never. Never. Never again.

"I remember you falling off buildings and… oh god, Lois, I remember being so afraid I was losing you… so afraid… I would have done anything to keep you alive… anything…"

A veil is over her eyes. And it's really, really hard to see what she's thinking. There's tenderness there, I'm sure of it, but there's also…

…craftiness?

The expression suddenly melts away, and I'm sure it was just a trick of the light.

"That's so sweet, Clark," she says, her voice laden with saccharine. And my spine stiffens. Uh oh.

"Lois?" I question warily. "Is everything all right?"

"Everything's fine," she says amiably. "Why wouldn't it be?"

I shake my head, unable to get rid of the inexplicable fear that's clinging to me.

"Y'know, I think I'm going to go get a cup of tea, if that's all right."

"Sure," I say distractedly. Pondering. Wondering. What the heck is she thinking?

'Click', her heel goes on the ground beside me. I know without turning that she's taking off her shoes.

And then I'm watching with horror as, without a sound, she races past me, places both hands flat on the balcony wall, and catapults herself over.

"Lois!"

Lois. Falling. Screaming. Dying.

Lois. I love her so much…

Without a conscious thought, I'm after her, every nerve racing, on fire and on end, every sinew urging, come on come on come on…

I catch her and pull her to me, roll her over so that she's on top of my chest. When we hit the ground, my body will cushion her…

But we're not going to hit the ground.

We're suspended in midair. Both of us.

And as soon as I think about that, we start to float gently upwards.

Just like that.

I'm… flying.

And she was right. It's the most natural thing in the world.

But *what* the *heck* was she thinking? *What* was she thinking?!

The bottom of my boot strikes the floor of the balcony, and I hug her to me, then push her violently away, holding her upper arms in a steel grip.

"What were you thinking, huh?" I ask furiously. "What the *hell* were you thinking? If I hadn't… if I hadn't… oh, god…"

"But you did, Clark," she says calmly, though she's white-faced and trembling. "You did."

I stare at her. "You… you colossal idiot, that was such an idiotic thing to do, Lois, so foolhardy, god…"

"I know," she says, halfway between laughing and crying. "I know."

"Don't you ever do that to me again, don't you ever do anything like that to me ever again…"

And then I'm pulling her to me, and I'm placing kisses everywhere I can reach — on her forehead, on her temple, on her cheek, on her neck. Holding her face in my hands, trembling at how darned near she came… how near we both came.

I find her mouth at last and I kiss her there, ridiculously happy that she's in one piece. She's in one piece and she's here responding to me, she's returning my kiss; she's fisting her hands in my hair and pulling me closer…

I've kissed her before like this, haven't I?

In Jason Trask's airplane. As a ruse, so she could whisper her plan to me.

In front of Lex Luthor. Just for the hell of it — a tiny respite from the hell she'd put me through, dancing around in her harem costume. As Superman. Feeling her melt in my arms.

In the honeymoon suite of the Lexor hotel, pressing her into the mattress, hoping she wouldn't throw me off her, hoping she'd realise what I was doing…

All a ruse. All a sham. But not this time.

And… I remember them all.

I lift her up and twirl her around, feeling a burst of joy bubble through me, then calm and break the embrace. I wrap both my arms tightly around her waist, kissing her on the forehead, holding her close and smelling her hair — rejoicing in her very existence.

I don't know how long we're both standing there before one of her hands — one of her delicate, slender hands — wraps around mine and pulls it from her waist. We're now just standing there, she's holding my hands prisoner, and…

And the expression on her face…

It's not love. I know it's not love. Much too soon, to think of anything like that from her. I know we have a million miles to go before she tells me she loves me.

But it's the next best thing. It's happiness.

Happiness I put there. A sheen of softness influenced by me.

And there's no trace of outrage or embarrassment that I just kissed the living daylights out of her. And no reticence, should I ever think to do it again.

And I will, Ms Lane, don't you think otherwise…

But… the look in her eyes, it's changing. To alarm, and fright, and not a little annoyance…

Ah, crud.

"Clark Kent, what in the name of Elvis d'you think you're doing? Wipe that goofy smile off your face and leave the planet, right now! I don't want to see you back on this earth before you've reduced that meteor to a pile of rubble!"

I bubble with laughter. "That's my Lois. Always telling me what to do."

She lifts an eyebrow. "You remember that, do you?"

"I remember everything, Lois," I say softly, and bend to kiss her — but she bats me away.

"That's just great, Clark, but don't you think that the whole imminent doom thing is a tiny bit more important than this? Get out there!"

I smile at her, then heave a breath. "I guess you're right, Lois."

"See, your memory really *is* back," she says smugly.

I levitate slightly off the ground and make to ascend, but before I can a fist grabs the back of my cape and pulls me back to her mouth. She kisses me fiercely, briefly, and I'm dazed when she lets me go.

"For luck," she says, grinning, fully aware of her power over me.

I float slightly above her, watch her face sparkle in the light of the sun, and smile.

"I love you, Lois Lane," I say softly, and before she can retort I'm gone in a blaze of blue.

I'll talk to her about it tomorrow — smooth her fears and calm her inhibitions, and I'll make sure she knows exactly how long I'm prepared to wait for her. I'll make sure she knows I'm not expecting anything in the short run. I'll make sure she's not spooked, or afraid. I'll make sure she knows how much I love her.

Tomorrow. I'll do it tomorrow. For — in the immortal words of Scarlett O'Hara — tomorrow is another day.

THE END

(c) Sara, 2005