Remember When It Rained

By princessanna <annahardie83@gmail.com>

Rated: PG

Submitted August 2007

Summary: A rewrite of the events at the end of the episode "And The Answer Is." Lois and Clark each get new partners — will they be able to settle their differences and be together again?

Author's Note: This is my first L&C story and is set at the end of 'And the Answer Is' onwards. I utilised a tiny bit of the script at the beginning, but from then on it's my own interpretation/story.

Thank you very much to my beta, Miriam. Her help was hugely appreciated. If it wasn't for her laughing with me over several title ideas, we might never have come up with the title as you now see it!

Disclaimer: I do not own Lois and Clark. This story is not for profit and all characters (apart from Diana and Dougal) belong to those people who made Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman.

Thoughts are shown by single quotation marks (ie. 'He's stupid,' she thought.)

***

"Lois, will you marry me?" Clark dropped to one knee, displaying a ring.

His question was followed by a brief moment where all Clark could hear was Lois' heartbeat, the rain, and their breathing. Then Lois leaned closer, coming so close their lips were almost touching. She dropped the bombshell. "Who's asking? Clark…or Superman?"

Clark's face registered his astonishment, but Lois' was harder to read. This was one of those times when superhuman powers were not going to get him out of a sticky situation.

"Wha-? I…um… L-Lois?" He stumbled and stuttered over his words, not producing much of anything. Eventually he was able to construct a sufficient sentence. "When- How did you find out?" The expression on Lois' face was still unfathomable.

"Well, which is it, Clark?" she asked in a neutral tone. "When, or how?"

"Um, how, I suppose." He watched her warily, just waiting for the classic 'Lane explosion'. It didn't come; not yet in any case. What he got instead was an answer.

"When you touched my face." When Clark looked rather confused, she continued. "Just before you froze me, you touched my face in a certain way. Only Clark had ever touched me in just that way before. When you did it as Superman, everything clicked into place somehow. I've been thinking about it ever since you woke me up."

"A-and, you're not angry?" He had to find out. Her tone and inscrutable expression was unsettling him somewhat.

"Not angry? Oh no. I'm angry," Lois said. It was only at that moment that she began to show any emotion about the situation. "In fact, I'm more than angry, Clark. Like I said, I've been thinking about it since you woke me up. It may not be an overly long period of time, but believe me, I've had ample opportunity to get to 'angry' in my long, long list of emotions regarding this-this deception."

"Oh. Um-" Clark paused, glancing around them as the rain stilled. "Maybe this isn't the best place to talk, Lois. Shall we…walk?"

"Walk? All right, let's walk, Clark." Lois began to stride away from the fountain where they'd been situated, letting loose a tirade that rivaled any of her previous bests, if not in length, then in the force behind it. All that Clark could do was follow. "You lie to me for well over a year; you hide one half of yourself from me; you let me think that you were dead, for goodness sakes! How could you do that to me, Clark? Do you know how that made me feel? And don't get me started on trust in this relationship, because obviously there isn't any!"

"Lois!" Clark resisted using his super speed to force her to stand still long enough to look at him. "There were reasons, circumstances! I wanted to tell you! And I did trust you — I mean, I do trust you!"

"If you trusted me so much I wouldn't have been blaming myself and feeling the agony of losing you when you d-d-died!" Her voice subsided as she dissolved into the tears she'd been holding back in one way or another since waking from her frozen sleep. Clark, hardly able to stand seeing her like that, made a move to put his arms around her. But she shook his hands off. "Don't you touch me, Clark Kent!" One hand moved to wipe her tear-stained cheek. "Don't you dare touch me right now!" The anger that he'd thought gone was still very much an issue, it seemed.

"What do you want me to say, Lois?" Clark asked in a tight voice. "That I'm sorry I lied to you? Because I am, if it makes any difference. I'm sorry, more than I can express in words. But like I said, I had reasons for not telling you. You were in love with Superman, there was Lex and-"

Lois cut in acidly. "Lex hasn't been around for months now, Clark. And I told you I chose you! So don't you use any of those as excuses for why you didn't tell me. At the very least you could have told me after we agreed to take the next step. Before proposing to me!"

"I thought the next step was proposing!" Clark whispered forcefully, aware that, having arrived back at Lois' apartment they were now surrounded by her neighbours, any of which could be listening eagerly at their window.

Lois unlocked the door to her building and stepped inside. "Well you thought wrong," she said firmly. And she slammed the door in his face.

***

The next morning, Clark tried to get to Lois' apartment early so that he could have it out with her before work. But the wily Ms Lane was long gone when he arrived at her door.

Heading to the Planet, Clark stopped off and brought a bunch of purple hyacinths. While at the florist, he also composed a short note to Lois to go with the flowers. Then, reflecting that it couldn't hurt, he stopped in the Planet's foyer and bought a box full of Lois' favourite comfort food, Double Fudge Crunch bars.

When the doors of the elevator opened to reveal the newsroom, Clark's eyes quickly scanned the room for Lois. He saw her sitting at her desk, talking with the paper's newest import. Dougal Finnegan had transferred from the London office of the Planet just one week before. His coal black hair and intriguing blue eyes had had most of the paper's female population under his spell by the end of his first day. On the verge of walking over to talk to Lois, Clark heard his editor, Perry White, call: "Clark, my office now!" When Clark complied, his editor waved him into the room, closing the door behind the two of them. "Have a seat, Clark," he said, gesturing towards a chair. "This won't take long."

"What's up, Chief?" asked Clark, wondering what it was that his editor wanted to talk to him about, without Lois also being involved. He racked his brain: her birthday wasn't coming up, so it couldn't be a surprise party. Did Perry know something that he didn't about his partner? Was Lois okay? Did he want him to keep an eye on her?

"Well, Clark, you see… It's like this. You've got a new partner." Seeing the perplexed look on Clark's face, Perry White hastily amended his sentence. "Oh, ah-just temporarily, of course!"

"But, Chief… Um, can I ask why? What about Lois?"

"She has a new partner too. Also temporarily." When Clark looked sceptical about the 'temporary' aspect of the arrangement, Perry explained. "Lois came to see me this morning, son. She asked me for a favour — for the two of you to work separately for a time. Now, I know, I know: why would I break up my best reporting team, simply to cater to Lois Lane's wishes? Well, although I suspect this sudden need to work apart from you is neither more nor less than the result of a fight you two have had, I thought that it might be a good idea to split up the team of Lane and Kent for a while. It'll do you both good to learn to work with other people. Lois especially."

"Lois requested this?" Clark was sure he could feel his heart sinking in his chest.

"Aw, now don't look so down, son. It's only temporary. For a couple of weeks, I promise you. By the way, I've set you up with Diana Harwood. She's shown she's got potential and I'd like to foster that and give her a chance or two to prove herself with her writing. And Lois is teamed with-"

"Dougal," Clark finished, his heart plummeting even further. He glanced out into the newsroom and watched his erstwhile partner laugh loudly at something the dashing Irish man had said.

Perry nodded. "I know you'll do the Planet proud, Clark, and I know that you'll do all you can to help Diana." He could see the disappointment in his reporter's eyes. But he also knew that Clark wouldn't let him down when he put his trust in him.

Clark exhaled a little loudly, but forced a smile on to his face and said, "Of course, Chief."

"That's all, son. I believe that Diana is out by the coffee machine," his editor said in dismissal. Clark stood slowly, making himself walk to the door and open it. He marched to the coffee machine to talk to Diana, pausing on the way to place the flowers and chocolate on Lois' desktop. He looked up at her quickly, but she seemed too busy talking to Dougal to notice his gift. Clark hoped that she'd at least notice the note before throwing the flowers out, and put her anger at him aside long enough to read it.

'There's Clark,' Lois thought, sensing rather than seeing her partner set the presents down. She'd observed him closely while he was in talking to Perry, only half listening to what Dougal was saying at the time. Her vision wasn't quite 20/20, but she'd still been able to clearly see the confused and hurt expression on Clark's face. For just a moment she'd felt bad about hurting him like that, but in an instant her little devil had poked it's head up and berated her for feeling sorry for her partner. After all, he'd hurt her. He'd lied to her and he hadn't trusted her; she was very angry with him.

And it was with this spiteful little voice whispering in her ear, that Lois leaned into Dougal, giggling at something else he'd said. On the inside however, she was pondering who Perry would have teamed Clark up with.

"Diana?" Clark paused beside the slim blonde woman. She turned, displaying her sunny expression.

"Clark, hi! Perry told me you'd be working with me for a while. I'm so excited! I might actually get the chance to write something for the front page!"

Diana's energy and enthusiasm was infectious. Clark couldn't help but feel a little less grumpy about the situation.

"I know you'll do great," he assured her with a smile. "Perry has faith in you."

"Thanks, Clark." Diana grinned. "I just hope I don't screw it up!"

From the other side of the newsroom, Lois surveyed the interactions between Clark and Diana Harwood. "I see that Perry's paired up Clark with Diana," she commented, a hint of jealousy tingeing her tone. 'Hmm… She's always had a crush on Clark. Of course, he's never been aware of it. He simply has no idea that most of the female staff under the age of fifty gossip about him in the ladies room. I'll have to keep an eye on her…'

At her voice, Dougal glanced up from a report he was perusing. "Sure seems like it," he replied, watching his partner's face. Right now she was studying Clark Kent and Diana Harwood as they talked. He saw her eyes narrow as Diana placed a hand on Clark's chest briefly, flirtatiously. He raised his eyebrows. He had to hand it to Clark's new partner — if she continued as she was, pretty soon Lois Lane would be using him to make Clark jealous, with just a little subtle suggestion to help her on her way. And that could work to his advantage. Lois Lane was the person he'd always hoped to work with. And her good looks were only part of the reason why…

***

Later that day, Clark and Diana returned to the newsroom after covering a press conference where the mayor was addressing sexual harassment claims made against him by a former assistant. Upon exiting the elevator, Clark became acutely aware of Lois and Dougal sitting very close together as they eagerly discussed something.

"-and Bobby said that they were involved in the robbery," he heard Lois state as he tuned into their conversation.

"That makes perfect sense," Dougal replied. "After all, what criminal activities have Intergang not been involved with in the past few years?"

'Hmm… So Lois is on to a story involving Intergang,' Clark mused, a frown sliding on to his face. 'Some of the most dangerous criminals in Metropolis, and I won't be with her while she's investigating. She's made sure of that!' He sat down at his desk, absent-mindedly shuffling a pile of papers as he thought. 'I know that she's mad at me; I expected it. But why does she have to take this so far? I won't be able to protect her so easily when I'm not with her.'

"Clark?" He glanced up to see Diana logging off her computer before stuffing some files into her bag. "I'm going to head home, okay? I'll go over the copy of the deposition that the mayor's assistant made, tonight. Something about what the mayor said at the press conference rang true to me. I think that somewhere in the assistant's statements there's an inconsistency just waiting to be uncovered."

"Maybe you should have gone into law," Clark joked, putting down his stack of papers and focusing on her. "But seriously, I'll see you tomorrow, Di. Have a good night. Don't work too hard."

"Thanks, Clark. See you later!" Diana headed for the elevator, and Clark quickly focused his attentions on Lois and her partner once more.

He watched as Dougal leaned into Lois, pointing at something on a piece of paper she held. Clark gritted his teeth, fighting the urge to run over there at super speed and yank the suave Irish man away from her. Instead, his fists clenched beneath the desktop and he looked away from the scene momentarily, trying to regain his composure. When he glanced back, Dougal was standing and heading over to his desk. He started to pack up his papers. Lois also began putting things into her briefcase and subsequently the pair walked out of the newsroom together. Forcing himself wait to for a full fifteen minutes after they'd gone, Clark eventually headed home, his spirits at what seemed like an all time low. He was determined to visit Lois that night. Despite her obvious attempts to avoid him at work and the fact that she'd barely glanced his way all day, it wouldn't be so easy in her own home. Of course, she could always shut the door on him like she had the night before, and the window for that matter. But he didn't think that she would. Lois liked a good fight far too much; she wanted to yell at him some more. It was all a part of getting it out of her system, he assured himself. Lois would want to talk. After all, he'd checked: the flowers were still on her desk, but she'd taken the note.

***

Lois had indeed taken the note. And almost an hour after reading it through for the first time she was still sitting, virtually motionless, at her table. It wasn't so much the words themselves that had floored her, it was that she'd realised that she hadn't been thinking about Clark's feelings in this situation at all.

"But he lied to me…" she muttered aloud, her brain processing thoughts frantically. "Why should I consider how he feels? He certainly didn't consider how I'd feel…" The frown on her face softened slightly. "However angry I am, I do miss him… But the question remains: can I really forgive him that easily?"

It was as her thoughts lingered over these confusing deliberations that the devilish little imp inside of her spoke up for the second time that day.

"Clark Kent lied to you! Don't back down now. Let him lose sleep worrying. Let him agonize over thoughts of whether you'll take him back. He deserves it!"

A scowl descended over Lois' features. "He did lie to me. I can't just forgive and forget, not so quickly. It's not that simple. I have to decide whether a deceptive, distrustful Clark is the sort of man I want to be involved with, let alone be married to." She sighed and allowed her head to fall forward on to her outstretched arms. This time when she spoke, her voice was muffled. "Why did I even read that note?"

Just then, a tapping sounded at her window. She knew that tap. Only one person ever tapped at her window, two stories up from the street. And that was the one special person who, out of all the individuals in the world, could fly. The one person that she really didn't want to talk to. The one person who, despite all the words she'd said, still caused her head and her heart to become utterly confused.

"Go away," she mumbled, positive he could hear her.

"Lois." His voice came, barely audible, through the window. "Please, let me in."

"I said go away!" She could feel her temper rising as she raised her head and gazed at his silhouette through the filmy curtains covering her window. "I don't want to talk to you. Or didn't I make that clear enough at work today?"

Hovering outside the window, Clark listened to Lois' last sentence and felt again the tumult of emotions that had been swirling around inside of him since the previous night. The pain was acute, and Lois didn't seem to care. That's what hurt the most.

"You made it perfectly clear," he said, biting back the cutting remarks being batted about by his brain. It was urging him to hurt her as much as she was hurting him. "But I value our relationship too much to just walk away from you now."

There was a slight scuffling sound from inside before the window was thrown open. A dishevelled Lois stood facing him, a fierce look upon her face.

"Okay. You want to talk? Let's talk. I'll talk." And with that statement, Lois Lane went into full babble mode. "I do not want to have anything to do with you right now, Clark Kent. And do you know why? You should know why. It's because you lied to me. You deceived me; you misled me; you tricked, swindled, hoodwinked, conned and betrayed me. You lied about your identity for over a year and in the midst of it all, you allowed me to believe that you were dead when you weren't. I was in so much pain that night, Clark! I thought that you were gone! And I thought that it was all my fault! How on earth could you do something like that to someone you supposedly love? No, wait; don't answer that. I know why. Because you had to keep your secret; your precious secret." Her voice had taken on a slightly mocking tone. "Well, you know what I think about your secret right now, Kent?" Lois' mouth twisted in a grimace. "I think it would serve you right if everyone knew."

A wave of fear washed over Clark. His eyes widened. "Lois, you wouldn't…?"

Lois turned her back on the window and started walking. Finally she stopped, as far away from him as she could get in the small apartment. "No," she said with a sigh, "I wouldn't. But only because I know what it would mean for your parents. Jonathan and Martha don't deserve to be embroiled in this."

He exhaled in relief. "Thank you."

She spun around once more, the ire still evident in her expression. "Don't thank me. Just go." A final word was uttered, squeezed out of the side of her mouth as if she didn't want to let it go. "Please."

Clark studied his partner for a moment, watching the set of her jaw and the way her arms were folded tightly across her chest. Silently he nodded, and without another word he extended one arm and shot straight up, looking to the emptiness of space for solace.

Back in her apartment Lois sagged, relaxing her body. She'd stayed incredibly tense throughout the entire encounter and it was a relief to have him gone, so that she could be alone with her thoughts once more. It was dangerous having Clark around. Seeing him was like a king size block of chocolate being flourished in front of a person on a diet: hazardous both to the dieter and to the person brandishing the chocolate. If she were to give in now, simply because she missed him, her anger would overwhelm the relationship, effectively killing anything that was there. She needed to take a little time to forgive his iniquities, and to get to know him again. Time to reconcile her head with her heart.

***

Getting dressed the following morning, Lois reflected on the conversation she'd had with Clark. She hadn't been entirely honest with him, saying that she'd keep his secret solely for the sake of Martha and Jonathan. The truth was that she wouldn't tell a soul even if his parents didn't exist. She just wanted him to feel a little of the pain she felt. Because while her anger appeared to be dissipating, the hurt still remained. For some reason she seemed to be feeling more…more… More what? Lois shook her head as she pulled on a shoe. Well, just more than she'd felt before. But what on earth did that mean?

As she drove to work, her mind was still puzzling through how her feelings could possibly have an added intensity to what they'd had in the past; the last time she'd felt betrayed by a man. Claude. It was only as she turned into a parking space at the Planet that she became conscious of the reason, of the 'how'. Clark. Clark just meant…more. More than Claude, more than any other man had ever meant before. The list of other men wasn't exactly a long one, given the distrust of men instilled in her by her father. But Clark… Well, Clark was just different to all of them. Unlike the others, he'd firmly inserted himself into her life, first as her partner, and then as a friend. As a friend he'd become incredibly important; a central figure in her life and seemingly

vital to her continued sanity. Now, as a man — the only man really — that she could envision a future with, he was infinitely more precious. However scary that was.

This revelation caused Lois to walk into the bullpen of the newsroom with a frown fixed securely upon her face. Her heart jumped in her chest at the sight of Clark, before she noticed that he was with Diana Harwood. The young blonde was beaming at him, her chair pulled as close as it could get to his while they worked on a story. Frankly, Clark looked a little uncomfortable with her proximity, but he wasn't putting extra distance between them. Lois' grimace became more pronounced.

Giving every indication that she was ignoring Clark and Diana, Lois swiftly crossed the newsroom floor to her desk and started thumbing through her Rolodex. When a hand landed on her shoulder, she jumped, startled at the interruption. Turning, she was ready and willing to give whoever had surprised her like that a piece of her mind.

"Sorry, Lois," Dougal got in first, his usual slick smile firmly in place. "I didn't mean to scare you."

Disconcerted, Lois wasn't sure what to say. Instead she sat down in her chair and turned on her computer. "We've got a lot of work to do today," was what she finally managed to get out. A sigh escaped her lips. "Did you get a chance to go over those dates of supposed Cost Mart shipments last night?"

"Yes, I-"

"Well? Did any of them match up with our other information regarding Intergang?"

Dougal's smile wavered. For some reason, this morning Lois Lane seemed immune to his natural charms. "Not really. That's why I'd like to talk to you about-"

"They didn't?" Lois pulled a face. "How can that be? I was so sure…"

"Sometimes these things just don't work out, Lois," Dougal said soothingly, placing his hand on her shoulder in what Lois was sure was supposed to be a reassuring manner. "Sometimes you just need to give up and move on to something else."

Irritated at his words and at his presuming touch, Lois shifted pointedly in her chair, jostling his hand free of her shoulder. She was about to inform him that Lois Lane did not give up, when something — later, she wouldn't be able to say quite what it was — caught her attention about her partner and stopped her. Her instincts told her that something was wrong in this situation. That 'something' was either the words being said, or the actions, or simply the person. She glanced at Dougal: what was it that had made her wary enough to bite back her retort? That was something else that Lois Lane didn't do. Not usually, anyway. Something wasn't right here…

"So, what did you have in mind? To, uh, move on to, that is?" Lois said flashing Dougal what she knew was an overly bright smile. Dougal didn't appear to notice her rapid shift to excessive cheerfulness. He was too busy touching her again. Lois stifled the urge to thump him and quietly decided to do some investigating later on her own.

Across the room, Clark had been watching the exchange with a growing feeling of animosity towards the Irish man. He wouldn't go so far as to say that he'd like to hurt Dougal, because Superman, not to mention Clark Kent, did not intentionally harm people. But to be completely honest, he was close to changing his mind. Just a little bit: just enough to allow him to throw one punch Dougal's way.

Then, just as suddenly as he'd started touching Lois, Dougal stopped. Clark watched for a moment or two more, but no further handling of his partner ensued. So he made himself listen to what Diana was saying.

"-and then the mayor's assistant said that she'd left the office at eight-fifteen, right? So I checked the mayor's statements and he said she left no later than six-thirty. There's a whole hour and a three quarters difference! So I asked around, and those sources who watch city hall closely report that the mayor's assistant did in fact leave at around six-thirty, and, I quote, 'She looked fine'."

Clark grinned at the young woman. "Good work, Di. Looks like you're becoming almost as tenacious as Mad Dog Lane."

Diana blushed and looked up at him from under her long eyelashes. "I'll take that as a compliment, Clark," she giggled. Then she became more serious. "Look, I have something I'd like to ask you. You can say no, but I hope you won't. You'll remember that the Kerth ceremony is coming up in just over a week, and I was wondering — hoping — that'd you'd go with me."

Clark glanced down at where her hand had landed, laced with his and holding on with a pleading grip. All of a sudden his chest felt constricted and he nervously began to fiddle with his tie. "Oh…um, well you know I usually, um, go with…" He paused here, somehow afraid of saying Lois' name.

"With Lois," Diana finished for him. "I know. But I was just thinking that maybe, since we're partners this time round that you might forgo tradition in favour of…friendship?"

From over at the coffee pot, Lois rolled her eyes at the flagrant flirting that Diana was engaging in. After watching the exchange between Clark and his partner she'd wandered closer to them, pretending all the while to be filling her coffee mug. But her real objective was of course to listen in on the conversation: the urge to investigate just what Diana Harwood meant by clasping Clark's hand and looking at him in that overly amorous manner couldn't be ignored. The poor naive farm boy was going to get himself roped into doing something that she'd-um, he'd regret.

Meanwhile, Clark was debating the situation internally. Taking Diana to the Kerths would certainly make Lois jealous; Clark wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. On the other hand, did he really want to go with Diana? Would he enjoy himself with her? He'd have a better time with Lois it was true, but that was simply because she was Lois and he loved her. However, in her present state of mind and with all the anger she was directing towards him, realistically it wouldn't be the same; she'd probably spend the entire night yelling at him for lying to her, if he could even get her to go with him in the first place. Clark stifled a loud sigh: in spite of everything, he'd still rather go with Lois Lane.

That settled it. He had to say no to Diana. He had to stop her flirting — because that's what it obviously was; even he, the naive farm boy, could see that — and let her down easily. She was young: she'd bounce back quickly. Maybe he could even set her up with Jimmy at some later date.

'You just have to say, 'Diana, I'm sorry; I can't go with you to the Kerths. It wouldn't be right.' It's easy, you can do it,' Clark told himself. But the words that came out of his mouth did not seem to match those swirling round inside his head. "Uh, do you mind if I think about it and get back to you, Di?" Instantly he berated himself for this response, but nevertheless he couldn't seem to get his mouth to form the right words: the harder words. Because he didn't want to hurt Diana, but it would be inevitable, eventually. He couldn't lead her on — but he was! Clark pictured himself pounding his head against a brick wall in penance for his stupidity. Even done mentally, it didn't hurt him either; he supposed wryly that that meant the Man of Steel had a steel brain as well.

Still listening with the coffee pot in her hand, Lois was shocked to hear Clark's response to Diana's question. She had thought that he would reject her outright. It'd undoubtedly be done in his usual polite, gentlemanly manner but even so, he would reject her. So absorbed was Lois in her eavesdropping, that she didn't realise her hand had tipped ever so slightly, tilting the open coffee pot towards the floor and her feet. Clark, however, was on full Lois alert as always. He moved at a speed that was almost too fast for a normal man, coming to rest at Lois' side. Rapidly reaching out, he seized the hot coffee pot and carefully set it down upon the table.

"Careful, Lois," he said quietly, throwing her a small smile. "Wouldn't want you to get burnt."

"I, uh… T-thanks, Clark," Lois stuttered, grateful to him at that time, despite her mixed feelings towards him in general. At that moment she became aware of their close proximity to one another and felt her heart begin to hammer against her chest in that old familiar way. She looked down. Her face felt warm: she could imagine the crimson countenance she must now be presenting to those close by. Attempting to collect herself, Lois counted to ten under her breath and then glanced up, directly into the deep brown eyes of the man she'd been trying so hard to avoid. Her heartbeat seemed to quicken again and she found her breathing hard to control. She had to get away from him; he was dangerous, even now, even when she was mad at him. He was chocolate and she was the dieter. But those eyes — a careful balance between an intense untapped passion and Clark's own extraordinary tenderness and compassion… No! It had to be done, while she still retained enough control over her body to move. "E-excuse me," she stuttered once more, edging away from him and back towards her desk. She almost stumbled along the way, catching herself at the last moment and trying to make it look as if she'd meant to lean against Ralph's desk.

'How does he do that to me?' she asked herself, sitting back down at her desk. 'How does he manage to make me so incredibly weak in the knees every time I'm near him?' The answer, Lois discovered, was simple: it was because despite everything, she was in love with him.

***

Later, in Smallville, Superman paced the floor, his agitated state apparent in his creased forehead and clenched fists.

"I understand why she's mad, Mom. What I don't understand is why she's asked Perry to partner her with Dougal instead of with me! I mean, surely the entire situation would be easier on both of us if we just talked it over? Right?"

"Uh, Clark…"

"I mean, talking about a difficult situation helps to work out the problems and to solve them! Talking soothes hurt feelings. If I don't get to talk to her, how am I ever going to convince her that I'm sorry and get her to see that I had to keep this," gesturing at the Superman suit, "from her? And Lois likes to talk: she likes to babble. I love that about her. So why won't she talk to me now? I want to talk: she doesn't want to talk. Doesn't that seem like a complete paradox to you? I-"

"Clark Jerome Kent! Stop!" Martha Kent stood in front of her son, her eyes firm behind their glasses. "You're babbling just as much as Lois does. Now calm down, take a deep breath and stop pacing! You're making me dizzy."

Properly chastened, Clark did as his mother told him and once he was seated, spoke again. "Sorry, Mom."

"That's all right, Clark. But you know, just because Lois isn't talking doesn't mean she isn't thinking. She'll talk to you when she's ready. She probably just needs some time to process everything!"

Clark looked at his mother thoughtfully. "You know, you're probably right. And I haven't been allowing her to do that. How did you get so wise?"

"I'm not particularly wise, Clark," Martha said, trying to hide a grin. "I just know how women think."

"That makes you wiser than me," Clark chuckled, but his face quickly became serious once more. "I've been pushing Lois to talk to me since this happened. And every time I do, she just succeeds in yelling at me some more. I guess I handled it wrong. I'm just so frustrated about the whole situation!"

"We understand that son," Jonathan Kent spoke for the first time, moving over to sit beside Clark and place a reassuring hand on his shoulder, "but Lois, from what we've seen and heard of her, is a very independent young woman. Independent and-"

"Headstrong," Clark finished with a sad smile. "One of the things I love about her the most."

"Then let her get her head around the situation, honey," Martha interjected. "Let her realise how much you mean to her. Because Lois loves you; I'm certain of it."

"How can you be so sure, Mom?"

"Because I've seen it in her eyes." Martha smiled gently at her son and there was a moment of silence between the family members. Clark was the first to break it.

"Waiting is going to be hard, but I know it'll be worth it in the end."

***

"And he-he just drives me nuts! You know? One minute we're enjoying dates with one another, the next I find out about this secret of his and it changes everything. I'm not even sure if he's the same guy I-" Lois paused mid-sentence, looking uncertainly at her therapist, Dr. Friskin.

"Yes, Lois? What was it? Come on, it's not that difficult to say, is it?"

Lois shook her head and backtracked a little before continuing. "-the same guy I fell in love with."

"What makes you think that he may not be the same man, Lois?" Dr. Friskin asked calmly.

There it was, the question she'd been expecting from the doctor. She'd been anticipating it, but yet she had no idea how to answer it. How on earth was she supposed to explain that the reason her boyfriend didn't seem like the same man to her was that he was also, well…Superman? Lois thought fast; she knew Dr. Friskin was waiting.

"I've…seen another side of him," she finally said, giving a slightly apologetic smile at how weak her explanation sounded. She was usually so good under pressure…

"Another side?" Dr. Friskin nodded. "I see. And this 'other side', does it appear often?"

"Almost everyday," answered Lois with a sigh.

"Are there any situations that bring out that side more?"

"Um…life and death situations, usually," she said truthfully. "He feels like he needs to lend a hand."

"Ahh… We call that the 'Superman Complex'," Dr. Friskin nodded for a second time. "Go on."

"He's more…aloof; more reserved in that guise. He doesn't have as much time for me."

"But does he help people at all, Lois? Or does he merely hinder them?"

"Oh no…he helps. He's actually pretty good at it. He's helped me a number of times. In fact, he's saved my life." Lois smiled, remembering the times that Clark had saved her without the Suit. In particular, the times when he hadn't even used his super powers, unless of course you counted his incredible compassion and tenderness as powers…

"So, if he's helping, why do you feel that you can't love that side of him also?" Dr. Friskin's voice broke into her thoughts and her words made Lois think. Why couldn't she love the super side of Clark? Didn't she love that side of him anyway?

"I guess it's not that I can't love that side of him, it's more the fact that I'm feeling hurt over him hiding that side from me for so long. I was angry as well, but I think that that feeling's gone now."

"So now it's just the pain that's left." The doctor wrote something down, and Lois suddenly registered that she'd been writing throughout the session. That she, an investigative reporter, had missed such a small detail made her realise how much she was concentrating on her fight with Clark.

"Um, Dr. Friskin?" she said hesitantly.

"Yes, Lois?" The elder woman glanced up.

"Do you think I'll ever be able to forgive him?"

"I think that that's entirely up to you, Lois," said the doctor. "But I do know that in the past month or so I've seen a real willingness in you to make positive, life altering decisions where before you were too scared. Perhaps forgiving this man might fall into that category."

"Yes…" mused Lois. "Perhaps it might."

***

Early the next morning, long before many of the Planet staffers had crawled out of bed, Perry White was in his office looking for all the world as if he were reading that morning's edition. There was a knock at the door.

"Morning, Chief," Jimmy Olsen poked his head around the edge of the slightly open door and grinned. Perry nodded in response and the young man continued. "I just wanted to let you know that I finished fixing your singing fish last night. It's in that box over there." He gestured towards a box that Perry hadn't noticed just inside the door. "Is there anything else you wanted me to do right now?"

Perry thought for a moment, and then signalled that Jimmy should come in. "Step into my office, son," he said with a smile. "And close the door; quickly, before anybody else arrives and wants to ask me a question, or Ralph wants to continue to beg for a story assignment covering the alleged steroid use of women in the strip clubs." Perry chuckled. "I think we both know his real aim behind a story like that!"

Jimmy laughed along with his boss, wondering all the while what the Chief wanted, pulling him into his office like that. He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. When the laughter died down, he asked, "What's up, Chief?"

A guilty look stole over Perry's face and for a moment Jimmy could almost sense his internal deliberation. "Well, Olsen," he finally said, "you're friends with Clark. And this situation with him and Lois…it's getting out of hand. Has he said anything to you about what happened? Now, I don't want you to think that I'm looking for newsroom gossip. I just consider those two my best reporters and I'm worried about them. Notwithstanding Lois learning to work with other people, I want them back as Lane and Kent as soon as possible."

"Yeah. Lane and Finnegan just doesn't have the right ring to it, huh, Chief?" Jimmy grinned. "But unfortunately, CK hasn't said anything to me. I don't know what they fought about."

"Well, what do you think it might have been, son?" Perry inquired curiously. "I have my suspicions, but I'd like to hear the opinion of another person they're close to."

"I-I think it may have had something to do with a marriage proposal," Jimmy ventured, a slight blush staining his youthful cheeks. "I uh, saw CK putting a ring box into his pocket last week."

"Well, your thoughts match my suspicions," said Perry, heaving a loud sigh. He studied his hands, which were clasped upon the desktop. "And how long do you figure this argument will continue?"

Jimmy shrugged. "Who knows, Chief? With Lois and CK, it could be over anytime between now and…well, the end of time."

Perry sighed again: this time it was almost a groan. "That's what I was afraid of…"

***

Upon entering the newsroom that morning, Lois wasn't all too sure that she wanted to be there. Now, for the Planet's top reporter, this was an unheard of attitude and the sort of thing that, when presented in other people, she'd normally quietly mutter that they should suck it up and get on with things. However now she knew what they were all moaning about. Not wanting to be at work just transformed the day into a complicated maze of problems where the only solution was to plod on and on until an opportune time came to leave.

The reason Lois didn't want to be at the Planet is because that is where she'd usually find Clark. And today was no exception: there he was, sitting at his desk. His head was down and he was muttering to himself, reading back a paragraph he'd written. This was something she'd often found rather endearing and, in spite of everything happening in their lives, she still did. She couldn't help a small smile appearing on her face as she sat down at her own desk and waited for the appearance of her partner.

As was becoming usual for him, Dougal was almost quarter of an hour late and when Lois shot a partially disapproving, partially questioning glance his way, he just shrugged and took a seat. Lois frowned. Frankly, he was another reason that she didn't want to be at work. His constant touching of her the day before had been rather creepy and she foresaw another long day of fending off his advances. And she still hadn't quite figured out what it was that bothered her about him. She needed to do some investigating into Dougal Finnegan's background to find out what made him tick. Of course, in the past she would have done this sort of thing with Clark, but under the circumstances she wasn't about to ask for his help. Not just yet in any case…

"All right!" Perry's voice rang out across the newsroom. "Staff meeting in Conference Room Two in five minutes time. Bring me your information: your notes, ideas and quotes, people! Five minutes, I repeat, five minutes!"

At Perry's call, Lois began gathering her notes together. She glanced at Dougal, intending to double-check with him regarding their Intergang story; she wanted to know what they were going to say to their editor when he asked why they'd given up on it. But Dougal wasn't collecting his papers; he wasn't even getting ready for the meeting. Instead he was answering a call on his cell phone that had apparently just rung.

"No, no of course not!" she could hear him saying as he cradled the phone between his shoulder and jaw line. "Hold on — just let me go somewhere more private so we can talk about this."

And with this statement, Dougal rushed for the door to the stairwell, evidently feeling that the person on the other end of his call didn't like to be kept waiting. Lois waited a moment and then, sensing that this occasion might perhaps give her some more insight as to what it was that bothered her about her partner, she followed.

Well practiced in the fine art of eavesdropping, Lois knew better than to leave the door to the stairwell to swing shut of its own accord, no matter how much she felt like hurrying. So she held it tightly, helping it slowly and quietly to its natural port: the doorjamb. Once that had been achieved she began her slow, tiptoeing trek up the stairs.

Before she'd ascended many flights, Lois detected a faint voice coming from about one story above where she stood.

"Yeah, she's completely oblivious to what's going on," Dougal's voice said. A chuckle and a pause. "Yes, five o'clock tomorrow. I will, Mrs Church. Don't you worry — Lois Lane won't know what hit her."

Lois' heart started wildly thumping inside her chest. 'Lois Lane? But that's…my name! That's me!' She pressed herself against the wall of the stairwell, willing her legs to stop shaking and to hold her up. "Why me?" she said in an undertone, looking up and addressing the question to a panel of imagined deities seemingly controlling her life. "Why on earth is Dougal talking to the head of Intergang about me?" Lois shook her head and eventually forced her legs to quit their trembling. She spoke sternly to herself: "This is not what Lois Lane, top reporter of the Daily Planet does when faced with this sort of information. No, Lois Lane, top reporter of the Daily Planet-" she hesitated at a familiar sound descending towards her and then made her decision quickly, "-hides!"

Lois rapidly slipped through the nearest door and ducked down so she couldn't be seen. The footsteps that she'd assumed to be Dougal's paused near her door and she peeked through the window in the door to see him looking around. Evidently he'd heard something. 'Lois, you've got to learn that voices, no matter how small, tend to become magnified in an open stairwell,' she reproved herself. Quietly she continued to watch as her apparent villain of a partner decided that he must have imagined hearing a voice and continued down the stairs once more.

Sighing loudly in relief, Lois slowly stood from her crouched position. "Thank you," she breathed, addressing her gratitude to those imaginary gods, then, pausing a moment longer, gradually made her way to the elevator, thanking her lucky stars that the floor she'd ended up on mainly consisted of offices whose occupants weren't yet in for the day. She really didn't feel like answering any questions regarding her presence there.

As Lois stood in the elevator, Dougal's words were still ringing in her ears and running through her brain. "-completely oblivious" he'd said. "-won't know what hit her."

At that moment, she remembered their conversation about Intergang the day before and his quiet words: "Sometimes these things just don't work out, Lois. Sometimes you just need to give up and move on to something else." Almost as if he was deliberately trying to steer her away from exploring further… Along with the recent phone call that she'd overheard, everything suddenly seemed to slot into place. Well, not quite everything. She still needed to find out what it was that Intergang was up to this time and why they wanted her out of the way. Well, actually *why* was pretty obvious. It was the same reason villains usually wanted her out of the way. She liked to investigate; they didn't particularly admire that trait in her. It got them in trouble you see. With the Metropolis police department, not to mention the FBI, Interpol and so on…

Lois sighed. In spite of her knowledge of Dougal's collusion with Intergang, she was going to investigate them. There had to be something big going on for them to actually send someone in to ensure she was out of the way. Unless… Had Dougal been planted at the Planet, or was he simply in the right place at the right time and corrupt enough to happily bow to any offer Intergang pushed his way? Was he really that kind of man and did he kill for pleasure or for profit?

Lois stopped herself. 'Oh, who cares about any of that? The fact remains that he's going to kill you if you let him! Don't be stupid. Just let it go, like he said. Don't risk your life for a story again.' Oddly enough, Lois had a feeling that this time the voice in her head sounded more like Clark's than her own…

She exited the elevator, walking over to slump into her desk chair. Ignoring the meeting in the conference room that she was now horribly late for, she closed her eyes and massaged her temples: she was beginning to get a headache. Again she voiced the quiet question: "Why me?"

***

Inside his living room, Clark Kent paced. When the pacing didn't seem to work, he sat down on the couch and placed his head in his hands. However, when the lack of movement became unbearable he took to pacing once again.

Quickly concluding that this was not enough, Clark spun into his Superman suit and headed out the open window. Perhaps patrolling would help keep his mind off Lois and the situation they found themselves in.

Even though he'd told his mother he'd wait — and he would — Clark was finding it easier said than done. He'd decided that he needed something to keep his mind off Lois, so he'd tried watching a college basketball game: that didn't work. Then he tried doing press-ups, hoping the constant movement would distract him. Again, his plan didn't succeed.

And so finally Clark had resorted to the pacing. As evidenced, this hadn't worked particularly well either. So his method of putting her out of his mind had become patrolling…and hoping desperately for something — anything — to occupy his attention.

As he flew, Clark involuntarily did a lot of thinking. Somehow, being up there among the clouds always caused his thoughts to wander down all sorts of weird and wonderful roads. Now it wasn't so weird, nor was it wonderful. Instead it was…contemplative. Much as he'd been trying to banish her from his mind, Clark thought about Lois. More specifically he thought about their fight; his part in it and everything that had happened between them. The irony of his thoughts occurred to him more than once as he soared above the city: the entire reason he was flying was to escape his thoughts of Lois, yet she'd followed him on his flight.

'Just like Lois Lane,' he thought with a wry smile. 'She refuses to be forgotten.' Clark sighed. Maybe he should just give in to the thoughts and allow them to take him where they would. Maybe then he'd find some sort of peace.

So Clark gave himself to the reflections, allowing them to take control of his mind. He stopped fighting it all and he even stopped flying. He just floated up there among the insubstantial haze, feeling the dampness make his exposed skin slick with moisture. And he thought and thought…and thought.

Various emotions assaulted his consciousness as he mulled everything over. Frustration was one that seemed to prevail, and interestingly enough so was guilt. At First, he'd considered himself somewhat justified in how he'd handled things; but only for an hour or two after having Lois slam her door in his face. Then commonsense had resurfaced and he'd instead felt a terrible sense of guilt just as he was feeling now. He now recognised his part in the whole debacle — he had finally admitted to his role in what had become like a soap opera version of his life.

The problem was that he wasn't quite sure of the best way to fix it. Or even if it was possible to mend this thing they called a relationship…this love. Did Lois even want to try, or was it too much to ask? Had he hurt her too much?

The idea that she was hurting because of him caused a sensation like a vice gripping his heart. He squeezed his eyes shut against the ache pervading his chest, knowing that whatever pain he was feeling was, in a roundabout way, of his own creation. He should have told her earlier. She was right; he should have told her when they'd agreed to take the next step. He didn't *have* to keep it a secret anymore; that had just been an excuse because he was scared. But he should have put his fear aside. He should have simply said, "Lois, I'm Superman." Or possibly something a little more eloquent. Either way, proposing at that point in time had been stupid. He should have told her first. He should have told her about Superman and he should have told her he loved her…

Now he might never get the chance.

***

Lois sat at her desk, twisting a tissue around her fingers. She stared into space as her stomach churned and the sweat beaded on her brow. Today was the day that Dougal had alluded to in his phone call with Mrs Church. Today was the day she would investigate Intergang and find out what it was they were up to.

The way she was feeling was not unusual for Lois, but she didn't usually allow herself to reveal those feelings in such a public place. The Planet was where she always kept her cool, where she was known as a tough reporter with a hard exterior. Only one person had ever really gotten under the stiff surface of her personality: Clark.

Lois watched the clock, her eyes intent upon its hands slowly ticking closer to five pm. She glanced over at the object of her current thoughts, still at his desk. He hadn't been called away on many Superman duties lately. Somehow just his presence today was soothing her. Studying him acting so…so Clark-like, calmed her nerves and made the waiting bearable: just. She only hoped he would stay until the moment of truth; him being there would help her to make the decision she knew she should make, for the sake of her investigative principles. His presence made her feel brave, as if she could do anything. She needed to follow Dougal wherever he was going; she needed to find out what was going on with Intergang. Today was the day where Lois Lane found out just what she was really made of, without Superman always around to pluck her out of danger. She wouldn't call him; she couldn't. She just prayed that she wouldn't have the need to.

But she knew that she might, because there was the very real possibility of failing…and of not living to tell the tale.

***

Clark's sharp ears were attuned to Lois and he could hear the rapid beating of her heart. He sensed that something was going on with her, but what it was he couldn't be sure. She was so impulsive; he prayed, as he had when this 'new partner' thing began, that she wasn't about to do something stupid. On her own. Without him to protect her. But knowing Lois Lane, if he offered she'd just tell him that she didn't need protecting.

Well, maybe she didn't need protecting very often, but she certainly needed saving half the time…

Clark felt his heart constricting inside his chest as it had the night before. He knew he'd hurt her; he knew that the way he'd gone about things had been wrong. Nevertheless, he also knew he had to give her time like his mother had told him. He wanted to run over there right that minute and start talking before she could tell him to stop. But this wasn't the right place or time. So he had to be content to wait patiently. Unfortunately, Clark felt like he couldn't be patient for much longer.

***

Lois kept an eye on Dougal. At four forty-five pm he left his desk and made his way to the elevators. She waited until the elevator doors closed and then followed.

Hoping that she'd be able to pick up his trail once she made it to the bottom floor, she got lucky as he was waiting for a taxi right outside the Planet's door. Lois lingered in the foyer until he slid inside one and then raced outside. Dougal's taxi zoomed off and Lois immediately threw two fingers to her mouth and whistled shrilly. Another taxi pulled up.

As Lois got inside she fumbled in her bag for her cell phone. She wasn't about to let Clark know where she was going and why — he'd just try to stop her. But she would leave a message on her own home phone so that if something happened and she went missing, someone would eventually know where to look. At this thought, Lois' stomach took a sharp dive.

"Where to?" the driver asked.

"Uh…follow that car!" she squeaked, the nervousness constricting her vocal cords. She hastily cleared her throat. "Uh, that one right in front of us. The taxi."

The driver nodded. "I see it." He put the car in gear and they were on their way.

They followed Dougal's car to a warehouse out near Hobbs Bay. Lois instructed her driver to park just around the corner and she paid him, asking him not to wait. As he drove off she crept towards the door that Dougal had entered the warehouse through, first looking around cautiously to make sure that no one else was nearby. The coast was clear: she was good to go.

Lois wasn't quite sure when the attempt of her stomach to toss around her lunch had stopped, but it had. Now it was replaced by another feeling suffusing her body with a lighter sensation; a feeling that falsely told her she could do just about anything.

'Adrenaline,' she mused. It was the feeling she often got just before sneaking into the lair of a bunch of criminal masterminds. Unfortunately, her sneaking usually got her tied up next to a bomb or something equally as terrifying. That thought cut the adrenaline rush pretty quickly.

"What am I doing here?" Lois had her hand on the door to the warehouse, yet she was frozen by her descent from adrenaline junkie to normal, scared Lois Lane. She was a very human, and therefore very mortal, reporter. What was she thinking?

Lois tried to steel herself. 'I can do this. I mean I'm here now. I might as well go through with it… But is that a good enough reason?' Her fear began to take over. 'Oh, I'm an idiot. I shouldn't be here. I should have listened to Clark's voice in my head. But I *am* here now…and I told the taxi driver to go away. Good one, Lois. Very forward thinking.'

Just then, Lois heard voices. She pressed her ear against the metal door and listened. She couldn't make out what they were saying, but it was obvious that they weren't far inside the door. 'Good thing I didn't burst in there after all,' she thought dryly. That would have resulted in the tied-up-next-to-a-bomb situation pretty quickly.

Lois looked around for somewhere to listen where she wasn't quite so conspicuous. Finally she spied a small but broken window high up in the warehouse's wall. Luckily there was a tall pile of wooden crates stacked up against the wall, so Lois went over to look. 'I could make it up there…'

Before she really knew what she was doing, Lois was ascending the pile of crates. When she made it to the top, she leaned forward towards the broken window.

"-shipment came in on Friday. The next shipment is scheduled to arrive at the Cost Mart head quarters this Thursday. Do you want us to do the usual?" A man's voice: not Dougal's.

"Hmm, yes," came the familiar childish tones of Mindy Church. Lois could see the top of her bleached blonde head and she suppressed her gag reflex. That woman; honestly, how could men possibly like that sort of thing? Blonde, tight fitting dresses, big b- Oh, right. They were men.

"The artifacts from Imhotep's tomb are due in that shipment, Mrs Church," said Dougal's voice. "I understand you have a special buyer in mind for them?"

"Yes," Mrs Church replied. "So just put them aside, won't you?" Lois could well imagine this woman fluttering her eyelashes at the men. "We wouldn't want them to get broken, now would we?"

'Imhotep… Imhotep… Where have I heard that name before? Wait, artifacts? Tomb? Of course! Imhotep was an Egyptian physician and the chancellor to that Pharaoh…what was his name again?' Lois searched her brain for the information she'd learnt in elementary school while making a diorama. She shook her head. 'Oh, who cares? The important thing is that it sounds like Intergang are importing stolen — at least, I assume they're stolen since the shipments are *hidden* in Cost Mart shipments — artifacts from Egypt. This is big news! I was right that something was going on! I've got to tell Clark!'

Here, Lois' internal triumph fell flat. Tell Clark? What, when she was barely speaking to him?

'But I want to talk to him, especially about this,' she thought sadly. 'I want to share this investigation. I want him to be by my side while we crack the case, just like old times.' Suddenly her thoughts took off in another direction. 'But do I want him to think that everything's okay? Because he might and it's not. How do I communicate that to him? How do I let him know that I still need some time?'

Lois was mulling over this problem when she heard her name being spoken by the people inside.

"And Lois Lane?" Mrs Church said. "When are you taking care of her?"

"As soon as possible," Dougal responded grimly. "Probably before the next shipment comes in. She's getting too curious for her own good, Mrs Church. Like I told you, she'll never know what hit her."

"Perfect," giggled Mindy. "I want Lois Lane dead, no matter what it takes." Her tone changed, into something harsher. "She always gets in my way."

Lois felt she'd heard enough. Now was the time to make a quick getaway, before they all came outside again. She had just climbed off the stack of crates and was making her way around towards the front of the warehouse when she heard the door open slightly.

"Hold on a minute!" a voice said. The door closed again. Lois felt that she didn't want to stick around to see how long it stayed closed this time. Taking her high-heeled shoes off, she ran from the warehouse, down the street and into a more populated area. As soon as she saw a taxi, she hailed it and told the driver to take her home, giving him her address.

Far above, Superman watched her go.

***

Lying on her bed, Lois Lane stared at the ceiling. She watched the fan lazily rotate round once and then complete another circuit. She was thinking, her mind stuck on one topic in particular.

"Hmph," Lois grunted forcefully, flopping over on to her side. A fist shot out to punch her pillow as she made another similar noise, indicating her perturbed state. The pillow was often her companion as she dreamed of Clark, receiving her unwitting embraces with its usual soft ease. Tonight the poor cushion was getting the beating of its life.

Lois tossed and turned some more, her brain refusing to let go of the train of thought it was on. This thing with Intergang…well, it was big. From the sounds of things, they were importing ancient Egyptian artifacts from the tombs of various pharaohs and other distinguished peoples from their courts. And that it was being done inside Cost Mart shipments just proved its lack of legality.

After Lois had gotten home, she'd done a little research and checked up on the name she'd heard Dougal mention to Mindy Church. Everything that she'd read had told her that Imhotep's tomb had never been discovered. 'Well, not by proper Egyptologists anyway,' Lois thought irritably. 'Either the thugs at Intergang discovered his tomb by accident, or somehow they knew where to look. Whichever way it happened, they're stealing what they find and selling it to the highest bidder.'

Lois knew deep down inside herself that she worked better as part of a team in circumstances like these; someone to bounce ideas off; someone to have her back in difficult situations. She spared a thought as to whether she would have been able to work with Dougal if he wasn't already implicated, but after a moment decided that Clark was without a doubt the only person she could ever see as a possible partner.

So what should she do? What was the best way to go about enlisting Clark's help? She needed — no, wanted — his help. Yet she didn't want to give him the wrong idea: that everything was all right and that he should feel free to lie to her whenever he so chose.

'But Clark wouldn't lie to you,' piped up the virtuous foil to her fiendish inner voice.

"Oh yeah?" Lois retorted, remembering back to the moment when she'd recognised that her boyfriend was not simply the mild-mannered reporter he claimed to be. Then she groaned: "Oh great; now I'm talking to myself!"

'You certainly are,' said the obliging voice.

"Well, I suppose there's nothing for it then." She grabbed a jacket and headed for the door: right now, for Lois to think was to act. She paused a moment to turn out the light and sighed dramatically; inside she had the beginnings of butterflies in her stomach. "It's only Clark," she told herself. "No big deal. Only Clark."

'No big deal? Yeah right.'

***

<Dear Lois>, Clark paused, his hand suspended mid-air with a pen dangling from between his fingers: how best to start? The alter ego of Metropolis' favourite superhero heaved a sigh, unintentionally blowing his budding letter to the floor halfway across the room. He raced to retrieve it, sighing once more as he went.

"How do I even begin to explain how I've been feeling during the time that I've known Lois?" he said aloud. "There's been so many thoughts, so many emotions." He took his seat once more and began to tap the end of his pen against the tabletop. "What do I say?"

<I'm not sure that I know how to start this letter, so perhaps I'll simply write exactly what I'm thinking in this clumsy attempt to explain my feelings and thoughts over the past year and a half. Please forgive any rambling that this may result in.>

Clark nodded to himself — that worked. Maybe he could do this after all!

<Ever since I've known you, Lois, I've been addicted to you. There, I said it and it's really the only way to adequately describe how much you've captivated me, how much my life revolves around you and your happiness. I have loved you from the moment you first barged into Perry's office during my interview, when much as I'd hoped to someday find someone I could really be myself with — someone I could spend the rest of my life with — I was beginning to wonder if it was possible.

Now, before you go saying, "Oh, there goes Clark, acting all woe-is-me…" — you forget, I know how you think, Lois — I'd just like to point out that there are many people in this world that have made me unsure about this: Lana, Trask, Mayson, to name a few. Not that I wanted to marry Trask, but you understand what I'm getting at here. There are people out there who dislike me even to the point of hate because of what I can do and…it scares me.

But meeting you, Lois, it changed me. It made me think that maybe I'd finally found someone who could love me for me. At first, you certainly seemed to love my other persona, Superman, and for a time that was problematic. You see Clark was in love with you; you merely tolerated him. Then we started being friends, which progressed to best friends. You are still the best friend I have ever had, Lois. That will never stop being true. And as mad as you are at me, I won't stop loving you. I couldn't.

I want you to understand that telling you — telling anyone — about how I moonlight in tights and a red cape is an incredibly scary thought. I tried, so many times after we got together, because I really did want to tell you. Don't you remember how often I would start a sentence with, "Lois, I'm Super-" and then get cut off by something? Whether it was a knock at the door, the ring of the telephone, or a super-call it was impossible to ignore… Why does this world always need me at the most inopportune times?

Anyway, you have to know that I wanted to tell you. I meant to tell you before I proposed, I really did! It's just…I was so terrified that you would reject me because of the revelation and that I would therefore lose you. Losing you is my worst nightmare, Lois. I sometimes wake up in a cold sweat because I've dreamt you hated me and were leaving me. These past few weeks have been hell. Complete and utter hell. I've hidden it the best I could, to give you time, but I have missed you *so* much. If I could take back the proposal, I would. Not because I don't want to marry you: I do, more than anything in this world. But because then I could tell you as I should have. I could be the one to confess to you that I am Superman. It's my fault, Lois, all of it. I hurt you; I made you think that I didn't trust you. I trust you, Lois. Apart from my parents, you are the one person in the world I could see myself telling this secret to. I'm so sorry I didn't do it right.

I love you, Lois. Always have, always will. This time I will not run away.>

Clark had just laid down his pen for a moment when a knock sounded at the door. Reaching up to pull down his glasses and take a look as he habitually did, he quickly realised that he didn't have his glasses on anyway. He also realised that it was Lois at the door. His heart thumped painfully inside his chest; he went slowly to answer it.

As the door was opened, Clark felt as if the pain-filled heart had turned over inside his chest. She was so beautiful…

"Hi," she said, her eyes taking in everything: him, the room, him again. "I, uh… I was just…out. And I thought that maybe you…maybe we… We could talk?" There was a pause before she continued, not looking at him this time. Her voice was quiet. "I need your help, Clark."

Clark just stared at her. He could hardly believe that she'd come to him, to his apartment, just like she used to. However, his silence appeared to worry her.

"I mean, if you'd rather not, I understand. Things are a little tense and I-. Oh, this was a bad idea…"

"Lois, no! I mean, it wasn't a bad idea," Clark interrupted, his mind racing desperately to think of words to make her stay. "Come in, please. Sure, we can talk. I'd *love* to talk to you."

Lois visibly relaxed and she followed him inside. "Okay. Well, it's about Dougal; and Intergang; and Egyptian artifacts…" She had stopped and stood a little uneasily at the bottom of the steps into his apartment.

"Have a seat, Lois. Please." Clark gestured towards the couch.

"Oh, okay." She walked over and sat. A sigh escaped her lips. "Maybe I should just start at the beginning, huh?"

Clark sat on the couch beside her, leaving as much space as possible between them so that Lois wouldn't feel uncomfortable. "Start wherever you like." He watched her, waiting.

And then the entire story came tumbling out. Halfway through, Lois stood and began pacing the room in her agitated state. Clark remained in his seat, waiting patiently.

"-and he said that he'd take care of it — of me! — before the next shipment came in. On top of everything else, they're after me as well, Clark. They-" She stopped abruptly. As her pacing took her closer to Clark's dining table, Lois' eye caught a glimpse of a familiar name on a piece of paper: her name. "What's this?" she asked quizzically, picking the paper up and beginning to read.

Clark leapt up at the sight of the forgotten letter. "Lois, no! I-" But he knew it was too late as her troubled expression changed to one of surprise. She glanced up, looked at him intently and then returned her attention to the words on the page. He wondered what she was thinking.

Clark knew when she was finished: her eyes closed briefly and then opened again. She raised her gaze to his and stared.

"I, uh…well, I mean, it's not finished and I-I wasn't sure if…" He trailed off, realising that his hands were waving wildly as he talked, something more akin to Lois' personality than his own. He stopped and shoved the offending appendages into his pockets. Never once did his gaze break hers.

Near silence reigned in the apartment as neither spoke for a few minutes. Lois was leaning against the tabletop, watching him. She was the first to sever the stillness that surrounded them.

"Did you mean it?" she enquired, her voice soft and hesitant. The expression upon her face was hard to make out.

"The letter?" Clark immediately chastised himself inwardly. 'Of course the letter, you idiot! What else would she be meaning right now?'

"Yes," Lois' voice remained at the same timbre, but Clark heard her heart beat speed up. "What you said about not running away anymore…did you mean that part?"

"Yes," Clark confirmed. He was positive about that, especially now.

"And the part about being scared; what about that?" Clark saw Lois lick her lips and he knew she was nervous.

"Lois, I was absolutely petrified." Clark tentatively took a step closer to her. He whispered an amendment to this under his breath: "I still am." It was only as the look on Lois' face changed that he realised she'd heard this last pronouncement.

"Why are you still scared, Clark?" Lois also took a step towards him, her gaze back to being inscrutable. "What's got you so frightened?"

Clark took a deep breath. "Y-you," he said.

Lois took another step towards Clark. "Am I really that scary?" She attempted to make light of the situation, giving him a small smile.

Clark forced a tense smile in her direction. "It's more the thought that you're going to walk out of here again tonight and leave me broken-hearted — forever this time. Because I very much doubt I would ever fully get over you, Lois Lane."

She was now less than a metre away from him. He could feel the heat radiating from her body and sense the tension in her muscles. It calmed him a little that she seemed as nervous as he was.

"What if I promised you I wouldn't run away either?" she began, her voice shaky. "What then?"

"Then…" Clark trailed off, his mind racing at what he was hearing.

"Yes?"

Clark continued, his voice just as shaky as Lois'. "Then I suppose that would mean you were finished being mad at me…maybe?"

"That I'd forgiven you; seen your side of the story?" She stepped closer once more.

"Yeah." Clark gulped as her hand brushed against his. Timidly he reached for that hand, giving her the opportunity to pull away if she wanted to: she didn't take her hand from his.

Lois looked up at him from underneath her long lashes, and spoke again, her voice sounding more confident this time. "You know, I'd decided that I needed your help on this story, but I also had every intention of letting you know that in terms of *us*, I still needed some time."

"And now?" Clark put the question to her carefully, wanting her to continue but worried he was going to push too hard. He couldn't lose her again.

"Now…I've read your letter. I don't think I ever really tried to understand how you were feeling; what prompted you to keep this all from me in the first place. I mean, there was a moment there after reading that note, but I guess in my anger I just pushed that aside and assumed it was all lack of trust. And that made me more mad." Clark began to say something, but Lois held up a hand. "No, please, let me finish, Clark." He closed his mouth and nodded. "What you said about being scared you'd lose me…I get that. I do. I don't think I could handle losing you either. I…"

For a moment she was quiet and Clark noticed that she was struggling against tears. Still hesitant to push, he merely rubbed the back of her hand with his thumb as he tried to show his support; he knew that he needed to let her continue her train of thought before he spoke, however much he might like to say.

Finally Lois started to speak again. "Clark, I guess what I'm trying to say is…I-I love you. No matter what, I can't just turn that feeling off. I might want to sometimes, to stop the pain. But it doesn't work that way."

"Oh, Lois…" Clark said, his voice husky with unshed tears of his own. "I love you too."

It was Lois' turn to swallow hard as she tried yet again to hold back her tears; this time she couldn't stop them from spilling over. Clark brought up his other hand to gently wipe away each tear as it fell.

"Clark, I-I missed you *so* much. I was mad at you, but after a day or so that went away. I-I…I was just hurt. But I still couldn't help missing you; missing what we had." Lois paused to take a few deep, shuddering breaths. "I was trying so hard to stay mad at you, but I couldn't. And that letter of yours, w-well…" She laughed a little through her tears. "That didn't help much. It forced me to understand how you'd been feeling."

"And that's…a good thing?"

Lois laughed again. "Yes." A slight frown overtook her features. "You still should have told me, you know."

"I know," Clark looked ashamed. "Can I say I'm sorry one more time?"

Lois glanced down. "It's just… Clark, I want this again: this relationship, you and me." She gazed at Clark's face as it lit up. "B-but I need to take things slowly for a while… Can you handle that?"

"Lois, I will do *anything* to have you back in my life." The glow upon Clark's face didn't dim as he spoke so earnestly. "If I had to endure the agony of Kryptonite a thousand times over, I would do it all gladly just to have the chance to love you."

Lois felt the tears well up again at Clark's words. She launched herself into his arms and wrapped her own around him tightly.

"Hey, I thought you wanted to take this slowly?" he teased, holding her close.

"This is slowly, you idiot," she replied, her voice muffled by his T-shirt. "Oh, I missed this…"

"I missed you."

***

Some hours later, after much discussion and some arguing — most of it on Lois' part — Clark stretched and yawned.

"It's getting late," he observed, looking at the nearest clock. "Can I… Would it be all right if I walked you home?"

His voice still sounded a little uncertain, but Lois was quick to reassure him. "Clark, of course you can. Actually," here she grimaced, "I'd appreciate it. After all, what goon, including Dougal, is going to try and off me with Superman as my bodyguard?"

"Ahh, but Lois, you forget…they don't know I'm Superman," Clark pointed out with a slight smile. "That knowledge is reserved for you and you only."

"Apart from your parents," corrected Lois.

"Apart from my parents," Clark conceded, his smile widening. "But you are one lucky woman, Lois Lane."

"In more ways than one," Lois grinned, relieved to be sliding back into their old banter so easily. But she quickly became serious. "Now, tomorrow you realise we'll have to act as if nothing's happened? Not between us I mean… Between Dougal and me. Because Dougal doesn't know that anything's happened…only I do. Now why does that sound so complicated?"

"Because it is?" Clark shrugged. "Don't worry, Lois. I'll start calling some people while I'm at work tomorrow; Dougal won't suspect me of involvement just yet. You just pretend you're working on small stories. Ones that don't require a partner."

"That shouldn't be hard," said Lois. "I've got plenty of those stored up that Perry's been giving me over the past few weeks. They were little fluff pieces that didn't have much of a deadline. Perry will be surprised to suddenly receive an avalanche of them to print, that's for sure!"

"Do you think we ought to tell him what's going on? Tell him about Dougal and Intergang I mean?" Clark looked worried.

Lois was quiet for a moment as she thought. "Do you know," she finally said, "I've been thinking about the same thing. But the conclusion I've come to for now is that we shouldn't tell him; not just yet."

"Okay, I'm with you on that," said Clark. "Not yet."

Changing the subject quickly, Lois took Clark's arm. "So, partner," she said leading him towards the door, "what were you saying about walking me home?"

***

The instant that Lois and Clark entered the newsroom the morning after their reunion, the Planet's gossip mills swung into action. They were arriving together *and* they were holding hands!

"Chief! Did you hear?" Jimmy burst into his editor's office soon after the occurrence, his eyes twinkling and a grin stretched across his face from ear to ear. "Lois and CK are here — together! Holding hands and everything!"

A smile spread across Perry's countenance as he listened to Jimmy's gleeful announcement. "Well it's about damn time!" was his response. "Though I always knew that those two would find a way to work it out between them."

"I'm glad it was sooner rather than later," Jimmy admitted as he turned to glance back into the bullpit. "CK's been kind of hard to talk to since the fight happened; he would just sort of nod every once in a while, pretending he was listening. But I could tell he was really staring past me at Lois."

"Doesn't mean he'll stop doing that now, son," chuckled Perry. "In fact, I'd think it'll be worse."

"Oh, I don't know," said Jimmy with a shrug of his shoulders. "When I'm talking to him, I'm usually talking to Lois as well. So she'll be there beside him, and he won't have to look past me to her anymore!"

"Details, son, details…" Perry replied with a shake of his head. The smile remained on his face. All was right with the world: his top two reporters were back in each others good graces and now things could finally get back to normal.

"Uh, Chief?" Perry was jolted out his brief reverie as Jimmy spoke again. "What about Dougal and Diana?"

"Oh, well…since Clark and Lois will obviously start partnering each other again, I think Dougal can partner Diana. He's had just as much experience as Lois or Clark, even if it was on a different continent. She'll be fine under his wing." Perry began to scrutinize the papers scattered across his desktop.

"Right," Jimmy nodded without much enthusiasm. "You want me to get them in here so you can tell them?"

"Who? Oh, Dougal and Diana. Sure…sure." Jimmy watched as Perry flicked a quick look at his Elvis clock. "But make it quick, Olsen. I want to get the staff meeting underway ASAP."

"Sure thing, Chief," Jimmy said, already halfway out the door.

Back out in the bullpen, Lois was settling down at her desk with a smile fixed firmly upon her face. She observed Clark — her boyfriend! — as he went over to the coffee machine to secure their morning stimulant — his first, her second of the day.

'Hmm…now I remember how much I like him from this angle,' she thought mischievously, tilting her head so as to get the best view. 'The picture he presents from the back has always been one of my favourites…'

"Here you go, Lois," Clark said a minute or so later. "One coffee, one doughnut." He set the doughnut wrapped in a napkin down on her desk and handed her the cup filled with coffee.

"Mmm," Lois hummed after taking a sip. "You always know just how I like it."

"It's the little things," Clark replied with a grin. He couldn't seem to stop it, this grinning. It was like the Happiness Fairy had come to town and was continually bashing him over the head with her wand. Wait: the Happiness Fairy? Make that the Euphoria-Inducing Fairy. She didn't have a very pretty name, but she sure knew how to do her job.

"Oh, Clark?" Lois had his attention from her first syllable. "Would you, uh, mind? I seem to have…dropped my pen. I think it rolled over there, by Ralph's desk. Could you get it for me, please?" She pointed in the general direction and managed to look almost embarrassed as she asked.

Clark immediately wandered over towards Ralph's desk and bent over to pick up the pen. Lois felt her heart flutter as she surreptitiously stole another long, but slightly guilty, look at Clark and what she considered to be one of his many assets. Maybe dropping her pen on purpose had been going a little bit far, but it was that tiny devil inside of her again. Now if she and her 'super man' were only alone…

"Here you go." Clark interrupted her daydream by offering her the pen. If it had been anyone else she might have snapped at them but Clark merely got a meaningful look and her thanks before he headed to his desk. Now again, if they were the only ones in the newsroom…

Lois shook her head a little to clear away the amorous haze befuddling her brain and smiled. 'It's amazing,' she mused 'how seeing things from another person's perspective can help clarify a situation…' It was Clark's letter that had changed things. It had shown her why he'd done what he had. That, combined with the fact that she'd been missing him terribly, had helped to swing things in his favour. Taking things slow had been her idea; now if she could only keep her hormones in check long enough to follow through on it…

'Dougal wants to kill me. Intergang are hatching another heinous plot,' Lois quickly reminded herself. Yeah, that did it: no hormones racing now. Fear pretty much cancelled them out.

"Clark," whispered Lois, knowing that he could hear her and needing to see his smile; needing to know that he was there. With him she felt brave. Even during their time apart, his presence had still encouraged her. She watched as he looked up and caught her eye. He grinned. "This is kind of nice, talking to you like this," she continued.

Clark tilted his head to one side. His smile was constant.

"I mean, I suppose I could have done it before, but I didn't know I could, did I?" Lois persisted. "I didn't know you were Superman, after all."

Clark assumed a hangdog expression and something — Lois could have sworn it looked like unease — flickered across his features also.

"Oh, don't worry your pretty, super little head, Clark." Lois couldn't help giggling but stopped mid-chuckle as Jimmy passed by and glanced between the two of them, his look clearly saying that he was a little worried about their sanity. She smiled at him innocently and he kept on walking. It was safe to go on, though Lois adopted a lower tone. "I've forgiven you, remember? You're in my good books now, Mr. Man-of-Steel."

Clark's response was the return of the grin with an added twinkle in his eyes. He sat up straighter and threw his shoulders back.

"Oh, don't go getting all 'I'm the big strong Superman who can save Lois,' on me again," said Lois dryly. "Stop preening. We know you can save me; we've established that. But what else can you do?" She raised her eyebrows at him suggestively.

Clark's own eyebrows shot up. His mouth gaped open and then shut again. This happened once more before Lois spoke again, her voice completely deadpan.

"You know, you remind me of a fish when you do that."

Clark spluttered and the splutter quickly turning into an unusual cough-slash-choke. When the peculiar sound finally died away, it left Lois thinking that perhaps this sort of thing could be useful, especially with people like Dougal around. Speaking of which, where was her — she shuddered — partner?

Just then, Perry's voice bellowed from the conference room. "Staff meeting, people!" he said. "Now! Drop everything and get in here!"

Lois did as she was told and followed Clark to the meeting, a pen and notebook in hand. A smile was back on her face.

'At least this angle affords me another excellent view,' she reflected, walking behind him into the room.

***

Clark entered the conference room for the daily staff meeting, completely aware of the woman to his rear. He could smell her perfume, hear her heartbeat and also hear the giggling she was doing under her breath.

He briefly wondered what it was that was causing her giggling, but shrugged it off; it was probably just thoughts of their little 'conversation' before. Feeling a little indignant, Clark rolled his eyes: he did *not* look like a fish!

After pulling a chair out for Lois and then settling into one next to her, Clark looked around at the rest of their co-workers. People had responded reasonably quickly to Perry's barked command but even so, a couple of stragglers were still filtering into the room.

"Well, as soon as *everyone* is here, we'll get started," said their editor, his words a little sharper than usual. Clark found himself momentarily speculating as to why this was, but knew that this wasn't the best place to ask. If he could, he'd find out later on.

"Why do you think Perry's mad?" Lois whispered to him as the stragglers found empty chairs and sat down. Clark's lip turned up in a small smile as he realised that Lois had been wondering about exactly the same thing as he had. He shrugged in response, as he saw Perry opening his mouth to speak once more.

"Now that we're all here, I want to know the status of stories," he began, slowly pacing back and forth at the front of the room. He looked to Clark first. "Kent?"

"Um, well… The story on the mayor's alleged sexual harassment of his assistant is just about finished, Mr White." Clark ran a finger over his notebook, knowing that the initial notes on the Intergang project were contained within. "Diana and I could have it written up and to you by lunch. Right, Di?" He glanced across the desk at his partner and she nodded, however he noticed that her smile seemed more feeble than usual. Something had happened, but what?

"Alright, do it," Perry replied. "After that, you and Lois can start looking into the background of the new governor. I want you up to speed on his life before attending his inaugural ball tomorrow night. You don't want to be the only journalists there who don't know his favourite colour, now do you?"

"Okay, Chief," said Clark without thinking. Then, what his boss had just told him sunk in. "Wait a minute, Lois and I?"

Perry began to smile a little, his irritated mood to some extent visibly lifting. "That's right. I figure you two seem to be back in one another's good graces, so I'm reinstating your partnership. I assume you have no objections?"

"Uh…no," Clark answered quietly. 'But what about Diana and Dougal?' his mind was shouting.

"Good. Now, Lois, since you already know what you're going to be doing today, we'll move on to Dougal." As Perry's gaze sought out Dougal across the room, Lois realised that she hadn't even seen him enter the meeting, let alone the newsroom. She was almost afraid to look his way, certain that he'd be able to recognise the terror she was feeling just thinking about his plans for her. But hesitantly she raised her eyes to him, feeling the shock ripple through her as he intercepted her look: he'd already been watching her. The very notion caused her to quake internally, though she fought against her face showing the panic she was feeling. She shifted closer to Clark and took his hand, squeezing it tightly. He squeezed back, flicking a glance her way. What he saw made him clench his jaw in anger. To outsiders, Lois's expression was happy, an ordinary smile tugging the corners of her mouth upwards. But Clark saw beneath this carefully constructed fašade to the anxiety and fear lurking below. He knew Lois and her eyes were displaying her true emotions.

"As already discussed," Perry was saying to Dougal, "you'll be working with Diana from now on; as soon as she and Clark are finished putting their story together, that is. I want the two of you to start on a story about the new mall site downtown and how it's affecting the people who live nearby."

"Certainly, Mr. White," said Dougal, his lilting intonation producing a wave of small sighs from the females in the room…all except Lois. Frankly, Clark was a little surprised at this quiet acquiescence from the Irishman. Surely if he was wanting to hurt Lois — to murder her — he would be more annoyed at being denied an easy route to the kill?

Perry continued to reel off assignments and soon the meeting was over. Quietly, Clark led Lois out of the conference room and into the bullpen. From there he followed her to the elevator, one hand on the small of her incredibly tense back, his partner's unspoken need to talk and his desire to comfort her the driving force behind his movement. Diana could wait.

As soon as the elevator doors closed, Clark hit the 'Stop' button. She needed a quiet place to vent her feelings; somewhere where she wasn't afraid of the wrong person listening in. So now it was just the two of them: Lois' 'happy mask' was removed and all the emotions that she'd been suppressing during the meeting came rushing out of her. She grabbed Clark as if he were her lifeline and clung to him, her breaths coming short and fast and her body shaking. He wrapped his arms around her in turn, just holding her close and hoping desperately that the contact would provide some reassurance to her.

Eventually it seemed to partially succeed. Lois' breathing slowed, but she still trembled in his arms. Clark wasn't sure what to do.

"You know I would never let anything happen to you, Lois," he murmured, his mouth next to her ear. "I love you. Dougal Finnegan is not going to get any nearer to you than he was just now in the meeting. I promise: I'll protect you. And I will not let you out of my sight. There is no possibility of him getting the chance to do anything to you. I *promise*."

His soft, but nonetheless vehement, guarantees finally seemed to get through to Lois. Her trembling ended and she moved her head so that her cheek lay flush with his chest. "My big strong Superman," she said, a tender inflection to her words as she slowly entwined the fingers of one hand with his.

"My big strong Lois," Clark replied, kissing the top of her head. She was safe with him, no matter what.

***

Later that morning, Clark was finally able to start putting the story on the mayor together with Diana. He knew that he still hadn't given her any sort of answer regarding her invitation to the Kerths. But now that he was definitely back with Lois, well, there was no question about whom he was going to go with… He had to find a way to break the news to the younger woman gently.

"Uh…Di?" he ventured as they sat side by side in the conference, piecing together their notes in preparation for writing the story. "About the Kerths…"

His former partner blushed. "Oh…um… Don't worry about it, Clark. I know you and Lois are back together. I can see that you'll naturally be going with her. No problem. I should never have asked." Clark could see her trying to make the invitation seem less than it was as she attempted to save herself further humiliation and hurt.

"Hey, I was flattered that you asked," he informed her with a lopsided smile. "It's not everyday that I get an invitation from a pretty woman to something that involves dinner and dancing."

A tiny smile appeared on Diana's face. "Really? I find that hard to believe."

Clark shrugged. "It's true… And if Lois wasn't around, I probably would have taken you up on your offer."

"But since she is…" Diana sighed a little and her smile disappeared. "I understand."

"Thanks, Di. I knew you would. Hey, I hear Jimmy's interested if that means anything?"

"Jimmy Olsen?" Diana's face reddened once more, but the smile came back. "Um…well, he's kind of cute…"

"I bet if you asked him, he'd say yes," Clark said, relieved that she didn't seem too upset about his rejection. "He'd love to go to the Kerths, especially with you."

"Thanks, Clark," Diana replied. "I think I might just do that."

Thankful to have all of that out of the way, Clark smiled and scrawled another important point on his notepad. 'That was easier than I thought it would be…'

***

It was the end of the workday and Lois was feeling rather tired. The whole day had been exhausting really, what with trying to avoid Dougal, and trying to get her work done. While Clark had been finishing up the story on the mayor with Diana, she'd been getting started with the research on the new governor. Perry informing them that they were going to the inaugural ball the following evening was annoying her. "Great… Leave it till the last minute," Lois muttered to herself as she stood and pushed in her chair. She was about to reach for her coat when she noticed that someone was already holding it out for her to shrug on: Clark. "Thanks, Clark," she smiled.

"No problem." Her partner grinned back. "Hey, do you want to come over? I could cook us dinner and we could go over the" here he lowered his voice, just in case "Intergang investigation?"

Lois turned around and regarded him with her head tilted to one side. Clark watched her, his heart quickening as the look in her eyes became curiously intense. She swept her gaze from his feet right back up to his face then smirked and grabbed his hand. "Let's go."

***

"Pasta-a-la-Clark," the impromptu chef announced, placing the hot plates upon the table with a flourish. "Would the lady like some freshly ground pepper on her meal?"

"Just a little," Lois giggled, holding up her hand with the thumb and forefinger indicating the amount. Clark complied then took a seat himself.

He watched as she took her first bite, savouring it before swallowing and licking her lips. He didn't think he had ever seen anything quite as sensual, unless you counted when he'd fed her chocolate cake on their first date. His breath caught in his throat; she really was gorgeous…

"Clark?" she said, a look of slight concern upon her face. "What's wrong? You're not eating."

Shaking his head, he attempted to focus on the situation at hand, a blush stealing across his features. "Eating? I uh… I was just watching you enjoy it." He wondered if it was possible for his face to get any hotter.

She waved her almost empty fork in his direction. "Don't you think I'd enjoy my meal more if you were eating too? After all, you created this," she licked a little pasta sauce off the side of her fork and sighed, "masterpiece."

He swallowed hard. Surely she knew what she was doing to him; she had to. It wasn't possible… There it was: a gleam in her eyes. She did know! And she was just torturing him for the fun of it…

"Ms Lane, are you teasing me?" He studied her, one eyebrow raised and his breath seeming to snag inside his throat for a moment before being released into the outside world. He waited for an answer.

"Teasing? Now, why would I do that when I told you just last night that I wanted to take things slowly?" Lois smirked, her expression betraying her true feelings.

Clark felt a foot nudge his beneath the table. 'Oh boy…' He let out a shuddering sigh.

"Maybe I'm…rethinking things. Just a little," said Lois, her foot still nudging his. She set her fork down and regarded him across the table, then repeated her last words. "Just a little."

It was all the invitation he needed to reach over and lay his hand upon her cheek. His fingers gently stroked up and down the soft skin that didn't need any makeup to make it glow. She leaned her head towards his hand, smiling softly at him.

"I missed this, you know," she whispered. "I missed your touch. Just…being with you."

"Me too," was all Clark could say.

After a few moments, Lois laid her hand upon his and removed it from her cheek. She didn't, however, release him just yet. Her hand gripped his tightly as she stood and led him to the couch. Wondering where this was going, Clark blindly followed her lead: he would take things only as far as she wanted them to go. It was up to her, completely up to her.

To his surprise after sitting down and pulling him with her, Lois merely snuggled into his side. "This is nice," she murmured. He wrapped one arm around her, pulling her closer. He couldn't seem to get near enough to this amazing woman; he would forever be grateful for her forgiveness and for her love. Clark closed his eyes in a silent prayer of thankfulness.

Just then, he felt a kiss land on his cheek. His eyes flew open and he gazed at the woman by his side. "What was that for?" he asked, smiling.

"Just for being you," was the reply as her eyes flicked to his mouth. She unconsciously licked her own lips once more before settling into his embrace.

***

Lois watched Clark, considering her options. She could just sit there in his arms — it was nice; she felt protected and loved. On the other hand, she could initiate a little something more. She knew Clark was waiting for her to take the lead. She was the one who wanted to take thing slowly after all, so it was up to her to show him just how slowly — or not — she really wanted to take things.

While his hand tenderly caressed her arm, she mulled over the choices. She *really* wanted to kiss him.

'So what's stopping you?' her inner voice asked.

What indeed? And with this part of her decision made, Lois turned herself in Clark's arms, looked him dead in the eye and kissed him. It wasn't a particularly steamy kiss, but it certainly caught Clark off guard and left both of them breathless. As she pulled back, Lois watched him for his reaction.

"Can you…do that again?" he asked languidly, his eyes opening slowly.

A grin appeared on her face. "Oh…I don't know," she teased. "I think I might have hit my kiss limit for the day…"

"Really? Well, that's a pity," said Clark with a twinkle in his eyes. "Then I won't be able to do this…and this…" He punctuated his words with soft kisses to her neck that stoked a fire already smouldering inside of Lois. With his welcome invitation, she wasted no time in bringing her lips back to his.

***

"-and thank you for your help," Clark said in flawless Arabic before hanging up the phone. He turned to Lois and grinned. "The Cairo police department confirmed that things have been happening at Saqqara; broken ornaments in the tombs and other tombs suddenly appearing where none had been before. These people sure don't seem to care if anyone knows they were there."

"Or they're just mindless thugs who're told where to dig," Lois answered wryly. Then she brightened. "But this information ties in with the things I heard at that warehouse, Clark! We're getting closer to having proper evidence that we can show Perry…I can feel it!"

Clark just kept grinning. The previous night they'd kissed for a period of time and things had gotten pretty heated. But both had made a conscious choice to step back and give things some time; Clark because he knew Lois and Lois because while she didn't want to take things too slowly, where they were going and the speed at which they were going there was just a little too fast.

After sitting back so that they were still cuddling side on, they'd gotten into a discussion about the best way to tackle the Intergang investigation. Lois had felt herself getting more clear-headed every minute as they debated the pros and cons of talking to Henderson and the FBI to see if they knew anything. It had been Clark's suggestion that he phone the Cairo police department the next day to ask them for information; Lois had readily agreed. It was a good idea and she didn't know Arabic: Clark did.

So there they were in the newsroom, crowing over the facts the man at the Cairo police department had given Clark. They'd waited until Dougal had left with Diana to call — they weren't taking any chances of him overhearing anything. This investigation was too important — Lois' life was at stake.

"Next stop, the Metropolis police department," she continued. "Henderson will know something — he always does."

"But whether he'll want to talk is another matter altogether," Clark reminded her. "He has been reluctant in the past…"

Lois waved this off with her usual disregard for Henderson's judgments. "He'd be better off if he tells us what he knows. Then we might tell him what we know in return. I'm sure he'd like to know what I heard in the warehouse."

"Probably," Clark agreed, knowing it was no use arguing with Lois. And besides, she usually did get Henderson to confide in them, though the police sergeant generally did it grudgingly.

Lois had turned and grabbed her coat. "So…are you coming, Mr. Bodyguard?" She fluttered her lashes at him beguilingly.

"Well, I suppose I'd better," said Clark with a mock sigh. "To keep you out of trouble and everything."

"Oh, of course. To keep me out of trouble," Lois replied, rolling her eyes. "That's what a bodyguard's for, after all."

***

"Well, at least he confirmed that they knew something was going on, and he was very pleased to get the information you provided," Clark said in an attempt to appease Lois as she stomped down the police station's steps in front of him.

"But he refused to tell us anything else," Lois complained. "That's just like Henderson: always holding out on me." She threw her hands into the air as they reached her Jeep. "Oh, perfect; just perfect!"

Clark reached over and plucked the parking ticket from her windscreen. "Well, at least you're in the right place to go and pay it right away," he said cheerfully, handing her the piece of paper and pointing to the county courthouse across the way.

Lois glowered at him. "Bah!" she retorted as she snatched it from his hand. "Stupid ticket-happy parking wardens…" She trudged into the courthouse with Clark following her, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. Oh, it was so good to have Lois back to normal!

***

After calling the FBI later that day and talking to an agent who was an old friend of Clark's, Lois wasn't in a much better mood than she'd been when paying her parking ticket. The agent, Tom Harper, hadn't been much help either. Like Henderson, he was able to confirm that the FBI had an ongoing investigation into stolen artifacts being smuggled into the States, but he couldn't tell them much else. His superiors would have jumped on him immediately if he compromised the investigation any more.

"Sorry, Clark," he'd said. "I wish I could help you more, man. Just a hint, though I can't confirm anything… Keep an eye on the finances of a company called 'Right Fast Enterprises'."

Lois had scoffed at the name of such a company. "Right Fast Enterprises? Who names a company that?"

"I don't know, but Tom mentioning it has to mean something," Clark insisted. "Maybe it's a shell company of some sort?"

"I'll get Jimmy to see if he can find anything out," said Lois. "I'll tell him not to mention anything to anyone about it though. Not even Perry. That way word can't get back to Dougal."

"Right," answered Clark. He looked at his watch. "Then I suppose we'd better get out here…"

"Oh yeah…the governor's ball." Lois grimaced. "And I haven't got anything to wear."

"You'll look wonderful in anything, Lois," Clark said tenderly. "Though I do like that dress you wore on our first date…"

"The black one? Well, it's nice but I think it's a little too short for a ball… But I *do* have something similar in blue and it's a little longer. It might just do…" She stared off into space for a moment. "Yes, it just might do."

"I can't wait to see you in it then," said Clark wiggling his eyebrows up and down comically.

"And I can't wait to see you in your tux again," Lois replied with a suggestive look upon her face. "I thought I was going to have to wait until the Kerths, but I'm going to be lucky this year."

Clark felt his face heat up considerably. 'Oh boy, it's going to be a long night…'

***

When Clark picked Lois up for the ball, she opened the door and left him completely speechless. The long gown she wore sparkled blue in the glow from the hallway light. It had a V-neck and thin straps and flared out a little at the bottom. The dress hugged her curves perfectly.

"That is…I, uh…what I mean is…" Clark finally began to speak again, though he wasn't entirely coherent.

"You like it?" Lois did a little twirl and smiled somewhat shyly. "I brought it a while ago, and just realised that I never got around to wearing it."

"Please," Clark begged in all seriousness, "wear it everyday."

Lois raised one eyebrow and giggled. "That might be a little difficult to do, Clark."

"I, uh… O-of course." Clark realised what he'd just said and laughed at his own words. "You just look absolutely fantastic!"

"You're not looking so bad yourself," Lois responded, sashaying up to him and placing one hand upon his chest. "I'm liking the tux…*very* much."

At this pronouncement, she pressed a kiss to one of his cheeks. "Shall-" Clark's first syllable came out as more of a croak than word. He cleared his throat and tried again: "Shall we go?"

Lois smiled. "We shall." She linked her arm with his and, locking the door behind her, they went to the ball.

***

"At least we have something to keep us occupied while we wait for the governor to make his grand entrance," said Lois some time later as they swayed to the music. Her head was upon Clark's shoulder and the slow song they were dancing to was almost hypnotic in its rhythm.

"I think I like being occupied like this," Clark responded, pulling Lois closer.

They swayed in silence for a few more minutes before the music stopped and a man stepped up to the microphone. "Ladies and gentlemen," he began, "tonight we are here to present the new face in the role of Governor for New Troy. He has been a senator for several terms and before that was known in local politics as 'a visionary'. Metropolis, please welcome Governor George Watson!"

A middle-aged man walked on the stage, his silver head of hair making him look distinguished and his charismatic personality evident as soon as the wide smile appeared upon his face.

"Looks just like every other governor to me," Lois said, stepping away from Clark but keeping her hand in his. "Grey hair, power suit, cheesy smile: check."

"He could be different, you know," was Clark's reply. "He might be the best thing this state's ever seen."

"You always think the best of people," said Lois from the corner of her mouth as she noticed a woman beside them take on an irritated expression. "Oops…I think people actually want to listen to his speech."

"Well, we should listen too," Clark whispered. "We are, after all, reporting on this event and what the new governor is like."

Lois nodded, forcing herself to contain any further criticisms. She vaguely listened to the man's speech, her mini tape recorder held out just enough to capture his voice. This also made it possible for her mind to wander a little — the speech would still be there later on.

'Hmm… Life in general has definitely been a heck of a lot better these last few days.' She let out a small happy sigh and saw Clark immediately glance in her direction. At his questioning look, she simply tightened her hold on his hand and beamed — he responded in kind.

"-and so making the state of New Troy affordable to live in, for every citizen, is imperative, as is keeping families safe. I-"

Here Lois tuned the governor out completely. His speech seemed almost exactly the same as the previous governor's, which she had reported on four years previously. He hadn't done much to 'make Metropolis affordable' and Superman had done more to 'keep families safe' than any government official ever had or would. She loosely recalled the former governor saying something in his most recent speech about how crime rates in Metropolis had plummeted during his term in office.

'Just during the latter half of it,' Lois had thought at the time. 'No thanks to you either, Governor Marshall. Try thanking those who really do all the hard work.'

As she remembered this, Lois looked up at Clark. His attention appeared to be completely focused on the man at the podium, but just when she was about to glance away he stole a quick peek in her direction and smiled so lovingly that it left a feeling of warmth deep inside of her.

Finally she realised that the governor had finished his long-winded speech and was beginning to wander the floor, greeting the guests. Nobody seemed to be paying him much attention until he arrived at their group, though the event they were at was a ball in his honour. Lois supposed that many of them, like she and Clark, were only there because they had to be.

Eventually the governor was nearby, but stopped to talk to a petite blonde who had her back to them. The conversation between the two seemed to be rather intense for a casual meeting at a ball and Lois was beginning to wonder whether what they were saying wouldn't be worth listening in on. Then the woman turned and she realised who the governor had been talking to: Mindy Church. Oh, now she was definitely going to listen to them! She watched as they retreated to the side of the room and tugged Clark to come with her.

"Come on, Clark!" she hissed. "That was Mindy Church talking to the governor. Now they're over there!" She pointed to the couple that stood close together, their stances suggesting familiarity. Once again, Mrs Church had her back to them.

Clark's placid expression rapidly changed to one of protectiveness. "You're sure?"

"I just saw the woman saying she wanted me dead the other day, Clark. I don't think I'd forget that face."

"Good point," Clark said dryly. When Lois tugged at him again he tugged back, gently. "Hey, we don't have to go closer and risk exposing ourselves. I have…help, remember?" He pointed at his ears.

"Oh…right. The 'help'." Lois grinned. "Okay, well, do your stuff." She gestured towards the pair.

His head cocked to one side slightly, Clark began telling her what he heard.

"She's asking when he wants it delivered," he repeated.

"'It'? What's 'it'?" Lois questioned impatiently.

"They haven't said yet," Clark replied, his voice soothing in its calmness. "Oh, now he's telling her that Friday night would be best; that he's going to be home from a gala about eleven-thirty at night and would she mind dropping it round then."

"Clark!" A sudden thought had occurred to Lois. "Do you think that he's the 'special buyer' Mindy Church was talking about down at the warehouse?" Her eyes widened as she considered the possibility. "This could be big."

"Huge," Clark agreed. "Oh…now she's saying that that would be fine and…" He paused, a frown appearing upon his face.

"And?" Lois prompted.

Clark turned towards her. "Trust me, Lois. You don't want to know."

"But I do!" insisted his partner. "Come on, Clark…"

Clark looked uncomfortable. "Well he's…and she's…" His hand flapped loosely in the air before falling to his side.

Just then, Lois understood. "Oh."

"Let's just…get out of here, okay?" Clark laid his hand on the small of her back. "Perry won't fault us for bowing out early."

"But we haven't greeted the governor yet!" Lois pointed out.

"Lois… Do you *really* want to meet him after…" he gestured towards the couple, "well, that?"

Lois shuddered. "No, you're right. Let's go."

***

The following day, Lois was thinking hard. "Who else can we talk to who can provide more information on this? Come on, Clark… Someone. *Anyone*."

Clark, who was sitting next to her toying with the pen in his hands, balanced the writing implement on the tip of one finger and said, "What about Bobby? I mean, I know you already talked to him earlier on with Dougal, but don't you think he might be far more likely to provide information with just you and I there? And besides, he may know more now."

Lois looked unconvinced, but she nodded. "Okay, Clark. I guess it's worth a shot. But you're picking up the tab for the Peking duck I just know he's going to demand this time. Deal?" She held out her hand and raised her eyebrows expectedly.

Clark brought his hand to meet hers and winked. "Deal, partner."

***

"I don't know why you didn't remember the plum sauce, Lois," Bobby said, leaning against the brick wall of the alley they stood in. He pushed piece after piece of food into his mouth. "Tsk tsk. While I do like the Peking duck, it's nothing without the plum sauce."

"Blame Clark this time, Bobby," Lois replied dryly. "He's the one who got the duck."

"Kent, you should know better," Bobby scolded, waving a leg of his poultry dish in the air before ripping off a piece with his teeth. "What's a beautiful Peking duck without the plum sauce that compliments it so nicely?"

"Enough about the plum sauce, Bobby. We'll bring some with another duck next time, okay?" Lois rolled her eyes. "Now, what else do you know about what Intergang's up to? The artifacts…how are they getting them and how are they finding their buyers?"

"The word is that they've hired some big-time archaeologist to do their dirty work in Egypt. He's been out there for years digging and searching. So I guess that's how he knew where to look."

"And the buyers? We heard a rumour about Governor Watson…"

"Watson? Yeah, he'll buy anything, legal or under the table, if he thinks it'll add to his 'collection'." Bobby pulled a carton of noodles from the bag they'd given him. "I don't know who was stupid enough to vote for him."

Lois cringed a little as their informant stuffed noodles into his mouth. "But how is it possible that no one's heard anything about any of this? How did Governor Watson get elected?"

"Like I said, I don't know who voted for the guy," Bobby said, his mouth full of half-chewed food. "But he's got a great team: they're experts at cover-ups."

"Thanks, Bobby," Clark nodded at the other man. "We'll be in touch." He placed a hand on Lois' back and began leading her out of the alley.

"Hey, just so long as you bring the plum sauce with the duck next time!" Bobby called. "I only ask for so much, Kent!"

"He never ceases to amaze me," Lois murmured sarcastically as they walked back to her car. "Plum sauce: that's all he can think about at a time like this!"

"Well, you know Bobby," Clark shrugged, his smile ironic. "Food's the 'key ingredient'."

"Oh, ha ha," Lois grinned, nudging his shoulder. "Next thing you'll be telling me he's 'cooking up' a sneaky plan to make sure you bring him duck ever after!"

"Well, you know Bobby… I wouldn't put it past him." Just then, Clark cocked his head to one side in that familiar way. "No — not now!" he muttered. "Lois? I, uh…"

"Duty calls; I know," Lois gave him a small smile.

"But people are out to kill you and I'm your bodyguard and…"

Lois stopped him with a finger to his lips. "I promise I'll go straight to my car and straight back to the Planet, okay?"

Clark looked undecided for a moment, but a firm look from his partner made him nod resignedly. "Okay. But *straight* to the car, no detours, okay?"

"Clark," said Lois, "I already promised, didn't I? Straight to the car, no detours."

"Wow, guess that's the first and only time I'll hear you say that," Clark laughed, before looking around carefully and spinning into the suit. "See you back at the Planet?"

"Yes. Now shoo!" Lois waved her arms at him. "Whatever it is will be over before you get there."

Clark smiled at her before lifting up into the air. "I love you."

Lois just smiled and waved as he shot off into the stratosphere. "I love you too," she replied, knowing that he could hear her.

The smile still fixed upon her face, Lois wandered around the corner to her Jeep and fitted the key into the lock. She opened the door, slid into the driver's seat and then closed the door. Instantly she heard movement behind her and something cold was pressed to the back of her neck.

"Don't move; don't scream. If you yell for Superman, you'll be dead before he can get here." Lois' insides froze as she recognised the voice of the man behind her: Dougal. Her brain quickly registered as to what he was holding against her neck too: a gun.

"What do you want?" she asked, even though she knew precisely why he was there. Better to play along so that when she got out of this he wouldn't realise that she already knew nearly everything about the operation he was involved with.

"Isn't it obvious?" said Dougal coldly. She could almost see the cruel smile upon his face as he spoke. "I want to kill you."

Lois' voice shook. "K-kill me?" Somehow, no matter how many times she looked death in the face (and for Lois Lane it had been a fair few times), it always affected her. It didn't get old; she couldn't stop her stomach from flipping over again and again or the sweat from beading upon her brow. She might know Tae Kwon Do, but at this angle there wasn't much she could do.

"Yes, kill you. My…employers want you out of the way. Once we've safely disposed of you, it'll be your partner's turn."

"What are you going to do with me?"

"Now, now, Lois… That would spoil the surprise." She flicked her eyes up to the rear view mirror and saw him grinning ruthlessly at her, his white teeth gleaming in the sunlight. "Now drive."

"W-where are we going? Where am I driving to?" If only she could stall him…

"Just drive; I'll tell you when to turn and when to stop." Dougal pressed the muzzle of the gun into her neck a little harder. "Now go!"

So Lois drove, not knowing where she was going or what was going to happen to her. She wished she could call out to Clark, but she knew that Dougal wasn't lying; she'd heard the callousness in his voice.

"Turn in here," Dougal suddenly said and Lois realised that she was back at the warehouse. She turned into the warehouse's parking lot as instructed. "Now stop. Turn off the engine."

'I should have known,' she thought, her heartbeat resounding in her ears. 'Back to the scene of the crime.'

Dougal's breath felt hot and moist on her neck. "Now. You're going to get out of the car. But see those two men waiting?" Lois noticed the large men as they stepped from the shadows. She nodded. "They're going to make sure you don't try and run off."

"And you?" Lois gulped.

"I'm going to be right behind you with this gun poised to fire should you even think about yelling for Superman or any other kind of help," her captor hissed. "So don't."

Lois nodded once more, her legs feeling quite unsteady as she stepped from the car. One of the thugs took hold of her left arm, the other the right. They led her inside the warehouse with Dougal following close behind, the gun constantly trained upon her head as promised.

When they were inside, the man who'd been holding her right arm released his grip and produced two lengths of rope. He tied her wrists together and then her ankles and sat her down on a chair.

"Right…comfy?" Dougal said sardonically. "Then we'll begin."

"Begin what?" Lois started. "I don't under-"

Then something struck her head and, her sentence unfinished, Lois slumped against the back of the seat as everything faded to black.

***

As Lois slowly drifted from the blackness of oblivion back towards a conscious state, her eyelids fluttered once — twice. Something wasn't right. She felt closed in somehow; trapped. And something was in her mouth. She tried to cough, but merely got a taste of whatever was partially obstructing her airflow. An attempt to move her arms outwards established the fact that they weren't able to go more than an inch or two from her side.

At this discovery her eyes opened more fully and Lois was surprised to encounter yet *more* blackness. 'I have opened my eyes, haven't I?' She opened and closed her eyes a few more times before accepting that the darkness was not just in her mind: it was all around her as well.

'Alright…breathe deeply,' Lois told herself. 'Don't panic; don't panic… Good thing I'm not claustrophobic…' Despite the commands she was giving herself, Lois found that her heartbeat was swiftly increasing in speed; she could hear the rapid pulsing of blood thudding in her ears.

Putting two and two together and thankfully making four, Lois deduced that she was gagged and inside some sort of long, narrow box. The last thing she remembered was Dougal bragging about his associations with Intergang. But something had hit her from behind…

'That's it!' It was as if a light bulb had lit up above her head like in the cartoons. 'Dougal was using himself as a distraction while his friend, some random Intergang thug no doubt, hit me from behind. Knocked me out cold too. No wonder my head hurts…'

Lois' inner voice chose this moment to speak up. 'Yes, your head hurts, but have you thought about how you're going to get out of here? After all, there can't be much air left. Isn't it getting kind of stuffy?'

A wave of fear washed over Lois. Much as she was beginning to resent her inner voice, as it liked to have its say at the most inopportune times, she realised that this time it was right and she should listen to it. As far as she knew there was no gap between the lid of this box and the bottom. Therefore the air that was inside the box with her was going to run out if she couldn't discover a way to escape.

It was then that Lois' mind shrieked what her voice could not: 'Help, Superman!'

***

It was only half an hour later that Clark landed in an alleyway behind the Daily Planet. The cry for help that he'd heard had turned out to be a little old lady who needed assistance in crossing the street. While Superman was always happy to help, Clark couldn't help feeling a little irritated with the woman for making him leave Lois for something so trivial. Oh, he'd thought the distressed plea was as genuine as they come when he'd left — turns out you can't always trust your super hearing, or the elderly.

As Clark exited the elevator and wandered into the newsroom, he glanced around: no Lois that he could see. He looked over the top of his glasses and scanned the conference rooms and Perry's office. Not there either.

Clark called out to Jimmy as he passed. "Hey, Jimmy. Have you seen Lois?"

"Not since you two left together this morning…" Jimmy said slowly. A grin appeared on his face. "Why, you lost her?"

Clark felt his chest constrict at his friend's words but erected a mental barrier against the flood of alarming thoughts trying to fill his mind. "You-you haven't seen her at all since this morning, Jimmy? Not even for a second?" Maybe she was just in the ladies room… 'Please let her be in the ladies room…'

Jimmy's expression became puzzled. "No; not at all, CK. Something wrong?"

Clark's face visibly paled as Jimmy's words sunk in and the barrier shattered, inundating his being with a feeling of absolute dread.

"I-" Clark choked out the word and didn't stay to finish his sentence. He swiveled around and was in the stairwell before Jimmy could utter another syllable.

Clark sped to the rooftop, heedless of any need to disguise his abilities; fortunately he didn't meet anyone on the way. Once on the roof he spun into the suit and shot into the air all in one fluid motion, a sonic boom following in his wake.

Frantically he flew across the city, his gaze searching every building; every street; every park; every car. No Lois. Then, through the fog of hopelessness already ensnaring his mind, Clark had a thought: 'Go back to the start. Go back to where you last saw her.'

He stopped mid-air. Surely it couldn't be that easy? Just to go back to the beginning? Reason warred with the panic that had all but consumed him. 'Back to the alleyway,' he thought. 'Back to the start.'

As he ran the phrases through his mind again and again, Clark found the frenzied sensation receding and the voice of reason becoming louder. Nevertheless, a terrified knot remained lodged in the pit of his stomach, reminding him of what was at stake — of whom. As if he could forget…

It was a moment before Clark realised that he'd been hovering for a good five minutes. A return of the panic jolted his body into motion and soon he was speeding back towards the alleyway once more.

***

Lois struggled against her bonds but it was no use, the ropes were just too tight. 'Damn!' she thought as she made her tensed muscles relax: the shifting had raised her heart rate and consequently her breathing was more ragged than usual. Resisting the urge to draw large amounts of the precious oxygen through her nose, she tried holding her breath but only ended up coughing when she realised she couldn't possibly do it any longer.

'Clark, where are you?' Despite the fact that Lois was not claustrophobic, she was beginning to wonder if it was possible to develop the fear by way of situations such as these. The panic was beginning to build within her.

'Maybe he's busy with something else,' suggested her inner voice. 'Maybe he doesn't even know you're here.'

'He can't be busy! He has to know!' Lois fought against the horror that churned the pit of her stomach as it suddenly became chillingly clear to her: she was going to die. If Clark came at all it was going to be too late. She wasn't going to make it. 'I wasted so much time,' she thought sadly. 'All the time I spent being stubborn and stupid and fighting with him, we could have been together. We could have had a wonderful week together. It's all my fault. And now…' She could feel the hot tears welling at the corner of her eyes. She sniffed, knowing hopelessly that even her snuffling was using up the air. 'I just wish we could have had longer. I wish I'd gotten the chance to tell him 'yes'. I wish…' A tear slipped down the side of her face. 'I wish I'd gotten a chance to prove that I loved him, to show him how much he means to me.' She sniffed again, unable to help herself; another drop fell and then another.

As her tears continued, Lois began to realise that it was harder to draw in a proper breath. Her heart felt like it had been seized within an iron grip. This was it: time had almost run out.

'I love you, Clark,' she thought desolately. 'You'll never know just how much, but I love you. I'm sorry… All that time…gone…' Lois' head lolled to one side and she felt rough cloth against her cheek. The air seemed unbearably thin now. Her mind started to become foggy. 'Goodbye, Clark…'

***

Landing in the alleyway, Clark looked around quickly: nothing here to provide any clue as to where Lois had gone.

"Lois, where are you?" he said aloud, only dimly aware that his voice was shaky. Who knew what was happening to her! She could be- It was possible she was…

Clark shook his head defiantly. He didn't want to think about that. It wasn't true; it couldn't be. *She* couldn't be. It wasn't possible. No.

"No," he whispered. He repeated the word, this time his voice firmer. "No!"

'I love you, Clark.' It was her voice — Lois'. Not out loud, but inside his head.

'Lois?' his consciousness screamed. 'Lois, where are you?'

'Goodbye, Clark…'

'No, Lois!' He fell to his knees at the sound of her voice inside his head. He didn't know how it was happening; he didn't care. All he cared about was the woman who had just told him she loved him and said goodbye. He couldn't let her go that easily — she was far too important to him, far too special, too central to his life. Over the past two years, her life had become essential to his life. He couldn't say goodbye. Not yet. It was too soon…

'Far too soon.' Clark collected himself, a grim expression playing over his face. He got to his feet. 'There's no way I'm going to just give up on her.' He was going to find her and he was going to save her. Then they would have the rest of their lives to explore how perfect they were together.

Just then, as if by magic, a familiar but faint heartbeat sounded in his ears. Clark felt the thudding within his own chest matching it beat for beat.

"Hold on, Lois," said Clark, the fervour in his voice making him sound every inch the heroic Superman he was. "I'm coming."

And with this pronouncement, Clark was nothing more than a red and blue blur as he responded to the beat of his beloved's heart.

***

Lost in a world of mist, Lois wandered aimlessly. She kept expecting shapes and objects to loom out of the fog without prior warning. But it seemed as if she and the haze were the only things that existed in this world. And either the fog muffled sounds, or she truly was the only living thing there.

Drifting through this unfamiliar place, Lois found the thoughts of the world she'd left behind that flitted through her mind were beginning to fade. She was becoming confused and bewildered at the faces she could see upon her mind's eye. Who were they? From where did she know them?

Who was she?

At this last question Lois stopped short, though the mist felt as if it were trying to urge her onwards. She struggled, but found she was unable to remember her own name. She vaguely recalled something about a piece of paper that was very important to her. No…several pieces of paper together. With a logo on the top and words littered across their surface. Lois squeezed her eyes shut, aching to be able to summon up a single word to describe what this collection of paper was called. But it kept escaping her — slipping away just as she reached out a tentative hand.

'Why can't I remember anything about my life?' she wondered, fear clutching at her like a monster of legend, lurking in the darkness, lying in wait. Meanwhile, the haze surrounding her seemed almost insistent that she keep moving. She fought against it, standing firm and attempting to remember. It seemed so important to hold on to the memories; so imperative that she be able to recall the details of her life before she got to this place.

'But maybe I've always been here?' The destructive thought snuck in, and Lois tried to push it away. No, it wasn't true! She had had a life before this, she was sure of it!

So what had happened?

***

It wasn't more than a few seconds between take-off to landing. Clark alighted upon the asphalt in front of a building, but couldn't see inside because of the lead-based paint on the old walls. It looked like a warehouse, but the only thing he was sure of was that Lois lay within those walls. He could still hear the soft beat of her heart, though it was slow and seemed to be fading.

The terror gripped him anew, the thoughts of what a life without Lois would mean swarming into his mind. 'No!' he cried inwardly, pushing back against the darkness that threatened to overtake his spirit. Clark raced into the building, stopping short in front of a low stone casket. Then, without stopping to consider anything but the fact that Lois was inside it, Clark wrenched off the heavy lid.

Lois lay within, her heartbeat and breath sounds reduced till even Clark with his super hearing had to strain to hear them. Trembling, he bent down to gently lift Lois out of the casket.

"Lois? L-Lois?" he said, his voice as shaky as his body. "Lois, c-can you hear me?" 'Oh, please tell me you can hear me…' He cradled her in his arms as he waited for an answer, fearful that this time she might not wake up. "Lois, you've got to come back. You have to wake up. Please, come back to me!" Clark bowed his head and touched it to hers. "Oh, Lois…"

***

Lois began walking again, her feet making almost no sound upon the ground. The haze urged her on towards where the environment seemed to be growing brighter. Lois squinted, looking towards what appeared to be the source of the light. 'Should I go towards the light?' She frowned and cocked her head to one side. 'Now, why does that sound so wrong?'

Just then, Lois heard a sound coming from the opposite direction. It whispered across the shadowy landscape, its very incompleteness making it all the more alluring. "-is…" it called. "-is…"

Lois strained to hear more. 'That sound…' she thought. 'It sounds so familiar…' Without thinking she turned back, chasing the sound and scattering fog in her wake.

"Lois…" There! It was louder now. Lois found herself continuing to walk towards the cause of the sound, as she tried desperately to bypass the psychological barrier that was preventing her from understanding what the sound was trying to say to her. Because she knew deep down inside that whatever was making the sound was calling to her.

'My name!' she realised, stopping short as the full significance of her new awareness hit her. 'It's saying my name! That-that voice… It's saying my name. I'm Lois.'

The voice continued as she stepped ever closer, and more words were added to its litany: "Lois…you've got to come back… You have to wake up…"

'Wake up?' Lois was confused. 'I'm asleep?' She waited for the voice to say more, to explain further.

"Please come back to me…" The voice now appeared to be pleading with her.

'Come back?' Lois was still confused and then, like the sudden comprehension she'd experienced before, it all became clear. 'Clark!' she cried inwardly. She tried to open her mouth and yell his name, but there was something about this strange world; she couldn't speak as she normally would.

Lois looked around her. 'How do I get back?' she wondered. 'How can I get back to Clark? I have to get back; he's calling me! But how?'

Lois found herself looking around for a clue of some sort; something to point the way out of the mysterious world she had found herself in. But there were no gaudily painted arrows, no lights flashing. No sign emblazoned with the word 'Exit'.

Then an odd thing happened: she felt warmth upon her forehead. In the middle of this misty, shadowy place where everything had remained at a constant cool temperature, she felt a change: definite warmth.

'Clark…' she felt herself heave a sigh, though she couldn't hear it. 'I feel you… I can-' She paused, recognising what she had to do. 'I can follow you.'

"Oh, Lois…" breathed Clark one last time, and Lois' footsteps became louder as she moved towards him and the mist faded away.

***

"C-Clark?" came the croaking voice. She sucked in a deep breath and coughed. "I came…back."

Clark felt like crying, his relief was so great. He just clung to Lois, wishing he could hold her like this all the time. "Oh, Lois…" he said. "Lois…" He couldn't seem to stop saying her name, couldn't seem to stop reveling in the very fact that she was awake; she was alive! He held her close, feeling each breath; each time her chest rose and fell; each time her heartbeat pulsed against his own torso; each time her still shallow breaths echoed in his ears. It was amazing, all of it. It was life and it filled Lois. He would forever be grateful for that.

"Lois," he said again. "I thought that I'd lost you this time. You have no idea…" His voice shuddered to a stop, unable to express his emotions when he'd seen her lying there in that casket.

"Clark…" Lois coughed once more. "I heard you — your voice. You were…" another cough, "calling me."

"Sssh, don't try to talk," Clark gently pressed a finger to Lois' lips. "You've…been through a lot." Again he found himself close to tears as he thought of how close he'd come to losing her. He didn't realise that the salty drops had actually fallen until Lois glanced up and into his eyes.

"You're crying…" she said wonderingly, her own eyes tracing the paths the tears had made down his cheeks. "Don't think…I've ever seen you…cry." She reached up a quivering hand to wipe the tears away.

"Lois, I was so scared," Clark found himself leaning into her hand. He let out a shuddering breath and watched as the tears continued to splash on to the blue spandex of his suit. "I was so, so scared."

Finally Lois had to let her hand drop but she substituted Clark's face for his arm, running her hand up and down its length in a comforting manner. Her coughs were coming much less frequently as her lungs re-accustomed themselves to the feeling of oxygen filling every cell. Clark breathed a sigh of relief; perhaps she would have no lasting damage stemming from this incident. Only one way to make sure though…

"Lois, I need to take you to the hospital," he stated finally. "You need to be checked over by a doctor." He didn't want to let her out of his sight, but if it meant she would be healthy…

"Clark, I…I don't want to go…" Lois' heartbeat sped up. "I…"

"Lois, you need to go," Clark replied earnestly. He gazed at her. "Please… Give me peace of mind. Let a doctor take a look at you."

Lois searched the depths of his eyes, marvelling at the love and gentleness she saw there. But despite the love, she could also see determination reflected back at her. Clark was protective at the best of times; now he was unwavering in his resolution as well.

"Okay," she said with a nod. She took a deep breath. "I'll go with you…to the hospital. I'll get checked out. But then…can you please take me home?"

Clark noticed that her pauses for breaths between phrases were growing further and further apart. He took this as a good sign, though he was no less stubborn about his decision to get her looked at by a doctor. In answer to her question, he too nodded. "Of course, Lois."

"Good." Lois let her hand fall from his arm. "Let's get it…over with then."

"Right." Clark stood up with her still in his arms. He walked to the door and out into the late afternoon sunlight. Glancing down at Lois he asked, "You okay?"

Lois nodded, resting her head on his chest. "Ready when you are."

And so with Lois' meagre encouragement Clark took to the air.

***

A few hours later, Clark slowly flew a drowsy Lois home after being given the 'okay' by a doctor at Metropolis General. The man had said that she was lucky; that he, Superman, had been just in time. Any longer and she would have either died or sustained permanent brain damage.

Clark shivered at the thought. Either possibility was too horrible to contemplate. He closed his mind against the onslaught of thoughts and flew quietly through the night.

"Clark?" Lois' sleepy voice suddenly said. "We really should…talk."

Clark winced, sure that she was about to chastise him for leaving her earlier that day; sure that she was about to tell him it was all his fault. He sighed. He knew it was his fault. Ever since he'd landed at the hospital with Lois, he'd been blaming himself for leaving her. 'All my fault, all my fault…' his brain chanted.

"Clark?" Lois stirred in his arms — she'd been expecting some sort of response. "We should talk…about the investigation."

Clark's eyes widened. She didn't want to yell at him for not being there when she really needed him? She didn't want to blame him for what had happened?

"About the investigation, Lois?" he said, making his descent towards her apartment. The bedroom window was, as always, open.

"Yes," she replied impatiently. Her voice had an undertone that suggested she was struggling to stay awake after her ordeal, but nevertheless she was passionate.

"How about we talk about it in the morning?" Clark answered softly, landing just outside and walking in to place her on her bed. "You're exhausted."

"Yeah, well nearly dying can do that to you," Lois said dryly.

'Oh no… Here it comes,' Clark thought, mentally steeling himself for the attack he was sure was coming.

But instead Lois curled up in a ball and yawned. "You know, maybe you're right. I just can't seem," another yawn, "to keep my eyes open."

Clark relaxed and took the folded blanket from the end of the bed. He covered Lois, and then stepped back, watching her.

"I'll stay here tonight," he told her. "Just to make sure you're okay."

"Hmm…okay. But take the suit off." She snuggled into the blanket. "G'night, Clark."

If Lois had looked at Clark's face just then, she would have seen a brief expression of surprise before it was covered up with tenderness.

"Goodnight, Lois." Clark spun out of the suit and back into his street clothes. "I'll be right here if you need me." He settled into the chair beside her bed and spoke one more time: "I love you, Lois."

Lois took in a deep breath and then let it out. She burrowed even further beneath the blanket and her reply came out all muffled. "Hmm…love you too, Clark."

***

It was the middle of the night when something woke Clark. At first he wasn't entirely sure what it was, but his questions were soon answered when he noticed Lois tossing and turning in her bed and mumbling something. She sounded agitated.

"Lois?" He stood and walked to the edge of her bed. "Lois, can you hear me?"

In response, Lois moaned, "Clark…"

"I'm here, Lois. I'm right here." Clark laid his hand on hers. He was sure that she was still asleep — she seemed to be having a nightmare. He just wasn't sure whether it was better to wake her or to let her finish out the dream. Weren't you supposed to avoid waking people in this situation…or was that for sleepwalkers?

Just then, Lois gripped his hand tightly. Somewhat startled, Clark nonetheless gripped right back, being careful not to exert his full strength or anything even close to it upon the woman lying in the bed. He did however apply a gentle pressure, letting her know that he was there through touch.

Lois appeared to relax at a little at this contact, but her hand still held his with a grip that rivalled Superman himself. Clark was just glad he was able to comfort her a little as she dreamed whatever it was she was dreaming.

"Clark… I don't know how, Clark!" Lois was crying out in her sleep once more. "I want to…" The rest of her sentence was lost in the low muttering she'd now begun.

Clark leaned over Lois. "Lois," he whispered, "I'm right here. You need to wake up. You're…you're having a nightmare." It was tough to see her like this. If she didn't wake up soon on her own, he was going to do it for her, dangerous or not… He was still a little confused on that matter anyway.

"Clark…" Lois whimpered. "No, I can't lose you!"

"Lois, I'm here. You're not going to lose me." Clark set his jaw in a determined manner. 'That's it,' he thought. 'Enough. I'm waking her up.'

He shook Lois gently with his free hand. "Lois, wake up. You're dreaming. It's just a dream. Wake up."

At first he wasn't sure that she'd heard him. But slowly, she woke up though her pressure on his hand did not lessen.

"Clark…" she breathed, her eyes wide as she stared at him. There was something in those eyes that worried him; a deep-seated fear that definitely hadn't been there before, mixed with a look of disorientation and confusion that unsettled him. "I-I was dreaming."

"More of a nightmare, I'd say," Clark responded. He reached out his hand to caress her cheek, a concerned expression upon his face. "Are you feeling okay?"

Lois still looked confused. One hand rose as if to touch him, but quickly dropped to her side once more. "I… I think so. Clark, I was back there. In my dream I was back there."

Now it was Clark's turned to look puzzled. "Back where, Lois?" he asked.

It was then that Lois realised she hadn't yet told him about the strange experiences she'd had when near death. As she carefully explained what had happened to her, Clark's confused expression turned to astonishment, which became increasingly pronounced as her story progressed.

"And you actually heard me calling you?" he questioned. "You heard my voice?"

Lois nodded slowly, still holding on to his hand tightly. "It was your voice that reminded me of who I was."

Clark digested this piece of information. He had so many thoughts rushing around inside his head that it was hard to piece them together into a coherent response. The knowledge that he had the ability to call her back from the brink… There were obviously forces at work in their lives that he didn't understand and wasn't sure that he ever would. The universe really was a weird and wonderful place; so wonderful that it had given Lois back to him.

Clark slowly realised that Lois was observing him closely. Her appearance was still worrying him, though the disorientation and confusion seemed gone. The fear however, seemed to have merely retreated to the background in favour of something else, something a little more visceral.

"Clark…" she said slowly, none of the whimper left in her voice. Her tongue flicked out to lick her lips slowly. "I was thinking…when I was in that box…"

"Sarcophagus," Clark corrected without thinking. "It was a sarcophagus."

"Really?" Lois wrinkled her nose and frowned. "You mean they put me in a fancy decorated box where a dead guy once was? A dead guy who probably had his brains pulled out through his nose?"

"Ah…yeah." Clark closed his eyes momentarily, cursing himself for having interrupted. He knew instinctively that whatever Lois had been about to say would have been interesting — for the both of them.

But it seemed even thoughts of dead men whose brains had been pulled out through their noses couldn't dissuade her from saying what she'd been about to say. "Clark…" she began again.

"Yes, Lois?" He waited patiently this time.

"As I was saying…when I was in that box, I was thinking about you and me and this past week…" Lois paused, chewing on her bottom lip before continuing. "And I came to the conclusion that we'd wasted a lot of time; that *I'd* wasted that time. And so I decided when you woke me that I-I didn't want to waste anymore of our lives. Who knows how long we really have left? Another stupid villain could succeed in murdering me tomorrow — they certainly got close yesterday. And so many of them know about Kryptonite now…you're going to keep encountering it again and again." Lois sighed. "I guess what I'm trying to say is this: yes, Clark. I should have said it before but I was an idiot. So, yes."

"Yes?" Clark's mind whirled back over the past week or two, suddenly stopping dead upon one incident — one night — in particular. His eyes grew wide, tears of hope nearly overflowing from his eyes. He reached up a hand to cup her cheek. "You… Yes?" A complete sentence did not appear to be possible at this point in time.

Lois just nodded, her eyes brimmed with teardrops of her own. She smiled warmly up at him. "With all my heart."

It was all that Clark could do to stop himself from leaping to his feet and jumping up and down in complete glee-filled abandon. Better yet, zooming around the room and yelling at the top of his voice, "She said yes! She said yes!" He only just managed to restrain himself, settling instead for pulling Lois into a enthusiastic embrace and whispering in her ear, "You just made me the happiest man on earth."

Lois sighed happily, holding him tight. "I'm glad."

Just then, without warning, Clark pulled back and looked at her. He studied her face carefully and then took her hand once more, holding her body at a slight distance from his own. "Are you sure about this, Lois? I mean…" He trailed off, looking at her anxiously.

Lois almost groaned in frustration. Why did Clark always have to be so cautious? Why did he always assume that she might not be sure about her decision? She was Lois Lane; she might not look before she leapt usually, but this was one aspect of her life where she didn't feel as though she were jumping in without checking the water level. She knew where she stood with Clark; she knew he loved her, she knew she loved him. Somehow it all felt so…right. It was as if the time she'd spent thinking she might never see him again — never touch him and talk to him again — had cleared her mind. It was no longer at odds with her heart. They were both yelling the same thing: kiss him!

So she did.

At first it was a very one-sided kiss as Clark's shock-addled brain hurried to catch up. But as it did he responded enthusiastically, matching her kiss for kiss, passion for passion. She teased his lips open with her own, eliciting a moan from deep within. As tongues met and lips pressed against each other Lois felt like she finally knew what it meant to love unconditionally, unreservedly, and completely. She slid her hand into Clark's hair, threading her fingers through his dark locks. His reaction was to draw her closer; as lips and hands moved in time with each other she felt as though they were almost one body.

'One body…' her mind mused dazedly as Clark moved his way down her neck leaving tiny, soft kisses as he went. It was Lois' turn to groan in response to his ministrations. 'Oh, please don't let this stop…'

Clark's hands moved to the bottom of her shirt, and a breath hitched in her throat as his hands touched skin. "Clark…" she murmured, the name turning into an encouraging purr as his hands moved further north, pushing the bottom of her top up to expose her stomach. Lois decided to repay the favour by lifting Clark's T-shirt at the back and sliding her hands underneath; she just wanted to touch him, to get closer and then closer still.

Clark's own breathing became shallow as Lois' hands continued their exploration. She silently requested his help to remove the shirt and he kissed her in reply, his lips brushing hers lightly. At the same time his arms rose and she slid the shirt up and over his head.

Lois could hardly believe that this was happening. She pulled back a little to gaze in worshipful adoration at Clark's sculpted upper body and then reached out a hand that was shaking slightly and ran it down the centre of his very impressive torso. She watched him shiver and a corresponding shiver ran through her as he gathered her back into his arms almost fiercely. The kissing started once more, and through the fog that had ensnared her mind, Lois realised that Clark was now lying on the bed with her.

'How did we end up here?' she wondered vaguely. She mentally shrugged. 'Hmm… No matter. I *like* where here is…'

Lois couldn't seem to help it; a small, mischievous smile played across her features at this thought. Clark, sensing something was going on, forced himself to pause in the attention he was paying to her now bare shoulder and look up. "Lois?" he inquired in a low throaty voice. His breath was coming hard and fast.

"Hmm?" was all she could manage as an answer, impatient as she was for his actions to continue.

"What're you smiling for?" Clark's own face had split into a grin at the sight of hers.

Lois soon realised he wasn't going to continue without an explanation. "I'm happy," she replied.

"That was not an 'I'm happy' smile," Clark countered as he lifted a hand and ran one finger down her neck behind her ear. Lois shivered once more.

'Keep on doing what you were doing, Clark…please!' she thought. Out loud she argued her case: "It was partially an 'I'm happy' smile."

"Partially?" Clark leaned up and allowed his lips to touch hers for the briefest of moments. "Tell me." He drew back, and it was evident that he was not going to continue until he had an answer from her.

'Ugh…why does this man have to have super willpower as well as super everything else?' Lois questioned internally. She sighed and grabbed his hands, entwining the fingers with her own. "It was also a smile that was calculating how to keep you here…on my bed," she admitted with a slight blush staining her cheeks. "Okay?" She was all ready to pull him back down to meet her lips, but Clark seemed to have other ideas.

"Hmm, a calculating smile?" he said. "You don't say…"

"Yes, I do, Clark." Lois' impatience was growing. 'Please, please continue…'

Clark was feeling impatient also, but his mind was warring with his body over the idea of doing this *now*. His mind said 'no', but his body screamed a resounding 'yes'. Which one did he listen to? Idly he thought to himself, 'Why can't the two of you agree?'

But whilst the experience of having Lois beside him was absolutely amazing, Clark wasn't exactly sure that the timing was right for… Well, for what this was leading to.

"Lois, I…" Clark knew that to deliver his words with any degree of conviction, he was going to have to move his body further from Lois'. He did so now, instantly missing the feel of her in his arms. To compensate, he made sure he still held her hands in his.

Lois felt chilled as soon as she was robbed of Clark's body heat. Somehow she knew that the wait was now going to be a lot longer than she'd initially expected. She heaved a sigh. "Go ahead, Clark."

Clark sighed also. "Lois, I… I've never… I mean, I haven't…" A deep blush was flooding his cheeks with colour as he stumbled over the words.

Lois grinned at him, amused and a little confused. Whatever it was he was trying to say was obviously causing him a lot of trouble; he was finding it difficult to articulate clearly. "Clark, just say it," she insisted. "It can't be that bad."

"It's not…uh, bad," Clark replied. "I just…um… I'm not quite sure how to…tell you."

"Like I said, just spit it out." Lois leaned in, listening intently. She squeezed his hands tighter.

"Okay." Clark took a deep breath and launched into his explanation. "Lois…I've never done this before. What…we were about to do."

Lois sat back a little. Her brain seemed abnormally slow just then. It looked at each word closely and then at the sentence strung together before everything suddenly fell into place. "You mean you're a…"

Clark nodded, his blush intensifying. He forced himself to look her in the eye. "Yes."

"A…"

"Mm hmm."

"Whoa." Lois settled down to think. All the assumptions she'd had about him, all the suspicions she'd once carried around about him and Cat… She'd been wrong: completely and utterly wrong. It was his confidence, she realised. He always appeared so secure in himself around her. Their banter, even when it inadvertently turned to topics that could be considered 'sex related', was usually embarrassment free. So naturally she'd supposed that he'd been there, done that, just like every other man she'd ever known. But Clark was different: he wasn't one of them. That was something it had taken her a while to discover — to accept. Way back when, she'd kept expecting him to slip up in his 'act' and behave like Claude, Paul or the other guys her friends from college had often talked about — those men who made it seem as if they were innocence personified, before something happened and out came the horns, forked tail and pitchfork!

Lois studied her partner, her best friend — her fiance. The redness still marked his cheeks and he sat there, holding her hands and waiting on an answer. She thought carefully before replying, looking directly into Clark's face and projecting the truthfulness of her words through her own coffee-coloured eyes.

"Clark, while I didn't expect you to be a…" she still hesitated before saying the word, "virgin, it doesn't make any difference to how I feel about you. Or to how I think of you. In my mind, I wish I'd waited for you; I wish I'd known I was going to find you someday. I guess I just lost hope and somewhere back there I gave up — I gave in to the social pressures and to the hormonal pressures." Lois found herself blushing also. "I guess what I'm trying to say is that it makes me feel incredibly special…and loved, to know that you waited all this time…for me. I just wish I could say I've done the same for you."

One of Clark's hands dropped hers and came up to cup her cheek again. "Lois, whether you waited or not is irrelevant to me. All I care about is you and the fact that you love me and want to marry me."

"Oh, so you believe me about that now?" Lois teased instantly.

Clark's eyebrow rose and he smiled. "Of course." As he gazed into her eyes his expression changed and he said solemnly, "Never doubt that I love you, okay? And please, never ever wish you were anyone other than who you are. Even if this fictitious 'other Lois' were perfect as the world judges perfection, she wouldn't come close to who you are now. Lois, everything you've gone through, from Paul to Claude to dealing with the ups and downs in our relationship, it's what makes you, *you*. I wouldn't have you any other way." Clark paused briefly before continuing. "And as for why I waited, there were several reasons."

"Oh, do tell," Lois interrupted, though the challenge implied in her words was without its usual intensity as she strove to contain her feelings over what Clark had just declared. He seemed to notice her struggle and pulled her into a hug. Somehow just his arms around her helped immensely.

"Well," Clark whispered into Lois' ear, "the first reason I waited was because despite my hormones as a teenager, I knew then that something was different about me. I had girlfriends, but didn't love anyone enough to bare my soul and share my secret with them. I knew that there was no way I could even think of sleeping with someone unless they knew the real me; the Clark Kent I didn't show anyone else. Growing up, no one ever got that close."

Lois snuggled into his embrace. "So you didn't even think about it?"

"Lo-is," Clark drew a breath in and let it out in the form of a shaky laugh. "I was a teenage boy — what do you think?"

Lois giggled. "So, you were a teenage boy, however I know you didn't 'go all the way'," Lois persisted, feeling safe, protected and loved in his arms. "Did you ever get close?"

"A couple of times," Clark admitted. "But as I said, the whole 'secret' thing stopped me, dead in my tracks."

"So, that's where you got your self control from!" Lois exclaimed with a sly grin. "Practice."

"Yep. Practice," Clark agreed, his growing smile a fluttering against her forehead. "I guess the times I thought it might be love, I found out it wasn't. The complete and utter lifelong do-anything-for-the-person type of love was what I was waiting for, before telling anyone. And I've finally found it."

Lois rested secure in the knowledge that it was *her* Clark was talking about. It was still hard to believe this; still so difficult to trust in his love for her, even though her own love for him was now so ingrained in her soul. But her heart had put itself on the line some time ago — she'd made that decision to trust, and Clark was showing her day after day that her faith was well placed.

"So…where do we go from here?" Lois asked, realising that both of them had been quiet for a number of minutes. She raised her head from where it rested against Clark's chest and looked at him. 'Your call' her eyes told him.

"Lois, I want you right here and now," Clark confessed. "But I've also been thinking…" He trailed off, watching her.

"Thinking?" Lois prompted. "Tell me, Clark."

"Well, I was thinking it might be kind of romantic to be old-fashioned and wait until our wedding night. I want our first time to be right… I want us to have time to appreciate and enjoy one another. Most of all, I want *you*." He stared at her, savouring the curve of her cheek and her well kissed, cherry-coloured lips. "What do you think?"

"I think that you're right," Lois said after a short pause to think. "I want to wait too."

"So it's settled, huh?" Clark bent his head to kiss her lips once more. "We're… waiting."

"Ooh, you intend to make it hard for me I see…" Lois giggled. "Very devious, Mr Kent."

"Or it could be that I just can't resist you, Ms Lane," Clark replied, his smile back after the bout of seriousness. "You are, after all, irresistible."

"I am, aren't I?" Lois returned playfully. She lifted her face to his for another kiss, this one just as brief and gentle as the previous. "I love you, Clark Kent."

"I love you, Lois Lane." Clark sighed, glancing at the clock and then at her. "Would you mind… Could I just…hold you? For the rest of the night?"

"Do you really need to ask?" Lois burrowed into him again, nuzzling his neck. She grinned. "I like cuddling just as much as the next girl."

Clark lowered his head to hers. "Um…we might be more comfortable lying down," he suggested, a little breathlessly. "Hold on." And he suited the action to his words, moving their bodies so they were lying horizontal on her bed. He turned Lois to face away from him, melding their bodies together in the most innocent way.

Innocent or not, Lois could feel Clark's heartbeat racing against her own. His warm breath on her neck would have made her weak in the knees had she been standing.

"Clark, can we get married *soon*?" she quipped.

Her fiance chuckled. "As soon as you want."

After a moment, Lois had a thought. "What was the other reason?" she asked.

"Mmm…reason?" Clark murmured sleepily.

"You said there were a couple of reasons why you never got *that* close to another woman. You only named one — what was the other reason?"

Clark tucked his face into her back and mumbled his answer. "I hadn't met you yet."

Lois felt her insides melt. How could this man affect her so with just a few simple words?

"Clark?" she began, her own voice starting to sound drowsy.

"Hmm?" was the only reply she got.

Lois yawned. "If you're the happiest man on earth, I'm the happiest woman."

The memory of his smile against her shoulder scared away any more nightmares.

***

Waking the next morning, Clark wondered if it had all been a dream: a wonderful, life-altering dream. Then he realised that he wasn't in his own bed and that something — or more correctly, someone — was stirring at his side. As he looked down at the woman beside him, Clark took a moment to marvel at her beautiful dark tresses and her lithe form that fitted so perfectly against his own body. He sighed happily and slipped further beneath the covers, pulling Lois' body closer to him. She responded in kind, her arms tightening around his upper torso.

"Clark…" she murmured, her breath against his neck sending shivers down his spine.

"Hmm?" he responded.

"This is nice." Lois sighed again, the smile he could see on her face contagious.

"Very," Clark said, kissing her softly on the cheek. "Good morning. I think I like waking up to you."

"Even with my morning breath?" Lois teased. She kissed him back, this time on the lips. "Mmm… You're brave."

"Not brave," replied Clark, "just in love. And anyway…you don't have morning breath."

"Nice try," Lois giggled. "I don't think that it's possible *not* to have morning breath."

"Hmm… Well then I love you, morning breath and all." In order to cement this somewhat peculiar announcement, Clark rolled Lois on her back and pressed a gentle kiss to her exposed throat, his lips feathery light.

Lois giggled harder than ever; she couldn't help it. "Clark!" she squealed. "That tickles!"

"Oh, *that* tickles?" Clark answered playfully. "Well, what about this then?" And at his final word, he sat up and began to tickle her sides.

"C-Cl-!" Lois' vain attempt at his name was produced through a stream of laughter.

Clark ceased his finger's attentions to her abdomen. "Hmm… I think we've found your 'Kryptonite', don't you?" He looked at her with a cheeky grin on his face.

"My 'Kryptonite'?" Lois gazed back at him, her expression amused; she panted loudly following her laughing fit. "Tickling is my 'Kryptonite'?"

Her fiance nodded. "Looks like it. It completely incapacitates you, like that annoying little green rock does to me."

"You're forgetting something," Lois reminded him. "Kryptonite also brings pain with it. Tickling does not."

"Tickling brings discomfort though," Clark insisted. "That's close to pain. Sort of."

Lois didn't look convinced, but she decided to go along with his thought process. "Okay, if you say so."

Clark leaned down to kiss her, his lips teasing hers apart as he deepened the kiss. After he pulled back, Lois stared intently into his face.

"What was that for?" she questioned with a smile. One hand reached up to stroke Clark's cheek.

"Just because you're you." He smiled back. "And I like doing it."

"Hmm…me too," said Lois, "but looking at the time, I'd say if we keep doing it, we'll end up late for work."

Clark cocked his head sideways as he peeked at the clock radio on her bedside table. He then looked back at Lois. "You're right," he said, "but I've been thinking…"

"You seem to do that an awful lot," Lois teased.

"Yes, well, it's one of my many sterling qualities," Clark shot back, their usual banter flowing easily between them. "But you're distracting me."

"I can be *very* distracting," Lois promised with a wink.

"As I said," Clark replied with a slight gulp, "you're distracting me…"

"And succeeding?"

"And succeeding," Clark affirmed, leaning down to kiss her once more. However, he stopped mid-way there, shaking his head and looking directly into her eyes. "Lois, I really need to say this. It's important."

"Okay, go ahead," Lois sighed, removing her hands from his chest. They'd slowly been making their way up to his pectoral muscles and she was a little disappointed that he insisted on interrupting. "I'm listening."

"Okay," Clark took a deep breath. "Now, people tried to kill you yesterday — more specifically, Dougal in the pay of Intergang tried to kill you yesterday."

Lois shuddered, her eyes closing as the memories washed over her. "Please, don't remind me, Clark."

Clark winced. He felt her pain as clearly as if it was his own. "Sorry."

Lois nodded, opening her eyes to look at him once more. "It's okay. Just get on with your explanation, okay? Then you can kiss me to scare away the memories."

"Now that I can do," Clark assured her. "Right, so yesterday happened and I was thinking about work and I realised that you couldn't go because then Dougal would see you and know that you weren't dead and then he'd tell his boss at Intergang and that would just screw everything up because they're counting on you being dead so that you can't stop their plans and-"

"Clark! You're getting to be as bad as me!" Lois interrupted his babbling, placing a finger over his lips.

"But you get my point, right?" Clark said removing her fingers gently. "We can't let Dougal see you."

"So I guess we tell Perry about Dougal and Intergang then?" Lois sighed. "I suppose it's necessary now, huh?"

Clark nodded. "He might be able to help us out in some way."

"But then how do we stop Perry from killing Dougal?" Lois looked inquisitively at Clark. "Because he's going to want to — desperately — and I think Dougal's death might just give the game away too."

"We'll just have to make Perry promise," Clark said determinedly. "But whatever happens, Lois, please don't go into work today. Promise me."

Lois looked carefully at her fiance. She didn't usually let people tell her what to do, but Clark was different, and what he was saying made sense; a lot of sense. There was no way she wanted to put herself at the mercy of Dougal again and if he was aware that she was alive the investigation, not to mention her life, would be at risk again. So as much as she disliked the fact that Clark was right, he was. This time she had to give in.

"I promise, Clark," she replied with a grimace. "I'm not about to stick my neck on the executioner's block twice in two days. Trust me."

Clark heaved a sigh of relief. "Thank you, Lois. I'll call Perry and ask if I can stay with you today — we can work on the story from here."

And Clark linked his words to an action by picking up the phone and dialling the Planet.

"Hello? Oh, hi, Jimmy. Can you put me through to Perry? All right, thanks." Clark tapped the phone as he waited for his boss to come on the line. "Perry? It's Clark. Listen, there's something I need to talk to you about. Could you meet me at Lois' apartment?" A pause. "Yes, at Lois'. Well, something's happened that I think you should know about and I'd prefer to tell you in person. Can you get here soon?" Another pause. "Okay, thanks, Chief. I'll see you soon." He hung up the phone.

"He's coming?" Lois questioned. "Why didn't you mention me?"

"Someone from Intergang — Dougal or otherwise — might have tapped the line at the Planet. I thought it'd be safer not to mention you and to get Perry to talk to me here, face to face."

Lois' confused look cleared to a smile. "Oh… That makes sense, I guess. So do you think he's heard anything about my 'death'?" Lois made little air-quotes with her fingers as she said the last word.

"Probably not. He sounded perfectly normal anyway. Not like he was grieving." Clark looked at her. "And anyway, I doubt Dougal was advertising it, though he'd expect your body to be found…eventually. He was probably planning on going back to the warehouse today to move it."

"Which brings me to the question of why they left me to die in the first place," said Lois. When Clark gave her a look that clearly said that he thought the reason had already been established and was quite obvious, Lois shook her head. "Oh, I don't mean why they wanted me to die. I mean why they just left me there in the warehouse and didn't stand guard."

"You know, I was wondering about that too," Clark admitted, "and the only conclusion I could come to was that they naively assumed that with you gagged, tied up and stuffed in a box with limited oxygen and no air holes, there was no way you could call to me; no way I'd know you were even there. So they felt safe leaving you without a guard since in their minds there was no possible way you could escape from that sarcophagus."

"They didn't count on our mystical telepathic connection," Lois wiggled her fingers in the air dramatically as she light-heartedly tried to express the mysteriousness of it all.

The corner of Clark's mouth turned up slightly as he looked at her, amused. "'Mystical telepathic connection', huh?"

"Sure," said Lois with a nod. "What else would you call it?"

Clark thought for a moment and then shrugged. "'Mystical telepathic connection' sounds as good as anything, I guess."

"Anyway," Lois began, changing the subject, "isn't it about time we got dressed? Perry will be here before you know it."

"Good idea," Clark responded.

Lois took the bathroom first and it was more than twenty minutes later that she emerged, her hair wet and her casual jeans and a T-shirt hugging her body.

"I guess we're lucky I can be super quick," said Clark as a knock sounded at the door. And, in the time it took Lois to cross to her apartment door and look through the peephole, he was in and out of the shower, dressed and walking back into the living room.

"Chief," he said as Lois opened the door to their boss. "Thanks for coming."

"No problem, son," the elder man said walking inside. He turned to look at the both of them. "Now, what's this all about? What's so important that I had to come here for you to tell me about it?"

"Maybe you should sit down, Perry." Lois gestured towards her couch.

Perry's eyebrows rose. "Something I need to sit down for? This must be serious."

"Well…yes." Clark followed Lois and Mr White and watched as his editor sat down with Lois sitting beside him. "Chief, something happened yesterday. Lois was…"

"Don't tell me — whatever it was resulted in another lawsuit. Am I right?" Perry looked wryly from one to the other.

"Not this time, Perry." Lois shook her head. "Someone…tried to kill me yesterday."

"Lois, honey, at times that's happening once a week," Perry cracked a smile, which quickly disappeared as he caught the looks they were exchanging. "But this time wasn't the same as all those…was it?"

"No," Clark replied. "This time she was seconds away from suffocating to death. Superman only just got there in time." He sat on the arm of the couch, taking Lois' hand in his own.

"And Perry?" Lois began again. "It was Dougal."

"Dougal?" Perry looked at her as if he didn't understand. Maybe he thought he hadn't heard her correctly. "As in Dougal Finnegan?"

Lois nodded. "He was the one who tried to kill me…and very nearly succeeded."

"He's working for Intergang, Chief," Clark chimed in. "Lois saw him earlier this week, and heard him taking the orders to kill her from none other than Mindy Church."

"Mindy- But why didn't you tell me, honey?" Perry looked at Lois. "And why didn't you just stay far, far away from Finnegan?"

"Believe me, I tried," Lois said with a sigh. "It wasn't as easy as I thought it'd be. Not even with Superman for protection."

"So Superman knew about this too? Well, why didn't *he* tell me?"

"None of us wanted to worry you unnecessarily," Clark explained. "And we didn't want Dougal to know that we knew, which is why we asked you to come here today, instead of talking about this over the phone."

"Clark thinks that Intergang might have bugged the Planet's phone lines," clarified Lois.

Already being angry about the fact that one of his reporters had almost been killed by another — on purpose nonetheless! — it didn't take long for the elder man's emotions to develop into absolute rage.

"Bugged my phone lines? The very avenue through which my reporters receive some of their most sensitive information from sources? And trying to kill you, Lois! Just wait until I get back to the Planet…"

"Chief, you can't say anything," Clark cautioned his boss. "Not just yet anyway."

"But why?" Perry questioned passionately. "That criminal deserves to-"

"He deserves a lot," Lois agreed. "Things that only the nice guards at the Metropolis Penitentiary can give him. But Perry, the reason you can't say anything yet is because of what is still going on; what Intergang is still doing." And Lois and Clark proceeded to explain to their boss what they'd found out concerning the importation of stolen Egyptian artifacts into Metropolis.

"So you see," said Lois, "the only way we can stop Intergang in their tracks is if Dougal thinks I died and reports that to Mindy Church. Then, she'll carry on with the delivery that we heard her talking about at the governor's ball."

"I still can't believe that the new governor is involved in all this too." Perry shook his head. "I knew I never should have voted for that sorry excuse…"

"We need you to go along with all of this." Clark looked his boss in the eye. "Please, Perry, treat Dougal as if everything was normal and you'd never heard any of this. Pretend I'm on assignment and that you haven't heard from Lois. You can act worried if you'd like. I'm sure Dougal would like that." A dark look came into Clark's eyes. He was going to have a score to settle with Mr Finnegan when this was all over.

"Okay, but what are you two going to do?" Perry gazed at his two best reporters: the young man and woman whom he loved as if they were his own children. "You said this delivery is scheduled for just after 11 o'clock tonight."

"We're going to contact Henderson at the Metropolis PD," Clark said. "We're hoping he can help us and that we can help him — his department already has its own suspicions about the smuggling of these artifacts."

Perry nodded slowly, accepting that his part in the events was going to have to be on the sidelines.

"Uh, would you mind if I tell Jimmy?" A fond look stole over his face. "The boy would hate me if he was left out of something like this."

Lois laughed. "I don't mind. Just as long as he manages to keep his mouth firmly shut when he's around Dougal, you can tell him anything you want, Perry."

***

Later that day, Henderson had joined the reporting duo in Lois' apartment and was pacing the floor, a grim expression on his face.

"You say that the governor said he'd be home soon after eleven o'clock? They're planning the delivery for then?" He stopped pacing momentarily and turned to face them.

"That's what we heard," Clark confirmed. "Any ideas on the best way to stop it?"

"Well, if we want it to stand up in court," Henderson said, "we need to do this legally for a start." He looked pointedly at Lois.

"Why are you looking at me?" she protested. "I've never- I mean I…"

"Don't say anything that'll further incriminate you, Lois," Henderson advised. "Officially I don't know about any of your…activities. We don't want that to have to change."

"But I…" Lois paused, seeing the twinkle in the detective's eye. She grumbled, though the smile on her face was good-natured enough. "I hate your teasing."

"Anyway," Henderson continued, "here's what I'm thinking… Lois, do you remember how to get to the warehouse where they're storing the artifacts?"

"Of course," she said dryly. "I had to drive there at gunpoint — I doubt I'd forget the route."

"Then we'll need your help to get there. I think that we should grab the delivery men when they're a significant distance from the warehouse and wire them."

"And what if they protest?" Clark said with a frown. "I'm assuming that these men will be loyal to Intergang."

"I think you'll find that most hired men are only loyal while there's something in it for them. Once you take that away from them, they become loyal to you because you hold the upper hand. You can make them, or break them. Police work is kind of like the entertainment business in that respect." A slight smile tugged at one corner of Henderson's mouth.

"So you intend to give them a deal in return for their loyalty, is that it?" Clark watched the other man's face as the smile grew wider. "Something along the lines of 'you talk and do the deed and your slates are wiped clean'?"

"Something like that," said Henderson. "Now in order for this plan to work, we must do this…"

***

Later that night, Lois and Clark sat in the backseat of a nondescript car parked one block from the warehouse. Henderson sat in the front, a radio in one hand while the other rested seemingly casually on his right hip. Clark knew, through using his X-ray vision to take a quick peek, that that was the spot where his concealed handgun sat.

"Eleven o'clock," Henderson said, staring at the digital display in front of him. "Won't be long now."

"So what if this plan doesn't work?" Lois piped up.

"Ah, Lois. Always a naysayer," said Henderson. "If this plan doesn't work then we're in trouble. But I'd like to think that we at the Metropolis PD have this sort of thing down to a fine art. I don't foresee any hiccups. Not unless certain people," he turned to look pointedly at Lois for the second time that day, "create them."

Lois made a grunting sound and crossed her arms across her chest petulantly. "I promised I'd stay put, didn't I?"

Clark coughed as he tried to cover his laughter. "Uh, I'll keep an eye on her," he said, meeting her eyes when Lois shot him a malevolent look. He shrugged, shooting a smile right back. Lois tried hard to maintain her furious expression, but there was something about Clark's smile… She couldn't help but smile back.

"Okay, I see the men," Henderson suddenly barked into his radio. "They're heading for the warehouse. Don't let them see you, but don't lose them! We can't afford to have them slip away."

A brief response came quickly from the person at the other end of the radio: "On it."

"Now what?" Clark asked.

"Now we wait."

It was a tense fifteen minutes before a crackling but triumphant transmission came across through the radio's speakers.

"We've got them, Sir! Awaiting orders."

"Hold tight," Henderson replied animatedly. "I'm on my way." He turned to Lois and Clark when he was halfway out the car door; his voice was firm as he carefully enunciated each word. "Stay here."

"I already promised…" Lois huffed as the door closed on the two of them.

"Somehow I get the sense he doesn't trust you in that respect," Clark chuckled.

"Hmp," Lois groused. "I don't go looking for danger."

Clark looked at her reproachfully. "Lois…"

"I don't!" Lois insisted. "It just…manages to find me."

"Every single time," Clark added.

"That's why I keep you around, Flyboy." Lois grinned as she threaded her fingers in between his. "You keep me out of trouble."

"I think 'get you out of trouble' might be a more correct way of putting it, Lois," said Clark squeezing her hand. "You have, after all, been saved by Superman more times than anyone else in the world."

"True," admitted Lois, "but isn't saving me worth it?" She glanced up at him coquettishly from underneath her long lashes.

"More than worth it," Clark replied, his voice a little rough. "There's been so many times, Lois. Yesterday I…" He lifted a hand to brush some loose strands of hair from her face. "I almost lost…"

Clark's voice broke on this last word. He couldn't describe what he'd gone through the day before, the anguish he'd felt when she'd been laying there so still. To all appearances she'd been dead: her skin had been grey and cold and unless you'd looked very closely there'd have been no sign of breath. It was only owing to Clark's super powers that he'd known otherwise, but even this knowledge hadn't helped. She'd been so close to death; he'd been so anxious, so fearful of losing her for good. He could still hardly believe that she'd come back, that because of *his* voice calling her she'd returned to him. He felt like the luckiest man on earth.

Lois watched her fiance as he struggled with his emotions. It wasn't often that she saw this side of him, though she realised that he was a man more in touch with his feelings than most others she knew. The fact that he felt safe being vulnerable around her made her feel special and trusted; though it certainly didn't mean she enjoyed seeing him like that.

"Clark," she whispered, "it's okay. I'm here. Yesterday was horrible for both of us believe me. But it's over and we've come out the other side of it stronger than ever, haven't we? I'm here, you're here and we love one another. We're getting married! Just remember that they tried to get rid of me, but they didn't succeed. Thanks to *you*." She pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. It was kind of nice to be the one comforting him for a change. "I love you."

Clark seemed to relax at her kiss. He pulled her close, angling her body so that she could sit on his lap in the somewhat cramped backseat. "And I love you. So very, very much."

Lois leaned into him, allowing him to place another kiss on her upturned mouth. She giggled. "What would you do if Henderson came back right now, Clark?"

Clark kissed her again, this time on her jaw line. "Hmm… I think I'd find it very easy to," another kiss that made Lois' insides feel as if they were being flipped over, "completely ignore him."

Lois felt her body responding to his familiar touch. "Mmm… Me too," she said as her hands slid into his hair. "Henderson who?"

***

About ten minutes later, there was a knock on the car window. Henderson opened the door and slid back into his seat as the couple grudgingly moved apart.

"Am I interrupting something?" he grinned.

"Hmp," said Lois with a scowl. "So, what happened?"

"Everything went as planned. The men are wired and continuing on to deliver the artifact to the governor's house. We can only hope the governor is so anxious about being found out that he accepts the delivery personally."

"And if he does, we've got him!" Lois cried delightedly. "This is going to make the perfect story. Kerth material, if not Pulitzer!" She caught the look on Henderson's face and paused, blushing a little. "Um, when we can publish it, that is."

"I'm glad you remember our agreement, Lois," said Henderson. He waved a finger in her direction as though she were a naughty child. "No going to print with this until the trial is over. We don't want to compromise the investigation, or influence the jury in any way. If we do this properly without providing the defence with any ammo to shoot down our case, I know that the district attorneys will be able to bring about the demise of Intergang. And that's a day I'm looking forward to."

"You and me both," Clark mumbled.

"So what do we do now?" Lois questioned. "Can we wait outside the governor's house?"

"I don't think that that's necessary," Henderson answered. "I have men I trust implicitly watching the house for the moment those men leave. They'll be listening in to the conversations they have while inside the house and will take the men back to the station after they've done their job."

"And then you'll take their statements?" said Clark.

"Right," the grizzled detective nodded. "But in the meantime, I'll take you two home."

"Oh don't worry about us…" Clark already had one leg out the car door, his hand still entwined with Lois'. "We'll make our own way home."

"Well, if you're sure," said Henderson. "Just make sure you keep her safe, Kent. We can't have one of our star witnesses ending up in Hobbs Bay."

"Believe me, there is no way I'd let that happen to Lois," Clark shivered a little at the thought.

"No… I guess you wouldn't." Henderson recalled the scene he'd observed just a few minutes earlier. "Take it easy you two. I'll give the district attorney your number so that they can let you know about testimonies, court dates and all that kind of stuff."

"I still wish you'd let us stay…" Lois said wistfully, her hopeful voice trailing off as she saw the expression on Henderson's face. She slid out of the car to join Clark. "But I suppose I've had enough first hand experience in this investigation for now."

"For *good*," Clark agreed firmly, his arm going around her shoulders. "Good night, Henderson. Thanks for all your help today."

"Thank *you*, Kent. And you, Lois." The detective's reproachful manner had been replaced with a seldom seen appreciative mood. "Your information really did help us get this investigation off the ground."

Lois again looked hopeful. "Then maybe I can just…"

Both Henderson and Clark looked at her and said sternly, "No!"

Lois sighed. "It was worth a try…"

***

<Two weeks later…>

In the weeks since the Intergang delivery, Lois had impatiently been waiting for the court dates to be set. There was to be more than one trial, because although all the charges were related to the same series of incidents, each of the accused was charged with different things. Some overlapped others, but that was the way the justice system worked: ordered systems and lots and lots of paperwork.

She knew that the district attorney's office was charging Dougal Finnegan with kidnapping and attempted murder, while Mindy Church was facing allegations of conspiracy to commit murder with assorted charges of trafficking in stolen goods thrown in. Also, various Cost Mart CEOs had to cope with lesser theft and trafficking charges, since the deliverymen had named them as collaborators.

Then there was the governor. Being named in connection with Intergang and slapped with the charge of accepting stolen goods, his career was all but over. After only a week in office, he'd stepped down, which meant that his lieutenant would take over the running of the state. His tenure as governor would forever be known as the shortest on record.

The Metropolis PD was holding the Egyptian artifacts found in the warehouse as evidence before sending them back to Egypt under heavy guard. From what Lois and Clark had heard, the Egyptian government was looking forward to getting their national treasures back, most of which had never before been seen since they hadn't been discovered prior to this investigation.

Lois sat at her desk, foot tapping on the ground and pen tapping on the desk. She stared at her phone and growled: "Ring, damn you!"

"Talking to inanimate objects again, honey?" Clark's hands descended on her shoulders and he began to knead the tension from her body. As he massaged, he bent down to press a kiss to her cheek. "You know that the DA will call you when they need to. The phone isn't going to ring any sooner with you sitting there and staring at it."

"I know." Lois sighed. "It's just that we've had the initial story for this series written for the past week and half. I'm itching to get it in print, but we can only do that once the trials are over."

"I hate to tell you this, Lois, but those trials are going to go on for a while," said Clark. "There are five people charged, and any number of witnesses for both the defence and the prosecution in each case. Of course, the three CEOs may be tried together as their charges are all exactly the same."

"Here's hoping," said Lois, crossing her fingers. "The sooner it's all over, the better."

"Maybe, if you ask nicely, Henderson would let the Planet run a story while the trials are going on — just a general account of the trials without giving away anything that would influence jury members…"

"You think that he might?" Lois looked expectantly at her fiancÚ.

"It never hurts to ask," Clark replied. "And since you've given them all such a lot of help in this case, and you are one of their star witnesses…"

Lois shoved him good-naturedly. "I bet you say that to all the pretty girls!"

"Only the especially gorgeous ones," Clark whispered in her ear, causing Lois to giggle at the way his breath tickled her skin.

"Hey now! What's all this?" a familiar voice called from across the room. "How many times do I have to tell you two to get on with your work?"

Lois jumped at the voice, so absorbed was she in her exchange with Clark. "Perry!" she finally said. "We were just…"

"I think I know exactly what you were doing," her editor said firmly, though a twinkle shone in his eye. "Now, where's that story I assigned you on the recent crime rate stats?"

"I just…" Lois paused, a confused expression falling over her features. "I sent you that story over an hour ago, Perry."

Perry White chuckled. "I know. I was just making sure you were paying attention — the DA's here to see you."

This time Lois almost leapt out of her chair, though not in surprise but in eagerness.

"Lois Lane?" the district attorney walked towards them and stuck out his hand. "Fred Gates. I hear you're our star witness."

'What'd I tell you?' Clark mouthed.

"Nice to meet you," Lois shook the man's hand and gestured to her partner. "This is Clark Kent. I hope that your presence here means that the trials will be starting soon…"

"As soon as we confirm your statements and have time to go over a few things," Fred said. "The trial for Mrs Church is due to start next Monday morning, after jury selection this week. The CEOs are going to be tried at the same time, though by a different judge and another attorney from my office. It was determined that you weren't needed for that."

"No… I mean, I don't know anything about the Cost Mart CEOs," Lois nodded in agreement. "What about Dougal?"

"Mr Finnegan's day in court will start on Tuesday — again, a different attorney and a different judge. We hope that we'll be finished with your testimony in Mrs Church's trial by then and be able to move you on to testifying against him. You realise we'll need you to be a witness again in his case? After all, he did try to kill you."

"I'm perfectly prepared to testify against Dougal Finnegan," Lois announced, getting angry as she remembered the events that had unfolded in that warehouse. "That man is a creep and a lowlife and-"

"Honey…" Clark murmured at her side. His hand caressed her back soothingly. "Calm down. Dougal is going to go to jail for a long time." He looked to the district attorney. "Right? I mean, he's been charged with kidnapping and attempted murder as well as being associated with the trafficking of stolen goods. If he gets convicted under all those charges…"

"*If* being the operative word, Mr Kent," Fred countered. "But I'm sure that with Ms Lane's help, we'll be able to convict him on some of those charges, if not all."

"I hope it's all…" Lois murmured.

"Now, what I really came here to do was to set up a date and time sometime during this coming week to talk with you, Ms Lane; to prepare you for the trial. The defence will probably have some very nasty things to say about you to try and discredit your testimony. We need to be equipped to deal with those sorts of things. So, how does Wednesday at five-thirty pm sound?"

Lois thought for a moment and then nodded slowly. "That sounds fine. Do you have any idea how long it will take?"

"Probably no more than two hours or so," the attorney smiled. He glanced down at his watch and then looked back at the couple. "Well, I really must be going. Papers to file, people to see. You know how it is."

Clark gave the man a small nod. "It was nice to meet you, Mr Gates."

"Nice to meet the both of you." The district attorney began to walk towards the elevator, then stepped inside and pushed a button. "I'll see you on Wednesday, Ms Lane!"

And then the doors closed.

"Well, things are starting to look up," Lois declared. "The trials are starting. Before you know it we'll be able to go to print with our stories!"

Clark smiled. "And we both know that that will make you happy."

"Ecstatic," Lois agreed with a grin. "I'll be simply ecstatic."

***

<The trial of Mindy Church>

"The prosecution calls Lois Lane to the stand."

Lois stood, walked from her seat in the crowded courtroom and up to the witness box. There she sat once more and looked expectantly at the bailiff.

"Lois Lane," he began, holding out a Bible, "do you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? So help you God."

Lois placed her hand upon the Bible and swore as she was asked. When the bailiff moved away, she looked to the judge, high up in his seat overlooking the rest of the court. She then looked to Clark, reassuringly seated with the rest of the press near the back of the room. She carefully avoided Mindy Church's gaze.

"Ms Lane," Fred Gates began as he walked towards her, "previous to this trial have you met the defendant, Mindy Church?"

Lois nodded, then answered out loud. "Yes, I was introduced to her at a party about two weeks ago. She was identified as the wife of Bill Church Senior."

'A party I was made to go to — with Dougal,' Lois thought wryly after making her statement. 'Just after Clark and I fought.'

"So if you saw Mrs Church, even at a distance, is it probable that you would recognise her?"

Lois didn't hesitate in her answer: "Yes."

"Objection! Conjecture!" the lawyer for the defence cried out.

"Quite so, Mr Humphries," said the judge, eyeing Lois intently. "Mr Gates, please rephrase your question."

The district attorney seemed to sigh slightly, but then did as he was asked. "Ms Lane, when you were at the warehouse that evening, who did you see inside?"

"I saw Mindy Church, Dougal Finnegan and another man whom I didn't recognise."

"And what were Mrs Church, Mr Finnegan and the man whom you didn't recognise talking about?"

Lois ran through the memories in her mind, making sure that in her testimony they would be in the right order. "They were talking about shipments coming in. Then Dougal mentioned that particular artifacts from Imhotep's tomb were arriving. He asked Mrs Church about a special buyer that he'd heard she had for them."

"That would be Governor Watson?"

"Objection! Irrelevant," shouted Mr Humphries, his strident voice carrying throughout the courtroom.

"Mr Gates, do you have a reason for mentioning Governor Watson, who, I will remind you, will be tried in a separate hearing?" The judge looked tired of the whole debacle already.

"Yes, Your Honour. My reason was to try and clarify what Ms Lane was relating so that the jury might better understand her testimony."

The judge looked thoughtful for a moment and then spoke once more. "I'm sorry Mr Gates, but I am going to agree with Mr Humphries. It is not pertinent that the jury know that the 'special buyer' Ms Lane has mentioned was, in fact, Governor Watson. Please, move on."

"Yes, Your Honour." It was apparent that Fred Gates was also becoming rather weary of the route the proceedings were taking. "Ms Lane, could you please continue explaining the conversation you heard between Mrs Church, Mr Finnegan and the unknown man that night."

"Well, Mrs Church asked that the Imhotep artifacts be set aside so that they wouldn't get broken. And then…" Here Lois faltered in her statement, before the district attorney was forced to ask her to press on.

"Ms Lane, I know that this may be difficult for you, but please continue."

Lois coughed, sneaking a look at Clark. Just that glimpse, seeing his encouraging and tender smile shining back at her, was all she needed. She then did as she was asked. "Mrs Church asked about me. Dougal responded, saying that I was getting too curious for my own good and that he was going to take care of me probably before the next shipment came in. Mrs Church then replied that she wanted me dead."

"You are sure that Mrs Church said 'dead'?"

Lois didn't hesitate this time. "I am completely positive that that is what I heard."

"Thank you, Ms Lane. No further questions, Your Honour."

The prosecution lawyer sat down, while the defence eagerly stood.

"Ms Lane," said Mr Humphries beginning to pace across the front of the room, "can you state without any doubt whatsoever that the woman you say you saw in the warehouse that night was Mrs Church?"

"Yes," Lois said with a frown. "I'm positive it was Mindy Church."

"Can you please state how far you think you were from the people you say you saw?"

Lois struggled to control the frown on her face as it threatened to morph into an outright scowl. "Forty-five feet, maybe fifty."

The defence lawyer smirked. "Ms Lane, it is extremely difficult to recognise a person at that sort of distance. Can you please tell the court what made you so sure it was my client you were seeing?"

Lois paused. What had made her sure? Well, she'd *seen* her: Mindy Church. She knew it was her in that warehouse. That hair, the dress…that *voice*! Lois knew that Humphries was wrong; fifty feet was not too far to recognise someone, even someone you've only met once before. Lois' eyes were keen, but she hadn't needed keen eyes to know that it was Mindy Church and no other who'd been in the warehouse that evening; there was no doubt in her mind that the woman was the leader of Intergang and responsible for ordering her murder.

"She looked exactly like her; sounded exactly like her," was the best Lois could come up with to explain. "My eyesight is very good, Mr Humphries. Twenty-twenty. But even if my eyesight were at fault, my hearing was not."

"But it is only your testimony, and that of two arguably corrupt men, that the defence possesses to prove my client was in any way involved in these unfortunate events," Mr Humphries pointed out with a triumphant smirk in Lois' direction. He then turned to the judge and smiled politely, though the smile was only a thin veneer masking the arrogant reality beneath. "No further questions, Your Honour."

***

"I can't *believe* that that jury gave a verdict of 'Not Guilty' on all charges!" Lois huffed as she and Clark left the court early the next week. "Reasonable doubt? I'll give them reasonable doubt!"

"Humphries was clever, Lois," said Clark. "He managed to suggest that you might not have been able to recognise Mindy Church at that distance. Unfortunately, his disputing the issue was enough to place the necessary doubt in the juror's minds."

"Well, Humphries is a pompous windbag," Lois declared vehemently. "It's obvious he just likes to hear the sound of his own voice."

Clark cocked his head to one side, considering her statement, and then nodded, conceding that what she said was, in fact, true. The defence lawyer was a notoriously egotistical orator. However, the reality was that today he had won his case and going over and over the details, as Lois was wont to do, wouldn't help anything.

"Well, maybe today's outcome wasn't what we wanted," he began carefully, "but at least Dougal was sentenced last week. He won't be seeing the outside of that prison for at least fifteen years, hopefully longer because of the additional kidnapping charge."

Lois steadfastly refused to bite, persisting in her obsession with the day's proceedings. "What gets me is that we know that Mindy Church was responsible for ordering my death, yet she gets no punishment whatsoever!"

"And so the wheels of justice come to a grinding halt," Clark said, giving in to her. "Intergang lives to commit crime another day." He paused. "But Lois, do you honestly think that Intergang would stop existing simply because Mindy Church was behind bars?"

Lois' step faltered. "Well…no," she allowed after a moments thought. Her face displayed the vulnerability she was feeling as she turned to him, her brown eyes filled with anxiety and trepidation. "But I might feel a little safer."

Clark took her hands, his expression solemn as he considered her. "You have threats to your life all the time. Why is this time any different?"

"This time," Lois said with her voice trembling and the volume barely above a whisper, "they've almost succeeded once already. What if they try again?"

She glanced down, appearing embarrassed at her weakness. Lois Lane did not usually admit to being scared, but she seemed to be feeling that particular emotion a lot lately and it was getting harder and harder to hide.

Clark's hand left hers to cup her cheek, his fingers threading through her hair. His touch, so familiar, was like balm to her panicked soul. She relaxed, bringing her hand up to caress his.

"Clark," she breathed. "Let's go home."

"I thought you'd never ask," he smiled softly, drawing her into the nearest alleyway. There he released her momentarily, spinning into his super suit before scooping her legs from under her. This, she realised, is what life was going to be like with Clark; being swept off her feet constantly by the little things he did. The sweet, charming and loveable things; the strong, yet tender and considerate things; the farm boy slash flyboy things. All the things that made him exactly who he was, whether he wore a suit and tie or another kind of suit altogether: Clark.

As Clark's feet left the ground, Lois snuggled into his arms, knowing that wherever he was, she would feel safe regardless of what came their way. And she would feel loved, which was something no criminal could ever take away from her.

"Clark?"

"Hmm?" He turned his head to look at her, his gentleness evident in the eyes that searched her own.

"Can we get married soon?"

He chuckled as she repeated the same question that she'd asked a few weeks ago. The heat rose inside of her at the look he was now sending her way. "Is two weeks from now soon enough for you?"

"P-perfect," Lois gulped. Her gaze darted to his lips, then back to his eyes. The warmth was still rising, suffusing her entire body with a complete awareness of how close they were.

Clark appeared to be feeling the same sorts of sensations as she was, because he then leaned in, brushing his lips across hers almost reverently. A taste, nothing else. But now she wanted more. However, while they were flying was probably not the best time to be trying something like that. In Lois' opinion, they couldn't arrive at Clark's apartment soon enough.

Eventually they landed upon his balcony, and he set her down carefully, his hands coming to rest on her hips. Those same hands quickly drew her body closer to his.

"Two weeks can not go by fast enough," he said, his voice sounding low and unbelievably sexy to Lois' ears. She looped her arms around his neck, staring into the eyes of her own personal super man.

"Then kiss me."

And he did.

THE END