By Sue S. <email@example.com>
Submitted: July 2007
Summary: An impromptu trip to Las Vegas for a story takes an unexpected turn.
This takes place after "The Phoenix" but before "Top Copy". I just love that time frame in the series — when they're both feeling the attraction between them but the revelation hasn't happened yet. There are so many possibilities that it makes me giddy.
This story is actually two stories combined into one because I so liked the idea of weaving the two elements together. One is a story challenge from DJ and the other is a suggestion from my mom's best friend. (Never tell anyone you're writing fanfic unless you want the whole neighborhood to know.) Since this started out as two stories, DJ has graciously agreed to let me count it as two in my penance. So that's three down and two to go. If this doesn't work, it's not DJ or Brenda's fault.
For those familiar with the area, please note that this story is taking place in 1995, not the present day. Las Vegas and the surrounding area have changed *a lot* since then. I reference an actual hotel in this story, but I meant no copyright infringement. Then again, I'm blatantly writing about characters that don't belong to me. Rest assured that I meant no copyright infringement there either. I just wanted to take them for a little spin and show them a good time. Whether they actually have a good time is debatable.
"Married?" Martha repeated incredulously. "They're married?"
"That's what the admit forms say." The clerk looked again at the paperwork in front of her. "You're the next of kin listed for both of them."
Martha came back to herself and realized she was focusing on the wrong detail. "And they're in the hospital? What happened?"
"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I don't have all the details. Is there someone else, someone in this area, maybe, that I should be calling?"
"No, no, I'm sorry. Tell them we're on our way. You can tell them that, can't you?" Suddenly Martha realized just how dire the situation might be. "Is that why you're calling? Because they can't?"
"Um, well…" The clerk hesitated and then her tone softened somewhat. "I'm sorry, I really don't know. I was just asked to contact someone, a family member or a legal representative, and ask them to come here to make decisions regarding their care."
*The previous Monday*
"He's got a suitcase, Lois. He's leaving Metropolis. What are you going to do? Follow him onto the plane?"
"If I have to," Lois snapped back at him. "You know we're right, Clark! That man is slime. He's worse than slime. And we had him, dead to rights. Perry was insane to make us rewrite the story."
Clark sighed and followed Lois as she doggedly continued to trail Mickey Raddatz through the airport terminal. It wasn't too hard to accomplish. Mickey was a large man wearing a neon green, orange and blue Hawaiian shirt.
"Lois, Perry was right. That story straddled the very fine line that exists between libel and reporting. Until Mickey does something that we can prove, we can't print speculation."
"Then we'll just follow him until we see him do something," Lois said in exasperation. "Bobby said something big was going down and I believe him."
They followed Mickey through Security and then to gate C3. Mickey chatted briefly with the ticket agent and then went into the nearby first class lounge, pocketing his newly acquired ticket on the way.
Lois stepped up to the gate's desk and glanced up at the marquee behind the agent. It read 'Flight 563, Las Vegas, 3:05 p.m.'
"I need to get on this flight," she told the agent behind the podium. Lois leaned heavily against the ticket counter as if she meant to try and get a look at the woman's computer screen.
"Do you have a reservation?" the agent asked as she adjusted her screen slightly away from Lois.
"I, uh, no," Lois admitted. "But didn't the man in front of me just get a ticket for this flight?"
"He had a reservation," the agent told her with what Lois felt was a trace of mockery.
"He was flying to Las Vegas?" Lois clarified.
The woman ignored her and gave Clark a tight smile. "How many are flying?" she asked him.
"Two," Clark answered with a smile. He'd been on the receiving end of far too many of Lois' irritated tirades not to feel some empathy for the ticket agent. She was only doing her job.
"Well…" The woman tapped on her keyboard for nearly a minute before looking up at them again. "I can get you both on the flight but you won't be sitting by each other. Is this round-trip?"
"Yes," Lois said. "Just give us an open-ended return. How much will that be?"
"Fifteen hundred," the agent answered.
"Dollars?" Lois was aghast. "Fifteen hundred dollars? Are you serious?"
"That's to be expected when you purchase a last minute fare," the woman said matter-of-factly.
Lois grumbled under her breath as she pulled out her wallet and contemplated the credit cards inside. Not that card. Or that one.
"Here, use this." Clark handed the agent his credit card and inwardly sighed at the injustice of having to waste fifteen hundred dollars and five hours to do something he could have accomplished in a minute's time for absolutely nothing. His only other alternative was to tell Lois his secret but she was already in a foul mood and he doubted she'd take the news well. He did allow himself one small dig at her expense. "You'd better pray that I get reimbursed for this trip or you're going to owe me seven-fifty."
Their flight was called, but Mickey didn't board with the other first class passengers. Lois stood up and began to pace in the small space between the windows and Clark's chair. Clark glanced over the top of his glasses and into the first class lounge. Mickey was reading a paper and appeared in no great hurry to leave.
"Why Las Vegas?" Lois mused out loud. "Isn't that where Big Joe went after the gangland showdown last year? Do you think Mickey's going to meet with him? Maybe those rumors about them working together were true after all."
Clark shrugged. "Or maybe the rumors about Mickey being a gambling addict are true."
Lois stared out the window at the plane they were about to board. "Do you think Big Joe is going to try and come back to Metropolis?"
"If I were going to stage a coup, Mickey Raddatz is the last felon I'd ask for help." Clark shrugged. "Maybe Mickey is only the go-between for someone else?"
Lois nervously cracked her knuckles. "Why isn't he boarding the plane? Do you think he knows that we're following him?"
"Maybe he's one of those people who boards at the last possible moment?" Clark suggested.
Lois frowned at him and turned to pace another circuit.
"Here's what we do," Clark said. "We board the plane and watch to see if Mickey does too. If he doesn't, we'll get off the plane. They're calling your section now, just go. I'll get on and watch for him since I'm closer to the front."
"Why do you get to sit closest to the front?" she asked peevishly.
"I need a window seat," he answered. "I get airsick if I can't see outside."
Her face split in a sudden grin. "You hate to fly," she said with a touch of gleeful spite. "Don't you?"
"I hate flying in planes," Clark muttered.
"I know," Lois said with a sigh. "I'd rather fly with Superman." She gave him a reassuring pat on the shoulder. "Fine, you can have the window seat. Just stand up and wave at me if we need to get off the plane or give me a thumb's up if Mickey gets on."
Ten minutes later Clark stood up and searched for seat 37C. He caught Lois' eye and gave her a thumb's up.
When they landed Clark was able to get off the plane long before Lois. He followed Mickey, hoping that Lois would understand and not berate him too much when she finally caught up to him. Mickey stopped at one of the bookstores and was perusing the best sellers when Lois came barreling past Clark. He caught her arm and pulled her into the coffee shop that he was using as a vantage point.
"He's in there." Clark nodded in Mickey's direction. Then he tilted his head with interest. Mickey was muttering something under his breath to the man standing next to him. Clark tried to listen in but was unable to hear anything distinct between the crowds of travelers rushing past and Lois' eager questions about what Mickey had done so far. "I don't know," he said to Lois, completely distracted and not quite certain if his answer even fit her question.
Mickey began to walk again and they slipped into the stream of people behind him. Mickey skipped the baggage carousel and went directly outside to the taxi stand. Clark overheard him say "the Palace" as he got into a cab.
They were standing in the lobby of the Palace, turning in small circles as they watched for Mickey in the people milling around inside. The front desk clerk had offered to leave a message for Mr. Raddatz but would not give them his room number.
"Maybe we should sit here and wait for him come back through?" Clark suggested.
"Do you know how many exits there are in this place?" Lois snapped at him.
Just then Clark spotted Mickey. Unfortunately it was obvious that Mickey had just seen them as well.
"Uh oh," he muttered under his breath to Lois. "He sees us."
Lois turned around to see Mickey walking towards them with a deceptively affable smile on his face. He said something to the four burly men in equally garish tropical shirts trailing him and they held back as he approached them.
"Lane and Kent? Is that you?"
Out of ideas and feeling like a deer in headlights, Clark nodded and pretended to be surprised. "Mickey Raddatz. Imagine the luck, running into you here."
"It's a small world, ain't it? What are you two doin' in Vegas?"
Lois bit back the impulse to say 'following you, you idiot' and blurted out the first thing that popped into her head. "Uh, we're eloping."
Mickey's thick features widened into huge grin. "Love, ah, love." He put his hands over his heart and feigned a sigh. "That's beautiful. When are you gettin' hitched?"
"We just got here," Clark said as he awkwardly put his arm around Lois's shoulders. "We were going to get a room first."
Mickey's eyes took on a lascivious gleam. "You musta come out on the same flight as me. Only I don't see no luggage. Did ya leave Metropolis in one hot hurry, kids?"
"Uh…" Lois said. Why hadn't she told him something else? She could have told him that they were here to do a story on compulsive gambling or something — *anything* — else.
Mickey let out a leering chuckle. "Could hardly wait to get your hands on her, huh?" He elbowed Clark knowingly and Clark blushed.
"No, that wasn't it," Clark protested.
"Sure," Mickey said congenially and winked at him. "I understand. It's a good thing we bumped into each other. They got four conventions in town this week, and you're never gonna get a decent room without some string-pulling. Which, by the by, I am happy to do for ya. I know you two covered a few, uh, indiscretions for me last week. I couldn't believe it when that little run-in we had didn't make the papers. I owe you big time."
"Oh, no…" Lois started to say but Mickey waved away her objections.
"I won't take no for an answer. I insist. I know the perfect wedding chapel. Got married there myself once or twice. No, maybe it was three times. Anyway, the minister is a friend of mine. He'll take good care of you. You gotta wedding license yet?"
"Oh no, really…" Clark tried but Mickey had insinuated himself between them and was propelling them towards the door.
"We'll get you two hitched, have a celebratory dinner, and then I'll leave you two love birds on your own."
"No, really, Mickey, it's very nice of you to offer, but it's not necessary," Lois tried again.
"Ain't you never heard about offers you can't refuse?" Mickey huffed as he opened the back door of a waiting taxi. "I'm gonna be insulted if you tell me no, kids. You're here to get married; I'm here to help. Now get in the car." There was the faintest trace of impatience in his voice and they both realized that he wasn't entirely buying their story about eloping.
Lois looked up at Clark. He shrugged and said, "It's your call, honey."
She glanced at Mickey and then over at the bodyguards who had trailed him outside and were waiting to get in the next cab.
"Come on then, Clark," she said and tried to appear enthusiastic. "Let's get married."
Mickey apparently knew everyone in Las Vegas. They stopped at the Bureau of Marriage Licenses on the way to the wedding chapel and he had them in and out in twenty minutes with their license in hand. Lois had been desperately trying to think of a graceful way to back out, but no other options presented themselves. It didn't help that each of Mickey's friends obviously had a poorly concealed weapon beneath their brightly colored tropical shirts.
"Mr. Raddatz! How delightful to see you again!" A tall, thin man was crossing the lobby of the wedding chapel with his hands extended to greet them. He had two little puffs of white hair just behind his ears and the rest of his scalp was bright pink. "And this must be your charming bride!" He took Lois' hands in his — they were startlingly cold — and she flinched at his touch.
"Nah, Reverend Bob, not mine." Mickey slapped Clark on the back. "This is the lucky man. They're friends of mine. I'm just here to share their joy."
"Wonderful! What kind of a ceremony did you two want? Religious? Civil?"
"Just the usual," Lois told him. "Nothing special." Sunscreen, she thought as she looked at the top of Bob's sunburned head. How did someone live in Las Vegas and not know about sunscreen?
"Nothing special? My dear, we have nothing but special memories here." Reverend Bob waved away her words. "Have you written your own vows?"
"No." Lois wasn't sure if it was nerves or irritation, but she had the feeling her skin was about to crawl away on its own. "We'll just do the 'love, honor, cherish' bit, okay?"
"Obey," Mickey corrected her. "It's love, honor and obey."
"Then I guess I have written my vows because I'm not promising to 'obey' anyone," Lois shot back.
Reverend Bob laughed. "We'll go with something traditional, yet modern. Any thoughts on music?"
"No music." Lois gestured impatiently. "Can't we just get this over with?"
"Do you have rings?"
"We don't," Clark answered. "We only decided to get married this morning."
"I'll buy you the rings," Mickey said jovially. "My treat."
"No, thank you. It's not necessary," Lois replied. "Really. You've done far too much for us as it is."
Mickey spread his hands in a gesture of defeat. "Suit yourselves. No rings then."
Reverend Bob tapped a finger against his lips as he considered the couple before him. "Well, it would appear this is going to be an intimate affair. We'll just use the little chapel." He took Lois' arm, startling her yet again with his cold hands, and guided her in the direction of the chapel. Clark, Mickey, and the thugs followed dutifully behind.
Reverend Bob shuffled and nudged Clark and Lois so that they were facing each other and then he went to stand before them. Mickey and his friends settled themselves on the folding chairs of the front row.
"Please join hands," Reverend Bob prompted.
Clark took Lois' hands in his. His body seemed to be moving slower and entirely independent of his control. Her hands trembled a little in his as she tilted her head back to look up at him. Their eyes met and he squeezed her fingers in reassurance.
Nervous — why the hell was she feeling nervous? Lois grinned at the sheer absurdity of the moment and felt immeasurably better when Clark grinned back at her.
'Hi,' she mouthed at him, feeling a blush rising in her cheeks when his lips moved to return the greeting. She rolled her eyes, embarrassed that she actually felt apprehensive about this. It wasn't like she was *really* marrying him. They could probably have this annulled before they even left Vegas. Even so, part of her wished she had taken the time to check her makeup. After the long airplane flight she could have used some freshening up. She'd had no idea when she picked out this suit this morning that she would be getting married in it. No, not really married, but still… she would have gone with a lighter color or something. She had that one cream-colored suit — or even a dress — instead of this serviceable and boring brown ensemble.
Her mind was jerked back to the present when she realized that Reverend Bob was starting.
"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to celebrate the marriage of…" Reverend Bob looked down at the index card he was holding. "Clark and Lois. Clark, will you repeat after me?"
Clark repeated the words slowly, as Lois gazed up at him, looking just as bemused as he felt. "I, Clark, take you, Lois, for my lawful wife."
Wife. The word echoed in Clark's mind as Reverend Bob smiled beatifically at him and recited the next words Clark was supposed to say. He was marrying Lois. When they were finished she would be his lawful wife. Suddenly it didn't matter to him that this was only temporary. Whether they were married or not, the promises he was about to make were sincere.
Clark savored the weight and meaning of each syllable as he spoke his vows to Lois. "To have and to hold from this day forward… forsaking all others… for better or for worse… for richer or for poorer… in sickness and in health… to love, honor and cherish until death parts us."
Lois blinked rapidly, feeling her knees weaken as she realized it was her turn. Clark had done it; she could too. She dazedly mimicked Bob's words, not entirely sure she was actually speaking. "I, Lois, take you, Clark, for my lawful husband."
She looked into Clark's eyes and felt the oddest sense of calm reassurance. They were in this together — there was something heartening about that fact. Usually when she did something stupid she was alone in her actions. This time she was only half at fault. She smiled as she spoke the next words, thinking of their almost-date and the way just being close to him could sometimes addle her mind. "To have and to hold from this day forward…"
Clark returned the smile, setting off an excited little flutter in the pit of her stomach. Having and holding him wasn't an unpleasant thought. "Forsaking all others…" She could hardly wait to get back to Metropolis and watch him explain to Mayson Drake that they were, albeit temporarily, married. "For better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, honor and cherish until death parts us."
Lois was breathless as she finished speaking. Even if she wasn't actually making this promise, they were still *the* words. She had never thought she would ever say them to anyone without meaning them. She comforted herself that she could consider this just a dress rehearsal.
Reverend Bob beamed at them. "By the authority vested in me by the State of Nevada, I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride."
Mickey and his bodyguards were all clapping heartily as Clark tipped Lois' chin up to kiss her. Someone let out a whistle and he decided to make at least one thing about this ceremony authentic. He took her upper lip between his, tipping her head back so he could kiss her with feeling. He could taste the faint flavor of diet cola — she must have drunk one on the plane. He used the tip of his tongue to tease away the sweetness that had lingered on her lip.
He ended the kiss and she looked up him with wide, shocked eyes. For a moment he thought she was going to slap him. Instead, she took in an unsteady breath and then let out a nervous giggle as her cheeks turned red. Giddy with the realization that, regardless of the circumstances, they were actually married, Clark leaned down to whisper the words he had secretly hoped he might someday say to her. "Hello, Mrs. Kent."
The burn on her cheeks became hotter and Lois turned away from him to accept the congratulations of Mickey and his goons.
*<"…Mrs. Kent…"> *
It was a good thing that he had no idea just how thrilling that name sounded to her. Admit it, she told herself. You've got a crush on your husband.
"Clark's in the hospital?" Jonathan dusted his hands off on the seat of his pants. "What do you mean Clark's in the hospital? What happened?"
"I don't know. They wouldn't tell me. They said they needed someone to come and make medical decisions for him and Lois."
"Lois is in the hospital?" Jonathan shook his head in bewilderment. "Why would they ask us to make medical decisions for Lois?"
"Because they're married," Martha said as if that should have been blatantly obvious.
"They're… what?" Jonathan wondered if Martha had decided to tipple the afternoon away. That thought made about as much sense as Clark being in the hospital or unexpectedly married.
"Go get cleaned up." Martha waved at the house. "I'll call the airline."
He was about to argue with her, or lean closer to smell her breath, when the nervous flutter of her hands caught his attention. Martha wasn't pulling a prank on him. She was in earnest.
"Twenty minutes," he told her. "I can be ready in twenty minutes." He took hold of her hands to stop them from shaking. "There's no sense in worrying until we know what's happened."
"He's in a hospital," Martha said softly, as if the repetition of the words held the secret to explaining them. She squeezed her husband's hand, knowing that he understood as well as she did that Clark being in the hospital was reason enough to worry, let alone that he couldn't make decisions for himself. Or Lois, she reminded her herself. If there was one thing she knew with certainty, it was that Clark would protect Lois to his last breath. If they were both in a hospital, it meant that Clark was…
Martha closed her eyes, unable to finish that thought.
*The previous Monday night*
"Sorry it ain't the honeymoon suite," Mickey said as they rode in the elevator. "But you just need a bed and a door that locks, am I right?" He let out a long laugh at his own lame joke and one of his bodyguards joined in. The man had a flattened nose and Lois wondered who had broken it for him and why.
The elevator stopped on the twelfth floor and the doors opened. Clark and Lois both stepped out, grateful to be away from Mickey and his crew. Mickey continued to ramble on, "I'll meet you in the lobby at seven o'clock for dinner. Don't you stand me up or I'll…" The doors closed, cutting off the rest of his words.
"Twelve-twenty," Lois muttered to herself as she walked down the hallway in search of their room. She felt desperate to keep moving, to be doing something. Otherwise she was going to start thinking and she hated to admit to herself that she had no idea what to do next. "Twelve-twenty, twelve-twenty." She stopped in front of their room and tried the key card in the door. The light flickered red and she let out an exasperated sigh and tried again. This time the light went green and she pressed down on the handle and opened the door.
"Don't you want me to carry you over the threshold?" Clark teased as she moved inside.
She ignored him and tossed her purse onto the king-size bed as she strode over to the window to look outside. The view of the fountains in front of the casino did nothing to quell the claustrophobia she was feeling. She had thought she'd feel better after she got away from Mickey's leers and dirty jokes, but she still felt trapped.
She was married. *Married!* To Clark. She was married to Clark. If she kept repeating the words she was sure they would start to make sense soon. What on earth had possessed her to agree to this? Other than a completely rational fear of Mickey and his gun-toting buddies? She turned away from the window to see Clark dialing the phone.
"Who are you calling?" she asked suspiciously.
"Perry," he answered. "I figured we'd better tell him where we are."
"Are you insane?" Lois rushed over and pushed down on the receiver to cut off the call. "What are you going to tell him? That we followed Mickey to Vegas, promptly got caught, and then, oh, by the way, we had to get married so that Mickey wouldn't sic his goons on us?"
"I was going to leave out the marriage part."
Lois narrowed her eyes at him. "Let's wait until after dinner to call Perry. Maybe Mickey will spill his guts after a couple of bottles of wine."
Clark hung up the phone. "Whatever you say, dear."
"Don't get cute with me," she threatened.
"Or what?" he asked, tilting his head in curiosity. "The honeymoon is over?"
Heat rushed to her face and she couldn't think of a single snappy retort for him. "There is no honeymoon," she hissed. "We're getting this annulled as soon as possible."
"Of course," Clark said, knowing that his tone was just soothing enough to increase her irritation. "But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy the free honeymoon while it lasts."
Lois let out an exasperated sigh. "Don't be stupid. If we consummate this marriage, we can't annul it!"
He grinned at her in delight. "Lois, who said anything about consummating this marriage?"
For a moment she simply gaped at him, horrified that he had trapped her so effortlessly in her own words. Where was her mind? It was so unfair that the teensiest little part of her wished that the kiss he had given her back in that gaudy wedding chapel had been the real thing. Even knowing that it was just for show had not stopped her toes from curling. It had been just the right mix of soft and demanding and it had brought back memories of another kiss he had given her under equally false marital circumstances. Clark's pretend kisses always seemed to promise so much more — it made her restless to know what a real kiss from him would be like.
The pleased little smile he was giving her now was the same as when he had called her 'Mrs. Kent' earlier. It irked her even more to realize that he was enjoying having a laugh at her expense. Lois opened and closed her mouth a few times but couldn't think of an insult to hurl at him. To her immense relief there was a knock on the door to distract her.
When she opened the door the man with the flat nose held out a garment bag to her. "Mrs. Kent," he said in a mocking sing-song voice. "Mickey asked me to deliver this to you. He wanted me to remind you two not to disappoint him for dinner."
Lois numbly accepted the bag, draping it over her arm as the man gave her a slow once-over. She slammed the door shut and impulsively threw both the lock and the security latch for good measure.
"What is it?" Clark asked from behind her.
"Something Mickey sent over." She hung the bag on the wall hook near the desk and unzipped it.
"Mickey sent you a dress?" Clark fought to hide a smile. He was absolutely certain that Lois was going to snap out of her daze soon and he'd be a dead man for teasing her. But that didn't mean he couldn't enjoy the cognitive dissonance of being so unexpectedly married to her while it lasted. She might have thought the kiss he gave her after they were pronounced man and wife was for the benefit of Mickey and his entourage — and it was — but for just a moment he had let himself pretend he was really hers.
Lois removed the dress from the garment bag. It was red — Superman red — and she was dismayed to see how plunging the neckline was. "Does he really think I'll wear this? I'm going to look like a call girl!"
"A high-priced call girl, if it makes you feel any better," Clark teased. She frowned at him and he managed to look vaguely chagrined. "If you don't want to wear the dress, Lois, don't wear the dress. Put it back in the bag and return it to him at dinner."
"I don't know…" Lois held the dress against her experimentally and looked at her reflection in the mirror above the desk. It was a halter-top dress, so she'd have to forgo wearing a bra. "Do *you* think I should wear the dress?"
That had to be a trick question but he answered her with a mischievous sparkle in his eyes. "Are you asking your husband or your partner on this stakeout?"
Their eyes met in the mirror and she tilted her head in curiosity. "Does it matter?"
"Sure, it matters. If you wear that dress, we might not need to ply Mickey with wine to get him to talk." Clark risked her ire and flashed her a grin.
The risk paid off and she grinned back at him. "So, as my partner, the answer is 'yes'?"
Lois raised an eyebrow, spotting an opportunity to make him pay for his comment about consummating the marriage. "And as my husband? What would you say then?"
Clark looked at the way the dress was draped over her soft curves and found he had to clear his throat to answer. "I'd say I was the luckiest man in the world."
Feeling emboldened by the admiration on his face and absolutely certain she was about to break even on the conversation, Lois winked at him in the mirror. "Ply me with enough wine and maybe *you'll* get lucky tonight." The gamble paid off and Clark hurriedly looked away, but not before she saw him blush. She brushed past him before he could form a response and felt like her equilibrium had been restored.
Lois scrutinized her reflection in the bathroom mirror. There wasn't much she could do with her hair. The dress was a little big on her, which meant that she had to keep her shoulders back or she was going to give everyone more than cleavage to look at. Suddenly seized with inspiration, she rifled through her purse and found a small brooch. She pinned the dress together at her breasts and felt much better. Not only did it make her look less slutty, but it also helped soothe her fears of accidental exposure.
She took one last deep breath, smoothed her hair nervously, and then opened the door. Clark was standing across the room near the window. He turned around when she asked, "Well, how do I look?"
Clark froze, his gaze momentarily stuck below her face. "Uh, you look… wow. You look amazing."
"Really?" She turned around slowly to give him a view of her bare back. She had decided to wear the dress simply to see Clark's reaction and, so far, he wasn't disappointing her. It was only fair to reward his interest. She walked towards him, noting with delight the distracted look on his face. Lois brushed some imaginary lint from his lapel and then smoothed his tie unnecessarily. "Shall we go?" she asked and took his arm.
They stepped out of the elevator to find Mickey, now dressed in a suit, waiting for them. Clark looked around but he couldn't see the bodyguards anywhere nearby.
"Lois!" Mickey let out a wolf whistle. "I shoulda married you myself. You look so good, I could ravish you five times before we even got back to the room."
"Hey," Clark said as his arm went around Lois's shoulders possessively. "You're talking about my wife."
Mickey blinked in surprise at the low threat in Clark's voice. He took a step back and held up his hands. "Down boy. I meant no disrespect."
Caught off-guard by his possessive words and touch, Lois glanced up at her partner. She had never seen Clark look so stern and imposing before — and yet his expression was so familiar. She gave Mickey a tight smile. "Let's just go and eat now, shall we?"
After dinner, Mickey told them to order dessert on his tab and then excused himself. Both Clark and Lois rose to follow as soon as he disappeared from the restaurant. They trailed him through the casino and outside to the fountains. Mickey stood near a fountain, smoking a cigar and repeatedly checking his watch. Clark and Lois lingered in the colonnade and watched as another man came up to Mickey and appeared to ask for a light. Clark tried to eavesdrop but there were too many people around and the splash of the water in the fountains was distracting. He could only catch snatches of their conversation.
"You're the lip reader. What are they saying?" Lois asked impatiently.
"Something about a shipment, Big Joe, and tomorrow, nine o'clock at Hoover Dam," Clark said.
"Big Joe? A shipment? A shipment of what?"
Clark ducked behind a column as Mickey turned and began walking towards them. Lois pressed up close against him to avoid detection. Clark gulped as he was treated to a glimpse of the inner swell of one breast just before it was decisively pushed against his ribs. He cautioned himself to never again even glance at anything lower than her shoulders. While he couldn't forgive Mickey for saying it out loud, he understood perfectly how looking at Lois in that dress had made the gangster feel. He hadn't been able to look squarely at her all the way through dinner.
"Did he see us?" Lois asked quietly, taking hold of his arm for balance as she peeked over his shoulder. Almost the entire length of her body was now pressed tightly against his, not to mention the fact that she was breathing so close to his throat that he could close his eyes and almost imagine they were necking.
"I don't think so. Is he gone?" His voice was unsteady but he was hoping she'd just put it down to him trying to be quiet and unobtrusive.
Lois nodded but didn't move away from him. Her entire body had gone on alert the moment it had come into contact with his. She wished he would put his hand on her back or do something to make it look like they were having a romantic encounter. Just one kiss — how could it hurt to sweeten the ruse with a kiss? That kiss he had given her back at the wedding chapel had been amazing… and completely for show. Yet again her imagination ran wild, wondering what it would be like to kiss him for real.
Married, the voice in her head mocked her. You're married to him now — you should be able to kiss him whenever you want. Try it — just see if he feels the same way. Except she knew that he didn't — not really. He might like her, but Clark had scarcely even looked in her direction all through dinner, and that snub still stung. Here they were, standing close enough to look like lovers, and he wasn't even going to try and take advantage of the opportunity. Disappointment filtered through her — he wasn't going to do anything. Apparently he was only willing to be affectionate when he knew that Mickey was watching them. Like earlier when he had cautioned Mickey that she was his wife. She had felt the phantom weight of his hand on her bare shoulder long after he had stopped touching her. The exposed skin on her back ached for the warmth of a hand she knew wasn't forthcoming.
"Come on." Clark stepped away from the column and the sweet temptation of her body pressed against his and headed in the direction of the swanky shops attached to the hotel. "As much as I like that dress on you, I don't think you want to wear it to Hoover Dam tomorrow."
"So what did Perry have to say?" Lois asked as she came out of the bathroom.
Clark was sitting against the headboard of the bed with his shoes off and the television on. He looked over at her and then smiled. "Wow, it's every bridegroom's dream. Are those flannel pajamas?"
"They're not flannel, they're cotton." And they were the least sexy pajamas that she could find in the shop.
His attention shifted back to the television and he picked up the remote to change the channel. "You can rest assured that they don't make me want to ravish you five times."
A little tiny piece of her suddenly wished she had bought the silk nightie with spaghetti straps. Maybe it was only female pride, but couldn't he want to ravish her — just a little? Would it kill him to admit he was attracted to her?
"Perry said we'd better come back with a heck of a story or an incontrovertible Elvis sighting." Clark stood up and walked towards the bathroom. "Are you done in there?"
"Yeah, go ahead." Lois picked up the remote from the night stand and sat where Clark had just been sitting. She reached behind her to plump the pillow.
"Don't get too comfortable over there. I believe I get the bed this time," Clark said, "seeing as how you got the bed on our last honeymoon."
"Take the bed." She shrugged and waved at the cushy armchair near the window. "I'll sleep in the chair."
Lois waited for him to soften, to tell her that he'd do the chivalrous thing and take the chair. Or even to suggest that they could share — it was a big bed after all. Instead, he picked up the bag containing his newly purchased pajamas and disappeared into the bathroom.
When Clark came back out, she had gone to stand at the window. He sat on the other side of the bed, the one furthest from the window, in the hopes that she really wouldn't sleep in the chair. The television was still on and he pretended to watch it, but he could only think about Lois.
Wife. She was his wife. It was both a dream come true and a waking nightmare. He stared at the television without really seeing it and wondered what she would say if he told her about Superman right now. Would she want to stay married to him if she knew the truth? Clark fought a sigh — he couldn't tell her. It was the wrong time, wrong place, wrong situation. He glanced over at her to find that she was watching him curiously.
"Weird, huh?" she asked softly.
"This." She spread her hands to indicate him and the room in general. "When I pictured my wedding night, this was not how I imagined it."
"Oh yeah?" Clark sat up a little straighter. "How did you imagine it?"
Lois rolled her eyes. "Well, for one thing, it wasn't going to be a shotgun wedding."
Clark grinned. "Lois, where I come from a shotgun wedding means the bride is pregnant. Do you have something you want to tell me?"
She blushed and moved away from the window. "Okay, then, what would you call it when we practically got married at gunpoint?"
"In our case?" He tipped his head back and thought about it for a few seconds. Then he shrugged and looked over at her. "I guess I'd call it a shotgun wedding."
Lois smiled at him, pleased that he had conceded the point so readily. "Do you think he knows? Mickey, I mean. Do you think he knows that we're just out here to follow him?"
Clark considered her question. "Maybe. It feels like he's messing with us, doesn't it?"
Lois moved closer to the bed, trying to work up her courage to sit on it at the same time as him. "I just hate having to wait until tomorrow to find out why he's here and what he's up to. What if we're wrong, Clark? What if we followed him all the way here, went to all this trouble, and he's just sightseeing?"
Clark smiled at her. "Then you're going to owe me seven hundred and fifty dollars."
Lois let out a soft laugh. "And an annulment."
"Oh, I don't know." His smile widened, melting what little resolve she had left. "I sort of like being married to you."
Her knees wobbled and she plopped down on the corner of the bed. Married, her mind chanted over and over. You're married. To Clark. You're married to Clark. Just kiss him.
Clark was about to ask her to move since she was now blocking his view of the television, but the rapid beat of her heart and the stutter of her breath stopped him. "Are you okay?" he asked.
Lois shrugged. She didn't quite trust her voice and she was afraid that if she moved now she might just crawl into bed and ask him to snuggle with her.
"Come to bed," he said softly.
Lois shivered, unable to hold back a gasp at the promise those words could have held. She didn't budge from the corner of the bed, even when she heard him move and felt the mattress shift slightly. Clark moved in front of her but she kept her gaze fixed on the floor. Alone, alone, alone. She was all alone with him in this room and that realization was making her feel awkward and shy. What if he kissed her? What if *she* kissed him? Right now? Right here? What would he do?
"You can have the bed," he said quietly. "I'll take the chair."
She finally dared to look up and their eyes met. Her heart hammered painfully in her chest as she realized that he wasn't going to kiss her. He was just going to walk away. He was going to sleep in the chair. She was going to have to lie in bed all night, just a few feet away from him, and listen to him breathe and wish that she had been brave enough to kiss him. Her mind raced to find a reason for him to stay right where he was. He started to turn away and she stood up and grabbed his arm to stall him.
"Wait." The word seemed to have escaped without her quite meaning to say anything.
Clark faced her again and she dropped her hand from his arm. "What is it?" he asked.
"I know this is backwards," she said, her mouth moving rapidly to drown out the shrieks of 'No! Don't!' in her mind. "And it's awkward and weird and yet, I kind of like being married. To you, I mean. Tonight, when you put Mickey in his place, it was nice. I can fight my own battles — that's not it. I just like having someone — you — to back me up."
He smiled and she felt a welling of emotion as he softly assured her, "I'll always back you up, Lois. Always."
"I know that. I guess it was having you call me your wife that made it seem so much more… authoritative, you know? I know you like me, at least a little. After all, you have asked me out, even if we never actually went on a date. And now we're married and I've never even kissed you. Not for real, I mean. It's always been because someone was threatening us in some way. Just once I'd like to kiss you without worrying about whether we're going to survive it."
Danger, his mind cautioned him. Danger! They were legally wed and all alone in a hotel room thousands of miles from home. She had never looked more beautiful or more vulnerable than she did right now in modest pajamas as her eyes anxiously searched his. He glanced away, focusing on the narrow ribbon of light where the curtains weren't quite closed. There was an entire world out there — one that he usually couldn't block out. Tonight the only sounds he could hear were the frantic beat of his own heart and the nervous resonance of her breathing.
"If you don't want to, that's fine. Forget I said anything." Lois felt like an idiot. Clark liked her; she was sure of that. But he had also spent the two weeks since their almost date running out on her at the oddest times, just like he always had. The man obviously had some severe commitment issues. Her negative thoughts were scattered when his hand cupped her cheek.
"A real kiss?" he asked, just to make sure he understood her. "Are you sure?"
All the air seemed to have been squeezed out of her lungs. Before she could lose her nerve, she went on tiptoe and kissed him — just the slightest, softest brush of her lips against his. His lips parted as she was about to pull away and she found herself kissing him again, taking that full lower lip of his between hers and paying it back for all the distraction it had caused her since the words, 'You may now kiss the bride.' Her hands went to his shoulders to brace herself. The realization of just how wide and solid his shoulders were sent a shiver through her. Husband! He was her husband! She swayed closer to him, dizzy with the knowledge that she was *kissing her husband*.
His arms closed around her, one hand tipping her head back to rest in his palm as his mouth moved against hers again and again. His kiss was gentle and yet there was an urgency to it, an intensity that built with each pull of his mouth on hers. His arms tightened around her, holding her securely against him. Lois gave in to the tender demands of his kisses and his arms, feeling as though her entire body was melting into his. She combed her fingers into his hair and made the softest moan of pleasure.
It was her moan that was his undoing. Clark couldn't get close enough, couldn't taste her nearly enough now. He sank to the edge of the bed and she came with him. Her only response was to make that sound again as she tipped them sideways onto the bed, entangled in each other's arms. He coaxed her mouth to open further so his tongue could taste hers. She let out a throaty whimper and he rolled them so he was on top. He wanted to know — just once — how it felt to kiss her without caution or restraint.
Lois was beyond thinking. The only thing she understood anymore was sensation. Her body and her mind wanted only one thing and that was for Clark not to stop. Ever. If he stopped now she was quite certain she'd die from either desire or embarrassment. Maybe both. Her hands wandered over the muscular contours of his back. For two years she had carefully suppressed the sometimes irresistible urge to touch him. The few glimpses she had been afforded of his physique had only whet her curiosity for what really touching him would be like. Tonight it was as if Christmas had unexpectedly come early and she wasn't about to squander the opportunity. Her hands slipped beneath the hem of his t-shirt to explore the tactile pleasures of warm flesh and firm muscle that had for far too long been off-limits to her.
Clark groaned into her mouth and his kiss turned even hungrier and more insistent. His entire world consisted of nothing but the way her body fit beneath his. Her kisses were eager and her hands were stroking over his skin, deepening his need to have her. She wanted him. Right now, at this moment, she wanted him. But what was going to happen after tonight? As much as he wanted her right now, he wanted this — if it ever *actually* happened — to be real. And that was never going to happen if he let this go any further than it already had.
"Lois," he whispered as he broke their kiss. "Oh god, Lois, we have to stop."
She knew he was right. This was a bad idea. You should never kiss a co-worker when he's temporarily your husband. Nothing good could come of it. Lois knew that, and yet she kissed him again, arching up beneath him so that he rolled obligingly and she could straddle him. Just one more kiss, she told herself as her body settled on his. Or one more minute. Yes, that was it. One more minute and they would stop.
Clark forced his hands above his head in a gesture of surrender. He had finally found his limits, found the one thing besides Kryptonite that he was powerless against. His wife. His legal, lawful, wedded wife. He had thought she felt amazing beneath him, but that was nothing compared to how she felt astride him, her body pressing against his in all the right places as her mouth teased his. Clark turned his head to the side, clenching his fists to keep from touching her again.
"Please. We have to stop. I can't keep going like this." His voice was thicker than usual and her inner muscles contracted when she recognized the raw need in his tone. Lois came back to reality in a rush and scrambled off of the bed for the safety of the bathroom.
Once inside, she fought to get her breathing under control as she berated herself over and over again. She shouldn't have kissed him. She shouldn't have pushed him back on the bed. Or, at the very least, she should have stopped the first time he asked her. What must he think of her now? It was beyond mortifying to consider.
From nowhere tears appeared on her cheeks, and she swiped angrily at them as she tried to shake off the haze of desire that still had her pulse racing. She looked at her dazed expression in the mirror and shook her head in disgust. Of all the stupid cliches — she had locked herself, crying, in the bathroom on her wedding night. Worse still — she wasn't coming out of there until she was sure he was asleep. After several calming deep breaths she sat down on the edge of the tub and examined her cuticles.
It was a good thing her purse was already in here. She was in dire need of a manicure, she had an emery board handy, and she finally had plenty of time to give them a thorough working over.
They were chasing the sunset into the western sky as Jonathan watched the ground far below them. He had examined each of the confusing facts that Martha had given him over and over — and they still made no sense to him.
Clark was married to Lois? His son was in love with his partner — that wasn't the questionable part. Lois might be impetuous, but Jonathan still couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that they had eloped to Las Vegas without breathing a word to anyone. Clark would have called to tell them.
It was possible that they had been posing as a married couple, wasn't it? Except Martha was adamant that the hospital said it was Clark who had told them that Lois was his wife. A chill went through him as he realized that his son — his seemingly indestructible son — was unable to make decisions for himself. As if sensing his thoughts, Martha's head came to rest against his shoulder. He knew she wasn't tired, only worried. He tipped his head, letting his cheek rest against the crown of her head.
Jonathan closed his eyes, wishing with all his heart that this was nothing more than a very bad dream.
*Early the previous Tuesday*
Lois woke up in the bathtub. Her head was resting on a rolled-up towel and she was cocooned in more towels and the complimentary robe that had been hanging on the back of the door. She blinked and sat up, wincing at the pain in her back. Had a door just slammed shut? Where was she?
And then it all came back to her. She was married to Clark. They were in a room that Mickey Raddatz had paid for, waiting for the next morning so they could follow Mickey to Hoover Dam.
Her mind returned to the most astonishing of those facts. She was married to Clark. For real. Well, sort of for real. For real in the sense that they had applied for the wedding license in their own names. But what else could they have done when Mickey and his four well-armed goons were watching?
That, she reminded herself, wasn't even the worst part. No, the truly horrifying part of all of this was the way she had thrown herself at Clark. She had practically attacked him on the bed and then she had fled for the safety of the bathroom.
Suck it up, she told herself. Go out there and demand your half of the bed. She threw the door open and marched out, full of righteous indignation that was fueled more by her backache than any real conviction.
Only Clark wasn't there. The bed was empty, the covers tossed aside. The television was on. Was Clark the one who had slammed the door? The clock on the bedside table read 2:49. Where would he have gone this early in the morning? Had he decided to gamble? Go for a walk? Had he received a tip that Mickey was on the move?
She went to the window to see if Clark was going to emerge from the hotel. Her eye was caught by the flashing lights of emergency vehicles arriving on the other side of the street. Lois leaned closer, squinting to try and make out what was happening. A bus had tipped over on its side, but none of the arriving emergency personnel looked like they were rushing to help. They were gesturing for the people standing around to move back. Her forehead furrowed and she watched in amazement as the bus appeared to slowly right itself unaided. Then someone stepped around the front of the bus and, even at this distance, the red cape was easy to spot. Superman was there — in Las Vegas.
"Clark," she muttered to herself in disgust. It was now obvious where he had gone in such a hurry. Well, this was one Superman exclusive he was going to have to share with her. She grabbed her new pair of sneakers, not bothering to change out of her pajamas, and ran barefoot down the hallway to the elevator. She got both shoes on while she waited for the elevator to arrive, then tied them as she rode down to the ground floor.
Despite the early hour, hoards of people were standing around, and Lois had to push through them to get close. She ducked under the police tape and was immediately yelled at for her trouble.
"I'm with the press," she told the officer now blocking her way.
"Let's see your credentials."
Lois patted her hips and let out a frustrated growl. "I left my ID in the hotel room."
The officer took hold of her elbow. "Come on, girlie. Back behind the line."
"But I know him!" She frantically pointed at Superman. "He'll vouch for me."
Superman's head turned and their eyes met. He looked as astonished to see her as she had been to see him. No, her mind whispered, he looked worried. She shook off that thought. It made more sense that Superman was simply surprised that she was in Las Vegas and not Metropolis.
"Tell him I'm with the press." Lois tilted her head to indicate the pushy officer. "Tell him that you know me."
"I know her. She's with the press," Clark affirmed. Inside he was panicking. How in the heck was he ever going to explain this one?
The officer still looked a little dubious but let her go. Lois walked over to Superman and looked up with a grateful smile. "Thanks."
"I didn't expect to see you out here," Clark told her. That, he consoled himself, was the absolute truth. She had been asleep in the bathtub when he left their room.
"It's a long story," she said. "Actually, I'm looking for Clark. Have you seen him?"
"Um," Clark looked over at the crowd that Lois had just come from while he tried to buy himself time to think. "Clark?"
"I know. You're wondering what we're doing in Vegas." Lois appeared not to notice his discomfort. "We're following a gangster, Mickey Raddatz — do you remember him? Well, that's why we're here. Not that we could tell him that earlier today when he saw us. We actually told him we were eloping." She rolled her eyes and told herself to just shut up now. "Only we sort of ended up, well, you can ask Clark about it the next time you see him. Do you think you'll still be in the neighborhood around nine this morning?"
"I, uh…" Clark glanced down, amused and distracted when he realized that she was still wearing her pajamas.
Lois self-consciously crossed her arms over her chest. "I know. I'm in my pajamas. I kind of left the room in a hurry."
"Oh." Clark looked at the crowd behind her. There wasn't much more he could do to help and he was itching to get away before she thought too much about what an amazing coincidence this was. "I, uh, I really need to go now. Excuse me."
He flew away, landing in the darkened parking garage behind the Palace where he hurriedly changed. Keeping to the shadows, he zipped around the side of the hotel and then began to stroll towards the accident site. He was almost to the street when he heard his name being shouted.
"Clark!" He looked to his left to see Lois bearing down on him. "What are you doing out here?" she demanded.
"I, uh, I heard something," he stammered without thinking.
"Heard something? From twelve stories up you heard that crash?"
His gaze skittered away from hers and he shrugged. Lois narrowed her eyes at him as she took in his appearance. "And so you got dressed — including your tie — you were in such a hurry, and you rushed down here?"
Clark winced but doggedly stuck to his story. "Yeah."
He was lying. Lois knew he was lying. He wouldn't look her in the eye — that couldn't be a good sign.
"Nice, Clark. It's our honeymoon and you're already cheating on me."
"Cheating on you?" he repeated in disbelief.
"Absolutely! What were you really doing down here? Were you following Mickey? What happened to partners? What happened to sharing the story?"
"Mickey?" His eyebrows drew together in bafflement.
He looked utterly confused and Lois wondered if maybe she was wrong. He wasn't following Mickey. So what was he doing out here?
"You weren't following Mickey?"
"No." Clark gestured at the bus accident. "I was feeling restless and I looked out the window and I saw the accident."
"You said you heard it." She gave him a smirk, confident that she had caught him in a lie.
"I did. I heard it and I saw it." It was the truth, and he was suddenly weary of all the lies. He should tell her; it would almost be worth it to see her speechless and surprised.
She arched one eyebrow in annoyance. "And you didn't think you should wake me up to come with you? Was that because you know how boring I think breaking news is? Especially if it has anything to do with Superman?"
"Lois, you had been locked in the bathroom for hours. I didn't think you were talking to me."
She crossed her arms, watching the fountains dance behind him as she considered her options. "I'm not," she finally said. "I'm not talking to you."
She went around him and marched back into the hotel with as much dignity as a woman in her pajamas could muster.
Lois rested her forehead against the door and swore softly. She had forgotten her key card. She beat the heel of her hand on the door in frustration. Where was Clark? Had he decided not to come back to the room? What if he had forgotten his key card too?
"Did he throw you out, sweetheart?"
Startled, Lois whirled around to find Mickey's flat-nosed friend standing behind her. "No, Clark went down to the casino and I was going to get some ice."
"I don't see no ice bucket," the man said.
"I was just coming back for it," she lied smoothly.
"Maybe I can help you," the man said and took a step closer to her.
Her skin prickled with fear as her instincts screamed that she was in trouble. "No, that's okay. I think I'll go join Clark now. Thanks anyway."
"Tony." The man stepped sideways to block her way to the elevators. "Call me Tony."
"Thanks anyway, Tony."
"Don't be so quick to get rid of me. It happens I have a key to your room." He produced a card from his pocket. "Now whaddaya think of that?"
Lois was thinking she never should have admitted that Clark wasn't inside the room. Her panicked mind also wanted to know what Tony was doing in the hallway in the middle of the night with a key to their door.
Tony took her silence for acquiescence and moved closer. Lois tensed, unsure whether fight or flight was her best option. At the end of the hallway the elevator made a soft 'bing' and Clark stepped out.
"Clark," she breathed, grateful to see him.
Clark took in the tableau at the end of the hallway. The look of relief on Lois' face was obvious, as was the annoyance of the man who was standing much too close to her. When Clark realized the man was one of Mickey's lackeys, he quickened his pace.
"What's going on?' Clark asked as he approached them.
"You tell me," the man said. "If this were my honeymoon, I wouldn't be in the casino. And my bride would be wearing nothin' but a smile." He took the sleeve of Lois' pajama top between his fingers. Lois jerked away from his grasp.
"Don't touch her," Clark warned.
"Hey, I was just helping her get back inside," Tony said smoothly.
"He has a key to our room," Lois said tersely.
Clark held his hand out. "Give me the key."
"It's not my key to give out, pal. This one belongs to Mickey."
"Why does Mickey have a key to our room?" Lois shot back
Tony backed up, putting the key card back in his jacket. "The way I see it, if a man pays for a room, he's entitled to have a key to it." Tony made a little skipping turn and headed for the elevator.
"Please," Lois whispered, "tell me you have your key."
Clark pulled his key card from his pocket and held it out to her as he watched the gangster retreat. She took it from him and opened the door, stepping inside the room and then holding the door open for him to join her. Clark lingered in the hallway, watching as the man entered the elevator. He gave Clark a mocking half-salute before the doors closed.
"Are you all right?" Clark asked as he came inside.
"Fine." Lois locked the door and put the security latch across the door. Her hands were shaking and her knees felt rubbery.
Clark gently took hold of her shoulders when he realized she was starting to tremble. "What did he say to you? Did he threaten you?"
"No, he didn't threaten me. It was just creepy," she answered, hating that her teeth had begun to chatter. "What if he had come in here while we were asleep? What in the heck was he doing in the hall outside our room in the middle of the night?"
"He wouldn't have been able to get in, even with a key. You had the dead bolt and the security latch engaged." Clark tried to sound reassuring but there was something so wrong about the whole situation, and he couldn't shake his uneasiness. The realization struck both of them at the same time and their eyes met and widened.
Lois went on tiptoe and he leaned down as she urgently whispered, "He knew we weren't in here. The room has been bugged."
"Then Mickey knows that we're on to him," he whispered back.
"We have to leave."
Clark nodded his agreement. "Get dressed," he said quietly. "We can't stay here."
It wasn't until they were a few steps into the hall and the door had shut behind them that they saw the two men lounging against the wall near the elevator. Suddenly Mickey appeared from the doorway alcove next to theirs. Tony was a few doors past the fire exit and moving in their direction. The two men by the elevator started towards them as well.
"This is the damndest honeymoon I've ever seen," Mickey said with a sad shake of his head. "I'm startin' to think you two are here to screw around with me and not each other."
"What's it to you?" Lois asked defiantly and tried to move away from Mickey only to be stopped short when he grabbed her wrist so tightly that she flinched. Fear made her suddenly lethargic and she could scarcely move.
"Don't get cute with me," Mickey sneered at her. "Who even knows you're here, kids? Besides that worthless editor of yours? Let me tell you right now that he'll print whatever your publisher tells him to print. And it ain't gonna be about me. You wanna know what I'm doin' here? Let's go and I'll show you."
Clark reached out to pull Mickey's hand from Lois' wrist. "Take your hands off her."
"Watch your mouth, Four-Eyes. I let your attitude slide earlier, but I'm not feeling so generous anymore." Mickey pushed Lois into Tony, who quickly gripped her arm with one hand while producing a gun from beneath his jacket with the other hand. "I don't wanna make a mess in the hotel," Mickey continued smoothly. "So we're all gonna take a walk now."
"And if we refuse?" Clark asked, seething at the obviously painful way that Tony was holding Lois' arm and his own impotence to do anything about it.
"Then Tony is going to take your pretty little wife back in the room and violate her in ways that you don't really want to think about."
Tony's lips twitched in a smile and he winked at Lois.
Lois jerked her arm free of Tony's grasp. "That's nothing compared to what I'm going to do to Tony."
"Fiesty," Tony said with a laugh. "I never liked that in a woman."
"I've never been all that infatuated with thick-necked idiots, so I guess we're even," Lois shot back.
"Enough," Mickey growled. "Let's go."
They walked to the stairs, going down the echoing stairwell to the basement where one of the goons used a key card to let them into a long half-lit hallway. At the end of the hallway they exited into an underground garage. One of Mickey's men opened the back of a refrigeration truck and gestured for Clark and Lois to enter it.
Lois wrinkled her nose as she climbed up the tailgate. She was grateful to be out of Tony's clutches but the storage area of the truck smelled faintly like sour milk. There were stacks of boxes labeled 'perishable' at the back of the space. The air was cold and humid. The truck dipped as Clark climbed inside and then the doors were slammed shut, leaving them in darkness. Lois swayed, feeling dizzy in the blackness as she heard the bolt thrown to lock the doors.
The truck rocked again and she heard the muffled slam of a door before their prison reverberated as the engine started up. The truck lurched and she stumbled in the darkness, taking three staggering steps before she fell against something solid. Clark's hands settled on her waist to steady her. She grabbed his arm to balance herself.
"Maybe we should sit down?" he suggested.
Lois felt almost drunk in the wheeling darkness as the truck seemed to be pivoting. It was climbing out of the underground garage, she realized. Where were they being taken? Dizzy and numb with fear, she let go of Clark's arm and half-turned to feel for the boxes at the end of the truck. Clark's hands moved away from her and she shuffled forward a few steps before her knee smacked painfully against a wooden crate.
"You okay?" Clark asked when she swore.
"Yes," she bit out. "Never better." She sat down tentatively, then leaned back, uneasily resting against the crate behind her. She was grateful when she felt Clark's warmth settle next to her, making the darkness seem just a little less frightening. She reached over and found his knee. His hand came to rest on hers and she quickly laced her fingers with his.
"Where do you think they're taking us?" she asked.
"I don't know." Clark could hear the conversation in the cab of the truck, but Tony and the goon with him were more interested in cataloging Lois' charms and what they intended to do to her later than in saying where they were headed.
Lois shivered next to him and Clark let go of her hand to take his jacket off and clumsily drape it over her shoulders.
"Thanks." Her hand found his again.
The truck made a sharp, long turn, sending Lois sliding against him. Her hand clutched at his arm and he could hear the rapid, frightened beat of her heart. He was deeply grateful that she couldn't hear Tony's boasts.
"Maybe I could get us out of here," he suggested.
"Really? How? Are you going to kick the doors open?" She didn't sound at all reassured and he realized that it would be extremely difficult to explain to anyone how he managed to kick a bolted door open. Besides, there was an SUV behind them with Mickey and one of the other men. That left the fourth man unaccounted for and Clark frowned as he realized he had no idea where the man had gone.
"It might be worth a shot," he muttered. What if he went really fast? Would Mickey and the other man see? It would be difficult to explain to Lois, but at least he wouldn't have to worry about what she would do with his secret afterwards. Did he? She might not expose him, but she would almost certainly loathe him.
"And then what? We're picking up speed now, Clark. We're on a highway, not in town. We'll end up killing ourselves when we jump out."
"We could wave for help."
Lois let out an exasperated sigh. "It's the middle of the night. How many people are on the road in the middle of the night? We should try not to upset them. If they wanted us dead, they would have killed us already."
Lois was wrong. He had overheard enough to know that Mickey simply didn't want to leave any trace of their deaths where someone could link it back to him. Clark wasn't about to tell Lois that. Certainly not when she hadn't stopped shivering, even with his jacket on. He put his arm around her, rubbing his hand along her arm to warm her.
"Aren't you cold?" she asked, her words choppy.
She shivered closer to him and her next words were muffled as she spoke into his shoulder. "It's ironic, isn't it? We're going to freeze to death in the desert."
"We're in a truck, not the desert."
"Don't ruin it with details, Clark." Her arms slipped around his waist and she laid her cheek against his chest. "Just keep me warm."
Clark put his arms around her. There was no good way to get them out of this; not right now, anyway. It was frustrating, but he was going to have to wait to do anything. Several long minutes ticked by. Lois' shivering lessened and he was grateful that she was warming up. With each glance outside the truck, he could see nothing but empty desert.
"So." Lois cleared her throat, feeling almost desperate to break the monotony. "You never did say how you pictured your honeymoon."
Clark wished she'd go back to talking about freezing to death instead. He let out a laugh that sounded forced to his ears. "This isn't how I pictured my honeymoon. I was thinking something more along the lines of warm sand and clear blue water."
"Mmm," she said dreamily. "That sounds nice. Hawaii? Or the Caribbean?"
"Does it matter?"
She giggled against his chest and the vibrations of her laughter reverberated through his entire body as if he were a tuning fork that had just found its perfect pitch. "I guess it doesn't," she whispered. "Like Mickey said, maybe all you really need is a bed and a door that locks."
Clark swallowed hard at the memory of their kiss earlier that night on the bed. He'd forego a bed, warm sand, or any creature comfort imaginable to kiss her like that again.
Lois rolled her eyes, grateful that it was pitch black inside the truck. Of all the things to say to him, she had to pick *that*. It was time to change the subject.
"Didn't Big Joe go into the restaurant business out here?" she asked.
"I don't know," Clark admitted.
"It seems like he did. What if this is one of his trucks? What if Tony and the others actually work for him and that's why Mickey is hanging out with them?"
"I guess it's possible."
They lapsed back into silence, each of them caught up in their own thoughts. Clark weighed the merits of escaping from the truck against waiting to see where they were going.
Lois, fatigued from her catnap in the tub, was soothed by the warmth and solid presence of Clark beside her. The initial adrenaline rush of being kidnapped had dissipated, leaving her worn out and exhausted. Her eyelids grew heavy. Each time she snapped back to awareness she would find that nothing had changed. They were still trapped in cold darkness.
The truck slowed down, stopped briefly, then made a right turn and slowly built up speed again. The road beneath them was rougher now and they were jostled in the darkness. Lois clung to Clark, the only constant left in her world, and wondered what was going to happen when they got wherever they were going. Tony's leer flitted through her mind and she shivered. Stay with me, she thought. Please, Clark, don't let them separate us. Clark's hand stroked over her arm and she inched closer against him.
"Are you scared?" she asked quietly.
"No." His hand squeezed her elbow gently. "I have you to protect me; why would I be scared?"
Lois smiled and let out a soft sigh that was almost a laugh. "Thanks, Clark."
The truck slowed almost to a stop, then made a turn that sent them sliding a few inches. When it started lumbering forward again, their speed was slower and the road was much rougher. It seemed that only a few seconds would pass before they were bounced again. Time seemed to stretch out until neither one of them were quite sure anymore how long they had been traveling. Clark could see the horizon outside was growing lighter — it was going to be day soon.
The truck's speed seemed to vary between slow and really slow. Each bounce made the crates they were sitting on shift and creak. Lois felt like every joint in her body was being incrementally teased apart as the truck rattled and vibrated along an obviously rough road. They weren't in the city — they probably weren't anywhere near anything — and it was beginning to frighten her. Mickey had said he didn't want a mess at the hotel — what was to stop him from making a mess of them somewhere in the desert?
The brakes gave a high-pitched whine and the world stopped bouncing. A few seconds later the engine turned off. Lois tensed, suddenly alert and deeply frightened. She would rather freeze to death slowly than have to face Tony again. Were they parked on an incline or did everything just feel off-kilter because it was so dark? There was the muted sound of doors slamming. Then the lock on the door rattled, but the doors didn't open.
The silence stretched on and on. Clark's breathing was quiet and she realized he was probably trying as desperately as she was to hear what was going on outside.
"Can you hear anything?" she whispered.
"No," Clark lied. The truth was that they were all arguing over whether they were far enough into the desert now and the likelihood of someone finding their bodies later. The man riding up front with Tony, whose name was apparently Randy, was adamant that throwing their bodies in a mine shaft was more than adequate.
They had stopped near a dilapidated wooden building. The roof was still intact, but it looked like the ancient shingles had melted under decades of desert heat. The door and window frames were empty. Behind the small structure rose a large hill dotted with juniper and sage and a few rock houses without their roofs. There was a yawning hole halfway up the rise of the hill. Clark zoomed in on the opening and realized it was an abandoned mine. They were in a ghost town.
Lois swayed to her feet, feeling too restless to just sit there and wait to die. The truck was definitely slanted and it was an uphill shuffle to get to the doors. She couldn't feel a latch and no matter how much weight or pressure she exerted, the doors didn't budge. She put her arms into Clark's jacket, pulling it on properly to try and stay warm.
The silence was ominous. Their dark prison seemed even more oppressive now that they weren't moving. Where were they? What was going to happen when the doors opened? The blackness reverberated around her, chill and cloying.
"What do you think?" she asked Clark. "Have they left us here?"
"No," Clark said softly. "I think they're still out there."
They were — he could see them clearly through the side of the truck. He slid his glasses back up his nose and tried to adjust to the dark again. He suddenly felt ashamed of himself. He should tell Lois the truth. Just tell her, right now, that he could get them out of this. That there was nothing to worry about and she was fine. That he would never let anyone hurt her. That he had meant every word of their wedding vows, and he wanted nothing more than to love her, hold her, and cherish her for the rest of her life. But what if the truck was bugged? What if someone overheard? If so, he couldn't tell her about Superman. But he could tell her about his feelings. If she felt the same way — and the way she had kissed him back in the room said she might — then he could work up to the whole truth.
"Lois," he finally said softly, "I lied to you earlier."
"Really? About what?" Lois leaned one shoulder against the side of the truck. She wanted to be close enough to the door to jump out when they opened. Clark's voice sounded strained and she wondered what compulsion had made him pick now for a deathbed confession.
"I implied that you weren't attractive in those pajamas."
Lois fell silent. This wasn't the confession she was expecting. She thought he was going to tell her the truth about why he had left the hotel in the middle of the night. "You didn't say I was unattractive. You just said you didn't want to ravish me in those pajamas."
"That was a lie," he whispered.
"Oh." It was all she could say. As confessions went, that wasn't too bad. She allowed herself a small, pleased grin. "So what else have you lied about, Clark?"
She couldn't possibly know the truth. She had to be guessing. Even so, Clark barely managed to choke out, "What makes you think that I'm lying about something else?"
Lois sent a wry smile in the direction of his voice. She didn't have to see him to know he looked guilt-ridden right now. His voice was beyond contrite. "You sound guilty."
"I sound guilty?"
She gave a small laugh. "Clark, you almost always look guilty about something. I think you lie to me on a daily basis."
Even though it was dark, Clark closed his eyes. He was unsure what to say next.
After several seconds of silence she asked, "What? You're not going to deny it?"
What were the odds that they had bugged the back of the truck? If he had to guess, that was why only Mickey had come to dinner with them. The others had been in their room planting bugs. "No more lies," he told her. "Ask me anything."
Something in his tone sent a shiver unrelated to the cold through her. Lois suddenly felt like she was standing on the edge of a giant abyss. There were a lot of questions she could ask him. Why did he run off all the time? Did he really like being married to her or had he just said that to tease her? Why had he agreed to go away for the weekend with Mayson? Had he kissed Mayson like he had kissed her last night? Was he ever going to eat that candy bar that had been sitting on his desk for at least the last three weeks?
She decided to lob him an easy one first. "Okay, why did you leave the room this morning?"
Clark sighed. "Believe it or not, I told you the truth about that. I heard the accident." Go on, he chided himself. Tell her *why* you heard that accident. He shook his head at his own cowardice. Why couldn't he just tell her straight out? If she hated him for it, it was nothing less than he deserved.
Lois furrowed her forehead as she thought. It wasn't entirely out of the realm of possibility that he might have heard the accident. "What about last Friday when you ducked out of the staff meeting? Where did you go?"
He cleared his throat softly. "There had been an accident down the street."
Lois pressed her lips together, remembering that he had submitted a short article about an out-of-control street sweeper. She was about to sarcastically ask him if he had heard that one too when the back door of the truck opened. They each raised an arm and blinked against the sudden brightness.
"Come on out, kids," Tony instructed, waving his gun to motion them forward.
Lois froze. All thoughts of fleeing were gone and she wished there was a way to slam the door shut and barricade themselves inside the truck. Clark moved next to her, and then his fingers touched hers. She slipped her hand into his and thought about how strange it was that death was going to part them before an annulment could. They jumped together from the back of the truck to the ground. A small cloud of dust went up and Clark sneezed.
Mickey approached them, his florid features twisted in a scowl. "Do you have any idea how much trouble you two are causing me?"
"So I guess we're off your list for a holiday card this year?" Lois retorted.
Clark froze, his mind racing. Every instinct in him was screaming to pick up Lois and fly away and to hell with the consequences. No secret of his was worth the risk that she might get hurt.
"Let's go, buddy boy." Tony pushed Clark's shoulder, causing him to stumble forward. There was a sharp kick to the back of his knees and Clark went down hard, reeling more from the shock that it actually hurt than from the pain itself. Then Tony landed a kick to his ribs and Clark choked on the dusty air and the pain that was radiating through him.
Bewildered, Clark tried to stand up only to be kicked again under his chin. There was a salty, metallic taste in his mouth. Blood. It was his own blood. His ears were ringing but he could still hear Lois shrieking, "Stop!"
Lois went to push Tony, to try and help Clark but her arms were pinned from behind. She kicked back, catching the man in his shin. He swore and shoved her in Tony's direction. Tony caught her, his piggy eyes crinkled in amusement. "Why don't you leave the blushing bride with me? I'll take good care of her."
"Well now, Tony, I think you'd have to ask her husband," Mickey said. "No, wait, that's right. He ain't really her husband, is he?"
Clark staggered to his feet, leaning back against the tailgate of the truck as he tried to catch his breath. "You'll touch her over my dead body," he managed to wheeze.
"That can be arranged." Tony stepped forward menacingly only to be stopped by Mickey's hand on his arm.
"Wait," Mickey said. "Let's find out what they know first. Then you can show Lois how a funeral is cheaper than a divorce."
*Late Friday night*
"Excuse me, can you help us?" a female voice asked. The clerk glanced up to see an anxious-looking middle-aged couple.
"We're looking for our son, Clark Kent, and his, uh, his wife, Lois Lane. We were told that they were patients in this hospital."
The clerk tapped on the keyboard in front of her. "Your daughter-in-law is in room 314 and your son is currently in surgery."
"Surgery," Martha repeated in disbelief. "Our boy is in surgery, Jonathan."
Jonathan's hand touched her elbow supportively. "What about Lois? Can we see her?" he asked.
"I'm sorry. Visiting hours ended at nine o'clock."
"Can you at least tell us what's happened to them?" Martha asked.
The phone began to ring and the clerk spoke rapidly as she reached to answer it. "I don't have that information. Let me get this call, and then we'll see if we can have someone from the ICU come talk to you."
*The previous Tuesday morning*
"I'm not a patient man," Mickey snarled. "And I got places I need to be. So you're going to tell me what you two are doing out here in Vegas, and don't you dare say it was to get married."
"We just followed you to the airport," Lois told him as she watched Clark shift his jaw experimentally. He looked dazed as he repeatedly touched his lip where it was bleeding. Tony's fingers were too tight on her arm and she wondered if he was cutting off her circulation.
Clark was still reeling from the fact that he was hurt. He couldn't understand what had happened. The taste of his own blood was sickening, but there was no sign of the gut-churning, muscle-spasm-inducing side effects he always experienced with Kryptonite. Even worse was the realization that he had failed Lois. They were going to hurt her and it was entirely his fault.
"Let her go," Clark said. "Just give Lois the keys to the truck and let her drive out of here and I'll tell you everything."
"You're in no position to be bargaining. How about you tell us and I'll make it quick for her instead?" Tony countered, jamming his gun into her ribs so hard that she flinched.
"We don't know anything," Lois said, her voice pitched high with anxiety. "We just got a tip that you were involved in something big."
Mickey laughed. "Who told you that?"
"An anonymous source," Lois replied.
"Anonymous, my ass. Tell me who said that." Mickey crossed his arms, letting them rest on his ample belly.
"I don't remember," Lois answered.
"He thinks you do." Mickey pointed at Clark and addressed his next comments to him. "You expect me to believe that you two just followed me to the airport and flew out here on the chance that I was going to be doing something big?" His arms came free so that he could finger-quote the word 'big'.
"It's the truth," Clark said. He imagined grabbing Lois and flying away, but it was only a tantalizing daydream. Not matter how hard he concentrated his feet remained firmly on the ground. What in the world had happened?
"You're going to kill us for nothing. We don't know anything." Lois looked up at the clear blue sky above them. There was no sign of him. It was foolish to think that somehow Superman would have known they were in trouble and shown up.
Mickey shrugged. "Get rid of 'em."
Lois felt her stomach flip over in cold terror. This was it. This was how it ended. On a perfectly beautiful, clear-skied day, she was going to be worm food.
Tony kept his tight grip on her arm as he pushed her forward. "Up there, let's go. You, too, lover boy." He motioned to Clark with the gun before planting it squarely in her back. "Last chance, honey. You make me happy and I'll let you live."
"I'd rather be dead," Lois answered and began climbing the hill. Her legs felt heavy and completely independent of her control.
"What if I said I'd let him live?" Tony taunted.
Tears came to her eyes. She wasn't about to dignify that question with an answer, but in her heart she knew that she would have done anything to save both herself and Clark. Letting Tony rape her wasn't the answer. He was going to kill them no matter what. Their only hope lay in turning the tables on him. Clark was ahead of her as they moved up the hill, although he kept half-turning like he was checking on her. Who would Tony shoot first? Her vision blurred as she realized it would probably be Clark. There had to be a way to save him, to save them both. Her mind raced as her feet slowly plodded closer to their grave.
Clark had tried again and again to take flight but the ability was gone. It was as if he had never flown at all. There was nothing there. With each step he took, he weighed the odds. He had to get between Tony and Lois. Mickey and one of the men were leaving now, driving away in the SUV. That left only Tony and Randy — and Randy was waiting down by the truck, smoking a cigarette and apparently unconcerned that he was about to become an accessory to murder.
His frantic mind looked for a way out. If he could get between Lois and Tony, maybe he could overpower the man and take away his gun. And then what? Randy also had a gun. It would end in a shootout with them trapped in the mine. If that happened, Randy would have the advantage over them.
They had reached the mouth of the mine. Lois took a deep breath — it was now or never. One step inside. She had to do it. Two steps. Do it now. Three steps. There wasn't any time left. It had to be now.
She steeled herself to stop shaking and kicked at Clark, catching him off-guard so that he sprawled forward. Tony had been forced to stop short behind her and she drove her free elbow back into his gut. He swore and hit her back. Stars exploded in her vision as the gun slammed up against her cheekbone. There was a roar near her right ear, and then another, leaving her reeling and almost deaf in that ear.
She brought her elbow back again, this time jerking it upwards to strike Tony beneath his chin. The world went off-kilter as she was pushed sideways. First her hip, then her shoulder slammed into solid rock. Before she could scramble away she was kicked in the ribs. Lois fell to her knees and then onto her stomach, gasping against the pain. Another kick and then another, and she let out a choked cry as she realized that she had completely misjudged Tony. For a few precious seconds she wasn't sure she'd ever breathe again. Then she heard another shot and something hot sliced through her left shoulder.
Clark had been surprised when Lois kicked him off his feet and even more surprised when a bullet had gone through his thigh. It burned and stung and it took him several seconds to be able to stand up and throw himself in the direction of Tony. His heart stopped at the single gunshot and the cry of pain from Lois. He lunged towards Tony, tackling him down onto the dusty floor of the mine. They rolled deeper into the mine, both of them fighting for control of the gun. Tony was larger and had at least fifty pounds on him, but Clark was driven by anger and fear.
Lois pushed herself onto her elbows and coughed, tasting blood in her mouth. Her shoulder ached and it hurt to breathe. She could hear the grunts and scuffling of Clark and Tony deeper in the mine, but she couldn't see either of them. The gun roared again, the sound echoing in the narrow chamber.
"Clark," she whispered, terribly afraid that Tony had finished him off. But the sounds of struggle continued until there was another gunshot, then another in quick succession and Tony let out a loud bellow that fell away with an echoing Doppler effect. There was a sickening thud and the mine fell silent.
"Clark?" she said, deeply frightened that he wasn't going to answer.
"Lois?" Clark could barely get her name out. He had been shot again in the struggle and he could feel this bullet, hot and deep to the bone at the bottom of his right rib cage. He rolled once to get away from the edge of the shaft that Tony had fallen into, groaning as his chest made contact with the hard ground.
There was a long blaring noise outside as the horn on the truck honked.
"We have to do something," Lois said frantically. "He's going to come up here and we're just sitting ducks."
"Gun," Clark rasped out. "I have the gun, but I can't… Come get it. Be careful. There's a drop."
She crawled in the direction of his voice, her knee catching on the bottom of Clark's jacket that she was still wearing. Her hand bumped into leg and she felt him wince as he let out a moan of pain. His hand found her arm and then he pressed the gun into her shaky hands. Outside she could hear grunting and swearing as the other man made his way up the hill.
"Tony?" the man called out.
Lois said a silent prayer that he would just turn around. Don't check. Just go. The entire left side of her body felt like it was on fire and she was sure the man would hear her breathing long before he got there. She knew he would kill them, but she still wasn't sure she could shoot him. Just go away, her mind chanted. Just go away.
A dark silhouette appeared at the mine's entrance. "Tony?"
Lois swallowed, her finger trembling on the trigger. Go away. Just go away. Beside her Clark became absolutely silent and still.
The man took a step inside. "Tony? This ain't funny." He reached into his jacket and pulled his gun out. Lois shot in his direction and he swore and raised the gun. She squeezed off another round, wondering just how many were left in the gun. The man quickly turned and disappeared. Several seconds later the truck roared away.
"Clark?" Lois touched his face, unable to make out his features in the dim light of the mine. His glasses were missing and she wondered just how blind he was without them.
"He's going to… bring back… the others. You… have to… get away from here," he wheezed. "Just go."
"Can you stand up?" Her hands moved to his shoulders and for a moment she remembered kissing him last night, how thrilled she had been by those shoulders. What if she never got to kiss him again?
"Lois, please…" She had to get out of here; it wouldn't take too much time for Randy to catch up to Mickey. They were going to come back.
"Would you leave me?" Lois was horrified that he would even suggest she abandon him.
He tried to reason with her, panting against the pain. "Places reversed… I could… carry you."
"Then I'll carry you." She tugged on his arm, forcing him to a sitting position.
He groaned in agony. "Too heavy."
"I won't leave you. So quit arguing with me. If you want me out of here, you're going to have to go with me."
Clark was sweating now and he gulped in air. "You're killing me."
"I'm trying to save your life." She ducked and looped his arm over her shoulders to help him stand. "Ah, oh god, ow," she moaned as her entire body protested the effort it took to get upright with Clark's weight pressing down on her.
Clark let out his own barely stifled moan. He leaned heavily against her and Lois bit her lip to keep from crying out. She took a couple of shallow breaths — it seemed impossible to take a deep one anymore.
"Ready?" she asked, not entirely certain that she was ready to move.
Clark grit out a soft, "Yeah," and they slowly shuffled forward together. He leaned against her and she moved along the wall of the mine for support. Lois had no clue what she was going to do when they actually got out of the mine. She braced her knees, keeping her arms clasped around him and almost laughed at the thought that they were like carefully stacked cards — each of them was holding the other up. They stopped at the mouth of the mine, squinting against the dazzling brightness outside.
"Which way should we go?" she asked, sounding like just talking was an effort for her as well.
"Back the way we came… Get lost in desert… Go in direction… we know… we can find a town." He could barely get the words out.
"What if they come back?"
"Dust… on the road… before… they get here. We can hide." Clark wasn't really sure that they would be able to hide, but it was the only shot they had.
Lois moved forward and he went along with her. Stark fear stabbed through him when he realized that Lois was limping. He had thought it was the mine wall causing her uneven gait but now he could see that she was favoring her right leg. Her face was covered in blood. Her lip had been split and her nose was still bleeding. Guilt and grief washed through him. He should have protected her. If only he could get her to leave him here. She was going to waste valuable time lugging him along.
"You'll never… be able to…" he started but she cut him off.
"I'm not going to argue with you, Clark. Can you sit down? We can scoot back down the hill on our butts."
He saw the wisdom in her suggestion. The incline was steep and, in their condition, they were likely to trip and fall. He wasn't sure he could hurt any more than he already did, but he wasn't about to test that theory.
It seemed to take forever for them to work their way down the hill. Clark was almost angry with her as he contemplated how to get her to leave him there. She was in slightly better shape and he knew that her efforts to help him were costing her dearly. Each time he brought the subject up she dismissed it.
At the bottom of the hill, Lois took his jacket off and threw it aside. For the first time Clark realized that she was hurt worse than he'd thought. The sleeve and shoulder of her shirt were soaked in blood. With dismay, he saw that his own shirt was just as bloody. His suit pants were dark, hiding the blood. They were both coated with dust. It clung to their clothes, adhered there by their blood and sweat and their slow slide down the hill.
"Shot you…" he said weakly, pointing at her shoulder.
Lois looked at the crimson stain on his shirt. "He shot you, too."
"My face?" she shot back. "You should see your face before you start making fun of me."
She reached out as if she meant to pull up the hem of his shirt to check on his wound. Clark jerked away from her.
"Let's go…" He gave up talking and struggled to his knees, then to his feet.
Lois stood up and put her arm around his waist. They took a few unsteady steps together before they were able to work out a system that put the least strain on both of them.
"Remember how you said I could ask you anything?" she asked.
"Yeah," he answered.
"That candy bar? On your desk? When we get home, can I have it?"
They had been trudging slowly along the road for almost an hour. They would stop every twenty steps or so to catch their breath. Clark was almost hopeful. It was easier to breathe now even though he could still feel the bullet inside him and the dull throb in his leg had not abated. The hot sunshine beating down on them had him concerned. They were both sweating; they had both lost blood. Lois' steps were becoming shorter and she was leaning more heavily against him. It was just a matter of time before they passed out or Mickey returned. As they passed over a dry creek bed, Clark got an idea.
"Wait here," he told Lois, stepping away slowly so that he didn't knock her off-balance. "I just want to check on something." He half-slid, half-walked down the steep slope at the side of the road and let out a sigh of relief when he saw what he had been hoping for. The creek bed passed under the road through a corrugated steel pipe culvert that was about four feet in diameter.
"Lois," he called to her. "Lois, come down here. There's shade."
"Shade?" Lois hobbled to the edge of the road and looked down at Clark. It seemed like a very long way to go even though the distance was only about seven feet. "Where?"
"Down here," he gestured in front of him. "Under the road. Here, I'll help you." He held one hand out and she had to slide a couple of feet down the slope to catch his hand. He steadied her as she slid the rest of the way.
Inside the culvert it was much cooler. They both panted with exhaustion and pain, grateful for the reprieve. Lois weakly pushed aside the pebbles to clear herself a spot to sit. Beneath them the dirt still held a tiny bit of moisture. It wasn't enough to be mud, but it was enough to make her thirst seem even worse.
"How bad are you hurt?" Clark asked, wincing as he settled opposite her and tried to stretch out his legs.
Her eyes had begun to adjust to the shade and Lois looked at him, horrified by just how beat up he looked. "You're worse off than me. We'll check you first."
Clark shook his head. "Ladies first."
Lois lifted her left shoulder slightly, then cringed at the pain that caused. "I think the bullet went straight through. It's not bleeding anymore. At least, I don't think it is."
"Can you check and make sure?"
Lois struggled to pull the top of her shirt clear of her shoulder and then realized it was impossible. To hell with it, she thought. He was hardly going to be gawking at her now. She yanked the hem of her shirt to her midriff and then almost cried in frustration.
"Help," she panted.
Clark moved to kneel next to her, sucking in a breath at how much that hurt to do. "Can you raise your arms?"
She was able to lift her right arm and he worked the shirt free of her arm and head before sliding it carefully away from her left arm. She was wearing a black bra but his eyes were drawn to the bullet hole just below her left shoulder. He shifted forward, bracing one hand against the pipe to look at her back but he couldn't see an exit wound.
"It came out here," she said with a whimper as she raised her arm slightly so the he could see where the bullet had left her body.
She was right, it wasn't bleeding very much. That, at least, was a good sign. Then Clark caught sight of the bruises and welts on her ribs. "Oh, Lois," he breathed. "Why didn't you tell me?"
Lois self-consciously crossed her arms over her chest as he leaned closer to look. "I couldn't. You wouldn't have come with me. I couldn't leave you."
She heard a gasp and saw with surprise that his eyes looked glassy. "How bad is it?" he whispered.
Lois shook her head. "I don't…" It wasn't worth lying about. It hurt like hell. "It hurts to breathe," she admitted. "It hurts to walk. It hurts to do anything."
"Are your ribs broken?"
"I don't think so. I hope not." She didn't dare to tell him that she couldn't take a full breath. There was nothing he could do to help anyway.
Clark turned her shirt right side out and held it up for her. She gingerly slid her arms in and he helped pull the shirt back over her head and down her torso.
"Your turn," she told him.
"What?" His mind went blank as he realized what she was asking.
"Let me take a look at you."
"No," he rasped, backing away from her and hugging his arms across his abdomen. "I'm okay."
"Clark, come on. It looks like you're still bleeding." Lois gingerly worked herself onto her knees and tried to shuffle closer to him.
"No," he said stubbornly.
Lois was surprised by his refusal. It had to be the heat and the blood loss that were making him recalcitrant. She reached for the hem of his shirt but he caught her fingers.
"I'm so sorry." He looked almost desperate as his voice dropped to an urgent whisper. "Please, Lois, don't be angry."
"Angry?" she asked, thoroughly confused. She tugged her hand free of his and pulled his shirt up.
Clark let out a groan and dropped his head back. It hit the side of the culvert with a dull 'thunk'. "I'm sorry, Lois. I should never have let this happen."
"This isn't your fault…" Lois paused, unable to process what she was looking at. There was a bright blue fabric beneath his shirt, and her mind seemed to stutter as she tried to make sense of it. She blinked and wondered if the heat was making her delusional. The material was ripped where a bullet had entered and it was stiff and dark with blood. Even so, the Suit was still recognizable.
"Please don't hate me," he said softly.
Her mind went into overdrive, remembering the intensity in his voice and the tension — no, the *power*, in his posture when he told Mickey to leave her alone last night. She recalled Superman's expression at the accident scene. He hadn't been surprised that she was in Vegas. Her first impression had been right. It was worry — because she had seen him there. That it was a staggering coincidence only occurred to her now.
Their eyes met and she knew. She knew it as surely as if he had spoken the words.
Clark was Superman.
*Early Saturday morning*
There are few things in life as depressing as a cheap motel room when you're too tired and worried to sleep. Martha looked around the threadbare room in disdain and wished they had just stayed in the hospital waiting room. This room, which was the best they could do on short notice, was grimy and small and reeked of decades of stale cigarette smoke.
A resident, Dr. Foran, had talked with them at the hospital. Dr. Foran had been there when Clark and Lois were brought in. Both of them had gunshot wounds and were also suffering from dehydration and sunstroke. Lois had been unconscious and in shock. Clark hadn't been much better off, he had been barely conscious and had asked repeatedly about how his wife was doing. Dr. Foran explained that Clark had been taken back to surgery since the bullet that had struck him had splintered and it appeared that not all of it had been retrieved in the first operation.
Jonathan and Martha had waited at the hospital until Dr. Foran reappeared to tell them that Clark had come out of surgery and it was now simply a waiting game.
Martha lay down on the bed, her shoes still on, and closed her eyes to wait.
*The previous Tuesday*
The silence stretched out between them as Lois struggled to fully comprehend the implications of her discovery. It was almost frightening how clear everything had just become. All those things about Clark — and Superman — that had been so maddeningly vague or mysterious were all perfectly understandable now. The explanation was so simple — Clark was Superman.
What wasn't clear was why he was actually hurt. What had happened? Was it Kryptonite? She had known for several months that Superman could be made vulnerable. Why was it so much worse to know that it was Clark who was hurting? It was Clark watching her with anxious eyes, his face pale and tense. Did he honestly think that she would hate him?
How did she feel? It wasn't hate. It wasn't even anger. It was disappointment. He was her friend and partner. He should have told her. It hurt that he hadn't trusted her.
<"No more lies. Ask me anything.">
His earlier offer for full disclosure had made her so uneasy and now she wondered about the true source of her apprehension. Was it because, deep down, she was afraid of the truth? Had her subconscious figured out his secret ages ago? There were so many hints she had let slide. So many lame lies that she hadn't questioned. Was it because it had been so much easier to love the fantasy than to risk her heart on reality?
How ironic was it then that she had inadvertently married the superhero she had been chasing for two years? Wasn't this just her luck? She'd had the chance to sleep with him last night and she had locked herself in the bathroom instead.
Her mind reeled, remembering every touch, every look, every smile that Clark had ever given her. She had enjoyed them simply because they came from Clark — it was odd to think that they were from Superman. Actually, it was downright strange to realize that it was Superman she stole fries from at lunch, Superman's pens that she borrowed and never returned, Superman whom she had goaded into spending fifteen hundred dollars to fly to Las Vegas. It was Superman who was slowly bleeding to death in front of her.
No — she gave herself a mental shake. It was Clark. It was Clark she was going to lose if she didn't do something to help him. It was Clark who had kissed her last night. It was Clark she hadn't been able to leave behind in the mine.
"Say something," Clark pled anxiously. She had been staring at him, her eyes darting between his face and the Suit, and the pain of waiting was becoming equal to that of the bullet buried inside him.
"How could this happen?" she finally asked, nervously pulling her hand away from the hem of his shirt.
"I don't know. I don't think it was Kryptonite. That always makes me sick. This was just…" He shrugged helplessly. "One minute I was fine and the next I wasn't."
"Was it something in the truck?"
"No. I could see outside. I could hear them talking in the cab. I had my powers until we got out of the truck. And then, all of a sudden, I couldn't fly or do anything."
Anger flickered through her. She had thought he was just *wishing* he could break down the door of the truck when he said he could get them out of there. Now she realized he actually could have done it. Why ask her? Why not just *do it*?
The expression on his face told her he was thinking the same thing. Lois looked at the hem of his shirt and saw that it was slowly turning red. "You're still bleeding." She gestured at his ribs.
"So are you," he countered.
"Yours is a lot worse. Can you, uh, can you take the Suit off? I can't really, um, see to help you with it on."
She wouldn't meet his eyes and he flushed, hating that she had learned the truth this way. "Sure," he said softly and began to pull his tie free of its knot.
Lois turned away from him, looking at the stark landscape outside as she tried not to hear the soft grunts and groans that he made as he struggled. Should she help him? No — what if he wasn't wearing anything beneath the Suit? Her cheeks grew hotter as she remembered the countless times she had daydreamed about what was under the Suit. Last night the answer had been right there beneath her questing hands.
"Okay," Clark panted, exhausted by the effort it had taken to get the Suit off. He eased back gingerly against the cool metal of the culvert, taking shallow breaths to try and lessen the constant burn of the bullet.
Lois turned to see the Suit lying in a small heap next to him. The outfit was much smaller than she thought. Then again, it was skin-tight on him. Clark was shirtless now, his chest smeared with blood and dirt. She scrubbed her palms furiously on the knees of her jeans, hoping that she wasn't just making them dirtier. Then she tentatively put her hand on his chest. He winced and she pulled her hand away.
What should she do? Take the bullet out? And how was she supposed to do that? What if it was slowing the flow? Direct pressure — that was how you stopped bleeding. Lois grabbed his shirt, folded it over a couple of times and placed it over the wound. She pressed her hands, one of top of the other, against his chest and he made a small moan.
"Sorry," she whispered.
"S'okay," he whispered back and closed his eyes against the pain. His entire body ached. He could feel his pulse pounding through his veins. He could almost hear it thumping in his ears. Then he realized that it wasn't his heartbeat — the muted rhythmic thud was coming closer and closer. He opened his eyes as fear seemed to turn everything cold. "Helicopter."
Lois had recognized the sound only a second or two before Clark spoke. "It's not a rescue, is it? They're the only ones who know we're out here. Did we leave footprints?"
"I don't know."
They crawled deeper into the pipe until they were at its center. It was cooler and darker there, rendering them both a little blind temporarily. The noise of the helicopter was becoming overwhelming. Dust swirled outside and Lois was relieved that any footprints that might have been around were surely gone now. Clark told himself that Mickey didn't know where they were. They were simply flying low and slow along the road in the hopes of spotting them. The helicopter moved on, in the direction of the ghost town.
Once the sound of the helicopter had become faint again Lois softly said, "We should just stay here until we're sure they're gone."
"It's probably better to wait out the heat of the day in here and travel at night," Clark added. He shifted uncomfortably, his foot kicking at a small rock that rolled away and then made a soft 'plop'. Clark sat up rapidly, hoping against hope that the sound was what he thought it was. His fingers groped through the darkness and then found a very small puddle.
"Lois," he whispered. "There's water in here."
Lois moved closer to him. "Where?"
They scooped it in their hands, licking the drops from their fingers. The water tasted awful and left grit in their mouths. There wasn't more than a couple of swallows for either of them and it was almost worse to have been teased with a scant amount of liquid than to have had none at all.
Over the long, hot day the helicopter passed over them several more times. Even in the shade, the heat felt oppressive. Their muscles began to cramp from the tension, the inactivity, and their bodies need for water. The light outside grew fainter as the silence around them turned ominous. Was the helicopter coming back? Had they given up the search?
Lois was absolutely miserable. Her shoulder and ribs ached. She refused to think about how it was harder to breathe now than it had been this morning. Her thirst was terrible. She watched Clark's shadowy figure apprehensively. Was he still bleeding? How bad off was he? Did they dare to leave their hiding place? Did she even dare to talk to him? What do you say to your best friend when you find out their deepest, darkest secret?
Clark had tried for hours to do something super, but there was nothing there. At this point he would gladly trade his powers forever if he could have just had them back for another ten minutes. His mind went over and over the chain of events and he loathed himself for allowing Lois to get hurt. There were so many things he could have, should have, would have done differently. He could have freed them from the back of the truck. Truthfully, if he had known that Mickey was out in the hall, he would have just flown her out the window of the hotel and dealt with the consequences later.
Anything would have been preferable to this, hiding in a culvert beneath the road as he could almost hear the time they had left ticking away.
"It's getting dark now," Lois ventured quietly. "What do you want to do?"
Clark weighed their options. It was safe under the road, but it wasn't getting them any closer to help. He shouldn't have spent the day hiding in the shadows. The lack of sunlight had left him feeling weaker and weaker as the day wore on. He knew that the continued loss of sunlight might prove to be fatal for him. But if he stayed in the sun, he could be spotted. And that would mean endangering Lois. It had been a couple of hours since they had last heard the helicopter — maybe Mickey was giving up the search? At least for tonight?
"We should start walking," Clark answered softly. "We'll hike as far as we can. Maybe we can find another culvert to hide in if we don't reach a town before daylight."
It was harder going than either of them had expected. Not only were they both in pain and weak, but the night was dark and the small crescent moon provided very little light. They shuffled forward slowly, feeling their way carefully. The road turned steeper, winding back and forth as it climbed a hill. The incline was costing them both, and the effort to climb it seemed excruciating. It wasn't until his toes slid forward and found nothing that Clark realized there was a drop at the side of the road. It was impossible to tell how far the drop was or how sheer. Clark let out a frustrated sigh. They were going to do Mickey a favor and kill themselves before morning ever reached them.
He put his arm out to stop Lois. "Wait," he cautioned. "I think there's an edge here. Let's walk on the other side of the road."
Lois took a several steps to the side, her feet scraping along the ground as she felt her way. "Now what?" she asked. She wanted nothing more than to find someplace to sit down or, even better, lie down. Even sleeping in the bathtub back at the Palace would have been heaven right about now.
"I don't know," Clark answered. His injured leg was starting to shake. It had been aching the entire time they were walking and he wasn't sure how much longer he could stay on it. "What if we wait out the rest of the night here and move on as soon as it starts to get light?"
They both thought about the dangers if Mickey and his gang decided to come back. Neither one of them wanted to speak those thoughts aloud.
"Okay," Lois agreed and sat down against one of the large boulders just off the side of the road.
Clark sat down a few feet away and they both shifted uneasily as they tried to find a comfortable position to get some rest.
*Early Wednesday morning*
Sleep was impossible. The air, which had been so hot during the day, was far too cool now that they weren't moving. The desert wasn't quiet — the night was filled with insect noise and the low, distant rumble of thunder. For a while Clark had hoped that it was going to rain on them but the sound was moving in the wrong direction. There was another sound, a soft rustle that was almost like trees, but he then realized it was probably the breeze through the Joshua trees and sage that were scattered around them.
"I left your jacket at the mine," Lois said ruefully. It hurt too much to try and hug herself for warmth and she was exhausted from the pain.
"I'll just run back and get it for you," he answered.
She left out a soft snort. "Thanks. I'll wait here."
They listened to the breeze for a few minutes and then Lois said, "Hey, Clark? Those big round cactuses?"
"Cacti," he muttered.
She rolled her eyes and kept talking. "Couldn't we break one open with a rock and get water?"
"No." He shifted, stretching his injured leg out in front of him carefully.
"No? Oh, come on. Why not?"
"Lois, those are barrel cactus. It's a myth that they're filled with water. They actually contain an alkali slime that would kill us faster. We'd get diarrhea, which would dehydrate us even more. Plus it would drop our core temperature and then we'd get hypothermia."
She let out an exasperated sigh. "Don't you ever get tired of knowing everything?"
"I don't know everything," he said, unsure just how rude she had meant that to sound. He supposed he should take comfort in the fact that she was treating him like Clark and not Superman. It didn't mean that he couldn't miss the hero worship just a little, though. "I just read a lot and remember pretty much everything I read."
Lois sighed again and shivered. "Well, at least I was right about one thing. We're going to freeze to death in the desert."
Clark worked the cape free of his Suit and wished he had thought of the idea sooner. He draped the cape over her knees. "Take this."
"What about you?"
"I'm fine," he lied.
"I can hear your teeth chattering. We should share."
"All right." Clark had been hoping she would suggest it. She might be upset with him, but shared body heat was one way to ensure that she lived to make his life miserable later. He moved closer to her and pulled a corner of the cape across his lap.
"This isn't going to work," Lois said in frustration as his movements pulled the cape away from her. "Can we lie down? Or would that hurt too much for you?"
"No, that's fine."
It took well over ten minutes, but eventually they were settled on their backs with Lois on the left so that they didn't accidentally bump each other's injuries. The ground was hard, but they were so tired it hardly mattered anymore.
Lois stared at the vast blanket of stars above them and wondered which was his. It was staggering to realize that Clark wasn't from here. He had come from out there. Her partner was an alien. She'd always thought of aliens as little green men. They weren't supposed to have broad shoulders and a smile that could stop you in your tracks. Aliens were supposed to have cold, dead eyes and scaly skin. Clark was the absolute opposite of everything she had considered "alien".
Then again, so was Superman. She thought back on all the interviews she had done with Superman. He had told her about Krypton, about its destruction and she had been sad for him. Sad that he had been alone his whole life. Only he hadn't really been alone, had he? He had been raised in Kansas, by two wonderful people who had the childhood pictures of him to prove it. So when had he come here?
"Can I ask you a question?" she ventured.
"Yes." Clark cringed and waited. Maybe she had decided to start early with the accusations on the off-chance that he didn't survive this?
"How old were you when you came here?"
He blinked in surprise. "About a year old."
"How did it happen? Did your parents on Krypton know who they were sending you to? Had they worked something out?"
"No, not really. They knew I would land in Kansas, but they were just relying on luck for the rest of it. My mom and dad, the Kents, they found me. They couldn't have children of their own."
"So was that your ship? That one we found in the Bureau 39 warehouse?"
She fell silent and they both contemplated the stars above them. Then Lois said quietly, "You must hate me."
Clark was shocked at the thought and he turned his head, wishing he could see her better. "What? Lois, why would I hate you?"
"I was such a brat. Worshipping Superman and snubbing you. Does it help that I've been nicer lately? I mean, I wanted to date you. And I've always respected you."
He let out a short laugh even though it hurt to do so. "Liar. You hated me at first."
"I didn't hate you," she said defensively.
"You disliked me."
"You were so squeaky clean — it made me suspicious. And you were irritating. You acted so naive and yet you stole my stories and you were mean to me."
"Mean? I was never mean to you! And what stories did I steal? You were the one who stole my stories."
"I might have stolen one little story from you. But you took several of mine. The one about the theater. And the space shuttle? The Toasters? And what about the time you…"
"Okay," he cut in. "But I was never mean to you."
"The sewage reclamation plant? How about telling the entire newsroom that I was dancing in a chicken costume? Throwing in me in that disgusting dumpster? And…"
"You win," he sighed. "I was terrible to you."
Lois was silent for several seconds and then she sighed. "We both were. We were both awful to each other, just in different ways."
"Will you forgive me?" he asked.
He sounded so sad. Lois wondered if he still thought she was upset over finding out he was Superman. For a moment it was tempting to tease him and tell him that he was going to owe her. Only she owed him, didn't she? How many times had he saved her life? Even now, he was being nice about the fact that she had been so blind and stupid for far too long.
"I guess I'd better," she answered. "Don't they say that you shouldn't go to bed angry at each other?"
Clark smiled. "Yes, they do."
A few minutes of silence passed as she watched the stars and then she said, "I'm not angry, Clark. In fact, I kind of have to admire you for being able to hide it for so long. Please tell me it wasn't easy to do."
"It wasn't." He shifted uncomfortably, and the movement caused her to suck in an unsteady breath when he jostled her. "Sorry," he whispered. "I never meant to hurt you, not now, and certainly not when I started this charade. I wanted to help people, but I wanted a normal life, too."
"Is it so bad, being adored by the whole world?"
"Not everyone adores me."
He felt a pang at her use of the past tense. "I know you did."
She heard the longing in his voice and added, "I still do, you know. Actually, it's somehow more heroic to know that Superman is a regular guy than this flawless god who flies around in tights."
She rolled her eyes, hearing the smile in his tone. "Well, he did have a few flaws, but those were mostly due to his inability to commit to me."
His hand reached over and found hers. "He was committed to you, Lois. He just didn't know how to tell you."
Her throat seemed to have suddenly closed off so she squeezed his fingers as she croaked out, "Thanks."
He stroked his thumb over hers. "For what it's worth, I always adored you right back."
She made a snuffling noise and moved her head so that it was just barely touching his shoulder before she closed her eyes. "G'night, Clark."
"Good night," he answered softly and gave her fingers another squeeze.
Clark blinked, unable to make sense of the world. He was cold. His entire body ached and it felt like his lungs were on fire. He went to push himself up on one elbow but immediately changed his mind. Just tensing to move hurt and he was afraid of how actually moving might feel. For the briefest of moments he gave in to despair — they were never going to make it out of here alive. They had no water, no food, and they were both growing weaker by the hour. His gaze searched the bleak landscape around him and then caught on a patch of green about fifty yards away on the other side of the road.
Trees? He squinted at the green and realized with a growing sense of excitement that the green was a small group of about five or six cottonwood trees. He sat up in a hurry, ignoring his body's protests and shook Lois' good shoulder gently.
"Lois, wake up." Her eyes blinked open and stared at him in confusion. He grinned at her and pointed across the road towards the trees. "Those are cottonwood trees."
Lois pulled the cape tighter around her and closed her eyes again. "Good idea," she mumbled. Her lips felt cracked and dry and her voice was hoarse from lack of water. "We can use them for shade when it gets hot later."
"City girl, you don't get it. Cottonwood trees grow along the sides of rivers and streams."
"There's water nearby?" Lois tried to sit up, but had to settle for propping herself on her good arm.
"Most likely. Why don't you stay here and I'll go check it out?"
Clark rose painfully to his feet and limped across the road. The edge that had seemed so unknown and terrifying to him last night was nothing more than a gentle slope that gradually dropped about four feet into a dry creek bed that ran into and then parallel with the road. He worked his way along the creek to the trees. The ground beneath them looked damp. Rocks and pebbles were strewn about, defining where the water flowed — if there had been any. His eyes followed the stream bed past the trees to where it disappeared into a narrow slot canyon.
He glanced behind him and found Lois watching him anxiously. He pointed towards the canyon and shouted, "I'm going to check in there." She waved and he moved forward.
The canyon was about six feet wide, but loomed high above him. At the very least, it would be a good place to wait out the heat of the day, and it was possible that the eroded curve of the canyon's walls might block them from view if the helicopter came back. Clark walked further into the fissure, his footsteps crunching with a loud echo on the gravel underneath. Occasionally there was a tiny shimmer of water, but nothing that was going to sustain them.
He had gone about fifty feet in when he found a seep on the canyon wall. It was only a small trickle of water about one foot above the ground. Delicate plants were growing in the crack above where the water was dripping. A small pool had collected beneath it. He dropped to his knees and put his lips to the rock, gratefully taking in several swallows of water.
Then he rose to his feet and walked swiftly, ignoring the pain in his leg and lungs as he hurried to get Lois.
"Drink slow," he cautioned her. "If you drink fast it's going to make you throw up and you'll be even worse off."
She shot him a look but followed his advice. They took turns getting a drink until their thirst was slaked, and then they both leaned against the canyon wall and let out sighs. Lois' gaze fell on his injured leg.
"You should let me check that for you." She waved at his leg. "We have water now. We should probably try to clean ourselves up a little."
"Yeah," he said cautiously.
"You first this time."
Clark wavered for a moment, not entirely sure about why he felt so shy. Then he slowly stood up and unbuttoned his shirt. Lois glanced away, watching the reflection of the sky above them in the tiny pool of water.
Clark stripped down to his boxers and then leaned against the canyon wall opposite Lois. He flinched at how cold the stone was. He felt drained from the effort that just getting undressed. He wasn't getting any stronger — he would have to try lying in the sun today.
"Clark," Lois said, her voice pitched higher in anxiety. "I had no idea it was this bad!"
She picked up his shirt from where he had left it and dipped the corner of it in the pool of water. Then she stood up and dabbed at the angry-looking wound beneath his ribs. He let out a moan and tipped his head back against the rock.
"Sorry," she whispered. "But we need to try and clean this. It looks awful. I think it's getting infected."
He grit his teeth as she gently wiped away the layers of blood and dirt. "No, don't apologize. It's fine. In fact, I've been thinking about how this happened and I'm wondering if the dirt is part of the problem."
"How's that?" She glanced up at his face, puzzled.
"I was fine." Clark was panting between words, his body in agony as he tried to think and speak. "Inside the truck, I was fine. It was when we jumped out, it was dusty, and it made me sneeze."
"Okay," she said to humor him. "It was dusty."
"I rarely sneeze. But there must have been something in the dust, something I breathed in because it was only a few seconds later that they kicked me and I was without any powers at all."
"But it wasn't Kryptonite dust?"
"I don't think so. That's always so painful, this was just… nothing. I sneezed and everything was gone."
"You're still bleeding," she said. "Maybe we should tie your shirt around your ribs? Or your tie?"
"What could have been in the dust? We were at a mine, what kind of mine was it?" he mused aloud.
"I don't know. You're the expert who remembers everything he reads. Are you telling me that you've never studied the mines of the Southwest?" She picked up his tie and looked at it with a frown. That just wasn't going to work.
"Are you mocking me for knowing stuff? How are you going to sleep with me tonight if you're picking fights with me now?"
Lois looked up at him, her mind still swimming with the words 'sleep with me tonight'. "I wasn't picking a fight with you. I was just…" She shook her head. "Never mind."
"Your turn," he told her.
Lois swallowed in nervousness. She was going to have to take her shirt off in front of him again. He wasn't going to ogle; she knew that. Actually, maybe that was part of the problem. Why couldn't he want to ogle her, just a little? She lifted the hem of her shirt, letting out a hiss of pain as her left arm refused to go any higher than a few inches. Lois pulled her right arm out of the sleeve and then tried to pull it off sideways but it was impossible to do with just one arm.
"Damn it," she swore softly and averted her eyes, embarrassed. "Can you help me?"
"Okay." He gently helped her to free her shirt from her left arm. "I promise I won't look anywhere I shouldn't."
She grimaced. Of course he wouldn't, the big boy scout. Then she sucked in a breath as he carefully dabbed at her shoulder with the wet hem of his shirt. His expression turned grim and it sent a frisson of worry through her.
"How's it look?" she gasped. She looked down but couldn't really tell what was so worrisome to him.
"It looks like it hurt." Actually it appeared swollen and streaks of red were extending from the exit wound. Clark frowned as he realized that meant an infection was setting in. At least it had scabbed over and was no longer bleeding.
"It's not so bad. It just throbs more than anything," Lois said anxiously.
"What about your ribs?" Clark quickly looked past her bra to focus on the bruises that looked even more horrific to him than they had before. They were a deep, ugly purple color now. He hated to think about how hard Tony must have struck her. "Does it still hurt to breathe?"
"Yeah," she admitted.
"Would it help if we put something cold on them? Or wrapped them?"
"With what? We don't have a compress or a bandage."
"We could use the Suit."
Lois almost laughed. "You're suggesting I should wear the Suit? Now there's something I hadn't thought of before."
"Not wear it, necessarily. Although I think you'd look amazing in the cape."
"Just the cape?"
He pressed his lips together to keep from smiling and she knew that she'd been had.
"Hmm, maybe," she said breezily. "Later on I'm going to wear nothing but the cape and see if you're right."
Clark flushed and looked away and she fought a smile. Then he turned and picked up the Suit, turning it over in his hands as he appeared to look for something. She let out a gasp when he grasped one of the legs and pulled, tearing it away with a loud ripping sound.
He dropped the Suit and held the leg out in front of him and nodded in apparent satisfaction. Then he turned and knelt next to the small puddle of water, soaking the leg in it. He glanced over his shoulder to see her watching him, her expression bewildered. "It was already ruined," he said by way of explanation and then stood up with the soaking wet leg. "Can you raise your arms for me?"
Lois did so, wincing as she was barely able to lift her left arm. Clark reached behind her and she jumped as the cold, wet fabric touched her back. He pulled it forward, laying it carefully over her ribs and then pulling it tight. He moved behind her and tied the leg in place.
"Too tight?" he asked.
Lois shook her head. The firm support of the cloth actually was better. The cold she could have done without, but she knew he was trying to decrease the swelling. Deeply exhausted, she took a step back to lean against the rock. Only Clark was still there and it threw her off-balance when she bumped into him. She staggered to the side but he caught her, pulling and turning her at the same time until she was safe against him. Lois closed her eyes and sagged gratefully against the warmth of him, forgetting for a moment that he was shirtless and she was wearing nothing on top but a lacy black bra and one of Superman's pant legs.
After a few seconds, it occurred to her that she was wearing only those items and she pushed away from him to pick up her shirt.
"Sorry," she told him. "I, uh, I guess I should get dressed now."
Clark's cheeks grew heated. "I wasn't trying to…"
"I know," she cut in. "Neither was I."
Lois pulled her shirt on again, struggling as she tried to get her left arm through the sleeve. She felt the tug as Clark helped her and she was divided between gratitude and mortification.
Her shirt back on, Lois sank to the ground and leaned back against the canyon's wall. It seemed like the canyon's shadows were getting colder. "Hey, Clark, is there any chance at all that you'd let me have the cape for a while?"
"Are you cold?" he asked as worry flickered through him. Then he told himself not to worry. It was cool in the canyon. She wasn't feverish; it was the shade.
"Yeah, a little."
"Me, too," he said, even though he really wasn't all that cold anymore. He gave her the cape and then sat down on her right side. "We'll rest here today," he said and she nodded. "We'll get hydrated, and then we can finish walking out of here tonight. I think if I can lay in the sunshine today, it might help. I get my strength from the sun and it did seem to help yesterday. I could barely breathe when we left the mine, but I felt a lot better after a few hours in the sun."
Lois cracked open one eye to peek at him. "So your plan to save us includes spending the day sunbathing?"
"Do you have a better plan?" he teased.
She grinned and shook her head slowly from side to side. "Hey, I'm just here for the pampering. It's like a spa, only sandier."
"Hard to believe people pay good money for this, isn't it?"
He put his arm around her and she laid her cheek against his chest. Clark closed his eyes, tipping his chin to rest against the crown of her head. His fingers smoothed her hair back, absent-mindedly repeating the action over and over, the soft repetition soothing both of them.
Twenty feet away from the spring, the canyon widened to roughly fifteen feet across. The slick eroded sides of the canyon had been carved into ledges and Lois was sitting on one of them with the cape draped over her head like a veil as she used it for shade. It was too cold to sit in the shade of the canyon but too hot to sit in the sun. Clark, on the other hand, didn't seem the least bit bothered by the heat of the day. He had stripped down to his boxers and was lying on a stretch of pebble-free sand like he was at the beach. His only concession to the bright sunshine was an arm thrown across his eyes.
Lois gathered up yet another handful of pebbles and took aim at the ledge a few feet off the ground across the canyon from her. It was a narrow ledge and she'd almost perfected her throw to land rocks on it. Her gaze cut over to look at Clark again. It stood to reason that his eyes were closed beneath his arm and he had no idea that she was also passing the time by surreptitiously checking him out. She told herself she was only concerned about his injuries.
Blind! She had been so blind not to make the connection. Clark was buff — she had already known that. She had seen him in a towel, in sleeveless t-shirts, and in wet clothes that had clung to every muscular ripple of his body, and she still hadn't even considered the possibility that there was more to him than just his impressive ability to be annoying. Her memory flitted back to that amazing kiss on the bed as her eyes wandered to his lips. His mouth was bruised and swollen, and she felt a stab of anger for everything that Tony had done to him. For all his strength, Clark was the gentlest person she knew, and it seemed unfair on a cosmic level that something like this could have happened to him.
Clark shifted slightly and winced, and her anger towards Tony and Mickey grew. How had this happened? She knew Clark was frustrated by this turn of events. She knew he blamed himself — which was probably an accurate assessment. But if she had been in his place, she would have held back from revealing herself too. Since Superman had first appeared in her life, she had been turning the mystery of where he came from over and over in her mind. She had thought about the possibility that he might have a secret identity, but she had never considered the idea that being Superman *was* his secret identity. He wasn't mysterious to be coy; she had guessed that much. She just hadn't fully comprehended *why*.
"Are you feeling any stronger?" she asked.
"Mmm," he offered non-commitally.
Lois sighed and plinked another rock onto the ledge. Superman! In all her daydreams about Superman, all the scenarios she had concocted for them to be alone — and half-naked — this one had never occurred to her. She looked over at Clark again and then glanced away, feeling guilty in her curiosity. He wasn't lying there for her perusal; he was trying to heal. She scratched her knee and tried again to draw him into conversation. "You said you wanted warm sand on your honeymoon. Was this what you had in mind?"
He grinned, but didn't lift his arm to look over at her. "But where's the clear blue water?"
"At least we have some water. Would you settle for a clear blue sky?"
"I guess I'll have to." Clark sighed and wished that he could float. He had been concentrating, trying to will himself above the ground but it simply wasn't happening. Deep down he had been clinging to the hope that distance from the mine and a little sunshine were going to make all the difference. Now that they hadn't, he wasn't sure what to do. Was it the bullet? Had some trace of whatever had affected him at the mine become trapped inside him when he was shot? Would his powers ever return?
The air in the canyon was so hot and still, and Lois shifted uncomfortably beneath her makeshift tent. How could he lie there like that? Wasn't he burning up? She edged a few feet to her right to sit partially in the shade.
"Aren't you afraid you're going to get sunburned?" she asked, more to break the boredom than out of curiosity.
"I've never had a sunburn before," Clark answered. "But I have kind of wondered what it would be like."
"It's no fun. Your skin gets really tight and itchy and it actually does feel like it's on fire. And then you start peeling."
"The peeling part sounds interesting." He wiggled his toes and wondered how odd it must feel to shed one's skin.
"It's not," she told him matter-of-factly. "And it's terrible if it's on your back where you can't reach."
"Isn't that what marriage is about? Maybe this would be a good time to discuss your wifely duties."
He hadn't lifted his arm and his lower face was still, but she was absolutely certain he was pulling her leg. She toyed with the idea of coming up with a list of her own — his husbandly duties — but she couldn't think of anything she was willing to say out loud, even in jest. So she ignored him instead, taking aim at the ledge, only to find that her new position made it harder to land a pebble on it.
After a few failed attempts, she glanced at Clark again. He didn't look like he was turning red, so maybe he wasn't going to get a sunburn. Which was kind of sad — the thought of scratching his back for him wasn't entirely without merit. Wifely duties. She blushed at where her mind went and wondered if he had thought the same thing.
"Did you really mean it, when you said you liked being married to me?" she asked, trying to sound nonchalant.
"Well," he let the word hang as he pretended to consider the question. "That was before we got kidnapped, shot and left for dead. This hasn't been the most ideal marriage. But just going by the first six hours of our married life? Yeah, I definitely liked that part."
Lois tossed another pebble, missed the ledge and resolved to stop trying to delve into just how committed he was to this marriage.
Clark couldn't resist adding, "Especially the part where you kissed me."
"Kissed you? You kissed me!" Had she kissed him? With shame, she remembered that it was actually her proposition that had led them to the bed.
"You kissed me first." Clark fought the urge to lift his arm and look at her.
"And you pulled me down to the bed with you!" Lois felt indignant. Was he implying that she was more attracted to him? Because that was simply not true. He had it bad for her. He'd had it bad for her since the very beginning and now he was going to act like a disinterested party?
"All I did was sit on the bed," Clark said smoothly. "You're the one who pushed me so I was lying down."
Her cheeks flushed from both embarrassment and the memory of kissing him so thoroughly. "And you rolled on top of me."
"You wanted to keep going," he added.
"And you didn't?" she asked pointedly.
Clark swallowed. "Yeah, I did."
Her eyebrows furrowed as she remembered that last intense kiss just before she had fled for the relative safety of the bathroom. "Where was the Suit? You had on a short-sleeve shirt and I, uh, I touched your back. So where was the Suit?"
"I hid it behind the television cabinet while you were changing into your pajamas."
Her jaw worked without making any words for a few seconds and then she said, "So you were wearing it under your clothes when we got married?"
"Wow," she whispered and then giggled. "I'm married to Superman, huh?"
"Yeah, you are." He peeked from beneath his arm and wanted to laugh. She was sitting there with his cape over her head like a veil. He grinned at the thought of a horror movie titled, 'The Bride of Superman.'
"Well then, my life's ambition is realized. I can die happy now."
At that, he lifted the arm from his eyes and raised his head to look over at her. "Don't say that, not even in jest. You aren't going to die, Lois."
He was in earnest, and her empty stomach tightened a little bit more. "Let's make a deal then," she said. "If you don't die on me, I promise not to die on you."
His eyes met hers and he nodded. "I promise," he said solemnly.
Her gaze dropped to the raw-looking bullet wound beneath his ribs. "I'm going to hold you to that promise, Clark."
He nodded again and she looked away, a little flustered by the sudden intensity between them. Lois concentrated on picking up a few more pebbles to toss at the ledge. Clark laid back down and put his arm over his eyes. The sun felt great, but it still hurt to breathe. He heard another soft 'clack' as Lois continued to pitch pebbles against the canyon wall.
"Lois, when we get back to Metropolis, will you go out with me?"
There was a clatter as she dropped the gravel she was holding. Then she cleared her throat and said, "You're supposed to date me before you marry me, not after."
Clark lifted his arm just enough to peek at her. She was watching him warily, as if she was waiting for him to turn the tables on her. "Ah, but that could be a scorching good night kiss if I'm dating my wife."
The thought made her heart beat faster. Lois tried to keep her tone casual as she answered, "A real date this time, not a stakeout?"
Clark's smile widened. "Where do you want to go on this date? We could try another concert."
"Dinner." Her painfully empty stomach gurgled at the thought. "Take me to dinner at that new restaurant down the street from my apartment. I've wanted to go there since they opened, but I just never found the time. Then you can walk me home afterwards." She tossed a pebble at the canyon wall and smiled at the thought of walking home arm-in-arm with Clark.
"Could I kiss you good night?"
Was he serious, or teasing her? His tone of voice was playful and she bristled for a moment that he was making fun of her. Then she decided to tease him back. "Only if it's a scorching kiss, like you said."
He lifted his arm away from his face and propped himself up on his elbows. "Oh baby, you have no idea how scorching it could get."
She rolled her eyes at him. "Do you breathe fire, too, Clark?"
He winced as he laughed. "No. No fire."
She pitched one of the small pebbles in his direction and it landed on his ankle.
"Ow!" Clark sat up and gave her a disbelieving look. "That's spousal abuse!"
She looked at him assessingly. "So this scorching kiss of yours — have you given one to Mayson?"
"No. Just you."
"Me?" she asked in manufactured confusion. "When did you ever give me a scorching kiss?"
His eyes narrowed as he acknowledged that she had outwitted him on that one. Lois raised one eyebrow as if she were really expecting an answer. Clark laid down and put his arm over his eyes again.
Lois picked up another pebble, turning it over in her hands as she strove to sound lighthearted. "So why did you agree to go to the mountains with Mayson? Were you trying to make me jealous?"
"Were you jealous?" he shot back.
"No!" Lois frowned. She had denied that far too quickly.
"I didn't agree to go out with her. She asked me and we were interrupted before I could say anything. She just assumed that I was okay with the idea." Clark wanted to lift his arm or sit up, but he sensed that it was easier for Lois to have this conversation without him staring at her.
"So you didn't want to spend the weekend with her?"
"Not really. Not like that, anyway."
"Like what?" she pressed.
"Are you honestly going to tell me that you don't think there are expectations to be met when two consenting adults go to a secluded location together?"
"So you didn't want to meet her expectations?" she asked hopefully.
Clark swallowed hard. Leave it to Lois to cut to the heart of the matter so quickly. "No, I didn't."
Okay, so Mayson was out. But there had to have been someone, sometime… "So whose expectations have you met? I don't think you've ever mentioned any kind of serious girlfriend in your past."
"Have you told me about all of your serious relationships?"
"Actually, I have. I mean, you know about Claude."
"And Lex." He couldn't keep the bitter note from his voice.
"I never met Lex's expectations."
"Really?" Clark pushed himself to a sitting position, wiping the sand from his hands with a few small claps.
"You thought I had?" Lois looked at him in amazement. What kind of girl did he think she was?
"Well, you were engaged…" Clark hedged.
Her mouth made a perfect 'O' in astonishment. Had he really thought that? "Don't make assumptions! We're married and I haven't met your expectations, have I?"
He grinned. "Don't beat yourself up about that, Lois. I'm not deducting points for it."
She frowned and realized that he had neatly deflected her. "Nice try. You didn't answer my question. Whose expectations have you met?"
He flushed and looked away. "No one's," he admitted softly.
Lois furrowed her eyebrows in confusion. "Ever?"
He shook his head.
"You're kidding me, right?" He had to be teasing her.
"You, you're, oh my god, really? I, uh, geez. I don't know what to say to that."
Say you'll be mine, his mind whispered. Say you'll want me after this is all over.
Lois giggled and tossed another pebble, missing the ledge. "Are there any other secrets you want to tell me? I mean, you seem to be on a roll here."
He shook his head. "I don't have any secrets left from you. How about you tell me one?"
Her mind raced, trying to think of something to tell him that wasn't embarrassing or self-incriminating. "I didn't hate you, when we first met. I just made a conscious choice to keep my distance from you."
"That first story we worked on together? We were riding in a cab and you ended up sitting really close to me and our knees touched. It sent shivers through me. I told myself it was silly to get all worked up over someone I'd just met. But the truth was I liked you so much that it scared me. So I pushed you away."
A warm glow spread through him. "When did you decide not to keep your distance anymore?"
She laughed, then grimaced at the pain it caused in her shoulder and ribs. "Oh, I've made and broken that vow over and over again. When the Planet reopened, I almost told you that I was falling for you. Then you said you were just making it up about being in love with me. You big liar, you could have saved us both a year of loneliness if you had just kept your mouth shut or let me talk first."
"I'll remember that in the future. So you're no good at keeping vows, huh?"
"In sickness and in health, I kept that one. I could have just left you back at the mine."
"True. You did keep that one." Clark grinned, happy simply to hear her repeat part of their vows.
"And I had my chance with Tony, so I forsook others in favor of you."
He grunted. "Don't make me laugh; it hurts too much." Clark lay back down. "You're a good wife, Lois. The best I've ever had."
"I'm the only wife you've ever had." She fought a smile and wished he could have really meant the words.
"And yet you keep threatening to annul our blissful union," he pointed out.
"Like you haven't wanted a divorce since the moment you said, 'I do'!" she shot back.
"Lois, when did I ever say that I wanted an annulment or a divorce?"
She blinked as she realized that he hadn't. Never. Not once. The closest he had come was in placating her with an 'of course' when she told him they were getting an annulment. Was it possible that he didn't mind being married to her?
"Do you want a divorce?" she asked, her heart beating frantically at the thought that he was about to say 'yes, of course'. It should be what she wanted. She would be free to carry on unencumbered once they got back to Metropolis. In a blinding moment of clarity she knew that she would be devastated if he did.
Clark felt a flush go over his skin and wondered if maybe he had sat in the sun too long. Could he tell her the truth? She looked so anxious and he wondered which answer would freak her out more. He decided to try and dodge the question.
"Are you asking Clark or Superman?" He kept the words light and teasing.
Dread filtered through her. He thought she only wanted to be married to Superman, not to Clark. She could hardly blame him for thinking so.
"Is there a difference?" she asked.
Only to you, he thought. He shrugged in answer, watching her closely to see her reaction.
Lois looked away, embarrassed that she had taken seriously a conversation he had obviously meant as banter to alleviate boredom. Feeling desperate not to appear needy, she shrugged back at him. "There's no difference," she said with forced cheerfulness. "And don't worry about my expectations. I married you for your mind."
When she dared a glance at him, he was smiling.
"Really?" he asked. "Because I married you for your smokin' hot body."
Even though she knew he was teasing, she blushed and drew the cape tighter around her.
By late afternoon half the canyon was in shadows. Lois couldn't get warm, even with the cape wrapped around her as she sat in the waning sunshine. She was exhausted, but unable to doze for more than a few minutes at a time before she would wake up shivering with cold.
When Clark realized that she was struggling, he moved to sit next her. "Lois?" he asked softly.
She didn't open her eyes and he put his hand on her forehead to check on her. Her skin was hot and damp with sweat.
"I'm cold," she whispered.
Fear shot through him. It was the infection; she was becoming feverish as her body fought it. He put his arm around her waist and moved closer to her. "Is that better?"
"Are we going to try walking again tonight?" she asked. Please, let him say 'no'. Lois was no longer sure she could even make it of the canyon, let alone all the way to civilization. If they could just rest, she was sure she'd feel better in the morning.
"I hate to leave the water," Clark said. "Why don't we stay here tonight? We can get better hydrated and set out first thing in the morning. We never heard the helicopter today, so maybe they've given up looking for us."
"Okay," she agreed and her head came to rest on his shoulder. What if she didn't feel better in the morning? It was wrong to make him stay here, getting weaker along with her when he could still save himself. "Clark? Maybe you should go without me? You could go and get help."
"Did you leave me?"
She didn't answer because she knew where his logic was headed.
"We're in this together, Lois. I promised I wouldn't leave you, and I meant it."
Clark moved a couple of feet from her and smoothed away the gravel from next to the canyon wall so that there was only sand. He crawled back over to Lois and gently eased her over so that she was lying on the sand. The rock wall behind her was still warm and he lay down in front of her, wrapping his arms around her. "This should keep you warm tonight," he murmured.
She was quiet for so long that he thought she had gone to sleep. But then she said, "This isn't so bad. I think if I had to choose, I'd want to die in your arms."
"What if I go first?" he answered, his voice a little huskier at the thought of actually losing her.
"You know how competitive I am. Are you really going to make this a contest?"
He tightened his arms around her. "It's not a contest. Besides, you promised you wouldn't leave me."
"That's right," she murmured. "I did. You're a good husband, Clark. The best I've ever had."
"I'm the only husband you've ever had."
"I know." Lois tipped her head back so that she could see his face. "But, even if you weren't, you'd still be my favorite."
In the blackness of night she became restless in his arms, mumbling something over and over that almost sounded like his name.
This time there was no mistaking it, she was saying his name. "What is it?" he asked softly.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered, her hand patting his arm repeatedly. "Will you forgive me?"
"For what?" he asked, confused at her apology. Was she dreaming?
"I'm the one who spilled coffee on your keyboard and ruined it. That was me and I didn't 'fess up and I'm so sorry. It was an accident."
"Lois, that was weeks ago."
"I know, but I had to tell you. I have lots of things to tell you. I guess it's too late now, huh?"
No," he whispered into her hair. "It's never too late."
"I love you, Clark. Did you know that?"
"I love you, too."
"I'm glad we're married," she added and patted his arm again.
"Me too." He wished it wasn't so dark so that he could see her.
"I won't die a spinster, huh? Will you tell my mom that we were married? I know she's disappointed that I'm still single."
"You can tell her yourself."
She snuggled a little closer to him and whispered, "Don't worry. Superman will find us. We'll be rescued."
Worry flooded through him. "Superman? Lois, I'm Superman."
"Mmm. That's nice. So you're not angry with me?"
"I'm not angry," he reassured her, tightening his arms around her. "Get some sleep."
"Clark? Are you going to divorce me?"
"Not ever?" she asked hopefully.
"Not ever," he reassured her. "Not ever, I promise."
Til death parts us, his mind whispered. How much longer until that happened?
As the sun began to rise he kissed her cheek, frightened by how cold it was. "Lois?"
"Mmm?" Her eyelids fluttered but didn't open.
"Are you still with me?"
"Yeah." Even just that word was muffled and filled with pain.
"We need to get going now."
She didn't move, though, and he pulled her to a sitting position. "You have to stay with me," he told her. "You promised."
"I…" If she said anything else it was too indistinct for him to catch.
Clark tried to scoop her up but his ribs protested and he couldn't help the groan of agony. Lois flopped back to the ground and didn't move. She seemed so limp, so distant, and it sent a chill stab of fear through him. Working on desperation alone, he pulled her to a sitting position again, holding her shoulders as her head flopped back weakly.
"Get help," she mumbled. "Leave me."
"I can't leave you," he whispered. "You didn't leave me."
"It's no different," he assured her and positioned her so that he could hoist her over his shoulder. He staggered upright and took a few stumbling steps as he tried to cope with the pain shooting through his body. Lois groaned and he realized her injured ribs were pressing down directly on his shoulder.
"I'm so sorry," he panted. She didn't answer and he was almost relieved that she had passed out. That was better, he hoped. Gritting his teeth, he slowly began the hike out of the canyon and back to the road. He made the journey one hundred steps at time. He would go a hundred steps and then stop to check on her. His heartbeat hammered loudly in his ears each time, afraid that he was going to find she was gone.
Clark was becoming less and less steady on his feet. He had to change the number of steps to seventy-five, then to fifty. Now he was staggering along at twenty steps between rests. Lois had long since ceased to answer him, and he was tortured by the thought that he was slowly killing her. Maybe he should have left her in the canyon where she had shade and water.
Clark tried, but couldn't manage more than ten steps. He dropped to his knees in the middle of the dusty road, setting Lois down as gently as he could in front of him. His breath came in shallow pants as he tried to decide what to do next. There was no shade, no breeze, and no water. They were going to die and there was nothing he could do to save them.
"I'm sorry," he mumbled to her. She didn't answer and he was almost glad for it. It was so much less painful to think that she would just drift from this world to the next without having to wake up and be in agony anymore.
"Lois," he murmured, "can you hear me?" His shaky fingers felt for and found a pulse. It was faint, but at least it was there. He pulled her onto his lap, cradling her in his arms despite how much it hurt to do so. Clark kissed her cheek, then her closed eyelids.
"You don't have to stay with me anymore," he whispered into her hair. "But I want you to know that I'm glad you married me. I love you. I've loved you since the day I met you. All I ever wanted was to be able to hold you for the rest of our lives." The words became stuck in his throat and he choked on a half-sob at the knowledge that he had gotten his wish.
"All I ever wanted," he repeated, hoping that she could hear him. "My wife."
Clark's eyes opened. His entire body felt heavy and slow and yet he couldn't shake a sense of urgency. His eyes closed as he remembered staggering along a dusty road with an unresponsive Lois over his shoulder. He tried to struggle to a sitting position, but his body was uncooperative.
A familiar hand touched his shoulder and he heard his dad say, "Take it easy, son."
Feeling dizzy and a little bit nauseated, Clark tried again to sit up and managed to succeed this time. "Lois?"
"She's in the next room. But she's not awake yet."
Clark blinked and the room came into sharp focus. He remembered it now — seeing the dust rising on the road as a truck came closer and closer. He remembered his last desperate actions to hide Lois from view before the truck reached them. There had been a long ride to the hospital and then a confusing flurry of activity. They had taken her away from him, assuring him that he could see her later. How much later was it now? He swung his legs over the side of the bed and winced at how much that hurt to do.
"Clark!" His dad stood up, offering an arm for support which Clark grasped at thankfully. "Just stay here, son. I'll go check on her."
"I can't," Clark said with a grimace. "I promised I wouldn't leave her. I can't let her wake up alone."
"Mom is in there with her."
"I still have to see her." Clark leaned heavily against his dad, taking small steps as he worked his way closer to her room. His dad dragged Clark's IV pole along with them. Once they got into the hall, Jonathan gestured to the room that was their goal. Clark seemed to find his legs again and began moving more purposefully. The door was partially open and Clark took the IV pole from Jonathan so he could enter unaided.
"Clark!" Martha stood up to give him the chair closest to the bed. "Come sit down before you fall down."
Clark sank gratefully into the chair and reached out to take Lois' hand in his. "She hasn't been awake at all?" he asked.
"Not yet," Martha answered as she patted Clark's shoulder to reassure herself that he really was okay. "But the doctor was in here earlier and he said that she is stable." Martha didn't add that the doctor had also said if Lois didn't wake up soon, he was worried about what that might mean for her mental condition. There was simply no way to accurately gauge how the heatstroke and fever had affected her brain until she woke up.
Clark lifted her hand and kissed it softly. "Lois, can you hear me?"
There was no response. Her hand remained slack in his and her eyelids didn't flicker. He looked at her face, taking in the dark bruises on her cheek. Her hair was lank on the pillow, her complexion pale beneath the bruises. That his own body was still throbbing in pain only deepened the horror he felt for everything she had suffered.
"Please come back to me." His leaned closer to her and added, "You still owe me a date. And a kiss."
They passed the afternoon in Lois' room. Clark watched her sleep and let his mind drift through memories of her. He cataloged every word, every glance, every touch that had passed between them, going all the way back to when he had first met her.
His memory caught and held on the night he had helped her piece together Dr. Platt's research. They had stayed late at the Planet and he had brought them Chinese food. It was the first time Lois had ever relaxed around him, the first time he had seen a glimpse of the warmth she tried so hard to hide from everyone. Their eyes had met and, in an instant, he had gone from simply interested to smitten. At the time, he would have sworn by the way her eyes darkened that she had felt the same way — or at least recognized the heat between them. As time went on he told himself that maybe he had dreamed it. Only now was he certain that she actually had felt it too — and had pushed him away for her own mental safety. Her eyes moved beneath her eyelids, tracking something only Lois could see, and Clark wondered if she remembered that moment at all.
"I told her she could leave me," Clark said quietly. His parents both looked up from the magazines they were reading. "I thought we were as good as dead and I told her she didn't have to keep her promise to stay with me anymore. It was only a few minutes later that I saw dust rising on the road. It was a long way off, but it was coming towards us. I didn't know if it was the guys who were after us or not. So I hid Lois away from the road and waited for them to get closer."
"It wasn't them," Jonathan guessed.
Clark put his hands over his face and shook his head as he relived the fear and exhaustion of those long minutes. He had been terrified for Lois and had vowed that, if it was Mickey, he would tell him Lois had already died. The thought of Mickey or his men hurting her further had made him frantic with worry.
"It wasn't them," he finally said softly. "It was two brothers on their way to ride motorcycles in the desert. They helped me get Lois in the truck and then one of them rode in the back with the bikes all the way here." Clark picked at some lint on the blanket covering Lois. "But I'd already told her that she didn't have to stay. Do you think she heard me? Do you think she knows that I gave up?"
"You didn't give up," Martha said quietly. "If you had given up, you wouldn't have tried to protect her one last time."
"I wished for something terrible." Clark closed his eyes, awash in guilt. "I wanted her to be dead."
"You didn't want her to suffer," Jonathan corrected.
Clark shook his head silently, uncertain that he could tell his parents the truth. The sickening boasts that Randy had made about what he wanted to do to Lois had replayed in Clark's mind. He had been desperate to save her from that fate. For a few horrifying seconds he had wished he'd had the strength to—.
He shuddered, unable to even admit to himself what he had wished for.
"Tell us about the wedding," Martha prompted. "Are you really married?"
Clark's fingers stroked along Lois' arm and his face relaxed. "We're really married." His lips twitched into a smile. "It wasn't planned, and it was at gunpoint, but it was a mostly valid marriage."
"At gunpoint?" Jonathan cleared his throat. "You were forced to get married?"
"It was her idea, actually. We had followed this gangster out here, but when he caught us she told him we were eloping. He insisted on our getting married right then and there. If… once she wakes up, I'm sure she'll want it annulled. That was our understanding."
"And does she know? About…" Martha let her words trail away significantly.
Clark nodded. "She knows. After we had been shot and we were hiding in a culvert, she tried to check on my wounds, and I had the Suit on underneath my clothes." He grimaced. "It was definitely not how I wanted her to find out."
"What did she say?" Jonathan glanced over at Martha. She grinned and shook her head. He had twenty dollars riding on 'not angry' while Martha had always insisted Lois would overreact and then come to her senses later.
Clark's forehead furrowed as he remembered her reaction. "Nothing. She didn't say anything for such a long time that I finally had to ask her say something. And then she was just…" His eyes closed as he realized how generous she had been — never once had she been accusatory. He looked at Lois, lying so still and pale, and his heart felt even heavier. "She looked so hurt and angry but she never said a thing. She took care of me."
"So she was okay with it?" Martha asked.
"She was pretty quiet at first, but by the next day she was joking with me about being Supe—, uh, about it."
"No hero worship?" Martha teased.
"None," Clark affirmed.
"Then you'd better hang on to her, son." His mom gave him a wink.
Clark laced his fingers with Lois'. "If it were only up to me, sure. But it's her decision, too."
It was late in the day when Lois seemed to become more restless. She murmured occasionally, low incomprehensible words that caused him to lean closer in the hopes she was waking up. Clark was reaching to smooth the hair back from her face when his IV popped out. He watched in disbelief as the puncture wound from the needle healed in an instant.
"Be right back," he whispered to Lois before he hurried into the small bathroom in her room. Once inside he locked the door and lifted the hem of his hospital gown. The ugly bullet wound on his abdomen had vanished completely. "Uh oh," Clark said under his breath.
What should he do? There was no way he could let the doctors examine him again.
His hearing picked up the soft, familiar footfalls of his parents as they approached Lois' room. He waited until they had entered the room and then Clark opened the bathroom door a crack and urgently whispered, "Mom!"
Martha looked around to find the source of the voice. The bathroom door opened a little wider and she found herself face to face with Clark. He looked panicked and it only took her a few seconds to understand why. His face was no longer puffy and bruised.
"Jonathan, go get Clark some clothes. He's going home now."
"But, mom, I can't…" Clark protested from the bathroom.
"Well, you can't stay here. We'll call you the moment she wakes up."
Clark was dying — bleeding to death in front of her. Lois felt as if she were underwater; all of her movements were slow and ineffective as she ripped open his shirt to stop the flow of blood. He writhed in pain as his terrified eyes silently pled for her to help him. She couldn't make her body cooperate, couldn't seem to find where all the blood was coming from. As she frantically tried to save him, his eyes became distant and his body went limp.
"Clark!" She tried to scream his name, but he was shrinking, disappearing before her eyes.
She twitched as though she had been shocked and stared without comprehension at a stainless steel sink.
Lois blinked but the sink was still there. Next to the sink there was a white dry-erase board. The words "Your Nurse Is" were written in black and following them, after what looked like several edits, was the name "Rhonda" in green. Below that was written "Room 314" and a date that was later in the month than she could remember it being.
She had a nurse? Was she in a hospital room? What had happened?
The dream of Clark dying was still bouncing around inside her head and she realized with horror that it wasn't entirely a dream. He really had been hurt — really had laid in front of her and bled. Only in real life he had been… Superman?
Oh god — he was Superman. Lois remembered being wrapped in the cape and tossing rocks at a narrow ledge as Clark teased her that he had only married her for her body. The memories flooded back and she tried to wrap her mind around what it seemed she had already come to terms with. Clark was Superman. And, somewhere out in the desert, she had not only accepted that, but she had realized that she couldn't live without him. Not because of Superman, but because he was Clark.
So where was he? Had he made it? Was he in the hospital too? She weakly tried to push herself upright.
Almost instantly, she felt a gentle hand on hers and a familiar and soothing voice said, "Lois?"
She must still be dreaming, only now it was Clark's mom who was in front of her. Martha's face was creased in a relieved smile and she was talking to her.
"Honey, can you hear me?"
Lois nodded, even more confused as she realized that it wasn't a dream. Clark's mom was really there with her. Was she in Kansas or Nevada?
"What can I get for you?" Martha asked.
"Clark." The name stuck in her throat but Martha seemed to understand her.
"He's fine, but he's not here right now."
"What day is it?" Lois asked.
"It's Saturday. You've been here since Thursday night."
"Thursday," Lois echoed and tried to remember what day she had last been awake. Was it Thursday? They got married on Monday — didn't they? It was Tuesday morning when Tony shot them. Wednesday when they found water. And Thursday? Lois tried hard to remember but there simply wasn't a Thursday. She could remember plunking rocks onto the ledge and talking to Clark but nothing beyond being cold and having him hold her. No, there was a hazy memory of him refusing to leave her in the canyon. Clark had lifted her onto his shoulder and then— her mind went blank. Had that been Thursday? Had he carried her all the way to safety? Was that how she'd gotten here? But where was he? Why wasn't he here now?
"Where's Clark?" she asked, watching Martha anxiously. "What happened to him?"
"Clark had two operations to remove the bullet and its fragments. After those were taken out, he got better. He got better fast." Martha tilted her head, her eyes twinkling a little as she emphasized the word 'fast'. "So fast, actually, that he had to go AWOL before anyone could wonder why he was so dramatically better."
"He's better?" Lois whispered, suddenly worried that she was only dreaming again. "All better?"
"He's super," Martha reassured her.
Her lips were cracked and dry and it hurt to smile, but Lois grinned anyway. "Super," she repeated.
Their eyes met and both women grew a little teary at the unspoken secret now shared between them.
Now that she was awake and alert, a physical therapist came to get Lois up and moving. With her bruised ribs there was a danger of pneumonia if she were to just lie in bed. She was walking slowly along the back hallway when they heard loud chattering in the main corridor. One of the nurses came around the corner, her face flushed with excitement.
"You have a visitor," she told Lois.
Superman stepped around the corner and Lois thought for a moment that her heart had stopped. There was the Suit, not torn and blood-stained. The cape billowed out behind him as he walked towards her. He looked perfect — not a hair out of place, no sign of bruising, no way to tell that only two days before he had been near death. She could see why he'd had to leave the hospital in a hurry.
Acutely conscious that they had an audience and thrilled beyond words to see him, she could only manage a breathless, "Hi."
"Hi," he answered with a smile that weakened her knees even more. "How are you feeling?" he asked, drawing close enough to take her arm and put his other hand at the small of her back for support as he led her slowly back towards her room.
"Much better," she said. "They're talking about letting me out of here tomorrow."
She put her arm through his in lieu of a hug. "Thanks for coming to visit me."
He ducked to softly speak near her ear. "I had to see you."
"Same," she murmured, so low that only he could hear it. The hand on her back hand moved to span her uninjured ribs. It was a gesture that must have looked supportive to everyone else. To Lois, the gentle pressure of his touch was so intimate that her eyes briefly fluttered closed. The cape brushed against her bare calves and she wanted to cry in frustration that she couldn't turn and wrap her arms around him and tell everyone there that he was her best friend. And husband. Well, technically her husband.
They left the door open to her room when they came inside — neither of them wanted to pull the door shut and set off a flurry of gossip. Clark helped her back into bed and pulled the covers up over her legs. Then he stood there as if he was uncertain what he should do next. He sighed and sat in the chair next to the bed, wishing that he could sit on the edge of the mattress with her or at least hold her hand.
"I came to see you, when I first woke up yesterday," he said softly. "But then I got better so fast, I couldn't stay. I'm so sorry. I meant to be here."
She answered just as quietly. "It's okay. I'm just glad to see you back to normal. Have you figured out how it happened?"
"Remember that sample of Kryptonite that Jason Trask had analyzed? Kryptonite is composed of sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide."
Lois shook her head. "And that's what was at the mine? But you said it didn't make you sick. If it was Kryptonite, shouldn't it have done that?"
"If it was Kryptonite, it would have. They took us to a borax mine and the dust I breathed in was full of boron silicate with traces of sodium lithium. It just lacked one thing — the radiation stored in it from Krypton's red sun. So it didn't make me sick, but it took away my powers just the same."
"If I were you, I wouldn't go flying into any borax mines in the future."
He grinned and shook his head. "No, I wasn't planning on it."
Her eyes darted to the open door and the people pretending not to watch them from the nurse's station.
"Clark," she whispered, turning her head away so that no one could read her lips.
She smiled. "Nothing. I just wanted to call you that when you were in the Suit. I mean, I know it's you, but it's still kind of hard to…" She waved her hand, searching for the words. "I just wanted to make it official, I guess. Call you Clark and see if you answered."
"You can call me whatever you like and I promise I'll answer."
'Husband', she thought. Let me call you that. Or 'sweetheart' or 'darling'. An entire list of sickeningly sweet names went through her mind, and yet none of them seemed so saccharine if she was referring to him. What had happened to her? Maybe it was just the residual effects of sunstroke, because there was no other excuse for it. She wanted to call him 'sweetheart' and have him answer.
She cleared her throat softly. "I, uh, I'd ask you to fly me home tomorrow, but I'm not sure I'm allowed that much excitement yet."
"No, probably not. But as soon as you're up to it, I'd love to take you flying."
Her heart sped up at the thought of flying, not in Superman's arms, but Clark's. God, that would be so weirdly amazing. "You're on," she told him.
When he smiled, his entire face seemed to relax and Lois realized that she had never seen Superman so at ease before. It was the end of an era, she thought. He wasn't hiding from her anymore. Just as quickly, she remembered that he should still maintain the ruse for everyone else. "You should probably leave soon," she said regretfully. "Although I wish you could stay longer."
In an instant his face had returned to the distant but friendly mask of Superman. He reluctantly stood up, letting his fingers brush over her wrist as he did so. "Call and let me know when you're coming home, okay? I'll come to the airport to meet you."
Lois gave a regretful nod. "That would be nice."
Clark started to go to the door, hesitated and then turned to look at her again. "Honey?" he asked softly.
"Yes?" she answered automatically.
He grinned. "Nothing. I just wanted to call you that and see if you answered."
"Hi, this is Clark Kent. I'm sorry I'm not here to take your call. Please leave a message and I'll call you back."
Lois closed her eyes, disappointed that she wasn't going to be able to talk to him in person.
"Hi, Clark. It's me, uh, Lois."
You know — your wife, her mind added.
"I'm at the airport and you told me to call and let you know what time my flight gets in. Well, I should be there around 10:30 tonight, Metropolis time. I, uh, I know you might have something more pressing going on, so it's okay if you don't come. I mean, I understand that you're, well, you know. You don't have to come up with an excuse anymore. So, uh, so if I don't see you, I'll just give you a call tomorrow morning. Okay?"
She hung up the phone and then thunked her forehead against the side of the phone booth. "Idiot," she whispered to herself. "You didn't even tell him the most important part." She dialed the phone again, pressing the receiver closer as his greeting played.
"Hi, uh, it's me again. I forgot to tell you but the police are going to be looking for you. Someone from the sheriff's office came to talk to me earlier today. I didn't know what to say when they asked about you."
Lois looked around nervously. No one in the crowds bustling past was paying any attention to her, but she still felt uneasy saying anything about his alter ego.
"I told them I thought you had gone back to Metropolis to follow up on some leads about Mickey. So, anyway, uh, we can talk about it when I get back. I'm assuming that since I can't reach you, neither can Henderson or anyone else. Not that you owe me any explanations for where you go or what you're doing. I don't want you to think that I'm being nosy. Because I'm not. I, uh, I'll just see you later. Or talk to you later. Probably talk to you. I'm sure there's a lot of stuff that, uh, you have to, you know, take care of. Soooo, bye now."
She picked up the bag at her feet and took three steps before she spun around and dialed his number again. She had to say this, had to tell him before she completely lost her nerve.
"Hi, it's me again. I had to tell you this, just in case. Let's face it, with my luck lately, it's entirely possible that the plane is going to explode in midair or something before I can get back to Metropolis. So the thing is…" Lois took a deep breath and tightened her hand on the phone to keep it from shaking. "I love you, Clark. I, uh, I just wanted to tell you that. I should have told you that sooner. Anyway, I know we have a lot to sort out with, uh, the marriage or annulment or whatever and all that, but I wanted you to know that I do love you. And don't think that it's because of, you know, uh, that other guy. I already felt this way, honest. I hope you can be there tonight. I'd give anything to be able to hug you right now." Her voice faded to a whisper as she realized how much she meant that. She choked on the last few words as her throat seemed to close off and tears came to her eyes. "I miss you, Clark."
She hung up the phone and sagged against the phone carrel's wall. It was out of her hands now. If he felt the same way about her, well, everything would work out. And if he didn't?
Lois pushed that thought away. Clark cared about her — she was absolutely certain of that much. Maybe he even loved her or was starting to love her? He had, after all, refused to leave her behind in the desert. And he had come to visit her — surely that indicated that he wanted to see her again?
Lois had sat with her head resting against the window during most of the long flight home. Did Clark really get airsick if he couldn't see out the window when he flew? If she could fly unassisted, she was certain it would drive her crazy to be stuck in a metal tube. It drove her crazy enough as it was — all those unproductive hours.
Clark. A delicious shiver went through her at the thought that he might be there when she landed. Assuming he wasn't out saving the world somewhere or that her phone messages hadn't sent him flying in the opposite direction. If he was there, she could hug him. Her arms felt empty, useless almost, that she hadn't been able to hug him at the hospital. More than anything else, she wanted to hold him and feel his arms around her in return.
A week. It had been a week since they'd been married. A week since she had kissed him. She remembered what he had said about a scorching good night kiss and her stomach fluttered in anticipation. If he was there, if he was waiting for her, it had to mean that he — what? Wanted her? Wanted to be married to her? Or was he just too polite to ditch her while she was this vulnerable?
The familiar lights of Metropolis appeared below her. She traced the West River bridge on the window, her eyes following the path of that street as it bisected Metropolis. She could see the Daily Planet building and she looked past it, finding the general area of Clinton Street. Had he heard her messages? Would he be waiting for her when she got off the plane? She told herself that it wouldn't matter if he hadn't been able to make it, but she knew that was a lie. It mattered. It mattered more than anything else in the world.
She opened her hand and traced a finger over the hospital ID bracelet that she had taken off but had been unable to throw away. "Kent, Lois," she read silently for the umpteenth time. She closed her eyes and remembered his teasing words after he had kissed her at the altar.
<"Hello, Mrs. Kent…">
That name had sent a thrill through her at the time and that was even before everything had changed. Before they had risked their lives to save each other, before she had known his secret, before she had spent the night nestled in his arms to keep warm. What if she really could be Lois Kent? How different — how amazing — would her life be if she could spend every night in his arms simply for the pleasure of being near him?
As the plane touched down, her stomach lurched along with the wheels.
Please, let him be there.
She was coming down the escalator when the lobby below erupted into a sea of bright flashing lights and people shouting her name, asking her questions about Mickey and what had happened in the desert. She considered running back up the escalator and then she caught sight of him. Clark was in the Suit again, his face grim as he waded through the throng of media.
"She's been through a lot. Please give her some room," he told the press as he took her arm and led her toward the doors. She numbly went along with him, clutching the duffel bag she had with her tight as insulation against the melee around her. People spilled out of the terminal along with them, still asking questions. One of the shouted questions made her stop in her tracks.
"Hey, Lois, where's your husband?"
The question caught her off-guard and Lois turned to see Brendan Francis from the Star giving her a knowing grin.
"My what?" she asked, her mind racing as she wondered how Brendan had known to ask that.
"You were registered at the hospital as Lois Kent so I checked and there was a marriage license filed for you and Clark Kent last week. So where's your husband? No one can seem to find him."
"Marriage license?" That was a public record. It would have only taken a phone call for Brendan to confirm a license had been issued. "How is that newsworthy?"
"Maybe it's not," Brendan admitted with a wink. "But, if you are married, I'm going to need to think of someone else to ask to the Press Corps Banquet next month."
"Don't flatter yourself, Brendan. You're not Clark's type."
Brendan tipped his head back and laughed. "Touche, Lois."
Clark's hand gave her elbow a squeeze in recognition of the joke. They took a couple more steps and then Brendan called out. "So are you two married or not?"
They were mid-way from the terminal to the taxi stand, but Lois was suddenly weary of the crowd and the questions.
"Superman? Would you please take me home?"
Without a word, Clark scooped her into his arms and rose into the air so quickly that it seemed her stomach had been momentarily left behind.
"I'm not sure you want to go home. There are people camped outside your place," he told her as they soared away from the airport.
"How did they find out?" She had never been more aware of the sheer physicality of Clark than at this moment. Both he and Superman had always seemed so solid to her, but he was currently the only substantial thing in her world. The ephemeral night air was cool and it made a striking contrast to the warmth of his body. The Suit gave her the semblance of normality, but her mind was still reeling that it was Clark — Clark! — who was flying with her. In the next instant, all her fears dissolved and she relaxed into his sure embrace. She had always trusted Superman but somehow knowing that he was truly Clark increased her confidence in him.
"The wire service in Vegas sent out the story this afternoon. I think someone in the sheriff's office tipped them off. I haven't dared to answer my phone most of the day."
Lois closed her eyes and fought the urge to panic. Obviously, at some point, he had listened to her messages. She wondered why he didn't want to talk about it. Had she revealed too much?
"So Mickey knows we're back in Metropolis now, too," she said, if only to have something neutral to talk about.
"Yet another good reason for you not to go home tonight."
She considered it for a moment and then sighed in resignation. "Darn. I really wanted to sleep in my own bed."
His face softened. "Then I'll take you home."
They landed on the sidewalk outside her building. There were a few reporters and one camera crew waiting for them. "If you want to know what happened," Lois said as they hurried up the stairs, "you can read about it tomorrow in the Daily Planet."
The closer they came to her apartment, the harder her heart began to pound. By the time they got to her door she was almost dizzy. Would he stay with her tonight? Technically they were married, so that had to be okay. But did he consider them married?
Clark took the bag from her so that she could open her door and asked, "Didn't you head out there without luggage? What's in the bag?"
"All the stuff we, uh, Clark and I bought while we were in Vegas. I stopped at the Palace on my way to the airport in the hopes that they still had my purse. They had saved everything we left in our room in a box. Which was a good thing because I wouldn't have been able to get on the plane without my ID." Lois pushed the door open and stepped inside.
Clark followed her in, waiting until the door was shut before he softly asked, "Do you still have that red dress that Mickey bought for you?"
She flushed and took the bag back from him. "Yes."
"Darn," he said and she saw his eyes darken a little. "I'm not sure I could handle seeing you in that dress again."
Her cheeks grew even hotter. "It's a good thing I wasn't planning to wear it then, isn't it?" She stared at his chest. In her mind's eye she could still see the wounds he had suffered. It was wonderful to think that beneath the Suit the damage was gone.
"Definitely," he said and gave her a mischievous grin. "Because I would have some serious expectations if you showed up on my doorstep in that dress."
For a moment her heart pounded so furiously that spots danced in her vision. He was just teasing her — she knew that. He had no idea that she had spent a good portion of the flight from the airport trying to concoct a valid reason to have him stay with her tonight. Here was a ploy she hadn't thought of, not seriously anyway. If all else failed, she could put on the red dress and seduce him. She glanced over at her windows and saw that the curtains were closed.
Alone. There were no prying eyes to watch them. An anxious flutter started in her stomach — was he going to leave her now?
He took a step closer to her and she lifted her gaze to his face. He looked just as hesitant as she felt. How was that possible? Leaving aside the fact that he knew she had a huge crush on him, there was still the matter of her perhaps ill-conceived phone message. What did he have to be nervous about?
"You said," he started and then had to swallow. "You said you wanted to hug me?"
In response she wrapped her arms around him. All the things she had wanted to say fled from her as his arms encircled her in return. The only word she could manage was, "Clark."
"I wanted to hold you, too," he whispered near her ear. "It was all I could do at the hospital not to pick you up and fly away with you then and there."
His admission sent a wave of emotion through her. For a few seconds she fought the urge to cry. Even though she had cried in his arms before — and had always felt safe in doing so — everything was different between them now. Everything was far more complicated and yet a lot more simple.
Clark felt her shudder and he chided himself for pushing her too hard. She didn't want to hear how desperate he had felt when he thought he had lost her. She just wanted a friend tonight — wanted something tangible to prove that they had both made it back safely.
"We're okay, aren't we?" he asked softly. "We're both okay now."
The realization that they were safe and whole sank in and Lois gave up fighting her emotions. She let out a choked little sob and buried her face in his chest to muffle the next one. She cried for the fear she had felt in the truck, in the mine, and ever since she had heard that first gunshot and known that he had been hurt. She sobbed away all the accusations and anger that learning his secret had created. She cried for the pain that both of them had suffered and how hard they had struggled together simply to survive. Through all her tears, he simply rocked her and whispered soft reassurances.
When she had run out of energy and tears, she sagged against him in weariness. Clark lifted her into his arms and carried her into her bedroom. He set her down on her bed and slipped her shoes off before pulling the covers over her. He smoothed a damp tendril of hair away from her forehead and then kissed her cheek softly. "Get some sleep now."
"Don't leave me," she murmured sleepily.
"I won't," he promised and knelt next to the bed.
Her eyes slipped shut and she sighed. Clark watched as her breathing evened out and her face became lax. When he was certain she was asleep, he kissed her cheek again and left the room, pulling the door half-shut behind him.
Blood. There was so much blood and no matter how frantically she searched, she couldn't find the source.
"Clark! Stay with me!" she begged as his eyes closed. "Please!"
He didn't seem to hear her as she desperately pressed her hands to his chest, watching in horror as her efforts did nothing to stop the flow. Suddenly, there was a boom and he disappeared.
Lois sat up and gasped. The windows of her bedroom were still rattling from a rumble of thunder. She could hear the rain outside and she flopped back onto her pillow.
Was Clark still there?
She glanced at the clock and saw that it was almost four in the morning. There was a soft glow of light coming from the other side of her half-closed door. She tiptoed from her bedroom into her kitchen. One of the lamps in her living room was on and she saw him then, stretched out on the floor on his stomach with his head pillowed on his folded arms. He had changed into the t-shirt and sweat bottoms that he had bought for pajamas in Las Vegas.
The memory of her nightmare flooded through her. He was only sleeping, she chided herself. He wasn't dead. The urge to check on him was overwhelming, so she silently crept towards him and knelt next to him on the floor. She had taken hold of the blanket to pull it higher over him when he stirred, turning over and sleepily asking, "Lois?"
"Shh. Go back to sleep."
Another boom of thunder sounded outside and he sat up, running a hand through his tousled hair.
"Is something wrong?" he asked.
"No." She shook her head. "I just woke up and came out to check on you." He looked so young without his glasses — and without the bruises that had covered his face after the attack. She almost reached out to touch him, but then stopped herself. "Why are you sleeping on the floor?"
"Your couch is too small."
"So you chose the floor?"
He shrugged. "I've slept in worse places. Your floor really isn't that bad."
On impulse, Lois laid down, looking first at her ceiling and then at him. "You're right. It's not that bad, considering."
Clark smiled and lowered himself so that he was propped up on his side facing her. "I'm sorry if the light woke you up."
"It wasn't the light; it was the thunder and I, uh, I was having a bad dream anyway."
"What was your dream about?"
She shook her head and snuggled a little closer to him. "I don't want to talk about it."
"Okay." Clark slipped his arm around her, drawing her against him as he lay down on his back. Lois moved closer, resting her head on his shoulder and her hand on his stomach.
She smoothed out a wrinkle on his shirt with her fingers. "Do you have any scars from what happened?"
"No. They're gone." When she didn't say anything, Clark felt terrible. "It's unfair, isn't it?" he asked regretfully.
"No. It's wonderful." Lois ran her hand over the spot where his wound had been and then propped herself up on his chest so that she could see his face. Her hand moved to cup his cheek as her eyes drank in the sight of his beloved features free of the bruises and blood that haunted her dreams. On impulse, she leaned closer and touched her lips softly to his. His lips parted slightly but he didn't kiss her back. Lois moved to kiss the corner of his mouth and then his cheekbone. "I'm glad you're back to being you, Clark. When I woke up in the hospital and remembered what had happened, I was so worried about you. Hearing that you were fine — and then seeing that you were — well, it was like a miracle."
She kissed him again, letting her mouth linger against his so she could savor the feel of his lips. It seemed to her now that things had gone far too fast in that Vegas hotel room. She hadn't thought to memorize the way that kissing him had felt. They had all the time in the world now and she settled against him, content simply to take little tastes of him as his warm breath played across her mouth.
A wave of longing surged through Clark. More than anything he wanted to kiss her back and tell her how he felt. He wanted to leave her without any uncertainty about his feelings for her and their marriage. He didn't want to pressure her, so he had been careful to avoid the subject. The gentle weight of her body against his and the feather-soft brush of her lips were dissolving all his good intentions.
Lois sighed when she felt him waver. "Do I have to ask you to kiss me every time?" she teased.
"A real kiss?" he answered in the same light tone.
"God, yes." This time when she pressed her lips to his, he combed his hands into her hair, holding her to the kiss as he came alive beneath her. She opened her mouth to welcome him as his tongue nudged its way inside and caressed her lips. She dipped her tongue into his mouth and the kiss turned deep and hungry.
"I love you," he whispered before their kiss melted into another. He said it again when that kiss ended, unable to hold back any longer. "Lois, I love you. I always have."
"I love you," she told him, more than a little breathless from both his words and his kisses. She searched his dark eyes, feeling another jolt of heat low in her belly at the intensity of his gaze. Lois ran her fingers through his hair, captivated by the pull of his silky locks tickling through her fingers. A lock slipped away from her and fell onto his forehead in a shallow curl.
All at once he rolled, turning them both so they were lying face to face as his leg possessively covered hers. She knew, deep down, that she had just pushed him past his limits. His hoarse plea in Vegas for them to stop replayed in her mind and it sent a hot shiver of desire through her. His hand touched her shoulder, then pulled away.
"You aren't hurting me," she told him breathlessly, guessing that he was nervous about her injuries. Feeling bold, she slipped her hand beneath his t-shirt, letting her fingers glide over the spot where the bullet had struck him. "You can touch me, Clark. It's okay."
Clark let out a shaky laugh. "If I start touching you now, I might not stop. I want you. I don't just mean for tonight or for… this." He swallowed hard and then added, "Lois, I meant every word I said in that wedding chapel. I want you for my wife."
Her heart seemed to have burst, spilling happiness into every cell of her body. "And I want you for my husband."
He placed a kiss just below her ear as his arms tightened around her. "To have and to hold."
Lois tipped her head back to look into his eyes, remembering the fear and horror at the mine and how they had struggled together to get away. "For better or for worse."
Clark smiled, remembering the very different circumstances of the nights they had spent together. From a posh hotel room to lying beneath the stars with only his cape and their shared body heat to keep them warm. "For richer or poorer."
"In sickness and in health." As she spoke the words she could still remember how horribly wounded he had been and how brave and determined he must have been to save them both.
"To love, honor and cherish." Having nearly lost her, he knew the true value of what he now held. It was a promise he meant with all his heart — he would spend the rest of his life cherishing her.
"Until death parts us." Lois remembered making him promise that he wouldn't leave her and how he had exacted the same promise from her.
His eyes darkened with emotion. "Not even death, Lois. I'll love you forever."
For a moment it seemed that time stood still as the full impact of what they had just promised set in for them both. Married. They really were married. For a breathless moment they could only stare at each other.
Then Lois tightened her arms around his neck and whispered, "Make love to your wife."
Many thanks (as always) to DJ who patiently read draft after draft of this story and yet never failed to be enthusiastic about it. Thanks for the idea, for the encouragement and for your friendship. Out of those, I value her friendship most. <<<hugs>>>
I also want to thank Sara for her patience and suggestions in helping me to get this ready for the archives.
Feedback is always appreciated (not taken out to the desert and shot!) at sistersuze(at)gmail.com.