Learning to Love

By CarolM <carolmfolc@gmail.com>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: September, 2008

Summary: A NaNoWriMo, Elseworlds story where Lois and Clark take very different paths from the ones seen on the show. But no matter how many things are different, some things never change.

Author's notes:

There are many more notes at the end of this behemoth.

The short version [yes, this is the short version]:

Alisha beta'd this whole monster -- thank you! Beth came in a bit later, but did a great job, as did Nancy and CarolynK who came in a bit after her.

Seriously. I doubt any of them would have volunteered if they knew what they were getting into. I know I wouldn't have started it if I had.

Special thanks also go out to Nan Smith who encouraged me to continue to write this even though her "Second Choice" fic hit a little too close to home for me. The differences are many, but the similarities are there as well. I wanted to make sure she knew the vast majority of this was planned out before I read "Second Choice" and she was very encouraging.

I will have to give credit where credit is due. The familiar lines from the globe [and a few other places] were written by the wonderful writers for the television show "Lois and Clark: the New Adventures of Superman". Most of the characters also belong to Warner Brothers and other people with much more money than I. Sections near the end owe their inspiration to "Green Green Glow of Home", a season one episode of "Lois and Clark: The New Adventures of Superman". There are familiar lines of dialogue elsewhere throughout as well. The song "Unforgettable" was recorded by Nat King Cole and then rerecorded as a duet with Nat King Cole and his daughter Natalie Cole [love that version]; words and music are by Irving Gordon. The Blue Note is a jazz club in New York, as well as Milan, Tokyo and Nagoya and, for the purposes of this story, Metropolis. "Fly Me to the Moon" is based on the Frank Sinatra version. Music and lyrics for "Fly Me to the Moon" are by the late Bart Howard.

The wedding ceremony dialogue or whatever is from several different websites on the Internet, but I do not remember which one exactly; they are not my original words.

Special thanks will also go out to all the gentle readers on the Lois and Clark Fanfiction boards who will read this before it gets 'published' on the archive.

Note about Jimmy and Lucy: Jimmy on the show is seven or eight years younger than Lois/Clark [Lois is twenty-six in the pilot and Jimmy is twenty in the Clark is chocolate and Dan is Rocky Road ep near the end of S2]. This Jimmy is about two years younger than Clark and a year younger than Lois, making him age appropriate for Lucy, who is approximately eighteen months younger than Lois. Not sure how much younger Lucy is than Lois on the show, but Jimmy does want to date her in early S1 so guessing about the same age.

More extra special thanks go to Caroline K., who has somehow managed to GE this whole thing.

There are two companion pieces to this: 'Learning to Love: Lucy's Story', which should be uploaded not long after this, and 'Learning to Love: The Martha Letters', which will be uploaded before too long as well.

WARNINGS: This covers fourteen years of their lives, five-and-a-half of it in great detail. In that time, there are bound to be WHAMS. There are three main WHAMS in this fic. The first is not unexpected given the circumstances but is sad [Chapter 13]. The second is not [Chapter 16]. The third [Chapter 43] is an implied, potential WHAM that might be the most... disturbing of the three if it did actually happen and is not JUST implied.

~~~~~ Indicates new letter in Ch. 2

>>>Things that would normally have been in italics [audio tapes, short flashbacks]<<<

~*~*~ Other things that would normally have been in italics [longer flashbacks, dreams, text being read such as in a book

* is for emphasis

***

Chapter 1

December 1976

"NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!"

The young boy ran down the road, yelling at the top of his lungs. He moved faster than humanly possible, running towards the two people he loved more than anyone else in the world.

The car careened towards the cliff and plunged over the edge into the river below.

Ten-year-old Clark Kent stopped as close as he could to the edge of the road -- it was too narrow here for even a guard rail. The car was too far below him and the cliff face too vertical for him to get to it. If he could reach it, he could pull it out and they would be okay.

But he couldn't get to it and so they wouldn't be.

The hot tears streaked down his face, but he didn't notice them. All he knew was that his special vision couldn't always be controlled and he had to look away as it suddenly peered through the top of his parent's car.

It was bad enough that he'd heard the car squealing down the side of the mountain.

It was bad enough that he'd heard his mother's screams as it continued out of control.

It was bad enough that he'd been able to see his dad desperately trying to control the car.

It was bad enough that he'd seen his mom clinging to the dashboard, frantically checking to see if her seatbelt was securely fastened.

It was bad enough that he'd been no more than two seconds too late to grab a hold of the car before it disappeared.

He couldn't watch them die, too.

He turned away, sobbing. Oblivious to the cold, to the snow drifting down around him, he sat, waiting for help that was sure to come.

After several hours, he realized no one was coming. He also realized that there was no way he could explain his presence in the middle of the wilderness, miles from the ski lodge where they had been staying, with no sign of frost bite.

Dissect him like a frog.

That was what his dad had always warned him about. He had to get back. And then he had to report them missing. And then he had to wait for them to be found. And then he had to wait for the police to tell him what he already knew. What he had heard as he sat on the side of the lonely stretch of Colorado highway.

Tell him that, for the second time in his young life, he was an orphan.

***

April 1978

Lois Lane sat in the rain. At least the walkway was covered and she was only getting the mist from the wind. The fourth grade was hard enough without having to wait for a ride. It just didn't seem fair that she lived three houses too close to ride the bus. She would have gladly walked those three houses, but that wasn't the way the Pittsdale school system worked. She often walked to and from school, but it was almost a mile -- a long distance for any ten-year-old, but it wasn't across any major roads which was how the school district got away with not providing service. But on days like today when it was raining, she had to wait for a ride. Most of the kids on her block were either too young for school or older than her and didn't go to the same school she did, so it was rare that she could get a ride from a neighbor.

And so she sat, waiting in the chilly rain, for her mom to come to get her. But her mom didn't get off work until 4:30, so she would be here for another hour unless the rain let up.

As though on cue, a bolt of lightning split the sky, followed quickly by a long, loud clap of thunder.

She sighed. It was going to be a long hour.

***

It was many hours later before Lois flopped down on her bed. Her mom had been even later than usual. Turned out she hadn't wanted to take Lois grocery shopping with her. The rain had let up about 4:45 and she had started walking only to have another storm come upon her, leaving her drenched. Her mom had only just arrived home when Lois did, seemingly shocked that Lois was soaking. Sure. It had just slipped her mind that her oldest daughter would need to be picked up in the middle of a rainstorm.

Several teachers, including her own, and the principal had asked after her, to the point where the principal had said she would take her home when she left at about five. Lois hadn't wanted to suffer that humiliation and so she had walked.

Her mother had already been on her second or maybe even third glass of wine by then. Lois had made herself and Lucy peanut butter sandwiches then helped her sister wash her hair in the tub. She helped Lucy into her PJs and then bed. She took a shower and got herself ready for bed.

And so there she was, staring out the window at the stars that shone down now that the clouds had disappeared. Would she ever find somewhere that she truly belonged? Somewhere with people, or even just one person, who truly loved her?

***

June 1980

"Welcome to Future Journalists of America Summer Camp." A staff member welcomed the one hundred campers to the next six weeks of their lives.

Lois sighed. At least she wasn't spending the summer at home. All she had ever wanted to do was be a journalist. Her dad had other ideas of course, but he finally agreed to let her go if she would spend the second half of her summer at a science camp for kids who wanted to be doctors.

She stood and headed to the tables looking for the "L" line so she could pick up her schedule, name tag and cabin assignment.

"Excuse me."

She looked up and tried not to gasp. She was only 12, but she could have sworn that her heart skipped a beat. She had no intention of ever tying herself down to a man, but somehow, deep within her early adolescent self, she knew that she would. Someday.

"Miss?"

She told the counselor her name and collected the forms from her. She headed out to the front hall where all of the suitcases were stacked like cordwood. She finally spotted hers, right smack in the middle.

She sighed and started to move the suitcases on top of her own.

"Here, let me help."

She looked up to see the smiling face of the young man she had bumped into just moments before.

"I'm Clark. Clark Kent." He picked up a couple of suitcases and set them to the side. "Which one is yours?"

She pointed to a tattered brown one. "This one. Thanks." She grabbed another suitcase and set it next to the ones that he had removed. "I'm Lois." She suddenly felt shy, something Lois Lane rarely felt. "I'm starting Pittsdale Middle School next year."

"I'm from Smallville, Kansas. I'll be a freshman this year. I've already got a spot on the school paper." He unearthed her suitcase and handed it to her. "So, Lois, what cabin are you in?"

She looked at her piece of paper and made a face. "I'm a wombat. What's a wombat?"

Clark laughed. "It's an Australian marsupial. They're about three feet long when they're full grown. They're the favorite food of Tasmanian devils." He grinned at her. "I'm in the Tasmanian devil cabin."

Lois was suitably impressed. "How do you know stuff like that?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I read a lot. Let me see your schedule."

She handed it over.

"Hey, we're in Investigative Journalism and Introduction to News Photography together." He picked up both suitcases. "Come on. I was here the last two years. I'll show you where the wombats live."

Lois fell into step next to him. "I'm not sure I want you knowing where we live, Mr. Tasmanian devil."

He laughed and set down one of the bags to hold up three fingers. "I promise. I won't come eat you in the middle of the night. Scout's honor."

***

Lois settled into the last free bed in her cabin. She hadn't planned on making any friends, but it certainly appeared that she had. It looked like she would be seeing this Clark kid at least twice day. He seemed nice enough and if she had to spend three hours a day with someone, she was glad it was him.

Ten weeks away from Metropolis loomed large in front of her. In some ways it was a welcome respite. Her parents had been fighting more than ever and as much as she hated to leave Lucy there by herself for part of the summer, she knew her little sister was heading to camp herself in a couple of weeks; she wouldn't be stuck at home with a half-drunk mom and an absentee father with no one to help look after her.

She sighed as the dinner bell rang. Time to go.

***

Clark took a deep breath and headed towards the brunette sitting by herself at one of the round tables. He set his tray down. "Mind if I join you?"

She looked up at him and motioned to the seat. "Go ahead."

He sat down and opened his carton of milk. "How's your cabin?"

She shrugged. "It's okay. I got a bottom bunk which I'm not crazy about, but..." She shrugged again. "I'll manage. You?"

"Top bunk." He took a big bite out of his hamburger.

She grinned at him. "I'm happy for you."

"Me too. So..." He brushed his hands on his pants. "...let me see that schedule again. I'll help you figure your way around."

She pulled the piece of paper out of her jeans. "I could probably do it myself."

"I know, but why reinvent the wheel?" He smoothed it on the table. "Well, I noticed earlier that we had two classes together, but it looks like our schedules are more alike than that. We have different first classes, but after that... our schedules are the same. Investigative Reporting, lunch, Intro to News Photography and then free time." He took another bite of his burger. "Which one is it?"

She glanced at him questioningly and hurriedly chewed the rest of the food in her mouth. "Which what?"

"What are you going to be when you grow up? Investigative reporter or photographer?"

"Reporter, of course."

Clark laughed. "Me too."

***

Lois pushed her mystery meat around on her plate. Clark was still halfway back in the dinner line, but she could tell he was eyeing her. He was more perceptive than she would have liked, that was for sure.

Though just about anyone could tell something was wrong, and that was probably a big part of the reason why there were empty seats all around her.

Ten minutes later, as the campers who had been the first to arrive were beginning to leave, Clark finally joined her. Lois had actually been fifth in line, but she hadn't eaten a bite yet.

"Wanna talk about it?"

Lois shook her head. "Not really."

Clark took a big bite of the mysterious substance that was supposed to be meatloaf. "I think someone needs to investigate what it is they're feeding us."

A small smile managed to sneak onto her face. It had become a running joke between them. One of them had made the same statement at virtually every meal for the last month. "Maybe it'll be our first big investigation for the Daily Planet. 'Mystery Meat Finally Revealed'."

Clark laughed. "I'm sure that'll get us above the fold."

Lois sighed and finally took a few bites of her meal, knowing he wouldn't leave until she had.

They were among the last students to leave the cafeteria. As they had many nights, they wandered towards the lake and finally came to sit on a big rock.

"Daddy's leaving."

Clark's eyes opened wide.

"I got a letter from Lucy today. I haven't heard from her in a couple weeks, but I thought that was because she was at her own camp. I guess she never went, and she said that three days ago now, she saw him put a bunch of boxes and suitcases in the car and when she looked all of his clothes were gone."

Clark put one arm around her. "I'm so sorry, Lois."

She shrugged. "I'm surprised it didn't happen a long time ago. They hate each other."

They sat there for a long time, until they heard the call to return to their cabins.

***

"I can't believe we have to go home tomorrow." Lois sighed. "I don't want to go home."

"Me either." Clark shrugged at her look. "It's another foster family who doesn't really want me. I'd rather be at camp. Or eighteen. As soon as I turn eighteen, I'm going to move back to my parents' farm and fix it up and live there."

"Sounds nice."

"I'm sorry your Dad won't be there."

She shrugged. "He wasn't home very much anyway. And at least I don't have to go to Science Camp."

"See? Silver lining." They sat on the big rock for a few more minutes. "I'm going to miss you."

"I'm going to miss you, too."

Clark tentatively put one arm around her. It wasn't like the time he'd hugged her when she found out that her dad was leaving. This was different. He liked her a lot. Even though he was only fourteen and she two years younger, he liked her. He sighed, wishing that he lived in Metropolis. She rested her head on his shoulder.

Before he knew what he was doing, he turned to her and brushed his lips across hers.

It was short, that first kiss, but with it came the promise of friendship. They would be miles apart, but deep down each knew that they would always have someone else they could count on.

After the briefest of seconds, Clark pulled back. One part of his mind said he should apologize, but he wasn't sorry he'd kissed her.

He cleared his throat. "So, um, I've got your address. I promise I'll write soon."

Lois smiled at him. "Me too. After you get me your address that is."

Clark blushed. "Sorry. I just moved to this new family right before I came here and I honestly don't remember the address."

Lois laughed. "No problem."

***

Lois sat on the bus that carried her away from Journalism Camp and from one Clark Kent. She sighed. She'd probably never hear from him again, but for six weeks, he'd been the best friend she'd ever had.

***

Chapter 2

***

~~~~~

September 1980

~~~~~

Lois --

How's life in the big city? Things are going pretty well here. I'm with a different foster family now. The family I'd been with decided to move to Missouri while I was at camp so even if I'd remembered their address, it wouldn't have mattered. I guess I'm glad I managed to save enough money to go to camp so I wouldn't have to deal with it all then, while they were moving.

This family is okay. There's two other boys here, but their mom is getting out of rehab soon so they'll be going home with her. They might decide they don't want me anyway. A fire started the other day -- I don't even really know how it happened -- but I think I might have had something to do with it. I really don't know, but I think they're just looking for a reason to send me somewhere else. The problem with small towns? Not very many places to go...

Let me know how school's going. Were you able to get on the paper? I hope so.

Clark

~~~~~

Clark,

Yes, I was able to get on the paper. It's the only thing making things worthwhile here. I hate school, but it's a means to an end. When I grow up and finish college, I can move out. Heck, I could move out before I finish college. Maybe I'll get my GED when I'm sixteen and get out of here sooner... but I hate to leave Lucy like that.

Dad's got a new girlfriend. At least he didn't have her over while we were there last weekend. I don't think I'll like her.

Mom quit her job last week. She wasn't working much anyway. She's too busy getting drunk all the time.

I'm sorry to hear about the new foster home. Wish you could come here. Maybe you'll get a better home this time -- one who wants you to stay.

I'll be thinking about you.

Lois

~~~~~

October 1980

~~~~~

Lois,

Well, I moved again. This time I'm staying with Maisie. She runs the diner in Smallville. Maybe I can stay here for a while. A fire started again at the last place. I swear I don't mean to do anything. I honestly don't know how the fire started, but I've been branded a pyromaniac now. I'm not, I swear.

Anyway -- I'm glad you got on the paper. High school paper is better than junior high, but you have to start somewhere. I'm sorry to hear about your dad's new girlfriend and your mom's job. I worry about you.

Hey -- maybe when we work at the Daily Planet we can write series of scathing articles about the foster care system...

Study hard.

Clark

~~~~~

September 1982

~~~~~

Clark,

High school! Finally! Did I tell you I got confirmation that I get to be on the paper this year? They don't accept very many freshmen but I got on! Daily Planet here we come!

Any other words of advice, oh great junior? I'm sure Smallville High School isn't anything like mine. There's probably more kids at my school than there are people in your town!

Dad moved back in last week. Mom is still clean. Neither one cares about me or Lucy any more than they did before, but at least they're here.

I'm glad it seems to be working out at the Lang's place for you. They were your parents' best friends weren't they? The farm right next to yours? Do you ever go back there? Or did it get sold? You don't have to answer those questions if you don't want to. I'm sure it's still hard to think about your parents and all.

I wish we'd been able to go to Journalism Camp again, but Dad said no. He wouldn't even send me to Science Camp this summer. I have a hard time believing we're still friends after spending a couple of weeks together two years ago. Guess that's just the way it goes.

Lois

~~~~~

Lois,

Yeah, sometimes it's hard thinking about my parents, but not like it used to be. It's been a long time now. No, the farm hasn't been sold. It'll be mine when I turn eighteen. Sometimes it's rented out but not always. The Irigs live next door and they farm the land the rest of the time. Wayne is the executor of my parents' will and he's the one in charge of all of it until I'm eighteen. He pays rent to the bank into an account for me. Sometimes he uses the rent money to help me buy clothes and stuff. That's how I got a car. Did I tell you that? I got a car! It's almost as old I am, but it gets me from place to place. I'm working for Maisie at night and on weekends. It's kind of nice to be out of the house. The eidetic memory thing makes it easy to pass my classes.

Wayne and his wife were my parents' best friends. His wife died not long after my folks did. The Langs were friends of my folks though.

You're the only one I can tell this to. I think Lana wants me to ask her out. Like on a date. A real one. Where we end up making out behind the Dairy Freeze. I like her well enough I guess. I really only have three friends besides you. Lana, Rachel Harris [I think I told you about her; her dad's the sheriff] and Pete Ross. He's been my best friend since kindergarten. At least until I met this girl at summer camp. I really have no desire to date Lana though. She's a good friend, but can be very bossy and overbearing. She'd try to run my life if we were 'together'.

I wish we'd been able to meet up at camp again too, but that's the way it goes, I guess. Hope school is going well for you.

I love getting your letters. Please don't stop writing me now that you're a big reporter on a big high school paper!

Clark

~~~~~

Clark,

I love your letters too. I won't stop writing if you won't!

I'm sorry to hear about... well, you know. I won't write it down in case someone else reads this. You have more experience in that area than I do, I guess, since you're older and all, but I think you should go with your gut. If you don't want to, don't.

Mom and Daddy are still sort of making things work. With each other at least. Lucy and I still don't rank very high on the scale of importance, but at least we're not being shuffled back and forth anymore.

Did I tell you that if I go to summer school and take a class instead of study hall each semester, I can finish high school in three years? I'll graduate a year behind you instead of two.

I love love love being on the paper, but I can't wait until I can do 'real' reporting. I mean, what am I supposed to investigate here? What the mystery meat really is? It looks about like that stuff we ate at camp. We do get to go on a tour of the Daily Planet in the spring. I'll tell you all about it when we do. Maybe we'll get to meet Norcross and Judd or even Perry White!

Hope things get better with... well, you know.

Lois

~~~~~

Lois,

I'm going to have write this in a hurry and get it in the mail before anyone can find it. Lana found your last letter and has been bugging me relentlessly to find out what it is we were talking about. Make sure you do tell me all about the Daily Planet when you get there!

Clark

~~~~~

March 1983

~~~~~

Clark,

It was WONDERFUL! FABULOUS! Like going to DisneyWorld and everything all wrapped up in one. I wish I could describe it all to you, but I don't think anyone could do it justice.

Yes, yes. We went to the Daily Planet today! We saw Norcross and Judd from a distance and it looked like they were fighting about something. No idea what it could have been, but they didn't look happy. He's very cute by the way. Maybe she wants to go out with him and he's not interested.

Perry White spoke to our class today for a few minutes and then he was off, bellowing about some story having to do with the president. I didn't really catch what it was, but watch the Daily Planet in the next few days and I bet we'll see it.

I wish you could have been there. I took some notes and I'll get them into a better format and send them to you with a lot more detail than this letter has, but I wanted to get it to you as soon as I could.

Before you know it, Lane and Kent will replace Norcross and Judd as the best reporting team the Daily Planet has ever had!

Lois

~~~~~

Lois,

Sorry I didn't have a chance to write you back before your second letter arrived. Wow. That sounds fabulous!!! I wish I could have been there! Maybe if I save up enough, I can go to Metropolis for a couple of days next summer and we could go to the Daily Planet, if your parents will let us.

Shouldn't it be Kent and Lane? I am older you know.

Wish I had time to write more, but I have to get to work. Thanks again for letting me live vicariously through you!

Clark

~~~~~

October 1983

~~~~~

Lois,

Judging by what I saw on T.V. last week, you might have been right about Norcross and Judd. Their wedding is all over the news. The next time something that big hits the journalism world will be our wedding.

Okay, okay, don't take my head off. I won't propose until AFTER we win the first Pulitzer.

I finally agreed to take Lana out last week. It was... okay. Somehow I don't think we'll be settling down and living on my parents' farm like she seems to think we will. She still doesn't understand why I don't want to be a farmer like my dad.

Oh, well. I'll be eighteen soon enough and then out of here. I'll probably have to take her out a few more times to get her off my back. She pretty much assumed that we're going to the dance together next week. Sometime I'll have to tell her that Rachel and I have had a deal about senior prom for years. She won't be happy about that.

Gotta run.

Clark

~~~~~

Clark,

I'm sorry to hear about all that. Good luck.

Darn skippy about that whole proposal thing! I am NOT getting married until after our first Pulitzer and no kids until after the second.

Seriously, I don't know what happened obviously, but Norcross and Judd aren't at the Planet anymore. I saw a blurb on page B12 that they had moved on to 'other endeavors' whatever that means. That it wasn't on the front page or even in section A says something, I think. I wonder what it was.

Joe asked me to go to a dance last week. I said yes, but I'm not all that excited about it. Really I'm only going because I'm covering it for the paper. I think I told you about Joe. He's the backup quarterback this year. After Tom, the starter, graduates this year, he should get promoted.

Homework calls.

Lois

~~~~~

Lois,

I'm swooning here. (Soon to be) starting quarterback? What chance does a hack like me have?!

The dance was all right. Lana disappeared for a while. I'm not sure where she was -- I think maybe she was off with someone else, but I'm not sure. I don't really care. I talked to Rachel -- she's a good friend -- and really barely noticed that she was gone.

My birthday is coming up pretty soon. I'm moving out that day. There's no school that day for some reason so... I've been fixing the house up. Leonard Lang, my foster dad, has been helping me. It should be ready by then. It wasn't in bad shape. I think I told you Wayne Irig has been in charge of it for me. There's been renters from time to time and he's tried to keep it up, but it needed new paint and a few repairs here and there, but it's not like it was falling down or anything.

I'm still hoping to come this summer, but I don't know that I can. I think I'm going to take a couple classes at Midwest to jump start my college career. Did I tell you I got accepted at University of New Troy at Metropolis too? I seriously thought about it, but the scholarship didn't cover room and board -- just enough for a lunch plan -- and for a lot of reasons, I really don't want to live on campus.

Maybe you could come to Midwest?

Clark

~~~~~

Clark,

I practically spewed my soda when I saw you wanted me to come to Midwest. Like my dad would pay for that.

And you're anything but a hack. You write better than most of the kids on my paper.

Thanks for sending those articles, by the way. Reading about hog futures put me right to sleep. Seriously, I enjoyed your piece on helping football players cheat.

I have to go to another dance tonight for the paper, so I probably should start getting ready. I'm going with Joe again, but just because neither of us had a date. We agreed a long time ago that we'll be better off as friends.

Time to go.

Lois.

~~~~~

May 1984

~~~~~

Clark,

Graduation is next week! I'm so proud of you! I wish I could be there to see you walk across that stage! I'm sure your parents would be so proud of you too!

Do you think you can make it this summer? I don't know what we'll do about my parents yet, but we'll figure something out. Just let me know.

I gotta run!

Lois

~~~~~

Lois,

I'm sorry, but I don't think I'm going to make it this summer after all. I'm going to have to work as much as I can. I have the full tuition scholarship to Midwest, but I still have to have money for food and clothes and gas and stuff. It's about an hour drive each way, maybe an hour and a half depending on traffic and stuff, but that's cheaper than living on campus.

I moved back in to my parents' house last week, the day after graduation. I know I said I was going to move in February, but I don't actually get control of everything until graduation. Wayne has apologized over and over because he didn't realize it was eighteen *or* graduation -- whichever came second. I did some work to the house already but it still needs more done. A lot more than I originally thought, but that's okay. Wayne is going to keep farming the land and paying rent. The money he's paid over the years has really helped in fixing the farm up. It's just about cleaned it out though. And I don't get full control over all of that until I'm 25, though the rent and stuff Wayne's paying now can go straight to me.

I know we've never called before, but if you ever need anything, call me. I have my own phone and my own phone number and my own phone bill now so...

Clark

620-555-5368

***

Chapter 3

December 1984

"Collect call from Lois Lane. Will you accept the charges?"

Clark just about dropped the phone. Lois was calling him? It'd been over four years since they met, but they hadn't spoken to each other in that whole time. Neither of them had been back to the Journalism Camp since that year, but thanks to the almost weekly letters, they were still best friends.

She knew that he'd moved back into his parent's farmhouse as soon as he could after graduation and he'd given her the phone number in case she ever wanted to call, but he didn't think she ever would. She'd indicated in her letters that she had the number and might call sometime, but when he read between the lines he got the impression that she wouldn't. That maybe -- like him -- she was afraid that more than letters would ruin their connection. That, somehow, one or the other wouldn't measure up to their memories -- and imaginations. They hadn't even exchanged pictures because Lois' seventh grade picture apparently hadn't turned out well and with the precedent set...

"Sir? Will you accept the charges?"

The voice snapped him out of his shock. "Yes, yes, of course." He heard clicks on the line. "Lois?"

The tears were evident in her voice. "Clark, is that you?"

He was instantly concerned. "What's wrong, Lois?"

"It's my parents." She broke down into sobs.

"Lois, calm down. Tell me what happened." He stood and started to pace around the living room.

"An accident. Car accident."

He inhaled sharply. "Take a deep breath, and start at the beginning."

He could hear her try to get a hold of herself. "Okay. Clark, they're gone. They weren't the world's best parents but they're gone." Her breathing grew more ragged, but only for a moment and she pulled herself back together. "They were going out of town for the weekend. They said they'd had enough of teenagers and wanted a break."

"But Lois, your..." Clark stopped. He was sure she didn't need to be reminded that her parents had been going out of town over her birthday.

"I know. They were going to miss my birthday but I don't really care about that."

He could almost see her shrugging it off.

"They were headed to a ski lodge upstate and they skidded on some black ice. They went over the rail into a ravine."

Clark felt sucker punched. It was like his worst nightmare all over again. "What's going to happen to you and Lucy?"

She took a deep breath. "I think they're going to send us to live with my Great Aunt Louise."

He groaned. "Oh, Lois." He knew how much she detested her weeks with that woman. She hated kids.

Then and there he made a decision.

***

Flying himself was too risky so he bit the bullet, so to speak, and bought a plane ticket. He had always hated flying inside an airplane, even as a kid, and now he knew why. Flying was meant to be done under his own power. He ate the offered peanuts and drank a slightly stale soda during the almost four hour trip to Metropolis. He wasn't sure what he would do when he got there -- how he would get to Lois' house, but he had to.

A plan had jumped into his head almost fully formed. He'd worked hard over the summer to put money in savings so he wouldn't have to work full time during the semester. The scholarships covered his tuition, but only a small meal plan. His first semester in college was over. He was glad he was on break so there was nothing to stop him from going to Metropolis.

He exited the plane and headed to baggage claim, stopping at one of the shops to buy an overpriced map of the area. She lived in the suburb of Pittsdale about twenty miles from the airport. He was grateful for the clouds gathering in the sky. He would take the Metrolink as far as he could and walk the rest of the way. If it was dark enough, he could fly.

An hour later he arrived in front of the house he had been sending letters to for years. He hesitated before raising his hand to knock.

***

Lois swiped at her eyes, then rubbed her hands on her pants. She took a deep breath and opened the door. There was a tall, handsome young man standing there. He looked vaguely familiar, but as soon as he spoke, she knew.

"Lois?"

She launched herself at him, burying her head in his shoulder. She felt his strong arms wrap around her and pull her close. Her voice was voice was muffled by his body, but she spoke anyway. "You came."

"Of course I came. You need a friend."

They stood there for what seemed like hours before she was finally ready to let him go.

"Thanks for coming, Clark."

Ten minutes later they sat at the kitchen table. "I don't want to live with my great aunt, but the only other option is foster care." Lois sighed. "I don't want to do that either. Not after what you've told me."

Clark held her hand gently. "I wouldn't wish what I've been through on my worst enemy, but it might not be all that bad. Metropolis isn't Smallville. Smallville had very few places for me to go. No one really wanted an orphan -- not even the Langs. I think they put up with me mostly for Lana's sake -- she always could get her dad to do just about anything for her and she wanted me close." He shrugged. "Metropolis is different. Surely there's a good foster family who would take you in."

"Not just me. I can't let Lucy go with strangers. We have to go together. What are the odds of us finding a good foster home that wants both of us?"

Clark took a deep breath. "If you really feel that way, then I have a plan."

Lois looked sideways at him. "What?"

"Marry me."

Lois practically choked on her soda. "What?"

"Marry me, Lois. I checked -- you can get married in New Troy when you're seventeen without parental approval, and there's no waiting period. Your birthday is tomorrow. We can get married and convince the judge to give us custody of Lucy."

"What about Midwest?"

"I had a scholarship offer from University of New Troy at Metropolis. I deferred it for up to a year, just in case I didn't like Midwest. It'll cover all of my tuition and if we're married we won't need to live on campus so that won't be an issue -- though we will have to figure out how to pay for a place to live, unless you want to stay here. Or if you can stay here -- I don't know what the finances are like."

"We can't." Lois sighed. "I overheard my aunt talking to a lawyer yesterday. Between the sale of the house and the life insurance money, there's only going to be about $50,000. It seems like a lot but..."

"I know -- it really won't get you all that far." Clark thought for a moment. "So we'll sell the house, stick the money in savings, use a little bit of it to get a car if we need to, and I'll work as much as I can and, if we need to, we could use a little bit of it to live on." He looked apologetic. "Not that I am trying to spend your inheritance or anything... I was just thinking out loud."

"Wow. I know you weren't trying to spend our money, but are you sure this is really a good idea?"

"Do you have a better one?"

Lois sighed. "No." She put her head in her hands for a minute. "Clark... you're my best friend. You know that, right?"

He nodded.

"Clark..." She took a deep breath and started again. "Clark, marriage implies... certain things..."

Clark chuckled. "I understand what you're saying. Don't worry about it." He stroked her cheek gently. "I would never pressure you or ask you to do something you aren't comfortable with."

Lois breathed a sigh of relief. "I know that, but what about Social Services?"

"What about them?"

"They'll want to do home visits right?"

He shrugged. "Probably."

"Then for Lucy's sake, everyone has to believe it is a real marriage. That we got married because we're in love and not to just keep us out of the system."

"Not a problem. We'll get a place in the city somewhere. A two bedroom if we can afford it and I can sleep on the floor in our room."

Lois sighed. "No. That wouldn't be fair. We'll share." She grinned at him for the first time that evening. "Just no funny stuff, mister."

He laughed just a little bit and leaned over to kiss her on the cheek. "No funny stuff." He got down on one knee and pulled a box out of his jacket pocket. "Lois, will you marry me?"

Lois gasped. "Where did you get that ring? It's beautiful."

"It was my mom's. She would want you to have it."

Lois nodded and Clark removed it from the box and slipped it on her offered finger. "I'll wear it tonight, but I think I probably better take it off until after the funeral Tuesday morning. We can sneak off sometime after that and go to the court house. Is it okay to wait until after the funeral to get married?" She had enough to deal with over the next couple of days -- her birthday, New Year's Eve and Day and then her parents' funeral on the second. She -- and Aunt Louise -- hadn't wanted to wait that long, but with the weekend and the holiday... it seemed best.

Clark nodded and stood, never letting go of her hand. He tugged on it gently until she stood and then he wrapped his arms around her. "We'll make it work, Lois. Somehow, we'll make it work."

***

January third they stood outside a wedding chapel in downtown Metropolis.

"Are you sure you're ready for this?" Clark looked down at Lois, who stood nervously by his side.

"Yes." She took a deep breath. "I know this is the right thing to do." She smiled at him. "I do love you, Clark."

"I know that." He pulled her into his side and kissed the side of her head. "Do you have the ring?"

She nodded and patted her purse. "Yep." She had his mother's wedding band tucked safely away, and she'd raided her secret stash to buy Clark a ring the day before. Who knew you could get a wedding ring for under forty bucks? She hadn't told him that though -- she hadn't even told him she'd bought it. It wasn't a very nice one, but someday -- if this all worked out -- she'd get him a better ring. And have it engraved. Engraving for this one was too expensive. Hers was engraved. His parents had had them engraved when they got married. Hers said 'I've loved you since the beginning...' His dad's had said, '...I'll love you till the end', but his dad's had been lost over the years.

She grabbed his hand and held on tightly. "Let's go."

Ten minutes later, the minister said the magic words. The words that would keep her and Lucy out of foster care.

"I now pronounce you husband and wife."

Those words were followed by ones he was sure Lois had allowed herself to forget.

"You may kiss your bride."

Clark placed on hand on the side of her face and leaned in until his lips gently touched hers. A shock ran through him, leaving him tingling from the roots of his invulnerable hair to the tips of his invulnerable toes. This was what he had longed for since he first set eyes on a young lady most would have described as a gawky preteen, but who he always thought was beautiful; since he'd kissed her the first time on that rock years earlier. It was only a brief kiss, simply the merest touching of the lips, but it was enough to solidify in his mind that he had done the right thing. The slightest hint of a return kiss was enough for him to know that someday she would feel the way he did.

That his *wife* would someday love him the way he loved her.

***

Later that afternoon, they sat in the judge's chambers.

The judge sighed. "Well, the marriage is legal. New Troy law does say that a seventeen year old can get married without parental consent." She shuffled some papers around. "That takes care of Lois' placement, obviously. Now, on to Lucy."

Lois stood. "Your honor?"

"Yes?"

"We'd like Lucy to live with us."

The judge raised an eyebrow. "Really? You're newlyweds and you want a foster child?"

"She's not a foster child. She's my sister. Great Aunt Louise doesn't really want her -- she hates kids and everyone knows it. I mean, she loves us in that we're-family-and-she-has-to kind of way, but given her preference, she would wait until we were about forty years old to have a real relationship with us. And besides that, she lives 1300 miles away."

The judge looked at the woman on the other side of the room. "Is that true Ms. Lane?"

The older woman nodded. "They're my family and I would take care of them as best I could, but, in general, I don't like children. Lois and Lucy are the only two I could ever tolerate -- even their father as a child..." She let the sentence trail off. "Besides, I live in a retirement community that I love. While they would allow Lucy to live with me, she wouldn't enjoy it. There are no other children, except the occasional visiting grandchild, and she would be quite lonely."

The judge nodded and then looked at Clark. "Mr. Kent, you are willing to take in your sister-in-law as a foster child?"

He stood and took Lois' hand. "Yes, your Honor. I know it would mean a lot to Lois and it would to me as well."

She sighed. "Okay. For the record, it is extremely unlikely that either of you would have been placed in Ms. Lane's care, in large part..." She looked uncomfortable and refused to look at Louise Lane. "...because of her age but also because of the distance between here and her home and the lack of a custody arrangement left by Sam and Ellen Lane. Here's what we are going to do. Mr. and Mrs. Kent, you have a month to find a place to live that is suitable and to set up housekeeping. In the meantime, Lucy will live with Louise Lane at the current Lane residence while it is for sale. We will reconvene in a month with Lucy's social worker. The social worker will have already conducted a home visit at Mr. and Mrs. Kent's new home. I would prefer a two bedroom, but I know how expensive those are in this area or even in Metropolis proper unless you're in an area of town where I would not allow Lucy to go. So I will allow a good sized one bedroom as I do believe it is in the best interests of Lucy Lane to stay in Metropolis. I also believe it is in her best interests, as well as your own Mrs. Kent, that you be allowed to stay at Lincoln High." She looked intently at Lois. "That is another condition of this arrangement. You will either stay in school or get your GED, Mrs. Kent."

Lois nodded. "Yes, ma'am."

The judge took her glasses off and set them on her desk. "I would like a moment to speak with Mr. Kent. The rest of you are dismissed. I will have a copy of the orders and requirements and conditions of Clark and Lois Kent's custody arrangements for Lucy Lane messengered to you within the next two days." She looked at the room expectantly until they, one by one, had left, leaving just Clark in the room with her.

She cleared her throat. "Mr. Kent, why did you marry Lois?"

He looked taken aback. "I love her, your Honor."

"I have looked into it a bit. You met several years ago and have not seen each other since then."

"We've written regularly, your Honor. I knew the first time I saw her that I'd marry her someday."

"Still, I am more than a bit suspicious of the timing."

Clark took a deep breath. "Your Honor, I love Lois, truly I do. The timing... well, you're right. It's highly unlikely that we would have gotten married if Lois' parents hadn't died -- at least not until Lois was eighteen or maybe after we graduated college, but as I said, I've known for years that she was the woman I would marry. I know what I'm getting myself into. I love Lois and she loves Lucy and doesn't want her to go anywhere else. I'm an orphan myself. I know what it's like to bounce from family to family, never staying in one place too long. I don't want that for Lucy."

"I can appreciate that." She sighed. "I mean it, Mr. Kent. I will be keeping a close eye on this situation and if I ever feel that Lucy would be better off elsewhere, I will move her."

"Understood."

"This is a huge responsibility for someone so young."

"I know it is, but I've essentially been on my own for a long time and I know I can do what I need to do to take care of Lois and Lucy."

"See that you do, young man." She watched as Clark left the room. Somehow she knew that Lois and Clark would make it.

***

"Aunt Louise, you don't need to do that," Lois protested.

"Nonsense. You might have been right that I don't particularly want to raise children, but I do love you and not just in that we-are-family-so-I-have-to way. And I want to do this."

"Ms. Lane, it is really not necessary," Clark told her.

"Clark, please call me Aunt Louise. You're family now. And I insist. It's your wedding day. Now, Lucy and I weren't there for the wedding, and I might have a thing or two to say about that later, but I'm not going to ruin your wedding day with that kind of griping. What I am going to do is get you two a room for the week. You do *not* need to start your married life living with your crotchety old aunt and your little sister. Lucy will be moving in with you two soon enough. So, I'll get you a room at a nice hotel, which I'm sure the two of you can't afford right now anyway, and you can spend your time together and looking for a place to live rather than being with the two of us." Her face softened. "I remember what it is like to be young and in love." She held up a hand as Lois opened her mouth to question her. "No, I never married, but that's because the man I loved gave his life for his country in the Argonne Forest. My heart never recovered. Consider it a birthday and wedding present."

Lois hugged her aunt. "Thank you."

"I am also going to put some money on the account -- order room service, get a massage, do something nice for yourselves. I'm going to tell them that I get whatever is left back so don't think you can just not do anything and keep the cash. It's for you two to spoil yourselves for the next few days. Now, Clark, get the keys to Ellen's car and load your bag into it. I'll help Lois pack up a few things."

Clark did as he was told while Lois and her aunt headed upstairs.

Lois pulled the old brown suitcase out of her closet and started to pack a few things when her aunt entered her room holding a white box.

Louise sat down on Lois' bed. "This is something I reluctantly gave your mother because I wanted someone to have it. I knew she wouldn't appreciate it, but I couldn't die without passing it on to someone. She later told me that she had never even taken it out of the box. I found it in their closet the other night."

She opened the box reverently. "I bought this when I wasn't much older than you. Joe had gone off to fight in France and we were going to be married as soon as he came home. It never occurred to us that he would never be back." She pulled the nightgown out, holding it by the spaghetti straps. "This was for our wedding night. I could never bring myself to actually get rid of it until I found out your father was going to marry Ellen. Even then, it didn't feel right, but, as I said, I didn't want it to completely go to waste."

Lois fingered the white satin. "It's beautiful, Aunt Louise." She didn't have the heart to tell her that it wouldn't get used on this night either.

"It feels right this time. I can't explain it but it does." Her eyes glinted with unshed tears as she looked at Lois. "Don't think you're fooling me for a minute, young lady. I know you don't love Clark like a woman getting married should, but I see the way he looks at you and I know that, deep down, someday, you will know that you love him too." She smiled at the younger woman. "I know you won't use this tonight, but I am right that you two need some time just the two of you to figure this whole thing out. When you're ready, you'll have it."

Lois' eyes filled up with tears. "Thank you, Aunt Louise."

***

Clark opened the car door so Lois could get in. He shut it behind her and turned to Aunt Louise.

"Thank you, Aunt Louise."

She held out her arms. "Come give your new aunt a hug."

Clark willingly obliged, wondering how Lois' impressions of her aunt could have been so wrong.

Louise pulled back and looked up at her handsome new nephew. "I know you love her, Clark. And I know that right now, she thinks she doesn't love you. It's going to take some time -- probably a long time -- but someday she will come around." She smiled slyly. "Tonight, I gave her something I bought for my wedding night that never happened. Someday, she'll wear it and then you'll know."

Clark pulled her in to him again and squeezed her quickly. "Thank you." He released her and headed to the driver's side of the car. He turned to thank her again, but all he saw was the front door closing.

***

Chapter 4

"Clark, put me down." Lois swatted at his arm.

"Nope. I'm carrying my bride over the threshold!"

"Clark, it's not even a..." she made air quotes with her fingers. "...real wedding night."

"So?" He kicked the door behind him. "I have no intention of marrying again and I'm going to carry my bride over the threshold on my wedding day."

She struggled against his hold on her. "Fine, you carried me over the threshold. Now put me down."

He laughed as he set her on her feet. "There. Safe and sound."

"At least you didn't drop me," Lois muttered as she turned away.

He stopped her with a hand gently placed on her shoulder and spoke to her back. "Lois, I would never drop you. I promise. I'll never let you fall."

She paused for just a second. "I know." She looked around for a minute before continuing. "Aunt Louise really went all out. I didn't know she had it in her. She said a room at a nice hotel, not the honeymoon suite at the Lexor."

Clark sat on the couch and bounced experimentally. "Well, it's more comfortable than the couch at your house."

Lois looked at him with an undecipherable look on her face then dropped her purse on the overstuffed chair and headed for the bathroom.

Clark sighed and headed out the door to get their luggage.

***

Lois sank into the oversized soaking tub. Getting married was worth it if for no other reason than this.

She heard Clark moving around in the other room. He had called in to her that he was going to unpack his things and asked what she wanted him to order her for dinner.

Twenty minutes later, she heard a knock on the door. Reluctantly, she stepped from the giant heart shaped tub and dried off with a luxurious towel. She cursed mentally as she realized that she didn't have any clean clothes to put on. She sighed and wrapped the oversized robe around her, cinching the belt tight.

She took a deep breath before stepping into the room.

"So, what did you get us for dinner?"

Clark smiled at her through the door to the living room of the suite. "Fusilli all'amatriciana."

"What's that?"

"It's a pasta dish with tomato, basil, bacon and onion. It's delicious."

"Smells great." She looked at her suitcase, still sitting on the bed. "I am going to, um, go put some clean clothes on."

He nodded. "I'll wait for you."

***

Clark took a deep breath as Lois shut the door to the bedroom. He hadn't been prepared for this. He loved Lois. He had known for years that he would marry her -- even though he had dated others casually in high school -- but this wasn't exactly how he had pictured their wedding night. He'd guessed that Lois was soaking in the tub and it was hard to keep his eyes to himself, but he'd promised himself years ago he'd never peek at anyone -- and now anyone included his wife. Sure, most men saw their wives sans clothes on their wedding night, but that was with permission and permission he didn't have. But he'd also thought that she'd be dressed when she came out of the bathroom.

The robe was perfectly modest, probably covering more of her than the dress she had worn to their wedding. But even the slightest suggestion of what might or might not be underneath made him slightly queasy. But queasy in a good way. Or it would have been a good way if this was a regular wedding night.

He had barely had time to collect his thoughts when the door opened and Lois emerged.

Clark couldn't hold back a laugh.

"What?" she asked indignantly.

"Lois, I promised, no funny stuff." And he'd meant it.

She rolled her eyes at him.

"Flannel? Really?"

She looked down at her long sleeve shirt and pants. "They're my favorites. I sleep best when it's cold, so I turned down the air conditioner -- I hope that's okay with you -- and now I'm wearing my favorite warm pajamas."

He grinned at her. "It's fine, Lois. But just remember, nothing will ever happen that you don't want to."

"I know and that's not what this is about, Clark. I just wanted to be comfy." She picked the cover off of one of the plates. "This looks delicious. Let's eat."

Clark agreed and they started to eat.

After a few minutes, Clark spoke. "Lois, you didn't have to get me a wedding band."

"I know, but I wanted to." They'd had this discussion the evening Clark proposed. He'd told her how he'd always wanted to wear his dad's, even if it had to be resized, but he had no idea what had happed to it.

"Where did you get the money? I thought you were broke -- just like me."

"Clark, something you need to learn, and quickly..." Lois grinned at him.

Clark raised a brow at her, almost afraid of what she was about to say.

"When your *wife* gets you something, don't question it. Just go with it."

Clark laughed. "Yes, ma'am."

"That's more like it." She poked at her pasta for a minute. "I'm sorry I couldn't get it engraved, Clark. I had enough money, but that would have completely wiped me out and I didn't want to do that."

He reached across and covered her hand with his. He smiled as she looked at him. "It's okay, Lois. Maybe we can get it engraved someday, but that's not important. What's important is that we're together and we can keep you and Lucy out of the system."

He took his hand back and they ate in silence for a few more minutes.

"It was my mom's favorite saying, you know. My dad's too, but especially my mom's."

Lois was momentarily confused. "What was?"

"'I have loved you since the beginning and I'll love you till the end.'"

"Ah."

Clark held a wine glass -- filled with soda -- in his hand and stared at the bubbly liquid. "We said it every night as far back as I can remember. I'd climb in bed and Mom would tuck me in -- at least until I made her stop because I thought I was too old for such things -- and she'd say 'I have loved you since the beginning and I'll love you till the end'. I still remember the first night I said it with her. I was like five years old and she tucked me in and before she could say anything, I said, 'I've loved you since the beginning, Mama'. I remember her tears -- looking back I'm sure they were happy tears, but I'd played hard that day and was almost asleep, but I heard her say 'I'll love you till the end, Clarkie.'" He looked sheepishly at Lois. "I hated it when she called me that, but every night after that, it was the last thing we said, though after I complained enough she just called me Clark."

Lois smiled sadly at him. "I wish I had those kinds of memories."

He smiled back. "We'll make new ones."

***

An hour later, they sat on the couch watching a movie they both claimed was their favorite.

Lois shivered slightly and Clark shifted so she could rest against him. He pulled a blanket over the two of them.

When the next commercial started, he turned to her. "Lois, it's been years since we've actually seen each other, but you're my best friend, you know that right?"

She pulled out of her resting spot. "And you're my best friend, Clark."

"Let's face it though. We've never spent much time together and things could be a bit weird at first."

She turned so she was facing directly at him. "I know that. We're going to have to get to know each other -- how we each do things, who likes to shower in the morning and who likes to shower at night and stuff like that."

"I want you to know that if you ever need a hug or someone to curl up with on the couch while watching an old movie, or anything else, you can and you don't have to worry that I'll get the wrong idea."

She smiled at him. "Thanks. You have no idea how much I appreciate that."

"Good. Then come here." He lifted the edge of the blanket and motioned her back under. "I know what you meant earlier about sleeping better when it is cold, but it also makes it easier to get comfy under a nice blanket."

She moved back towards him and settled comfortably in under his shoulder, her head resting on his chest.

He pulled her in slightly closer and kissed the side of her head. "Happy wedding day, Mrs. Kent."

She pulled back again and looked at him. "Mrs. Kent?"

He shrugged. "We *did* just get married... Most women who get married are referred to as Mrs. Whatever-their-husband's-last-name-is."

She frowned slightly. "I'm not most women."

He grinned. "I know. And you don't have to change your name if you don't want to."

"That wouldn't bother you?"

Clark shrugged again. "Maybe a little. I mean I always figured when I got married, my wife would take my name, but I'm married to you, not your name. If you want to change your name, go ahead, but if you don't that's okay with me too."

"Hmm... I'll have to think about that. Maybe I could hyphenate or something."

"If you want to."

"Lois Lane-Kent." She wrinkled her nose just a bit. "It sounds... different."

"It is different."

She thought for a minute. "It's not that I don't *want* to be a Kent -- it's better than being a Lane in a lot of ways -- but I want to graduate as Lois Lane. I want to win a Pulitzer as Lois Lane -- but I'm not sure I want to *be* Lois Lane. Lanes are... liars and drunks and cheats."

Clark pulled her back against him. "*You* are not a liar or a drunk or a cheat."

"I know." She chewed thoughtfully on her bottom lip. "I still want to have Lois Lane on my diploma. And my Pulitzer."

"*Our* Pulitzer," Clark smiled.

She smacked his chest lightly. "Semantics."

"Well, what if you keep your name until after graduation and then, if you want to, change it to Lois Lane-Kent or even Lois Kent, but use Lois Lane for professional purposes; for your byline. Kent and Kent or Kent and Lane-Kent just doesn't sound right. Kent and Lane though... I've been getting used to that potential byline for years now."

"Kent and Lane does *not* sound right either."

"It doesn't?"

She smacked his chest again. "No. It's Lane and Kent and don't you forget it."

He laughed. "Yes, ma'am." He sighed happily as she settled back into his arms. "But tonight -- on my wedding night -- I'm going to call you Mrs. Kent. If that's okay with you."

She smiled at him. "I guess."

"Then happy wedding day, Mrs. Kent." He kissed the side of her head again.

She giggled just a bit. "Happy wedding day, Mr. Kent. And thank you," she added softly.

"For what?"

"For being so understanding. For being you."

"Hey, I don't know how to be anybody else."

"I'm glad."

***

Two hours later, Clark was having the most wonderful dream. Lois was laying there with him and she was kissing him. Before long, he realized it wasn't a dream but that they were stretched out on the couch, the wonderful weight of his wife lying on top of him, her lips against his.

The kisses were soft and gentle and he returned them without hesitation at first. Could she really know what she was doing? Was this something she really wanted?

Her kisses interrupted his thoughts and it took nothing to banish them to the far reaches of his mind.

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her in to him. The kisses deepened, awakening something in him he had never felt before.

His hand slid slightly under her shirt until he just grazed the skin above the waistline of her flannel pants.

He heard her gasp before she pulled back from him.

"Clark? What's going on?"

"Lois?" He was puzzled.

She sat straight up and practically bolted to the other end of the couch. "What was that?"

"I woke up and you were kissing me."

Lois eyed him warily. "Really?"

He ran his hands through his hair. "Honest. I would never do something like that if it wasn't something I thought you wanted."

She pulled her knees into her chest. "I know. I don't know what happened, but I'm not ready for that. I don't know that I will ever be."

He stood. "I know and it's okay."

"No, Clark, it's not fair to you."

"I know what I promised you when I asked you to marry me. And I still plan to keep that promise. If you ever change your mind, I'm here, but until then I'll still be here -- I'll be your best friend and that's all until you're ready for more." He took a deep breath and stood. "Um, I'm going to go for a walk. I'll be back in a little bit." He turned, one hand on the door knob. He nodded towards the king sized bed visible through the door to the other room. "Go to bed. Get some sleep. I'll take the couch when I get back."

Lois shook her head. "It's a big bed. We're at a nice hotel, and even with the nice couch, there's no reason for you to sleep on it. I trust you, Clark. We've already discussed this and we need to get used to sleeping in the same bed."

Clark nodded. "I'll be back."

***

Lois slipped in between the covers, resting her head on the plush pillow and pulling the blankets close around her. She had been dreaming about what it would be like to kiss Clark and suddenly she was. They must have fallen asleep watching TV and with him so close... her subconscious must have really wanted to kiss him.

She was amazed that he had stopped at the first sign of any hesitation on her part. She knew he loved her and she couldn't imagine that at least part of him didn't want to make love to her. It was their wedding night after all. Maybe someday...

She lay there, drifting towards sleep, when she heard Clark quietly open the door, obviously trying not to wake her. She heard him take off his shoes and sit down on the couch.

"Clark?" She spoke quietly.

"Yes?"

"Please don't sleep on the couch."

She heard him sigh and then stand.

"Okay."

She felt him pull the covers back and sit down on the bed, swinging his legs up onto it.

She felt him hesitate and then settle in behind, but not touching, her. Suddenly, she had the overwhelming urge to feel his arms around her. To feel safe.

"Do you mind if I hold you while we sleep?" He asked quietly.

Was he a mind reader? "No."

She was surprised to find that he wasn't wearing a shirt when he snuggled in next to her.

"Thank you."

"For what?" She couldn't figure out what he would be thanking her for.

"For letting me hold you tonight. I never told you this, but my mom left me letters for momentous occasions in my life. She wasn't morbid or anything but realistic about her mortality. She left them with Wayne and told him to give me the first one when he thought I could handle it -- if they'd died when I was older, he probably would have given it to me pretty quickly, but he didn't. Not until I was 15. He gave me this whole packet of letters -- first date, graduation, first day of college, college graduation, engagement, wedding, first big fight with my wife, finding out my wife is pregnant, after the birth of my first child, ones for milestone birthdays and a couple of others that just have random dates on them. I've read a few of them, obviously, but I read the engagement and wedding ones yesterday." He chuckled. "I could tell that she didn't expect the engagement and wedding to be so close together."

Lois waited while he thought. His voice was quiet when he started to speak again. "In the wedding one she... gave me some advice that isn't really pertinent but was really weird to read -- I don't need to think about my parents doing *that*." He shuddered lightly. "She also said the thing she loved most about being married -- even more than... that -- was having my dad hold her while she slept and that he'd told her that was his favorite thing too. Someone to hold and to be held." His arm tightened slightly around her waist. "Thank you for letting me experience that."

She felt his arm tighten around her just a bit more.

"They were right," he whispered. "We fit together just right."

She closed her eyes and finally drifted back to sleep.

In many ways, she felt like she had finally come home.

***

Her first thought was that she wasn't at home. And what kind of pillow was that?

Lois opened her eyes just a sliver. A streak of sunlight peeked through the crack in the curtains, falling on Clark's face. That 'pillow' was his chest and she was resting in the crook of his arm as though she had lain there thousands of times before.

Under her hand was skin that was softer than she could have imagined and that belied the hard muscles beneath. Wow. She thought to herself that he must work out constantly to have abs like that.

Some primal urge encouraged her to run her hands over that six pack and those arms and possibly even...

She stopped the thought in its tracks.

Clark was a handsome man, there was no denying that, and they *had* gotten married the day before, but animal attraction was no reason for her to open herself up to the hurt so many of her friends had experienced.

If she was truly honest with herself, she knew that he wouldn't hurt her the way her friends had been hurt by men, no, by boys who supposedly loved them, but she wasn't going to take any chances. Her heart was simply too fragile to risk.

He stirred beneath her and turned his head towards hers until he could place a soft kiss on the top of her head. "Good morning, Mrs. Kent."

His voice was low and sultry, still in that world that was half awake and half asleep and it almost made her forget her resolve, but she didn't. She couldn't.

"Morning, Clark. And I thought Mrs. Kent was just for our wedding day."

His arm wrapped a little tighter around her, pulling her closer to him. "I expanded it to 'honeymoon'. Especially if we're in bed together. If that's okay with you."

She smiled at him. "Yeah. I guess it's okay."

He smiled back. "My mom was right."

She yawned before responding. "About what?"

"About holding my wife while we sleep. That I'd love it."

She could feel his breath teasing her hair and, in that moment, she decided that if she could pick anywhere to spend the rest of her life, right here would most certainly do. She nodded against his chest. "This is nice."

She could feel him yawn and stretch next to her before he spoke again.

"So, what do you want to do today? It's our honeymoon -- no one would fault us if we wanted to do nothing at all but stay here. You could take another bath, maybe order those massages your aunt mentioned, order room service, take a nap... Do you have any preferences?"

She shook her head. No preferences. Except to stay here for the rest of her life.

***

"Madam, these are for you." The bellhop handed her a dress bag.

Lois looked puzzled. "We didn't order these."

"All I know is I was told to bring them up here and give them and this to you." He handed her an envelope.

Clark stepped behind her and handed the young man a couple of dollar bills. "Thank you."

"What's this?" Lois unzipped one of the bags. "This must be yours." She held the bag containing a black tuxedo in his direction.

"Unless you think I'll look good in this." Clark held up a black dress.

Lois laughed. "I think we probably better trade. That length wouldn't really look very good on you."

He handed her the bag. "There's a card, too." He opened the envelope. "To my favorite couple -- have a wonderful night on the town. On me. A car will pick you up at 7:30. Lois has a hair and makeup appointment at six. Love you both. Aunt Louise." He raised a brow at Lois. "I guess we're going out tonight."

"I guess so." Lois took the card from him. "But we don't have to be anywhere until six -- or well I don't -- what do you want to do until then?"

Clark laid the bag with the tuxedo in it over the back of the chair and opened the large gift bag that had been delivered with their clothes. "We could play Scrabble." He pulled a Scrabble box out of the bag. "Or Monopoly." He dug through the rest of the items. "Or poker. There are chips and cards here. Or Trivial Pursuit or Yahtzee or Uno or chess."

"That's what she sent?"

"Yep. And a couple others, too." Clark pulled them out one by one, stacking them on the table as he did. "Any preferences?"

Lois picked up Scrabble. "You're on. Wanna bet?"

Clark laughed. "Sure. What do you wanna bet?"

Lois sat on the couch and slowly began to open the Scrabble box. "Loser lets the winner pick their entrée tonight at dinner."

Clark made a face at her. "That is not much of a bet. Especially since I'll eat just about anything."

"Do you have any other ideas?"

"Winner gets to..." Clark thought for a minute. "No, loser has to do laundry for a month."

"Laundry?"

"Sure. We're an old married couple now, right? One of us has to do laundry so -- for the next month -- the loser has to do it."

Lois poured all the tiles into a bag. "Okay, but I'm warning you, laundry is not my strong suit. Anything you own that's white will probably be pink by the time the month's over."

"So you admit you are going to lose?"

"Oh, no. I'm going to win. I just wanted you to know why you'll be glad you lost." She pulled a tile out of the bag. "Z. I get to go first."

"You never know." Clark reached into the bag and pulled out his own tile. "A. I guess you're right. You do get to go first."

"I'm always right, Clark," she said with a wink. "And don't you forget it."

He laughed. "Yes, ma'am."

***

Lois sipped on her soda, placing tiles on the board that was rapidly filling up. "There."

Clark laughed. "That is not a word."

"Sure it is."

"No. It's not."

"Yes, it is."

"Lois, chumpy is not a word."

"Sure it is."

"Use it in a sentence."

"The man was acting chumpy."

Clark raised one eyebrow. "I'm not buying it. Give me a definition of chumpy."

"Someone who acts like a chump is acting chumpy."

Clark rolled his eyes. "If you want to win using made up words, be my guest." He shrugged. "I just figured you would want to win fair and square."

Lois rolled her eyes and took the letters off the board. She rearranged the letters on her letter rack. She eyed the board carefully and then chose. She put down the letters for pouch. "Better?"

"Yeah."

Half an hour later, Lois groaned. "Okay, okay, you win. I have to do laundry all month." Lois held the silver bag as Clark folded the board together and funneled the tiles into the bag. "Double or nothing?"

"Two months worth of laundry?"

"Yep."

"You're on." Clark put the lid on the Scrabble box. "What game this time?"

"I picked Scrabble. Your turn."

Clark eyed the stack of games on the table. "Trivial Pursuit." He tore off the plastic. "What color do you want to be?"

"Yellow." Lois took one box of questions and opened the package of cards. "Roll to see who goes first?" When Clark nodded, she rolled the die, and then grimaced. "One."

Clark rolled. "Six. My turn to go first." They finished setting up the board and got out the pie pieces.

Lois won the roll of the die and quickly made it to the first pie piece question. "Great, Arts and Entertainment. Not exactly my strongest category."

Clark grinned at her. "Maybe you should read 'People' a little more often." He pulled out a card. "Who is the host of the top rated entertainment show 'Top Copy'?"

Lois sighed. "I have no idea. I have better things to do with my time than watch that trash. Your turn."

"Diana Stride." Clark also managed to roll a six, landing him on a pie spot. He had chosen history.

"What year was the Daily Planet founded?"

Clark grinned. "You told me, remember?"

Lois groaned and banged her head lightly against the table. "How could I forget? The eighty-seven-page letter describing my experience at the Daily Planet when I was a freshman. And you with an eidetic memory. Here. Take it." She held out a yellow pie piece.

Clark laughed. "For the record, the letter was only eighteen pages long -- front and back -- and Daily Planet was founded in 1775." He rolled the die. "Roll again." He did. "Wild card."

Lois laughed. "Whose personal plane was equipped with a blue suede bathroom?"

Clark groaned. "Must be President Presley's."

Lois sighed again and handed him an orange piece. "Here you go."

Nearly half an hour later, Clark had all but one pie piece.

"Arts and Entertainment. Last one." She pulled a card. "Finish the lyrics to the Frank Sinatra song: "Fly me to the moon / Let me play among the stars / Let me see what spring is like / On a-Jupiter and Mars / In other words, hold my hand / In other words, baby,...?"

Clark hummed and then answered. "Kiss me." He triumphantly placed the pink piece into his pie. "Now all I have to do is land in the middle."

Nearly an hour after that, Lois landed triumphantly in the middle. "One more question and I win. What category?"

"Arts and Entertainment seems to give you the most trouble, so I'll pick that one." He pulled a card and read the question. "Gwendolyn stays with Jarrod even though she's in love with Jonathan on which daytime soap opera?"

"I can't believe I know this. No, I can't believe I'm answering this so that you know that I know this." Lois held her head in her hands.

"Lois watches soaps?" Clark raised a brow.

"Soap. Singular. My mom got me hooked years ago. It's the Ivory Tower."

Clark groaned. "Okay, you win."

Lois smiled back at him. "You didn't do so bad yourself, Farmboy. You just didn't get lucky with the die there near the end. You couldn't land in the middle to save your life."

"So, we split laundry duty for the next two months." Clark began putting the game away. "That's something we probably need to talk about."

"What's that?"

"How to split chores and stuff. Laundry or dishes or cooking or whatever."

Lois laughed. "I do very little domestic stuff. Any chores you want, you're welcome to. And as for cooking -- if you want to live, you'll probably want to do the cooking. My cooking is probably hazardous to your health."

"Oh, I am sure my stomach could handle just about anything you could throw at it."

"Really?"

"You bet your sweet little chumpy." He grinned at her.

She rolled her eyes. "Fine. How about a game of Speed? Loser makes dinner -- and cleans up the dishes -- for a month."

"You're on!"

***

Lois left for the salon still grumbling about losing at Speed. She hoped Clark's stomach really was made of steel as he claimed.

An hour later, feeling quite pampered and refreshed, she reentered their suite, feeling slightly out of place in her sweat pants, sweat shirt and upswept hair.

Clark grinned. "You look great from the neck up."

Lois glared at him, but was stopped in her tracks. He didn't have his tie on yet and his collar was undone, but there he stood in his tuxedo, complete with suspenders. "Wow." She couldn't stop herself. He looked incredible, even though he wasn't completely ready. "You look very nice yourself."

With that she grabbed the dress bag and headed for the bedroom, shutting the door behind her. When she reemerged, she wore a black dress that just skimmed her knees, and a cut that clung to her every curve.

By then, Clark had tied his tie and sat on the couch waiting for her. He almost floated up out of his seat when she emerged. Instead he let out a low wolf whistle. "I hope you don't mind, but you look... Wow."

Lois giggled. "Hope you're better with words than that. You'll never make it as a journalist if that's all you can come up with."

Clark grinned at her. "How about beautiful? Does that work for you?"

She nodded, but before either one of them could say another word, the phone rang.

Lois answered, then turned back to Clark. "Our car's here." She giggled. "Imagine that? 'Our car'. Sounds a lot fancier than we really are.

Clark nodded and offered her his arm. "Shall we?"

She slipped her hand into his elbow. "Let's go."

***

Chapter 5

"Clark, can you believe this?" Lois looked around in wide eyed wonder. "I've never seen anything like this in my life."

They sat in the back of a long stretch limo, complete with mini bar -- which was stocked with their favorite sodas and a few snacks -- and a TV with a selection of movies, if they chose.

Not knowing how long they had until they arrived at their destination, they settled back into the plush seats and watched the lights of downtown Metropolis float by. They didn't speak much, but instead enjoyed the view, speaking only to point out an item of interest here or there.

Sometime later, they pulled up in front of what appeared to be a club. Surely, Aunt Louise wasn't sending them somewhere where they would be carded.

As they still sat, wide eyed and mouths agape, the rear door was opened by the driver. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent, the Blue Note, Metropolis' finest jazz club awaits. The maitre d has all of the arrangements made. I will return to pick you up later this evening. If I have not yet arrived, tell the maitre d and he will notify me that you are ready to leave."

He held the door as Clark stepped out. Clark turned and held out his hand to help Lois. The black shawl wrapped around her back and threaded through her elbows did little to block out the chill in the air and she was glad the walk to the door was a short one.

They were soon seated next to the dance floor, not too close to the band, but not too far away either. They were able to talk as the smooth sounds of the local band floated through the room.

"Now, I know we changed the bet, but do you trust me enough to order for you?" Clark asked.

"Sure. If I'm going to be cooking for the next month, we might as well get a good meal now."

Their waiter brought them each a glass of water and informed them that their tab was completely taken care of -- they were free to order as they chose.

"For an appetizer, we'll have the fruit and cheese platter, and for my entree..." Clark looked over the menu for just another minute. "I'll have the Grilled Atlantic Salmon with saffron rice and spinach with the house salad on the side. My wife..." He winked at Lois. "...will have the Pepper Crusted Seared Ahi Tuna with white rice and seaweed salad. I'll have a Pepsi to drink and the lady will have a Diet Coke."

"Very well, sir. Your appetizer will be ready in just a few moments." He walked towards the kitchen, leaving them to enjoy the music.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have special guests with us this evening." The lead saxophonist spoke into the microphone. "Newlyweds, Mr. and Mrs. Clark Kent. For various reasons, they have yet to enjoy their first dance so, please, give a warm Blue Note welcome to the young couple."

Lois' face had turned three shades of red and Clark cleared his throat nervously. Scattered applause sounded throughout the club as Clark pushed back from the table and helped Lois to her feet. He took her by the hand and led her to the dance floor. He grasped her waist lightly with his left hand and gently pulled her close to him. The unmistakable strains of 'Unforgettable' floated through the air.

Lois felt Clark's breath playing with her hair as their bodies moved slowly around the dance floor. She began to sing in a low voice. "Unforgettable, that's what you are. Unforgettable, though near or far. Like a song of love that clings to me, how the thought of you does things to me, never before has someone been more, Unforgettable in every way..."

She paused.

"Don't stop," Clark whispered.

She smiled slightly and then continued. "That's why darling, it's incredible that someone so unforgettable, thinks that I am unforgettable too."

They did little more than sway together in time to the music as the instrumental interlude floated in the air. When it was time for the lyrics to continue, Lois began to sing quietly again. "Unforgettable, in every way. And forevermore that is how you will stay. That's why, darling, it's incredible that someone so unforgettable thinks that I am unforgettable too."

The applause picked up again as the song came to an end.

The man came back to the microphone. "So, not only do we have a handsome couple who can dance, but a beautiful woman who can sing."

"Clark," Lois hissed as she smacked him on the chest. "I didn't think anyone else could hear me."

Clark smiled at her. "You sounded wonderful."

The man continued to speak. "Since we don't want to completely embarrass our newlyweds, how about the rest of you join them on the dance floor for 'Fly Me to the Moon'?"

Clark spun Lois around as other couples joined them on the dance floor. He pulled her back close to him and rested his cheek against her hair as the strains of the old song filled the air. By the time it was over, they were summoned to their table.

They enjoyed their fruit and cheese until it was gone, just in time for their entrees.

***

Hours later, Clark lay next to Lois and pulled her back against him, their bodies molding together as they had the night before.

He loved her. He somehow knew he had loved her the first time he saw her in line at journalism camp. Ever since he had first kissed her the day before they left camp and then at their wedding and later that night when they had found themselves kissing in their sleep, he had longed to take her in his arms and kiss her like she deserved to be kissed.

His arm tightened around her slightly, the flannel of what she claimed were her most comfortable pajamas sitting softly against his arm.

How on earth did he expect to keep his feelings to himself when he was so close to her all night every night? When he longed to not just hold her, but to kiss her and make love with her as married couples were wont to do.

Well, he had already availed himself of the shower -- the cold side of it -- once and had taken a quick trip to the Arctic last night after their make out session on the couch.

And how did he plan to explain to her that he was an alien? Somehow he knew she'd understand, but would she feel slighted that she hadn't been allowed to choose for herself? To make the decision to marry him with all of the facts?

Marry him. That brought him back to the predicament forefront on his mind. How did he plan to keep the almost overwhelming desire for the woman next to him under control for the foreseeable future?

Cold showers and quick flights to the Arctic. That was the only answer he could come up with, at least for the time being.

Eventually, he hoped, he would get used to it and he would be able to accept the platonic nature of their marriage without the ever present reminders that it was anything but a normal one.

***

The next morning they began their apartment hunt. Most of the apartments they thought they'd be able to afford without dipping into Lois' and Lucy's inheritance regularly were in parts of town they wouldn't even consider -- even if the judge hadn't warned them she wouldn't let Lucy live with them in one of those areas.

Finally they found one in their price range in a slightly better part of town. It was a one bedroom, semi-open floor plan on Clinton. A call to the landlord led to an appointment after lunch.

They sat in a small deli near the Daily Planet, grateful for the shelter from the January wind. They could actually see the famous globe from their table.

"Clark, I want to buy a paper when we leave here."

He looked at her, puzzled. "Lois, we got a complimentary paper at the hotel. What exactly do you think we've been looking through all day?"

She shook her head. "No, I want to go buy one at the Daily Planet. There's a newsstand inside -- or there used to be -- and I want to buy one there."

Clark laughed. "Okay. We can do that. We have another hour before we need to head over to Clinton Street. And it's not too far from here. About four stops on the subway."

"I guess buying a day pass was a good move then."

Clark nodded. "Yep." He swirled what was left of his soda around in his glass for a moment before he spoke again. "I have to go back to Kansas."

Lois looked at him, one eyebrow cocked. "What?"

"I have to get packed up and some of my stuff moved to storage at Wayne's. He called this morning while you were in the shower. Some people approached him the other day who want to rent the house furnished, but there's a few things that I don't want to leave out -- my mom's china, for instance. I'm not sure I want to bring it here just yet, but I don't want to leave it either. And I need more clothes. I brought enough to last a week and we're rapidly approaching that time period."

"We have a washing machine, Clark. We're even taking it with us to the apartment, if we get one with a washer/dryer hookup."

"I know, and I was going to suggest swinging by your house for a couple hours today to see Aunt Louise and Lucy and do a load of laundry, but I do need to go back, and I'm probably going to need to drive so I won't have to ship everything back." He sighed. "That means we need to get a car by this weekend preferably. It's a twenty hour drive. If I leave Friday, I can be back Sunday."

"Clark, that's ridiculous!" Her eyes flashed at him. "There's no way you can do that."

"I'd rather try to leave on Thursday," he conceded. "I can drive all night and get there mid-afternoon on Friday in case Wayne needs me to sign anything or whatever. I can get a good night's sleep and pack up on Saturday and leave either late Saturday or very early Sunday and try to be home late Sunday night."

"I don't think so. Not by yourself. I'll go with you." She stabbed her fork into her salad and took a bite.

He sighed. "Lois, you have two finals on Friday."

She slumped back in her seat, defeated. "I know. I just don't want you to have to drive all that way by yourself."

"I don't really want to," he admitted. "I like to sleep in as much as the next guy, but I really don't *need* much sleep and when the sun comes up it'll reenergize me and wake me up about half way through the trip. I might fall over dead to the world as soon as I get back here though, especially if I want to make it to my first classes on Monday morning." He had to convince her not to go. He knew he'd be fine, and if she wasn't there, he could do things much faster -- including moving his spaceship and its contents someplace safe. Just where he wasn't sure yet, but he'd figure something out.

Lois nodded. "I guess that's the best way. So we have to find an apartment and get a car in order for you to be on the road on Thursday evening. Sure. We can do that. No sweat." She stared in the direction of the Daily Planet for a few minutes before speaking again. "I want to work there someday, Clark."

He covered her hand with his own. "I know. Me, too." After a minute, he cleaned up their table and took the paper back out. "I'm going to look through here some more and see if there's anything we missed."

Lois took another section of the paper for herself, idly flipping through it. "Look at this, Clark." She started to read from the small article on the bottom of page B5. "'Former Daily Planet reporting team Billy Norcross and Serena Judd announced their separation yesterday, due to irreconcilable differences. In a letter to Daily Planet editor Perry White, they stated that they remembered fondly their days as reporters for this paper and continue to wish everyone at their former place of employment well. Their wedding in the fall of 1981 made a big splash in the newspaper world, as the Pulitzer nominated, Kerth and Meriwether Award winning duo formalized their personal relationship. Not long after, they left the Daily Planet to pursue other interests. The press release indicated that divorce proceedings were likely to follow in the near future.'"

"Wow," was all Clark could manage.

***

"Clark, this place is a dump." Lois sighed as she tried not to step in a pile of something. She wasn't quite sure what it was. She stood on a landing at the top of a small flight of stairs that led down into the living room. The whole place was covered with literally inches of dust. There were cobwebs and several of the cabinet doors hung by only one hinge. One was sitting on the floor, having been disconnected all together. Arches on either end of the living room led to another area. Lois walked down the stairs and started towards that part of the apartment.

"I know, but it's about all we can afford. I have got all my stuff lined up with UNT Met and the internship at the Star, but it doesn't pay much and I was lucky someone else dropped out so I could get it. I'll get a job working part time delivering pizzas or something. The foster care stipend will help a little bit too, but..." He shook his head as he followed her into what must have been the bedroom. "I'm afraid this is as good as it's going to get for now." He moved over to stand behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist, pulling her to him. "I'm sorry, Lois," he whispered softly. "This isn't what I wanted for us, what I wanted our life to be like."

She leaned her head back into his chest. "I know, Clark. But we have our whole lives ahead of us. It's only temporary. We'll make it out of here." She wrinkled her nose. "I do like the windows and balcony and that loft up there will work for Lucy. The stairs look sturdy which is saying something given the rest of this dump."

"We'll fix it up. The landlord said we could do whatever we want to it. And once it's done we get two months free rent."

Lois sighed. "We'll have to use some of the inheritance to fix it though. There's no way we can come up with enough money in time otherwise."

"I still have some of my inheritance too. Not much but Wayne would give it to me if I asked."

Lois shook her head. "You already used most of it to fix up the farmhouse. We'll use some of what Mom and Dad left. Technically, Aunt Louise controls it right now -- or will once everything is settled -- but as long as we're not being frivolous, I don't think that she'll prevent us from doing pretty much whatever we want with it. I want to save as much of it as possible for Lucy's college fund."

"I know, and I don't start classes for another week so I can get most of it done between now and then and then go job hunting before I leave for Kansas."

She turned in his arms to rest her head on his chest. "And someday we will be the best reporting team the planet has ever seen."

Clark laughed. "Don't you think we need to get degrees and a job first?"

Lois pulled back. "Speak for yourself. I don't *need* either one of those to be the best." She turned and headed towards the door. "Of course, it will make winning a Pulitzer easier."

"You think?"

"I said easier, Kent. Not impossible." She turned to face him and suddenly grew serious. "Somehow, Clark, I know we can do anything. As long as we do it together." She held his eyes for a long moment and then turned to walk out the door.

***

"What? Lois, that is ridiculous!" Clark stood in the middle of their new apartment, paintbrush in hand and stared at her.

"Why?" Lois stared at him.

"You're a senior. You need to focus on your schoolwork."

Lois threw her hands up. "I'm at the top of my class. I rarely need to study because I just don't have to. Even without the eidetic memory. So, why is it you can work and I can't?"

"Because. I'm in college. I don't have the structured schedule you do. Besides, I'm your husband. It's my job to take care of my family. Right now, that's you and Lucy. So you shouldn't have to work."

She rolled her eyes. "Whatever. We're a family now and in a family everybody does their share. Right now, your share is college, internship and as much of a part time job as you think you can handle. My share is to go to school and get a job. We have to have money, so we have to work. Both of us."

"Fine. But I don't have to like it." Clark looked around the little apartment. "I'll finish fixing this place up tomorrow and then it'll be livable before the social worker gets here." He frowned. "But even if it's done in time, I really don't want you and Lucy moving in until after I get back from Kansas."

Lois nodded her agreement and studied the things that Clark had managed to accomplish while she had been in school. "I don't know how you've gotten so much done."

Clark grinned at her. "I'm good. Now, where are you working?"

"That fast food place a couple blocks from here."

Clark eyed her. "I'm not so sure about that."

"It'll be fine. It's close enough I can walk on nice days and the neighborhood isn't as bad as some of the other places we looked at."

"Fine. But I'm going to walk with you whenever I can."

Lois rolled her eyes. "Fine."

"We still need to get a car though."

"I know." Lois chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. "I have to have a way to get me and Lucy to school and back. And you have to go to Kansas... How can we find a reliable used car we can afford? We don't have any money in savings..."

Clark sighed. "I can't believe Pete totaled my truck last week. I told him he could use it but..." He locked the door behind him as they left the apartment. "Lois, don't bite my head off here, but what if we used a couple thousand of the insurance money to buy a car that we won't have to worry about too much." He held up his hands. "Hear me out. We might be able to scrape together a couple hundred in the next couple weeks, but anything we find for that price probably won't be very reliable. And I need to be able to take it to Smallville and back. But if we take three or four thousand and buy a fairly recent model car with good gas mileage to take you two back and forth... I am not talking about a 'Vette or anything, just a nice used Honda or Toyota or something."

Lois nodded. "I wish Aunt Louise hadn't sold Mom's car so fast. You could have taken it and we could have used it until we found something. I mean she had an offer, for full price which paid off the loan and then some but... I had thought about using the money already. There isn't really any other way to get something that's what we need at this point. There should be enough from the sale of Mom's car to get us something."

"We'll find something." He snapped his fingers. "I'll call Pete. His dad was getting ready to sell his old car. I'll see if he has yet. He's the mechanic in Smallville so we'd know it had been taken care of and he'd give me a good deal. Pete's been one of my best friends since kindergarten and besides," he grinned, "he owes me for wrecking the truck."

Lois rolled her eyes at him. "It's not his fault a cow ran out in front of him." She looked at him quizzically. "Do cows run?"

Clark laughed. "He went around a corner and there shouldn't have been a cow in the middle of the road but there was."

"Well, is it in our price range?"

Clark shrugged. "Probably. It's about six or seven years old, so I'd guess so. I'll call him from your house and see."

"How will you get back to Smallville then?"

"I got an open ended round trip ticket. I'll just have to make arrangements with the airline." That was only partially accurate. Clark would fly himself home, making sure his 'flight time' was when Lois would be in school. There would be no problem with Kent Airlines being overbooked.

***

"The 'UnGame'? What's that?" Lois curled up in the chair in the hotel room they called their own for one more. Her hair was still damp from her shower and curled down her back.

Clark shrugged and opened the box and held up the red and white sheet. "Let's see. Rules and Secrets of Success with the UnGame'." He opened it and started to read. "How? 1. Determine the length of playing time. For optimum results, forty-five minutes to an hour is recommended."

"Let's start with thirty minutes and go from there," Lois interjected as she glanced at her watch. "It'll be about time for dinner then."

"Okay. 2. Players are encouraged to sit CLOSE together. The UNGAME works best with 2-8 people of ANY AGE."

"Two players, obviously." She stood and moved to the couch. "Sit."

Clark grinned and obeyed, sitting on the other end of the couch, facing her. "3. Players agree to REMAIN SILENT except on their turns." He eyed her. "Can you do that?"

"Of course," Lois huffed.

"4. Select the deck of cards to be used. Deck number one contains lighthearted topics and should be used first. Deck number two contains more serious topics and works best AFTER a group has practiced SHARING, LISTENING and INTERACTING with deck number one."

"Number one it is. We'll save deck two for another time."

"Sounds good to me. 5. Play begins when someone draws a card from the deck. If a TOPIC card is drawn, player should read it aloud and respond in two or three sentences. NO OTHER PLAYER CAN COMMENT AT THIS TIME." He looked at Lois.

She threw up her hands. "I can be quiet!"

"Okay." He grinned. "6. Person to the left draws a card and game continues until time is up. Extra time may be desired at the conclusion for open sharing."

"Okay." Lois held out her hand. "Hand me half of deck one and we'll take turns."

Clark handed over half of deck one. "Who goes first?"

"I will." Lois flipped over the first card. "Well, this is appropriate. 'If you could spend one whole day with your best friend, what would you like to do?'" She thought for a moment. "The day after our wedding. It was perfect. Room service, bubble bath, games, pampering at a salon, limo and dancing at an upscale jazz club -- what could be better?" She put the card on the bottom of her stack. "Your turn."

Clark pulled his card. "'Talk about competition.' I think this one should have been yours." He grinned at her. "Competition... I'm competitive. I want to be the best at what I do, but winning isn't everything. I don't want to compete with you about important stuff. Games and bets over laundry is one thing, but I never want to compete with you over big stuff where it gets in the way of us."

Lois nodded. "Me either." She pulled the next card and made a face. "Talk about your favorite sport and why you like it." She thought for a moment. "I guess baseball because you don't have to pay attention all the time if you don't want to."

Clark pulled his next card. "Tell about your favorite magazine and why you like it." He put the card on the bottom of his stack. "Easy. Sports Illustrated. Enough said."

Lois laughed. "Figures." She read her next card. "Complete the sentence: 'My favorite time of day is...'" She thought for a moment. "Evening. When things are winding down and I can finally relax."

"'Describe the most unpleasant job you have ever had to do.'" Clark thought for a second. "Horse Inseminator." Clark shook his head at her look. "Trust me, you don't want to know."

Lois wrinkled her nose. "Better you than me. But what worries me more is that you had to think about it. What other jobs have you done?" She held a hand up. "Never mind. I don't want to know." She flipped over a card. "'Describe something you like to do that seems out of the ordinary.'" She thought. "I like to read the paper. I don't think that's normal for a seventeen-year-old girl."

Clark pulled his next card. "'Share a scary dream.'" He took a deep breath and let it out slowly. How much could he tell Lois without telling her everything? The timing for that just wasn't right. "Sometimes, when I'm really tired or really stressed out, I dream about my parents dying. It's not always the way they actually did die, but I always try to save them and I'm always just a bit too slow or not quite strong enough or something."

Lois reached over and grasped his hand lightly. "Clark, your parents dying was not your fault. There was nothing you could have done -- you were only ten."

Clark sighed again. "Yeah, I suppose." He shook it off. "Your turn."

"'Tell about a family tradition that you enjoy.' Every Christmas we'd spend a day putting up decorations together. We never really got along the rest of the year, but that one day, we always did and by the end of the day, there were lights on the house and the tree was up and we would make cookies and drink Vernors -- because Santa didn't like milk at our house -- he liked Vernors."

"We'll do that together if you want. Decorate for Christmas, that is."

She nodded.

He pulled a card. "'Tell about a 'special' gift you received when you were a child.' You know I was adopted right?" Lois nodded. "My birth parents left some stuff with me and when my parents found me, they kept the things that my birth parents left. Someday I'll show them to you, but I don't have them with me."

"I'd like that." She looked at her next card. "'What musical instrument would you use to describe yourself? Why?'" She wrinkled her nose. "Pass. That's stupid."

"'Tell about a secret desire you have.'" Clark looked over at the lovely young woman who was his wife and knew that he could not share the secret desire that had enveloped him since they had said 'I do'. Lois wasn't ready for that and he would never push her. He went with something else instead. "I want to hear you sing again." At the look on her face, he backpedaled slightly. "Not right now, but sometime."

Lois nodded. "Maybe. 'Describe the 'greatest' dessert in the world.' Easy. Chocolate layer cake with chocolate frosting and mini chocolate chips on top."

Clark laughed. "So chocolate would be a good present for you?"

Lois nodded. "Yep." She glanced at her watch. "It's been almost half an hour. Last question and then it's time to order dinner and I'd like to go take another one of those long soaks if it's okay with you. It's the last chance I'll get and I'm pretty sore from working last night."

Clark nodded and pulled one more card. "'Say something about space travel.'" Another deep breath. Why did he get these cards? "I think it could be possible. I think there could be life on other planets. I think there could even be beings out there who look human." Might as well get her reaction.

Lois looked at him wide eyed, her tone belying her look. "Do you think they walk among us? Waiting to take over the world?"

Clark laughed uncomfortably. "I doubt they're waiting to take over the world, but you never know -- they could be walking among us."

Lois laughed. "Sure, Clark." She stood. "I'm going to go try to relax for a bit." She headed for the bathroom.

"Lois?" Clark called after her.

She turned. "Yes?"

"I enjoyed this. Maybe we can do the second deck sometime soon? Help us get to know each other better?"

Lois nodded. "Sure. Maybe later." And she disappeared into the bathroom.

***

The room had gotten chilly enough that Lois put on another favorite pair of pajamas and curled up on the couch under a blanket.

"Ready?" Clark asked her. When she nodded her assent, he handed her half the stack of cards. "Deck two." He pulled a card off of his stack. "'Which of your senses do you value the most?' That's easy. My sight."

Lois looked at him oddly. "You wear glasses."

He gulped guiltily -- he was going to have to tell her and soon. "I know, but sight is more easily correctable than, say, losing your sense of smell. And besides," he winked at her. "With my sight I get to see my beautiful wife."

Lois rolled her eyes, admitting to herself, yet again, that this marriage was more serious to Clark than it was to her. She glanced at her next card. Knowing the answer in her head, maybe it was more important to her than she would ever let on. "'When do you feel the most peaceful?'" She blushed slightly before answering. "When you hold me before we fall asleep. That is when I feel the most at peace and the most safe. Like everything is right in the world."

She refused to look him in the eyes as she said it, but Clark would take what he could get. Maybe there was hope after all. He pulled a card, not wanting to embarrass her more. "'Talk about something beautiful you saw this week.'" So much for that plan. "You, when I saw you come out of the bathroom that night, all dressed up. I have never seen anything more beautiful." When he saw how uncomfortable that made her he continued. "Er, no. Forget I said that." He winked at her again. "The sunset out the plane window was beautiful. Yeah. That's it."

She blushed again, grateful that he had changed his answer. "'If you could have a committee of three people -- living or dead -- to help you make decisions, whom would you choose?'" She thought for a minute. "Perry White. I've never *really* met the man, but I have read about him and he *is* the editor of the Daily Planet. That has to mean something, and since I would *love* to work there someday..." She paused before continuing. "Albert Chow. Anyone who can make that much money must know something about something, and Lex Luthor creeps me out, even though he's local and Chow isn't. And you," she continued quickly. "You're my best friend and so I trust your advice."

Clark nodded. "Ditto all three, except you, you know?" He pulled a card. "'Share something that no one knows about you.'" Why did he keep getting these kinds of questions? If he didn't know any better, he might think that someone had stacked the deck. "Well, I wouldn't say no one knows this, but you don't. The circumstances of my adoption when I was little were unusual. I don't really want to talk about the details right now, but I will tell you all about it someday." How did one tell his wife that he was an alien anyway? "For now... you know I was a foundling, but even beyond that, my adoption wasn't normal." He looked at her, his eyes pleading with her not to ask any more questions about it for now. "Is that enough for now?"

She looked at him, chewing thoughtfully on her bottom lip, before she nodded. "When you're ready, you'll tell me." She hated being kept in the dark about anything, but she realized Clark wasn't going to talk about it right now and that, if they wanted this marriage to work on any level, there was going to have to be some modicum of trust. And somehow she knew that if she trusted him on this, it would mean a lot to him. And so she'd let it go. For now. She sighed as she read her next question. "'What would be the most difficult news for you to accept about someone in your family?'" She threw up her hands. "I don't know. That they were controlled by aliens or something. You know, like that movie where everyone who was controlled by aliens had an X on the back of the neck. Something like that. I mean I've already gone though drunks and cheats, so aliens must be next, right?"

Clark groaned inwardly. How difficult this was going to be eventually. He moved on. "'Share a childhood experience of embarrassment.' When I was 10, about two weeks before my parents died, I saw them, um, you know, um, 'going at it'." He used finger quotes to help make his point. He didn't mention he had seen them through the wall. "That was not good. I loved my parents and on some level I knew they did those kinds of things, but seeing it..." He shuddered. "That was something I didn't need."

Lois shuddered with him. "I did that once about two years ago -- walked in on them. They didn't do that kind of thing often I don't think -- they fought too much even after they got back together -- but still... Not good." She thought for a minute. "No. Lucy said that after they got back together... they still fought, but apparently..." She blushed as she stared at the couch. "They also made up. A lot. And loudly." She sighed before continuing. "'What would you like to achieve with your life?' Easy. Couple of Pulitzers, a few Kerths, a happy home, eradicate all evil from the world. Next."

Clark laughed. "You don't want much do you?"

"Nope."

"'Complete the answer: "I hope..."'" He looked at Lois with all seriousness. "I hope I can help you win those Pulitzers and Kerths and eradicate all evil from the world, but most of all I hope I can help you make that happy home."

"Thanks, Clark," she said softly, holding his eyes for a moment before looking away. She looked at the card in her hand. "'How do you feel when a TV program is interrupted by a special news bulletin?' Annoyed as all get out. Especially if it's a show that I enjoy that is just getting to the good part and then I don't know what happened."

"'What do you think is your purpose in life?' Easy. To help people in any way I can." That 'any way' included ripping doors off cars or putting out fires with freezing breath was not what he cared to include at this point.

"'Talk about a recent news story that has captured your interest.' I knew you were adopted and then orphaned so I've always sort of paid attention to stories like that. There was on recently about Lex Luthor opening an orphanage for kids -- Luthor House for Homeless Children or something -- but..." She shook her head. "Something about it seemed off. Maybe it was the way he talked when he was at the podium... I can't put my finger on it, but something bothered me."

"That's interesting. I'll have to see if anyone at the Star is doing a follow-up and see what I can see." He looked at the next card. "'What kind of emergency scares you the most?'" Not again. "The kind where I'm not strong enough or fast enough or whatever to help. Especially if you were to be in danger at some point."

Lois rolled her eyes. "You really are a Boy Scout aren't you? 'Share your feelings about financial security.' I want to be financially secure. I don't want to live paycheck to paycheck my whole life. I know it won't be easy, but I would like to get ahead at some point. And I don't want to use the inheritance money to do it. I want that to be for Lucy's college."

Clark nodded. "Me, too. 'Describe divorce in three words.'" Clark held up a finger with each word. "Not. Gonna. Happen." At Lois' look, he continued. "I think that as long as we care about each other, we can work through anything. Any problems we have. At least that's what I want. What my parents taught me."

"Even if you fall in love with someone else?" Lois looked at her hands, unwilling or unable to make herself look at him.

In an instant he was kneeling by her on the couch. One finger lifted her chin so she had to face him. "Lois, I know you aren't in love with me and I know it's hard for you to believe that I am truly in love with you because we know each other so little really. But I promise you, that is never going to happen. You are the only woman in the world for me. Ever. Period. End of discussion. I knew the second I bumped into you at Journalism Camp that someday, somehow, I would find you again and I would marry you."

Tears had begun to stream down Lois' face. "Are you sure, Clark? Even if it's been ten years and I am still not ready to..." she gestured towards the bedroom. "...you know."

"Ten years?" An eyebrow raised. "I hope it's not that long, Lois, but I will wait for you, however long it takes, I promise." He pulled her close to him. "I promise," he whispered.

***

Chapter 6

"I don't know how you've done it, Mr. and Mrs. Kent, but the apartment looks much nicer than you would expect for this neighborhood."

Lois and Clark exchanged a glance. People had been calling her Mrs. Kent all week. It was easier, they'd discovered, to just let it go for the moment. It didn't really matter with most of the people they talked to.

"Clark did most of it. His classes don't start until next week and internship doesn't start until the week after that. I've been going to school and started a new job so I haven't been able to help as much as I would have liked." Lois stood in the middle of the freshly painted living room.

"I know the judge said a one bedroom was okay with her if the neighborhood was good enough, and I think this will work, but where will Lucy put her things and sleep and so on?"

Lois pointed to a staircase on one side of the bedroom. "There's a loft up the stairs that Lucy can use for her room. There's no wall, but it'll give her her own space. And if we can get the cash together, Clark will put one up as soon as he can. It's not very big, but her bed and dresser from home will fit up there." She pointed to a nook to the side of the front door. "We'll put a desk down here for homework and stuff."

The social worker nodded. "I guess that will work. Not my preference, but sometimes you have to work with what you have."

Clark stepped to Lois' side and grasped her hand lightly. "It's not what we would prefer either, but you're right -- we have to work with what we have and hopefully, we won't be here for too long."

The social worker frowned slightly and headed to the small dining room and sat down at the table covered with papers, motioning for Lois and Clark to join her. "Okay -- so I do need to know a little bit about your finances. Lois, you said you had a job?"

"I started yesterday at the fast food place down the street. It's not much more than minimum wage, but the schedule is flexible and my boss promised me most Sundays off, so I'll always have at least one day to devote only to studying. The plan is for me to work between fifteen and twenty hours a week, at least for now. More on weeks when there is no school."

"Okay. What about you, Clark?"

"Well, I have an internship at the Metropolis Star that starts soon. It pays $250 a week, not much but something. I'm also going to be delivering papers twice a day around my classes. I'm hoping to find a pizza delivery job or something else if I can, but we also want one of us to be here most evenings with Lucy, so that's a factor when we look for jobs. I hope to get some handyman type stuff -- putting furniture together and stuff for people in the neighborhood. I also have my parents' farm in Kansas. I fixed up the house recently, but the rest of the buildings need a lot of work. There's a family renting it right now but no money coming in. They're going to fix up the rest of the farm in exchange for a year's rent. The executor of my parents' will is on the next farm over and he's keeping an eye on things for me. Hopefully, next year, we'll have some income from that. We'll also have the foster care stipend. We won't be eating out every night or buying expensive cars, but we'll get by just fine." He reached over and squeezed Lois' hand. "We'll be together and that's the most important thing."

The social worker nodded. "Well, I'd like to see you two work up a budget and make sure you really have a handle on things, but overall, I'm impressed with what you have done. I'm going to tell the judge I think Lucy would be fine here. Better than she would be going into foster care."

Tears glistened in Lois' eyes. "Thank you," she whispered.

Clark pulled her into a side hug and kissed the top of her head before turning back to the social worker. "Thank you. You've made my wife very happy."

***

March 1985

Soon, they were settling into a comfortable routine. Clark had flown himself back to Kansas, bought the car from Pete's dad and taken care of things at the farm -- including hiding his ship. He'd returned on Sunday, as promised, with a car full of his things. They'd sold the house and most of the furniture. Neither one wanted to use her parents' bed, for instance. They'd had a nice bedroom set but not one that either Lois or Clark particularly cared for. It had brought a good price and they decided to use Lois' furniture but buy the matching bed frame in a larger size. Sam Lane had bought Lois a nice, solid wood bedroom set in a fit of guilt a few years earlier, but after trying out the double bed one night after they left the hotel but before they moved into the apartment, they decided it had to go. They sold it and used it and some of the other money from the sale of furniture and other things to buy the matching king size frame and a new mattress set. They didn't splurge on much, but they decided to on that. They were probably going to be exhausted enough in the future without an uncomfortable bed to keep them from getting good rest. They'd kept the couch and TVs and VCR and microwave and Lucy's furniture, among some other things, but neither Lane sister had much of an emotional attachment to most of the things from their parents' home.

And so, Clark would wake Lois before he left to deliver papers. She'd spend an hour studying, then get ready and wake Lucy up. Lucy would get ready while Lois made something semi-edible for breakfast and they headed out for Lincoln High. Clark worked his internship and attended classes during the day, delivering the afternoon paper during one of his breaks.

Lois and Lucy returned about four in the afternoon, when they would both study. Most nights Clark came home about 5:15 or so, just in time to walk Lois to work and then spent his evening helping Lucy with her homework and doing his own before picking Lois back up at ten or eleven.

It was one such night about three months after they married that things changed.

It was a slightly chilly spring evening, and Lois had left her jacket at home and forgot to ask Clark to bring it with him when he came to get her. He had wrapped an arm around her to keep her warm. It was a Saturday and neither of them had to be anywhere the next morning so they were walking slowly, just enjoying the time together -- something they rarely had -- time to just chat and be friends.

Out of nowhere, Lois felt something hard in her back.

"Don't move and no one will get hurt," a low voice warned. "Give me your purse."

"I don't have one," Lois answered defiantly.

"Fine. Then give me those rings."

"No."

Clark tried to convince her. "Lois, give him the rings. They're not worth it."

"They were your mom's, Clark. I am not letting this creep have them."

"So I'm a creep?" the voice asked.

"Yes, you're a creep."

"Lo-is." Clark's voice had a warning tone to it. "Give him what he wants."

"No."

Suddenly, Lois' leg moved up and then back down as she stomped on her assailant's foot. She brought one elbow back sharply, catching him in the stomach. As he doubled over, she brought one arm down on his back.

He lost control of his gun hand during her attack and it went off without warning.

Clark grabbed his stomach and stared at Lois and the mugger.

The attacker turned and ran down an alley as Lois ran to Clark's side.

"Clark! Clark! Are you okay? Let me see." She tried to move his hands from where they were grasping his abdomen.

"Um, Lois. There's something we need to talk about."

"Not now, Clark. Let me see that! We have to get you to the hospital!"

"No, Lois. I'm fine. I promise." He slowly moved his hands, showing her his uninjured stomach. He then held up a small piece of metal. "See this?"

"How were you not hit?! And what is that?"

He took a deep breath. "It's the bullet, Lois. I was hit."

"Then what... How..." She shook her head, trying to clear it and comprehend what Clark was saying.

He looked intently at her. "Lois, do you trust me?"

"Of course I do."

He held out his hand to her. "Then trust me now."

She grasped his hand. "I trust you."

He pulled her close to him and wrapped his arms around her. "Put your arms around me and close your eyes."

She did, and he looked around carefully to make sure they didn't have an audience.

"Hold on tight."

"You're scaring me, Clark."

"There's nothing to be scared of," he whispered against her hair as they shot up into the night sky.

***

Lois clung tightly to Clark, trying desperately not to scream.

She had wrapped her arms tightly around him and felt him pull her close to his chest.

And then, suddenly, the ground disappeared from beneath her feet and she felt the wind rushing by her, her hair blowing around her face.

"Clark?" The word was barely a whisper.

"Shhh. Trust me."

How had he heard her? The sound of the wind was rushing through her ears. She had barely heard herself.

She squeezed her eyes shut and tried desperately not to hyperventilate. What was going on? How were they... she could barely bring herself to think the word... flying? Is that what they were doing? There didn't seem to be any other logical explanation. But was *flying* a *logical* explanation?

She finally decided to try to shut off the questions until Clark was ready to talk to her. Whatever explanation he had for whatever was going on... well, it had better be good.

It seemed like forever but was probably less than ten minutes before her feet were back on solid ground.

She felt his grip loosen slightly, but she refused to let go. Not until she knew what was going on.

"Where are we, Clark?"

"In Colorado. In the mountains."

"How did we get here?" Her eyes were still tightly shut and her grip solid around Clark's waist.

She felt and heard Clark take a deep breath. "We flew."

"I figured that. But how?"

"I'm going to do my best to explain it." She could almost feel his smile through his chest. "You can let go now, you know."

She relaxed her grip slightly. She moved her head so that she could see his face. She had been right. He was grinning at her. That slightly impish grin she was quickly coming to love. It was all she could do to not laugh at that point. He had a way of making her feel at ease, even in situations that were entirely out of her comfort zone.

She smiled back at him and then, with a final tiny squeeze, stepped back. "Okay. Explain."

He suddenly looked nervous -- staring at his feet, scuffing his shoe against a dandelion, looking just about anywhere but at her. Then he took a deep breath. "I've never actually told anyone this. None of it. My parents knew some of it but not all. They died before it all began happening."

"Before what began happening?" Lois' fledgling reporter instincts were on edge.

"The strange things."

"What strange things?"

Clark rolled his eyes at her. "Let me start at the beginning."

"Fine." She sat down on the grass in the open field. The full moon highlighted Clark's slightly exotic features.

"Remember I told you I was a foundling and that my adoption was unusual?"

"I'm beginning to think unusual is an understatement."

"You're probably right." He took a deep breath. "It all started about three months after I was born. My parents found me. They were driving home from Maisie's one night when there was a meteor shower. One of the meteors was particularly bright and landed in Schuster's Field. They headed over to investigate and found a tiny spaceship."

Lois was sure her eyes were as wide as the proverbial flying saucer. A spaceship? Her mind raced at the possibilities of what could have been inside. As about two dozen ideas flashed through her head instantaneously, it clicked.

"You were in it?" she whispered, the conclusion suddenly becoming obvious.

She saw him nod soberly.

"They estimated my age at about three months and took me home with them. They took the spacecraft with them and hid all evidence of how I arrived in Smallville. They posted notices in the local papers as well as those in larger nearby cities like Kansas City and even as far away as Oklahoma City and St. Louis. Of course, no one came forward to claim me so the adoption went through.

"I was fairly normal as a young child. I was never sick or broke any bones, though by all rights I should have. I fell out of my tree house at least a couple times a year." He grinned sheepishly. "Balance wasn't my strong suit. But I never did. Break any bones, that is. By the time I was nine, I was able to run exceptionally fast. I tried one night to see how far I could go and how fast, and I ran around the farm in about two minutes. That's about four miles or so. I'm faster now."

A mile in thirty seconds? She could hardly believe her ears.

"That winter we came to Colorado for a ski trip. One night my parents drove to a little town on the other side of the mountain for a nice dinner for two." He shook his head sadly. "Over the few weeks before that night, my hearing had improved dramatically. I could hear whispers from over a mile away if I tried to. My eyes had started doing weird things too. I could see through things -- like into my parents' room. I had very little control over either one. I was nervous about it but I was going to tell my parents that night. Then I heard the screaming.

"It was my mom. My ears and eyes automatically tuned in to my parents' car. My mom was grasping at the dashboard with one hand and checking her seatbelt with the other. My dad was trying desperately to control the car, but something was going wrong. I could hear him yelling something about the brakes. I took off running as fast as I could, but I wasn't fast enough."

Lois could tell he was close to tears. All of things he was telling her, about being found in a spaceship and finding out all of the things he was able to do... it all paled in comparison to what she was hearing now.

"I couldn't bear to watch them, so I had to turn away. The cliff face was too straight and I wasn't strong enough to climb down and rescue them. If I had just been a few seconds faster..." He had to stop and take a deep breath before continuing. "It was two days before anyone else found them. I had reported them missing the next morning when it was obvious that no one had figured out what happened yet. I couldn't very well show them where the car went over, and it took two days for rescue crews to find them."

He sat down while telling the story. Lois moved to sit beside him, one arm around him, her head leaning against his shoulder. In all the letters they'd written, all he had ever mentioned about his parents' death was that they'd died in a car accident. It made sense now that he hadn't told her the details, but she had often wondered about it.

"I wasn't fast enough then, but I would be today."

"What else can you do?" Lois could tell she had surprised him with her question. She had surprised herself.

He shrugged. "I'm fast. I can hear things from really far away or that are said really quietly. I can see through things. I can freeze things with my breath and I can start a fire with my eyes..."

"You can?" Even Lois was surprised at how excited she sounded.

"Yeah. Why?"

"You could make us a little fire right now?"

Clark shrugged. "I guess."

"Would you mind? I am a bit chilly. I forgot my jacket, remember?"

Clark immediately got to his feet. "I'm sorry, Lois. I should have remembered."

"Oh, Clark. It's not a big deal..." Lois gasped as Clark became a blur. Within seconds, there was a pile of firewood in front of her. She watched as he stared at the pile and it suddenly burst into flame.

"Wow."

It was all she could manage to get out.

"Really?"

"Yeah."

"It doesn't freak you out?" He looked scared.

She thought, but only for a split second, deciding the best course of action would be the truth. "Well, maybe a little bit. It's a lot to take in and it's not like I have a frame of reference or any kind of precedence for this, but I think it's pretty cool." She grinned. "We'll never have to worry about being cold."

He laughed. "I guess not, but I don't ever get cold. Or hot. I don't really feel the weather changes."

She was thoughtful for a minute. "I guess that's why you keep me so warm at night?"

He laughed again. "I guess. Makes as much sense as anything else."

Lois turned to him. "Those fires. The ones that got you branded as a pyromaniac..."

Clark grimaced. "Yeah. That was when the whole heat vision thing was kicking in. I couldn't control it. "

"Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry."

He shrugged and sat down next to her. "I'm just glad it didn't start at camp. You see those car lights over there?"

Lois squinted a bit and saw a few lights snaking along the side of the mountain. "Yeah."

"That's Red Mountain Pass. It's one of the most dangerous stretches of mountain road around. That's the road they were on, not too far from where we are right now. When I realized I was moving to Metropolis and going to rent the farm out, I took the spaceship and a globe that came with it and brought it here. It was hidden pretty well and no one had ever found it before, but no one had done renovations to the farm either. I know it seems a bit odd that I would bury them here, near where my parents died, but it makes sense to me. I've come here several times since I realized I could fly."

"When was that?"

"About two weeks after I turned eighteen. I had caught myself floating in my sleep a time or two..."

"What?!"

He grinned sheepishly. "Yeah, I haven't actually done that since we've been married. Maybe you keep me grounded or something, but yeah, sometimes I float in my sleep."

"Great. Just don't fall on me. You might squish me or something!"

"Lois, I would never squish you."

"I know." He looked at her with a tenderness she had never seen and she felt the sudden urge to change the subject. "So when did you realize you could fly?"

"As I was saying, about two weeks after I turned eighteen. I was working in the barn when a plank in the loft gave way and I slipped out the upper door. Even though I knew I was invulnerable, I still cringed at the thought of hitting the ground outside. The thought of 'wouldn't it be nice if I could fly' went through my head and suddenly I was." He shrugged. "After everything else, it didn't really surprise me. That night I flew here. I'm sure it seems odd, but this was where I was truly happy for the last time. At least before the day I married you."

She noticed that he wouldn't look at her as he said it. "So you buried the things most important to you in the place where you last felt happy. That doesn't seem that unusual."

"Would you like to see them?"

Lois nodded, still amazed that he would share all of this with her. He stood and brushed himself off. "I'll be right back."

She watched as he trotted towards the tree line. She heard a whooshing sound and then he was standing in front of her. Slightly dusty and disheveled, he held a small spaceship in one hand.

"It's bigger than I thought."

"Really?" He raised an eyebrow at her.

She shrugged. "Yeah. I mean a three month old baby is only..." she held her hands about eighteen inches apart, "...about this big. This ship is way bigger than that."

"Well, Lois, there had to be some sort of navigational system and life support system and stuff."

"Okay, okay. I guess you're right, but it's still bigger than I was expecting." She stood and walked to it. "So how does it work?"

Clark shrugged. "I have no idea." At Lois' arched brow, he continued. "We were never able to do anything with it. Mom and Dad showed it to me a couple times, but even though the farm stayed in my name, I didn't really see it much at all after they died. Dad said they tried to figure it out, but apparently Kryptonian technology is beyond ours."

"Kryptonian?"

"Krypton is the name of the planet I'm from."

"Wow. An actual other planet? I was guessing Soviet Union or something."

A look of concern suddenly crossed his face. "Are you mad at me?"

She was surprised. "Why would I be mad at you?"

"I asked you to marry me without telling you any of this. Don't you feel kind of... tricked or cheated?"

"No. Why would I?"

"Because this is something I should have told you first."

"Well, it's not exactly like you could have told me with a letter."

"True, but..."

"And, 'oh by the way, we're about to walk into the chapel, but I'm an alien' wouldn't have worked either so, you told me at the first opportunity."

"True. But we had all those outer space/alien questions in the UnGame..." He let his voice trail off. "I didn't think you would be this understanding about it."

"Oh, Clark." Lois rested her head on his shoulder. "There's a big difference between speaking theoretically about something I truly believe to be sci-fi and talking about your reality."

They stayed as they were, watching the fire dance over the blue tinted metal of the tiny ship. Lois stood and walked over to it, running her hand along the stylized "S". "What's this?"

He shrugged. "I'm not sure. Family crest maybe?"

"I think it's nice."

"It makes me feel comfortable... safe somehow." He stared for a few more moments at the ship before speaking again. "We should get back. It's late and I do have to work tomorrow."

"Not until noon."

"Still. Lucy's home by herself."

"You're right." She walked over to Clark. "Let's put that fire out and rebury your ship and..."

A white light began to glow from inside the ship. Clark shot her a puzzled look and walked towards the tiny craft. He reached towards it and the instant his hand touched the outer skin, the side panels fell to the ground and the top hatch opened. As the top raised, into the air floated a spherical object.

It seemed to project a hologram of sorts that enveloped them. Lois could see Clark across a white room of some kind.

There was a distinguished silver haired man and a red haired woman both dressed in silver and white with the same stylized "S" found on the front of Clark's ship.

The man spoke.

"My name is Jor-El. And you are Kal-El, my son. The object you hold has been attuned to you. That you now hear these words is proof that you survived the journey in space and have reached your full maturity. Now it is time for you to learn our heritage. To that end, I will appear to you five times. Watch for the light, listen, and learn."

The man they now knew as Jor-El stood before a waist level console. He moved his hands, touching holographic images above it in order to make it work. There was a large view screen attached to it. Multicolored lights swirled on the screen. There was a work table on one side. On top of the table was an assortment of metal and plastic parts to... something. An egg-like capsule sat on a pedestal. The compartment was filled with some sort of mist.

"Time grows short and we continue to search. The immensity of space is both a blessing and a curse. In that near infinite variety there must be some place suitable. Hope and desperation drive us in equal measure."

The woman with him gestured towards the screen and Jor-El shook his head. They stared into the mist at something Clark and Lois couldn't see.

"Lara works by my side. She is tireless and endlessly patient. Considering what is soon to come, this is my greatest consolation: that we are together."

A tremor shook their lab. The console flared. Jor-El wrapped his arms around Lara. The tremor stopped and the console returned to normal.

The globe stopped glowing. It looked like a globe of the Earth, but only for an instant and then it changed to a red and blue globe of a place Lois had never seen. She saw a look of recognition cross Clark's face.

"What? What is it?" she asked.

"Krypton." The word was barely a whisper.

"What?"

"Krypton." Clark picked up the globe and turned it over in his hands. "That's the planet Krypton, where I'm from."

Lois looked at the globe more closely. "How can you tell?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I just know that's where I'm from."

Slowly he walked over to the ship and replaced one of the side panels. Before replacing the other, he wrapped the globe in a bright blue blanket that also had the "S" shield on it. "I don't think this would be safe in Metropolis. We'll have to come back sometime soon and see if we can see any of the other messages."

Lois nodded. "I think that's smart. We don't live in a very good part of town, and even though you could prevent someone from taking it, you're not home all that much and I wouldn't want Lucy to find it either."

Clark placed the blanket and the globe in the ship and replaced the second panel. He picked it up and was gone in a blur. He was back before she really had time to realize he was gone.

"It's buried and covered safely."

"Good." Lois walked over to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, resting her head on his chest. She felt him wrap his arms around her and for a long moment, they just stood there.

"Are you ready to go home?"

She nodded into his chest. "Yeah. It's been a long day and it's time to hit the hay. Take us home, Flyboy."

"Flyboy?" Clark teased.

"Yeah..." Lois couldn't finish her sentence as she realized that they were airborne again.

"Sometime we'll have to fly so that you can see where we're going. You'll love it."

"I'm sure I will, but this is all still a bit too new to me," she murmured into his chest. "Can you even hear me when I talk like this?"

She felt Clark's laugh as much as she heard it.

"Yes, I can."

A thought suddenly occurred to her. "Do you ever use any of your gizmos on me?"

"Gizmos?"

"Yeah. You know the eye gizmos."

"No, Lois," he said seriously. "I would never violate your privacy like that. Now, if I ever thought you were in trouble, I might, but other than that, no. I wouldn't do that."

Lois relaxed slightly. She hadn't really thought he would, but it was reassuring to hear him say it. "I know."

"Hold on tight. We're getting close to Metropolis and we're going to go in awfully fast."

"Is there any other way to hold on?"

Clark laughed again. "Here we go."

When she pulled back from him, once her feet were on the ground, they were standing in the alley behind their apartment building.

"That was about the most interesting night I think I've ever had." She turned and headed towards the building. "You coming?"

She heard Clark's footsteps behind her. "Yes. I'm coming. And yes, it's about the most interesting night I have ever had too." She felt him near her and then his arm was around her shoulder. It was comforting to know he was there beside her, always, even if she didn't love him the way she imagined most women loved their husbands. He was her best friend and always would be. He was a rock when she needed it and nothing would change that. Not finding out that he had strange powers or that he was from another planet.

Nothing.

***

Chapter 7

April 1985

"Are you ready?"

"As ready as I'll ever be."

Clark swept her into his arms. "I'm going to take off fast, so tuck your head in. We'll slow down once we're out of the city or over some clouds and I'll show you what it is that makes flying so wonderful."

Lois tucked her head in close to Clark's shoulder. "Let's go." She felt the air moving around her, glad she had put her hair into a French braid.

It wasn't long before the wind around her died down. She moved her head from Clark's shoulder and looked around. The stars were a million times clearer and a million times closer than they had ever been before.

"Wow. Clark, it's beautiful up here."

"It sure is."

She realized he wasn't looking at the view but rather at her.

"I love flying. It makes me feel so free and unrestrained by the cares of the world. You have no idea how hard it was to buy that plane ticket after you called that night. I could have been at your door step in a matter of minutes, but how on earth would I have explained that?"

Lois nodded. "That might have been a bit much." She gazed around a bit more. "Where are we going tonight?"

"Back to Colorado if that's okay with you. I'd like to see if that globe has anything else to say."

Lois nodded. She was curious too. Little else had occupied her mind since the first message had appeared three weeks prior, but work and school schedules had prevented them from returning until now.

They landed in the field and Clark made short work of things. He had brought a blanket out the night before and he quickly spread it and started a fire to help keep her warm. Then, in the blink of an eye, he unearthed the ship and globe.

No sooner than he returned to her side than it began to glow.

Once again they were transported through time and space, to a laboratory across galaxies.

"This is the second of the five times I will appear. You may wonder that I speak your language, and not my native Kryptonian: I do not. That is another property of the object."

The images of Clark's birth parents hovered over a white work table of sorts. They used a number of instruments Lois could not identify, but whatever they were doing, it was obviously important to them. Jor-El touched a probe of some kind to a helix shaped grouping of thin metals. Lights began to glow. Tones began to sound.

"Unmanned Kryptonian probes have explored every corner of the known galaxy and beyond. For thousands of centuries we have received data back from those probes. I have every confidence that, given enough time, we can achieve the conversion to a manned vessel. But, will we have the time?"

Another earthquake shook the room. Lois was sure that she could actually feel the ground moving beneath her feet. This one was far longer and more violent than the ones they'd seen before. Jor-El and Lara seemed to look right at them as they returned to their work. They went back to the pedestal in the middle of the room, working almost frantically on the capsule that sat on top of it. Jor-El waved his hands above one of the displays. It began to blink. Whatever it was that he saw, it clearly worried him.

"The pattern of core disintegration continues to accelerate. Even I cannot predict where it will end. There is an ancient Kryptonian saying: 'On a long road, take small steps.' Precision and care are our watchwords. Yet, we still have far to go."

They returned to their work and then the globe went dim. Lois and Clark were back in a clearing in the Colorado Mountains. Clark's hand gripped hers. When he had grasped it, she didn't know, but she didn't let go.

"Wow." Clark spoke softly, moving to sit on the blanket, gently pulling her with him.

"Yeah. What your parents must have gone through to get you here... to save you from the fate the rest of the planet was about to meet... They obviously loved you very much."

Clark nodded, tears welling up in his eyes. "They saved me but they weren't able to save themselves. I wonder why they couldn't build a bigger ship."

"I'm sure they wanted to, but for whatever reason, they couldn't. They saved you, their only son, because they couldn't bear the thought of you dying too."

Clark nodded again. "It's a lot to take in."

"I'm sure it is."

They sat in silence for some time, each alternating between studying the stars and studying the globe, wondering when it would again light up with more information about Clark's past, about his family, his planet, about where he came from and why they sent him to earth. Was it possible that they had survived and a later message would tell him where they were? Would he want to leave to go find them if given the option?

"I'm glad they did it." Lois spoke softly.

He turned to look at her. "What?"

"I'm glad they sent you here, to me."

Clark smiled softly at her. "Me too."

***

May 1985

"Clark, we don't have to go."

"Sure we do."

"No, we don't. We don't have the money to go."

Clark just leaned back in his chair at the dining room table and grinned at her. "Sure we do. You have that dress from Aunt Louise and I have my tux. I got a phone call from her yesterday and she said to make sure you got to go to your prom. She's sending money for the tickets."

"Really?" Lois was skeptical.

"Yep. She's sending enough for the tickets and pictures and, um..." This was the part that was a bit awkward. "She said she wanted to get us a room at the Lexor that night since that's where the prom is. We could stay as late as we wanted and then we wouldn't have to drive home afterwards. She said she'd make sure we could check in beforehand and get you another appointment at the salon."

Lois raised a brow and toyed with her napkin. "What about Lucy?"

Clark shrugged. "What about her? She'll be okay for one night or maybe she can go stay with Lisa. She asked me last night if she might be able to soon."

Lois sighed. "I guess I'm outvoted, but you know, I've only even been to like two high school dances in the last three years and that was to cover them for the paper." She shrugged. "They're just not important to me."

"I know. I went to every dance in high school. Not because the dance was important or anything, but because that's what you did in Smallville. There wasn't much else to do in a small town like that, so I went. I didn't usually go with anyone in particular, but I did go with Lana a couple times and took Rachel to the prom, but it wasn't like you see on TV or whatever where the guy is all sweaty palms and the girl is all heart aflutter and..."

Lois snorted.

"What?"

"You might not have been all sweaty palms asking Rachel out, but 10 to 1 she was all heart aflutter."

Clark laughed. "That's unlikely. We'd had a senior prom pact since we were eight and her oldest sister went. She didn't want to have to go with just any old yucky boy so I doubt she was all 'heart aflutter'." He made finger quotes to emphasize his point.

"I would seriously bet money that she was. Lana was head over heels for you, from what you said in your letters, so I'm sure she was all aflutter too. And, I don't know Rachel, but you are kinda cute and a half decent guy to boot. Any girl would be crazy not to be crazy for you."

Clark rolled his eyes and wished Lois were even a little crazy for him. "If you say so. I'm just glad Lana had moved on by then so I didn't have to deal with her thinking we were going together. My point is that even though I didn't have a steady girlfriend or anything, I'm glad I went. It's a once in a lifetime thing and I don't want you to miss it. That is if you don't mind taking an old married guy with you."

Lois laughed softly. "If I have to go, there's no one else I'd rather take."

Clark covered her hand with his. "I'm glad."

***

"Who is *that*?" Julie asked her friend.

"Yum. I don't know who it is, but I wish he'd asked me instead of Les," Debbie replied, knowing even as she said it she didn't mean it and that Julie knew that too. She loved Les.

The two girls exited the restroom area and watched as the handsome dark haired, young man leaned casually against a pillar in the lobby of the hotel.

Julie's eyes narrowed slightly as he raised his hand to look at his watch. "He's married."

"What?"

"He's got a ring on."

"You don't think..." Debbie's voice trailed off. "Nah."

"What?"

"You don't think that's Lois' husband do you?"

"Who?" A new voice chimed in as they moved off to the side, careful to make it look like they were studying the front door to the hotel rather than the handsome stranger.

"Hey, Peggy. We were wondering if that's Lois' husband." Julie nodded towards the pillar. "If that's him, I can see why she got married." She let out a low whistle. "He's hot."

The elevator door opened near them and Lois emerged.

They watched as the object of their attention straightened and a smile lit up his face. They saw him offer his arm to Lois and they watched as the couple walked towards the ball room.

"You know, she said she only got married to keep her sister out of foster care but..." Debbie trailed off

"Yeah." The other two agreed.

"She's at our table, right?" Debbie asked.

Peggy nodded. "Yeah. I made sure. We haven't seen her much this semester with everything she's had going on so I figured it'd be a good chance to catch up. And to meet that husband of hers."

"I heard her sister had said he was cuter than Lois ever let on but..." Julie shook her head. "I never would have believed he was that cute."

"There's the guys." Debbie pointed to three young men in tuxes headed their way. "Let's go meet this guy."

***

"Oh, so, Clark, I never asked you... In situations like this... Are you a mingler or a clinger?" Lois' hand was nestled snugly inside Clark's elbow as they made their way towards their designated table.

"A what?" Clark looked at her with a raised brow.

"A mingler or a clinger. Do you hang on the hip all night or do you like to split up and circulate?"

"I think I'll hang on your hip, if that's all right with you. At least for a while."

"Sure, but why? Because you don't know anybody?"

"Well, yeah. And because then I get to be with the most beautiful woman here. And, uh, because I heard a couple girls talking about how they no longer believed you got married just to keep Lucy out of the system." He rested his hand on hers.

Her brows furrowed. "Why is that?"

He had the good manners to blush just a bit. "Um, they thought I was cute."

She looked him up and down critically. "I don't think I'd say 'cute'."

He clasped a hand over his heart and pretended to swoon. "My ego..."

She turned to face him and straightened his tie with both hands. "Handsome, yes. Cute... well, in that monkey suit, you're way beyond cute. I can't believe they said cute."

He laughed self-consciously. "Well, they actually said 'hot'."

She turned and set her bag down on the chair in front of the plate with her name tag sitting on it. "Now that I believe." She walked around the table examining the other names on the plates. "Julie, Joe, Debbie, Les, Dick and Peggy."

Clark groaned.

"What?"

"I think those are the girls..." His voice trailed off.

Lois grinned impishly. "Good. They can eat their hearts out."

At that moment, the couples in question arrived at the table. Lois winked at Clark and turned to hug her friends.

***

Lois sipped her water, wondering how long Clark would be in the bathroom. The other three couples from their table were dancing and she wanted the chance to dance with him again.

"Hello, Lois."

She looked up and barely managed to stop herself from rolling her eyes. "Hi, Dan."

"Call me Daniel, please. Can I have this dance?" He held out a hand.

"I'm married, remember?"

He shrugged. "That's okay. All I want is a dance."

She sighed. "Thanks, but no thanks."

"I'm not going to drag you off to my lair or something, Lois."

"Dan..." she started.

A hand rested on her shoulder. "Honey, would you like to dance?" Clark turned to the other young man. "Hi, I'm Clark, Lois' husband." He held out his hand. "You are...?"

"Daniel." He took the offered hand and shook it quickly.

"Dan, you don't mind if I steal my wife for a dance do you?"

"Call me Daniel and, no, of course not."

Lois stood and Clark's hand rested on the small of her back as they walked over to the dance floor, where a slow song was playing. She moved into the circle of his arms. "Thank you."

"Is that the guy who gave you that mobile of eyeballs?"

Lois groaned and rested her forehead on his shoulder. "Yes. Did you have to remind me about that?"

"You're the one who told me about it."

"He thought it would make me want to go to the Homecoming dance with him."

"Why?"

"No clue."

They continued to move to the music, but Lois was deep in thought. Dan was weird. That was a given, but he had asked her to dance tonight even though he knew she was married. It raised an interesting question. She liked Clark a lot and she even loved him. He was her best friend, after all. But what if *the guy* for her came along and she was already married? She didn't believe that there really was a guy out there for her -- she'd never told Clark that she'd actually sworn off marriage or why -- but what if? What if Clark, regardless of his insistence that she was the only one for him, wasn't the only one for her? Would she leave him? Would he let her? Would she feel obligated to stay with him because of all he'd sacrificed for her and Lucy? Would he leave her first anyway? Was there a chance, slim as he made it sound, that he was already regretting tying himself down to her at such a young age? Her parents had shown her time and time again that marriage vows didn't necessarily mean anything. Would Clark actually be any different?

"Penny for your thoughts?" he whispered in her ear.

She smiled up at him determined to put those thoughts out of her mind for the rest of the night. "Oh, nothing. Just enjoying being here with you. I'm glad you're here with me."

"Me, too."

***

The table had segregated itself as the evening began to wear down. The four young men were on one side discussing the merits of the new Metropolis starting quarterback, while their dates sat together shaking their heads.

Debbie finally broached the subject that had been on all their minds. "So, Lois," she started softly. "Why didn't you ever tell us how cute he is?"

Lois rolled her eyes. "I told you he was cute."

"Well, yeah," Julie whispered. "But you never told us *how* cute!"

"I didn't know 'cute' wasn't descriptive enough."

Peggy rolled her eyes. "Lois, puppies are cute. Clark is way beyond cute. If the most adorable puppy ever is a nine on the ten-point cute scale, Clark is a hundred and fifteen."

Debbie nodded. "Seriously. Tom Cruise would be the before, and Clark the after. The way, way after."

Julie sighed dreamily. "Okay, maybe not 'way way after' Tom Cruise, but he's way cuter than you ever let on."

Peggy held out a hand, palm down, near her lap. "If this is guys like Michael J. Fox and Kirk Cameron and Ricky Schroeder who are cute and possibly well-built, but not hot..." She held her other hand about six inches above the first. "...and this is the guys like Patrick Swayze and Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford..." She moved her first hand a foot above the second. "... and this is all the guys in the Brat Pack rolled into one..." Her second hand moved slightly above the first, so that it was just above eye level. "...then this is Clark."

Lois raised a brow. "Are you guys serious? Yeah, he's great looking, but I didn't think you'd put him on that level. *I* would obviously, but I didn't think you guys would."

"Well, those guys are all theoretical," Debbie said. "Clark is real. He moved all the way across the country to marry you when you needed him. It doesn't get more real than that. That moves him way up on the cuteness scale, but he would have been pretty high anyway," she admitted.

Lois groaned inwardly as she saw Clark trying to smother a grin that she was sure had nothing to do with football. "Sorry. Didn't realize I was holding out on you guys. It's not like he's ever going to be available." Clark turned and winked at her. She knew he could hear every word no matter how softly her friends talked.

The other three girls sighed audibly. Lois sighed herself as her friends drifted off into some sort of dreamland about Clark.

"Guys!" She had to snap them out of it. "You've got dates and that's my *husband* you're ogling," she hissed.

They all looked appropriately contrite and muttered some form of apology.

"So," Peggy winked at her friends. "We saw you get out of the elevator. Are you guys staying here tonight?" She was the picture of innocence.

Lois blushed, knowing what was going through their minds. "Yeah. My Aunt Louise insisted. She's the only reason we're here in the first place. We don't have this kind of money."

"Seriously?" Julie raised an eyebrow at her. "You don't have money for prom? Didn't your parents leave you any?"

Lois sighed. "They left a little bit, but not a whole lot. We're saving it for Lucy's college. We live on what we earn, which isn't much once we pay rent and buy gas and stuff. Aunt Louise sent us here for a week right after we got married. The next day she sent me this dress and Clark that tux and sent us to The Blue Note for dinner and dancing. She called Clark a couple weeks ago and said she was sending us to the prom and getting us a room for the night. Believe me, it's much better than the place we live. Nice hot shower without worrying about running out of hot water in four minutes, nice big tub to soak in..." She glared at her friends as they giggled. "Don't have to worry about the heating or cooling bill... Believe me, I'd much rather be here."

The three friends shared a look. "Sorry, Lo," Debbie said. "We had no idea things were that tough."

Lois shrugged. "It's the life we chose... for now. We won't live there forever. Clark's got a scholarship to college that pays for just about everything but housing. I've got a scholarship too. I think I can be done in three years, at the same time Clark finishes, and we'll move on. Clark could be living at his parents' farmhouse in Smallville, going to Midwest University and it would be a fairly easy life financially. The farm is paid for and he had a full scholarship. Lucy and I could be living with Aunt Louise at a retirement community in Texas, which would also be very easy financially, but not much fun at all. Or Lucy and I could be in foster care until my next birthday in December and it's unlikely they would have given me custody of Lucy then. Clark went through the system in Smallville and I couldn't let that happen to me and Lucy. Clark and I had talked about getting married someday. We just figured it would be after college. When my folks died, we moved it up a bit." She felt only a little guilty about lying. She and Clark had mentioned marriage in only one or two letters each and then it was only in jest. Looking back, she knew it had crossed Clark's mind much more seriously than it had hers.

Peggy had reached out to hold her hand while she spoke. "We're sorry, Lo. We had no idea. We just knew you were really busy and we haven't really had a chance to talk to you in months. You spend all the time you're not actually in class working on the paper or studying in the library. You leave right after school. We haven't seen you. We should have made more of an effort."

Lois smiled at them. "I know. I've been so busy. Lucy and I go straight home and I make her study and then I go to work three or four nights a week. I usually work at least eight hours on Saturdays too. Clark and I try to spend the other half of my Saturday together if he's not working. Sundays we try to do something with Lucy for at least part of the day, but Clark usually works or has his internship on Sundays too. Neither one of us has much free time, and it usually isn't at the same time. He stays home with Lucy in the evenings to do his homework and to make sure she does hers. If it's nice he walks me to work and back, but that's about the only time we have together most days. We don't live in the nicest neighborhood and it's not anywhere near school, really." She shrugged. "It's just the way it is."

"He loves you, Lo. I can see in it the way he looks at you. That and he barely glanced at Jodi when she threw herself at him while you were in the bathroom."

"What?! Jodi was talking to him?" At the nod, she continued. "That hussy! He's wearing a wedding ring for crying out loud!" She glanced at Clark and saw him start to cough, but she knew he was just struggling to keep from laughing.

Peggy shrugged. "She doesn't care. She just saw a cute guy she hadn't either slept with or been turned down by and went for it. He smiled politely and told her that he wasn't interested."

Lois shook her head. "That sounds like Clark. He'd be nice to anyone. Even home breaking hussies." She took a sip of her water. "So which after party are you guys going to?"

"Todd Wellington's," Julie answered.

"Fun."

Debbie shrugged. "It's the coolest party, so that's where we'll be. I just hope the guys don't get all drunk again like they did after Homecoming." She shuddered. "Bobby had to drive all of us home."

Lois nodded. "I remember hearing about it. Would you like us to go? Clark doesn't ever drink enough to get drunk and neither do I -- in fact after my mom, I probably won't ever drink much at all. We could be your safety net, so to speak."

Peggy shook her head. "Nah. I think they learned their lesson last time. The cops showed up like ten minutes after we left and arrested a bunch of people. Todd's parents are bound to be a lot more careful about what goes on." She winked at Lois. "Besides you guys have a suite waiting for you upstairs, don't you?"

Lois blushed again. "Yeah, but we wouldn't want anything to happen to any of you. It looks like Clark's made friends with the guys, and he's just a good guy anyway." She shrugged. "He'd be there if you needed him. Seriously, call us here at the hotel if you need us."

"We will, but I don't think we'll need to." Debbie nodded in the direction of the guys who were standing up. "I think they're ready to go." She looked around. "The place has really cleared out."

The four couples were among the last few people there. Lois gave each of her friends a long hug as their dates headed around the table. "I've missed you guys."

"And we've missed you too, Lolo." Julie hugged her back. "Have fun tonight," she whispered into Lois' ear.

Lois didn't think she'd ever blushed so often in her life. "Listen, I've got tomorrow off, but Clark has to work at three and Lucy's not coming home until Sunday. Do you think maybe we could all get together? I've missed you guys."

Plans were quickly made to meet at Julie's house the next afternoon, and the couples headed out of the Lexor's ballroom.

***

Lois and Clark waited for the elevator. His arm was wrapped around her and her head rested on his shoulder, her eyes closed as the long evening threatened to overwhelm her. The weeks, nay months, of not enough sleep coupled with the unusual excitement of prom night combined to ensure that sleep would soon envelop the young pair.

The soft chime announced the arrival of the elevator. They stepped in and waved to their friends.

"Nice to meet you, Clark," called Joe. "Have fun!"

Lois rolled her eyes at him. "Night, Joe. Stay sober."

The doors closed and Lois slumped against the wall. "I'm sorry you had to go through that, Clark. I had no idea they would give us such a hard time about... you know."

Clark laughed softly. "It's okay. I had fun. I haven't really made many friends here yet, and it was nice to talk football and baseball and stuff. I know how you feel about sports." He grinned at her.

She smiled weakly back at him. "I'll make more of an effort. I promise. I'll even try to watch football tomorrow."

He chuckled. "It's May, Lois. There's no football for months. And even then, on Saturday, it's college football, not professional, which is what we were talking about. However..."

Lois groaned. "I hate howevers."

"I know. But however, there is a Metropolis Monarchs game tomorrow."

"That's baseball right?" She wrinkled her nose. "I guess I can handle a little baseball."

He laughed again. "Don't worry about it. The game isn't until three and I have to work and you're heading over to Julie's house. But Sunday, they're playing the late game and neither one of us have to work Sunday night so..."

She gave a resigned sigh. "Fine. Sunday Night Baseball it is."

***

Chapter 8

Clark rolled over on the big bed and, while still ensconced in dreamland, reached for Lois to pull her close to him as he had so many other nights. His hand landed flat on the mattress and, seemingly of its own volition, reached further, hoping to come in contact with her. When he didn't find her, he was puzzled. Still not quite awake, he lifted his head, opening one eye the slightest bit to search for her.

That was when he heard it.

Pushing himself up and turning at the same time, he swung his legs over the side of the bed and stood. He walked towards the sound, though he already knew what it was. What he didn't know was why.

He reached the window and the chair that had been pulled up in front of it. The drapes had been pulled wide open and the city was spread below them like a tapestry. The lights twinkled, and even at this hour -- very early in the morning -- the city was lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree.

Lois was curled up in the chair, sobs wracking her small frame.

He bent down and picked her up. He turned and sat down in the oversized, overstuffed chaise, drawing her into his lap, wrapping his arms around her and pulling her close to him as she continued to sob.

He didn't say anything, but just held her there as, gradually, the sobs slowed down until, eventually, they were limited to the occasional hiccup or caught breath.

Clark continued to hold her, waiting for her to be ready to talk.

"Sometimes I really hate them."

Her voice caught him slightly off guard. It was so quiet he almost didn't hear it.

"Who?"

"My parents."

He didn't know what to say so he just kissed the side of her head and waited for her to go on.

"They shouldn't have gone that weekend. They should have stayed home and had birthday cake with me like they promised they would."

"They'd promised you that?"

She nodded against his chest. "Yeah. Right before Christmas, Mom promised that we'd have cake and ice cream, together, for my birthday. Then for Christmas Daddy gave her a weekend trip to this new ski resort. Right before they left, Daddy said 'Happy Birthday, Princess' and kissed my head, just like you do, and then left. Mom never said anything about it."

"I'm so sorry."

"It's not your fault. Not in the slightest." She took a deep, quivering breath. "It's what they always did. Made promises and broke them. To each other. To us. I should have known better -- that they really wouldn't be there for my birthday, that something would happen. Either Daddy would forget the promises he made to us and Mom and be out with another girlfriend, or Mom would forget that she'd promised not to drink anymore and be passed out on the couch, or better yet, her bed. Or both. But I never guessed that they would both leave." Fresh tears threatened, but somehow, she managed to send them back into the deep wells found behind a woman's eyes. "And that they'd never come back. My parents were very far from ideal, but they were mine, you know?"

He nodded, continuing to hold her, one hand gently rubbing her upper arm.

"And I'm so sorry for what it's done to you." Her voice had become even quieter.

"What are you talking about?"

"Everything. You wouldn't be here, struggling to make ends meet, no friends, working or at school or doing homework eighteen hours a day in a city where you don't know anyone... It's not fair to you. And it's their fault."

"Oh, Lois. Don't think that way. I want to be here, with you. There's nowhere else I'd rather be."

"Seriously?" Her tone of voice indicated that she didn't believe him in the slightest.

"Honest. If I was still in Smallville, I'd be living in that farmhouse all by myself, commuting to a University where I still didn't know anyone even after a semester there, maybe seeing high school friends from time to time, but also being constantly hounded by Lana to go out with her -- heck, she'd probably be trying to get me to propose by now -- and I really don't want any of that. I want to be with you. I knew what I was getting into when I bought that plane ticket. I don't regret it in the slightest and I don't want to go back. I want to be right here."

"Trapped in a loveless marriage?"

"Our marriage isn't loveless, Lois. I love you and I know you love me. It might not be the fairy tale, story book love, but that's okay. It's better than many marriages have for their base."

"What if I want a divorce someday?" Lois buried her head in his chest as she said it.

"Look at me." He hooked one finger under her chin and gently forced her face towards his. Tears shone in her eyes as she finally looked into his. "Why would you want a divorce?"

"You deserve better than this, Clark."

"Better than what? A life with my best friend?"

"You deserve someone who loves you with that fairy tale, story book love, who can think of nothing else, who wants to be with you in every way."

"Well, first of all, I'm not entirely certain that kind of love exists. Second, life would be pretty boring if all me and this mystery woman of yours ever did was stare into each other's eyes or something, thinking about this fairy tale love. No thank you. And third, I don't want to be with anyone else. We've talked about that before, Lois. Someday, we'll get to that point. We're still getting to know each other. If we were normal seventeen and nineteen year olds, we'd have been going out for like four months. It's very likely that we still wouldn't have slept together, even if we were a 'normal' dating couple." He raised a hand to stop her protest. "I decided a long time ago that sleeping with someone wasn't something I was ever going to do just because I could -- because she -- whoever 'she' was -- wanted to or because my hormones got the better of me. I'm different. I'm an alien, Lois, and who knows if I can actually have kids, but I couldn't run the risk -- because birth control is never 100% effective and there could accidentally be a baby out there that was mine, that could be as different as I was. I couldn't risk that without being able to tell someone all about me and my abilities and without being *willing* to make a lifetime commitment to her and a baby -- whether one actually came along or not."

"Really?"

"Really. It's not like I planned specifically on waiting until my wedding night or that I'd planned on not waiting or whatever, but I knew it wasn't something that I could take lightly at all. My Mom and Dad would have been disappointed in me if I had. Dad never had the chance to have the birds and the bees talk with me, but I grew up on a farm and knew enough. Mom talked about it extensively in her letters. And they always taught me to take responsibility for my actions and were disappointed when I did things without thinking them through. So, yeah, even if we were dating and not married, it's not like we would have fallen into the sack on the second date or something."

"Lana tried, didn't she?" It was almost more of a statement than a question.

Clark sighed. "Um... yeah, she did. She even tried after we got married and I went back to pack up my stuff. I ran into her at the farmhouse -- she'd come to look for me since I hadn't returned her calls. Said she wanted to make sure I was okay. She told me that she could make me forget you and make me want to stay with her. And that wasn't the first time she'd tried. Even after I told her I didn't want to date her, she tried. We lived in the same house and she was always trying to set up some scenario or other where we were alone or I'd 'accidentally' walk in on her."

Lois raised her brow at him.

"It never happened," he was quick to reassure her. "Super hearing comes in really handy for stuff like that. She almost walked in on me once while I was getting dressed and only a bit of speed kept her from seeing more than I'd bargained for. After that... watching out for her became almost second nature." He cradled her face with his hand, gently rubbing her cheek with his thumb. "I never wanted to sleep with her, Lois. I never wanted to *not* sleep with her either. There's really only been one woman that I ever wanted to share my bed with and I met her when I was fourteen."

"Even if she never wants to do more than just sleep with you in it?" Her voice was still small, full of the fear she felt. Fear, he was sure, of either answer.

"You know how I feel. You know that, someday, when you're ready, I want to make love with you. But I'm willing to wait for that day as long as it takes. That's what I promised you the night I asked you to marry me, and I meant it. Do I hope that day comes sooner rather than later? Sure, but *you* are more important to me than hormones and some momentary sexual release. If I forced myself on you before you're ready -- even if you said you were ready when you weren't -- that would ruin the best thing that's ever happened to me, and I'm not willing to take that risk. Not now, not ever."

"And if I found someone else?" Her conversation with Dan and her inner dialogue made her ask the question, though she seriously doubted it would ever happen.

Clark took a deep breath. "I hope you never do. But if you came to me one day and said that you had met another guy and that you felt about him the way I feel about you and that he felt the same way, then I guess... I'd have no choice but to let you go."

***

What had she done to deserve this man? This wonderful man who always knew just the right thing to say. She rested her head against his chest and reveled in the feeling of his arms around her. Here, in the circle that his arms created, she felt safe. Safe and loved.

She only hoped that someday she would believe herself to be worthy of that love and that she'd return it.

She sighed and closed her eyes as she felt his chin rest on the top of her head.

She really didn't want to let him go. She really didn't believe, even though she didn't love him like that now, that she'd ever love anyone else. At the same time, she didn't believe that he really loved her the way he said he did. How could he? They'd been married for almost six months and still hadn't consummated their marriage. How could she ask him to settle for a marriage that, even if it wasn't loveless, was sexless? Hadn't he told her more than once that half the kids from Smallville High School got married right after graduation so that they *could* have sex without worrying about their parents? He'd never told her how many of those marriages actually lasted to their fifth anniversary, and she'd never asked.

She hadn't wanted him to hear her crying. She didn't think he knew how many nights she woke up and sat on the window seat or, more rarely, on the balcony. She always waited until he'd released her and rolled onto his stomach so that, hopefully, he wouldn't notice she was missing. A couple of times she'd covered by saying she'd needed a drink or to go to the bathroom. Those nights she'd managed to keep the tears silent as she pondered the life of abandonment and broken promises, but tonight -- when she'd been reminded of how different her life would be right now if her parents hadn't gone on that fateful trip...

She and Clark would still be writing letters. She knew that. She probably wouldn't have ever talked to him on the phone. She had contemplated asking if he could come for prom, but hadn't decided if she would actually go through with it or not, but probably not. Dan would have probably asked her. He'd asked her out several times over the fall, but he was kind of annoying and she'd always had legitimate reasons not to go out with him. The first week back at school after Christmas break, he'd asked her out again. She'd told him she was married -- something she hadn't really planned on advertising -- and it was around campus before lunch. Would she have said yes to Dan if he'd asked her to prom? Maybe -- if for no other reason than it would annoy her Dad.

She'd be planning for college, probably living at home, at least for a while. She wouldn't be pushing to get through in three years instead of four. She wouldn't be taking three classes over the summer to get a jump start on it either. Well, probably not. She wanted to get out of the house as soon as possible, so she might have been.

Would she have ever met Clark again? Maybe. Knowing what she knew now, he probably would have come to visit at some point. Maybe college graduation or when she got a place of her own so her parents wouldn't be going on and on about some kid she met at camp years earlier. They'd been livid when they found out she'd applied to Midwest. Just what did she think she was doing?! Part of her, deep down, had hoped she could get a full scholarship -- enough to cover room and board -- and leave Metropolis behind for a while. And if it hadn't been enough for board... well, the thought of asking Clark if he wanted a purely platonic roommate had crossed her mind.

She'd still be a kid.

The thought of what else she'd be missing began to niggle at the back of her mind. She wouldn't know what it was like to have someone love her unconditionally. She wouldn't know what it meant to feel truly safe like she did in Clark's arms. She wouldn't know what it was like to have a best friend she could -- and did -- literally trust her life with. She wouldn't have flown with him to Colorado. She wouldn't have plans to fly with him to see the seven wonders of the world.

And so tonight, she'd cried for what she'd lost, but she also started to realize what she had. She thought she was ready to move on. To grow up. To try to learn to love Clark like he claimed to love her. And maybe, just maybe, if she was really lucky, the rest of her inner demons would disappear into the dark night. Somehow, though, she doubted that was going to happen. She would, however, keep them locked up tight in that box in her mind and in her heart and refuse to let them affect her life.

His soft voice interrupted her thoughts.

"And someday, I'm going to ask you out on a proper date. It might not be until after we finish college, but I am. I'm going to ask you out and you can get dressed up and we can hit that little Italian place Aunt Louise sent us to the one night while we were here, or even the Blue Note. We'll have chocolate for dessert and we'll dance and then I'll walk you home and, if I think you want me to, I might even kiss you just a bit. And if you don't want me to, that's okay, too. Maybe on the second date, when I take you anywhere in the world you want to go, you'll want to kiss me. And we can date for a while and really get to know each other without work and school and being parents to an unruly teenager to get in our way."

"I'd like that," she said quietly, and she felt his arms tighten around her slightly.

"Me, too. And while I hate that your parents left you on your birthday, I'm glad that we're together."

She nodded and relaxed against his chest. Her eyes closed, just for a minute, and then she wanted to talk to him some more.

***

Clark knew the instant she fell asleep and he smiled to himself. She'd never mentioned her parents like that before. He knew she cried about it from time to time when she thought he wasn't around, but she'd never talked about it at all until now. Maybe now that some of it was out in the open she could start to heal and move on with her life.

He was glad that he could be here for her and he'd meant every word that he said about wanting to date her. He could manage it, too. Leave while she was getting ready and then knock on the door to pick her up and be back inside, pretending to be asleep or something by the time she finished unlocking the locks to let herself inside.

It could easily have to be put off until they finished college, at least to do it right. He hoped to go back to Colorado soon to see what else the globe had to tell them, but they so rarely had a night off together. At least next year she'd be in college with him, and they could try to arrange their schedules so they had a class or two together or at least had lunch at the same time. She'd been accepted into the journalism program and would be working on the school paper with him and had been offered an internship at the Star as well, though that didn't start until Spring. Hopefully, Professor Smith would work with them and Tony Rader, the editor at the Star, so that they'd be able to work together more often than not. It wouldn't be a romantic, date-type setting, but at least they'd get to spend more time together.

He floated out of the chair and moved, midair, towards the bed. He laid her down gently and pulled the covers up around her. He moved back to the window to stare into the night, contemplating life and the little tornado of a girl who had completely turned his world around.

Some time later, he floated silently across the room and slipped into the bed next to Lois, pulling her close to him as he had tried to do earlier. This time she instinctively snuggled back into his chest and, even in her sleep, let out what could only be described as a contented sigh.

He pressed a soft kiss into her hair and closed his eyes, grateful for the blissful sleep that quickly overtook him.

Tomorrow and its troubles would come soon enough. For now, there was no place he'd rather be.

***

"Have I told you how proud I am of you?"

Lois straightened her graduation cap. "Only about a dozen times."

Clark cupped the side of her face with one hand. "I'm sorry."

"For what?" Lois held his hand with her own.

"That you weren't able to graduate first in your class."

"Oh, Clark, I'm number three. That's plenty good enough."

"You should have been first. If you hadn't had to work so much... If I'd been able to provide better..."

"It's fine. Really. I enjoy my job." At Clark's look of disbelief she amended the statement. "Okay, fine. I don't hate my job. I may not enjoy it, but I don't *hate* it."

Clark laughed. "That's more honest. I know the last six months have been hard on you -- that most of your friends weren't able to spend much time with you after we got married and that you didn't have enough time to spend just being in high school." He grinned at her. "And you had to take an old married guy to the prom." They laughed together. "But I am so very, very proud of you."

She looked at her watch. "We gotta go! I can't be late for my own graduation!"

***

Later that night they were back in their apartment. Graduation had gone well and Lois was officially done with high school.

"This is your graduation dinner. You're sure that's where you want to go?" Clark asked. "We can go anywhere in the world you want, my treat. I've saved up for this."

Lois laughed. "You'll find something else you want. A couple dozen boxes of Ding Dongs or something. I want to have a picnic in Colorado. We haven't been in weeks."

"I know. I hoped we could go sooner but..." he held a hand to his chest and swooned. "The fates conspired against us."

"Well, maybe the globe will take pity on you and show two messages tonight."

Clark laughed. "I doubt it, but it would be nice."

"It was nice of Aunt Louise to take Lucy with her to her hotel, too, so we could go out for dinner." Lois' eyes twinkled. "She has no idea we're going to Colorado though."

Clark picked up the basket. "I'll take this over there and I'll be right back."

Lois nodded and looked for her light jacket. It was sure to be slightly chilly in the mountains and even if it wasn't, it would protect her a bit from the wind while they were flying. Finding it, she slipped it on just as Clark landed on their balcony.

"Ready?"

She nodded and wrapped her arms around him.

Several minutes later, they landed in an open field on the side of a Colorado mountain. Because of the time difference, they still had an hour or so before it got truly dark. They'd agreed they wouldn't get the globe out until then.

Clark pulled out the blanket and spread it on the grass. Together they took the finger foods out and Clark chilled the sparkling grape juice. They ate and talked like they hadn't really had a chance to in ages -- since their honeymoon, really. Clark had even brought the UnGame deck and they took turns asking each other questions.

Finally, they decided it was dark enough for Clark to dig up the ship. While they waited for the globe to do its thing, Lois studied the ship more intently -- grateful for the nearly full moon that made it easy to see.

"What're these, Clark?" She pulled out a stack of envelopes.

"Those are the letters from my Mom." He held out a hand and she passed them over. "I don't think I've missed any. I think the next one is either my twenty-first birthday or college graduation. Or maybe one of her 'random day' ones is coming up."

Lois pulled out the baby blanket while he shuffled through the envelopes. She ran a hand over the symbol that matched the front of the ship. She heard Clark make an indecipherable noise and she turned to him. He was holding two envelopes in his hands.

"I don't remember these," he said. "They were tied with a separate piece of ribbon. I wonder if they've been in the ship all along and I just never noticed them."

She went to sit by him. "Did you miss the events?"

He shook his head. "They're not for events or days like the others." He held one in her direction. "This one is for you."

She raised an eyebrow as she took it from him. Sure enough, there it was. "To Mrs. Clark Kent. Wonder what she'd think if she knew I hadn't changed my name," she smirked.

"Oh, I'm sure she'd be fine with it. My mom was pretty progressive. She probably would have been pushing us together subtly for a long time." He held the other envelope in one hand and tapped it against the other.

"What's that one?"

"What we know about you."

"What does that mean?"

Clark shrugged. "They said there was a message that played a while after they found me and that they would tell me about it when I was old enough. When I was eight or so, they told me that I'd been sent from another planet named Krypton but that was all they'd say then. The rest would have to wait until later. I hope they would have told me that weekend or soon after -- when I told them about the hearing and eye stuff." He chuckled suddenly. "Remember when I told you I'd seen them... you know?"

"Yeah."

"I don't think I ever told you that was the first time my x-ray vision kicked in and I was actually looking through their wall."

"Ouch." She winced. "That has to be even worse than walking in on something."

"I think probably so. I was already working on learning to control it when they died, but in times of stress, I still had a hard time. I could see them through the top of the car while they were in that ravine, but I couldn't get to them. I had to look away -- I ended up staring at the skeletons of a couple of bears hibernating in a cave on the next mountain over. I couldn't turn it off, but I couldn't watch them die either. I kept hoping someone would come, but the reality is, they died pretty quickly. I could hear their heartbeats start to slow and it wasn't long before they stopped all together. The water was cold that night and they were already injured... I heard their heartbeats fade out. Dad first, then Mom. Looking back, I think they were probably unconscious before they died, but Dad managed to sort of breathe out the first part of their phrase and Mom the second. The last thing Mom said was my name." He stopped. "I can't always control my hearing, even now. When I hear someone yelling for help or sometimes sirens, it just turns on and I can't help it."

Tears streamed down Lois' face and Clark struggled to keep from crying himself. It seemed like every time they came here, Clark shared a little bit more about the nightmare that had plagued his dreams for so long.

"Is that what that look is?"

"What look?"

"The faraway look you get sometimes. Is that when you hear something?"

"Probably."

"Have you ever thought about trying to find a way you can respond to some of those?"

He nodded. "Yeah, but it's going to have to wait. I still do what I can when I can, but I don't go out of my way. Maybe someday I'll be able to do more, but right now, protecting you and Lucy and even Aunt Louise from anyone who might want to hurt me is more important. If anyone found out what I am and what I can do but that nothing we've found can hurt me... they could easily come after the three of you and I can't risk that."

She rested her head on his shoulder, contemplating what he said. "Maybe when college is over we'll find a way for you to be able to do more."

He nodded.

They sat for several minutes before she spoke again. "Can you hear my heartbeat?"

"Yeah. I can hear anyone's when I listen for it specifically, but yours is different."

She smacked his arm lightly. "I'm not sure I like the sound of that."

He laughed, wondering how mere words from her could make him feel better. "It's not like that. I can hear it whenever I want if I try, but it's kind of like a buzzing in your ears when you're around, but much more comforting."

"So my heartbeat is like the annoying buzz I can't get out of my head when I have bronchitis?"

He laughed again. "Sort of, but not really. If you're not around but then you come home or whatever, I notice it instantly. The rest of the time it's like... pleasant background music."

"So instead of an annoying buzz, I'm Muzak?" She bumped him with her shoulder, half heartedly trying to knock him over.

"No. Not Muzak. Nice background music." He managed to maintain his balance despite her efforts. "But I can tell different things about what you're feeling and stuff, depending on how it's beating."

She eyed him. "Now that I'm really not sure I like."

"It's not something I do intentionally or anything, but if you're scared -- like that night on the way home and on the way here the first time -- it's like a trip hammer. I automatically notice the change. When you fall asleep, it slows down considerably. When you're relaxed, it slows, but not that far. I can tell when your dreams are agitated and not comforting because of the way it picks up."

"Great. My own Kryptonian feelings barometer. Is it like that for anyone else?"

He shook his head. "Just you. I mean noticing the changes. I can tell with just about anyone if I listen for it, but yours is the only one that happens automatically."

"So, I'll never be able to sneak up on you?"

"Well," he admitted, "you have a time or two when it was really loud or I was totally engrossed in something -- like studying or whatever -- but not usually."

"And how far away am I when you notice this?"

"I don't know. Usually about the time you get halfway up the stairs to the apartment building, I guess."

He turned the envelope over and over in his hand.

"So, Clark, are you going to read that?"

***

Chapter 9

He nodded. "Yeah. I don't know if I want to right now though."

"Why not?"

He shrugged. "I'm scared about what it might say."

"What could it say that would be so bad?"

"That I'm capable of taking over people's bodies and putting an X on the back of their necks," he deadpanned.

She stared at him until he finally broke into a grin. "You are horrible, Clark Kent."

"Well, I wouldn't want to be one of the horrible things that you learn about a family member."

"You're not," she said softly, taking one of his hands in hers. "You're the best thing that ever happened to me."

"See, that's why I don't want to read it. Who knows what it's going to say?"

"Do you think your mom would have warned you if it was anything bad? Didn't you say she'd told you to look in the bassinet they found you in? I would guess she meant the ship."

He nodded again. "I thought she meant the blanket and the shield thing and maybe the globe so I never really looked harder." He turned the envelope over and slipped a finger under the sealed flap.

"Do you want me to take a walk around the field?"

"No. I think I want you here with me, if that's okay. Whatever it says, you should know too."

"Okay."

A white glow erupted as Clark opened the flap. They looked at each other. The letter would have to wait.

They heard Jor-El's voice narrating. "There is no longer any doubt. The chain reaction has begun. As panic spreads, the population awakens, too late, to its fate. Our future is inevitable."

Lois and Clark were still seated on the blanket as they literally felt the ground shake beneath them. A loud tone began to sound as it subsided.

Jor-El and Lara had fallen to the ground with the last tremor and he covered her body with his own. He struggled to his feet, pulling Lara up once he was stable. He went to the console to turn off the alarm while Lara went to check on baby Kal-El. Data began to scroll by in mid-air and Jor-El scanned it rapidly.

"At last the computers have located a suitable destination: a planet physically and biologically compatible with Krypton whose inhabitants resemble ours, and whose society is based on ethical standards which we, too, embrace in concept, if not always in deed."

Jor-El, Lara and baby Kal-El disappeared and Lois and Clark felt as though they were floating in space. Hanging in front of them was their blue and green planet, the Western Hemisphere clearly visible.

"The inhabitants call it, simply, Earth." The voice stopped and the vision faded away.

The tremors had felt so real that Clark had wrapped an arm around Lois and pulled her to him, clinging tightly to the letter in the process.

"Wow. That thing surprises me every time." Lois felt Clark's arm around her begin to relax. "I wonder what 'biologically compatible' means," she mused, then looked up, wide eyed. "I mean... I'm guessing from what you've said before about... you know, that you're like other guys, but is that what it means or is that you're genetically compatible?"

Clark sighed and removed his arm completely. "As far as I can tell, my... plumbing works just like that of humans, so that shouldn't be a problem, but genetics..." He shrugged. "I don't know if it meant that I could father children someday or not."

They both sighed again, at the same time. Lois wrapped her arms around her legs, feeling guilty for the hundredth time that the way things were going, they wouldn't find out for sure about either one for a very long time.

They sat there for a long time until finally Clark glanced at his watch. "We better be getting back."

Lois nodded and watched as he put all but the two letters back into his craft and then he disappeared, burying it safely again.

He put the other two letters in the picnic basket that Lois had been packing up. "I figured we could read those later."

"Are you sure you want them at the apartment?"

Clark nodded. "I found a secret compartment, of all things, the other day. We can put them in there."

Lois picked up the basket and Clark picked up her. She preferred flying next to him rather than in his arms, but for now this was going to have to work. Usually when they were a safe distance from anywhere, they'd stop standing up and she'd carefully turn around and fly with her body parallel to his so she could see everything. Flying in his arms was nice too, but the other way was definitely preferable.

***

"Lucy, it's not going to happen!"

"You're not my mother, Lois."

"But I am your guardian. And you are not going."

"Why not?"

"Because. We don't have the money for you to go to some amusement park for a week. It's not going to happen."

"What about all the money from the insurance and the sale of the house?"

Lois sighed. "We've been over this. It's not all that much and it's for you to go to college."

"What if I don't go to college?"

"You're going to college." Lois grabbed her purse and keys. "We're going to be late. Let's go."

"I want to go."

"We all want lots of things, Luce. I'm sorry, but it's not going to happen."

Lucy grabbed her backpack and stormed out. "I hate you, Lois. You're ruining my life." She slammed her car door shut.

Lois sighed. Raising a teenager was hard work. Maybe that was why her parents hadn't wanted to be around her. Maybe that was why they were headed out of town that night.

Thank goodness for Clark. He seemed to have a way with Lucy that she didn't. Lucy absolutely adored him. She'd have to have Clark talk to her about this whole road trip thing. She'd listen to him.

Hopefully.

Life just wasn't fair. She was only seventeen. She shouldn't be dealing with these kinds of things yet. She shouldn't be dealing with unruly teenagers for at least another twenty years.

She took a deep breath, resolved to do the best she could, and went on with her day.

***

Lois woke up in the middle of the night and realized Clark wasn't in bed with her. She could see a light in the kitchen and heard muttered curses.

"Hey," she said quietly. "What's wrong?"

Clark sat back in his chair and looked at the gold pool in front of him. "I broke my ring tonight while I was fixing Mrs. Lindbergh's shelves. I hit it with a hammer."

"How on earth did you manage that?"

He shrugged. "I have no idea, but it broke. I was hoping I could fix it tonight and then tell you, but..." He gestured at the table. "I guess fixing gold isn't one of my powers."

Lois sat in the seat beside him. "It's okay. You didn't do it on purpose. And to be honest, somehow it doesn't surprise me. I never told you how much I spent on it, but it wasn't much. I can get you a new one. It won't be much nicer but at least it won't be a puddle of gold goo."

Clark leaned back and sighed. "You don't need to do that. There's more important things right now." He covered her hand with his. "We know we're married and that's the important thing. We'll get another one after graduation, when we have real jobs and can afford a decent one."

"Are you sure?"

He smiled at her. "Yeah." He reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I know where I belong. Right here with you."

She blushed and then yawned. "Well, then, that's settled. I promise, I'll get you a nice new ring as soon as I can after graduation, but right now... I'm going back to bed." She stood. "You coming?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Give me just a minute to clean this up. Lucy doesn't need to see it."

Lois turned and headed back to their bedroom. She heard a 'whoosh' and wasn't surprised to see Clark waiting for her in their bed. She chuckled. "Nice, Kent." She lay down and snuggled back in next to him.

"See? Right where I belong," he whispered.

"And don't you forget it."

Clark laughed. "Don't worry. I have an eidetic memory."

***

Two weeks later, Lois sat on the couch with her political science book on her lap. Lucy was already asleep, having stomped up to her loft hours earlier after complaining again that she never got to do anything fun. Summer classes were in session and Lois was determined to do well. Her notebook sat beside her and she jotted things down as she read.

She looked up when the door opened and Clark came in. The smell of pizza came with him.

"Hey. How was work?"

He shrugged. "Not bad. We were pretty busy and tips were a little higher than usual. I think the Met Nets winning the NBA championship earlier put everyone in a good tipping mood."

"Good." She watched as he went down the steps and flopped into the chair, closing his eyes and propping one foot up on the coffee table as he did so. He was tired. She could see that. Well, he didn't have to work until four the next day and he didn't have any classes, so maybe he could sleep in -- if Lucy would cooperate. She finished the section she was reading -- only another paragraph or so -- then set aside her book. She picked an envelope up off the table and held it his direction. "Here. This is for you."

He opened his eyes and leaned forward enough to take it from her. "What's this?"

"Open it and see."

He pulled the sheet of paper out of the envelope. "You did it?"

She nodded. "It was time."

"Lois Lane-Kent. I like it." He grinned at her and she could tell it had picked his spirits up a bit. "What made you decide to do it now?"

"Well, graduation is over. I'm still going to use Lois Lane professionally, but after the message on graduation night, I decided I was ready to change it. Technically, it won't be legal for a few more weeks, because there's some kind of waiting period until a judge officially signs off on it, but it should be a formality. I did it in the district with the same judge who's presiding over Lucy's case and talked to Lucy's case worker. She said she'd talk to the judge for me and see if it can be expedited. The actual waiting period is only a week, which I've already passed, but the courts are backed up. Apparently, if I'd just signed our marriage license that way, it would have been automatic, but I didn't even think about it."

She watched as Clark stared at the piece of paper and knew in her heart that this had been the right thing to do. She could tell it meant a lot to him and she was glad that she could finally do something for him after all he'd done for her and Lucy.

"Clark, did you ever read that letter from your mom?" He'd put them in the new hiding spot when they'd returned from Colorado and they hadn't talked about them since.

He nodded. He laid his head back and closed his eyes, trying to relax a bit even as he spoke. "I couldn't sleep the other night and I got it out and read it, but we haven't really had a chance to sit down and talk since then. It wasn't anything too earth shattering, really, but I wish I'd known about it years ago. Apparently, the message that came with me was on the globe, and Jor-El had said it was only supposed to play once. Basically, it said that they were entrusting me to Earth and they hoped that the person who found me would love me as much as they did and raise me to be a good man. He also said that the yellow sun could cause me to have all the powers I do and that I *should* -- emphasis on should -- be able to have children with a female from Earth and that the Kryptonian genes that give me powers should be dominant and my children should have powers too. So all the stuff that's happened to me is *normal* for a Kryptonian under a yellow sun. Mom said that there would be five more messages for me later and that Jor-El indicated that there were even more that I'd get 'when the time is right', whatever that means."

Lois chewed on her bottom lip. "Maybe they're kind of like your mom's letters, but more high tech. Like when you get married, but because you hadn't seen the first five yet, those have to come first."

Clark thought about that for a minute. "That sounds as reasonable as anything I came up with."

"Did you look at the other letter?" she asked quietly.

He opened his eyes and looked at her. "Yours?"

"Yeah."

"No, why would I?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. Somehow, I get the feeling that your mom pictured a more conventional marriage than ours, and I thought you might want to see what it said."

Clark shook his head. "She wrote that letter to you. If you want to tell me what it says or let me read it at some point, I would like to, but that's your decision, not mine."

"Okay." She thought for another minute. "Do you think Kryptonians are telepathic?"

He started a bit. Could she have read his letter? "They are. That's something else in the letter. Apparently, they are telepathic, but only with each other and only on purpose so it's not like I can read someone's thoughts or anything, but I might be able to sense strong emotions from people I'm close to."

"Ah. Why didn't you mention that?"

Clark shrugged. He didn't want to tell her that in practically the same sentence his mom had told him that Kryptonians had a sort of sixth sense about their life partners and often knew instantly when meeting the person they would spend their lives with. "I just didn't want to freak you out thinking I was reading your mind or something. What made you ask?"

"I was just thinking about Jor-El and Lara. They never seem to speak to each other but they do communicate and it seems to be more than just non-verbal stuff like pointing so I thought maybe they were telepathic."

"Ah. Now that you mention it, I guess that makes sense." He rested his eyes for another minute. "Have you read your letter?"

"No," she answered quietly.

"Are you going to?"

She shrugged. "Probably sometime soon. Your mom obviously wanted your wife to have it, but I guess -- even though I've changed my name legally and everything -- part of me is still worried that this won't work long-term and that you should give it to the woman you're actually going to spend the rest of your life with and have kids with. I'm sure she wouldn't appreciate me reading it first."

Clark listened to her but didn't respond. Finally, he pushed himself up from his chair. "I'm going to go take a shower and try to get this pizza smell off me."

"Okay." Lois watched as he disappeared into their bedroom and heard him get some clothes out of his dresser. She heard the bathroom door shut and the water start and wondered if what she had said really bothered him that much. She knew she said things like that too often, but it was hard to stop herself. Very few marriages that she knew of lasted more than a few years. She could count on one hand the number of kids she knew from school who lived with both parents. If adults couldn't make marriages work, how could a couple of teenagers expect to?

***

Clark let the hot water stream over him in the shower stall. Getting the pizza smell off was nice but really only an excuse to leave the room. Usually, if Lucy wasn't home or already asleep, he'd take a fast shower, figuring that every little bit of hot water saved would save a few cents on their utility bills, but tonight he was going to stay here until the hot water ran out and maybe even after that.

According to his mom, Jor-El had said that Kryptonians often knew instantly when they met their life partners, their soul mates as it were, and Clark knew exactly what he'd been talking about. He'd known the second Lois ran into him that she would be a permanent part of his life eventually.

He squeezed some shampoo into his hand and slowly washed his hair, reveling in the rare feeling of hot water cascading over him for an extended period of time. He washed his body and then rested his head against the wall.

He'd told her repeatedly that he loved her and that he would never leave her for another woman; he'd told her that he believed there was no other woman in the world for him, but she never believed him and he was tired of trying to convince her. When she was emotionally distraught, like the night after the prom, was one thing, but she often made comments similar to the one a few minutes ago in everyday conversation.

Tonight, he just didn't have the energy to go through it with her again. Instead, he resolved not to mention the letter again. He needed a good night's sleep and probably a long flight in the sun -- which his mom's letter said would reenergize and recharge him since it was the source of his powers.

He didn't think there was anything that he could say that would actually convince her that he wasn't going anywhere. The only thing he could really do was just stay. If he stayed long enough, maybe she'd finally start to believe it.

He stood in the shower long after the water had gone cold, but he finally turned the water off and, at normal speed, dried off and dressed for bed. He figured Lois would already be there by the time he was done, but she wasn't. The light was still on in the living room and a glance through the wall showed her chewing on the end of a pencil with her geography text in hand.

He sighed and climbed into bed. For the first time since their wedding, he went to bed alone when his wife was nearby and was asleep long before she joined him.

***

October 1985

Months passed and neither mentioned the conversations from that night or the letters from Martha Kent. They hadn't been back to Colorado. Clark occasionally contemplated returning by himself, but something always stopped him. He wanted to experience whatever his Kryptonian parents had to say to him, but only with Lois. Without her, it felt wrong. He often wondered if this counted as the 'first fight with his wife' his mom had talked about, but he didn't want to risk getting a message from the globe if he went to retrieve the letter alone.

Their routine changed from their comfortable one before graduation. They were busier than ever, rarely seeing each other except for late at night when they were both home, but often nearly consumed with their studies. They went to bed at nearly the same time almost every night, and Clark still wrapped his arm around her as they drifted off, but the conversations they'd had in the past while lying thus dwindled until they were few and far between. This was, in part, because neither one was awake long enough to carry on a conversation late at night and in part because things seemed to have changed in a way both acknowledged privately but neither wanted to admit out loud. They still woke up in each other's arms from time to time but less often than before. They had been almost like a couple on the cusp of a relationship who happened to live together, but had settled into something more than friends but not nearly as defined or, especially for Lois, as secure.

That fall found money tightening even further as their meager savings was used to buy another car. Lucy was in more extracurricular activities and needed her own transportation more often. They bought an early 1970s Datsun that Clark brought to working order, and it was mostly used for delivering pizzas. Lucy had turned sixteen in August and she and Lois shared the Honda Clark had brought back with him from Kansas, but Lois often found herself driving the Datsun to and from work in inclement weather or when she was going straight from school and Clark wasn't delivering pizzas or papers. She missed the easy companionship from before, but she'd decided that it was probably better this way -- her heart wouldn't break as badly when they finally said good-bye at some point.

And so life went on until one day the Honda started to steam and repairs were necessary but the bank account nearly dry.

"Clark, what are we going to do?" Lois rested her elbows on the kitchen table and covered her face with her hands before sitting back to look at her husband.

Clark raked his hands through his hair. "I don't know." He sighed and leaned back in his chair. "There's just not enough money here."

Lois exhaled slowly. "There has to be."

"There isn't. Fixing the car, even if I do most of the work myself, is going to cost more than we have in savings. Just the radiator itself is about $200. We've got less than half that." Clark sighed again.

Lois picked up the stack of bills and shuffled through them. "I'll pick up an extra couple of shifts this week. One of the other girls wants to take the weekend off for a wedding or something. I can pick up her hours."

"You have midterms next week." Clark looked at his wife. "You need to study this weekend."

"I'll be fine, Clark. I only have two -- the rest are just formalities."

Clark looked at her skeptically.

Lois rolled her eyes at him. "Fine, I have four midterms, but I'm ready for them." She leaned over and patted his hand for a second. "I promise. I'm ready. You're sweet to worry, but the midterms aren't the problem. The radiator on the Civic is. I can pick up an extra shift every day this weekend. That's an extra twenty-four hours, and ten of that'll be overtime. That's almost $200 before taxes. Combine that with what we've got and we can get the radiator fixed."

"I hate that you have to do that."

"I know. I do, too, but it's what works. You can't pick up any extra hours with your internship and class schedule, so this is what has to be done."

"But Lois..."

"Don't go all macho on me, mister. All that 'It's my job to provide' junk. We're in this together." She couldn't help but think to herself that 'together' was temporary.

"It's my job, you know."

"Sure."

Clark leaned forward. "Okay, what about the rest of these bills?"

"What about them? We pay what we can and can the rest, I guess. And try to catch up next month."

Clark groaned. "It's not quite that simple. We have bills to pay and we have to pay them. But you're right -- I don't know if we can pay everyone right now."

"Okay then. How do we decide what we are going to pay and what we will not then, oh great knower of all that is budgeted?"

He laughed. "Well, first we have to have a budget. We don't. We have a bunch of bills and we know how much we generally make, but we don't have a budget." He looked at her. "We sit down a couple times a month and balance the checkbook. We use cash for most spending and we're not negative every month but barely. What we need is a plan. I heard this guy on the radio that seemed to make a lot of sense. I don't normally listen to talk radio, but one of the guys in the finance section at the Star had him on."

Lois looked at him questioningly. "Why do I care about a radio finance guy?"

"Well, apparently, this guy made millions, lost it all, and now helps others get out of debt and stuff. He owed millions at one point."

"Okay..." Lois still wasn't convinced that she should be interested.

"It's kind of like having Albert Chow on your three person panel. This guy has been there, done that, so maybe he's someone we should listen to."

Lois nodded at that, conceding the point.

"He was telling how he and his family did it. They wrote down a list of all the things they had to pay in order of importance. When they figured out how much money they had in a particular month, they added up all the bills then drew a line. Everyone above the line got paid. Everyone below didn't."

"Makes sense, but how do we decide what's most important?" She picked up a credit card statement. "These guys are going to raise our rate to almost 30% if we don't pay them on time, so they go on top right?"

Clark grinned. "Nope. We do what he calls the four walls. Shelter and utilities, food, transportation, and clothes. If we don't have those, it won't matter if we can't pay our credit card bill."

Lois picked up the pencil and yellow note pad. "Fine. Rent and electric. We pay those first."

"Second. First, we eat." Clark grinned at her again. "Food money for you and Lucy."

"What about you?"

"I don't have to eat, Lois. I have the lunch plan at school and I can grab a bite in the cafeteria at work or the leftover donuts. "

"You might not *have* to eat, Clark, but you have to eat!"

"I've gone a week without eating before. I could have gone longer, but it was lasagna day at Midwest's cafeteria and it smelled really good. I'll be okay. We buy enough for you and Lucy and if we have money left, we'll get some for me too."

Lois rolled her eyes. "Fine. Lucy gets breakfast and lunch free at school for the rest of the school year. We both get lunches included with our scholarships. I eat free while I'm working at the restaurant. I can brown bag my dinner while I'm at the paper. So we don't need much for food." She wrote down a number. "So food, then rent and electric."

"Okay. Then transportation. Gas and oil and such for the cars. Metrolink passes for all three of us. Take it as much as possible so we spend less on gas."

Lois wrote down another number. "Clothes? Do we need clothes?"

"Well, not every month, but it's something we need to think about when we sit down to do this every month."

"We have to do this every month?"

"If we want to eat every month, we do. Once we get it figured out, we can just sort of tweak it every month and it shouldn't take too long to do. As for clothes... This month? No new clothes, but when you start your internship, you'll probably need some. Maybe we can spread that out over a few months so that we don't have one big purchase. "

Lois nodded. "Makes sense. I can hit that thrift store and see what I can find there." Lois pulled her hair back into a ponytail, wrapping a rubber band around it. "I'd rather do that and try to find some nice stuff cheap than get something new that's not as nice, you know?"

While they talked, Clark picked his glasses up off the table and used the small screwdriver to try to tweak them so they would fit better. He'd knocked them off the nightstand that morning while he was reaching for the alarm clock and they'd skittered across the floor until they hit the wall.

They continued to talk finances for another ten minutes until they had listed all the month's expenses.

"I think that does it." Lois laid the pencil down. "If nothing else goes wrong, we can make it through the month."

Clark looked at her gently. "We could always use the insurance money."

She sighed. "We've been over this. We are not using the insurance money. It's for Lucy's college tuition."

"I'm not talking about a new video game. I'm talking a new radiator for the car," he replied softly.

"I know, but, no. I'll pick up the extra shifts this weekend. I don't want to touch that money unless it's life or death. And I don't want to use a credit card either. One of my friends my sophomore year..." She shook her head. "Her dad ran up a ton in credit card debt and then left them. Her mom was responsible for paying over half of that back even though she didn't do it. I think she ended up filing for bankruptcy. I know you wouldn't do that, but I promised myself, no credit cards. I know we had to use that one to get you back and forth to Kansas and help get stuff set up here, but we haven't used it since. I'd rather try to pay it off and be done with it."

"Fine. We won't touch the money and I agree with you about the credit card. I think the next thing we need to do, then, is get money in savings just for emergencies. That way if something comes up, we won't even have to consider it -- and then you won't have to work overtime. We should start getting rent from the farm in January. I talked to Wayne the other day and he said the family that's there has done a good job with it and told him they want to renew the lease in January. "

"That's good. The extra income would be nice, especially since I'll have to cut my hours at work, but shouldn't it go into your account in Smallville until you're 25?"

He shook his head. "It did until I graduated. All withdrawals from that account have to go through Wayne until I'm 25, but any new income from the farm is mine to do with as I please."

"Are you sure you don't want to save it as part of your inheritance?"

"It's already part of my inheritance. I know we never did paperwork or anything, but what's mine is yours and, in this case, that means rental income from the farm."

Lois nodded. "Okay." Yet one more thing she could feel guilty about.

Clark's glasses snapped in two as he tried to bend them just a little further so they'd fit properly. He tossed them on the table. He sighed. "So much for those. At least I don't really need them."

Lois frowned. "I guess I never thought about that. You've worn glasses as long as I've known you."

"Well, my parents wore glasses and I started wearing them after they died. I managed to make some out of leaded glass so that I couldn't accidentally look through anything. I'd broken them on the way home from camp and didn't have new ones yet when I started those fires. I got new ones quick after that. But these..." He gestured at the glasses sitting on the table. "... are just plain glass. Even once I could control my vision completely, they served as a reminder not to use my vision powers lightly. Replacing them isn't a big deal. It'll be easier to not worry about them anyway."

Lois' chair scraped the floor as she pushed back from the table. "If I'm going to pick up extra hours this weekend, I need to go to bed. I'll get up early and study some in the morning." She ruffled his hair as she passed by his chair. "Don't be up too late."

"I don't need nearly as much sleep as you do."

"Still. You need sleep. So don't be long."

Lois was quiet as she walked through arch that led to the bedroom she shared with Clark. She could hear Lucy rolling over in the little loft upstairs. Even though they weren't truly a couple in every sense of the word, and things were often more strained than they had been, she couldn't imagine sleeping without him next to her in their shared bed. It was just as well she and Clark weren't doing those kinds of things. There was no wall or door or anything but open air between the area where Lucy slept and their own bed. They'd hoped to build one, but there just hadn't been the money.

She slowly changed into a pair of Clark's shorts that she had confiscated long ago, in better times, and one of his Smallville High T-shirts. One of the nice things she had discovered about marriage was the ability to abscond with your husband's extra-comfy clothes. She pulled back the layers of blankets and hoped that Clark wouldn't be too long. She had come to depend on him to help keep her warm. He was much more efficient than a heater and much cheaper too.

She laid her head on her pillow and curled up under the covers. Though he never admitted it, she was sure that Clark had used his special hearing to wait for her to lay down before he came into their room. In seconds, he had changed into a pair of sleep shorts and slid in next to her.

"Come here," he whispered. "I'll keep you warm."

Lois nodded as he wrapped on arm around her and pulled her back into his chest. "Thanks."

"That's what I'm here for." He kissed her hair lightly. "Sleep tight."

***

Chapter 10

November 1985

"A number two combo, hold the cheese." Lois handed the bag out the window. "Thanks and come again."

She had a brief reprieve before the next car pulled up. She looked over the next page of her English notes. She wasn't really supposed to be studying while working drive through but her shift manager was understanding and grateful that Lois was there at all. He'd look the other way as long as her work got done.

Studying in between customers wasn't the best way to get A's, but it would have to do. She didn't have a choice. Clark was right. The radiator needed replacing and fast. Public transportation was fine for Clark when he wasn't delivering pizzas -- though she knew he didn't really need it, but it wasn't like he could actually fly to work regularly. Sometimes, he'd fly home when it was dark, but not the rest of the time.

But public transportation wouldn't get Lucy to and from school. The court order was the only reason she was still at Lincoln High. The school wasn't happy about it, but they didn't have much choice in the matter. However, there was no bus for her to ride, so the older model Honda was pretty much their only choice. Since they were down to one car for the moment, she had to drive Lucy to school before heading back to UNT Met, and that was in the Datsun until the Civic was fixed. None of them were comfortable with that since its reliability was still in question. Sometimes Clark would pick Lucy up after school and sometimes Lois did it herself -- it just depended on the day and their schedules. Clark had told her he hoped the radiator would make it through the winter but it seemed that was not to be. At least Clark was handy. He could fix a lot of things as it was, and if it wasn't something he already knew how to do, he could speed read through the instructions.

At least she had Clark to keep her warm at home, because even with the coat, working the window was cold.

***

"Lucy, it's the fifth time you have gone out with this guy. I think it is high time we got to meet him. What is his name again?"

"Jimmy." Lucy Lane sat on the couch. "Jimmy Olsen. He's in my photography class and he is just dreamy." Her eyes took on a far off quality. "And yes, you'll get to meet him and soon. I invited him over for dinner on Saturday night. I know you and Clark don't have to work this weekend, so there."

Lois nodded. "Good. I want to meet him. Have to make sure he's good enough for my little sister."

"Relax, Lois. It's not like we're planning on getting married or anything. I am *way* too young to even consider that. I don't want to get married until I'm at *least* 25." Her eyes widened. "Not that there is anything wrong with marrying younger. I mean, even seventeen is okay in certain circumstances." She sighed. "Oh, you know what I mean!"

Lois laughed. "I know. Marrying at seventeen isn't the right thing for most people and if it hadn't been for the accident, I wouldn't have married Clark at seventeen either, but I didn't want to go into foster care and I didn't want you to go into foster care either. Short of running away or going to live at that stuffy old senior center in Texas, this was our only way to avoid the system. And technically, you are still in the system, just with me and Clark as your permanent guardians." She sipped her tea. "Saturday night it is. I'll make sure Clark knows."

Lucy stared at the window. "You know, Lo, I've never thanked you two."

Lois looked up from the textbook she'd gone back to studying. "For what?"

"For keeping me out of foster care and in Metropolis." She purposely didn't look at her big sister.

Lois smiled softly. "Thanks, Lu. You have no idea what it means to hear you say that."

Lucy shrugged. "It's true. I didn't want to go to Texas -- and I know they probably wouldn't have sent us there -- and the thought of living with someone else scared me, but I never thought that you'd marry Clark just to keep me out of the system."

Lois sighed. "There was a lot more to it than keeping you out of the system, Lu."

"I know. You guys are in love and have been since you were twelve." Lucy rolled her eyes. "Sorry. Clark was fourteen. But still... I appreciate it."

"My pleasure, Luce." Lois waited to see if her sister would say anything else. When she didn't, Lois turned back to her books.

***

"You must be Jimmy. I've heard a lot about you." Clark opened the door to let the teenager in. "Come on in and make yourself at home." Clark gestured to the couch. "I'm Clark, Lucy's brother-in-law."

"She talks about you all the time." Jimmy shrugged out of his coat and hung it on the coat rack. "She thinks you're pretty cool, but don't tell her I told you that."

Clark smiled at him. "No problem. So Lucy says you're in her photography class?"

Jimmy nodded. "Someday I want to be a photojournalist for the Daily Planet."

"Really? Lois and I both want to be investigative journalists, and that's where we'd like to work eventually. Right now, we're low men on the totem pole interning at the Star."

"Oh, man. I'm sorry. The Daily Planet is a great place to work. I got a job there last summer as an unglorified gopher. The Chief -- Perry White, he's the editor-in-chief -- took me under his wing and found something a little more permanent for me. Now I do research part time. I can introduce you sometime if you'd like."

"Introduce us to who?" Lois and Lucy chose that moment to come in from the kitchen.

"Jimmy knows Perry White."

Lois' eyebrows shot up. "You know Perry White?"

Jimmy shrugged. "Yeah. He kind of adopted me. They don't have any kids, Perry and Alice, and my dad's not around and Mom's out of town for work a lot so we're kind of family now. But don't tell anyone." He winked at them. "It would ruin his reputation." He gave Lucy a peck on the cheek and took her hand. "Lucy's met him a couple times now."

Lois shot daggers at her sister. "You've met Perry White and you didn't tell me? Or Clark?"

Lucy shrugged. "I didn't think it would be a big deal. It's not like I could get either one of you jobs or an internship or anything, but he's a very nice man."

"Not when he's yelling at me," Jimmy grumbled.

***

January 1986

"Well, it's official. The radio said power is out to most of Metropolis and it won't come back on anytime soon." Lois blew into her hands. "You could warm me up real quick, you know."

Clark stared at her for a minute and she felt a warm glow spread throughout her body.

"Thanks. You do come in handy from time to time," she grinned.

"I'm glad to know I'm good for something." Clark said. "But how are we going to keep you and Lucy warm for the next few days until the power is back?"

Just then the phone rang. Clark listened in with his special hearing as Lois spoke with her sister. It seemed that Lucy had been invited to Perry and Alice White's house to ride out the power outage and her sister and husband were invited along. Jimmy would be there as well since his mom was out of town again.

In just a few seconds, Clark had packed three suitcases -- all more threadbare than any of them would have liked -- and he and Lois headed out the door for suburbia.

***

"Mr. White, it's a pleasure to meet you. Lois and I are both huge fans of the Daily Planet." Clark gripped Perry's hand more tightly than he meant and hurriedly let go when he realized he was causing the older gentleman some pain. It seemed he'd already had enough of that -- one leg was in a cast and he was on crutches.

"The pleasure's all mine, son. Jimmy's told me quite a bit about the two of you. I'm impressed with anyone who would travel across the country to marry a girl he hadn't seen in many years just so she wouldn't have to go in to foster care. And then to take on her sister as a foster child..." Perry shook his head. "Son, you need to write a book someday." He headed into the house. "Follow me. I'm sorry I can't offer you something a little warmer, but this will have to do. At least you and Lois will be able to keep each other warm."

As soon as Perry's back was turned, Clark swept his special heat vision around the room, careful to only take a bit of the edge off of the bitter cold. A quick glance at the thermostat indicated that, even with a fire blazing, the temperature was dropping into the 40s. He'd have to make sure that the fire stayed going all night and that there was plenty of wood. He turned his attention back to his host, who was still talking.

"Alice and I were thinking that we'd all sleep in the living room. That's where the fire is so it makes the most sense. The couch has a fold out bed -- although the couch itself is more comfortable than the bed is -- and we could either get sleeping bags or air mattresses or..." He thought for a moment. "We could even bring the mattresses out of the bedrooms -- that would probably be the most comfortable way."

Clark nodded. "We had the power go out more than once while I was growing up in the middle of nowhere in Kansas. That's what we usually did -- brought down the mattresses and slept on them -- close to the fire but not too close."

Perry nodded. "Why don't we do that? Put your bags in the bedroom at the top of the stairs. I'll round up Jimmy and you two can bring down the mattresses." He gestured at his leg. "I'm not good for much of anything these days. Dang doc told me I had to stay home for a month and I'm not quite half way through that. Alice and I are about to kill each other with this much 'togetherness'." He rolled his eyes.

"Oh, no bother, Mr. White. I grew up on farms. I can handle a couple of mattresses, no sweat." Clark didn't see the point in Jimmy exerting himself to do something he could do very easily himself.

Perry eyed him skeptically. "If you're sure... And that's enough of this Mr. White nonsense. Please, call me Perry."

"Yes, sir. Er, Perry. I'll take our bags up and start bringing mattresses down. Do you have any idea what we're going to do as far as meals go?" Clark was hoping he could distract the editor of the Planet long enough to get the mattresses downstairs.

"I'm not sure. I'll go check on Alice, Lois and Lucy in the kitchen. Fortunately, the stove is gas. We'll have to use a match since the electric lighters won't work, obviously, but at least we'll have a way to cook."

Clark nodded and as soon as Perry turned, he swept the whole room with his heat vision.

***

"Okay, Dave. Sounds good. Get that paper out." Perry put the phone back on the hook. "At least he's competent. The last four night editors they foisted on me were hacks and the one before that..." He shook his head. "If I have to be home, at least he's got things under control. And the paper's got power back." It was the second night that the power had been out in most of the city, but Franklin Stern had hired his own electric company crew from out of the area to come in and fix what needed fixing to get the Daily Planet up and running, before they moved off to help other areas.

Alice shook her head. "Enough shop talk, Perry. There's nothing you can do. Your doctor would be mad enough if he knew you were hobbling around on those crutches already. Back to trivia."

"Yes, ma'am." Perry pulled his blanket a little tighter around his shoulders. "Whose turn is it?"

"Guy's." Lois held up a picture of the Eiffel Tower. "Okay, guys. Science and Nature. What is the main metal found in the Eiffel Tower -- aluminum, iron or steel?"

The males in the room whispered among themselves, until Clark turned to answer. "Iron."

"That's correct."

Having decided it was too cold to actually play Trivial Pursuit, they had taken the cards out and were simply playing for points, rolling only to determine category.

Lois picked up the die, shook it and rolled. They had assigned each category a number and she had rolled the one for the pink category. "Arts and Entertainment. Great. My favorite."

Jimmy pulled a card off the deck. "What union's presidents have included Ed Asner, Patty Duke, Charlton Heston and Ronald Reagan?"

Alice spoke thoughtfully to her teammates. "Well, Heston and Reagan were both actors before they were president of the United States and Asner and Duke were never president of the U. S.... Maybe the Screen Actors' Guild? I know Reagan was..."

Lois shrugged. "Sounds good to me."

"That is right." Jimmy put another tally mark under the girls' side of the sheet of paper and then rolled the die. "History."

Lucy held up another card with a picture on it. "I'm not sure who this is supposed to be." She read the questions on the other side of the card quickly. "Paul Revere maybe?"

Perry shook his head. "No. That's Cal Kent. A revolutionary war hero and one of the first reporters for the Daily Planet." He squinted at the picture. "He looks a bit like you, Clark. Any chance you're related?"

Clark shrugged. "It's possible he's related to my family. I know my Dad's family, at least, has been around since before the Revolutionary War, but I'm adopted so I really doubt there's a blood relation." He shared a look with Lois -- the 'I'm an alien but can't tell anyone' look.

Lucy rolled her eyes. "Okay -- history question. Caleb Kent was well known as an early reporter for 'The English Review' and later one of the founders of the Daily Planet. What was the name of the subversive paper he also published during the Revolution?"

Perry laughed. "That's easy. 'The Colonial Times'.

Lucy nodded. "That doesn't seem fair." She rolled. "Science and nature."

Perry picked up the next card. "What small Kansas town had their town hall destroyed in a 1966 meteor shower?"

Lois laughed. "This one's not fair. Smallville. It's where Clark's from."

Clark nodded. "That's right. I don't remember it, of course, but we did learn about it in school." He shared that look with Lois again. That was the meteor shower that had brought his space ship with it. He supposed he should count his blessings that it hadn't been found and put on a Trivial Pursuit card.

Jimmy eyed them suspiciously. "Hey, you two. No looks. This game is men against women, fair and square."

Clark shook his head. "It's not that, Jimmy. That was the night my parents found me abandoned near Smallville. Lois knows that."

Jimmy let out a low whistle. "Wow. I guess you're lucky your birth parents didn't leave you on the steps of the town hall. Where'd they find you anyway?"

Clark cleared his throat nervously. "In a field. The owner was supposed to work it the next day and we supposed that was why I'd been left there so that it would only be overnight or so before I was found. It's a good thing my parents found me though. Old man Schuster had fallen off a ladder and broken his leg that day and wouldn't have been in the field for at least a week."

Jimmy let out another whistle. "Wow again. That's lucky. And extra lucky one of those meteorites didn't hit you."

Clark nodded, growing more and more uncomfortable with the direction the conversation was taking. He picked up a die and rolled it as Jimmy marked down Lois' point. "Arts and Entertainment."

Alice picked up a card. "What tabloid newspaper is run by Randy Goode?"

Perry snorted. "The king of sleaze? He runs the Dirt Digger and doesn't deserve that."

Alice marked the point down. "Clark, what was it like growing up in a small town?"

He shrugged. "I didn't know any different. It was harder after my parents died. There were lots of people in Smallville who cared about my parents, but few who wanted to take in a ten year old." He played with the die in his hand. He couldn't explain how he knew, but he knew he could trust the four other people here with his secret. He didn't plan on actually telling them, but he was less uncomfortable sharing parts of his story that could incriminate him later. "I accidentally started a fire once or twice. I got a reputation as a pyromaniac -- not that I was; they really were accidents, but it made people leery of taking me in."

"I'm sorry to hear that, son." Perry clapped him on the shoulder. "I know we haven't known you long, but Alice and I were discussing it last night. You and Lois and Lucy seem like family already."

Clark rolled the die, ready to move on. "Science and Nature again."

Lois picked up a card, amazed at what Clark had shared with their new friends. He had never talked too much about his time in foster care -- just enough to know that she never wanted to experience it. "What did Armand Fizeau measure the speed of, in 1849?"

The three males conferred quietly. Perry finally came out of the huddle with an answer. "Sound?"

Lois shook her head. "Nope. Light."

Jimmy groaned and pulled the blanket tighter around himself. "Told you guys."

Clark rolled his eyes. "Like you actually knew the answer. You were guessing just as much as we were."

Lois rolled the die. "People and Places."

Clark groaned. "This is an easy one. What institution can you contact by dialing 1-800-493-ROLL?"

The three women just looked at each other.

"The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame seems almost too obvious," Alice observed. "But that would be my guess."

Lois nodded. "I think so too. Luce?"

Lucy shrugged. "I could run to the bathroom and dial it real quick."

Jimmy glared at her. "No cheating, missy."

Lucy rolled her eyes. "Fine. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."

Clark reached for the pen. "Yep."

An hour later, the score was tied. "Okay, folks, here's what we're going to do. We're going to pair off. Me and Alice, Clark and Lois, Jimmy and Lucy. Someone will ask a question and whoever gets their hand on the bell first gets to answer. The team with the most answers wins." He set the nickel plated call bell on the coffee table. "We'll roll the number die to see who picks the category." He rolled the number die. "Great shades of Elvis!" he exclaimed as a two showed up.

Alice laughed and rolled the die herself. "Five. Guess that means I get to pick the category." She looked thoughtfully at Perry. "How about People and Places?"

Lois nodded and picked up a card. "Ready?" Both of the participants nodded. "Kasparov is president of what Eastern European country?"

Perry and Alice's hands both shot out. Perry's hand was on the bottom.

"Perry?"

"Latislan."

"That's correct."

Clark moved to Lois' side. "Ready? Our turn." He rolled the die. "A six. Beat that!"

Lois rolled her eyes and then rolled the die. "Dang it. A three. Okay, Clark, what category?" She eyed him. "Fair and square."

Clark grinned. No using his extra speed. Not that he would cheat of course. She still hadn't forgiven him for winning Speed on their honeymoon. "I would never cheat, Lois. Especially not when I'm playing against you."

"When you're on my team, you're free to cheat as much as you want, but not when you're my opposition. Category?"

He gazed at her thoughtfully. "History."

Lois groaned. "Thanks."

Perry pulled a card from the holder. "What did a 1907 law require all Fort Dodge, Iowa, residents between twenty-five and forty-five to do?" He flipped the card over as Lois and Clark stared at each other, dumbfounded. "Wow. Never would have guessed that. You two?"

Lois shook her head slowly. "Not a clue. Clark?"

He shook his head as well. "No idea."

Perry grinned. "Get married." He pulled another card. "Still sticking with history, Clark?"

Clark nodded.

"What Union military man coined the phrase 'unconditional surrender'?"

Two hands shot out. Lois grinned gleefully as she realized hers was on the bottom. "Ulysses S. Grant!"

"Very good, darlin'."

Clark groaned and settled back against the couch by Lois. He wrapped one arm around her and pulled her close. "Good job." He kissed the side of her hair and pulled the blanket a bit closer around them. "Lucy and Jimmy, you're up. Winner takes all."

Lucy rolled a four and Jimmy a five.

"Category, Jim?" Clark pulled a card.

"Wild Card."

Clark held up a picture of a CostMart store. "Name the founder of CostMart."

Two hands shot towards the call bell, sending it skittering across the table and on to the floor.

"Bill Church!" they both said at the same time.

Lois groaned. "I guess it's a tie. We'll have to rematch tomorrow, unless the power is back on at home."

***

The fire had died down over the night hours. Clark woke before anyone else noticed the chill that had filled the air. He hated to leave his warm spot by Lois, knowing that leaving it would chill her. He felt a bit sorry for Lucy and Jimmy who had moved their sleeping bags next to each other on a double mattress but they weren't actually sleeping together with that extra body heat to keep warm. Looking around furtively he made sure no one else was awake and he shot a bit of heat vision at the two younger people.

He moved away from Lois and directed another beam of heat vision to the covers near her to help keep the area warm while he was gone. He guessed that the temperature was in the upper 30s since the fire had died down. He had managed to keep it up in the mid- to upper 40s most of the last two days without getting caught.

He moved towards the fireplace and easily picked up four more logs to use to restart the fire. Without using the fire tongs, he rearranged the little that was still in the fireplace and put in the next log. A blast of heat vision and it was quickly roaring. He put in the next log and the one after that. He set the last log on the hearth for later.

When he turned, he was startled to see Perry sitting there, staring at him in disbelief.

Perry jerked his head toward the kitchen, and hobbled off. Clark, wide eyed, followed him.

When they were in the kitchen, with the door swung shut behind them, Perry turned to the younger man. "Son, I been around for a lot of years now, and I have never seen anything like what I think I just saw. Would you care to explain?"

Clark sighed and sank heavily into one of the solid wooden chairs. "Perry, you're a news man and have been most of your life. But what I'm about to tell you, you cannot ever print."

"I don't like making those kinds of promises without knowing what I'm promising not to print."

"I can appreciate your predicament, but this is my life we are talking about. My life and Lois' and Lucy's and now that you and Alice and Jimmy are associated with me, your lives as well."

Perry raised an eyebrow. "That sounds fairly melodramatic."

Clark nodded. "It might be a bit melodramatic, but it's the truth, I swear it."

Perry thought for a minute then nodded. "Okay, son. You have my word. None of this will ever see print unless and until you give me the go ahead someday."

Clark sighed and then stood and paced around the kitchen. "Remember what I said about the meteor shower and how that was the night my parents found me?" At Perry's nod, he continued. "I didn't tell the whole truth about that. I was found in Old Man Schuster's field, but I wasn't left there by some passer-by who thought that Schuster would be out there the next day and find me." He took a deep breath. "This is hard, Perry. Lois is the only other one who knows most of this and in all honesty, I had a very hard time telling her; she found out kind of like you did -- by accident.

"I wasn't left in that field. I crash landed."

He paused, waiting for it to sink in.

Perry's eyes grew wide. "You crash landed?"

Clark nodded. "I was about three months old when my space craft landed in a field in the middle of Kansas." He turned to pace the other direction and stopped mid-step when he realized the door was open and Alice, Jimmy and Lucy stood there. Lois stood behind them, her eyes as big as the proverbial saucer. What had he just done?

***

Chapter 11

Numbly and quietly, the four non Kent members of the Whites' present household went back into the living room. Clark, knowing his secret was now out, swept the room several times with his heat vision, warming it up to a more comfortable temperature.

Perry looked around, puzzled. "How did that happen? It warmed up in here in the last few seconds."

Clark sighed, grateful for Lois' hand in his in a sign of moral support. "I did it." He nodded to the seating area in the middle of the room. "Have a seat everyone and I'll explain everything." Once they were seated, he began his story from the beginning again. "In 1966, there was a meteor shower in Smallville, Kansas. One or more of the larger meteors hit the town hall, destroying it."

"That was one of our trivia questions last night," Jimmy interjected.

"Don't interrupt, Jim. Let Clark tell his story." Perry glanced disapprovingly at the younger man.

"Sorry, C.K." Jimmy leaned back in the oversized chair and pulled the blanket closer around himself and Lucy.

"That was the night that my parents found me in Schuster's Field. I was in a small spacecraft, wrapped in a blanket. My parents followed one of the meteors and found me instead. They'd been unable to have children, despite years of trying and the best help that doctors could give them in that day and age. When they found me, they weren't sure if I was from another planet or maybe a Cold War experiment from the U.S.S.R., but they didn't care which I was. If I had actually been a little green man, I think they would have still adopted me," he added ruefully.

"They took me home and reported me as a foundling. Ads were put in the appropriate papers, but of course no one claimed me. They raised me as their own. I didn't know until last year that this... globe that came with my ship held a hologram of some sort with a message for my parents that told them pretty much everything about what was going to happen to me." He smiled sadly. "It would have been nice to know about that several years ago, but it's still good to know that I'm 'normal' for someone like me on Earth.

"By the time my folks died when I was ten, we knew I wasn't normal. I was strong, I was fast -- much stronger and faster than any eight or nine year old should have been. And I was practically invulnerable. I could lift tractors or move the fridge so Mom could clean behind it. I made it around the farm -- about four miles -- in just under two minutes. Even though I fell out of my tree house several times in those years, I was never hurt. The first few times I had some minor scrapes, but by all rights, I should have broken more than one bone at least a couple of times."

Clark took a deep breath and launched into the story of his parents' death, staring into the fire the whole time. When he was done, he stopped to take a breath and look at those around him. He could see tracks where tears had flown down the faces of Lucy and Alice. He could feel dampness on his shoulder where Lois' head rested. He was grateful, though they hadn't been as close in recent months, for her arm around him, supporting and comforting him.

"So, about a year ago, Lois found out my little secret and we went to Colorado where I had buried my ship and the globe and things that came with it when I rented out the farm."

"When did you go to Colorado? I don't remember you two being gone." Lucy ignored the look she got from Perry because she was truly puzzled.

"Well, see... I'm not just fast and can see through things, I'm also able to fly. Fast. So I flew us there several times. About that time, this globe that came with me from Krypton..."

Perry abandoned his own admonition. "Pardon me for interrupting, son, but Krypton? What in the name of Elvis is that?"

"It's my home planet. According to the message Jor-El, my birth father, gave my parents, it exploded not long after they sent my ship off. I'm the last survivor, the last son of Krypton, Mom said. In the message he left for my folks, he said that Krypton lived under a red sun and that the yellow sun here would give me special abilities and it has. I can fly and see through things. I can bend metal with my bare hands. I can lift just about anything. I'm invulnerable. I can also freeze things with my breath and start fires with my eyes. We found this letter from my mom in the ship that said that they'd gotten a message from Jor-El themselves about a month after they brought me home that explained a lot of it. Jor-El left at least five messages on the globe. We've seen three of them but haven't made it back to Colorado since early last summer."

A look of understanding crossed Jimmy's face. "That's how it's stayed so nice in here -- relatively I mean -- even with the fire. You've been warming it up haven't you?"

Clark nodded. "I didn't want it to get too warm because I didn't want to raise suspicions, but I have tried to keep it a bit warmer than it would have been otherwise."

"Well, hey, C.K. -- warm us up!" Jimmy exclaimed. "No sense in being cold when we have heat vision around."

Perry laughed. "He's right, warm us up."

Clark sat stunned. "You guys are all really okay with this? With me being an alien?"

Jimmy shrugged. "We all have secrets. There's something different about everyone. You're a good guy -- besides being Lucy's brother-in-law and guardian. I like her so I have to go through you -- so I don't see what the big deal is? Except that maybe you could take us to the Caribbean or something and out of this ice storm."

They all laughed at that.

"Well, hell's bells, son. Having those special things about you will certainly help you as an investigative reporter. Now, Jimmy's right -- heat this place up, would you?"

Clark laughed and obliged, sweeping his heat vision around the room and then focusing short bursts on the other two couples. "How's that?"

Jimmy pulled Lucy a little closer. "Now, not too warm, you hear?"

***

"Are you guys really okay with all this?" Lois stared at the cup of hot chocolate in her hands, as though mesmerized by the lighter swirls. She was curled up in the oversized chaise reminiscent of the one Clark had held her in on prom night. It was what her Grandma Lane had called a 'grandma chair' and she had spent many happy hours as a very young child curled up with her grandmother in a chair similar to this one, but without the built in leg room.

Perry was stretched out on the couch with his broken leg propped up. Alice sat in the glider with her legs on the matching stool. Both had blankets tucked around them. Jimmy and Lucy were under a blanket in the other grandma chair with a separate ottoman.

Clark wasn't there. He'd left earlier to do what he could to help without raising suspicions. He figured he could help move trees and took Perry's chainsaw with him. He promised to try to bring back some wood for the Whites to use the next year after it had dried out. He'd bundled up in a heavy winter coat loaned to him by Perry so he wouldn't look out of place and said he probably wouldn't be back for a while. He'd kissed Lois on the cheek and left.

They'd whispered about it briefly after everyone else had dozed off again. He'd told her of his plan for the day and said that she had his permission to answer any questions they had as best she could. She'd wanted to ask him how he could have been so careless, but just couldn't bring herself to do that.

That was two hours ago. The five remaining current residents of the White home had cleaned up after a big country breakfast cooked courtesy of Clark and his abilities, insisting that they would do it even though Clark had volunteered to do that as well.

They'd chatted about trivial matters but Lois had finally decided to take the proverbial bull by the horns.

The room was quiet after she asked her question as the other four occupants of the room sat thoughtfully, but no one spoke for a few minutes.

Perry finally spoke up. "Well, Darlin', it was a shock. I'll even admit that I woke up this morning wondering if it was a dream, but seeing Clark fry those eggs ended those thoughts." He thought for another minute. "And I'll admit that the journalist in me sees a potentially huge story here. A Pulitzer story even. I won't lie about that, but don't worry; I won't print it. Of course, Alice and I have only known you two for a couple of days, so there's no sense of being..." He thought carefully about his word choice. "...lied to isn't quite right, but that's the best word I'm coming up with. Kept in the dark. Not trusted. But I have a very, very well developed ability to read people. It's served me well over the years and the instant I met you and Clark, I knew that you two were good kids and that you would soon be part of our family."

Jimmy chimed in. "Like I said last night, everyone has secrets; there's something different about everyone. Granted, Clark's differences are bigger than most, but it doesn't change that he's a good guy. He's already helped me out several times in the couple months I've known him. I've been over several times for study sessions while you were working and I honestly wouldn't have been able to pass the first semester of my math class without him. The fact that he comes from another planet doesn't change the fact that he cares a great deal about Lucy and you and even me. And people in general. I mean, he's out there doing what he can to help recovery efforts and I'd imagine that even with trying to be unnoticed, he'll do more today than just about anyone else."

"How long have you known, Lo?" Lucy asked quietly.

Lois thought for a minute. "I guess it was March of last year."

"That recently?" The question came from Alice.

Lois nodded. "Yeah. Clark felt bad that he hadn't told me before we got married, feeling that I hadn't made the decision to marry him with all the facts, but it doesn't change who Clark is. He was walking me home from work one night and someone attempted to mug us. He demanded that we give up our wedding rings and when I refused and struggled with him, his gun went off and the bullet it Clark. Whoever it was ran off and I freaked out. Clark asked if I trusted him and then he flew me to Colorado. He told me what he knew about his origins and his... powers. That's where he buried his ship when he moved here. He dug it up to show me and the globe he talked about started to glow and we saw the first message. It was so sad in so many ways. It was obvious that Lara, his mother, especially loved him very much. And Jor-El, his father, did too, but he was usually too busy working, but the way he looked at Lara when the tremors started... the way he tried to cover her and protect her and the ship they were building... Clark -- Kal-El was his name -- was in some sort of protected bassinet or something so he was safe. But Jor-El loved Lara -- it was obvious and it was just as obvious that they both loved Clark.

"The technology is far beyond anything on earth. It wasn't just a projection or like a movie or something. That's how it started each time, but then it was like we were in the lab with Jor-El and Lara. We could feel the ground shake when the tremors came. The planet was dying. Something about core disintegration or something. The last time we went was right after graduation and we saw the third message. I haven't been back with Clark but I don't think he's been back either.

"Martha left Clark a number of letters for big events in his life -- birthdays, graduations, wedding, and stuff. She also left one in the ship for him to find. It told him what the message they saw from Jor-El said. It also said that there would be a set of five messages, but also others he would see at appropriate times or something like that. We thought maybe she meant they'd be like her letters but high tech. We didn't feel it was safe to keep the globe here in Metropolis. We don't live in the safest area and, to be honest, Lu, we were afraid you might find it or see something you shouldn't before we were ready to tell you. So Clark reburied it all and it's still there. Jor-El said earth was chosen because the people here were so similar to Kryptonians and that Clark wouldn't be out of place."

"One thing I want to know is how it affects your daily life?" Alice asked.

"Well, not too much but some," she admitted. "Clark doesn't actually need to eat much so that saves us food money. He gets most of his energy from the sun rather than food. He usually takes incredibly short showers -- if Lucy isn't home or is already asleep, he can take a shower, dry off and get dressed in like fifteen seconds. He speed reads and has an eidetic memory so school is generally very easy for him. So is reading manuals to fix old cars. He fixed up the apartment in like three days. It was an absolute disaster when we rented it. I don't know how I didn't suspect something then, but everything was so overwhelming anyway, I was just glad that I had less to do. School had already started again and we were still at the Lexor for a couple more days and I just didn't realize how *much* he actually did or how fast. He doesn't need much sleep which means he can work more -- like delivering papers so early and delivering pizzas at night."

She took another sip of her hot chocolate. "That makes me feel a little guilty sometimes. He does so much more than I do, but he says it makes sense. He can clean the apartment from top to bottom in less time than it would take me to remember where we keep the vacuum cleaner. He told me the night I found out all of this that he floats in his sleep sometimes. I've never caught him actually floating, but he's woken me up a time or two when he landed back on the mattress." She thought for another minute. "I guess it does affect my life more than all of that though. If he'd been from earth, I don't see how we'd be together because no one else would have been crazy enough to want to marry me when we were seventeen and eighteen and take on my little sister as a foster child. No offense meant by that, Luce, but let's face it -- very few guys would do that and be able to continue to go to school and do all that he does."

The phone rang, distracting them from their conversation and Perry was suddenly ensconced in a newspaper crisis. Alice decided that, after being up in the middle of the night for Clark's story, it was time for a nap. Jimmy, being a teenage male, was dozing off within minutes.

Lucy went to the kitchen to get some more hot chocolate and Lois followed her.

"Are you mad, Lucy?"

Lucy looked up at her, wide-eyed. "No, Lois. Of course not."

"You don't think we should have told you?"

"Someday? Probably, but there's a lot of very good reasons you didn't. I didn't sleep at all the rest of the night last night and at first I was mad, but then I remembered all the crazies out there and realized you were probably right to protect me. But what about you?"

"What about me?"

"You *married* Clark without knowing about all of this."

"Yeah, but when should he have told me? At summer camp when I was twelve? In a letter? The day after our parents died when he proposed? In the two or three days after that when we were planning their funeral? Or as we walked into the wedding chapel?"

"Good points." Lucy sat in one of the kitchen chairs. "Why did it take him so long to tell you?"

"It was only three months. It's not something he finds easy to talk about at first. Once someone knows -- the five of us that is, no one else does -- it's easier for him to talk about it, but actually telling someone..." Lois sighed. "On our honeymoon, Aunt Louise sent us a bag full of games and one of them was full of questions designed to get to know other people better. A couple of them were about things like space travel and aliens and a few generic questions I answered with examples about space travel and aliens... never in a favorable light I might add. It was all just so sci-fi that I couldn't even begin to fathom that I might have married someone who started his life on a different planet. He told me later that he wasn't hurt by the comments or anything, just afraid of what I would think when he finally told me the truth."

"And?"

"And what?"

"When he told you the truth?"

"I was okay with it. I mean it's overwhelming but it had already saved his life once that night. That guy shot him right in the stomach. And it was probably good that I already knew him better by then because it doesn't change what makes him fundamentally Clark."

"I guess so."

"I know so." Lois smiled at her younger sister. "I think Alice and Jimmy have the right idea. A nap sounds wonderful, don't you think?"

Lucy yawned, then finished the last of her hot chocolate. "Sure does." She stood from the kitchen chair where she'd sat down halfway through the conversation. "You coming?"

Lois nodded. "Yeah. In a minute." As Lucy left the room, Lois tried desperately to stop the tears that were threatening. She'd felt closer to Clark the night before than she had in months. Sure, they slept in the same bed, and he always spooned with her at night as they fell asleep -- except for the rare occasion when one of them, usually him, came home late to find the other already asleep. At least once a week, she woke in the morning to find herself blissfully pinned down by one of Clark's arms thrown across her stomach while he slept on his, sometimes finding their legs had also entwined during the night.

Sometimes -- but very rarely -- she let herself imagine what it would be like if she ran her hands over his arms and his back and maybe even kissed his soft skin. He had a mole over his top lip that just begged to be kissed, but she never let her imagination get out of hand. She knew -- no matter how much he'd tried to convince her in the early days of their marriage that he would never leave -- that someday she'd be on her own. Marriages didn't last. Certainly not teen marriages based on cheating the foster care system. He'd offered so many reassurances those first few months -- a life with his best friend, he'd said, much less than many marriages were based on -- but a big part of her was afraid that those words had only been designed to convince her to do more than just sleep with him, and when they'd been married six months and they still hadn't...

Then came that night... She'd finally changed her name. It had made him happy that she had, she knew that. But... did he have any idea how much he'd hurt her when he just left her sitting there and didn't even come back after his -- very long -- shower? At the same time, she admitted to herself, it wasn't even close to the first time she'd mentioned the possibility that they wouldn't work long term and he was probably sick of it.

What he didn't -- couldn't -- know or understand were the dreams that still plagued her at night so often. She'd noticed that she didn't have nightmares the mornings she woke up with Clark close to her, but she refused to contemplate the implications of that or why the dreams came more often since that day last summer.

Alice came through the swinging door, interrupting her thoughts. "Here you go." She wrapped a blanket around Lois' shoulders and sat down in the chair next to her, rearranging her own blanket as she did. They sat thus for several minutes before Alice spoke again. "How are you holding up, Lois?"

She shrugged. "I'm fine, Alice. You guys are the ones who had a bombshell dropped on you."

"But neither one of you were planning on sharing this with anyone, especially not the editor of the Daily Planet."

"We trust Perry and the rest of you. It'll be nice to have someone to talk to about it sometimes."

"Lois," Alice began, "I don't want to overstep my bounds but... Is everything okay with you and Clark?"

Lois looked up sharply. "Of course it is," she said with much more conviction than she felt.

Alice looked at her thoughtfully. "I've been around a lot of years, Lois, and I'm usually pretty right about these things."

Lois sighed. "Life isn't easy, Alice. That's all it is."

"No," Alice said slowly. "Life isn't easy, but I think the two of you have probably had a more difficult time of it than most the last year or so."

"Maybe," she shrugged. "But that's just the way it is. We'll graduate in a couple of years and Lucy will be out of high school and old enough to live on her own. We'll get jobs and then we'll move on."

"Together?" Alice asked quietly.

Lois stared at her now empty mug. "That's the plan."

"But you don't really believe it, do you?"

Tears welled up in Lois' eyes. "I have to," she whispered. "I just have to."

***

"Let me see your schedule." Clark held out his hand. They'd been home for two days after spending ten days at the home of Perry and Alice White. The power was back on to most of the city and classes were starting in just a few days.

"Wow. Talk about déjà vu." Lois handed over the piece of paper she held in her hand.

Clark sighed as he looked at the sheet. "Well, that's where the déjà vu ends. We knew we weren't going to have classes together, but I hoped we'd at least be able to work together at either the Star or the Metropolitan, but our schedules are almost completely opposite."

"I was afraid of that."

Clark chewed on his lip thoughtfully. "Maybe I could talk to Professor Paul and see if we can change things around a bit so we can have at least a couple shifts a week together."

Lois sighed. "Are you sure that's a good idea? Making waves my first semester at the Star?"

Clark shrugged. "Paul's a good guy. I bet he'd help us out if he can."

"Yeah, and Perry would get us on at the Planet if he could too, but he can't. Their internships and research or other jobs we'd qualify for are already full and we can't freelance for them while we're working at the Star."

"Maybe. I'll put out a couple feelers with him and see how set these schedules are. We're in class at the same time, but we're almost always at opposite papers. Surely, we can switch that around or something."

"Don't push it too hard, Clark. We can still eat lunch together most days. That's something, but I don't want to risk either one of us at either paper."

Clark reached over and grasped her hand lightly. "I won't jeopardize either one of our spots anywhere but I would like to see you from time to time."

Lois smiled at him. "I would too. The semester won't be easy, but maybe next fall, we can make requests or something that'll make our schedules line up better."

Clark stood and kissed the top of her head. "I've got to get ready for work. You're right. Things will work out somehow."

***

February 1986

"Hi."

Clark looked up from his backpack. "Hi." He stuck his Political Science book in the bag and zipped it up.

The young blond stuck her hand out. "I'm Mayson."

He shook it and smiled at her. "Clark."

"Um," she pointed towards the front of the room. "Professor Manning said that you might be a good one to ask for help."

He shrugged. "I do okay. What's the problem?"

She grimaced. "Political Science. I don't get it."

Clark laughed. "Well, if I can help I will, but my schedule's pretty full right now. I'm a Journalism major, so not only do I have classes, but I also put in pretty full weeks at both the UNT Metropolitan and the Metropolis Star. And I work too. But if I can, I'd be happy to help you."

"Wow. You are busy."

Clark shrugged. "That's the way it goes. Gotta pay the bills. I have a family to help support."

"You help support your family?" She looked surprised.

He grinned. "Somebody's got to do it. Lois helps, of course, as much as she can but Lucy's still in high school. Lois is a Journalism major too, and she's determined I'm not going to beat her to graduation even though I have a year's head start on her. She's taking overloads this semester and plans to keep it up."

"So you have your hands full?" She walked along side him as they left the classroom.

"Yeah, but it's all right. I love my family." He shrugged. "That's the way life is. You do what you have to."

They stepped out the door into the cold February sunshine. "Where are you headed, Clark?"

"Lunch. You?"

"Me, too." Mayson smiled. Lunch. This could be good.

***

Lois slung her backpack over her shoulder and headed towards the cafeteria. At least lunch was one more expense they didn't have to worry about. She only had about thirty minutes before she had to head over to the campus paper, but that meant she had twenty minutes to spend with Clark. It was about all the time she had these days. If she was going to graduate in three years, with Clark, she had little time for anything but studying, the paper and her internship at the Star. She'd even had to quit her fast food job. She didn't miss it, but with the rent from the farm and her internship stipend, they didn't actually need it. She didn't have any time for it anyway. And things seemed to be getting a bit better since the ice storm and its inadvertent revelations.

She heard Clark's laugh before she actually saw him. She smiled to herself. When she let herself think about it, she loved his laugh. Her eyes sought out the source, then narrowed perceptibly. Who was he with?

A blond co-ed sat next to him, one hand resting on his arm. She must have said something funny because Clark laughed again.

Didn't that hussy know he was married?

Her eyes came to rest on his left hand.

His ringless left hand.

After his ring broke, she'd wanted to get him a new one, but it just wasn't in the budget. He'd reminded her that they knew he was married and that was all that really mattered. They'd get a new ring after graduation, when money wasn't so tight. He knew where he belonged after all.

She'd believed him too. That it wouldn't matter if anyone else knew if he was married. They knew and that was enough.

And so there was no obvious outward sign that he was married. She knew he carried her picture in his wallet but...

This woman was obviously into him. Surely she wouldn't be so brazen if she knew he was married.

The only conclusion she could come to was one she didn't like.

She turned and fled the cafeteria before Clark and the hussy saw her.

He hadn't told her he was married.

It was the only logical answer.

***

"How come you weren't at lunch today, Lois?"

Lois rolled over in bed. Of course, he'd know she wasn't sleeping. Drat that hearing! He'd told her once that he could tell by her heartbeat when she was sleeping. He'd also told her that he could hear her heartbeat when she was coming unless he was completely engrossed in something. At lunch she should have been close enough for him to hear her but he hadn't noticed she was nearby. What did that mean?

"I went over to the paper early." She didn't even bother to open her eyes. No need to mention that she'd stopped behind the building to compose herself -- the tear tracks would have been obvious otherwise. She could hear him taking his shirt off and unzipping his jeans.

"Oh? I would have gone with you."

"I know, but I just had something I wanted to run by Professor Paul."

"Did you even eat?" There was a slightly accusatory tone in his voice.

"I grabbed something out of the break room."

"I saw the break room today. There wasn't much in there."

"You must have missed it." She felt his side of the bed depress as he sat down. Before she knew it, he was next to her.

"I wish you'd come to lunch. There's someone I wanted you to meet."

"Who's that?"

"Her name's Mayson. She's in my political science class and asked if I could help her with it. She's an English major but wants to be a lawyer eventually."

"Mayson, huh?"

"Yeah. I think you'd really like her."

Lois managed to stifle a snort. "I'm sure I would."

***

Lois had told Clark she had a psychology study group during lunch the next day. She didn't, but she was curious. Clark didn't have his political science class that day, but would the blonde be with him anyway? She stood outside the cafeteria, knowing Clark had planned on eating there as he always did. She peeked through the window with a direct line of sight to the table they usually occupied.

Sure enough, he was there and that blond hussy she assumed was Mayson was there too.

Even though she could only see part of his face, she could imagine the twinkle in his eye as Mayson laughed at something he said. She watched as the blond smacked him lightly on the arm and said something in return.

Something that must have been hilarious because Clark was laughing with her.

She'd seen enough.

***

//"Hi, Clark. This is Mayson."// Lois resisted the urge to throw the answering machine across the room. //"Listen, I'm having the hardest time with this whole Electoral College thing. Great for someone who wants to be a lawyer someday, huh? Your notes are so much better than mine. Could you give me a call and help me out?"// Lois refused to write the number down and didn't reset the machine when the message was done. Let Clark get his own message. If he even figured out it was there.

***

"Lois, did you talk to Mayson yesterday?"

Lois, as she had been the last two nights, was already in bed by the time Clark returned home. "Who?"

"Mayson. The girl from my political science class."

"Oh. No. I didn't talk to her."

"That's odd. She said she left a message but there wasn't one on the machine. Maybe she talked to Lucy."

"Maybe." Lois opened her eyes just the slightest bit, just in time to see Clark take his shirt off.

She sighed. Of course Mayson was attracted to him. What woman in her right mind wouldn't be? What woman *not* in her right mind wouldn't be?

She knew she'd be asleep seconds after he wrapped his arms around her. She was *that* exhausted these days, even before this whole Mayson business started. At least she didn't have to fend off a husband who wanted...

She closed her eyes tightly. Was that it? Was that part of the reason why Clark never pushed her for more? Was he getting 'more' somewhere else?

Maybe sleep wouldn't come so easily after all.

***

Lois ate her cereal over the sink. She'd hardly slept a wink, thoughts of Clark and Mayson together permeated her mind. Lucy had already left for school in the Honda and Lois would take the Metrolink to campus rather than the Datsun to save on gas. She was grateful that Lucy was finally able to drive herself and she didn't have to get up early enough to take Lucy to school before she headed to class. Clark had been gone for a couple of hours already, delivering papers.

Or had he?

It occurred to her that he could be done, especially with his morning route when it was dark out, in mere minutes if he wanted to. Could he be doing that? Finishing quickly and then heading off somewhere else?

To someone else?

He worked hard. He delivered papers to vending machines twice a day, seven days a week. He was taking a full load of classes at school. He worked on the school paper. He worked at the Star. He delivered pizza on the weekend and picked up odd jobs here and there building shelves for this neighbor or assembling furniture for that one. He deserved more than she was giving him.

If he'd found it somewhere else... Well, she'd just have to suck it up and live with it. If she wasn't willing to give him what he needed, she guessed going somewhere else to get it was to be expected, no matter what he'd promised on their honeymoon.

Well, if he could pretend everything was normal, so could she.

She took a deep breath and steeled herself for the day to come. She'd told Clark she had another study group today so he wasn't expecting her for lunch. Would he eat with *her* again? Should she show up anyway? Just to see their reactions? Maybe that was it. Maybe she'd meet Clark, and presumably Mayson, for lunch today after all.

Or maybe not.

***

Chapter 12

"So, Clark, where's Lois? I thought she was eating with us today."

Clark shrugged. "She had a study group again today." He shoveled a big forkful of spaghetti in his mouth.

"For two people who always eat together, she doesn't eat with you very often." She poked her fork into her salad.

He took a sip of his soda before answering. "We did last semester and the first couple weeks of this semester, but the last couple of days..." He shrugged again. "She went to see Professor Paul Monday and had study groups the last couple days. Maybe she'll join us tomorrow. I know you'd like her."

"I bet I will." Mayson personally had doubts about it, but she liked Clark, so she went along with it. She took a deep breath. "So, Clark, are you working Saturday night?"

He thought for a minute while chewing on his garlic bread then shook his head as he swallowed. "Nope. Not this week."

"It's movie night in the English Department. They're showing 'Dead Poets' Society'. Would you like to come?"

"I don't know. I'll have to ask Lois. See what she's doing."

"Well, Clark," Mayson rested her hand on his forearm. "I was kind of hoping we could go without your sister."

Soda practically came out of Clark's nose and napkins across the cafeteria suddenly fluttered to the floor. "My who?"

"Your sister. We really don't need Lois for a date do we?" She gazed at him from underneath her eyelashes. "I was kind of hoping that it could be just us."

Clark gently removed her hand from his arm. "Mayson, I'm terribly sorry if I've misled you in any way, but Lois isn't my sister."

Mayson's eyes narrowed. "She's not? Is she your girlfriend?"

Clark shook his head. "No."

"Then what is she?"

"She's my wife, Mayson."

"Your what?!" Several people at nearby tables turned to look at them. "Your what?" she asked again, more quietly this time.

"My wife. I'm sorry if I didn't spell that out clearly enough. Most everyone I know knows we're married, so I must have just assumed you did too. I'm sorry if you feel I've led you on." Clark looked at her intently. "Truly I am. You're a nice person and I'd hate to be the one to hurt you."

Mayson shrugged. "No, Clark. You never led me on. When you said you had to help support your family and mentioned Lois and Lucy, you never actually said what your relationship with them was. As for us... We've talked and laughed and studied, but we've only known each other three days and you've never given me an indication one way or the other. I just hoped..." She closed her eyes and took a breath. "It doesn't matter now, obviously."

"I'd like to be your friend, Mayson, but that's all it can ever be."

She nodded. "I'd like that, too, Clark." They ate in silence for a minute before she posed her next question. "So, if you're married, why don't you wear a ring?"

Clark looked at his hand. "We married very quickly, a couple days after Lois' seventeenth birthday, the day after she buried her parents. My parents both died when I was ten and the director at the funeral home in Smallville, where I'm from, made sure I had both of my mom's rings and my dad's wedding band. My dad's got misplaced somewhere along the way but I still had both of my mom's. I gave them to Lois when I asked her to marry me. She bought me a ring, but we were flat broke and it was pretty cheap. It broke six months after we got married. I, uh, borrowed some soldering stuff but I couldn't get it back together." He absentmindedly rubbed his ring finger as he spoke. "We're still flat broke, so we decided to wait until after graduation when we got real jobs and have some money to replace it."

"You were young."

Clark nodded. "I was almost nineteen. We actually met when I was fourteen and I knew then that someday I'd marry her."

Mayson raised a brow. "Really?"

He nodded. "Yep. We were pen pals for years. Her parents died in a car accident and when I came to see her, we got married."

Mayson's eyes narrowed. Maybe there was hope after all. Sure, she had a little trouble understanding the Electoral College -- so did most people -- but not nearly as much as she'd led Clark to believe. She was going to be a lawyer, after all. She'd heard around that he got good grades and was a nice guy. And so cute to boot so she'd convinced him to help her study. She'd bet that Clark, out of some misguided sense of loyalty to his long time pen pal, had married her to keep her out of the system. But why? At seventeen, she'd most likely be put in a very temporary foster home or into an assisted transitional program.

Mayson mentally thanked her family law specialist father. There was no other way she'd know about those things. If Clark knew he'd married Lois when he didn't have to... Had Lois told him she'd end up in the system if he didn't? Had she tricked Clark into marrying her? Had he had all the facts?

"Anyway," he continued. "After we got married, we also got custody of Lois' little sister, Lucy. She's a couple years younger than Lois and Lois didn't want her to end up in foster care. I'd told her some about my time in the system and she didn't want her sister to be bounced around like I had been."

So that was it. He'd married her to keep her sister out of the system. Mayson decided, for now, to keep her own counsel. Marriages under circumstances like those rarely lasted. When it fell apart, Mayson would be happy to help Clark pick up the pieces. Until then she could just be his friend.

***

March 1986

Lois sat at the conference room table and glanced out at the Metropolitan's bullpen. A slight frown creased her face as she saw Clark stride quickly through to their shared desk. Space was at a premium and it only made sense for the paper's only married couple to share one. Since they were rarely there at the same time, they rotated use of the desk.

When was the last time they'd had a real conversation? One that didn't revolve around that month's budget or Lucy's curfew on school nights or, even more rarely, a story at one of the papers they both worked for. She couldn't remember. The ice storm? And even then, once his secret was out, he hadn't stayed at the house during the day. Her birthday and their first anniversary had passed before that with little fanfare. She'd found a card from him on her nightstand after he left to deliver papers. It didn't say much, though it was on the funny side -- something about aliens was really all she remembered. Part of her had hoped that, since it was semester break, they'd spend the day together until time to deliver pizzas and maybe even do his afternoon paper route together, but instead he'd spent the day working on the Datsun so that it would pass inspection in January.

Their first anniversary was little different. They'd both had to work even though they'd asked for the day off -- bosses didn't always care about those kinds of things -- but Clark had insisted on making her breakfast in bed after his morning paper route. Conversation had been stilted and awkward at best, though breakfast had been delicious. Fortunately -- or was it unfortunately? -- she had to work early and Clark was doing some painting for a neighbor.

She'd tried to get them both the evening off on his birthday because it was the right thing to do, but that hadn't worked either. A scandal involving football players and their exams had come to light -- thanks in large part to Clark's work on it -- and it his hard work had come to fruition on his birthday. He'd even written a sidebar for the Star about it. She was very proud of him, but it didn't make for a good time for them to spend time together.

She watched as Clark dug through one of the drawers, a slight frown on his face. What was he looking for? Finally, he pulled out an envelope of pictures. He flipped through them quickly and pulled one out. He stuck the rest of them back in the envelope and tossed it back in the drawer. He turned and went back to the elevator, seemingly unaware of Lois' eyes tracking him.

She sighed and waited until he left then went and took the pictures out of the drawer. She didn't open them until she sat back down in the conference room. They were campus life pictures. She set the proof sheet to one side and began flipping through them. There were pictures of a few people she recognized -- the starting quarterback and his cheerleader girlfriend kissing on the quad, the star center for the women's basketball team and her sister eating lunch, some people she didn't know, Clark and Mayson eating lunch, the popular American History professor and his class outside on a nice day.

She stopped and went back. Clark and Mayson eating lunch. How had she flipped right past that? If the pictures had been in their desk, then Clark must have seen this -- so why didn't he take it? And what picture did he take? She looked at the proof sheet and scanned it until she found the picture in question. The picture before it on the sheet was one of Mayson, laughing. Lois grudgingly admitted that she looked pretty in the photo.

The question was why had Clark taken the picture of Mayson, but not the picture of the two of them together? Was he going to stick it in his backpack or his desk at the Star so he'd have a picture of her? Would he cut it to size to put in his wallet next to his picture of her? Or use it to replace the picture of her? Would he risk her or Lucy seeing it? Could there be some completely innocent reason why he needed it? Nothing came immediately to mind.

She sighed and picked the picture of Clark and Mayson back up to study it. Clark was actually taking a bite of his sub sandwich, but Mayson was smiling at him. The look in her eyes... well, it could only be described as adoration. Clark was still a fairly naïve farm boy in some ways, but surely he wasn't that oblivious. He had to know that Mayson was interested in him. She looked at the proof sheet again. Further down was another picture of the two of them. She dug through the stack until she found it.

This one showed the two of them -- the same day -- lounging on the grassy area near the library. Clark was leaning up against a tree, taking a drink out of a water bottle, but looking at Mayson at the same time. He had a book on his lap and his open backpack was lying nearby. Mayson was stretched out on the grass. She was lying on her stomach facing him and wearing a tank top that Lois could just imagine didn't hide a whole lot and would probably give anyone a good look at her cleavage. Could that be what Clark was looking at? She studied the angle of his eyes versus the way Mayson was lying and finally admitted there was no way to know but it was possible. She looked more closely at Clark. That shirt looked really good on him. Black was his color and, even though she knew he didn't work out at all, he was bulking up in all the right places. She remembered seeing him that night and thinking that it made his shoulders and arms look extra good.

She thought for another minute and realized the picture had to have been taken a few days earlier -- the only really nice day they'd had so far this spring. She tried to figure out when they could have been studying outside that day. She couldn't think of a time on Mondays that he'd be able to sit around. He was either in class or at one of the papers all day. Could it have been lunch? No, it was Chinese day at the student union. They offered a variety of ethnic foods once a week and Clark never missed Chinese day. She even remembered him asking if she was going to join him for lunch because he knew how much she loved Chinese too. She'd told him she would, but at the last minute her English professor wanted to talk to her and by the time she was done, it was too late. So it probably wasn't lunch time. If he was having an affair with Mayson, he wouldn't risk her getting suspicious by missing an arranged lunch and he'd said later that he'd waited for her as long as he could. So it couldn't have been lunchtime.

Was he skipping class for her? That was unlike Clark. He was a good student and a conscientious one. He wouldn't skip class unless it was for a good reason -- like the day he had to go pick up Lucy from school when she was sick and Lois had a big test in biology.

Or would he?

Was spending time with his... girlfriend -- Lois' heart broke as she thought the word to herself for the first time -- worth skipping class over? But then why did they stay on campus and in full view of everyone? Why didn't they sneak off to her dorm room or -- even worse -- their apartment? Her dad had brought his girlfriends home from time to time when he didn't think anyone would be there. She had repressed those memories so deep but they threatened to spill out and only by sheer force of will was she not overwhelmed by them. No -- she refused to believe that Clark would take Mayson to their apartment and... spend quality time with her in their bed. Could they fly off somewhere -- an island in the middle of the Pacific or something -- to be alone if they wanted to? Could he have told her about himself? He told Perry and Alice after something like thirty-six hours after all. Would he -- she made herself face up to it -- make love to her without telling her about his origins?

Before she knew it the bile that had been rising in her stomach could no longer be stopped and she found herself kneeling over the trash can emptying her lunch into it.

A gentle hand on her back surprised her. She hadn't heard anyone come in.

"Are you okay, Lois?"

She sat back on her heels as the waves of nausea began to subside. "Yeah, I'm just not feeling very well, Paul."

"Anything you want to talk about?" He crossed to the water dispenser on the other side of the room and brought her back a small cup.

She swished and spit it out, then took a sip. "I think I just have a bit of a stomach bug. One of my lab partners in my biology lab was throwing up yesterday. I bet I caught it from her." That was a lie, of course, but there was no way she was going to tell anyone what was really going on.

"I'm sure that's it. Why don't you go home and get some rest?"

Lois nodded. "I think I will. Thanks, Paul." She went back to the table and gathered up the pictures and the notes for the article she'd been working on. She didn't notice when the proof sheet fell to the floor, but instead fled as quickly as she could, heading for the relative safety of her home.

Watching her leave, Paul noticed the proof sheet and picked it up, wondering if there were any pictures worth using. His eyes narrowed when he realized who was in two of them. He watched Lois go into the elevator and saw her slump against the wall as the doors closed.

"Linda," he called. The blond reporter/photographer looked up and then headed his way. "Could you get me copies of these pictures?" He handed over the sheet.

"Sure, no problem, Paul."

"Do you know who took them?"

"Yeah, I did."

"Hmm... I might want to ask you about some of them later."

"Sure, I'd be happy to tell you what I remember. I'll have them to you in a couple hours." She turned and started to walk away.

"Thanks, Linda."

She turned and smiled at him. "My pleasure, Paul."

***

Lois sat out on the balcony of their apartment and stared, unseeing, at the half wall in front of her.

She'd changed clothes and started to pull on her favorite sweatshirt, until she realized it was one of Clark's old Midwest ones. She'd tossed it to the side and found an old Lincoln High shirt instead.

Now, she was in one of the chaise lounges they'd brought from her parents' home, with a blanket wrapped around her to protect against the early spring chill.

How could she have been so stupid to believe all of the sweet things he'd said over the last fifteen months? Men like that didn't exist, except in fairly tales or romantic comedies. He was just like her dad. Her mom had revealed more than Lois ever wanted to know one day while she was in a drunken stupor. Her dad's first affair, her mother had found out later, was during their engagement and another one started within a few months of their wedding. Maybe she was lucky that Clark appeared to have been faithful over the first year of their unconventional marriage.

Why on earth had she believed he could be different? Especially when she wasn't willing to have sex with him. She'd often felt guilty that they hadn't taken part in the physical side of marriage, but now she was glad she hadn't shared her body with him. He didn't deserve it.

But if -- somewhere along the line -- she had convinced him she was ready for that step, would he be seeking satisfaction elsewhere? Would she have been enough to keep him satisfied so his eyes -- and the rest of him -- wouldn't be wandering elsewhere? Would he have made love to her on their wedding night -- or any other night -- without telling her about himself? Would he have waited months to tell her?

Though she hadn't been ready to trust him with her virginity, she had begun to trust him with her heart, but she realized that even that had become much more guarded. Last spring had been so wonderful. They were getting to know each other. They'd flown together, gone to Colorado and begun to find out about his heritage. When had it all changed?

She could pinpoint the night that it began to fall apart. The night she'd told him that she'd changed her name and added his to it. She still didn't really understand what had happened that night, but it was the night that everything changed. Over the time since then, they'd grown farther apart until she wasn't sure they were even as close as they had been when Clark showed up on her doorstep and offered her and Lucy a way out of the system.

Well, if he ever came to her and said he wanted out, she wouldn't stop him. If he never said anything, she'd let him go after graduation, if not sooner. If she could find a way for her and Lucy to survive before she had her degree, and she thought they'd let her retain custody of her sister, she'd let him go before then, but right now she didn't see a way that could happen.

Had he really only met Mayson a month ago? Was it possible that this had been going on a lot longer than that? Had he met her last semester or even last spring and maybe he had noticed her watching them that first day and that's why he'd mentioned her that night, trying to pass her off as a new friend?

Was that where he'd taken off to during the power outage in January? Once Perry and everyone else knew about Clark and his history, he'd spent a good portion of the next few days out of the house. He said he'd gone where he could to help remove trees and so on, but was that where he really was? Could he have gone to check on Mayson? Could he have spent time with her and then sauntered back into the White's home and hugged her and held her and kept her warm at night as though nothing had happened?

She was grateful she hadn't eaten anything else after she'd come home or she was sure that it would be coming back up.

Paul had called a little while earlier to check on her. He'd said he'd take care of calling the Star so she wouldn't have to worry about it and that she should try to get some rest.

Rest. That was laughable. There was no way she was going to be able to get any rest. She glanced at her watch. She'd been home for nearly three hours and Lucy should be coming home any minute. She closed her eyes and tried to remember Clark's schedule for the day. He was delivering pizzas tonight. Good. She wouldn't have to face an evening of him at home, acting all concerned like he had when she had the stomach flu last fall.

Would she be able to go to sleep before he got home? Did he even tune into her heartbeat anymore or had Mayson taken that too? Would the bad dreams turn into nightmares? Would he notice? Would he care?

***

Clark trudged up the steps to their apartment after another long day. He wondered why Lois hadn't mentioned that she wasn't feeling well. He'd run into Linda King before leaving the Star and she'd told him that Lois had gone home early after throwing up at the Metropolitan. They'd chatted for a few minutes and, if Clark didn't know better, he would have thought Linda was flirting with him, but she knew he was married and committed to his relationship with Lois. He'd tried to call and check on her several times in between deliveries, but the phone had been busy all night. Lucy was probably on another marathon call with Jimmy. He'd have to talk to her about that. As much time as they spent together, did she really need to tie up the phone all night? What if there was an emergency?

About halfway up the steps, he heard Lois' heartbeat. Normally, reassuring and comforting, today something was off. Did she have another migraine? They didn't come often, but when they did they were debilitating and it affected her heartbeat. No, it didn't sound like a migraine. Maybe she was just sick. She was rarely sick so he wasn't familiar with how it affected her heartbeat.

He listened more closely and, sure enough, he could hear Lucy giggling in the loft and Jimmy's voice coming through the phone line.

He entered the apartment quietly, not wanting to disturb either of the women in his life. A glance through the wall showed Lois was already in bed and, by all appearances, sound asleep. Her heart rate was slightly elevated for sleep, but maybe that was a result of being sick.

He went to the bathroom and took a quick, but relatively normal, shower since Lucy was awake -- even though he knew it really didn't matter anymore, he still wanted to maintain some semblance of normalcy. He pulled on a pair of shorts and exited the bathroom, toweling his hair as he went. He went out to the balcony and rested his forearms on the wall.

This was harder than he'd ever thought it would be. Not physically really. He was tired -- he hadn't been truly tired in years, but his schedule was so hectic and lately, even sleep hadn't been very restful. He was feeling the tug of Colorado for some reason and felt he should go and see what else the globe had to tell him and maybe see if his mother had any words of wisdom for him. Since Lucy knew about him now, maybe he could keep the globe here, in the secret compartment. He didn't think she knew about it, but even if she did, it wouldn't matter.

He didn't need superhearing to hear her giggles coming from the loft. He needed to holler at her that it was bedtime. She had an early morning, even though the next day was Saturday. Schools had to make up for the nearly two weeks missed due to the ice storm and it was either half days on Saturdays or school through mid-June. He turned to go talk to her, thinking that maybe he'd just float part way up the stairs so he wouldn't bother Lois, when he heard her hang up the phone and settle into her bed.

Being a parent to Lucy was harder than he'd thought it would be. She was a good kid overall, but she and Lois were often like oil and water -- they just didn't mix and so Clark was often the one mediating, though rarely with them in the room together. The three of them were just never home together, except maybe for part of Sundays. She spent more time with Jimmy than he thought she probably should. Jimmy was a good kid too, but they were awfully serious for sixteen and seventeen years old. He snorted. Lana would have been that serious with him at sixteen. If he'd stayed in Smallville, he'd bet money that she would have managed to finagle a proposal by now. Still maybe he needed to have a talk with either Jimmy or Lucy or both, just to see where they were and if there was anything that he -- as Lucy's male guardian -- should be concerned about. He remembered his mother's words from the letter she'd left for his first date. 'Remember, she's someone's daughter. Treat her like you'd want a young man to treat your daughter, someday. That may be hard to imagine now, but try.' It wasn't all that hard to imagine anymore. Was Jimmy treating her like he would want someone to treat his daughter someday? Clark truly hoped so. His instincts about people's character were usually pretty right on and he believed Jimmy was one of the good guys, but he still had Lucy to protect.

And her sister, too. He sighed. He hadn't done a very good job of that lately. He wasn't so old-fashioned that he thought Lois should stay home and be barefoot and pregnant or anything -- and the kitchen was certainly not where she should be; she'd proved that over the last year. But at the same time, he was her husband. Surely he should be able to protect her from some of life's pain, shouldn't he? She'd been drifting further and further away from him since last summer, since the night he hadn't reassured her that he'd never leave. She'd never mentioned the possibility of their marriage not working again. At first he thought it was because she'd finally accepted that he was in this for the long haul, but over time... Over time he'd come to believe it was because she'd accepted the fact that he would leave her someday and she was trying to protect her heart. He didn't know how to convince her that he wouldn't leave, except by staying.

How he wished graduation was closer. How much would their lives slow down when they were out of college? Perry had pretty well offered them jobs as soon as the ink on their diplomas was dry. It wouldn't be anything glamorous at first, but he'd promised Clark one day that he'd try to get them similar schedules so this 'two ships passing in the night' existence would be a thing of the past.

He'd started squirreling away a few dollars of his spending money every pay period. He figured $3 here and $7 there over the course of the next two years would add up and he'd be able to take Lois somewhere nice for their first real date -- maybe even enough to buy her a nice new dress. He wondered if the tux Aunt Louise had given him would still fit by then. He'd noticed that he was starting to fill out more. Mayson had even commented that he was in good shape and wondered when he time to work out. The T-shirt he'd been wearing that day was snug. He'd realized when he put it on that it was more snug than it had been last fall.

Mayson.

He almost felt guilty about thinking about her in almost the same thought as Lois and their first real date, but there was nothing between them. She was a friend. Since Lois had abandoned most of their lunch dates, it was nice to have company.

Of course, in practically the same breath that she'd mentioned him working out, she'd muttered something about working out because of not getting any other physical release because his wife was so cold. His eyes had narrowed at that. He'd never discussed his sex life -- or lack of it -- with her and she had no reason to believe he and Lois didn't engage in those activities regularly. However, she clearly disliked Lois. They'd managed to avoid meeting each other so far so he wasn't sure what the dislike was based on, except her possible attraction to him. He thought he'd nipped that in the bud right after they met, but maybe he hadn't. She hadn't said or done anything to indicate that she wanted more from him except for the occasional snide remark -- always under her breath where he shouldn't have heard it -- about Lois. Inappropriate of her to do that? Sure. Meant she was waiting for him and Lois to split up so she could swoop in? He didn't think so.

The more he thought about it, the more he realized that he'd spent more time with Mayson recently than Lois. Significantly more, especially when their canceled Political Science class this week into account. It had been the first really nice day of the spring, and he'd been unable to avoid noticing that she was wearing a top designed to attract attention. He'd accidentally heard some of the other guys notice it too. And the girls. Surely it wasn't to attract his attention. Was it? No, of course not. She'd mentioned a date with a guy in her physics class the other day. What was his name? Dan something? Whatever it was, it was probably for that guy's benefit.

He sometimes felt guilty for spending any time with a woman who wasn't his wife -- that was one thing his mom had warned him about in the letter she'd given him for his engagement -- even the appearance of something improper could ruin a marriage. He was careful to make sure they were always in public, never alone. She'd invited him to her dorm for one study session but he'd declined and they met in a study room in the library with big windows and lots of people walking by in the middle of the day. He didn't want to give Lois any reason to think he was cheating on her by spending time alone with another woman in a private setting of any kind, even if it was completely innocent.

He sighed again. He tuned in to Lucy's heartbeat -- she was sound asleep and Lois' was more normal now too -- maybe she was feeling better. He hoped so. He turned and headed back inside. He lay down next to Lois and pulled her to him. Certain she was asleep he whispered, "I've loved you since the beginning, Lois. I'll love you till the end."

***

Chapter 13

August 1986

*~*~* Six-year-old Lois Lane sat on her bed with her little sister.

Only a year and a half younger than her, Lucy was by far the quieter of the two girls. Just a week past her fifth birthday, she had yet to speak in complete sentences on more than a couple of occasions. And as those occasions were only with her sister, no one else even knew about them.

Lois set the game of Candy Land between them and began moving the pieces. "Which one do you want to be this time, Lu?"

Lucy pointed to the yellow game piece and Lois handed it to her.

The sky outside was darkening rapidly, and in August, that meant it was getting late. Lois wondered where her parents were, but didn't dare try to do anything about it. Who would she call? The police? They would just take Lucy away from her if they knew her parents left them home alone. She could never let that happen to Lucy.

Once her parents were both gone, Lois had left Lucy in front of Mister Rogers and made sure that the front and back doors were locked and the windows downstairs closed and latched as well. She'd retreated to the kitchen for just a minute to collect herself when Lucy yelled something about Sesame Street. Lucy loved Sesame Street.

Once this game of Candy Land was over, she'd have to make sure that Lucy went to bed. Would she go to sleep too? Would she let Lucy sleep in her bed with her? It made Mom mad when she came home to find them together. 'Why did we make Lucy's room into a princess ballroom if all she's going to do is stay in here? We might as well rent her room out to one of your father's girlfriends.'

Lois wasn't entirely certain if her mother would make good on the threat but she wasn't about to take the risk. She would stay in Lucy's room with her until she'd fallen asleep and then sneak back into her own bed.

How long had her parents been gone this time? Lois wasn't very good at telling time just yet, but she knew it had been a long time. After Mister Rogers was Sesame Street and then Polka Dot Door. Then it was lunch time. Lois had made peanut butter sandwiches and given them both water to drink because she didn't dare run the risk of spilling the gallon of milk again. She'd cleaned it up the best she could the day she tried to pour from a full jug but she'd used the towels Grandma Lincoln had given her mom for her wedding and, apparently, they weren't to be touched. Ever.

She hated naptime, but there was no way Lucy would lay down if she didn't. So once the sandwiches were gone, she'd laid down with Lucy for a while. Lucy had fallen asleep on Lois' bed and Lois had gone to work at her desk, creating a book based on that morning's Electric Company episode. She loved to draw and longed to know the words to put with the pictures, but for now the few words she did know and a lot of scribbles would have to make up for it.

When Lucy woke up, they'd had a couple of cookies out of the cookie jar downstairs. One of the things her parents had been yelling about that morning was those cookies. Her dad had brought them home the night before and her mother had said they were from someone who started with a b. Lois wasn't sure what she meant by that, but they were chocolate and so they were meant to be eaten.

Another round of Sesame Street and Mister Rogers followed. Then Lucy wanted to play Candy Land and they had. Peanut butter sandwiches had followed for dinner with more water. They'd watched The Brady Bunch and Lassie and the Wild Kingdom. Lois had tried to insist that it was bedtime but Lucy refused. Lois had acquiesced to another game of Candy Land, then a second and now a third. After this one, she warned, it was bedtime.

An hour later, Lucy was asleep and Lois curled under her blankets on her own bed. Would they come back this time? They'd always been there in the mornings after a day like this, but would this time be different? They'd never stayed gone this long before. Did her mom have to work today? She thought so but she wasn't sure. On days when her mom went to her part-time job as a nurse at the hospital, their next door neighbor's teenager usually watched them for a couple of hours until her dad came home after dinner. That work schedule, however, varied from week to week and, at least once a week her boss called to say she wasn't needed. Those nights she got drunk and was passed out before Dad got home. Without a confirmation phone call, their babysitter would have thought she wasn't needed. It wouldn't be the first time it had happened. Her mom didn't come home on work nights until well after Lois was asleep, but her dad had never been out this late when her mom wasn't home.

Tears finally flowed down Lois' cheeks. What would she do if they weren't there in the morning? A banging sound, along with muttered curses, immediately reassured her that they were no longer home alone. After a moment of struggling, Lois heard the front door open and her mother stumble inside.

She squeezed her eyes tightly shut and reviewed the house in her mind. The dishes had been stacked neatly in the sink -- only two glasses and a knife as they'd eaten their sandwiches just over the table and Lois had meticulously cleaned up the crumbs -- the peanut butter was put away, the television was off. The lights were off and Candy Land was back in her closet. Her latest 'book' was hidden safely in the box under her bed. She sighed quietly. No, there shouldn't be anything for her mother to find out of place.

The best thing to do now was be asleep when she came upstairs. If she didn't pass out on the couch first.

*~*~*

Lois sat nearly straight up in bed when she awoke. She was safe. She wasn't alone. She could hear a creak of bedsprings as Lucy rolled over on her bed upstairs. A soft snore reassured her that Clark was at her side. Well, on his side. Way over there on the other side of the big bed they'd shared for a year and a half.

Her breathing slowed down to a more normal rate and she could feel her heart rate decreasing as well.

She glanced at the clock. It was almost 4:30. Clark would be getting up before long and she wanted to be back to sleep before that. It wouldn't do for him to know she was having these nightmares.

She curled around her body pillow, pulling the sheets and comforter tightly around her. Her eyes closed and she waited for sleep to come.

***

Lois let the water flow over her as she stood in the shower. The temperature was more tepid than she would like, but their water heater was impossibly small. If she took a slightly cooler shower, it would last longer. Lucy didn't need to be up for another hour and usually it had recovered enough by then for her to have a decent shower as well.

She'd already been awake when Clark had gently shaken her by the arm and told her it was time to get up. She was surprised he hadn't realized it -- or maybe he had but wanted to make sure she was aware of the time -- or maybe he just didn't care to listen to her heartbeat anymore. Maybe it had turned into such an annoying hum that he tuned it out automatically these days. Or maybe that blond floozy had run all thoughts of Lois' heartbeat out of his head.

At least he was home every night. Even if she was already in bed when he got there, she never had to wonder where he was during the overnight hours. Her dad had been gone overnight more times than she could count and Lois was glad that she didn't have to live through that again. Thank heaven for small favors. Or something. And he did still kiss her forehead before he left in the mornings. For whatever that was worth.

It had been almost six months since she first suspected he was having an affair. She'd still managed to avoid meeting Mayson and for the rest of the semester, Clark had asked her almost every day if she was coming to lunch, but she'd had an excuse every time. She was almost glad their lunch breaks wouldn't line up this semester. She wondered how much he saw her over the summer. Clark was working full-time for the Star as a researcher -- Perry had tried, but just hadn't had any openings -- and now had a two year contract with them. That would take them through graduation. Lois could only hope that she'd be able to get on as well. Money worries would lighten up a little bit if she did. He still delivered papers twice a day, taking his lunch break late so that it would coincide with the afternoon delivery routes. He went in an hour early every day so he could take a longer break and actually deliver two routes, taking care of one from a friend who was out of town over the summer. At first, the editor had been reluctant to allow it, but Clark quickly proved himself so adept at getting the research that was requested of him that the small concession had been made as long as his work didn't suffer. He still delivered pizzas three or four nights a week too.

If it hadn't been for his strange powers, would he have been able to do all of that? Lois doubted it.

She filled her hands with water and splashed it on her face. She hadn't slept well that night, dreams of her childhood filling her mind. She was surprised Clark hadn't noticed, because she was sure she wasn't a still sleeper when she had those uncomfortable dreams. She often awoke to find the sheets twisted around her and her pillow gone. Or had he noticed and just didn't care? She still awoke in his arms or curled up next to him once a week or so and still didn't have the dreams the nights -- or was it mornings -- that she did. She still refused to think about those implications, but the part of her that hated the dreams and the memories that went along with them wished those mornings weren't so few and far between. The first six months of their marriage, she'd woken up like that much more often and the dreams had been much less frequent.

The look on Clark's face when she'd catch him watching her those mornings had been -- and was still -- priceless. Almost enough to make her believe that he really loved her like she dreamed of, like he said he did. Almost. She'd resolved years ago that she wasn't going to ever get married. If she didn't fall in love, didn't get married, then he -- whoever he was -- could never leave her. She'd replied flippantly to Clark's mention of marriage in their letters, but she truly believed she'd never have married if there had been any other way to keep Lucy out of the system. She had promised herself and Lucy when she was little that they'd never be split up and she had intended to keep that promise. Would this marriage continue to work once they were out of college? Was it actually working now? Would Clark leave next summer when Lucy was eighteen and old enough to be out of the system? Or would he wait until college was finished with?

Once a month or so, and sometimes more often than that, she found herself dreaming about what it would be like to make love with Clark. Those dreams were, on some levels, even more agitating than the ones about her childhood. In those dreams, she could feel his lips on hers, the muscles of his chest and stomach under her hands and her body responding to his touch. His special powers always made things more interesting in those dreams. She always woke to an almost unbearable ache in the middle of her heart. It was odd that it should ache, because there was also huge hole in the exact same spot. Those dreams, which hadn't really started until their non-fight the summer before, most often occurred the mornings she woke up in his arms, but she refused to think about that either.

She screamed in silent frustration, only the slightest of sounds actually escaping her mouth. She hated that she thought of him like that still. The few dreams she'd had the first six months hadn't been so intense and she had almost convinced herself that maybe, just maybe, this could work and she could trust him with not only her body someday, but her heart. She was glad that she became aware of the truth in time to guard her heart, but her body sometimes screamed for attention.

What would he do if he knew that? Would he want to have sex with her if he knew the kinds of dreams she had sometimes? If she ever told him -- or if she ever mumbled in her sleep the things that were going through her head -- would he take that as tacit approval to have his way with her? In the early days of their marriage, she would have said no, but now she wasn't so sure.

She forced her thoughts away from the topic as she heard the floor above her head creak. Lucy was up early this morning.

"Lo?" came her sister's still sleepy voice.

"What?"

"I have to go to the bathroom."

"Okay."

Lois was glad Clark had put in a shower curtain even though there were already clear glass doors in place. With only one bathroom, it was sometimes hard to coordinate schedules. Lucy and Clark never shared the space for more than brushing teeth, but Lois and Lucy sometimes found it necessary when they were running late or time was otherwise short. Occasionally, in the early days, she and Clark would have been in here at the same time. Usually Clark in the shower and Lois brushing her teeth or putting on make-up or something of that nature. She had wondered from time to time what would happen if that curtain fell down or if she, in a moment of brazen curiosity or desire, had joined him in there. Nothing good in the long run she was sure.

She turned herself from the thoughts that had once again become dangerous.

Lucy's seventeenth birthday was coming up. Would she be able to do anything for her? Clark had mentioned he'd make a cake like he had last year, but Lois wanted to be able to get her something. Between classes and work -- she was back at the restaurant part time over the summer -- she hadn't had a chance to find anything.

A stray thought came to mind. Lucy had always loved her books. At first, they'd been recreations of whatever show they'd watched that day, but gradually they'd become more of her own work. She also remembered sitting on her bed at night, wondering when or if her parents would come home, telling Lucy stories about fairy princesses and the princes who swept them off their feet and carried them away and never, ever left.

Lucy had mentioned those last year when they were packing up the house. She said she'd loved them and still tried to remember them from time to time. She didn't think Lucy knew that she'd written many of them down and kept them. She'd dig them out of the box in the secret compartment. They weren't strictly secret, of course, but it was storage space and Lucy didn't know about it. She'd either rewrite them or find some way to put them together and give them to Lucy for her birthday.

***

"Lois, thank you!" A stray tear slipped down Lucy's face. "I loved these stories."

Lois smiled at her. "Well, I think time might have made them into more than they really were. I reread them and they were better in my head than they were on paper."

"Oh, I'm sure they were, but they were pretty good when you told them to me."

"That's just nostalgia for the good old days, Luce."

Lucy's smile disappeared. "They weren't good old days, and you and I both know it."

"No, they weren't, but they could have been so much worse."

"True." Lucy fingered the pages, now held together by ribbon. "What does Clark think about those days?"

"Clark doesn't know," Lois replied quietly.

Lucy's head jerked up. "What?"

"I've never told him what life was like growing up in the Lane household. Just that our parents were liars and cheats and drunks. He doesn't know that we were left home alone when we were too young to think about taking care of ourselves or that, when we got older, we'd sometimes go a couple of days or longer without knowing where our parents were. I told him the night we got married that I didn't want to be a Lane even though that was the name I wanted on my diploma and for my byline. I wanted to be a Kent. Actually, what I really wanted was to be anything but a Lane and being married to him made me want to be a Kent." Her answer was vehement.

"Do you still dream about them?" Lucy asked quietly.

"Yeah." Her voice had softened. "Much more often than I'd like."

"Me, too. Though," Lucy admitted, "less often these days than I used to."

"Why do you think that is?"

Lucy shrugged. "I think it's because I know Jimmy loves me and isn't going anywhere. And that Clark loves both of us and *he* certainly isn't going leave you, and therefore, me. I mean it's not like he loves me the same way Jimmy loves me or that he loves you, but you know what I mean. What about you?"

Lois nodded, trying to think about how to phrase her answer. "When I knew Clark wasn't going to leave, the dreams were less frequent." There. No implication that she was no longer secure in the knowledge that Clark was here for good.

"That's good."

Lois stared into her coffee cup. "Lucy, I love Jimmy -- you know I do -- but how can you be sure he's not going to leave?"

Lucy shrugged. "I just do. He's promised me over and over. I *have* told him all about this and he knows my fears of abandonment. I told him some of it at the very beginning -- before I even brought him home to meet you guys -- that I had issues with that and he promised me that if something ever did happen to end things, he wouldn't just leave. We'd talk about it. No 'Dear Lucy' letters or anything like that. But that was on like our third date. Since then... I love him, Lo, and I know he loves me. How is it different than knowing Clark won't leave you?"

Lois sighed. "Clark married me and promised he wouldn't leave me."

"So did Dad," Lucy pointed out.

Lois sighed again. "Dad's vows weren't... traditional. I mean they were in the sense that they didn't sound weird or anything but if you actually read them, they didn't say much of anything. He never promised Mom he'd be faithful, for one thing."

Lucy looked surprised. "Really?"

"Yeah."

"Wow."

They sat for a few more minutes before Lois spoke again. "Lucy, can I ask you something?"

"Sure."

"I probably haven't been a very good big sister or guardian by not bringing this up sooner, but... you and Jimmy... are you two..." Her voice trailed off.

Lucy shook her head. "No. I mean, we've talked about it and stuff, but a few months after we started dating, Clark talked to both of us -- separately and told us both some stuff that his mom had told him in some of the letters she'd left. He told Jimmy to treat me the way he'd want someone to treat his own daughter someday and me not to let myself be treated any less than that. And that we shouldn't do anything that we wouldn't want to tell our future spouses about -- if, for whatever reason, we didn't last forever. He said that, while he knew that we might not want to wait until we got married, it wasn't something to be taken lightly and that he thought it might be a good idea to wait at least until we were out of high school because as much as we believed we might end up together, we might not and we wouldn't want to regret it later." She looked at her sister, puzzled. "He didn't tell you?"

Lois shook her head. "No, but we haven't seen much of each other lately, and to be honest, when we do, you're not always our first topic of conversation." That finances and school and work schedules were their only topics of conversation these days was something Lucy didn't need to know.

"Ah. Well, Alice sat down with me and Perry sat down with Jimmy a while ago, too. I don't know if Mom and Dad ever talked to you about that stuff, but they didn't me."

Lois shook her head. "No, they never did. And to be honest, talking to you about it freaks me out a bit, but I did want to bring it up at some point. I'm glad Clark and the Whites already did." She looked at her watch, hoping Lucy would drop the conversation there. "I gotta get to work. Happy birthday, Luce."

"Thanks, Lo. And thanks for the stories. I love them."

***

"What's this?" Clark picked up the book sitting on the dining room table. "The Amazing Adventures of Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy."

Lucy laughed. "That's my birthday present from Lois. When we were kids, she would tell me stories about fairy princesses and the princes who swept them off their feet and lived happily ever after. I mentioned something to her last year about them, but I didn't know that she'd written them down. She bound them all up and gave them to me this morning."

"Very cool. I didn't know Lois wrote fairy princess stories."

"It's not something she's talked about often I think."

"Can I read one?"

Lucy shifted uncomfortably. "I think you better ask Lois about that. I mean, she gave them to me, but she wrote them. I don't know if she'd be comfortable with that. I mean, I'm sure she would, but I don't think that it's my place to let you, you know?"

Clark nodded thoughtfully. "I understand. I guess if it was stuff I'd written as a kid, I wouldn't want it passed around without permission either." Come to think of it, he had written a few short stories in high school where the main character was suspiciously like Lois. Lana hadn't liked that one bit though she had no idea who that character was supposed to be. "How old were you guys when she told you these?"

Lucy shrugged. "Oh, she's told me stories pretty much since she could talk, but these were probably..." She thought for a minute. "...when I was seven or eight until I was ten or eleven, something like that." After that Lois' stories had changed from fairy princesses and princes to handsome cowboy strangers on white horses. All along, Lucy'd had a pretty good idea what the change had been based on, but it wasn't her place to tell Clark that. Lois would kill her -- if she hadn't told Clark herself, and after that morning's revelation about how much Lois *hadn't* told him, she doubted he knew.

***

February 1987

"Lois, can you come with me?" Clark asked quietly.

Lois looked up from her desk in shock. Clark shouldn't be here. He should have been at home or, glancing at the clock, on his way to the Star.

She pushed back from the desk and followed him to the conference room. "What is it, Clark?"

He sighed. "Aunt Louise."

Her head jerked up and stared at him. "What about her?" came her strangled reply.

"She's gone, Lois." He spoke quietly.

She staggered backwards until she reached the table. "What?"

"She had a massive stroke this morning and died before help got there."

Lois' hands flew to her face. Over the last two years, Aunt Louise had been a good friend. She'd come to visit several times a year and Lois talked to her on the phone once a week, sometimes more. Despite how she'd originally felt about her great aunt, she'd grown to love her more than she had her own parents. While she never told Aunt Louise everything about her and Clark, she told her more than anyone else -- and she'd avoided Alice as much as possible so she wouldn't have those conversations with her. Aunt Louise had always listened and given good advice. Lois hadn't always taken it -- especially the advice to actually *talk* to Clark about everything and tell him what growing up had been like -- but the advice had always been good.

And she'd always sent birthday cards. With cash. The last couple of years, the dollar amount had gone up considerably, and with it the admonition that the money should be used for something besides bills. Whether it was new clothes or dinner out or whatever, it was not for bills.

Tears flowed down her cheeks and she didn't protest when Clark pulled her into his arms. One abstract part of her mind noticed how nice it felt and how much she missed having him hold her. The rest of her mourned the woman who had become the closest member of her family and her last blood relative besides Lucy.

Professor Paul stuck his head in the door. "This is a newsroom. I don't care if you two *are* married..."

Clark glared at him. "We've had a death in the family, Paul," he said quietly.

"Oh." For just a moment, he seemed almost contrite. "Well, I still don't need PDA in my newsroom. Get out of here."

Clark nodded. "In a few minutes. We'll be leaving for Texas in the next couple of days."

Paul nodded. "Fine," he said curtly. "How long will you be gone?"

Clark shrugged. "I'm not sure yet. Not too long."

Paul shut the door. Clark turned his attention back to Lois and didn't notice the narrowed eyes of their faculty advisor.

***

Clark and Lucy landed near the hotel where they were going to be staying in Texas. Aunt Louise, with her trademark foresight, had made arrangements to be carried out upon her death. The funeral was arranged as were many other things, including hotel accommodations for the young family. They checked in and Clark took an extra room key informing the desk that he would be leaving to pick up his wife and they would be returning shortly, wanting to know if they would need to see her identification or anything else. Assured that everything was taken care of, he carried all three bags to their respective rooms. Finding a way onto the roof of the hotel, and grateful for the clouds that covered virtually the entire eastern half of the country, he took off for Metropolis.

He landed softly on their balcony. Lois had one test that day that she couldn't get out of -- the professor was notorious for not believing 'death in the family' stories -- and should be back soon. He flopped onto the couch and waited for her to arrive.

The ringing phone interrupted his thoughts.

He grabbed the receiver. "Hello?"

"Clark? It's Mayson," came the voice on the other end of the line.

"What can I do for you, Mayson?"

He heard something muttered on the other end of the line that he took great care not to listen to too closely. "You weren't in class and we were supposed to have lunch but you weren't there either. I thought I'd make sure everything was okay."

Clark sighed. He'd forgotten about that. "I'm sorry. We've had a death in the family and we're leaving for Texas in a few minutes."

"Oh, Clark. I'm so sorry to hear that. Is there anything I can do?"

"No, thank you though."

"Were you close?"

"Sort of. It's Lois' Great Aunt Louise. She was a wonderful lady and, even though I'd only known her for about two years, I'm going to miss her. When Lois and I got married, the only thing I knew about her was that she didn't like kids," he said nostalgically. "But once I met her and actually had a chance to talk to her... I knew that wasn't strictly accurate, but that wasn't until after Lois' parents' funeral and our wedding several days later. She knew Lois and I didn't have two nickels to rub together, so she sent us to the Lexor for a week for an in town honeymoon. She sent us to the Blue Note one night -- complete with a new dress for Lois and a tux for me -- and to this great little Italian restaurant another night..." He'd almost forgotten he was still speaking to Mayson as he was caught up in the memories of that wonderful week. "She lost her fiancé in World War I and I got the feeling she was sort of living vicariously through us."

"She sounds wonderful, Clark. I'm sure you're going to miss her."

"I am. Very much." He looked up at the sound of a key in the lock. "Hey, Lois is here so we've got to get going. I probably won't be in class next week, but I'll be back the week after that."

"Okay. I'm truly sorry for your loss, Clark. Have a safe trip."

"Thanks. Bye." He hung up the phone as Lois walked down the steps.

"Who was that?" She sat down in the big chair on one side, leaning her head back and closing her eyes.

"Mayson. I wasn't in class or at lunch so she called to make sure everything was okay."

"Ah." Did that woman have to stick her nose into everything? Couldn't she leave them to grieve in peace? But that wasn't what Clark wanted. Would he stay in Texas with them all night or would he sneak back here for a little while to see her?

They sat for a moment each lost in thought.

"How are you doing, Lois? Really."

She moved just enough to shrug her shoulders. "I miss her already. A little over two years ago, if you'd told me I'd miss Aunt Louise more than my own parents, I never would have believed you. I never would have thought I'd miss any of them, but I do miss her. I didn't sleep hardly at all last night."

"I noticed."

Lois took note of that in her head. She'd spent most of the night sitting in this very chair just staring into space. She'd dozed off a time or two but never for very long.

"How'd you do on your test?"

She shrugged again. "Not as well as I would have if it had been yesterday morning. Professor Carlton actually asked me if everything was okay after he ran the multiple choice part through the scantron and it sounded like machine gun fire. He actually seemed sympathetic when I told him I'd had a death in the family -- not at all like his reputation."

"I heard his wife's been sick lately -- cancer or something. Maybe that's changing his views."

"Maybe, but you and I both know that lots of students take advantage of the 'death of a relative' thing."

"Yeah."

Clark looked at her. She looked so tired sitting there. He wished he could let her sleep for a few hours, but he couldn't. "Lucy's waiting for us."

Lois nodded. "Is Jimmy coming?"

"I'm picking him up tomorrow afternoon and bringing him back tomorrow night, unless you want me to stay with you. Then I'll take him back the next morning."

She smiled slightly. "Don't want to let Jimmy and Lucy stay together?"

"That's part of it. Call it my 'old man' instincts kicking in, but Lucy's only seventeen and still in our care. But he also has an early day the next day."

"Ah. Speaking of early days..."

"Tom's covering my routes for me," he said anticipating her question.

"That's nice of him."

"I covered his all summer. He owes me." He stood. "Are you ready or did you want to change or something to eat before we go?"

She stood as well. "I'm ready. I don't think I could eat and I have a change of clothes in my suitcase. Are we leaving from the balcony or downstairs?"

Clark pointed towards the balcony and Lois headed that way.

She wrapped her arms around herself against the February chill. She knew she wouldn't get cold while Clark was holding her and it was much warmer in Texas so a coat seemed unnecessary. She felt Clark move behind her and then his arms were around her, holding her gently.

"How do you want to fly?"

She shrugged. "Whatever works best for you."

"It's up to you. It's been a while since we've done this. Do you want me to hold you or do you want to stand on my feet and watch the ground or what?"

She shrugged again. "I don't really care."

Clark sighed and simply wrapped his arms around her a little tighter. "Here we go then."

They lifted into the air and were soon well on their way to Texas.

***

Chapter 14

Clark dropped Lois off at the hotel and told her he had an errand to run and that he'd be back soon. The reality was he needed a quick trip to the Arctic. He hadn't held her that closely or for that long in a very long time and he was upset with himself that, in the midst of such sorrow, his hormones refused to stay under control. He could only hope she hadn't noticed. The last thing she needed right now was to deal with his libido.

He knew when the distance between them had started to grow, but he couldn't for the life of him figure out why. Suddenly, they'd just stopped talking. The foundation they'd been building towards a life together was left partially finished and the construction crews had gone on strike, leaving no one behind to negotiate with. He wondered again if Aunt Louise had really known what she was talking about when she told him to be patient.

He'd talked to Lois' great aunt many times and often came close to pouring his heart out to her, but he always held back. He needed to work things out with Lois, not complain to her aunt who might then relay the message back to her. Their schedules were so erratic and so opposite that he rarely saw his wife for more than half an hour or so a day, not counting when they were asleep together. He was gone as she got up and if she wasn't asleep when he got home, she was close most nights. The nights he was home, she was out late working and ready to crash by the time she got there. That was no way to try to build a relationship of any kind much less a marriage that would withstand the tests that life was bound to throw at it.

He sat on an iceberg floating in the middle of the North Atlantic. A pod of Orcas played nearby. Unbelievably, he'd actually gotten to know this particular group of whales over the last two years. He'd swum with them more times than he could remember. His trips had become less frequent but he could see one of the adolescent males eyeing him -- wondering why he wasn't playing with them as he had in the past. He just didn't feel like it this time though.

Fifteen months until school was done with and their lives could begin. Would things be any easier? Surely they couldn't be much worse. Could they? Could they make it that long? Would they? Would it be over the day after Lucy graduated? Or the day she turned eighteen? Would Lois' fears send her packing and running far, far away once Lucy's future was no longer an issue? He knew he wouldn't be the one to initiate any kind of separation, but would Lois? He hoped not.

He wondered again how much she was holding back from him. Things Lucy and even Jimmy had said from time to time made him think that there was a lot more in her childhood and early teen years that had scarred her more deeply than she would admit to anyone -- even him. Especially him. Lucy's brief description of the fairy princess stories the summer before, combined with Lois' vehement insistence that he not read them, made him think that her issues with abandonment went far deeper than he'd suspected. More than just a Dad with girlfriends and a Mom with a drinking problem. It hurt a bit that Lucy had apparently confided in Jimmy much more than Lois had confided in him. But if he was being completely honest about it, their relationship was light years ahead in many ways, because they had the luxury of time in a way that he and Lois had never had and probably wouldn't have until college was over. He'd even done some research into it -- just a little bit -- looking to see if there were any police records of abuse or domestic violence calls to the Lane home. There were none.

He sighed and stood up on the big piece of floating ice. She was shutting him out right now and he wasn't sure what to do to get her to let him back in. She'd been starting to open up some, but the walls around her heart were firmly back in place. He just wished that there was something he could do to break them down, but he was afraid only time would show her that he wasn't going anywhere.

As he thought about their letters over the years, he realized just how little truly personal stuff she'd mentioned. Oh, she'd talked about school, especially the paper, and the guys she'd dated -- mainly Joe -- and how frustrating it was that the Dan guy he'd met at prom wouldn't take a hint and her friends and, superficially, her parents. She never went into too much detail -- just that her Dad might have another new girlfriend or her Mom was drinking again after four weeks sober, but never any more than that. And she talked about his life -- either to ask questions or in response to things he'd written.

Maybe he could convince her to go to Colorado with him when they left for Metropolis. He hadn't been back since her graduation dinner -- well, except a quick visit with Lucy when she asked for a flight to see his ship, which he left closed -- and while he wanted desperately to know what else the globe had to say to him, he couldn't bear the thought of going without her. Maybe once they were airborne he'd suggest it as his birthday was coming up and the rest of his mom's letters were still there. That was an idea -- suggest it in a very casual, non-threatening way.

He sighed and, putting his arms in the air, took off for Texas.

***

That afternoon had been spent dealing with the funeral home and making final arrangements there as well as with the retirement community. The condo would be sold but the family would need to pack up everything, or pay to have someone do it, before it could be put on the market. They didn't understand why that was, but it was. Louise had a competent attorney who walked them through everything.

Most of the money from the sale of the condo as well as the rest of her assets would be split between Clark and Lois and Lucy. Some would be given to certain charities and there were stipulations for Clark and Lois that would not be revealed until later. There was also a brownstone in Metropolis that would go to the young couple, but it was in a long-term lease with an old friend of hers that she would not allow to be broken. But the vast majority of her estate would be given to her nieces and nephew-in-law. Unfortunately, the earliest they'd be allowed to actually use any of it would be when Lois turned twenty-one, so it wouldn't ease the financial burden any time soon.

That evening was the wake and people Lucy and Lois had never met offered their condolences. A late dinner in the hotel restaurant was their last stop but most of the food was just sort of pushed around on their plates.

The three had gone upstairs together, separating when they arrived at their adjoining rooms.

Lois waited as Clark opened their door and then walked to the window to look out over the city, a stray tear running down her face.

A blinking light on the phone indicated a message. Clark listened to it and told her he was going to go down to the front desk -- that something had been left for them. She nodded and waited until the door shut to turn back to the room.

Leave it to Aunt Louise to get them a much nicer room than was strictly necessary. The king size bed was, of course, no bigger than their one at home, but the bedding was significantly nicer. Part of her wondered what they would do if they'd been in a room with two double beds instead -- like Lucy's. They'd determined a long time ago that a double bed wasn't big enough to be comfortable with both of them in it. Would Clark sleep with her in a too-small double bed or in the other one -- if that had been their choice? She wasn't sure which option she liked better and was glad to not have to find out.

Lois shivered just a bit and wondered if Clark had turned the temperature down or if it was already set like that. She contemplated turning it back up a bit warmer, but the truth was she missed sleeping close to him all night. Maybe, if he stayed near her tonight, the dreams would stay away. As long as one of the *other* dreams didn't come, she'd be okay.

The key in the lock surprised her. She'd planned to be in the shower by the time he got back, avoiding as much contact as possible. They'd spent more time together already today than they had in the last month.

Clark entered and held an envelope out to her. "This came for you."

Her brows creased together. "Who's it from?"

He shrugged. "No idea."

She took it and turned it over, sliding a finger under the flap. "Who knows we're here?" She pulled the single piece of stationary out and gasped.

"What is it?"

"It's from Aunt Louise." A catch in her voice indicated that tears were threatening.

"Really?"

She nodded, skimming through it quickly, deciding that she could share it with Clark. "Dearest Lois," she read. "If you're reading this it means that I and my beloved Joe are together again. Don't mourn me, dear. Rejoice in my long and happy life. You told me once about the letters Clark's mother left for him and I thought the idea was inspired. I'm sure I've mentioned it to her by now, but I'm going to borrow the idea for myself. There's a fire box in the condo that has a small stack of letters in it -- there's one for Clark and another for Lucy as well, but the rest are for you. The key is in the top desk drawer. Regardless, make sure you tell Clark that I said I'm still right. He'll know what I mean. Should you decide you want to share the information -- and, I hope, wisdom -- in the rest of the letters with Clark, Lucy or anyone else, you have my blessing. I am so grateful that we have become so much closer since the death of your parents and your marriage to Clark. I never wanted children after Joe, but I have treasured my time with Lucy and you and your dear husband. I love you, dear. Aunt Louise."

Tears ran down Lois' cheeks as she finished the letter. Clark moved to put his arms around her, pulling her to him. At first she just stood there, but after a few minutes, she wrapped her arms around him, loosely, but they were there.

The tears never turned to sobs and before long came to a complete stop. Lois stepped away from Clark and scrubbed at her eyes with the heels of her hand. "Um, it's getting late. I'm going to take a shower and get ready for bed, unless you want in the bathroom first."

"No, go ahead."

She nodded and went to her suitcase to get her things out and headed to the bathroom.

Clark guessed she'd probably be in there for a while. Unlimited hot water would be nice and she was sure to take a very long shower. He probably would too at some point.

But until then... He shifted the chair from the desk near the window and sat down, staring over the city as Lois had only a few minutes earlier. He rested his forearms on his knees and dropped his face into his hands. He stayed like that for long minutes before lifting his face enough to stare out the window. He cupped his chin in his hands as he heard the water turn on in the bathroom shower.

He wasn't just tired. He was weary. The next few days would be spent at a nice hotel with no schoolwork to do or newspapers to worry about writing for and no newspapers or pizzas to deliver. If it wasn't for the emotional trauma of losing Aunt Louise, it might actually be nice. The bulk of the heavy work would be left to him, of course, and he didn't mind. He could have most of Aunt Louise's things packed up pretty quickly. Lois and Lucy would have to decide what to keep and what to give away and what, if anything, to try to sell. Aunt Louise's car was coming back to Metropolis, though he wasn't sure how just yet. It was paid for -- in fact, Aunt Louise was debt free, including both of the properties she owned -- and they would get rid of the Datsun that was falling apart anyway. He spent half of the little free time he had working on the stupid thing. Lois and Lucy could share the new-to-them car as they had been the Honda, and the Honda would get passed back to him.

He didn't mind that particular unwritten law -- the one that says the wife always gets the nicer car -- at least not too much. The only reason he'd even remotely minded was that the Datsun was such a piece of junk, but he certainly didn't want Lois or Lucy driving it any more than strictly necessary. Maybe he could sell it to a salvage yard. He snorted. He'd be lucky if he didn't have to pay someone to take it off his hands. It was a full day's drive to Metropolis -- a good twenty-four to twenty-five hours. Maybe he and Jimmy could do it this weekend. He was off from all of his jobs until Monday and Jim was off this weekend too. If they tag teamed, surely they could do it in one long stretch rather than stopping overnight somewhere. He didn't need much sleep and could do most of the driving.

However, he'd noticed that he needed more sleep these days than he used to. He'd never worked this hard, both mentally and physically. But on top of that, he didn't sleep as well either. Even though he knew he wouldn't 'ruin' anything by floating, he rarely slept deeply enough that he caught himself doing that anymore.

No, what kept him from sleeping well most nights, was the tossing and turning of his wife.

She had bad dreams -- probably nightmares -- nearly every night. He didn't think she knew that he would often hold her, kissing and stroking her hair, whispering that he was there and he wasn't leaving, until the dreams subsided and she settled back into an uneasy sleep. Some nights were worse than others and though only the worst of the dreams actually woke him up, he knew he didn't sleep as well as he would if she could sleep without whatever demons of her past coming to haunt her.

If only she'd talk to him. Or a counselor. Or someone. It couldn't be good for her to keep it all inside. Little by little he'd gleaned information from Aunt Louise, Lucy and Jimmy and even a few court records related to the separations, divorce and eventual remarriage of Sam and Ellen Lane. What he saw was a pattern of her parents -- one or the other or both -- leaving, over and over. She had nothing in her past that would show her that someone would actually stay. There were no reports of neglect or abandonment -- at least not what the courts would consider neglect or abandonment -- or abuse, but he was certain their home life as children had been far from the stable one he'd enjoyed before his parents died.

He was a bit surprised that Mayson had called him because of the missed lunch, because he wasn't *supposed* to have lunch with her -- it was just something that usually *happened* as a consequence of having their last pre-lunch class together. At the same time, he knew he probably shouldn't have lunch with her several times a week. Even though they were always in public, usually accompanied by other students from whatever class they'd just finished -- and there was nothing between them; at least on his side, and he didn't think on hers -- it couldn't be good for his relationship with Lois to have a female friend that he saw regularly that she didn't know. But no matter who he at lunch with, if Lois wasn't there, Mayson was. He'd made it clear from the third day after they met, when he realized Mayson was interested, that he was *not*; that he was married and could be her friend and nothing else.

He knew she'd dated several guys since then -- Dan from her Physics class almost immediately after he'd met her, Cory from their shared English Lit class last semester and Drew from... somewhere. He'd often eaten with Cory and Mayson during the three or so months they were dating and Cory knew that he'd had lunch with her on more than one occasion without him and didn't mind at all because he knew there was nothing to be worried about. Lois was always welcome to join them and he was sure she knew that.

That thought stopped him. Did she know that? They had lunch every Monday and she never failed to tell him what her plans for lunch for the rest of the week were -- at least for the days they had the same break. This semester, she had a study group on Wednesdays and some kind of English thing on Fridays and they didn't have lunch at the same time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, so Monday was the only day they *could* eat together at the moment. Last semester, she'd had classes during his break every day but Monday. The semester before, she'd told him of study groups or meetings with this professor or that one. It wasn't a matter of her knowing she was welcome, she always was, but rather that it wasn't possible for her to join them most of the time. Did she know she could join them in the case of a sudden class cancellation or something of that nature?

Regardless, if nothing else, he needed to make more of an effort to spend more time with Lois as often as possible. He missed that and he didn't know how it would be possible, but he had to try. Or maybe dinner. Maybe he could bring her dinner on the nights that he wasn't working or at one of the papers. For now, though, their weekly lunches were on Mondays -- ethnic day in the student union. The conversations over the last year or so had become less and less about anything substantial until they really didn't speak much at all outside of perfunctory inquiries about classes and jobs and even the weather -- no matter how hard he'd tried to draw her out on other subjects.

Those were the kinds of conversations he should, and did, have with Mayson -- if that much -- not with his wife. She was decent company and they ended up with classes together -- he wondered sometimes if that was by design -- and that was about it. He was careful not to talk too much about himself or anything besides school with her. There was absolutely no reason for her to know the true state of his marriage or anything else about his life. Oh, she told him plenty -- including, he noticed every once in a while, family law things she'd picked up from her dad about older kids in foster care, all of which seemed to insinuate that his marriage to Lois had been unnecessary. He wondered if by not talking about his marriage at all, she assumed he was unhappy. He was, but probably not in the ways she would believe.

He resolved in his mind that he would try to make more time with Lois, even if it was only two or three meals of any kind a week, and that the number of lunches he had with Mayson, even in the company of others, needed to dwindle to nearly nothing, even if it meant eating alone on top of a building somewhere. She was a nice girl, but she wasn't Lois -- that's all it boiled down to. If by some twist of fate, the situation had been reversed and he'd ended up married to Mayson, he shouldn't have been spending time with Lois regularly either. He practically shuddered at the thought of meeting Lois for the first time after he'd already married someone else. *That* was a nightmare he was glad he didn't have to deal with.

He'd run into Joe and Les the other day, Lois' friends from high school. They had lunch at the same time he did. He'd enjoyed their conversation at prom and they'd been open to the idea of catching up over lunch some time. He'd have to make a point of doing that and if Mayson managed to track him down and join them, they still wouldn't be alone together in public but with people Lois knew and trusted.

The water in the other room stopped and he rubbed his hands over his face. He needed to be strong for Lois. He loved her more than anything, but what she needed right now wasn't for him to push, but rather for him to just be there; never leaving her, never running off and not coming home for any but the most dire of reasons. The words from Aunt Louise's letter came back to him -- she was still right. She'd told him that it would probably take a very long time for Lois to come around and he was starting to despair that she ever would, but the wise woman still believed in them. It would be interesting to see what his letter said.

Lois stepped out of the bathroom. "Clark, I'm going to go next door and say good night to Lucy, okay?"

Clark nodded.

"The bathroom's all yours if you want it. I'm going to go to bed when I get back, so if you're not done, good night."

The implication was clear as she let herself out. She fully expected him to be in the bathroom when she came back and she'd climb into the bed alone, probably feigning sleep when he emerged.

Deciding quickly that his wife was more important than a long shower, he was in and out of the bathroom in about thirty seconds. His damp hair curled at the nape of his neck and he moved to the thermostat. It was probably more than a bit underhanded, but he turned the temperature down as far as it would go. If it was cold in their room, surely she'd stay closer to him and maybe he could stave off the nightmares just by being close to her.

***

Lois opened the door to their room and wondered why there was no sound of running water. She'd been gone long enough for Clark to get in the shower. He would probably enjoy a long, hot shower as much as she had. She looked up from jiggling her key out of the lock and stopped short.

Clark was standing looking out the window, wearing only a pair of shorts. His hair and back were still damp. Damn him. He must have decided to take a fast shower and be waiting for her to come back. It had been a long time since she'd gotten a *really* good look at him without a shirt on. He'd really filled out over the last couple years, she noticed. He looked good. Really good.

She sighed. Of course he did. He had grown more handsome over the last couple of years, too. It was no wonder Mayson was interested in him. There was probably a few dozen other women at school who were too. She was probably lucky that -- according to newsroom scuttlebutt -- he was only seen regularly with the blond wanna-be.

She shut the door behind her and tossed her key on the dresser. He turned to look at her. "Hey."

"You didn't have to take a fast shower. It's nice having as much hot water as you want."

He shrugged. "I know and I'm sure I will take a long shower or two before we go home, but I wanted to make sure you were really okay."

She sighed. "I'm fine, Clark. Do I miss Aunt Louise? Does it make me sad? Of course. Am I going to fall apart at any moment? No."

He smiled at her. She hated that smile. No, she didn't hate it. She loved it. But she hated it too. It used to be reserved only for her, but who knew how many women he used it on now?

"I didn't think you were going to fall apart, Lois. You're too strong for that, but that doesn't mean you don't need a shoulder to cry on every now and then."

She moved to her side of the bed. "Thank you for that vote of confidence." She pulled the covers back. His movements followed hers, but on the other side. Together they climbed in.

She tucked her feet under the sheets and pulled all of the covers up over her, preparing to cocoon herself in them, but Clark interrupted her.

"Come here, Lois."

She stopped, uncertain of what she wanted to do.

"Please." His voice was quiet. "We're both hurting. We both miss Aunt Louise. Please, just let me really hold you tonight."

She nodded and rolled towards him, settling her head on his shoulder, his arm wrapping around her, his hand stroking her hair. His other hand rested on her arm as it found its way across the top of his stomach. Her leg, completely of its own volition, crossed over onto his. He turned his head slightly and kissed her hairline.

"I've missed you, Lois," he said quietly. "It feels like we've spent more time together today than we have so far this year and I miss being with you, even if it's just doing homework next to each other. I miss eating lunch with you every day."

"We don't even have the same lunch break on Tuesdays and Thursdays this semester and last semester the only day we did was Monday," she pointed out.

"I know, but I don't remember the last time we ate together more than once a week for lunch on Mondays."

"I know." She shrugged as well as she could. "We've both been busy and our schedules are so opposite..." His playing with her hair was distracting as was her arm across his stomach. She remembered distinctly her desire to run her hands over his abs the first time she woke up like this. But, though he'd been well built as an eighteen year old, he'd filled out in the right spots now that he was almost twenty-one. His shoulders and chest were broader, his arms more muscular and his abs more well defined. The desire was still there, though tempered by the knowledge that at least one other woman often did the same thing.

Tears welled up her eyes. How could he lay there like there was nothing wrong? Was this what it was like for her mom in the early years? Did he think that she really didn't know what was going on? It was one thing for him to slide in behind her at night, wrapping one arm lightly around her, but here... And he wanted to talk too. He said he missed her. She almost snorted. Sure he did.

He'd said so many times before that he wanted to make love with her. Did he still want to do that? He'd said she was the only one for him. Did he still believe that and the dalliances with Mayson and whoever else was just a way to get that 'sexual release' he'd promised to never push her for?

She sighed.

"What is it?"

There was no way she was going to tell him what was really on her mind. "I just miss Aunt Louise. That's all." She hoped he bought it.

"I do, too." He kissed her head again.

They lay there like that for another long moment. "Clark," she started.

"Yes?"

"What did Aunt Louise mean when she said to tell you she was still right?"

He thought for a moment. She wasn't sure if he was trying to remember or come up with some sort of plausible lie.

"Just that someday we'd make it out of where we are now and move on to bigger and better things."

"Oh." She sighed again. "Good night, Clark." She hoped that would effectively end any conversation.

"Good night, Lois."

At least he could take a hint.

***

Clark kept his arm around Lois, helping support her as they returned to the hotel after the funeral and graveside service.

He felt bad about lying to her the night before, but he wasn't about to tell her what Aunt Louise had said on their wedding night. She was skittish enough as it was without a declaration of love.

Jimmy and Lucy accompanied them to their rooms. The two couples had decided to rest for a bit and then go out for dinner. Aunt Louise wouldn't want them sitting around all somber for hours just because they felt some obligation to her to do so. After that, Clark would take Jimmy home before returning to Houston. Lois had every intention of being asleep by the time he got back.

Lois sighed as she sank onto the bed then flopped backwards. "I'm glad that's over. I mean, I'm not glad that she's gone, but I'm glad that we don't have to stand up in front of anyone anymore and pretend we're being all strong and stuff." Like one big happy, but mourning, family. Clark had touched her more in the last hour than he had in the last year -- not counting falling asleep.

It brought a deluge of emotions. If she offered herself to him, right here, right now -- or even later tonight -- would he forget Mayson? Would he be faithful to her? She hated to admit it, but her lower back still tingled from where his hand had rested more than once today.

She just knew he was trying to worm his way in, past all of her defenses, though for what purpose, she wasn't sure. Having his cake and eating it too? She being the cake and Mayson the 'too' of course. She resolved to lock those doors even tighter. She couldn't handle being hurt like that. It would kill her.

***

"Lois, we're almost done here."

Lois glanced up from where she was seated on the floor of Aunt Louise's den. "Good. I talked to the management office and said that we'd pick up the car on Friday and they said that would be fine. I also talked to the moving company Aunt Louise contracted with and set up a time for them to come finish up here."

"It was very thoughtful of her to make arrangements to have whatever we wanted shipped back to Metropolis and to have a storage unit paid for, for as long as we wanted."

"That's Aunt Louise for you," Lois said wryly.

Clark sat on the floor across from her. "You know, she was nothing like you described in your letters."

Lois sighed. "I know. I was always miserable when she was around. I think it was because I had made up my mind to be miserable. If I hadn't, maybe I would have had more than two years to get to really know her."

She looked around at the condo that had been her aunt's home for the last nearly fifteen years. There was a pile of boxes and bags in one corner that the Salvation Army would be picking up. The living room furniture was much nicer than what they had now, but wouldn't work with their current floor plan. A note from Aunt Louise said as much but that she thought it'd work well in her brownstone if they decided to live there when the lease on it was up in a couple of years. They'd decided to hang on to them -- at least for now. The pictures had been removed from the walls and the dishes and things they were going to keep were waiting to be packed by the movers.

"What else do we need to do here?"

Lois sighed. "I think we're just about done." She picked something up off of the floor next to her and held it out to him. "Here."

"What's this?" he asked as he took it from her.

"Your letter from Aunt Louise. I gave Lucy hers before you took her back to Metropolis."

Clark turned it over in his hands. "Have you read any of your other ones yet?"

Lois shook her head. "They're all just numbered. There was a note on top saying to read the first one and that it would tell me when to read the second one and so on. I guess it might say something like the next letter was for my twenty-first birthday or something, but I don't know." She thought for a minute. Clark's birthday was coming up. "Clark, can I ask you something?"

"Anything."

Sure. He really meant that. 'So, Clark, how long, exactly, have you been sleeping with Mayson?' Lois shoved the thought out of her head. This week had been nice -- just the two of them and sometimes Lucy -- but they were heading back to the real world soon and she needed to steel herself for the cold reality that would slap her in the face when they returned to Metropolis.

"Did you ever go get your mom's letters from Colorado?"

He shook his head. "I didn't want to go back without you. If I had gone to get the letters, I thought the globe might say something and I didn't want to see another message without you with me. We've been so busy we haven't had a chance to go." He paused for a second. "Well, I did take Lucy last year and she wanted to see the ship, but I didn't open it because I didn't want to get one of the messages without you."

"Oh." She sat for a moment. "You know, you didn't have to wait for me. I would have understood if you wanted to go even though we couldn't go together."

"I know."

"Have you missed any of the letters from your mom?"

He shook his head. "I don't think so."

"Really? The last one was what -- two years ago?"

He nodded. "A little over. I think it was probably supposed to be longer than that though. I think she thought that I'd go from the first day of college letter straight to the twenty-first birthday letter. She had no clue that I'd read the engagement and wedding ones on the same day when I was eighteen."

"You better go soon, if you want to get them before your birthday."

"Yeah." He stared at the floor in front of him. "I still don't want to go without you, though."

"When are we going to have time to go before your birthday? It's only two weeks away."

He continued to stare at the floor in front of him. "What about tonight?"

***

Chapter 15

Lois gulped and tried not to show her surprise. She'd managed to hide her shock pretty well -- she thought -- when Clark admitted that he hadn't been to Colorado without her -- well, except the once with Lucy. It had been almost two years since they'd been there. Surely he was dying to know what else Jor-El had to say.

He was waiting for a response.

"We have that meeting with the lawyer this evening." There. An out.

"At six. He said it shouldn't take more than an hour or so -- he just wants to go over a few more details of the will and our inheritance stuff. He said Lucy's was pretty straightforward. She told me earlier she'll get 45% of all the cash assets once the condo is sold when she's twenty-one or graduates from college, whichever is second. It sounds like she gets a little over a third of everything -- minus the charitable donations, of course -- and we get just under two-thirds, but ours includes the brownstone in Metropolis so she gets more cash and we get property. He said that ours is a little more complicated but didn't want to go into details over the phone."

"Great." She sighed. "What do you think she did? Set it up so I have to have a very invasive physical exam before we get the money?" She groaned. "I didn't mean to say that out loud." Just one more reminder of their very unconventional marriage.

He shrugged. "I doubt that, but I don't have any idea what it is."

She continued over him. "And it makes me sound like I just want the money which isn't the case at all. I would rather have Aunt Louise still here than not."

"I know. But my point is that we should be done by seven or seven-thirty. Would you be up for going to Colorado with me then?"

It was her turn to stare at the floor. "Can we play it by ear?"

"I guess, but I really don't want to go without you and I would like to go before my birthday. Tonight seems like the best time to do that."

"We'll see."

***

Eight o'clock came and Lois had reluctantly agreed to go with him to Colorado. He would have liked for her to be a little more enthusiastic, but he'd take what he could get. He thought long and hard about whether to take Aunt Louise's letters with them and he finally decided to, though he wasn't sure he was actually going to tell Lois about it. He'd play *that* part by ear.

They both dressed in dark clothes and made their way to the roof of the hotel. He stood behind her, and without asking her how she wanted him to hold her while they flew, simply wrapped his arms around her and told her to hold on then took off into the night sky.

It wasn't long before they arrived in Colorado. A blast of heat vision melted a hole in the snow large enough for them to sit in. He set Lois securely on the ground in the clearing he'd made then unearthed the ship and the blanket they'd stored in it the last time they were there, having decided it was easier than taking one back and forth. A few seconds after that a fire was blazing.

Lois had sat down on the blanket after he spread it out and inched as close to the fire as she dared.

"Do you want me to help warm you up a little bit?"

She nodded and he shot a blast of heat vision her way. "Thanks."

He sat down on the blanket, as close to her as he dared. "So what did you think about what the lawyer said?"

"It's stupid."

"I don't know if I'd say stupid, but unusual would fit."

"No, it's stupid." She ran a hand through her hair. "We get the brownstone officially when the lease is up and is about 25% of our total inheritance. That makes sense. We get another 25% when we've both graduated from college or I turn twenty-one, whichever comes first. And that's cash or whatever. The other 50%... Well, he can't even tell us when we get it. Just that there's stipulations in there that are not to be revealed until we've met the requirements, but he can't tell us what the requirements are. That's stupid. I mean how on earth are we supposed to meet the requirements if we don't know what they are? Is it that we reach a certain big anniversary mark -- like twenty-five years -- and she was afraid if we knew we'd stay married just to get to it or something?"

Clark shrugged, acknowledging to himself that she still doubted that the marriage would last to whatever magical date Aunt Louise may or may not have set. But if that was the stipulation, he could see how she would make sure they didn't know what the requirements were. "Maybe. We don't know, Lois. That's the point, I guess. At least we know we'll have the brownstone in a few years..."

"The beginning of the next decade."

"She said it was a long term lease with an old friend."

"I know, but another three years? That's a long lease."

"Well, there's nothing we can do about it."

"I guess."

"And we'll get a quarter of it in cash in about fifteen months."

"But there's a stipulation with that too that he didn't tell us about either."

Clark sighed. "I know."

"She knows how much we're struggling to make ends meet, Clark. Why wouldn't she let us have at least some of it now to take the pressure off -- just a bit?"

"I don't know. Probably something about building character or something."

"I've got enough character, thanks."

"I know, but there's nothing we can do to change it."

"And administration of what my parents left us is now with the lawyer, too."

Clark proceeded carefully. "Lois, would you want to use some of that money to help with day to day expenses?" He raised his hand as she glared at him. "Before you take my head off I don't mean that we should live on it, but enough to take the edge off. Even a few hundred a month wouldn't make a huge dent in the principle and it should have earned pretty decent interest the last couple of years, but a few hundred a month would make our lives a lot easier."

Lois sighed and scrubbed her eyes with her hands. "I'll think about it."

"And Lucy's grades are a lot better recently and she thinks she might be able to get at least a partial scholarship to UNT Met so she wouldn't need all of it either."

"I said I'll think about it. And I'll talk to Lucy and see what she thinks."

"Okay."

They sat in silence for a few minutes. Lois yawned. Clark wasn't entirely convinced it wasn't a fake yawn, but stayed quiet.

"Are you going to take the globe back to Metropolis?"

"I think so. I can put it in the compartment with the letter from my mom and no one should find it there. Lucy knows about me, so if something did happen when I wasn't around -- or when she was around -- it's not like it'll tell her something she doesn't already know."

"Yeah." They sat for a few more minutes staring at the fire. "There's two more messages right?"

"Two more of the five, but my mom said that there were more for 'when the time is right'."

"Right. I forgot about those."

He thought about asking her if she'd ever read the letter from his mom, but decided not to. She'd moved it after their last conversation about it and he didn't have any idea where it might be.

He opened his mouth to say something else, but they were suddenly enveloped in the white glow of the globe.

They could see that something had been done to the tiny ship that Jor-El and Lara had been working on. Jor-El's voice told them what it was.

"We have installed the hyperlight drive and tested it as best we can. So much is unknown."

They saw him take the globe, showing the map of Krypton.

"Contained within the sphere is the navigational computer that will guide the ship through the maze of hyperspace, as well as this account of our final days."

Jor-El carried the globe and installed it in the tiny ship. The display changed from Krypton to a map of Earth. Jor-El moved to the capsule and touched it with a probe. The mist disappeared.

"All is in readiness. We have selected the ship's exact, destination on Earth and programmed it into the computer."

Jor-El took the capsule and carried to the ship as Lara opened the hatch. He put the capsule into the ship. Lois and Clark both saw what was inside -- a tiny baby wrapped in blankets.

"Kal-El, our child. Under Earth's sun his Kryptonian molecular structure will give him powers and abilities no Kryptonian has ever had. He is the last son of Krypton."

Another tremor began and Lois and Clark found themselves holding on to the ground beneath them. For a moment, Jor-El hung in space, looking directly at Clark.

Clark could hear him speaking, but only in his head. <You carry a great sadness, my son, and a great weight is on your shoulders. Your shoulders are strong and you will surely weather this storm as you have weathered others. Your love for the woman at your side will carry both of you through. We love you, Kal-El, and we are proud of the man you have become.>

The white glow disappeared.

Clark was stunned. He stared at the globe, mesmerized. How on earth could the globe -- and his father -- have known what his life was like at the moment? And why had he only heard it in his head? Not that he would have really wanted Lois to hear that right now, but why? Had Lois heard anything? Had Lara stared at her and said something? He really hadn't noticed, but he didn't think so. Was it part of the telepathy thing his mother's letter had mentioned? That made as much sense as anything else.

"Clark? Clark? Krypton to Clark!"

"What? Oh, sorry, Lois."

"What was that about?"

"What?"

"You totally spaced out for a minute."

"Really?" He shook his head. "Jor-El spoke to me."

"Of course he did. He said they put the hyperlight drive and in then they put you -- the baby you -- in the ship, said you would have powers and were the last son of Krypton and disappeared."

"No, after that. You didn't see him looking at me?"

"What? No."

Clark shook his head again, as though to clear cobwebs. "He just sort of hung there in mid-air and looked right at me and spoke to me... telepathically, I think."

"You think?"

"Well, I didn't hear any actual words, but I heard it in my head -- just like I knew that globe was Krypton when I first picked it up."

"Wow. What did he say?"

Clark stared at the fire, wondering how much to tell her, but he knew he had to tell her something. "Just that they love me and are proud of me and the man I've become."

"That was nice of them."

There was an underlying note of sarcasm in her voice that he didn't quite understand. He held out his hand and the globe floated down to him. "I guess that was one of the messages my mom mentioned."

"I guess so."

The sarcasm was still there but he still wasn't sure why. He sensed, however, that this wasn't the time to push it.

He stood and walked over to the ship, pulling his mother's letters out. He flipped through them, wondering if he'd missed any. He stopped briefly at the 'first fight with your wife' one. He wasn't sure if the night things changed counted as a fight or not. He continued. No, the next letter was for his birthday in a couple of weeks.

Did he want to pull out Louise's letters?

"Is this where you read your mom's letters?"

He shrugged. "Some of them. Once I knew I could fly, I came here to read them. And I kept them in my space craft so it made sense to just read them here, but I think it's time to take that stuff home."

"Yeah." She sat for another minute. "Clark, I'm getting tired."

"Yeah, me too. Let me bury this and we'll head back. Do you want to leave the blanket here?"

She shrugged. "If we're taking the globe with us, do we need to leave the blanket?"

Clark sighed. Of course, there was no reason for them to come back. "You know, the more I think about it, the more I'm not sure that taking the globe with us is the best thing. I mean I know we can trust Lucy and stuff, but something feels wrong about it."

"It could be a while before we're both able to come back," she pointed out.

"I know, but it doesn't feel right to see the last message anywhere but here."

"Okay. Whatever you think is best."

He waited until she stood, then handed her his mom's letters. "I do want to take those though." He turned into a blur, folded the blanket and reburied the ship before coming to stop in front of her. "Ready."

***

Lois sank down on the bed in their apartment. They'd wrapped everything up in Texas, except for returning with the car and Clark and Jimmy were leaving in the morning to do that.

She had a pile of homework to do but she didn't think she could concentrate on it right now. Her mind kept going back to what Clark had told her Jor-El said.

They loved him. Well, that made sense.

They were proud of him and the man he had become. That was the part she had issues with. Although, she admitted to herself, Kryptonian society could be very different than American or even any other society on earth. Maybe it was acceptable in Kryptonian society to have multiple wives or concubines or mistresses or whatever. Maybe that's what Jor-El meant when he said they were proud of the man he had become -- that he was able to successfully have a wife and a girlfriend or something.

She put her hands over her face and flopped backwards. How she would miss Aunt Louise.

She also had to admit that Clark had a point. Even if they took $500 a month of the inheritance money, that would only be about $6000 before they graduated from college. Clark was right; the money had been well invested and should be enough for Lucy to go to college, barring a major catastrophe or something. It wouldn't get her Princeton but it would get her UNT Met or another state school. One of them could quit one of their jobs. Who? Which job?

Their Star jobs were out of course. That was their main source of income and their foot in the door of journalism. That was her only job at the moment -- between it and her course overloads and her time at both of the papers... Well, she worked one day most weekends at the restaurant. It didn't bring in much, but it was one of those every penny counts things... Clark's pizza delivery job was their second biggest source of income, followed by his newspaper deliveries.

His newspaper job was the most logical. He had to get up so early to deliver papers and it did occasionally make problems with the Star when he had to leave in the afternoons. In theory, he had permission to do so daily, but the reality was that sometimes their bosses were more than annoyed by him leaving even though he came in early or stayed late to make up for it. Or maybe give up his afternoon route. That would solve the problem at the Star, but giving up the morning one would let him get more sleep -- and take away one of his potential meeting times with Mayson. She still wondered if he didn't speed deliver his papers and go to visit her before classes at least some days.

She sighed, searching for answers, but none came.

***

Lois sat in the cafeteria the next Wednesday waiting for her study partners to arrive. Molly, Ryan and Dan were in her physics lab. She hated that Dan was in her group, but Ryan had brought him in and by the time she realized it, it was too late to try to join a different one. He was constantly making comments to her about how if they'd gone out the fall of her senior year, they'd be together and married now instead of to the 'Kemp' guy. She finally gave up trying to correct him -- that it was Kent, thank you very much -- and ignored him as much as possible. He'd already flunked physics once and she was sure he was hoping the three of them would pull him through. Turned out Mayson had been in his study group then and she'd talked nearly non-stop about the friend she ate lunch with. Never once mentioned he was married either. He got a few digs in about that regularly too.

Clark had asked her on Monday -- during their regular lunch together -- if she wanted to have lunch today too. She really did have legitimate reason not to, what with this study group and all. She glanced across the cafeteria and saw him sitting down at a table. He was talking to someone already there but couldn't see who was with him. Then she saw a blond sit down with him. She couldn't have lunch with him because of the study group and so he was having lunch with the bimbo. Of course.

Half an hour later, she was ready to kill Dan. Literally kill him dead. How did he make it this far while being such an idiot? And he wanted to work for the government? If that wouldn't send the whole country into a tailspin, she didn't know what would. And he had the nerve to be annoyed that she'd missed last week's meeting because she was in Texas.

"Hey."

She practically jumped out of her chair when she felt a hand on her shoulder. She looked up to see Clark.

"Clark! You scared the daylights out of me!"

Immediately contrite, he pulled a chair up from the next table over, spun it around and sat down. "Sorry, honey." He pointed across the room. "I was having lunch with your friends Joe and Les from high school. I ran into them a couple of weeks ago and we decided to do lunch. We were supposed to last week but... Hey, Joe and Debbie are engaged."

Dan broke in. "Do you mind? We're trying to study Physics here."

Lois rolled her eyes. "No, Dan, we're not. I was trying to explain it to you and you weren't getting it. And you're not going to get it in the three minutes I have before I have to leave." She turned to the other two members of the group. "Molly, Ryan, this is Clark. Clark, Molly and Ryan."

Molly smiled at him. "So you're the elusive Clark Kent. Nice to meet you."

"Likewise." He turned to the target of Lois' anger. "Have we met?"

Dan glared at him. "At Lois' prom. She and I had a good thing going until you came along."

"Dan, we never had any 'thing'," Lois was quick to point out.

"We should have."

Clark snapped his fingers. "That's right. You're the guy who kept trying to get my wife to dance with you after she told you to get lost."

Lois sighed. Before she knew it, they'd be seeing who could spit further. She shoved her books in her bag. "I gotta go. I've got class in ten minutes."

Clark jumped up with her. "I'll walk you." He waved to the rest of the table. "Nice to meet you, Molly. Ryan. Dan, always a pleasure."

Lois looked at him quizzically, but then walked quickly to the door, exiting the cafeteria. "What's up, Clark?" she asked when they were clear.

He looked puzzled. "Nothing. I was eating with Joe and Les and saw you over there and thought I'd say hi, that's all."

"Don't you need to get to the Star?"

He looked at his watch. "Not for an hour or so, so I thought I might walk my wife to class. Is that bad of me?"

"No," she shrugged. "Just unusual."

"That's sad."

"What is?"

"That walking my wife to class is unusual. I'd like to more often, if you don't mind."

She shrugged again. "Sure. Why not?" What was he up to? Trying to throw her off the scent of him and Mayson? Lunch with Joe and Les? Sure. She'd seen a blond who looked an awful lot like Mayson sit down with him. Maybe he was just afraid she'd caught him.

"Good."

She came to a stop in front of one of the academic buildings. "This is me. See you tonight."

He bent down and kissed her cheek. "See you later." And he was off.

***

Clark whistled on his way to the Star. So far, it had been a decent day. His classes were going well. He'd walked Lois to class and she hadn't told him to get lost for whatever reason. Lunch with Joe and Les had been nice too, except that Mayson had joined them. He'd mentioned before their class started that he was having lunch with some old friends and she took that to mean that she was invited to have lunch with him and the old friends. He felt sort of bad about it, but she'd been like a fourth wheel on a tricycle. He hadn't purposefully ignored her, but the two guys caught him up on the group he'd met at prom as well as a few other names he recognized, promising to pass the information on to Lois. The talk had switched to the Metropolis Mets and Spring Training which was well under way. There just hadn't been much for Mayson to join in on. Would it be enough for her to get a hint? He hoped so, but somehow he doubted it. Maybe being unavailable for lunch a few more times would help.

***

Time passed. His birthday came and went. Lois got him a card, but they'd agreed early on that was all they were going to do for birthdays and such -- anything more was too expensive. He started eating lunch with Lois' study groups most Wednesdays. Dan didn't like it, but Clark didn't care. And actually, he'd aced physics a couple of years earlier so Molly and Ryan welcomed his help. Fridays she had an English writing discussion group thing and he wasn't really welcome there so he tried to have lunch with Joe and Les on Fridays. Tuesdays and Thursdays, Mayson still didn't seem to get the hint and he just couldn't bring himself to be outright rude about it. They didn't have class together those days, and Clark started inviting a couple of guys from his class right before lunch. They were nice guys and it was really nice to have someone to talk sports with. Mayson was still there but he didn't feel quite as guilty about it. He was surprised she still came since she was half-ignored most of the time. It went against the grain of his polite streak, but he didn't go out of his way to pick topics she had no interest in -- that's just the way it went.

Summer came and with it Lucy's eighteenth birthday. Clark breathed a sigh of relief as no mention was made of separating now that Lucy didn't need a guardian anymore. Both picked up extra jobs over the summer, but Lois managed to squeeze four classes in too. Jimmy graduated from high school and Lois feared what the change in status would do to the relationship between her sister and her boyfriend. For the most part, it didn't seem to affect it too much, though they did spend more time on the phone in the evenings again since they didn't see each other at school anymore. As long as it wasn't overboard, Lois and Clark didn't say anything.

Their schedules were such that they didn't have lunch at the same time at all that fall. Both missed it, but that's the way it went. Clark and Jimmy had lunch together virtually every day and Mayson still found excuses to join them regularly. Jimmy liked her but was a bit worried that she had designs on Clark, and he was right to be worried, though she wouldn't act on them for quite some time.

The semester sped by and soon, it was Lois' birthday and their 3rd anniversary rolled around. Clark tried to insist, as he had two years earlier, on making Lois breakfast in bed, but she had to be at work abnormally early that day so it didn't happen.

Spring semester was much like the fall had been. They were able to coordinate their schedules enough for lunch on Mondays as they had until the semester before, but study groups for one or the other prevented them from having lunch the other days. Clark still joined Jimmy as much as possible. And Mayson still joined him wherever he was much more often than he'd like. He wondered what, if anything, Jimmy said to Lucy and Lucy to Lois about it. He'd told Jimmy more than once that he didn't know what he was going to do, but he just couldn't shake her. Jimmy suggested being straight about it, but Clark was convinced she'd get the hint eventually and he really didn't want to hurt her by being blunt. Jimmy wasn't so sure she would and even if she was getting the hint and just not taking it, wouldn't it be less hurtful to just tell her? And besides, school was almost over. Then he and Lois could get on with their lives.

Lois' nightmares still came, he knew. If he was already awake, or if the dreams were bad enough to wake him, he would hold her and kiss her head and tell her that he wasn't going anywhere. At least once a day -- while she was asleep -- he tried to find an opportunity to tell her he loved her, hoping that, eventually, it would sink into her subconscious.

For her part, Lois enjoyed the additional time with her husband while it lasted. Their time together was still limited to their lunches and after about ten p.m. She was still convinced, however, that it was a way to throw her off his relationship with Mayson. She was glad when he started eating with Jimmy often. She knew Mayson often joined them, but at least she knew the conversation wouldn't revolve around their clandestine affair with Lucy's boyfriend there.

She actually cried two weeks after Lucy's birthday when she started to realize that Clark wasn't going to leave as soon as their guardianship of her sister ended. She'd been living on pins and needles for over six weeks just waiting for the conversation she'd been dreading for years. She was still certain that he would leave once college was done with, but at least that wasn't for another ten months. She could brace herself for that; she had been for years.

And so, the two of them closed in on the end of their college years. Each were worried about what would come next and rarely discussed the future other than to confirm they were glad they had jobs at the Daily Planet once graduation was over. Each secretly thought the other might well find something else, but neither mentioned it to each other or anyone else.

And so things continued until three weeks before the end of their college careers. Then came the night that changed everything.

***

Chapter 16

April 1988

Clark sighed and threw his pen down on the table.

Lucy looked up from her spot on the couch where she was reading 'Macbeth'. "What's wrong?"

"I just can't concentrate on this." He closed his notebook and shoved it in his bag.

"Hmm..." Lucy thought for a minute. "You know, Clark, can I ask you something about... you know, being you?"

Clark shrugged. "Sure. You know I don't mind and I'll answer if I can."

"Why don't you study fast? I mean, you could read that whole book in like six seconds and finish the homework in another 4, so why don't you?"

Clark smiled. "Yeah, I could and I do sometimes. Part of it depends on how much I like the subject. When I do homework and stuff that fast, I can retain the information. I can recall it for tests or whatever. I could even recreate the whole book if I wanted to, but I don't always understand it if I go that fast." He shrugged again.

"Huh?"

Clark laughed slightly, still unable to shake the uneasy feeling that had been plaguing him for the last half an hour. "I mean, I could tell you how to do a math problem, for instance, and why it works, but I might not actually understand it. I'd just be repeating what I'd read, like a little kid who says he's two years old, but really has no idea what that means or why one day he's magically three."

Lucy laughed. "It's nice to know you have some chinks in your armor."

Clark groaned. "I'm not that different... am I?"

"Sometimes. I mean, you're a great guy but who else could fly me to LA for dinner right now if I asked really nicely?"

Clark groaned again. "I told you, I'll take you for graduation." He stood up and wandered around the living room. "You and Jimmy both."

"Will you and Lois come too?"

Clark shrugged. "If we can find a time when we can all make it. Otherwise, I could always just take you and Jimmy somewhere and come back later -- Italy or France or somewhere in Asia... wherever you might want to go."

Lucy chewed thoughtfully on the end of her pen. "Clark, can I ask you something a little more personal?"

"Sure, but I can't promise I'll answer."

"Is everything okay with you and Lois?"

He turned from where his circuit around the living room had taken him and looked at her. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, I see a lot more of you than she does; it seems like I always have. I won't pretend to know what you two have gone through the last three years -- and I can't tell you how much I appreciate everything you've both done for me -- but Jimmy and I have been going out for two and a half years now, and now that he's already in college, it's gotten a lot harder. I mean, we used to eat lunch together every day and we'd hang out after school and talk all night on the phone until you made us cut those shorter." She held up a hand as Clark opened his mouth. "You were right. My grades were suffering even though I didn't realize it. After I spent more time studying instead of talking, my grades went up and that's how I have a partial scholarship to UNT Met next year.

"But that's not my point. I mean relationships are hard enough under any circumstances but yours are more difficult than anyone else I know. You hadn't seen each other in four and a half years. You were eighteen, she was seventeen and two weeks later, her little sister moved in. And let's face it; I wasn't the easiest to live with that first year or so."

Clark had moved to the chair while she was speaking. He couldn't figure out what was making him twitchy. "No, you weren't, but you're a good kid and you're growing into a lovely young lady."

"Thanks, but like I said, you and I spend more time together, unless you count overnights, but most of that you're asleep." She shuddered. "And I don't want to know any more than that."

Clark grimaced. "Don't worry; I'm not going to elaborate." That was something that had crossed his mind from time to time. He knew Lucy came downstairs to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night sometimes and she'd never seen anything even remotely untoward. Never any clothes on the floor or bodies moving under the sheets or empty condom wrappers lying around. Though, he admitted to himself, he wasn't sure what their preferred method of birth control would be if they actually needed it. He'd bought a box early in their marriage and hid it on the off chance... but they'd never been touched. Unless Jimmy and Lucy...

He frowned at that thought. He'd talked with both of them separately when they'd been going out for about six months and emphasized that he wasn't sure that was a good idea while they were still in high school. To be honest, he hadn't expected the relationship to survive this long, especially after Jimmy graduated and now that Lucy was about to graduate... Well, she was already eighteen and it was quite likely, he realized, that they... He shook his head, unable to go there. He hoped they were being safe about it.

"Anyway, I don't remember the last time I saw you two together for more than a few minutes before bed at night. You're usually both here for part of the day on the weekend, but Lois is usually studying. When was the last time you two had a night out together?"

Clark sighed and thought about it. "Our anniversary." He ran a hand through his hair. "Life's been hard and busy and money's been tight since we got married and nights out just haven't been in the cards for us. But our contracts at the Star are almost up and we're almost done at the Metropolitan. Lois has worked so hard to graduate with me this year. Perry's offered us jobs at the Daily Planet. He said they'd be very entry level but that he'd make sure we work the same schedule most of the time -- no more of this opposite thing. A couple of his college students have already told him they're leaving at the end of the semester and he promised to hold the jobs for us."

"Well, there's something I'd hoped to talk to both of you together about but..."

"What's that?"

"I'm going to be moving out pretty soon."

Clark's head rose sharply at that. "What?"

"Lisa and Jessica and I are going to live in the dorms together. Lisa and I were accepted as counselors at a summer camp for kids so I'm leaving the week after graduation."

Clark frowned slightly. "I knew you'd applied but didn't know you'd been accepted."

"The letter came today." She smiled at him. "You guys don't need a third wheel hanging around anymore."

"You're not a third wheel, Luce. You're family."

"I know but you know the old saying 'Family is like fish -- after three days it begins to stink'. Three years is even worse I'm sure."

"I thought it was 'company is like fish'."

She shrugged. "Potato, patato. Anyway, you guys don't need me hanging around here anymore. My scholarship covers most of my tuition and fees. I've got a couple other small scholarships and I'm hoping that the money I make at camp this summer will cover most of my room and board at least for fall. I was going to ask you and Lois about the inheritance money. I know Lois was saving it for my college and even though I don't need it for tuition, I was hoping I could use a little bit of it to help with room and board. I've got some savings of my own from working last summer, but I've gone through a lot of it for clothes and gas and stuff this year so I was hoping Lois would let me use the inheritance money anyway."

Clark shrugged. "I don't see why not, but you'll need to talk to Lois about it. It's your money -- hers and yours that is." He sighed and ran his hands through his hair. "I think I'm going to go for a walk. Maybe go pick up Lois at the paper." He glanced at the clock. "She should be done soon."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I've just got this feeling and I can't quite figure out what it means."

"What kind of feeling?"

"I don't know. That's just it. I'm just... uneasy and restless and I don't know why."

"Huh." She watched as Clark headed for the door. "See you in a bit."

"Yeah." And he was gone.

***

Lois leaned back in her chair at the University paper. It had been a long day. A day she had lunch with Clark. Lois knew that -- even if Clark was getting... 'more' with Mayson, he was still her husband and if he was going to pretend everything was fine, so was she. She knew that he ate with Mayson most days that he didn't eat with her. And she tried desperately to pretend it didn't bother her. That Jimmy was usually there too was irrelevant.

And so Lois was still in the University newsroom. It was practically deserted by now. In fact, the last two underclassmen had stepped into the elevator a few minutes earlier. Professor Paul, the faculty advisor, was still working in his office.

He'd been a good friend to her over the last two years -- mainly since the first time she'd discovered Clark and Mayson eating together. He'd helped her with homework, given her suggestions for stories -- many of which turned out to be above the fold -- and even allowed her to help, from time to time, with the editing duties he had.

"Lois," he called. "Would you help me with this layout?"

Lois pushed back from the desk she shared with Clark -- something she still found slightly odd sometimes, but they were rarely there at the same time so it made sense -- and headed towards the conference room.

She heard the door shut behind her and then a click as it locked.

She turned to face her professor. "There's no layout in here, Paul."

"I know." He sat on the edge of the table. "I wanted to talk to you."

"What about?"

"Your grade. Us."

"There's no us, Paul."

"There should be."

"I'm a married woman, Paul."

Paul stood and walked towards her. "Does Clark satisfy you, Lois?"

"Excuse me?" Lois had no intention of telling him how things really were between her and Clark. She backed up until her legs hit the conference table. There was an audible click as something in her pocket hit the table, but neither noticed.

"Does he satisfy you, Lois? Does he treat you the way a beautiful woman should be treated? Does he make love to you like a man in love should?"

"That's none of your business."

"I know. It's not, but I'm worried about you, Lois."

"Why?"

"Because the whole campus knows about him and that English major -- something Drake."

Lois felt her face go pale. "What about him and Mayson?"

"That they've had a thing going on for years now." He moved closer until he was standing mere inches from her. "They've made you the laughingstock of the university, Lois."

"They have?" Her voice sounded small even to herself.

"They have, Lois." He raised one hand until it gently grazed her cheek. "You're too beautiful to be treated like that."

Lois barely felt his hand on her face. Knowing what she knew about herself and Clark and about Clark and Mayson was one thing. Knowing the whole campus was laughing at her was another. A small part of her had always clung to the hope that he, in his own naïve country boy way, was just friends with Mayson, completely unaware of how things looked to her and, apparently, to others, but that must just be her own naivete showing through.

"I love you, Lois. Let me show you how a man can really love you." His voice was soft but insistent.

"No, Paul," she whispered. "I'm married. I don't care what you think about Clark and Mayson or anyone else, I'm not going to cheat on my husband."

"He never has to know, Lois. You're about to graduate. We can have a great couple of months together before you walk across that stage and then, when you're out in the world and your sister has moved out and Clark leaves you for Mayson or someone else, you'll remember that you know what a real relationship is like."

"Paul..."

"Shhhh, Lois." His hand slipped around the base of her neck and he pulled her towards him. As his lips touched hers, she stumbled backwards until she hit the wall.

"Paul," she mumbled into his mouth. "Please get away from me. I am not going to cheat on my husband."

"You do want to graduate, don't you?" His voice took on a sinister tone.

"What?"

"It would be a shame for you to fail your last semester on the paper, forcing you to wait until next spring to take this course again. Of course, since this is the only class you'll have left, you'll lose your scholarship. Flunking the class will do that too. By the time we get to next spring, you still won't have a degree, no respectable paper will hire you, your sister will have moved out to go to college and Clark will have left you and the whole school will know that you tried to sleep with me to get an A. Everyone on the paper knows we work here alone at night sometimes. What do you think they think is going on?"

"It's not true."

"Truth doesn't matter, Lois. Perception does. You should know that by now. Everyone already perceives you to be a fool for letting your husband cheat on you right under your nose."

"I'll go public before you have a chance."

"No, you won't. No one will believe you. I'm a well respected member of the journalistic and academic communities. I've written dozens of articles for the school paper and freelance around the world on sexual harassment and how to deal with it."

"Clark will believe me. Perry White will believe me."

"It doesn't matter. Even if the venerable editor of the Daily Planet believes you, no one else will. And the cheating husband? No one will believe him either."

Lois raised her hands to push him away but found them trapped in his iron grip.

"You're not going anywhere, Lois. Not until I get what I want."

He leaned back in to kiss her again. She turned her face away from him, but the next thing she knew, both of her wrists suddenly felt like twigs in the grip of one of his much larger hands and his other hand was forcing her face back to him.

His lips were on hers as she struggled to get away to no avail.

Thoughts of Clark came to her mind. Would he rescue her, if he knew? Even if he didn't love her, wouldn't he still come to her rescue? If she yelled loud enough, would that hearing of his kick in?

"Clark," she whimpered into the sloppy mouth of her attacker.

He pulled back and grinned at her, evilness oozing out of every pore. "He'll never hear you, but just to be on the safe side..." He shoved her towards a filing cabinet and pulled a roll of duct tape out. One hand covered her mouth and his body pinned her against the wall. A strip of tape went over her mouth and another around her wrists.

"Don't worry, my dear. I'll take it off when we're done. I made sure to wrap it around your sleeves so there won't be any marks."

Lois continued to struggle as much as she could, but Paul was much larger than she was and she was hampered by the limited use of her arms. He unbuttoned her shirt, ripping more than one button off as he did so. One hand still held both of hers in an iron grip above her head as she noted the gleam in his eyes when he realized she was wearing a front clasping bra which he also made short work of.

His lips were on her neck and one hand groped at her, roughly, but not rough enough to leave bruises one part of her brain realized. "Let me show you what a real man's like," he leered.

Tears streamed down her face as Paul undid her belt and the button on her pants. She shut her eyes tightly as he unzipped them and slid them and her underwear over her hips until they were bunched on the floor.

He forced her to the floor and with one hand still holding hers captive, he began to undo his own pants.

Lois forced herself to open her eyes. If he was going to do this to her, he was going to have to look her straight in the eyes. In just a moment, he'd realize what a farce her marriage really was, but he was going to have to look at her as he did.

She closed them again, briefly, to brace herself for what was about to come. <<<Clark, where are you?>>>, she screamed mentally and then opened her eyes to stare her attacker straight in the eye.

The sound of the door jamb splintering startled both of them. Lois closed her eyes in relief as she realized Clark stood there, but the relief was short lived as a hand lightly gripped her throat.

"Get your hands off my wife." Clark's voice held barely concealed anger.

"Didn't you know she likes it rough, Kent?" her attacker snarled.

"I'm not someone you want to make mad, Paul. Let her go."

Lois struggled against her captor, causing him to lose his balance just enough for her to throw her body away from him.

While Paul was trying to regain his balance, she saw Clark practically fly into him, knocking him to the floor. His head cracked against the filing cabinet as he fell, unconscious by the time he actually landed.

Lois pulled the tape off her mouth with her now relatively freed hands and then struggled to her feet and began to try to pull her clothes back up.

In an instant, her clothes were back on and the tape on her wrists had disappeared.

Strong arms caught her as her legs gave way beneath her.

"Shh. Lois. I'm here. He can't hurt you." He lowered himself to the ground, pulling her into his lap. Another click went unheard.

She was shaking like a leaf, tears continuing to stream down her face. He stroked her hair gently, holding her close to him.

"Lois, I have to call 911," Clark spoke quietly.

"No! You can't!" She pushed away from him, struggling out of his grasp.

"Why not, Lois? He's hurt and you're hurt. You both need medical attention."

"I don't care about him and I'm fine."

"He almost raped you."

"No one will believe me. He made sure of that."

"What on earth do you mean? Why wouldn't anyone believe you?"

"He told me. He's put hints out that I... wanted him. We've worked late together, alone, several times. He said he's hinted to others that there's more to our relationship and that I'd be willing to do anything for an A."

"Why would you need to sleep with him to get an A? You're an excellent student."

"He can doctor grades, Clark."

"Why would he do that?"

"Because he didn't get what he wanted and if he discredits me, then there's nothing I can do to stop him."

"We'll go to Perry. I saw what was happening."

"And because one journalist believes the students he's friends with, that means it must be true? He'll discredit me and you and Perry if he has to."

Groaning from the corner caught their attention.

Clark stared intently at the older man. "He doesn't have a concussion."

"Good. Then let's get out of here." She stood, grabbed his hand and pulled him out the door.

When they reached the center of the newsroom, he stopped in his tracks. "Lois, we can't just leave him here, even if he is the lowest form of life imaginable."

She turned on her heel and headed for the stairs. "Watch me."

***

Chapter 17

Clark paced the living room. When that quickly became too confining, he started pacing the walls and the ceiling too.

"Clark, what happened?" Lucy asked. Her brother-in-law had landed on the balcony -- meaning he'd been flying, something he rarely did for fear of detection -- and carried her sister in to their apartment. As soon as he'd set her down, Lois had practically flown into the bathroom and the water started almost immediately. And Lucy had never seen Clark this agitated.

"That son of a..." Clark couldn't finish the sentence.

"Who?"

"Professor Paul."

"The newspaper guy?" Lucy asked, puzzled. "What'd he do?"

"He almost raped her. If I had been two minutes later..." Clark's fists clenched into balls. "As it was, she was basically naked when I got there. The first time I actually saw..." He stopped, aware of what he'd almost said. "The first time I really wanted to see how strong I am," he amended.

"What?" Lucy gasped. "Professor Paul? Lois always speaks so highly of him."

"Not anymore." He stopped mid stride on the ceiling. "Listen, she's going to be in there a while, I'm sure. I'm going to fly west and get her a nice big, fluffy towel and some new pajamas and... stuff. I'm sure something new will be better than something old. I'll be back in a few minutes."

"Okay."

Clark strode purposefully towards the door to the balcony, and upon exiting through it, took off faster than the eye could see. He landed behind a Target store in Wichita. He'd been there before when he attended Midwest University and it was already dark in that part of the country so there was less chance he'd be seen flying in and out.

He found a large towel in her favorite deep purple -- he was sure it was large enough to wrap around her twice. He hurried over to the women's lingerie department -- if he'd had time to think about it he probably would have been embarrassed, but he didn't have the luxury of that kind of time. He quickly found some pajamas he knew she'd like -- most of her others, as well as most of her undergarments, were well worn. There hadn't been much in the way of a clothing budget the last couple of years. He hated it, but that's the way it was. Layers. She'd want layers to protect and insulate herself. From the world in general and probably him specifically, though he posed no threat to her. He knew from a story he'd helped research on sexual abuse that women who were victims -- no, not victims; survivors. Women who were survivors often felt threatened by other men in their lives, even when there was nothing but love and support from that corner.

He sighed and found some other things that looked nice, but not sexy -- at least not overtly sexy, though he though she looked sexy in just about anything -- and headed to check out. He sighed as he opened his wallet. This would take almost every penny of his spending money for the last few months but it would be more than worth it if it helped Lois feel even a little bit better. He'd been trying to save even more, because with graduation coming up, so was that first date, but this was more important.

Because of his ability to look through things and pick out what he needed rapidly, he was out of the store in just under five minutes and on his way back to Metropolis.

By the time he landed on the balcony, he knew the water in Lois' shower had to be getting cold. Maybe she'd let him heat it for her.

***

Lois stood in the shower, the scalding hot water cascading over body, tears flowing down her cheeks. One arm braced against the wall, supporting her weight.

Far too soon, the water began to cool and she mentally cursed their small water heater. It wasn't nearly long enough to get the dirty feeling off of her.

There was a soft knock at the door. "Lois, I'm opening the door." Lucy stuck her head in the bathroom. "Listen, Lois, Clark doesn't want to intrude at all, but we know the hot water's going to run out soon. He offered to come in and keep heating it for you -- as long as you want."

"Okay," Lois managed to squeak out.

She heard soft voices and movement and then the sound of the door closing again. She was grateful yet again that they'd put a shower curtain up over the doors. If there wasn't, there was no way she would have let him in.

She started as she noticed his hands on the curtain rod. He wasn't going to take it down was he? No, he just lowered it a bit so he could see the shower head better.

"Lois, honey, I'm gonna start heating the water back up, okay? I'm gonna go slow so you don't get burnt. Tell me when it's where you want it."

Lois felt the water begin to warm up again. "Right there," was all she managed when the water was as hot as she could stand it.

She stood there for what seemed like forever, letting the water stream over her. The first thing she'd done when she got in the shower was scrub herself down with the loofah and now she did so again. She scrubbed for another seemingly indeterminable amount of time before she heard Clark speak again.

"Honey, I meant it when I said I'd stay here as long as you needed me to, but I'm starting to worry about you."

She realized the water wasn't as hot as it had been before. Clark must have stopped heating it quite so much so that her skin wouldn't burn.

She reached out and turned the water off. She rested her head against the shower wall and then heard the door shut as Clark left. She grabbed the towel he'd left for her and realized that not only was it new -- something they hadn't had in a very long time -- but that it was warm. He must have flown somewhere further west where stores were still open and spent some of his meager spending money to buy it and then warmed it just right before he left.

She noticed that one of them had also brought in clothes -- new clothes. He must have bought them at the same time. She knew how much money he had in his wallet and this must have just about emptied it and then some unless he'd been saving for a while for something special.

How well he knew her.

They'd passed their three year anniversary mark a few months earlier, but all they'd been able to manage was dinner at a glorified taco stand. Well, maybe a bit nicer than that, but their entire bill had come to under $20 and Jimmy and Lucy had splurged on that as a gift. Perry had offered to send them to the Daily Planet's New Year's Eve Ball a few days before, but Clark was covering a shindig for the Star and Lois the big New Year's bash on campus. Even though most of the students didn't stay on campus over the break, some did and many of the local students came to the bash and she'd been assigned to cover it. They'd been assigned the same stories two -- or was it three -- years in a row. Looking back, she wondered if Professor Smith had something to do with it and if Tony, the editor in charge of such things at the Star, had been in collusion with him.

She sank to the floor still wrapped in the large towel. She stared at the clothes left on the hamper. He'd even gotten her a new bra and underwear. She needed them, that was for sure, and these were much nicer than the stuff she usually settled for. Had he picked them out? Had he taken Lucy with him? Surely not. He wouldn't have wanted to leave her here by herself, right? So he'd picked out a new matching pair of undergarments. Had he gotten the sizes right? Probably. He did most of the laundry and folded and put it away. Early on, he'd offered to do most household chores and since he could clean the apartment from top to bottom -- and well enough to make the toughest drill sergeant proud -- in literally thirty seconds, she hadn't argued.

He'd never mentioned that she'd lost weight in the last two years. Had he even noticed? She was slender to start with, but once she knew about him and Mayson, she'd dropped two more sizes before she'd stabilized again. She often thought she was too thin these days, but didn't care enough to try to do anything about it.

She pulled the clothes off the hamper and, once they'd fallen on the floor, she picked up the bra. Like the towel, it was a deep purple -- her favorite. And soft satin. Nothing fancy -- no lace to scratch, no underwires to poke or push-ups to worry about. But new and nice. The underwear was the same. The same cut she normally bought, but in the same purple satin.

Clark had seen her.

It hit her like a bolt of lightning. When he stormed into the room and rescued her from Paul, she'd been practically naked. And he'd put her clothes back on -- even reclasping her bra, she remembered. He'd pulled up her underwear and her pants and buttoned and zipped them and refastened her belt.

And then he bought her nice, new underwear.

Was he just trying to do something nice for her or was he expecting to see her in it? Now that he'd seen her body and rescued her, surely he'd want to claim what was rightfully his anyway, wouldn't he?

Unbidden, the words her mother had spoken in a drunken stupor one night came back to her.

<<<"When you marry a man, Lois," she'd slurred, "he believes that gives him exclusive, unlimited rights to your body. Of course, he believes he can share his with whomever he wants, but you... you belong to him.">>>

At the time she'd written it off to the alcohol, but another conversation she'd overheard came rushing back.

~*~*~

*~

"What the hell did you think you were doing, Ellen?" Sam Lane was speaking in quiet but insistent tones.

"I was talking to that nice Mr. Girabaldi who lives across the street. They just moved in and have a daughter Lucy's age." She was half-drunk, even then.

"You were flirting with him!"

"So what if I was?"

"So you're my wife."

"You're my husband. That never stopped you from flirting or flinging or f..."

"Don't even say it, Ellen."

"How many affairs has it been over the years, Sam? My God, did you think I didn't know?"

"That's different."

"How? How is it different? You can sleep with whoever you want, but the minute I said 'I do' I ceased to exist as my own person and live only for your pleasure?"

"That's not the case, Ellen and you know it. But no, I don't like the thought of you with another man. Your *my* wife, not his. And the father of one of our daughter's friends and right in front of Lois, too. What were you thinking? Or were you already drunk?" he hissed.

"She had no idea what was going on and it wasn't really flirting anyway. We were just talking about the neighborhood barbeque."

"Sure, Ellen."

"So it goes back to you're a man and I'm not and so there's double standards?"

"It's not double standards; it's the way it is. When you married me, you promised your fidelity."

"And you didn't?"

"No. We still have the paper with the vows written on them somewhere, Ellen, and mine said nothing about fidelity. You promised never to share your body with anyone but me, but I never said the same so don't even think about claiming I've broken my vows to you. I promised to take care of you and make sure you never wanted for anything financially -- and I've done that."

"How very romantic of you, Sam."

"That doesn't change the fact that your fidelity, your body, belongs to me and me alone."

"And you can sleep with whoever you want?"[/i]

~*~*~

*~

Lois remembered running to her room, not wanting to hear her father's answer. She'd left the next morning for Journalism Camp and by the time she came home, her father was gone. After she had returned, she'd found her parents' wedding album in the back of her mother's closet and in there was the sheet of paper that held their wedding vows. She'd read them carefully and, there in yellowing black and white was proof of what her father had said. Her mother had promised to be faithful, but her father never had.

Lois huddled underneath the towel, water dripping from her hair onto her bare back, staring at the clothes, trying desperately to remember what vows she and Clark had taken. The whole day was a blur to her -- until she was sitting on the bed with Aunt Louise and then every moment was seared into her mind: the nightgown Aunt Louise had given her to wear for Clark; Clark carrying her over the threshold; Clark staring at her when she came out of the bathroom in a robe; Clark being disappointed when she was wearing flannel pajamas; Clark calling her 'Mrs. Kent', staking his claim on her; Clark kissing her in her sleep even though she'd told him she wasn't ready for that, eventually his hand on her back trying to take her shirt off; holding her next to him in bed, telling her how well they fit together and her knowing she couldn't get away from him if she tried. Why, oh why, had she thought that felt safe and reassuring at the time?

What had Clark promised her in that chapel? To take care of her? To love her? To cherish her? To be faithful to her? She honestly had no idea, but her father's vows had seemed fairly standard when she read them, and there had been no mention of fidelity in them at all.

And now...

Now, Clark thought she'd been throwing herself at Professor Smith.

>>>"Get your hands off *my* *wife*."<<<

*His* wife. Staking *his* claim. *His* territory. *His* body.

Her body was *his*.

Not 'Get your hands off her'.

'Get your hands off *my* wife.'

Not 'Let her go.'

'Get your hands of my *wife*.'

Not 'Get your hands off Lois.'

'Get your hands off *my* *wife*,' with the implications that went with that. The unspoken meaning was ringing in Lois' head: 'Get your hands off my wife because her body is mine, not yours, not anyone else's, not even her own. It's mine.'

He was right, of course. Her body was his and his alone. In a perfect world, *his* body would belong only to her, but this world was far from perfect and he was free to share with whoever he wanted. Had there been anyone besides Mayson? A late night fling or two at one of the papers? A waitress at the pizza restaurant? For all she knew, he flew to Albuquerque once a week to be with another pen pal he'd met at another camp when he was 13. Maybe he'd kissed her on a rock too.

She began to pick through the clothes. Under other circumstances, she probably would have loved them. Besides the bra and panties, there was a pair of soft, cotton pajama pants and a matching long sleeve shirt. There was a tank top and a T-shirt and a robe.

A long, thick terrycloth robe.

Just like the one from the hotel but without the Lexor symbol on it.

She hadn't been wearing anything under it that night because her suitcase had still been in the car when she'd climbed in the tub.

Was that what he was expecting tonight?

To finally stake his claim so that she would never look at another man?

Not that she'd ever looked at another man in the first place, but how would he know that when Professor Smith had intimated this wasn't the first time?

>>>"Didn't you know she likes it rough, Kent?"<<<

How would he know how Lois 'liked it' unless they'd been together before?

Clark would want her tonight. Now that he knew she'd already been with someone else, there would be no reason for him to believe the excuses for them not being together still applied. It was okay for her to say that she wasn't ready for that when she hadn't slept with anyone else, but if she had there was nothing to keep him from her. Would Clark want it like Professor Smith had suggested? Was that why he'd never even tried to kiss her, much less sleep with her? Because he liked things a certain way and didn't think she'd go for it so he just went somewhere else? And now that he knew what he thought to be the truth...

Maybe -- hopefully -- he'd at least wait until Lucy was asleep or fly them somewhere so there was no chance of Lucy waking up catching them.

***

Lois put on everything Clark had left in there for her, including the thick new socks, but left off the robe. She sat back down on the floor and pulled it around her as an extra layer of protection. She heard Lucy say something to Clark and heard the creak of the stairs and footsteps above her head.

There was a light rap on the door. "Lois?"

Time to face the music. She stood and wrapped the robe around her, cinching it tight. She opened the door.

Clark was standing there, just as she knew he would be. Maybe she could be preemptive. That was it. That was the only solution she'd come up with. If she could somehow get the upper hand, maybe it wouldn't hurt so badly.

"Clark, if we're going to do this, can we please go somewhere else?" she asked quietly.

"Um, sure, Lois. Whatever you're most comfortable with." He stepped back and she brushed by him and headed straight for the balcony door. "Where do you want to go?"

She shrugged.

"Do you want to go to Colorado?"

"That's fine."

Of course that's where he would want to go -- the last place he was truly happy. The next thing she knew, she was in his arms high over Metropolis.

***

Clark's lips were set in a tight line. He and Lucy had waited for Lois to come out of the bathroom for a long time. He'd tuned in with his hearing a time or two, and while her heart was still pounding, he couldn't hear any tears. Lucy had been up extra early that morning for a school meeting and had an all night Relay For Life walk the next night and needed to go to bed. She told Clark to wake her if she was needed.

Just as he'd figured, when she finally opened the door, she was wearing everything he'd bought. She'd surprised him when she said she wanted to go somewhere. He had no idea what 'this' was -- talking about what happened that night, he guessed -- but they'd always been close in Colorado. They'd been able to talk and connect there. It made sense that she would be comfortable there. And it was a wide open space; surely that would be good -- she wouldn't feel closed in.

Clark set her down in the middle of the field and stepped back. He didn't want to push any of her new boundaries, but he had no idea what they were.

***

Lois stood there, with her eyes closed, and wrapped her arms around herself. She could hear Clark digging up his ship, getting the blanket out and spreading it behind her. This was it. The night she'd dreaded for years. She'd managed to get away from a rapist, but tonight she'd give herself to her husband.

Give herself.

Before he could take her.

Surely that was the lesser of two evils.

She opened her eyes and saw him sitting on one side of the blanket, but not looking at her.

She sighed. She was going to have to steel herself for this. It was going to take everything she had not to quiver like a bowl of Jello. It had to be her. She couldn't let him hurt her; not this time.

The first thing she had to do was get rid of some of the clothes. She closed her eyes tightly and swiftly untied the belt at her waist and took off the robe and tossed it on the ground. The long sleeve pajama shirt quickly followed.

And then the fear gripped her again.

"It's a warm night out here. If I'd known we were coming here, I would have gotten something that wasn't quite so warm."

Of course he would. Less to take off. And it really wasn't that warm, especially not with her still damp hair. It was Colorado, in the mountains in April. She was surprised there wasn't snow patches on the ground.

"No," she heard herself say. "Not too warm, just too bulky to be comfortable. Could you build us a fire?"

"Sure."

He sounded surprised, but he complied.

While he was 'whooshing' to get the fire started, she yanked the T-shirt off.

In seconds a fire was blazing away and he stood in front of her.

She thought she could see questions in his eyes, but surely that couldn't be right. It was probably desire. She'd seen desire in his eyes a time or two -- like when they got dressed up the night after their wedding and for prom. And when she'd come out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a robe on their wedding night. And other times since then when she thought she looked especially nice.

That must be what she was seeing, because this was what he wanted, right?

"Lois?"

"Hmm?" She looked at him, but couldn't manage to look him straight in the eyes.

"Let me dry your hair and warm you up a bit?"

She hesitated, then nodded and turned her back to him for an instant, feeling the warm glow starting at her feet and working its way up until she heard her hair sizzle just a bit.

"Better?"

She nodded again.

"Do you want to talk?"

"No."

"No?"

"No and I didn't think you wanted to either."

"Whatever you want. Whatever you need, Lois."

That was her opening. She borrowed a phrase from Shakespeare and screwed her courage to the sticking post and took two steps until she was directly in front of him.

"I want you."

"What?"

"You, Clark. I want you." She rested one hand on his chest and let it slide down towards his stomach. "I thought you wanted me, too."

He just looked at her as though she was speaking his native Kryptonian.

She would have to take the initiative -- make the first move -- before he came to his senses.

She reached up behind his neck and pulled his face towards hers until it was so close she could feel his breath.

She squeezed her eyes as tightly shut as she could and then she kissed him.

***

Chapter 18

Clark wasn't sure what exactly was going on, but something wasn't right. It seemed like only minutes before, he'd stopped a brutal sexual assault on his wife and now she was standing in front of him, wearing the tank top he'd bought her and pajama pants and, he was sure, the new bra and underwear he'd bought her too.

"You, Clark. I want you."

She brought her hand rest on his chest and then moved downward onto his stomach until it stopped just above his belly button.

"I thought you wanted me, too."

There were words coming out of her mouth, but it was completely opposite of what he'd expected. She wanted him? It had been less than two hours since she was being assaulted in the conference room and now she wanted *him*?

He felt her hand behind his neck and she pulled him closer. He could feel her breath on his skin. He watched as she closed her eyes and then felt her lips on his.

Her heart was beating like a trip hammer and in the second after she initiated the kiss, he saw tears begin to leak out of the corners of her eyes.

He moved his hands to her waist, and as gently as he could, pushed her away from him while he took a step back.

"What are you doing?"

She looked up at him, tears continuing to stream down her cheeks. "Don't you want me?"

"What are you talking about?"

He felt her grab one of his hands and he willingly let her move it from her waist. He wouldn't hold on to her if she didn't want him to.

But she didn't release it and step back like he expected her to. Instead he found her moving his hand until it was resting on her breast.

"Don't you want to touch me? Don't you want to be with me?"

And quickly as he could without hurting her, he took his hand away and took a larger step back.

"What are you doing, Lois?"

"You saw me naked tonight."

He took a deep breath. "Yes, I did, but I swear..."

She interrupted him before he could tell her that he'd tried to look as little as he could while he redressed her.

"You said it, Clark. Remember?"

"What did I say?" He had no idea what he was talking about.

She took a step towards him -- a very shaky step. He took another step back.

"You came barreling into that room and said 'Get your hands off my wife'. Not 'Get your hands off Lois' or 'Get your hands off her', but 'Get your hands off my wife'."

"That's what I said, but I don't understand..." He was trying to understand, really he was, but he had no idea where she was going with this. She was his wife. Of course he wouldn't want someone else assaulting her. He didn't want anyone to have to go through that, much less the woman he loved more than life itself.

"'My wife'. Staking your claim."

"What?" His claim?

"Then he asked if you knew I liked it rough."

"He was hurting you."

She continued walking towards him and he continued to walk backwards away from her.

"How do you know that's not how I like it? We've never been together. Is that why you've never even tried to have sex with me?"

"What on earth are you talking about?"

"You've never tried to get me in bed to do anything but sleep."

"You never wanted me to. I would never force you into that. I promised you that when I proposed to you and I meant it."

"What if I wanted you to force the issue? Did you ever consider that?"

"I don't know what you're talking about. Why on earth would I force you?" Had that maniac slipped her something in her drink? Had she gone mad? Why would she even consider that he might want to force her into sex with him?

"How many other women were there?"

"What?" He felt like he'd been slapped. Other women?

She stopped walking towards him and wrapped her arms around herself.

They'd made a full circle and he was standing on one side of the blanket and she on the other.

"How many other women were there? Besides Mayson?"

"What about Mayson?" And what on earth did she have to do with anything.

"How long after we got married did you start sleeping with her?"

"What?" He shook his head as though to clear it. What on earth was she talking about? Sleeping with Mayson? He'd gone out of his way to make sure they were never alone together.

"Is that why you left me sitting there the night I told you I'd changed my name?"

"What?" He remembered the night vividly, but he hadn't met Mayson until months after that night. "I didn't meet Mayson until the next spring, Lois, and I..."

"Then who was it?"

"Who was what?" He'd had trouble following her tangents before, but this was getting ridiculous.

"Who were you sleeping with when I told you I'd changed my name?"

He didn't have time to respond before she went on.

"Before that, every time -- *every* time -- I told you I wasn't sure we could make it, that this marriage would last, you were so quick to reassure me that somehow, someway, we'd beat the odds. We'd make a teen marriage work. We wouldn't be a statistic. But that night, you left me sitting there. You left and you went and took a long shower -- you never took a long shower, Clark, ever. You took a long shower and you left me sitting there. I waited for you to come talk to me but you didn't. You went to bed. You left me. Just like my mother did. Just like my father did. You'd always been so convincing when you talked about how I was the only one for you and then you left. Not physically, but you left. There was another woman by then, wasn't there? And I want to know who she was."

Clark felt sucker punched. He literally stumbled back until he tripped on something and landed flat on the ground. "You thought I left you? You thought I was cheating on you?"

"Tell me, Clark, if I'd thrown myself at you before that -- say on prom night -- would you still have gone looking for that sexual release somewhere else? Would I have been enough for you? You *promised* me I was more important than that, but you just meant that as long as you could get it somewhere else, it didn't really matter if I slept with you. So if I had thrown myself at you that night -- if I'd come out of the bathroom wearing nothing but a robe like I did the night we got married and I stood in front of you and took it off, would you have slept with me?"

"What?"

"Really, Clark, for a guy who wants to be a journalist, you need to learn some new words. I want to know if I would have been enough. If you'd been able to have sex with me whenever you wanted, would you still have gone looking for greener pastures?"

"Greener pastures?" Clark thought for sure the professor must have slipped her something because she wasn't making any sense. He looked at the ground and took a deep breath, but she spoke again before he could.

"Did you bring any of them here?"

The sudden change of tone made Clark's head snap up. Her voice had gotten so small and she looked like a lost little girl, shivering in the cold Colorado spring air.

"My God, Lois. What did he do to you?" he said softly.

"He tried to rape me, Clark. I swear I've never slept with him. I've never slept with anyone."

She sounded like a little girl, searching for approval, pleading with her parent or someone to believe her -- that she really hadn't done something wrong; she really hadn't taken the cookies out of the cookie jar or cut her sister's hair.

In a blur of wind, he'd wrapped the robe back around her and sat her down on the edge of the blanket closest to the fire. He sat as far away from her as he could, giving her space, and still be on the blanket and look at her.

"Lois, can you look at me?" he asked softly.

"No," she answered even more quietly. Without enhanced hearing he probably wouldn't have heard it.

"I know he tried to hurt you, to rape you. He's lucky he's still alive."

"Because he tried to take what's yours. Your wife," she said bitterly.

"No. I mean, yes, but no. I love you and you *are* my wife and I would never want anyone to hurt you for any reason. Rape isn't about sex; it's about power and pain and when I saw him hurting you, I wanted to kill him. Not because I have some intrinsic power or authority over you, but because I love you and I never want to see you hurt. Do I want to be the only one to ever touch you, to make love with you? God, yes, but I would never force myself on you and I would never betray you."

He watched her stare at the edge of the tie on her robe, playing with it for long minutes.

"Did you promise me your fidelity, Clark?"

"What?"

"Our wedding vows. Do you remember them?"

"Of course. I remember the entire day like it was yesterday."

"Did you promise me your fidelity?"

"Of course."

"What did you say, exactly?"

He quickly searched his memory for the exact words. "I said I would forsake all others and keep myself only unto you."

"What does that mean?"

"It means that I promised never to be with anyone but you until the day one of us died." Could she not hear that he meant it?

"Define 'be'."

"Sex, Lois. Making love. Whatever you want to call it, I promised never to it with anyone but you."

"Then I want a divorce."

Clark sat there for a minute, shocked by the sudden turn in the conversation and sure he couldn't have heard her right. And the hard edge her voice had taken shocked him as well. When she didn't say anything, he asked, "You want a what?"

"A divorce, Clark. I'm sure we've been married too long for an annulment and without an invasive exam I refuse to take, there is no way anyone would believe that we never had sex anyway."

"Lois, I told you a very long time ago that divorce wasn't an option; that we could work anything out and you agreed with me. What changed? On what grounds do you want a divorce?" Clark felt like his heart was being ripped in two.

"Infidelity."

"Excuse me?"

"Infidelity, Clark. You knew what my father did to me, to my family and you slept around anyway. I read his vows, Clark, when I got back from camp and just like he told my mom, he never promised to be faithful to her, but you just said you did promise to be faithful to me and you broke that promise."

Clark could only stare at her, stunned. He moved until he was sitting directly between her and the fire, but careful not to touch her. "Lois, look at me." She didn't move. "Look at me. You know I can outwait you."

After a long moment, she finally raised her eyes to his.

The pain he saw there, the betrayal and the rejection was almost too much. Tears sprang to his own eyes.

"I don't know if I believe there is a God, Lois, but if there is, as God is my witness, I have never been with another woman. Ever. There was no one before we got married and there hasn't been anyone since. I told you on prom night that there was only one woman I ever wanted to share my bed and that was you. Whether it's to sleep or make love, there is only one woman in this world for me and that's you, I swear it."

"How do I know I can believe you?" He could see the tears start again.

"I don't know how to prove it to you, Lois, but I've never had sex with anyone. I saved myself for you from the time you ran into me in that line eight years ago. I knew then I was going to spend my life with you and even though I dated some in high school, I always knew you were the only one I'd ever get serious with. Call Lana. Hell, I'll take you to see her if you want, but I never even kissed her. She kissed me a couple of times and I might have kissed her back, just a little, but that's it. There were no heavy make-out sessions behind the Dairy Freeze or on her parents' couch when they weren't home -- and believe me, she tried to make sure there were plenty of opportunities for us to be alone, but never has there been anyone but you. I gave Rachel a kiss on the cheek when I took her home after prom. Some girl propositioned me when we went to prom together and I turned her down flat. She tried to get me to take her number in case I changed my mind, but I turned and left her standing there. And I know your friends told you about that." She nodded slightly. "There's never been anyone but you."

"What about Mayson?" She looked at the ground and her voice was small again.

"What about her? There's never been anything between me and Mayson, Lois."

"I saw you with her."

"When?"

"The day you said you met her. I saw you and she had her hand on your arm and you were both laughing."

"Is that why you didn't come to lunch that day?"

She nodded.

"She said something funny. I don't even remember what it was. I think she was making fun of our Poli Sci professor."

"Did you tell her you were married?"

Clark shook his head sadly. "Not that day, no. We talked on the way to lunch. She'd asked for my help with Political Science and I told her that I didn't have much time to do study groups and tutoring because of my course load and the papers and working to help support my family. I mentioned you and Lucy, but I never said you were my wife."

"Oh."

"Two days later, she asked me if I wanted to go to a movie on campus. I told her I'd have to ask you if we had plans and see if you wanted to go. She told me she didn't want to be rude, but she didn't want my sister on our date."

"Your sister?"

"Yeah. I was taking a drink and soda literally came out my nose. Any loose papers or napkins in the cafeteria went flying from the wind gust. I told her nothing could ever happen between me and her because I was very married and very much in love with my wife. She asked why I didn't wear a ring and I told her what happened with it and she backed off. She's been a friend, nothing more. And not even really a friend. Most of our conversations revolved around classes, rarely anything personal. You knew more about me in the first week of camp than she does after two years, Lois."

"Really?"

"I swear. Look at me." Clark reached out slowly and carefully, and with one finger lifted Lois' chin until he could see her. "Remember those letters from my mom?"

Lois nodded, but pulled back from his touch.

"In the engagement one, she said something I took to heart. That I should never be alone with another woman because even the appearance of infidelity can ruin a marriage. I was never alone with her, ever. We were always in public -- at the caf or in the library in full view of anyone who walked by or wherever and usually with other people -- we were never alone together. Ever. I promise. Can you believe me?"

"What about the pictures?"

"What pictures?"

"I saw you. You came in, dug around in our desk on campus and took out a picture of Mayson and then left. I looked. There were two other pictures of you two. One eating lunch and one sitting under a tree near the library. It was taken on a Chinese Monday and we were supposed to meet for lunch but my English prof wanted to see me. You would have had no time to be sitting under a tree that day without either standing me up -- and you told me you'd waited for me -- or skipping class and you never skipped class. But that day you would have had to and the only reason I could come up with was because spending time with your..." He watched her pause to take a deep breath. "... girlfriend was important enough to skip class over. And the way you were sitting..." She stared at her hands. "She was wearing a tank top and lying on the grass and it sure looked like you were looking right down her shirt."

Clark tried desperately to think of the day she was talking about. He hadn't gone to that area often, but it wasn't coming to him. Suddenly, he thought he remembered. "Wait. Was it about two years ago -- in March, the first really nice day of the spring?"

She nodded.

"Oh, Lois," he said sadly. "My Poli Sci class was canceled that day. I would have looked for you but I knew you were in biology. Is that when you first thought I was having an affair with her?"

She shook her head. "No. I suspected you might be before then. I saw you two together a couple of times and you always looked so... comfortable together. What did you need with the picture, Clark? The one you took?"

"Her mom wanted a recent picture of her for some scrapbook or something and I remembered I'd seen one in that stack. I wasn't about to give her one of the ones the two of us were in, even if they were completely innocent. That's all it was." He thought for a minute. "That was the day you came home sick, wasn't it?"

Lois nodded. "That was the day I *knew* you were having an affair. I threw up in the conference room and Paul sent me home. That was the day I knew you were just like my father and one day you'd leave me and Lucy just like he had."

Clark didn't think his heart could hurt anymore than it already did, but that cut him to the quick. "Lois, if I had known it bothered you, I would have told her that I couldn't see her anymore at all, for any reason, but, at most, she was a friend and I tried to be so careful that no one would think anything was going on with her." Something else dawned on him. "Is that why you never pushed for more compatible schedules at the newspapers?"

She nodded.

"I'm never going to leave you. I promise."

"Then why did you that night?"

"What night? The night you told me about your name?"

She nodded.

"Oh, honey, I was tired that night. I hadn't been sleeping well and I was just exhausted -- and that's pretty unusual for me and I wasn't sure how to deal with it. I went to take a shower and the hot water just felt so good that I took a long one. I figured you'd be in bed by the time I was done, but you weren't. I thought you'd come in when you heard me and we could talk, but you didn't and I fell asleep before I really realized you weren't coming. And while I was in the shower I'd finally realized something."

"What?" she asked.

"That nothing I could say could convince you that I wasn't going anywhere and the only thing I could do was just to not leave. That if I stuck around long enough maybe you'd finally believe me when I said that I wouldn't leave you for anything or anyone. That the only thing that could make me leave was you telling me you wanted out."

"I told you I wanted out a little while ago and you didn't listen."

"Because you were basing your decision on false assumptions, not facts. Weren't you?"

She nodded through her tears.

They sat there for long minutes.

"Clark," she finally asked, in that small voice. "Would you hold me? Please?"

"Always." He moved behind her and sat down, making sure to move slowly and not startle her. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him as her tears began again.

***

Fresh tears streamed down Lois' face and she clung to Clark like a lifeline. She had no idea how much time had passed when she finally had cried herself out.

She sat, safe in the circle of Clark's arms. How could she have thought they felt like she was trapped? Here she was safe from everything, from everyone.

"Lois," Clark said quietly. "Can I ask you something?"

"Can I decide not to answer if I'm not ready?"

"Of course."

She nodded her assent.

"What happened tonight?"

Lois was confused. Did he not realize what he'd walked in on?

"Not before, but here. What were you trying to do?"

Oh. That. "Something stupid and foolish."

"Can you tell me?"

"I can try. Now that I've calmed down a bit and now that I know the truth that you weren't having an affair with..." She took a deep breath and just said it. "... Mayson or anyone else, it seems even more foolish." She stared at the fire for a minute. "While I was in the bathroom, staring at the new clothes you'd bought me something my mom said once came back to me; that when a woman got married, her husband knew that her body belonged to him -- that he had exclusive, unlimited rights to her body -- but that he was free to sleep with whoever he wanted."

"Lois..."

"Please, just let me say this."

"Okay."

She felt his arms tighten slightly, in what she hoped was support.

"I wrote it off to the alcohol because she was drunk and even tonight I did for a minute, but then another memory came screaming back to me. I don't know if you realize this, Clark, but there's a lot about my childhood and my teen years that I've never told you. There was no abuse or anything like that, but certainly some degree of neglect. I guess the term I'd use is repressed. I've repressed a lot of it and I keep it all in this little box in my head and lock it up tight. There are very few things that make it unlock without me doing it deliberately. One of those times was that day I threw up in the conference room. Everything seemed so familiar that I just knew you were having an affair and that you'd leave me and Lucy eventually and I tried to figure out how I could make it on my own and if they'd let me keep Lucy if we weren't together anymore. I couldn't figure out anything that didn't require me using the inheritance which I was still convinced I wanted to save for Lucy so I decided that if you could pretend everything was fine, I could too. I could stick it out until we were done with college and Lucy was out of high school and then I'd let you go.

"Tonight was another night that a couple of memories came out of that box. One is what my mom said and the other was a conversation they had the night before I left for camp. It finally hit me tonight that my mom didn't throw my dad out because he cheated on her. He left because he thought she'd been flirting with a neighbor. He never came right out and said what my mom had, but he did say that while her wedding vows had said something about being faithful, his hadn't. I read them after I got back from camp and he was right. He'd never promised to be faithful to my mother. I tried desperately to remember what we vowed to each other, but I couldn't. I don't remember much about that day until after we got home. I was sure I'd promised to be faithful to you, but I couldn't remember if you'd promised the same thing."

"I did, and I meant it."

"I think I'm starting to understand that, but earlier... all I could think was what my mom and dad had said and..." She took a deep breath. "Clark, I've calmed down and I'm being more rational, but I wasn't earlier and this might not actually make sense when I'm rational but at the time..."

"It's okay, honey. But I do want to try to understand."

She nodded. "All I could think about was that you would think that my body belonged to you and that you would expect me to be faithful to you but you could be with whoever you wanted." She took a deep breath. "You saw me naked and then he said something about how didn't you know this was how I liked it and all I could think was that you would take that to mean that I'd been with him before and you'd be mad at me for not ever having sex with you and that you'd want to stake your claim on me, on my body, now that you thought I'd been with someone else and that the only way to try to make sure that it hurt as little as possible was to take the initiative -- to give myself to you rather than wait for you to take me.

"And then you were rejecting me. Just like my dad rejected me because I wasn't a boy or for another woman. Just like my mom rejected me in favor of a bottle. And I lashed out. I wanted to know if I'd been having sex with you all along if you'd still have gone to other women. And I wanted to know how many other women there were and how long after our wedding it started, because the only other reason you would be rejecting me was if you didn't find me attractive, if you didn't want me that way. I wanted to know if you'd told any of them about you, if you'd brought them here." Her voice trailed off. She sat up suddenly and turned to look at him. "Clark, please tell me you know that I never slept with him; that he was assaulting me."

She saw him carefully reach one hand towards her until it rested on her cheek. "I know. I know you never slept with him and I know he was trying to take advantage of you, to rape you and that if I'd been a couple of minutes later, he would have. I've never doubted your fidelity, Lois, and I am so sorry that I ever gave you any reason at all to doubt mine."

"Then why did you ask what he did to me?" She looked down at her hands as she spoke.

"I didn't mean tonight. I meant your dad. When you asked me if I'd brought anyone here, you looked so lost and so scared and like a little girl looking for approval or something and I couldn't even begin to imagine what Sam had done to you to make you like that. I think I'm starting to understand, a little, and I can't say that I'm sorry he's gone so that he can't hurt you anymore. I'm only sorry that the things he did to you in the past are still haunting you."

She moved back into his arms and they sat for long minutes.

"I wasn't the first one," she said with sudden clarity.

"What?"

"I wasn't the first one he did this to."

"Who? Paul?"

She nodded.

"How do you know?"

"I just do. He was too good. He said no one would believe me -- not with his reputation versus mine. That everyone knew we'd worked late together sometimes and that everyone knew you were having an affair and that I was a fool for letting it go on under my nose and that no one would believe me. He was too practiced. He targeted me because he thought I'd let him and he'd get away with it."

Clark chuckled.

Lois tried to pull away from him.

"No, honey, I'm sorry. I'm not laughing at you. I'm just thinking how little he actually knows Lois Lane-Kent."

"Because I'm not going to let him get away with it?"

"Are you?"

She shook her head, with sudden determination. "He's done it before and he'll do it again if someone doesn't stop him."

"And that someone is going to be you?"

She shook her head again, still safe in the circle of his arms. "We are. If you'll help me that is."

"Nothing would make me happier than to take him down. You have no idea how close I came to finding out how strong I really am."

Lois turned to look at him, a new softness in her eyes. "Clark, I'm so glad you didn't. You did what was necessary and no more and I'm glad you didn't find out exactly how strong you really are. Tackling him and even knocking him out as a result was justifiable, but if he'd died... I couldn't lose you, too, Clark."

Tears began to stream down her cheeks again.

"I'm not going to lose you, too, am I, Clark?"

She felt his arms tighten around her again.

"You could never lose me, Lois. Never. And I promise I'm going to stick around until you finally believe it."

***

Chapter 19

They sat in the Colorado Rockies, insulated from the world around them, for a very long time.

Finally, Clark spoke. "Lois, you said that there's a lot you've never told me about what life was like growing up and I'm not asking you to tell me now, but I've known for a long time that you weren't telling me everything."

"You did?" she asked quietly. "How?"

"Little things at first. A comment Lucy would make or something Aunt Louise said or, eventually, a casual remark from Jimmy. I know Lucy's told him a lot more than you've ever told me, and I understand that. They've had time to spend together, to get to know each other and all about each other's pasts, but we haven't. Not really. And then the fairy princess stories -- Lucy told me just a little about them and you flat out refused to let me read them and it seemed to be a lot more than just that you didn't think they were any good or something." He took a deep breath. "And there's the nightmares."

"You know about those." It wasn't a question.

Clark nodded against her head. "Almost every night, isn't it?"

She nodded back.

"I know you think you've got it all locked up in a little box, but I don't think you do. I think that box opens almost every night and it's going to overwhelm you before long." He gently rubbed her arm with one hand. "They've been getting worse, haven't they?"

"Yeah." They sat for another moment. "Clark, if you know about the dreams, why haven't you mentioned them?"

He sighed. "Well, we haven't been doing a lot of talking for a long time and I didn't think you'd want to know that I knew or that I..." He stopped. Would she want to know what he did when he realized that she was having those dreams?"

"You what?"

He took a deep breath. "That whenever I realized you were having one of those dreams, I'd hold you and tell you that I loved you and that I wasn't going anywhere and then it seemed like the dreams would go away and you'd settle back to sleep."

"Oh."

They sat for another long minute.

"Have you ever thought about talking to someone?" he asked tentatively.

"What do you mean?"

"Like a therapist or something. Obviously, there's a lot of unresolved... fear or disappointment or whatever you want to call it from your childhood and teen years. And now what happened tonight..."

"What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Can't I talk to you? I don't think I want anyone else knowing about all of this."

"I'll always listen and do what I can, but this certainly isn't my area of expertise."

"I just don't know."

"Will you at least think about it?"

She nodded.

They stayed there, Clark's arms around Lois, for what seemed like forever. Neither spoke for the longest time and then, out of nowhere, a white glow enveloped them.

Jor-El and Lara stood over the ship that would soon carry the tiny baby to earth.

"I try to picture where you are now as you hear this last chapter," Jor-El said. "What do you look like? Are you alone? What have you become? Lara and I will never know. But that you should live to experience this... that is enough. We are content."

Jor-El reached to seal the door to the tiny ship. Lara, tears shining in her eyes, touched the transparent surface of the capsule inside. The tiny Kal-El smiled and reached for his mother before the door closed completely.

The most violent tremor of all began.

As Jor-El spoke again Krypton hung in space in front of them. A point of light on the surface of the planet flared. "We give you to Earth, to a realm called America, and a place called Kansas. Remember us, but do not regret our passing. All is fate."

The point of light became the tiny ship, flying directly towards them, Lois still wrapped in Clark's arms as the interplanetary life raft grew larger in their field of view. It flew in front of them and then out of sight. Krypton hung there, for only a moment more, then flashed, leaving a green glow that faded into nothingness -- as though it had never been.

The light that surrounded them disappeared and they were left sitting on a blanket in a Colorado field.

Lois was the first to speak. "I'm still grateful to them for sending you to me. Now more than ever."

"Me, too." Clark buried his head in her hair for a moment. "That was harder than I thought it would be," he finally said, his voice muffled by her hair and choked with emotion.

"What was?"

"Seeing them die. I mean I knew intellectually that they had died when the planet exploded; Mom had told me that, but seeing it..." His voice broke. "I can see from here where I listened to my adopted parents' heartbeats fade out. And now... to see the planet that had my birth parents on it explode..."

Tears he didn't know he still had flowed from his eyes.

Lois turned in his arms and wrapped her arms around him. After all the comfort he'd offered her when her dad moved out, when her parents died and after putting aside her charges of infidelity based on miscommunications and misunderstandings to comfort and reassure her in the face of a near rape, the least she could do was try to be there for him.

She was still so fragile. Her heart was still surrounded by walls, but she'd married a man who was strong enough to break them down if she'd let him or fly over them if she wouldn't. More than she'd realized, he'd been there for her, comforting her when she needed it most, knowing that there was no way she would accept his actions if she knew, reassuring her subconscious that he would never leave and beginning to prove it to her in terms she could understand.

But if she could offer this man, likely the strongest ever seen on earth, some smidgeon of comfort in this place where he'd lost both sets of parents, it was the least she could do.

He began to shake and she shifted some more, pulling his head towards her and cradling him against her.

How long he wept in her arms, she didn't know, but, if he could promise he'd never leave her and mean it, she could hold him as long as it took.

***

Clark had never broken down like this before, not even when he'd listened to Martha and Jonathan Kent's heartbeats fade out. He hadn't known how deep his own scars went until the moment he saw Krypton, and his parents, explode before his very eyes.

He wept for his lost youth, his carefree days as a pre-teen and adolescent when the most he should have been worried about was his voice cracking or if the girl in math thought he was as cute as he thought she was or if he'd make the baseball team. Instead, he'd mourned the only parents he'd ever known and been left to cope with his emerging differences alone. He'd had friends -- including Lois via mail -- but no one he could confide in when he realized that not only could he hear things for miles and see through walls and start fires with his eyes -- all things that were theoretically controllable -- but that he would float in his sleep, something that could easily be noticed if anyone walked into his room at just the wrong moment.

There had been no one that he could turn to when fears of being dissected like a frog had permeated his dreams and, often, his waking moments. No one who would understand why he -- who was never sick and never missed an assignment -- was suddenly ill when it was time to do frog dissections in high school biology and refused to make up the assignment, leaving the only imperfection on his transcript.

And now... his early adulthood, should have been spent learning who he was as an adult. Learning his trade, having some fun and enjoying life in general before the true pressures of adulthood came crashing around him.

Then the first years spent with the woman he loved more than life should have been some of the happiest times of his life. Long dates learning about each other's likes and dislikes, fears and pet peeves, every aspect of their lives, the things that were never -- could never -- be said in letters. Learning the nuances of each others' voices, the expressions in each others' eyes, the language of each others' bodies, the feel of each others' lips. And then, when the time was right, a proposal worthy of the woman he loved; an engagement spent planning their wedding -- whether a small, simple affair in Smallville or a glamorous event in Metropolis' finest cathedral -- and their lives together; ultimately culminating in a joyous occasion full of family and friends. And then learning together the ultimate expression of love.

In short, learning to love.

Instead, his early adulthood had been spent with his soulmate, but full of the pressures of adulthood and parenthood that neither of them had been equipped to deal with. A time rife with misunderstandings and miscommunication and hurt feelings and feelings of betrayal and unworthiness and uncertainty. A time when weeks would go by without having anything resembling a real conversation with the one person so essential to his well-being. A time when he often wondered if they would have survived if he *hadn't* been different. If he'd needed as much sleep as a human man, which would have cut into the number of hours a week he could work, decreasing their income. If he needed to eat a regular meals and a well balanced diet, instead of whatever was offered at one of the school lunch spots or leftovers someone brought to the break room or sharing a pizza that had been messed up with his coworkers and thereby increasing their necessary food budget exponentially. If he wasn't Kryptonian, their income would have decreased and their expenses would have increased. Could they have handled that?

A time when he wondered if the life he and Lois had dreamed of in those early days would forever be out of their reach.

He didn't know how long it was before his tears were finally spent. He didn't know when or how but he found himself held by Lois, his head cradled in her arms, her hand stroking his hair gently. What had he done to deserve this woman? Out of all the women in the world, why was she the one for him? Tonight, of all nights -- when she had been so violated, she had put aside years of perceived betrayal; when she had just begun to accept that perhaps this really could work, that he wouldn't leave the minute he felt he could be free without breaking his promise to help take care of Lucy while she was in the system and get the two of them through college; when she'd only begun to come to terms with the abandonment by her parents in her early years. Tonight, she had put that aside and was comforting him instead of allowing him to comfort and care for her.

He became aware of wetness on his skin that couldn't have come from his own tears. Was it raining? No. Was she crying too? Yes. As he came back from the depths of his overwhelming emotions, he became aware of her gentle tears and her quiet voice.

"I'm here, Clark. I'm not leaving. We can do this together. We're stronger together than we are alone. I'm so sorry for ever doubting you. I'm sorry for not being there for you when you needed me. I *do* believe you; that you won't ever leave me; that you'd never cheat on me. I do believe that you love me like you've always said. I'm here, Clark..."

Over and over again.

His breathing slowly returned to normal and after long moments, he pulled back out of her embrace. "Thank you," he said quietly.

"That's what I'm here for," she responded.

He leaned on one arm and stretched his legs out then swiped at his face with his free hand. "I'm sorry, Lois. I don't know where that came from."

She reached out and touched his face. "Don't be sorry. Obviously, you've been holding in just as much as I have."

He moved his hand to cover hers, holding it in place. He closed his eyes, reveling momentarily in her gentle touch. "I don't know about that, but apparently I've had more bottled up inside than I realized." He pulled her hand from his face and -- for the first time -- intertwined her fingers with his own and covered it with his other hand. "I'm sorry it was tonight, though. The last thing you need is for me to break down on you."

She shook her head and shifted so that she sat closer to him in the angle created as he bent slightly at the waist, one of her thighs grazing his. She paused then rested her arm on his hip as she spoke. "No, tonight was the perfect time. I mean, I'd rather neither one of us have to deal with the things that we do, but tonight you were there for me and I was there for you. We've both bared our souls to a degree -- maybe not the details, but the realities that the wounds aren't scarred, but still open in so many ways. We've both been open and vulnerable. Now we can work together to deal with everything. With the abandonment by my parents, with your loss of two sets of parents who loved you at such a young age, with the attacks on us by others. We're stronger together, remember?"

He nodded. "We are." He freed one hand and reached out to brush a stray tear from her cheek. "I don't know what I did to deserve you, but I know it's nothing I've done in this lifetime."

Lois suddenly giggled.

"What?"

She immediately looked contrite. "I'm sorry. I just had visions of Maria and Captain Von Trapp in that gazebo in 'Sound of Music'. You know 'I must have done something good' and all that."

Clark groaned; surprised, but not necessarily displeased, with the sudden change of subject -- they needed a little bit of levity after the night they'd had. "Just don't ask me to sing. Please."

"Don't worry. I've heard your shower renditions of 'Believe It or Not' and 'Would You Like to Swing on a Star', remember?"

"What? You didn't like them?" he asked with mock indignation.

"Let's just say, you probably won't be up for a bathroom Grammy this year." She glanced around. "Besides this is more of a 'Hills Are Alive' setting."

He was amazed with the easy familiarity in which their linked hands were moving together, shifting from one way of intermingling their fingers to another. "I'm still not singing or holding my arms out and spinning around or anything." He reached his other hand out and tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "It's been entirely too long since I've heard you sing though. Not since the Blue Note."

She blushed as she ducked her head. "I'm nothing special."

He used a finger to lift her chin, looking straight in her eyes. "Lois Lane-Kent, there is no one in this world more special than you."

Tears glistened in her eyes momentarily. "Thank you," she said softly. "I meant my singing, but thank you."

He moved his arm to rest along hers, still resting on his hip and grinned at her. "Hey, the whole club thought you were great, not just me."

"They were just being polite."

"You're not going to believe me no matter how much I say it, are you?" Clark smiled at her so she'd know he wasn't completely serious or remotely hurt by it.

"Probably not. Not about that anyway." She took a deep breath and returned to an earlier topic. "I do believe you about Mayson though."

His expression turned abruptly serious to match hers. "There was never anything there, Lois. She was a friend, nothing more and probably a lot less, to be honest." He rubbed his thumb along the back of her hand. "The only time we ever really talked about anything more serious than a class or the weather was when she called before we left for Texas. She asked about Aunt Louise and I told her a little bit, but that's the most personal conversation we ever had."

Lois studied their hands, still connected, for a long minute. "Can I ask you something then?"

"Of course."

"How come you remember all of that? If she really meant nothing to you, how do you remember those conversations?"

He sighed. "Well, when she asked me to a movie that day and I told her I was married, I wondered if she'd really gotten the message that there could never be anything between us, but I made it as clear as I could. She never said anything to indicate that she still held out hope that something could -- I would have noticed and remembered and nipped it in the bud. She's mentioned dating several guys -- including Dan Scardino -- but nothing serious as far as I know. That day when she asked me out, I determined that I would never talk to her about us. Oh, I talked about you and Lucy both, but never anything about us or our relationship or anything like that. Things like school and work or the weather -- how I didn't like that you had to drive in the ice or something like that. I made sure that we never had any sort of serious personal conversation. But I also have that eidetic memory, remember?"

She nodded.

"I remember nearly everything so I can remember every conversation you and I have ever had, every word of every letter you sent me, everything Lucy said to Jimmy when she was talking on the phone a little too loud. But after Aunt Louise died, I realized that just never being alone in private with her probably wasn't enough, that being alone with her, even in the biggest crowd, on any kind of regular basis was too much. Most of the time someone from one of my classes or someone I knew from another semester or something was with us, but still I saw her more than you -- she was the constant -- if you weren't there, she was. But, that next week -- the day I walked you to class -- I had lunch with Joe and Les and told her before class that I was having lunch with some old friends and left it at that. I was surprised when she showed up. She was almost completely left out of the conversation. I did my best to make sure that there was always someone *you* knew with us after that -- either Joe and Les or Jimmy this past year or whatever but she always came with us. I never invited her to join us on Mondays and I never asked her to help with your Physics group, even though I think she did pretty well, and she never indicated that she wanted to."

"So basically, you're too polite for your own good?" Lois didn't look at him as she said it.

He sighed. "Probably. Jimmy said something along those lines too. I kept hoping she'd get the hint, because she's not into sports and stuff and that's what me and the guys usually end up talking about and Jimmy and I talk about all kinds of things that she seems to have little or no interest in -- photography or Perry and Alice or the Planet or Lucy and you or sports or whatever. Whether or not she hopes that you and I are going to split up someday, she's a nice person and I didn't want to be rude and just come out and tell her to get lost. I should have, but I didn't and I'm sorry for that." He looked her straight in the eyes. "You have no idea how sorry I am for that."

Lois took a deep breath before saying anything. "To be perfectly honest, if you had stopped having lunch with her or whatever, I probably would have thought that you'd taken it more underground or that you'd broken up and either there was someone else or you were looking for someone else. I'm sorry for not trusting you more and I'm sorry for not talking to you. Aunt Louise told me I should. I never told her anything but she was always sensing that something was wrong and told me that you and I needed to have a long talk or two if I wanted us to work. Alice said the same thing more than once, but I didn't listen to either one of them. I figured that they didn't know what was going on and that talking about it would only end things sooner and I couldn't support me and Lucy by myself."

"I'm so sorry."

"I know and so am I, but..." she took a deep breath. "...I think we need to move past that if we can and quit apologizing to each other -- know that we're both sorry, we're both forgiven and move on."

"I can do that if you can."

"I can."

"I'm glad."

After a moment, she asked quietly, "Where do we go from here, Clark?"

"What do you mean?"

"Us. Where do we go from here?"

He shrugged. "I don't know. I know I'm not going anywhere."

"I know, but over the last three years or so, since that night, we've become nothing more than roommates, maybe even less than that in many ways. If we want this to work, long term, we can't keep going the way we have been."

"One definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over expecting different results," he said quietly. "If we do want things to change, we have to do things differently."

"How?"

"We talk to each other for starters. Even if it's just for a few minutes a day. Something about ourselves -- not classes or the budget or work. Something that happened to us that day or a memory or a dream we have. We start to build a relationship the way we would have if we were just moving back towards each other after we'd been writing for years; like we would have if I'd just moved to Metropolis to interview at the Planet to impress you or something. Date. Talk. Learn about each other. In some ways, we're ahead of the game there. I know you like to sleep in flannel pajamas and you sleep better when it's cold. You can't stand having the toothpaste squeezed in the middle and were secretly relieved when you found out I preferred blue toothpaste instead of the green stuff you do so you wouldn't have to deal with me squeezing it wrong. You like chicken better than steak and cream soda is your favorite. You don't like 7Up but love Sprite. Stuff like that, but..." He shook his head sadly. "...things like hopes and dreams, beyond working at the Planet and winning all kinds of awards, not really. What happened in your past to make you, you. I want to know those things. I don't *want* to know them, but I want to know them if that makes sense."

She nodded and stared at the blanket between them. "I don't know if I can do that."

He waited patiently for her to continue.

"I mean, I want all of those things too, but the dating thing... I don't know if I can do that. I want to know more about you and all of that, but I just don't know if I can do the romantic relationship part of this whole thing yet. Even before tonight, I'm not sure I'm ready for that. I have a lot of things I need to work through before I can get to that point."

"I know." He was silent for a minute. "Can I ask you something without you thinking I mean to hurt you?"

She took a deep breath. "Okay."

"Why do you think Lucy and Jimmy can be in that kind of relationship when you're not ready?" He hurried on. "I don't mean anything bad by that or anything, I'm just curious. They're obviously very much in love and I know part of that is because neither one of them is in the position we have been -- teenagers trying to do the jobs of adults -- but why do you think that Lucy can give herself emotionally into that kind of relationship when you aren't ready to?"

Lois thought about that. "Maybe because she's the younger sister. I tried to shield her from as much as I could. She wasn't the one who Mom yelled at for spilling milk all over the kitchen or who cleaned up after Mom threw up all over the place or helped Mom get into bed. She wasn't the one who saw Dad kiss girlfriends goodbye from time to time or those kinds of things. And she's got a different personality too. I think she doesn't feel things quite as deeply maybe or has an ability to let things roll off her easier. I do know that she told Jimmy some of this before we ever met him -- that no matter what eventually happened between them, she needed him to promise he'd never just leave without talking to her because she has abandonment issues. She's told him most of it I think and I think that honesty is part of it. And time together, too. They've had time, mostly free of the pressures of adulthood and work and college and stuff. We haven't. *I* haven't."

"And she had you, too."

Lois looked at him puzzled.

"Both of your parents left you, repeatedly. I've gathered that much, so nothing in your past showed you that someone could stay. But Lucy... Lucy had you. You promised her you'd never be separated and you did whatever it took, including marrying me, to make sure that didn't happen. *You* never left her."

Lois thought about that for a minute. "Yeah, I guess that's possible."

He smiled warmly at her. "I know it is." He gently rubbed her arm. "As for us... we spend time getting to know each other. I can do that." He reached out again to tuck the strand of hair that had escaped back behind her ear. When he spoke, his voice was husky. "It's been way too long since I told you how beautiful you are."

She looked at the ground and blushed again.

He rested his hand along the side of her face, his fingers tangled in her hair, his thumb rubbing her cheekbone. "There's nothing I'd like more than to kiss you right now..."

She jerked back, her eyes wide as he continued.

"...but I know that you're not ready for that, not after what happened tonight and there's still no way I would ever push you for more than you're ready for."

She relaxed visibly. "I know and I'm sorry I pulled away like that."

"Nothing to apologize for. I know that what happened tonight will affect you, probably in unexpected ways, for who knows how long."

Tears welled up in her eyes one more time. "I hate that. I wish that I was ready for you to kiss me tonight. For a second there, I hoped you would, but..."

"I know. It's okay."

Her eyes flashed suddenly. "I want to take him down, Clark. Not only did he attack me, but now he's taken this from us, too."

Clark contemplated mentioning that they wouldn't be here like this if it hadn't been for the slimeball, but couldn't bring himself to even suggest there was a remote possibility that they should be anything resembling grateful. "I know. What do you think?"

Lois let go of his hand and stood, wrapping the robe back around her to combat the overnight chill. "Well, we need to talk to Perry. I don't think the Star would publish this, not with the relationship between Paul and Tony."

"We can't publish anywhere else while we work there though."

"I know, but we only have a couple weeks there until our contracts are up. We made sure they were up the same week, remember?"

He nodded. "But anything we're working on while we're there is Star property."

She sighed. "I know. Can we work on it secretly?"

"Perry might assign someone to it."

"No. This story is mine." She ran her hands through her hair. "We just won't tell anyone yet. Maybe Perry but that's it."

"Lucy knows what happened," he said quietly.

She stopped and stared at him. "I forgot that."

"She loves you, honey, and she won't tell anyone."

"I know."

"So what's the first step then?"

"I guess I probably need to file a formal complaint. It's probably too late to go to the police and there's probably not any evidence because he didn't succeed."

"We could still go to the police anyway so it's on the record. I'll tell what I saw and you tell what happened and let them investigate if they think there's enough evidence or whatever, but at least you've put it on the record so it's not just a verbal thing, you know? If you report a crime that wasn't actually committed, that's a crime in and of itself so it should lend at least some credibility to the claim. And we'll fly over and I'll at least glance in the newsroom to see if he's still there. If he is, we can call the police. If he's not then we know he left on his own, but we didn't *just* leave; we came back."

"Okay, so our first stop when we get home is the police substation on campus."

Clark shook his head. "I think we go to Bill Henderson. I've worked with him a couple of times and he's a stand up guy. There's too big a chance that the campus cops could be pressured by the University."

She nodded. "That makes sense. I've talked to him a couple of times and I know Jimmy's worked with him too. Perry speaks highly of him. So our first stop is Henderson's office."

"And I happen to know that he's working early mornings right now so we won't have to wait till later."

"Okay, then what?"

"You'll have to file a complaint with Dr. Snodgrass."

"Have I ever mentioned that I don't like him? I've interviewed him a couple of times for different things and he creeps me out."

"Do you think he'll sweep it under the rug?"

She thought about that for a minute as she continued to pace around the blanket. "I think it's highly possible, maybe even probable, that they'll ignore it or claim I'm making it up or something."

"Paul will deny it, of course."

"Or he'll try to turn it onto me." Lois wrapped her arms around herself. "He'll try to make it look like it was something I wanted and that you attacked him for something I wanted."

"It's possible."

She took a deep breath. "So we go see Henderson when we leave here and then, first thing in the morning, I go see Dr. Snodgrass."

"I'll go with you."

She shook her head. "No. This is something I have to do myself."

He frowned. "I don't like that idea."

"I'll tape it. I'll tape the conversation with Dr. Snodgrass and if he tries to cover it up, we have it on tape."

"It might not hold up in court."

"I know, but it would work for an article or even to get Henderson more involved, but I don't want to tell him that I'm doing it or that we think he'll cover it up. *I* want to do this and if the cops are involved, Dr. Snodgrass will give him a slap on the wrist or something just to make it look good and that's not going to cut it. He'll do it again."

Clark stood up and walked to where she was standing. He moved behind her and slowly, wrapped his arms around her, pulling her back to his chest. "We'll get him. I promise you, we'll get him."

***

Chapter 20

Lois sat nervously outside the Vice President's office.

"Mrs. Kent, please go on in."

Lois had been lost in thought and had apparently missed the Vice President buzzing his secretary. She was lucky to have been able to get in at all, but somehow she doubted he was completely unaware of what had transpired the night before.

She walked into the opulent office and her eyes narrowed. So this was what her tuition dollars were paying for. Well, would be paying for if she didn't have a scholarship.

"Mrs. Kent, please take a seat." Vice President Snodgrass gestured to one of the wingback chairs across from his desk. "What can I do for you today?"

"Last night, I was assaulted and nearly raped by Professor Paul Smith," Lois said baldly.

He raised an eyebrow. "That's a very serious allegation. He's a respected member of this university faculty and of the journalistic community."

"Nonetheless, it's true. He told me if I didn't have sex with him, I would flunk the newspaper and wouldn't graduate. When I still refused, he duct taped my hands and mouth, took most of my clothes off and was in the process of removing his pants when my husband broke into the conference room and stopped him. If Clark had been more than a minute or two later, he would have raped me." She held her hands in her lap, willing them not to shake as she spoke.

Vice President Snodgrass sat there, thoughtfully. "Do you have any proof of this? Did you call security or the police?"

Lois shook her head. "I just wanted out of there. I was badly shaken and Clark had to carry me home."

He thought for another minute. "Mrs. Kent, you should know that some very serious allegations have been made by Professor Paul Smith against you and your husband."

Lois' eyes narrowed as she looked at the Vice President of Student Affairs. She'd suspected something like this was going to happen. "What *exactly* is he saying?"

"That you attempted to seduce him. When he refused, you said you were going to accuse him of rape and that Mr. Kent then assaulted him."

"I guess the part about Clark assaulting him is technically correct, but that was only because Professor Smith was assaulting me. He *had* practically raped me by the time Clark got there."

He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Mrs. Kent. That's not how Professor Smith describes the situation."

"So it's his word against mine?"

"I'm afraid so. However, as I said earlier, Professor Smith is a well respected member of this university's faculty and an award winning journalist. I'm afraid in a contest of your reputation against his, he wins hands down."

"What about Clark? He was there."

"Your husband? Who I'm told has been cheating on you with another student for two years now? I'm afraid his reputation leaves quite a bit to be desired."

"My husband has *not* been having an affair. Wherever you got your information, it's wrong." She was grateful she and Clark had straightened that out the night before. She could only imagine what this conversation would have been like if she hadn't known the truth.

"Then he's spent an awful lot of time alone in the company of a woman who isn't you."

"He has *never* been alone with her, always in public, and I know all about their friendship. I'm glad he has friends besides me because of how hard I've had to work to graduate in three years instead of four. Besides, more often than not, another friend or two has been with them. No, Dr. Snodgrass, you'll have to find something better than that." Yes, she was glad he had friends. Yes, she loathed Mayson regardless, but it wouldn't do to let him know that.

"The fact remains that he has been seen often in the presence of another woman with whom everyone believes is having an affair. The truth of the matter, if it really is as you say, will likely not make a difference in determining the reliability of his testimony."

Lois glared at him. "I'll go to Perry White, editor of the Daily Planet. He'll believe me."

"Journalistic Integrity, Mrs. Kent. He's biased and everyone will know it." The man leaned forward in his seat, his elbows resting on his desk, hands clasped in front of him. "Professor Smith has agreed not to press any charges on a couple of conditions. You and Mr. Kent will be given passing grades in journalism and allowed to graduate next month. However, neither one of you will be allowed to have any contact with him in the future and you will have to sign a confidentiality agreement."

Lois' eyes narrowed. "So you're bribing us with degrees to keep us quiet?"

He shrugged. "That's not how I would describe it."

"How would you describe it, Dr. Snodgrass?"

"A way for you and your husband to get your degrees and avoid criminal charges at the same time."

"Sounds like a bribe, or even blackmail, to me."

"You can take it however you wish, Mrs. Kent, but that is not the intent of the university."

"You should know my husband and I did go to the police later in the evening and reported the assault."

"The campus police would have called me as would the Metropolis PD substation, if they had received such a report."

"We didn't go to campus police or the police substation."

He frowned at that. "Where did you go?"

"To an officer we know and trust. One with an impeccable reputation for honesty."

"Who?"

"At the moment, sir, that is none of your business."

"You really should have reported it in the district where the alleged assault occurred, Mrs. Kent. That is the way things are done."

"So you would have received a copy of the report before I got here?"

He shrugged. "Perhaps. They would have called me if there was an allegation of this sort and I do receive copies of those things, but when it would have arrived, I can't say."

"I see." She contemplated saying more, but stopped herself. "I believe this conversation is over, Dr. Snodgrass." She stood and left the office.

By the time she emerged into the outer office, she was unable to control the shaking. She reached into her pocket and clicked off her pocket tape recorder and headed towards the elevator.

A hand on her arm turned her.

"Mrs. Kent, I need to tell you something completely off the record." The Vice President's secretary looked around nervously.

"Yes?"

She handed a slip of paper to Lois. "You didn't get that from me and I didn't tell you this."

"Okay." Lois put the paper into her pocket without looking at it.

"There have been other allegations of sexual misconduct by Professor Smith in the past. Because of his value to the university, they've been swept under the rug, but those women can corroborate your story," she whispered and walked towards the bathroom.

Lois watched until she disappeared behind the swinging door then turned to step into the elevator that was now waiting.

***

Clark was livid. "They want us to sign confidentiality agreements?"

Lois nodded. "In exchange for Professor Smith not pressing charges, we get to graduate and sign confidentiality agreements."

"Gee -- that's generous. He almost rapes my wife and we should feel grateful he doesn't want to press charges." He sighed. "Sure sounds like a bribe to me."

"Me too, but Dr. Snodgrass said it wasn't."

"Did you get the tape?"

Lois nodded.

Clark sighed. "Let's hear it."

Lois pulled it out and pushed rewind.

"How long were you in there?" Clark asked as the tape continued to rewind.

Lois was puzzled. "Not that long. I didn't think there was anything else on this tape."

"Oh, guess who called while you were gone?"

"Who?"

"Tony."

Lois raised an eyebrow. "What did he want?"

"The Star is exercising their prerogative to cancel our contracts early."

A glint shown in Lois' eyes. "Good."

Clark raised a brow at her. "What?"

"Good. There's no reason for them to terminate our contracts unless Paul put them up to it. And if we don't work there, we can work with Perry."

Clark nodded. "Very good points."

The tape finally clicked to a stop and Lois pressed play.

Clark saw her face go white as Professor Smith's voice filled the air.

>>>"Does he satisfy you, Lois? Does he treat you the way a beautiful woman should be treated? Does he make love to you like a man in love should?"<<<

Tears were already streaming down her face as she struggled to hit the stop key.

"Is that what he said to you, Lois?" Clark voice was quiet and it was only for Lois' sake that he was able to squelch the rage he felt building deep in the pit of his stomach.

She nodded.

"Come here."

He reached for her pulling her into his arms, letting her cry, her tears drenching his shirt. He held her and rocked her gently until the sobs subsided.

"I have to listen to it, Clark. I have to know what's on there."

"I'll listen to it." He had no idea how he'd make it through without throwing it into the sun, but it was the only evidence they had against the creep. He'd do it for her though, so she wouldn't have to relive it.

"No. I have to face it. He's mine. I have to take him down and I have to listen to the tape to do that."

He nodded, understanding that on some level.

"Will you stay with me?" Her voice sounded small.

"Of course."

He reached for the tape recorder, keeping one arm securely around her. "Are you ready?"

She nodded.

He pushed play.

>>>"That's none of your business."

"I know. It's not, but I'm worried about you, Lois."

"Why?"

"Because the whole campus knows about him and that English major -- something Drake."

"What about him and Mayson?"

"That they've had a thing going on for years now. They've made you the laughingstock of the university, Lois."<<<

The whole campus knew they were having an affair? Of course, he realized that Lois no longer believed it, but everyone else did? Just from a few lunches and study sessions? Okay, a lot of lunches, but there was never any contact or intimate gestures between the two of them that should have led anyone to believe they were a couple. And virtually all of the one-on-ones had ended over a year ago and there hadn't been that many of them to start with. Had she put the rumor out there hoping it would get back to Lois?

>>>"They have?"

"They have, Lois. You're too beautiful to be treated like that. I love you, Lois. Let me show you how a man can really love you."

"No, Paul. I'm married. I don't care what you think about Clark and Mayson or anyone else, I'm not going to cheat on my husband."

"He never has to know, Lois. You're about to graduate. We can have a great couple of months together before you walk across that stage and then, when you're out in the world and your sister has moved out and Clark leaves you for Mayson or someone else, you'll remember that you know what a real relationship is like."<<<

This guy was good. He knew that Paul and Lois had gotten along well and that she'd helped him with editing and such. He must have picked up on Lois' fears and exploited them.

>>>"Paul..."

"Shhhh, Lois."

"Paul, please get away from me. I am not going to cheat on my husband."

"You do want to graduate, don't you?"<<<

He could hear the tone of the man's voice change.

>>>"What?"

"It would be a shame for you to fail your last semester on the paper, forcing you to wait until next spring to take this course again. Of course, since this is the only class you'll have left, you'll lose your scholarship. Flunking the class will do that too. By the time we get to spring, you still won't have a degree, no respectable paper will hire you, your sister will have moved out to go to college and Clark will have left you and the whole school will know that you tried to sleep with me to get an A. Everyone on the paper knows we work here alone at night sometimes. What do you think they think is going on?"<<<

No one who knew her would think Lois a fool. And Paul would be lucky if he lived to rue the day he'd crossed Lois Lane-Kent. He knew that Lois had worked late with him and it had never concerned him. He'd known Lois wouldn't cheat on him and the man was a well-respected professor. There was no reason to think there was anything going on.

Clark's eyes narrowed. Linda King had often made it a point to mention when she knew Paul and Lois had been working late. He'd thought it was to drive a wedge between the two of them- she'd been pretty flirty with him all along -- but maybe... could she have been... jealous? Was she one of the women who went along willingly with Paul? She wasn't half the writer Lois was, but she got a lot of the best assignments. Was that why?

The tape had continued while he was deep in thought.

>>>"It's not true."

"Truth doesn't matter, Lois. Perception does. You should know that by now. Everyone already perceives you a fool for letting your husband cheat on you right under your nose."

"I'll go public before you have a chance."

"No, you won't. No one will believe you. I'm a well respected member of the journalistic and academic community. I've written dozens of articles for the school paper and freelance around the world on sexual harassment and how to deal with it."<<<

Oh, he was slick. Lois was right. She wasn't the first one; he was too good for that. And he'd built up his own reputation so that anyone making accusations against him would have a hard time convincing anyone that they were true. And he picked someone he knew was vulnerable and who would be likely to keep quiet. That Dr. Snodgrass would be able to bribe with a degree and bully into a confidentiality agreement. There was probably another girl or two already in his pipeline. A freshman or sophomore, or junior or two. Or three.

>>>"Clark will believe me. Perry White will believe me."

"It doesn't matter. Even if the venerable editor of the Daily Planet believes you, no one else will. And the cheating husband? No one will believe him either."

"You're not going anywhere, Lois. Not until I get what I want."

"Clark." <<<

It was barely more than a whisper, but Clark knew that's what he had heard. He'd had an uncomfortable feeling for some time, that something was wrong, but it was nothing he'd been able to put his finger on.

And then he'd heard her say his name. Very quietly, but clear as day. He'd already been heading for campus but that had sent him running along the streets of Metropolis at something approaching normal speed. He'd listened to see if he heard anything else, but nothing came.

>>>"He'll never hear you, but just to be on the safe side..."<<<

The sound of ripping duct tape explained why.

>>>"Don't worry, my dear. I'll take it off when we're done. I made sure to wrap it around your sleeves so there won't be any marks."<<<

He'd continued hurrying towards campus, wondering why Lois hadn't called for him if something was wrong. She knew how good his hearing was -- they'd even tested it a few times in the early days of their marriage and he'd heard her scream from much farther than the distance from their apartment to campus. Surely if she was really in trouble, she would have screamed for him.

The paper. He'd realized that if she was still on campus, she'd most likely be working at the paper.

He heard her voice crying in his head -- 'Clark, where are you?' or something to that effect. It was all the push he'd needed.

He flew up the stairs to the newsroom, knowing, but not particularly caring, that there were no cameras around. He'd heard the sounds of a struggle coming from the conference room, though the blinds were drawn. In an instant, he was looking through the closed blinds. He'd seen Paul fumbling with his belt and Lois nearly naked already.

Without thinking, he'd kicked the door in, the door jamb splintering as he did so.

>>>"Get your hands off my wife."<<<

He heard his own voice on the tape for the first time and wondered why he was so shocked to hear the barely concealed rage.

>>>"Didn't you know she likes it rough, Kent?"

"I'm not someone you want to make mad, Paul. Let her go."<<<

He heard a grunting sound that he guessed was Lois throwing herself away from Paul and then a thud as he tackled the professor. Clark could have squashed him like a bug if he wanted to and for the first time in his life, he had been tempted to see just how strong he really was.

There was a sound like a gush of wind that he thought was him doing his best to put Lois' clothes back on her as quickly as possible and then muffled crying and he'd pulled Lois to him.

>>>"Shh. Lois. I'm here. He can't hurt you."<<<

The tape clicked to indicate that it had been turned off.

He pushed the stop button. "I'm sorry you had to listen to that, Lois," he whispered into her hair. "I'm sorry you had to live it. I'm sorry you had to hear those awful things. I'm sorry I didn't get there faster. I heard you call for me, but I didn't come as fast as I could have."

"You heard that?" The question was quiet.

"I did. And even before that I knew something was wrong but I couldn't put my finger on it. Lucy even commented that I seemed restless before I left. And then... it wasn't like when I use my hearing and could hear you like we tried years ago, it was more in my head. But I didn't fly, I ran at human speed. I could have been there two seconds after you called for me. I could have..." His voice broke.

"It's not your fault."

"I could have been there, literally, in no time. It's my fault and I'm so sorry."

Lois sat up and swiped at the tears on her cheeks. "It's not your fault, Clark. It's his. And he's going to pay for it. I'm not the first one and I'm sure I won't be the last if we don't stop him." She stood and started pacing, from the living room to the kitchen and back again. "The vice president's secretary gave me a list of names of other women. He's done this before and he'll do it again. The other students have been willing to sweep it under the rug, but I'm not. Even if I didn't have that tape as evidence, I wouldn't let him get away with it."

"I'm with you, a thousand percent, but this won't be easy."

"I know, but I can't let that creep get away with it."

"I know, Lois. Neither can I."

He stood and moved until he was in front of her, his hands resting lightly on her arms. "I had no idea the whole campus thought... you know. Heck, I didn't know you did until last night. And I know we said we weren't going to apologize anymore, but I'm sorry. I tried to make sure that there was nothing that could be used to insinuate those kinds of things but obviously I didn't do a good enough job." He tilted her face towards him. "There's never been anyone for me but you, Lois." He took a deep breath. "It's a Kryptonian thing, but the second you bumped into me at journalism camp, I knew I'd met the woman I was going to marry and spend my life with. Remember the letter from my mom about the message Jor-El gave to them?"

Lois nodded.

"One thing I never told you was that Kryptonians are telepathic..."

"You told me that."

"I know, but apparently part of being telepathic means *knowing* when you meet your life mate, soul mate, whatever you want to call it. I think it's how I heard you call me even though, based on the tape, there's no reason I should have. And I heard you in my head, too. As I went into the building. I heard you scream in my head, asking where I was. I was in the newsroom in like two seconds after that."

"I screamed in my head," she said quietly.

"My mom said that Jor-El told them that Kryptonians are telepathic with each other and that I wouldn't be telepathic with humans, but that I would probably be able to sense strong emotions from the people I'm close to."

"I remember that."

He was silent for a moment. "I didn't tell you then about knowing when you met the person you'd spend your life with -- well, Kryptonians anyway, because I was afraid it would freak you out and things were... oh, I'm not sure what the word I want is -- awkward or tentative or uncertain or whatever for us then and I didn't want to make it worse."

Lois thought about that. "To be honest, I'd probably have thought that you'd leave me when you found whoever it was you were supposed to be with, no matter what you'd said about it being me."

"That doesn't surprise me." Clark sighed. "So we have no jobs..."

"We have jobs, just not *jobs*."

Clark rolled his eyes. "Yeah, because papers and pizza delivery is going to pay the bills. And who's to say I'll even have my job delivering the Star before long? We have no real jobs and a story to tell. So what do we do?"

"Call Perry, then call Henderson."

"That's a good plan." He stood up. "But let's go see Perry instead."

Lois nodded. "That sounds better. Let's go."

***

Chapter 21

Clark held Lois' hand in his own as they stepped off the elevator and on to the newsroom floor. Though good friends with Perry, they were rarely here at this time of day and didn't know many of the newsroom employees. In fact, they should have been in class even at this point, but today there were more important things going on.

The newsroom was quiet. It was still fairly early and they noticed a large gathering of people in one of the conference rooms.

"Can I help you?" a young woman with bright red hair and a stack of file folders asked.

"We're here to see Perry White," Clark answered.

"Is he expecting you?"

Clark shook his head. "No."

She got an uneasy look on her face. "Well, Mr. White is very busy today, if he's not expecting you, he might have a hard time working you in."

Clark's face was grim. "He'll see us."

"Well, he's in a meeting right now, but if you'd like to have a seat over by his office, I'll let him know you're here when he's done."

Lois looked around. "Where's Jimmy's desk? I'd like to write a couple things down before we see Perry."

"You know Jimmy?" the red head asked suspiciously.

"He's my little sister's boyfriend."

"You're Lucy's sister?"

Lois nodded. "You know her?"

The suspicion cleared. "I've met her a few times. Come on, I'll show you where his desk is."

They followed her to a desk with Jimmy's name plate on it and Lois dug around in the drawers until she found a yellow note pad and a pen. She sat in his chair and wrote quickly. Clark pulled a chair up next to her, reading over her shoulder, before he pulled another notepad out and started making his own list of things they needed to do.

Ten minutes later a wave of people exited the conference room. Intent on what they were doing, the young couple barely noticed.

A deep voice interrupted their trains of thought. "Now, far be it from me to know how to run a newsroom, but I'm not sure I like two of the up and comers for the Star sitting at the desk of one of my researchers." The twinkle in his eye and the tone of his voice belied the words. Perry's smile dimmed when neither one of his young friends respond as he would have expected. "What's going on, kids?"

"Can we see you in your office, Perry?" Clark asked.

"Of course. Come on." He led them to the editor-in-chief's glassed-in corner office and shut the door behind them. He motioned to the couch. "Have a seat." He moved behind his desk. "Now, what's going on? Shouldn't you two be in class?"

Lois nodded. "Something happened last night." She paused, unsure of how to continue.

"Is Lucy okay?"

"Oh, yeah, she's fine." She glanced at Clark who reached over and took her hand.

"Do you want me to?" he asked her softly.

She shook her head. "If I can't tell Perry, how can I ever tell anyone else?"

Clark nodded.

"Tell me what, darlin'?"

"Paul Smith assaulted me last night."

"*What*?!" The glass in the windows reverberated with the exclamation.

Lois nodded. "I was working late and he called me into the conference room to look at a layout, but there wasn't a layout and he locked the door. He propositioned me and when I told him I was a married woman and I wasn't about to cheat on my husband, he told me that he would keep me from graduating and that Clark would leave me for another woman and that I'd never get a job and stuff like that. Then he..." she took a deep breath, pausing long enough to will the tears back into the depths behind her eyes. "...grabbed my wrists and started to undress me. When I fought back, he duct taped my wrists and mouth and had me on the floor under him nearly naked. Then Clark came in and saved me."

Perry let out a long, low whistle. "Are you okay, Lois?"

She nodded. "Physically I am, but I'm mad as hell. It's not the first time he's done it and I'm sure it won't be the last, but he picked me for a reason."

"What do you mean?"

She took another breath, grateful for Clark's hand in her own. "He knew that Clark and I weren't as close as we should be and, I guess, there's a rumor flying around campus that Clark's been having an affair with a woman named Mayson Drake for two years. I knew about it, but Clark didn't and it's not true but that doesn't matter. I've worked late alone with Paul on a fairly regular basis. Other students have worked late alone with him -- including other girls -- but I'm the only married one."

Perry tapped his pencil against his desk. "I'm glad you got there in time, Clark."

"You're not the only one, Perry," Clark answered seriously.

The editor sat for a minute. "I love you kids, you know that, but what is it you want me to do? Do you want me to assign the story to someone, or what is it you need me to do?"

"We want to do it."

He raised a brow. "Okay..."

"There's more," Clark continued. "We went to Colorado last night and talked for a long time and cleared the air between us about a lot of things that have been building for a long time, but most of that's not really relevant. When we came back, we flew over campus and I looked to make sure he was okay. He wasn't there anymore, and we went to see Bill Henderson and filed a report..."

Perry whistled again. "One of my reporters said something about a report of something to do with one of the professors at UNT Met, but I had no idea this is what it was. The whole thing was so far under wraps; Eduardo had nothing more than that."

"Well, now you know. Lois went to see Dr. Snodgrass this morning. He offered us diplomas in exchange for a confidentiality agreement and Paul wouldn't press charges against us."

"What would Paul press charges for?"

"He said that Lois came on to him and threatened to charge him with rape when he didn't sleep with her and that I assaulted him in the middle of something consensual. And while Lois was there, Tony from the Star called me and told me our contracts were being terminated early."

Perry leaned back in his chair. "This sounds like a cover-up if I ever heard of one, but can we prove it?"

Lois pulled the tape recorder out of her purse and hit play.

>>>"Does he satisfy you, Lois? Does he treat you the way a beautiful woman should be treated? Does he make love to you like a man in love should?"<<<

Perry's eyes went wide.

She clicked stop. "This was in my pocket and turned on near the beginning; I bumped it again after Clark got there. I recorded my conversation with Dr. Snodgrass, but didn't know this was on there until this morning. I know it's probably inadmissible as evidence, but..."

"You got the whole thing on tape?"

Lois nodded. "We listened to it a little while ago and it's all on there."

"And you two don't work for the Star anymore?"

Clark shook his head. "We're both unemployed at the moment."

"Not anymore. I'll take care of it -- even if it's officially something like research for the next few weeks until my college kids leave."

"Thanks, Perry."

"Now, I know you two want to do this..."

"One more thing. Dr. Snodgrass' secretary gave me a list of students who had the same thing happen to them, but I didn't get it from her, you know?"

"When you two stumble on to something, it's something big isn't it?" He shook his head. "You said you weren't the first, but I never would have guessed that the university would sweep it under the rug." He thought for a minute. "Okay, here's the deal. I'll get you two on here somehow, but I want you to work with Eduardo on this."

Lois opened her mouth to protest, but Perry held up his hand.

"I know you want to do it yourself, darlin', but you don't have the experience yet to take this on yourselves. This is potentially a huge story -- sexual misconduct by one of the most respected professors on campus and being protected by the Vice-President of Student Affairs *and* collusion with the Star? I don't remember the last time we had a story remotely like this, and for your sake as well as the sake of the paper, I need you two to work with someone with a lot more experience on this. Eduardo's a good reporter. He's no Norcross or Judd, but he's solid." He thought for another minute. "I think I'll put Cat on this with you too. I know this isn't her usual beat, but she has a way with women -- getting them to open up to her." He stood and walked to the door. Poking his head out, he used his editor voice. "*Friaz*! *Grant*! My office. Now." When the two senior reporters entered and the door was again closed, he introduced them to Lois and Clark. "Eduardo, you know that story about the university you mentioned this morning?"

"What about it?" he asked.

He pointed to Lois. "There's your source. Lois is the one who filed the report. I want you two to work with them on this. Based on what they just told me, this is huge and Cat, you're going to need to use your best persuasive skills to get some of the young women involved to open up to you. Henderson is the officer of record at this point and you've both worked with him before. Lois and Clark were also released from their contracts with the Star this morning, so they'll be working with you." He looked at them. "However, I also realize that the two of you are skipping class to be here today aren't you?"

They nodded guiltily.

"Well, since you're already here, I won't give you a hard time about it today, but," he looked at them sternly. "There's only three weeks until the semester's over and if the two of you don't pass and graduate, then you'll both be out of jobs. No more skipping class, you hear me?"

They nodded again.

"Okay -- the four of you go into the conference room at get to work. Call Henderson and give him a *copy* of that tape. We don't want to withhold evidence from him."

"Don't we need to give him the original, Perry?" Cat Grant asked him.

Perry sighed. "Probably, but make sure we have a copy of it."

***

Two hours later, the red head, who Lois and Clark now knew to be Tina, brought them lunch. They'd made quite a bit of progress tracking down some of the women on the list Lois had been given and had left a message for Henderson to come see them as soon as he could, but that wasn't supposed to be until early evening. In the meantime, Clark had asked Tom to cover his route for him that morning and afternoon, saying only that there was a family emergency.

Clark leaned back in one of the seats. "I wonder..."

"What?" Eduardo was impressed with the two and was looking forward to working with them.

"Linda King."

Lois groaned. "What about her?"

"The day you found those pictures -- the ones that made you think I was having an affair with Mayson -- she said the oddest thing to me. What happened on campus?"

Lois thought for a minute, uncertain about sharing such personal things with their two new coworkers, but knew that eventually, she'd have to share it with the world at large. "Well, you came in and took the one picture to give to Mayson. I flipped through the rest and found the one of the two of you eating and the one of the two of you when your Poli Sci class had been canceled. Everything came rushing back to me -- how my dad had cheated on my mom and how some of your behaviors were like my dad's and I just knew that you were sleeping with her. I threw up in the conference room. Paul came in and sent me home. I took the stack of pictures with me. Linda wasn't there at all. Why?"

"She said something to me when I was leaving the Star. She got there as I was heading to deliver pizzas. She said that you'd gone home sick and if I needed someone to keep me company to let her know. I brushed it off at the time but she said it kinda flirty. She knew we were married and had never acted like that before. She's said other things since then that..."

"Like what?" Cat asked.

He shook his head. "I can't quite put my finger on it, but she always knew when you'd worked late with Paul. And she always mentioned it to me and there was a hint of... jealousy maybe. When I thought about it, I thought maybe she wished I was available, but now...

"You think that she wanted Paul?" This came from Eduardo.

Clark shrugged. "It's possible. She's gotten good stories over the years, but she's not a great writer. She's not bad, but there are several people on the campus paper better than she is. I wonder if Paul isn't only after the students he can't have -- like Lois."

"You mean she was sleeping with him this whole time?" Cat asked.

He shrugged again. "It's possible. Or if not the whole time, at least part of it. I have a hard time believing that he'd only go after the women he couldn't have. If there's six names on that list, plus Lois, there's probably two or even three times or more that who *could* complain and probably even more who were in a more or less consensual relationship with him."

Eduardo nodded. "You're probably right."

A knock on the conference room door startled them.

"I was told you wanted to see me." Henderson walked into the room. "I don't make office calls for just anyone, so this better be good." He glanced at Lois. "What're you two doing here?"

"Working on this with Eduardo and Cat."

Henderson's eyes narrowed. "I'm not sure I like the sound of that."

Cat palmed the mini-tape from the recorder and said she needed to go to the restroom and would be back in a few minutes.

Lois and Clark shared a look. They hadn't copied it yet and Cat knew if they turned it over, they'd never get it back. That's what she was going to do.

Henderson sat down, notebook in front of him and began asking more questions. Lois and Clark filled him in on what else had happened, including Dr. Snodgrass' annoyance that they hadn't gone to the campus substation. He filed that away for future reference. A few minutes later, Cat walked back in and nodded at Lois.

"It gets better," Lois insisted.

"How so?" he asked.

"We have proof."

He raised an eyebrow. "What kind of proof? And why didn't you give it to me this morning?"

"We didn't know about it this morning but..."

Cat handed him the cassette. "Here. Lois had the recorder in her pocket last night and didn't realize it had turned on. The whole thing is on tape. She also recorded Dr. Snodgrass this morning when they realized that they were afraid he'd try something like he did."

He looked at Lois. "Is that true?"

"Yes, sir. I honestly didn't know that it was turned on last night until we went to listen to the tape from this morning. Clark listened to it with me and it's all on there, including the part where Clark tackled him."

He glanced around. "I assume this is the original."

"It sure is," Cat said.

"I'm not going to ask if you have a copy, but if you do, don't print any of it without my okay, got it?"

They nodded.

"I'm serious. If you want to do more than just humiliate these clowns, we have to do it right. You don't want to jeopardize a court case."

"I know, Henderson," Lois said quietly. "I want him to pay for what he did to me and what he did to others. We won't ruin it."

***

Lois flopped down on the bed when they finally made it home.

"Are you hungry?" Clark sat next to her.

"I'm tired." She punctuated the statement with a large yawn.

"Well, you've been up since yesterday morning. It's not surprising that you're tired. Why don't you go take a shower and I'll make something to eat and *then* you can get some sleep."

She nodded. "Okay. I really could use some food. That sandwich at lunch really didn't do it for me."

"Me either. Garlic chicken pasta sound good?"

She nodded. "Yeah, that sounds great." She made no move to get up.

"Here." Clark held his hand out to her.

She grasped it and let him help her up. "Thanks." She moved to the dresser and gathered together some clothes and headed for the bathroom.

Clark moved into the kitchen and started dinner. They'd had a productive day, overall. Cat had managed to get a copy of the tape and they'd listened to the part with Dr. Snodgrass. Both Eduardo and Cat had understood Lois' reluctance to listen to the rest again before absolutely necessary. They'd begun to track down the other women on the list, though they hadn't made contact with them yet.

The front door opened and Lucy ran in.

"Hey! I'm only here for a minute. I have to pick up a couple things I forgot this morning and be back at school before long." She stopped to look at him. "How's Lois?"

Clark sighed. "A lot's happened between the time you went to bed and now. I'll tell you about it another time, but she seems to be doing okay. We spent most of the day at the Planet working with a couple of reporters there on it."

Lucy looked puzzled. "The Planet? The Star let you?"

Clark shook his head. "They let us both go this morning."

"What?!"

"It's part of the whole deal. We'll talk soon, but you better get going."

Lucy ran up the stairs to her loft and returned quickly. She glanced at the clock. "I have a couple minutes before I *have* to leave. Tell me what happened."

Clark told her in as few words as possible what had transpired -- leaving out much of what happened in Colorado; that was personal, only between him and Lois.

Lucy whistled. "Wow. If there's anything I can do, let me know. Please."

"Jimmy's helping already, but that's because it's his job. I don't know what you might be able to do, but if anything comes up, I'll let you know." He paused. "Be there for Lois. I'm sure that goes without saying, but there might be times she's more comfortable talking to you than she is to me."

Lucy nodded. "I will. I'm here if she needs me." She glanced at the clock. "But now, I have to get moving. The Relay for Life group is meeting in about forty minutes and it's going to take at least thirty to get there so..."

Clark turned from where he'd been working on dinner. "Go. We'll see you tomorrow. We're both taking the weekend off from everything except this, and I'm not sure how much we'll be able to do this weekend, so we'll be here."

Lucy nodded. "I'll see you sometime tomorrow. Sleep in if you guys can. I know you didn't get back until late last night. I'll be quiet when I get here."

"We didn't get back until morning. Neither of us slept at all."

"Even more reason to sleep in. Close the blinds and hang a blanket over that window or something so the light won't wake you up in the morning."

"That's a good idea. Now, go walk."

"Gone."

Lucy left and Clark turned back to dinner. A few minutes later, Lois joined him. She sat at the table and looked at him contemplatively.

"What? Do I have sauce on my shirt?"

She shook her head. "I never said thank you."

"For what?"

"Last night." She plucked at the long sleeve pajama shirt she was wearing. "I know how much spending money you have and I know how much all of this must have cost, so thank you."

Clark smiled at her. "It was my pleasure. It was the least I could do. I know you've needed some new pajamas and stuff and I thought you'd rather have some new stuff last night."

"You thought right." She stared at the floor for a minute. "I'm sorry I thought you had some ulterior motive."

"It's over, remember?"

"Yeah. But still, you must have been saving up for something to have this kind of cash."

"I was."

"Do you mind if I ask what?"

He smiled again. "Our first date."

"What?"

"Remember -- after graduation, I was going to take you on our first official date."

She nodded. "I remember. I just didn't think you did."

"We talked about it last night, remember?"

She thought for a second and then nodded. "My brain isn't functioning at its full capacity right now, but you're right. We did."

"I don't think a day's gone by that I haven't thought about it at least once."

"Wow." She thought for a minute. "Where were you going to take me?"

He stirred the sauce then tasted it. Nodding to himself, he poured it over the chicken and pasta already in the baking dish. After sprinkling shredded parmesan over it, he put it in the oven. He leaned against the counter, one ankle crossed over the other, arms folded on his chest and looked at her. "Well, part of it depended on how much I'd managed to save up. I wanted to take you to the Blue Note, but... I'm sure my tux won't fit me anymore and I don't know if that dress would fit you or not -- you're a little smaller than you were then -- and it's probably way out of style by now. Not that I know much about style but... Anyway, I don't have enough squirreled away to get us new clothes *and* take us to the Blue Note. So... I don't know. I promised Jimmy and Lucy I'd fly them wherever they wanted to go for dinner after her graduation and she asked if we could come too, but that wouldn't really be a date for just the two of us."

Lois nodded. "That's something else I never thanked you for."

"What?"

"Talking to them about... you know." She made a vague gesture towards their room.

"You know about that?"

"Yeah. I asked her about it on her birthday a couple years ago and she said that you'd pulled both of them aside after they'd been dating a few months and talked to them."

"I meant to mention it to you but..." He shrugged. "We weren't exactly having deep conversations on a regular basis."

"I know," she said quietly. "That's my fault and I'm..."

He moved and held a finger to her lips. "No more, remember?"

She nodded. "I won't say it, but thank you anyway."

"Part of my job."

She played with the edge of the tablecloth. "It should have been my job. *I'm* her sister."

"We're both her guardians. Or we were anyway."

"Still..." She refused to look at him as she spoke again. "Do you think they have?"

Clark shrugged. "I don't know. I don't think so. When I talked to them, I strongly encouraged them to wait at least until after high school. I was afraid that they wouldn't last that long or that after Jimmy graduated and moved on to college, they'd grow apart. And I didn't want them to rush into something they might regret. But she turned eighteen last summer... it's not really our place anymore."

"Not legally, but she's still my little sister."

"Mine, too."

Lois suddenly giggled as a memory flitted through her mind. "You should have seen the look on your face the first year we decorated for Christmas. When Jimmy hung up that mistletoe... I was sure the next words out of your mouth would be something like 'not while you're under my roof, young lady'." Her tone deepened to mimic his.

Clark laughed. "The thought did cross my mind, but it sounded so cliched." He grew serious again. "Jimmy's never said anything to me. He's my best friend and I see him almost every day, but... since I'm also Lucy's brother-in-law, I don't know that he would say anything to me about it. At the same time, he's said things a couple of times like how fortunate we were that we *didn't* date for years because we didn't have to worry about how hard it would be to wait. He didn't say if he meant waiting until they got married, or until Lucy was eighteen or out of school, or just until the time was right."

"I think Lucy expected us to camp out under that mistletoe," Lois said quietly.

Clark stared at the floor. "The thought's crossed my mind more than once -- what she thinks about... us."

"It's none of her business what's going on between us."

"I know, but someday, she's probably going to come to you for advice. Either because things aren't going as they'd hoped in that area or because it's finally about to happen or whatever."

Lois sighed. "Probably. Can we move to Europe so she can't reach me?"

Clark laughed. "I don't think that's the answer. Besides, she's moving out soon."

Lois' head snapped up. "What?"

"She told me last night. She got on at that camp and she's going to live on campus next year -- said we don't need her hanging around anymore -- and wanted to know if you would let her use some of the inheritance money for room fees since her tuition is covered."

"That's fine with me, as long as the lawyer okays it."

"Not just the lawyer. You get control of the money in December."

"That's right."

"*And* we should get some of our inheritance from Aunt Louise in the next month or so." He smiled at her. "Maybe I can take you to the Blue Note after all. I *will* tell you that as soon as we get it, almost all of our wardrobes are either going in the trash or to the thrift store and we're going shopping."

"What?"

"When was the last time you bought something *new*? And I don't mean a six-pack of socks at Cost Mart."

Lois shrugged. "It's been a while."

"Exactly. You still wear the same pajamas you wore on our honeymoon and, until last night, didn't have any new ones. And that's just a for instance. Your jeans are the same ones you had in high school. So are most of your shirts. The only things you've really bought in the three and a half years we've been married are some used business attire for the Star. I'm not saying let's buy out Rodeo Drive, but we could both use a new wardrobe -- and so could Lucy." He eyed her. "And you know, a bunch of my clothes have disappeared over the years. You wouldn't know anything about that would you?" His eyes twinkled.

Lois blushed. "So maybe I 'borrowed' a few of your shirts." She saw his raised brow. "And maybe a pair of sweat shorts or two, but those shirts wouldn't fit you anymore anyway."

"What makes you say that?"

"I might have been stupid the last three and a half years, Clark, but I'm not blind. I know you're bigger than you were when we got married." She didn't look at him as she spoke. "You have a very nice build -- that's one of the reasons why it was so easy to believe there were other women after you. Heck, Lana and Rachel were after you in high school and you weren't built like you are now."

Clark groaned. "Rachel wasn't after me. How many times do I have to tell you that?"

"But Lana was," Lois pointed out.

"Lana was after me when we were four. My 'build' had nothing to do with it."

"Well, when you got older, I'm sure it didn't hurt."

Clark groaned and put his face in his hands, muttering as he did so. Then he leaned back in his seat and regarded her contemplatively.

"What?"

"My mom always thought I'd marry a brunette. Lana didn't have a chance."

Lois cocked an eyebrow at him.

"In the letter she left me for my first date, she said she couldn't think of any girl in Smallville that she wanted me to end up with and in the wedding letter she said that, in her mind's eye, she could picture me and my bride on our wedding day and she pictured a brunette."

"I bet it wasn't anything like the picture in her head," Lois said softly.

"No," he answered slowly. "But she also said that the location and the clothes didn't matter, but that I was marrying my best friend and that was the most important thing." He reached out with one hand and gently caressed her face. "And I did. You know that, right? I married my best friend and, despite the problems we've had and the struggles we've faced, there's nowhere -- *nowhere* -- else I'd rather be."

***

Chapter 22

Lois sat straight up in bed, sweat pouring off of her. She stared, unseeing, straight ahead, her breathing rapid and shallow. The image of his face, so clearly above her was only slowly fading into the night.

A soothing voice finally began to seep into her consciousness.

"Lois. Honey, I'm here. He can't hurt you. I'm right here. It's just me, Clark. Come on, let him fade. He's not here; he can't hurt you."

Slowly, her respiration slowed and she turned to seek comfort in the arms of her husband. Tears flowed again as she was cradled against him, held safely in his strong arms. Clark had been leaning on one elbow, afraid to reach out to touch her for fear of scaring her. She could see that in his eyes as she turned and lay down next to him, safe in his embrace.

One hand gently rubbed her shoulder, while the other caressed her back. His touch was gentle, comforting, without demanding anything from her.

As her tears slowed and her breathing returned to normal, she finally found her voice. "I'm sorry," she said softly.

"Nothing to be sorry for." He pressed a light kiss into her hair. "Do you want to talk about it?"

She shrugged. "I could just see his face over me, laughing at me. He was telling me that you were leaving me for Mayson and he was going to keep me." Her voice caught as she finished.

"Oh, honey. I'm not going to leave you for anyone and he's going to go down for what he did to you."

"I'm starting to know that, but dreams aren't rational, especially nightmares."

"I know." They laid there for another minute. "Do you want me to make you some tea or something? A cup of hot chocolate?"

She shook her head. "Just hold me."

"Always."

***

For long hours, Clark kept his vigil. He'd managed a few hours of sleep before Lois awoke screaming. He didn't think she even realized that she had been, but it was long minutes before she stopped and let him take her into his arms. Since then, he had remained awake, keeping her safe in his arms.

It was the early morning hours when Lucy crept in after her all night Relay for Life walk. He'd spoken to her in a quiet voice, telling her that Lois had had a nightmare and had woken up screaming, wanting to warn her of the possibility of it happening again. Lucy nodded, and after spending a few minutes in the bathroom, went up to go to bed herself.

It was late morning before Lois awoke out of her finally uneventful slumber. Clark had stayed with her the whole time, even though he was incredibly restless after hours upon hours of standing guard. Or laying guard. Whichever. He'd dozed a time or two but never slept deeply. When he was awake his fertile mind imagined a number of slow and excruciatingly painful deaths for the... thing who had attacked his wife in such a brutal manner.

He could... roast him over an open fire and baste him in crude oil. While wearing polyester.

Fly him to outer space and see how long it took him to implode. Or explode. Whichever.

When he'd finally hit the fourth drawn and quartered scenario that he found to be entirely too genteel, he decided to try something else. He wasn't a sadist, really. But the thought of Paul spending a number of years in prison for what he'd almost done to Lois -- and what he'd surely done to others -- just didn't cut it.

Lois had told Lucy stories. He remembered that -- about fairy princesses, among other things. Could he make up stories like that? His stories as a kid tended to revolve around cowboys and Indians or, before he was eight or so, fighting off alien invaders. Even after he found out he was from Krypton, the occasional little green man put in an appearance. In high school -- well, after he met Lois -- they tended to revolve around the damsel in distress saved by a shining knight riding off into the sunset on a white horse together -- after working together to defeat the little green men, of course.

So what kind of story could he come up with now? Action/adventure with a splash of romance. Sounded good.

He closed his eyes and found himself instead thinking of fairy princesses. It surprised him. What kind of adventures did those fairy princesses have? What kind of fairy princes came to save them?

He shook his head slightly. He was a *man*, for crying out loud. He wasn't supposed to be daydreaming stories about fairy princesses.

Back to the action adventure thing.

Lois had chosen that moment to stir, coming slowly to wakefulness.

"Hey," he said softly. "How're you feeling?"

She slowly sat up and rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. "Better, I think."

"Good." He glanced at the clock. "I think you got about seven or eight hours of sleep since..." he trailed off.

"Since the nightmare?"

He nodded. "Yeah. Are you hungry?"

"Yeah. That pasta was a long time ago."

"Pancakes? With bacon and eggs?"

"That sounds good."

"Lucy's asleep upstairs. Do you want to take a shower or...?"

She shook her head. "No. Think I'll just watch you make breakfast."

He smiled and swung his feet over the side of the bed. "Sounds like a plan." He headed towards the kitchen.

"Clark?"

He stopped and turned to look at her. "Yeah?"

"Thank you," she said softly.

He smiled. "It's what I'm here for."

***

Clark pulled his text for his American Presidency course out of his backpack. He'd tried studying Thursday night, but his uneasiness had prevented him from accomplishing much. Friday had been spent pacing while Lois was on campus, then at the Planet, then catching up on some much needed sleep.

His Advanced Newspaper Reporting notebook was the next thing to come out. Something fell out with it. The letter sized envelope had his name on the front. He turned it over in his hands.

Lois looked up from her book. "What's that?"

He shrugged. "No idea. It's got my name on it, but I don't recognize the handwriting." He slipped his finger under the flap and ripped it open. He scanned the page and he felt the color leave his face as he did. "Oh..."

"What?"

He folded it, then held it in his hands and stared at it. "We got a lot of things out in the open the other night right?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"There's a total of four times since we got married that I can think of that I intentionally misled you about something. First, not telling you about the whole Kryptonian powers thing."

"Right."

"The second was not telling you about the soul mates, Kryptonian telepathic thing in my mom's letter."

"Right."

He ran a hand over his face and could tell Lois was starting to get a bit scared.

"The other two were when Aunt Louise died last year."

She put her pen down, knowing these were things that she had no idea about.

He stared at his hands. "When Aunt Louise told you in her letter to tell me that she was still right, I wasn't completely honest with you about what she meant."

He saw a tear streak down her face.

"What she was talking about was something she told me the day we got married. After you got in the car before we left for the hotel, she gave me a hug and said that someday you'd love me like I loved you; that we'd make it out of the platonic part of our marriage and on to a better place. That you'd wear whatever it is that she gave you, and I'd know."

She nodded.

"The other thing was what Jor-El said to me after the message we both saw. I told you he said that they loved me and they were proud of me, which he did. But he also said that he could tell there was a great weight on my shoulders and a great sadness in my life, but that together we could get through it." He looked her straight in the eye. "I swear to you those are the only things I've ever misled you about."

She nodded again, and he could see the tears threatening to overwhelm her.

"Here." He handed the piece of paper to her.

***

Lois slowly unfolded the piece of paper, wondering what on earth it could be and why it made Clark confess to the two other times he'd misled her over the years. As he spoke, the fear had welled up inside of her, but as he revealed the two things, she understood why he'd kept them from her. They would have only freaked her out and made her run scared if he'd told her last year. If that was all it was, she could live with it, but what was this?

She began to read it aloud. "'Dear Clark, This is the hardest thing I've ever done and I hope that it turns out well.'" She refused to let herself read ahead, not even glancing to the bottom to see who it was from. "'When we met two years ago, I thought you were too good to be true. You care deeply for those around you and that is one of the things I admire most about you. You moved across the country to marry a girl you hardly knew to take care of her and her sister when it was probably unnecessary to keep them out of the 'system'. You've sacrificed your life for the last three and a half years for something that wasn't necessary.'

"'You are a good and decent man, and from the things you've said and not said I can tell that you're not happy in your marriage. You made a promise to help until your sister-in-law was out of foster care and she finished high school and until college was over. That time has come. From everything you've said and not said I know that she doesn't love you.'

"'Not like I do.'"

Lois' voice broke. "'There I said it. I love you, Clark. I think I always have. And I know she doesn't. Don't ask me how I know that, but I do. You've never said anything about your plans beyond college just that it depended on some things. I've always gotten the impression that it depended on whether or not she leaves you. That alone should tell you something.'

"'But the thing is that I love you and I would be happy to have you in my life. I would never make you wonder where you stood with me.'

"'I'm not going to be at school on Friday, but if there is any chance for us, I'll be in my room Saturday and Sunday nights after six waiting for you. Love, Mayson.'"

She folded the letter and set it on the coffee table.

"I swear, I had no clue," Clark said quietly. "She asked me out like three days after I met her and I told her I was married and could be nothing more than her friend. She's had at least four or five boyfriends since then. She's never given me any indication that she wanted something more." He looked at her. "I promise. We've never been alone together, ever. We've always been in public and most of the time someone else has been with us. Since Aunt Louise died, it almost always has been someone you know. This year, I've eaten with Jimmy nearly every day that I wasn't with you, and with Joe or Les or both or all of them the rest of the time. I've never seen her outside of class or lunch, except that day our class was canceled. I don't know why she thinks I'm not happy or that you don't love me. The only thing I can think of is that I never really talked much about you at all -- sticking to school or sports or the weather and she took that to mean..." He raked his hands through his hair. "I had no idea. I promise you."

"I believe you," she said quietly.

"If I'd had any idea, I would have set her straight, again. I knew I probably shouldn't see her -- or *any* woman -- as often as I did even though it was incidental as far as I was concerned. I hoped that when I started eating with the guys she'd take the hint because we talked sports and things like that and she wasn't interested in that kind of stuff. I didn't want to be rude and tell her that she wasn't welcome, but hoped that she'd make that choice on her own." He took a deep breath. "She never did."

"I see that." She stared at the letter. "What are you going to do?"

His head jerked up and he looked at her intently. "What do you mean?"

"Are you going to go?"

"Why would I? She said for me to come if there was hope for us and there isn't. There is absolutely no future for... I don't even want to say 'us' which is the most obvious word there, because there is no 'us'. There's you and me. That's the only 'us' I'm a part of; the only 'us' I want to be a part of."

"Don't you want to tell her that?"

Clark sighed. "I don't know how to get her to believe me and I'm not about to go to her dorm room."

"Thank you." She thought for another minute. "How about we go together?"

He raised a brow at her. "What? You actually want to go over there?"

She nodded. "I think it's high time I met Mayson Drake."

"Are you sure?"

"Oh, yeah."

***

Lois raised her hand knocked on the door, then moved to the side where she wouldn't be seen through the peephole.

"Coming," came a voice from inside.

"Let me do the talking," Lois hissed.

"You usually do," Clark whispered back. "But try to be nice, please."

Lois glared at him. "Good luck with that."

"I just don't want to have to bail you out of prison."

"You won't," Lois promised.

The door opened to reveal a beautiful blond. She was obviously dressed up, wearing a black dress that fitted to her curves, held up only by spaghetti straps. "Clark, I'm so glad..." Mayson stopped mid-sentence when she realized he wasn't alone.

Lois pushed the door open and then swept her way into the dorm room. She glanced around and raised an eyebrow. There were unlit candles all around the room and a bottle of wine open on the desk. One glass was already poured and another stood ready. "Expecting someone?" She turned and held her hand out. "Hi, I'm Lois *Kent*, Clark's *wife*."

She saw Mayson swallow hard, but she reached out and shook Lois' hand. "Mayson."

"Yeah, I figured." She glanced at Clark. "You want to shut that door, honey? I'm sure *Mayson* doesn't want the whole floor to hear the conversation we're about to have."

Clark shut the door, but stayed near it, uncertain as to what his wife was going to do.

"So," Lois started. "I hear you're in love with my husband."

"What?"

Lois pulled the letter out of the back pocket of her jeans. "Let's see... Didn't have to marry her. Doesn't love you. Here it is. 'There I said it. I love you, Clark. I think I always have.' Sounds to me like you're trying to tell my husband you're in love with him."

"Was that addressed to you?" Mayson's eyes were wide.

"Well, no," Lois admitted. "But the first thing Clark did after he read it was hand it to me so I could. My *husband* and I don't have secrets. I know you asked him out three days after you met and I know that he told you he was married. I know you dated Dan Scardino and at least three or four other guys since then. I know he's never, ever been alone with you; you've always been in public together -- in full view of anyone walking by. I know that you wouldn't dare show up to eat lunch with him when I'm there. I know that most of the time, there's been other people there with you. I know that for the last who knows how long, he's been too polite to tell you to get lost. He ate lunch with *his* friends, with *my* friends, and you weren't entirely welcome but you couldn't take the hint when the conversations continually revolved around things you had no interest in. I know this year my sister's boyfriend has been there almost every time I'm not.

"You're not the first woman to try to take him from me, and she was no more successful than you're going to be and he'd known her since they were in preschool. I know you think that you know him and are madly in love with him, but I think you don't know him at all. How about a little quiz?

Mayson said nothing.

"Let's see... Where's he from?"

"Kansas."

"Where in Kansas?"

"I don't know," she admitted. "A small town."

"Smallville. When's his birthday?"

"Ah, February 28," came the tentative reply.

"Very good. Did he tell you that, did someone else tell you, or did you ask?"

Mayson shrugged. "I have no idea."

Lois looked at Clark, one eyebrow raised.

"She asked," he said.

"Did you know he has an eidetic memory? Remembers *everything*. Do you know why he got a 'B' in biology in high school? The only 'B' on his high school transcript."

"No."

"Do you know where his first kiss was or with who?"

"No."

Lois leaned closer and whispered. "It was with me, just so you know." Her voice went back to normal. "Do you know what his birth parents left him?"

"No."

"What his adopted mom left him? What she left *me*?"

"No."

"What his biggest fear is?"

"You leaving him?"

"Wrong." She glanced at Clark.

"She's right," he said. "That's not it."

"What his biggest secret is?"

"No."

"His most valued possession?"

"No."

"What the last thing his parents said to each other before they went to bed was or the last thing his mom said to him every night when she tucked him in?"

"No."

"Do you know who he took to his senior prom or why?"

"No."

"If he prefers to make love in the morning or at night?"

Mayson's skin had been getting more and more pale with each question, but it flared red with that one. "No," she whispered.

"Obviously, if you think yourself in love with him, you've thought about these things, right?"

Mayson didn't move.

"Do you know if he likes to be on top? If he's an 'only in bed' kind of guy or if he likes to be more adventurous than that? If he likes to be the aggressor or if he likes his *wife* to be? Or both from time to time? Does he prefer sexy lingerie or slutty? Or does it depend on his mood? Or does he prefer seeing his *wife* wearing only one of his dress shirts? Do you know how he likes to be kissed? Do you know any of those things?" Out of the corner of her eye she saw Clark turning eight shades of red.

Mayson shook her head.

"And I bet you also have no idea what he sounds like when he sings in the shower; why he hates planes; or how much he actually works out to keep that body you're just dying to get your hands on. You have no idea where the last place he was truly happy was -- before he married *me*. Sure you might have eaten more meals with my husband than I have the last couple of years because we've worked our butts off to get through school with no debt and graduate at the same time so we can move on with our lives."

She moved closer to the slightly taller blond woman, her eyes narrowing. "You might *think* you know him and that he'll choose you over me, but just remember... Every morning for the last three and a half years, before he left to help take care of his family, he kissed *me* goodbye. Every *night* for the last three and a half years -- *every* night -- he's been in *my* bed, wrapped in *my* arms and kissed *me* goodnight. A few lunches spent in the company of others don't begin to compare to that. He's never slept with another woman and I don't know why you think he's going to start with you." She looked the other woman up and down scornfully. "Get your own man and keep your hands off mine." She turned on her heel and headed towards the door.

Clark opened it for her and looked at the young woman standing broken in the middle of her dorm room. "Good-bye, Mayson." And then he left.

***

Lois walked purposefully out of the dorm room, grateful that the room was only on the second floor. She dashed down the stairs, aware that Clark was following her. Knowing that the window of the room they'd just left overlooked the front door of the building, she slowed enough for Clark to catch up with her and wrap his arms around her, pulling her to him as she came to a stop in front of the building.

After only a moment, she took a deep breath and left one arm wrapped around him as they walked off.

***

"I'm sorry, Clark. I really didn't mean to go off on her like that." Lois rested her head on his shoulder as they worked their way across campus.

"It's okay." He kissed the side of her head. "I don't know that she would have taken the hint any other way." He smiled a bit. "I have to admit, it was kind of nice seeing you like that though."

"Like what? A witch?"

"No, like a lioness defending her territory. And I'm your territory."

Lois sighed. "I know things haven't been great between us, but that doesn't mean I want to see you with anyone but me."

"I just don't know how you had it in you after everything..."

Lois stopped and wrapped her arms back around him. "I don't..."

Then she started to shake. Her legs gave way beneath her and the only things holding her up were Clark's arms.

"Hey, what is it?"

She shook her head, unable to form the words. "I don't think I can do this," she finally whispered. "I mean I know it's too late; the wheels are in motion and even if they weren't, it's the right thing to do. Next time, or the time after that, or the time after that, it could have a much more violent outcome."

As she spoke, Clark had picked her up into his arms and carried her easily to a nearby bench. He sat down, holding her on his lap, pulling her head to his shoulder.

"I'll be with you every step of the way."

"I know." For long minutes, she had her head buried into his shoulder. "Oh, no. Talking to her like that was a huge mistake," she groaned.

"What? Why? Could it have been handled differently? Maybe, but you didn't do anything wrong, honey."

"I pissed off and humiliated a potential witness."

"What?"

"She's a part of this. She has no idea but she's a part of this. The allegations about the two of you... She's probably going to be asked about it officially at some point -- by the cops and probably Cat and what I just did..."

"I think, deep down, she's a decent person and I think she'll do the right thing."

"I hope so, but if it comes down to our word against hers and Paul's and... whoever else..."

"Did you ever tell anyone that you thought that..."

She shook her head slightly against him. "No."

"So there's no one else but her who has any direct knowledge -- anything else is rumor or speculation. Jimmy knows there's nothing between me and her."

Clark glanced up and saw the object of their discussion walk into the lit area where they were seated. She had her head down and was walking swiftly somewhere. She'd changed into jeans and a T-shirt. Suddenly, she looked up and directly at them, stopping mid-stride. Clark's arms tightened perceptibly around Lois and he quickly looked away.

Lois swiped at her eyes and stood up quickly, catching him off-guard. She too saw the woman looking at them and then froze. She took a deep breath, grateful for Clark's hand on the small of her back as he stood next to her.

"Mayson," she said as the other woman started to walk off. "Please, can I talk to you for a minute?"

Mayson stopped and looked at her. "Why? Why should I? You made yourself perfectly clear earlier."

"Because I want to apologize. I'm sorry. I shouldn't have gone off on you like that and I'm sorry that I did." She rubbed at her cheeks with her fingers trying to erase the tear tracks. She felt Clark put his arm around her shoulders and pull her closer to him. "It's no excuse, but I've had a... very difficult couple of days and I snapped. You bore the brunt of that because you were there and convenient. I'm not going to apologize for coming to see you or for defending my marriage, but I went a bit overboard and..."

"You've had a bad day? That's your excuse for humiliating me?"

"Mayson," Clark's voice stopped her. "You have no idea what the last couple of days have been like for Lois. Difficult doesn't begin to describe it."

"What could be so horrible that it would excuse that?"

Lois closed her eyes and took a deep breath. "Is there somewhere where we can talk? What happened... well, you're a part of it, even if you don't know anything about it yet."

Mayson's eyes narrowed. "*I'm* a part of it?"

Clark nodded, but turned to Lois. "Are you sure, honey? That you want to do this now?"

"Yes." She turned back to Mayson, waiting expectantly.

Mayson thought then nodded. "Okay. I'm probably a fool for doing this, but okay. Where do you want to go?"

Clark looked at Lois. "Where?"

"Somewhere we can't be overheard by anyone." She looked at the ground and leaned slightly more on Clark. "Would you be willing to come to our apartment? The only people who might overhear there are my sister and her boyfriend -- if they're even there -- and they already know most of this anyway, but it's something that we can't talk about in public right now."

Mayson took a deep breath. "Okay, but I need to get something to eat first. Can I meet you there in about thirty minutes?"

Lois nodded. "Thank you."

***

Chapter 23

"Please, come in." Clark held the door open and gestured inside.

Mayson hesitated for a second and then walked in and down the steps, taking in the apartment as she did so. "Where's Lois?"

Clark shut the door and followed her. "She's asleep."

Mayson raised an eyebrow.

"She hasn't been sleeping well for a long time and she's exhausted. After the last couple of days..." He sighed. "She fell asleep on the way home so I laid her down..." he gestured towards the other room. "Can I get you something to drink?"

She shook her head. "I just ate so, please, let's just get this over with." She sat on the edge of the chair. "What is it you want to talk to me about?"

Clark glanced at the other room and sighed. "As much as she needs some sleep, I was hoping she'd wake up before you got here," he admitted. He sat on the couch. "It's really her story to tell but..." He took a deep breath. "Thursday night, Lois was almost raped."

Mayson's jaw dropped. "What?!"

"She was working late at the paper on campus and Professor Paul Smith decided that he wanted her. He came on to her and said that he wanted to have a relationship with her for the next few months. She said no and he got violent. I had gone to pick her up and walk her home and when I got there, he'd duct taped her mouth and hands and..." He ran a hand through his hair. "If I'd been more than a minute or two later..."

"That's awful. I'm sorry, Clark, really I am. My sister was date raped in high school by the starting quarterback and..." She shook her head. "But what does it have to do with me?"

Clark stared at his hands. "One of the things he said to her before he..." He couldn't finish the sentence and so just sort of waved one hand in the air. "...was that no one would believe her if she reported it. She said that I would believe her and that Perry White would. He's the editor of the Daily Planet and we've known him for several years. Paul pointed out that everyone would believe that he was biased because of our friendship with him. And as for me... he said that no one would believe the..." he took a deep breath and refused to look at her, "...cheating husband."

"You've been cheating on her? With who?" Mayson sputtered.

He shook his head. "No. I haven't been cheating on her, but according to Paul and Dr. Snodgrass, there's a rumor that I have been."

"With who?"

He finally looked her straight in the eyes. "You."

Mayson gulped. "What?"

"I guess there's a rumor going around campus. I didn't hear about it until later Thursday night when Lois told me. Anyway..."

A scream interrupted whatever he was about to say.

He managed to keep himself to normal human speed as he bolted towards the other room.

Lois was sitting up, her eyes closed. The screams had stopped, but the sobs continued.

Clark reached out to touch her, but she flinched as his hand grazed her shoulder. "Lois, honey, wake up." He spoke softly to her for a few more minutes, until her eyes opened and she turned and buried herself in his chest. After several more long minutes she pulled back slightly. "Are you okay?"

She nodded. "Another nightmare."

"I figured. Listen, Mayson's here. She's been here for a little while and I told her most of what happened, abridged version of course."

"What did she say?"

"Her sister was date raped in high school, so she's sympathetic, but otherwise nothing yet. I had just told her about the rumor when you woke up."

Lois pulled away from him and swiped at her eyes. "Okay, let's go." She wobbled as she tried to stand.

"Hey, careful there." He carefully picked her up and she rested her head on his shoulder as he carried her to the living room to set her on the couch. "I'll make you some tea, okay?"

She nodded as she pulled the quilt -- the one his grandmother had made when his parents married -- onto her lap and buried herself beneath it. "Thank you."

He turned to their guest, still seated in the chair. "Are you sure I can't get you something?"

Mayson shook her head. "No, thank you." She looked down. "On second thought, could I get a glass of water?"

Clark nodded. "Sure." He dug the kettle out of the cabinet next to the stove -- they so rarely used it with Lois and Lucy both taking advantage of his ability to heat the water without it -- and filled it with water and set it on the stove to boil. He filled a glass with ice water and handed it to Mayson.

"Thank you."

Clark moved to the couch and sat at the end of Lois' feet, watching her until she nodded almost imperceptibly and then rested his forearm lightly on her lower leg.

"Lois, I'm sorry to hear about what happened the other night. I understand a little better why... I mean, earlier..." She took a deep breath. "My oldest sister was date raped about ten years ago and she still has flashbacks and stuff from time to time. I mean, usually, she's fine and she has a... good relationship with her husband and even a couple of kids, but every once in a while -- maybe once a year or so -- something still triggers her. I know what she's gone through and I wouldn't wish that on anyone."

"Thank you," Lois said quietly.

"And Clark told me about... the rumor. I swear I didn't know about it either until he told me."

Lois nodded and chose her words carefully. "I didn't really know about the rumor either until *he* said something."

"I'm not sure what I can do to help, but..." Mayson took a deep breath, "...if you need me to tell anyone that there wasn't anything going on between me and Clark, I will. I won't pretend that earlier didn't hurt -- it did -- but I'm willing to admit that, in some ways, it was probably called for and I won't let my hurt feelings stand in the way of trying to bring Professor Paul to justice. I'll do anything I can to help."

Lois glanced at Clark. He was watching her, willing to let her take the lead and back up whatever she decided. "Thank you, Mayson. I appreciate that, but other than telling the truth about your friendship with Clark when necessary, I don't know what you can do."

"Um... I don't know if this will mean much coming from me, but I do mean it. If you need to someone to talk to, you can call me."

"I appreciate the offer," Lois said quietly.

Mayson stood. "I'm going to go, but please let me know if there's anything I can do." She walked towards the door. Clark stood and followed her. As she reached the door, she turned and looked back at Lois, the tea kettle beginning to whistle in the background. "I am sorry, Lois. I won't bother either one of you again. One of you will have to initiate any contact between us."

Clark nodded and opened the door for her. "Thank you." Mayson looked at him for a long moment, while he looked at the ground, and then she left.

***

Lois was still curled up on the couch a few moments later, sipping the tea that was finally done, when the door opened.

Lucy hurried to Lois' side while Jimmy headed to the kitchen to talk to Clark.

"What was Mayson doing here?" Jimmy whispered to his friend.

Clark sighed. "It's a long story, but she's willing to help us with whatever we need, including testifying or whatever that there was no relationship between us."

"That's good." Jimmy thought for a long minute. "You said yesterday that he and Dr. Snodgrass told Lois that half the campus thinks that you two have had a thing going on, but I've never heard anything about it. Have you ever..." he tugged an ear. "...you know, heard anything?"

Clark shook his head. "No, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything."

"Will the other guys -- Joe, Les, that boyfriend of Mayson's from last year -- will they corroborate as much as they can?"

Clark shrugged. "I don't know why not, but we haven't talked to them. I'll mention it to Eduardo and give him and Henderson a list of the people who were with us most of the time. I don't know what effect it'll have except to make the story of what I saw more believable." He sighed. "If people who know me believe it... staff at either newspaper and such... that's harder to refute I suppose. I don't know that it really matters except between me and Lois. I don't think it has anything to do with whether or not Paul tried to rape her."

"Unless they think she was part of everyone who thought you were cheating on her. Then it's more likely that she'd be cheating right back, right?"

Clark stared at the back of Lois' head, cradled against her sister's shoulder. "She did believe it, Jim. She had for a long time," he said quietly.

"What?!" Jimmy hissed.

He took a deep breath. "I'm not going to tell you the whole story, but for a long time she thought there might be something between me and Mayson. You were right -- I should have told her to get lost a long time ago, but I was too polite."

"Did you tell her the truth?"

"Of course I did! And she believes me." He shook his head. "She said she never mentioned it to anyone so there wouldn't be anyone who could say that she believed it, so as far as that goes..."

"That's good." He paused. "How long did she...?"

"I'm not going to tell you the whole story, Jimmy. I'm just not. It's between me and my wife. And if it ever needs to come out as part of all of this, it will, but I'm not going to tell it just to tell it. You of all people should know how even the suggestion of something like that would scar her."

"That's part of the reason why I thought you should tell Mayson to get lost a long time ago."

Clark ran a hand wearily down his face. "Lucy's told you a lot more than Lois has ever told -- or might ever tell -- me. I don't know what it was like growing up in the Lane house and I don't think I want to."

Jimmy's lips were set in a thin line. "You don't. Trust me on that one. I'm glad Lucy's trusted me enough to tell me what it was like for them, but that doesn't make it any easier to hear. And I'm sure it was harder on Lois. She insulated Lucy from a lot of it."

"That sounds like her. That's why we got married when we did, you know. To protect Lucy from the system."

"Yeah, I know."

"I've never even thought about another woman since I met her. And since I met her when I was fourteen, I didn't do a whole lot of thinking about other women before her either. I mean, I dated Lana a few times and wondered about... things in the abstract, but I've never wanted to be with anyone else. Ever. Sam sure didn't do anything to help either one of them believe that a man could be in a completely monogamous relationship, but, God help me, I'm a one woman man. I always have been."

"You know," Jimmy said thoughtfully, "I sort of saved Lucy from a guy the night of our first date."

"What?" Clark's exclamation came out louder than he meant for it to and the girls on the couch started a bit. "What?" he whispered.

"Nothing like that. He was hitting on her and when I realized how scared she was of him, in that minute, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her, protecting her and loving her. The thought of another man's hands on her..." He shuddered. "It sickens me." He stopped as he realized who he was talking to. He opened and closed his mouth more than once before finally finding words. "We've never..." His eyes were wide and his words earnest as he spoke. "Clark, I promised you a long time ago that I would treat her like I would want someone to treat my own daughter and I have, I swear to you, I have. I realized that if I have a daughter, I wouldn't ever want a guy to... you know. Ever. I mean, I would want her to grow up and get married and maybe then... but really I'd rather she adopt, you know?"

Clark nodded. "Yeah, I think I can understand that."

"And I know that's not realistic and I know that's sure not what I want with Lucy, but... I think I should stop talking now."

A small smile crept across Clark's face. "I know you'd never hurt her. I am curious about what happened the night of your first date though."

Jimmy blushed a bit. "I'll tell you about it some other time." They watched the women sitting on the couch for another minute. "I love her, you know, and someday I'm going to come asking you for her hand in marriage."

"I figured you might."

"And it probably won't be too long either."

Clark looked at him thoughtfully. "Don't rush into anything. You guys are still so young."

"By the time you two were our ages, you'd been married for a year and a half."

"I know. The only thing I'd change about being married to Lois the last three plus years is the way she's been hurt, but that doesn't mean it would have been easy or that it's right for everyone -- or even for us. In a lot of ways, sometimes I wish we'd been able to wait. That we'd dated and done things 'right'." He used his fingers to imitate quote marks. "But we are where we are and we have to go from here."

Jimmy thought for a minute then changed subjects. "Well, I've got addresses on four of the six women on the list. I went to the alumni office on campus and said I was looking for former students and they gave me the information. The other two students haven't kept in contact with the university. Two of the four are married, one is divorced. One of the ones that's married has one child, the other one has two. The one who's never been married has a 5-year-old son and get this... she graduated six years ago."

Clark instantly paled. "Do you think...?"

Jimmy shrugged. "I don't know. The alumni office lady said the only reason they had an updated address for her was because of a new job or something so it doesn't sound like she's trying to keep in touch with her classmates or anything like that."

Lucy's whisper interrupted their conversation. "Clark, she's asleep. Can you come move her?"

"Yeah. Be right there." Clark pushed back from the counter and moved to the couch, easily lifting Lois in his arms and carrying her to bed. The covers were already pulled back from earlier and he gently laid her down, pulling the blanket over her as she settled into the pillow. He moved back into the living room where Jimmy had settled on the couch next to Lucy.

He leaned on the bricks of the arch between the bedroom and living room. "I'm gonna go take a shower real quick and then stay with Lois. She doesn't have nightmares as much if I'm there with her." He looked at Lucy. "Will you take care of her if she wakes up before I get done?"

Lucy nodded. "Yeah, I will."

Clark started to move back into the bedroom when he turned. "Jimmy, I'd appreciate it if you'd keep what we talked about between us at least for now," he said with deep breath. He looked at his sister-in-law. "That's not something I say lightly, Lucy, I promise."

She nodded. "I know. When it's time for me to know, one of you will tell me."

"Thanks, Luce."

***

"Ms. Anderson, can we speak with you for a few minutes?" Cat Grant asked the striking brunette sitting behind the editor's desk.

"What about?"

"My name is Cat Grant and this is Clark Kent. We work for the Daily Planet and your name was given to us during the course of an investigation."

"Does this have anything to do with why the police were here earlier?" she asked hesitantly.

"Was it a gentleman named Henderson?"

She nodded.

"Then, yes."

"I have nothing..."

Clark interrupted her. "Please. We won't use your name. We'll change the details and we won't print anything you're not comfortable with. And if you're not comfortable with me being here, I'll wait outside, but please at least talk to Ms. Grant." He pleaded with her with his eyes.

She hesitated then nodded. "Please have a seat. Both of you."

A few minutes later, they were seated in her office, with the door closed.

"I signed a confidentiality agreement, you know. But I consulted with an attorney today -- a Constance Hunter -- who said it probably wasn't binding, but until I find out for sure... everything is off the record completely, okay?"

They nodded. "Constance Hunter is a friend of our editor, Perry White, and is working with several women who have found themselves in a similar situation," Clark said. "She's a good lawyer and has only your best interests at heart."

"Okay."

Cat looked at her gently. "What can you tell us about the last few weeks before you graduated?"

She took a deep breath and started her story. "In some ways it was the best thing that ever happened to me -- it gave me my son..." she glanced at them. "Don't tell me you haven't done the math already."

Cat nodded. "We had no way of knowing for sure, of course, but the possibility had crossed our minds."

"Anyway, it gave me my son, but in most other ways it was the worst thing that ever happened to me."

Olivia Anderson told them about how she'd been a journalism major. Her dream was to be the editor of her hometown newspaper, a small town in Iowa, not too different from Smallville or the northern New Troy town she was now in. Her parents had died when a tornado hit their farm on the outskirts of town during her sophomore year of college. Paul had taken her under his wing and worked with her on stories and helping her learn to edit. He'd been a good friend, listening to her talk about her parents and her little brother -- who had died of leukemia when she was ten. He listened to her talk about her failed relationships -- boyfriends who broke up with her after a couple of months when she refused to sleep with them. It wasn't that she was a prude, she said, or that she was waiting for marriage or anything like that, but she wanted to wait until she knew it was right and the time wasn't right yet. Her last boyfriend had broken up with her when she wouldn't go to Florida with him for Spring Break during her senior year.

Paul had consoled her, assuring her that the right guy would come along sometime soon. They continued to work together for another month or so and they talked several times a week about things that had nothing to do with the school paper. She'd also been working at the Star with Tony Rader during that time period. Then one night, about a month before graduation, they'd been working late...

From there the story continued to be eerily similar to Lois'. He'd locked them in the conference room, told her he wanted a relationship with her and when she said no, he proceeded to duct tape her hands and mouth and rape her. The next morning she'd gone to Dr. Snodgrass and filed a complaint only to discover that Paul was claiming they'd had an intimate relationship for some time. He also claimed that when he refused to commit to her, she told him that she was going to accuse him of rape.

She'd been offered a degree and a confidentiality agreement and, alone in the world, had taken the offer, wanting to simply put it all behind her. She'd lost her job at the Star two days later -- a month before her contract was to expire. Through sheer force of will she made it through the last few weeks of classes. Finals week she'd caught a flu bug, but managed to pass her classes and walk at graduation.

The flu refused to go away and by late June she was back in Iowa, where she went to see her childhood family doctor who pronounced that she was expecting. Only then did she remember that he hadn't used protection and she hadn't been on birth control of any kind.

Clark's skin went pale at that but didn't comment.

"Why didn't you go to the police then?" Cat asked.

She shook her head. "I was already home by then. It had been two months and I'd signed that agreement. I just wanted to put it all behind me and raise my son."

"Does your son know?" This question came from Clark.

She shook her head again. "No. He just knows that his dad isn't a part of his life. When I moved to back to New Troy, I was ready to start over again. Everyone back home knew that I hadn't been in a relationship with the father and there's a stigma attached to those kinds of things in small town America."

Clark nodded. "I come from a small town in Kansas. My parents couldn't have children, which carries its own stigma. I was adopted -- the son of a distant relative who was 'in trouble' at a 'tender age'." He used finger quotes to emphasize his point.

"Then you know what it's like, Mr. Kent. My son... he's starting kindergarten this year and I was afraid that the other kids... Anyway, I heard about this job about six months ago and here I am. I'd done my very best to forget all about it until Henderson showed up this morning." She picked up a picture frame. "He doesn't look anything like him. He looks just like my brother did at this age.

"I'll tell you the same thing I told the MPD. I'll help if I'm needed, but I'd rather keep my son out of this. There's no way I'll be able to do that if I try to bring charges or whatever." Her eyes teared up. "And I've finally met a man who loves him as much as I do. I've dated a time or two since he was born, but none of them wanted to take on another man's son. But Mike... he asked Tommy if he could take me out before he ever asked me. He's a good man and he knows about most of this -- in general terms. He doesn't know who it was or anything, but he loves Tommy anyway."

Cat nodded and reached for her recorder, turning it off as she did so. "Thank you, Ms. Anderson. We'll be in touch before anything goes to print."

"Thank you."

***

Lois' eyes practically danced as Clark and Cat came back into the conference room. "You guys will *never* guess what happened while you were gone?"

The two looked at each other and shrugged. "Nothing good ever happens on Sunday," Cat told her.

"It did today. It seems President Emmert read the article in this morning's paper. Dr. Snodgrass and Professor Paul Smith have been suspended pending investigation." She handed the press release to Clark.

The Sunday edition of the Daily Planet had a small article, buried halfway back and written by Clark Kent, which indicated that there were allegations of sexual assault against a university professor and that at least one member of the administration could be implicated in a cover-up but that names were not yet released to the press.

"Lucy called and said that Professor Levinson had left a message. When I called him back, he said that he was taking over the Metropolitan for the rest of the semester and we should report as normal this week."

Clark frowned. "I think I'm going to call him and see if I can get my shifts switched until the end of the semester. I'm not sure I want you there by yourself."

Lois hesitated then nodded. "I'd appreciate that. Then we can work together here, too. What did you two find out?"

Cat hesitated. "I'm not sure I should share with you, Lois. Not until it's in the public domain. We don't want to taint you as a witness, even if it's only in the minds of the jury if it makes it that far. But, in general, about what we expected."

Lois sighed and nodded. "Okay. I don't like it, but okay."

Clark moved the phone and, reaching the new faculty advisor, made arrangements to move his shifts around for the duration.

"This is starting to hit on campus, too." He leaned back in his chair. "I'm afraid that it's going to be common knowledge that it was you before too long, honey."

Lois' eyes took on a deer in the headlights look. "Why?"

"He said that Tory and Leslie are already looking into the allegations and trying to find out who it is and what happened. It won't be long until someone comes forward and says that you were the last one there that night."

Jimmy poked his head in the door. "Guys, there's someone here to see you."

Lois and Clark looked through the window of the conference room. There, in a pair of casual slacks and a rugby shirt, stood Dr. Robert Emmert, president of UNT Met.

***

Chapter 24

Lois, Clark and Dr. Emmert sat in the conference room. Perry joined them and took out his tape recorder.

"Dr. Emmert, I'm sure you can understand why we would like to record this conversation."

"Yes, I do, Mr. White." He spoke clearly. "My name is Dr. Robert Emmert. I am the president of the University of New Troy at Metropolis. I am aware that this conversation is being recorded."

Lois, Clark and Perry identified themselves as well.

Dr. Emmert turned to the students. "Mr. and Mrs. Kent, I assure you that I am taking the allegations against both Professor Paul Smith and Dr. Thomas Snodgrass very seriously. As I'm sure you are aware by now, both of them have been temporarily suspended pending the outcome of the investigation by the police and the university. However, I am going to have to suspend the two of you from the Metropolitan as well."

Perry started to protest, but was stopped by the raised hand of the university official.

"You will receive the same grade as your average during your other semesters at the paper. Since both of you have received As up to this point, you will receive an A this semester. *Should* the allegations you've brought against Professor Smith and Dr. Snodgrass prove to be fabrications, they would not affect your grade or diplomas but criminal and civil charges might be pursued if applicable. If they are proven to be accurate, the university will take the appropriate actions to deal with one or both of them."

Clark held Lois' hand and absently rubbed his thumb over her knuckles. "Thank you, Dr. Emmert. I assure you, the allegations are not false and we're working with the police."

He nodded. "When I saw your article this morning, I called the campus police and they had no record of the charge being made there. I called around and finally got in touch with Bill Henderson. He told me who was bringing the charges and who the charges were being made against so I could take the necessary steps, but I assure you, that information will go no farther than me until necessary."

"Thank you," Lois said quietly.

"An investigation, run out of my office, will begin tomorrow. You have my personal assurance that, if these allegations are true, those involved will be dealt with. I won't allow that kind of thing on my campus and I certainly won't allow it to be covered up. Someone will contact both of you to set up an appointment to make an official statement. If you'd like to have a lawyer present, just to be safe, that might not be a bad idea. It's possible that a member of the MPD will be there as well." He stood. "I wanted to have this meeting in person, to look you both in the eyes and tell you that justice, whatever that means, will be done." He nodded to the three of them. "Thank you for your time."

Perry clicked the tape recorder off as the university president left the room.

"He believes you, kids."

"How can you tell?" Clark asked.

"There's certain things that have to be done whether he believes the allegations or not, but the way he did it; the way he talked about it -- that tells me that he believes you. He could have just given you incompletes for the newspaper grade, but those could easily turn to failing grades and *would* prevent you from graduating if this drags out."

They both nodded. "That makes sense," Lois said. "And at least we don't have to worry about juggling both papers for the next three weeks."

"Why don't you kids go on home and either get some school work done or get some rest? Remember, you don't graduate, you're out of jobs again." His smile told them exactly what he thought the odds of them failing was.

***

Several hours later, Lois settled in next to Clark in their bed. "I don't suppose I can convince you to tell me what Ms. Anderson said."

He smiled at her. "She said she's met a wonderful man who wants to marry her."

She smacked him lightly. "That's not what I meant."

"I know, but that's all you're going to get."

"Fine." She sighed. "Okay, the last two days have been kind of crazy, but we said we'd share something every day. Since I brought it up, you get to start."

He chuckled. "Nice how that works, isn't it?"

"Yep."

"What do you want to know?"

"Did you ever go out with anyone besides Lana and Rachel?"

"*That's* what you want to know?" Clark raised an eyebrow.

"For now. Or your whole dating history. Whichever."

He thought for a minute. "Well, I took Rachel to senior prom, but you knew that. Kissed her on the cheek when I dropped her off." He chuckled lightly. "Of course, her dad was the sheriff so even if I had been interested in her as more than a friend, nothing would have happened. That was the only time we ever went out. Lana and I went to a couple dances in September and in October my junior year. We went to a movie once in between. That's when she kissed me the first time. She tried to kiss me again the next Sunday while her parents were taking a nap and I was trying to watch a football game. I told her I wasn't comfortable with that and she backed off. A week later we went to the second dance and she kissed me again. I kissed her back a little bit. She... tried to take it further than that -- not much, but enough that when I said I wasn't comfortable with that either, she said I was too puritanical for her taste, but that didn't stop her from trying to push the envelope a bit at home. I did take Amanda Moller to junior prom but that was because Pete broke his leg two days earlier. It was really bad and he was still in the hospital. A couple of girls asked me out when I was at Midwest, but I didn't really have the time or the interest."

"Wow. That right there would turn into a very steamy best seller if you ever wanted to tell your life story."

Clark groaned. "I told you, from the time I met you, I knew you were the one for me so there was no point in dating anyone seriously. It would only end up hurting someone and I didn't see why I should." He rubbed her shoulder absentmindedly. "Mom knew that, you know. That I would know you when I met you. I think that's why she wrote that letter."

Lois pulled back slightly, but tried not to let her emotions show on her face.

"What?"

"Nothing."

"Lo-is..."

She said nothing.

"The letter?" he asked quietly.

She nodded.

"Did you ever read it?"

"No," she whispered.

"Why not?"

"I'm just starting to believe that this might actually work. For so long I thought you would leave, and I didn't want to do that to myself."

"Do you still have it?"

"Yeah."

They laid there for another minute before Clark spoke again.

"In the interests of full disclosure... that's part of the reason why I went to get in the shower when I did that night," he said quietly. "We'd had that conversation dozens of times before and I really just wasn't up for it again, and it hurt that you didn't want to read the letter my mom left for you. I understand better now why you didn't, but still... it hurt."

"I'm sor..." A finger over her mouth stopped her.

"No more, remember? Just being honest with each other."

She nodded. "I will read it, I promise."

"Thank you. She would have loved you, you know."

Lois didn't say anything to that.

"She was wonderful, my mom. She was a farmer's wife and would have probably put 'housewife' on any form that asked for her occupation, but she was so much more than that. She could outwork most men in our area and still have dinner ready on time, laundry done and have a good biography read before they managed to get up from 'resting' on the porch. She had a college degree and wanted to be an artist. She did sculptures from time to time -- I think there's still some at the farm -- and she made me a bunch of ties that are..." He smiled a far off sort of smile. "...not quite in fashion. I doubt they ever were. I haven't worn any of them yet. I'm not sure why. I wanted to save them for a really special occasion. My first day on my first real job where I have to wear a suit and tie or whatever. I'd planned on wearing one on my first date with you, whenever that was, but I forgot to bring any of them with me when I came to Metropolis or I probably would have worn one to our wedding."

He smiled again. "You probably would have hated it though. I mean, not the theory of wearing a tie my mom made or for other occasions or whatever, but probably not for our wedding."

"I know it's probably not a good thing, but the whole day is a blur to me until I was sitting on that bed with Aunt Louise and she told me about her and Joe."

"I'm sorry about that, you know."

"I thought we said no more apologizing."

"This is about something different though. I'm sorry you didn't get the wedding you probably dreamed of the whole time you were growing up."

Lois shrugged one armed. "The only wedding I really dreamed of was the one where I married someone who wasn't ever going to leave. But I'm not sure I ever wanted to get married at all. My parents made marriage look like as much fun as trying to cross the DMZ out of North Korea -- neither side wants you to succeed. I wasn't sure I wanted to put myself through that."

"I can understand that. My parents' marriage wasn't like that at all. They loved each other and they loved me. Their relationship was the most important part of their lives, but I was a close second. Sometimes I wonder how different my life would be if they hadn't died. Would I still have moved out here to marry you? I think so, but it would have been very different with my parents to go to. You could have had my mom... I mean it -- she would have loved you."

"I think I would have liked her, too," Lois said softly, stifling a yawn as she did.

"Get some sleep. I'll do my best to keep the dreams away." He pulled her slightly closer.

"Thank you."

"That's what I'm here for."

***

Cat's voice spilled out of the tape recorder.

>>>"Ms. King, may we have a word?"

"Can I ask what this is regarding?"

"Your relationship with Professor Paul Smith."

"What about my relationship with him?"<<<

Lois could hear the change in Linda's voice. She had grown wary.

>>>"Is there somewhere private we could speak?"<<<

The tape clicked off and Lois knew that was when the two women had moved to somewhere more secluded. After the formalities of identifying themselves, Cat asked her first question.

>>>"How would you characterize your relationship with Professor Smith?"

"Professional. Cordial. Bordering on friendly but not inappropriate." There was a pause. "Why do you want to know about my relationship with Paul?"

"We're interviewing a number of people involved with the Metropolitan in light of his recent suspension."

"What's all that about anyway? All we can find out is that there was an allegation made against him -- probably by Clark or Lois Kent."

"I'm afraid the police have told us no more than they've told you."<<<

Clark and Lois shared a look at that. While technically accurate, it certainly didn't hint at the truth.

>>>"Oh. Well, as I said, professional but friendly."

"Did you ever notice him act inappropriately with any member of the staff -- male or female?"

"No, not that I recall."

"Did he often work late?"

"Yes."

"Was he often alone with students while working late?"

"Sometimes. We all have a night where we stay late. Usually there's two or three students here until late in the evening, but not always."

"Did you ever work late alone with Professor Smith?"

"Yes."

"Was he ever inappropriate with you?"

"No."

"What other students did he work late with?"

"Lois, Jenny Markum, Danni Cortez, Larissa Jones, maybe a couple of others, but like I said there are usually at least two people around."

"Did he ever work late with men?"

There was silence for a minute. "Not any that I can think of. I think the guys tend to get the early mornings and girls tend to get the later night shifts."

"And no one ever thought that was unusual?"

"I don't think so."

"What is the relationship, as you know it, between Professor Smith and Tony Rader at the Star?"

"They went to college together. Everyone knows that. They covered East Germany together twenty years ago or something."

"Are you aware of a rumor involving a personal relationship between Clark Kent and a female student other than his wife?"<<<

Lois hesitated then took Clark's hand.

>>>"Yes, I am."

"Do you know the name of the other student?"

"Mayson Drake. I think she's an English major."

"Do you know when you first became aware of the rumor?"

There was silence again. "I guess about two years ago. Lois had been working in the conference room and then went home sick. Paul showed me a proof sheet and asked if I could make him copies of the pictures. I had taken them, but I didn't always notice who was in the picture and I hadn't developed them the first time. When I developed them, I noticed two pictures of Clark and Mayson together and one of Mayson by herself. I took them to Paul and he asked me what I remembered about them -- times, dates, things like that. He said something like, 'I never would have guessed Kent couldn't keep it in his pants' under his breath. After that it sort of became common knowledge around the newsroom. They were the only married couple here but they never worked together, they rarely ate together... but it seemed like Clark was always eating lunch with Mayson."

"So you have no direct knowledge of the alleged affair?"

"No."

"When you saw them eating together, was there anyone with them?"

"Yeah -- at least sometimes there was, but I didn't see them every day or anything."

"Did you ever mention it to Lois?"

"No."

"Why not?"

"I don't know. I just didn't." The tone was defensive.

"Ms. King, you're not under oath or anything like that, but it would sure help if you could give me a straight answer to the next question."

"I'll try."

"Did you ever have a sexual relationship of any kind with Professor Paul Smith?"<<<

The silence was deafening, even through the tape player. When the answer finally came, it was quiet.

>>>"Yes. It was consensual, but yes, I did have a sexual relationship with Paul."

"Can you tell me more about that relationship -- dates or what kind of relationship it was specifically?"

"I guess it started not long before I took those pictures and ended about six weeks ago because I'm gradating in a few weeks. As for what kind of relationship... mainly physical. There was never any understanding on either side that this was some sort of long term love affair."

"Did you ever want it to be?"

"Sometimes, but I knew going in that it was what it was."<<<

After a few more perfunctory questions, the interview came to an end.

"Wow," said Lois. "Perry was right -- you must really have ways to get women to talk. I would have never thought that Linda would spill all of that."

"Well, it certainly goes to a pattern of behavior on Paul's part," Clark said.

"What I want to know..." Cat sat thoughtfully for a minute. "How are all these things connected? Paul and Tony know each other from college and as correspondents or whatever. Tony might or might not know what's actually going on. It's possible that Paul just asked him to let you guys and Olivia and whoever else go and he did as a favor for a friend or whatever. It's also possible that he does know what's going on, but for now we might want to give him the benefit of the doubt. We can certainly try to interview him at some point. I'm sure that they're pretty far behind the eight-ball on this without you guys or that list. But what about Dr. Snodgrass? Why is he helping cover all this up?"

"Good question, Cat." Perry walked into the room. "Ideas?"

"Paul has something on him," Eduardo said.

"Paul promised him it was a one-time thing the first time but once he'd done it once, he couldn't *not* do it again without admitting what he did the first time." This was Lois' suggestion.

"He and Paul are buddies like Paul and Tony," Clark said.

"All good ideas, but how do we figure it out?" Perry asked.

"Maybe I can get the secretary to talk to me," Lois answered. "She gave me the list after all."

Perry shook his head. "We want to protect her. Cat and Eduardo can go over there and cover it as an interview being done during the course of working on the story about Snodgrass' suspension."

Lois glared at him.

"I know you want to be a bigger part of this, darlin', but we have to do this right."

"I know," she sighed.

"All right -- Cat, Eduardo -- you two get on this. Lois, Clark, I want to talk to you two for a minute."

***

Perry had invited them to the house that night. Dinner was over and Lois sat with Alice in the living room at the White's home.

"How are you doing, dear?" she asked gently.

Lois shrugged. "It hasn't been the easiest week of my life, and that's saying something."

"You're a survivor, though, in more ways than one."

"Yeah, I guess. That's what Clark says anyway."

They sat in silence for a few minutes, sipping coffee. Clark and Perry were off somewhere else doing something else.

"How are you and Clark doing?" Alice asked.

Lois smiled. "Much better," she admitted. "Things were... rough there for a long time but they're better."

"I'm so glad."

"You knew, didn't you, that things weren't going well with us?"

Alice nodded. "Well, suspected more than anything. Remember the ice storm?" Lois nodded. "I started to wonder then, but neither one of you would ever say anything about it."

"It started the summer before that. I don't really want to go into the details, but we... didn't have a fight exactly, we just stopped talking. We've hardly seen each other the last three years, especially when school's in session. After... the other night, we went to Colorado and talked a lot of things out, things bothering both of us. I'm finally starting to believe that he's not going to leave me next month, when we're done with school and..."

"Why would you think that he was going to leave you?" Alice was shocked. "That boy *loves* you."

"I know, but... I have a hard time believing that anyone's going to stick around. No one ever has, why would Clark be different?"

"Oh, honey, I wish you would have talked to me, to someone."

"I know." Lois took another sip of her coffee. "We're working on it. It's probably going to take some time really getting to know each other, but we're working on it. We never dated at all, you know."

Alice waited quietly for her to continue.

"We talked about it a long time ago. Clark was planning on taking me out on our first official date after graduation. We've gone to dinner a few times here and there, but not very often and not really like a 'date'."

Alice nodded.

"I thought Clark had forgotten all about it, but he hadn't. He'd been saving up for it for years now -- a couple of dollars here and there. He blew all the money on new clothes for me the other night, though. After he," she took a deep breath, "brought me home, he flew somewhere and brought me back everything from new warm socks and underwear to new pajamas. It's been a long time since any of us have really had anything *new*. Anyway, his wallet is just about empty now, but we're supposed to get part of our inheritance from Aunt Louise soon so... we might still be able to but..." She paused again. "...I just don't know that I'm ready for that. Not after..."

Alice patted her hand, then squeezed it gently. "It's too soon. Clark will understand that."

"He does, but even if I'm not ready for dating and romance and all of that... we still need to work on rebuilding -- or really just building -- our relationship."

"I was thinking about you two the other day. Perry told me a little bit about what happened, and we both knew that you two had grown apart. He's probably having a similar conversation with Clark right about now." Alice turned and pulled a book out of the end table. "This is something that helped me and Perry a few years ago. Not long before we met you two actually. We went through a rough patch. He'd had a wonderful night editor who was able to take care of things just fine and Perry was home at a reasonable hour -- most of the time. But then... Brent was lured away by the city desk at the New York Times. For the next couple of years, they went through one night editor after another. Some were just flat incompetent. Some were perfectly capable but had... different visions than Perry. One had a baby and decided to stay home. Another's wife got transferred to California for a great job opportunity. Anyway, it was around Christmas right before we met you that they finally found a competent night editor who got along well with Perry and shared the same vision.

"The Christmas before that... things had gotten rocky between us. I actually contemplated leaving briefly. He was gone until ten or eleven many nights, and the nights he was home he often got phone calls because the night editor couldn't handle whatever it was that was going on. A friend of ours gave us this book. Now, I'm not saying that reading a book can fix everything in a marriage or whatever, but sometimes it can help." She handed the maroon soft back book to Lois.

"The Five Love Languages. What's that?" Lois flipped it over in her hand.

"This man has worked with couples for years and in his experience, he discovered that people speak different love languages. Just like I wouldn't understand someone speaking Chinese without studying it extensively, I have a hard time understanding love from someone who doesn't speak the same language I do. He identifies five different languages in the book. I took a quiz that came with it and found out that my love language is quality time. For me to feel truly loved, I need to spend time with Perry. Not just sitting in the same room while he watches a football game and I read a book -- though sometimes that's enough -- but actually spending time together talking or doing things together. That's the easiest way for me to show love to Perry because it's what speaks to me. But it turns out that Perry's is words of affirmation. He needs to *hear* that I love him and that I'm proud of him and things like that. It wasn't *natural* for either one of us to speak to the other in that language.

"Once we understood that... we started to learn what worked for the other person. That next year was still hard with night editors that didn't measure up for one reason or another, but Perry made a concerted effort to spend time with me -- even canceling the weekly poker game a time or two because it had been such a long week. We'd go out to dinner at that little deli across the street from the Planet when he wasn't able to come home. It wasn't the same as spending the evening together, but the effort went a long way. When we did have time together, I made sure to tell him how much I appreciated him working hard so that I could stay out of the work force and do charity work instead, how much I enjoyed an editorial he'd written or even just acknowledging that he'd cleaned out the gutters -- or hired someone to do it when he didn't have time -- so my roses wouldn't drown."

She put a hand on Lois' knee. "I can't promise that any of it will work for you, but it helped us put our marriage back on track. I know some of your issues together are probably much deeper than this, but we thought it might help if you knew how to relate to each other. Perry telling me he appreciated my making dinner and dropping it off was good, but that's *his* language not mine and, while it was nice, it didn't make me feel nearly as loved as spending twenty minutes at the deli when he couldn't come home for dinner. If you're talking around each other, it won't help."

Lois looked at the table of contents. "Words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical touch. Physical touch? Isn't that just..." she paused.

"Sex? No, there's more to it than that. If that's your language, then it includes things like holding hands, putting his arm around you while you walk, snuggling on the couch while you watch a movie or just a big hug will speak to you as much as making love will." She smiled. "Well, mostly."

"Thanks, Alice. It might have to wait until the semester is over, but I *will* read this, I promise. I want this to work. I *need* this to work." She put the book in her purse.

"I know, dear." Alice looked up as Perry and Clark entered the room. "Dessert, anyone?"

***

Lois leaned against the headboard, book open in her hands.

"Alice got to you too, huh?"

"She said Perry was going to talk to you." She closed the book and set it on the side table. "It's sweet of them to care."

Clark nodded as he took his T-shirt off. When he began to take his jeans off, Lois looked away. He wore boxers and would put shorts on momentarily, but still... It wasn't like she'd never talked to him and looked his direction while he changed into his sleep shorts or pajama pants in the winter; he'd asked her about it not long after they got married and, really, the boxers he wore didn't show any more than shorts did. She hadn't minded before, but something about him undoing his belt and button sent a sickening feeling into that empty pit in her stomach this time, and she struggled to keep the face of her attacker out of her mind. She stared at the comforter while he continued talking.

"I think Perry's known more than he's let on about us. I don't think he knows the *whole* story, but I think he's known for a long time that things between us weren't great."

"Alice, too. She said something to me years ago -- the morning after you sort of spilled the beans as it were."

"Really?" He pulled his shorts on.

"Yeah. She asked me if everything was okay with us and I just told her that life was hard -- with Lucy and school and work and trying to make ends meet... Even then she thought there was more to it, but I didn't give her any more than that."

He pulled the covers back on his side of the bed and crawled in, sitting on the headboard a couple of feet from her. He gestured towards the book. "Do you think there's anything to that?"

She shrugged. "It makes sense. Remember all the stuff Dan used to give me trying to get me to go out with him?"

He groaned. "How could I forget?"

"It occurred to me that he would probably be a gifts guy. Giving him things would be what spoke to him, but it certainly isn't for me. I mean, not that getting gifts isn't nice, but I'd rather have time or even a good hug or something to show me that you love me. That's one reason why he and I could never have worked, even if I had wanted it to. He could never have understood that."

"I'm glad for that." He reached over and took her hand. "How's that?"

She smiled at him. "That's nice." She rested her head back on the headboard. "I thought he was cute, you know."

"Who? Dan?"

"Yeah. In junior high. I thought he was cute and he had no idea who I was."

Clark chuckled. "I think I'm glad."

"I *know* I am."

He squeezed her hand. "I do love you, Lois, and I want to be able to show you that in whatever way you need so that you understand that." He brought her fingers up and kissed them lightly. "And I'm not going anywhere."

Lois set the book on the side table, releasing his hand as she scooted down under the covers. She rolled to one side, propped her head on one hand and looked at him contemplatively. "I really think I'm starting to believe that. I can't promise that I won't... regress sometimes, but I'll do my best to give you the benefit of the doubt about whatever, if it's ever necessary..."

"What do you mean?"

Lois picked at the sheet, refusing to look at him. "Oh, like if you saw Mayson stranded on the side of the road. I know you wouldn't just leave her there and it might mean that you spend some time alone with her while waiting for a tow truck or going to get gas or whatever. I wouldn't expect you to leave her there and I think I'd be disappointed in you if you did, because that's just not part of your nature."

He reached out and gently caressed her shoulder. "I promise I'll do my very best to never be in a situation where you'd have to give me the benefit of the doubt."

"I know."

Clark reached to turn the light off on his side of the bed. "Come here."

Lois moved to his side and let him wrap his arms around her. "Good night."

He kissed her forehead. "Good night."

***

Chapter 25

May 1988

Lois straightened her cap on her head; the gown would wait till the last minute. They'd be waiting outside and the gym was air conditioned, but with 15,000 people in there... Clark, of course, would be unaffected. That wasn't fair on so many levels.

She'd hoped the whole... thing would have been wrapped up by now, but it wasn't. They were getting close, Perry thought, but not quite yet. Part of the problem -- if you could call it that -- was that one person led to another. Olivia had given Henderson the names of two other women, they'd each named one other -- even the one who said nothing untoward had happened -- and on it went. Last she'd heard from Cat, the total number was nearly thirty either quasi-consensual or completely unwilling victims. No, she reminded herself as Clark had many times, not victims. Survivors.

Maybe in a couple weeks...

Eduardo had a source in the police department that had told him that Tony Rader wanted a deal of some kind. As far as she knew, his crimes were minor comparatively -- conspiracy after the fact or something. The secretary had gone to Henderson as soon as Eduardo and Cat finished talking to her. She hadn't *known* anything; just suspected, but thought the police had been informed and decided the allegations must have been false since no action had been taken. Then she'd come in abnormally early after a sleepless night and overheard part of Dr. Snodgrass' conversation with Paul and Snodgrass' brother-in-law, who worked at the MPD substation on campus. When she saw Lois sitting there, obviously agitated, she'd listened at the door and finally put two and two together. When she heard Lois mention Perry White, she'd written down the names of the women she remembered and given it to her. She'd also told police where she thought he might be keeping copies of the nondisclosure agreements. Since they weren't sanctioned by the university, she thought they might be at his lake house. They were. Four more names were found there.

Stupid cardboard hat. It wouldn't stay put. It was more a part of her hair style than just a hat. It couldn't move or... well, she might have to have Clark use a blast of his heat vision on it.

"It looks fine." Clark moved behind her to try to straighten his tie in the full length mirror in the bedroom.

"Thanks." She tweaked it just a bit and stuck another hairpin in it. "Nice tie."

Clark's grin reflected back at her. "It's one of the ones my mom made."

"I figured."

Neon yellow was the color for the background and in front of it was zig zag crocheted stripes in neon yellow, green, red, pink and orange. She tried not to shudder.

"Come on, no one's going to see it under the gown. And why are they called gowns anyway? Guys don't wear gowns."

"Sorry, just the way it is."

"Wayne and the Langs got in late last night. He called while you were in the shower."

"I can't believe your ex-girlfriend is going to be here."

"Lois, she's not my ex-girlfriend. We went out three times."

"Okay, fine. The woman who tried to get my husband to sleep with her a week after we got married."

"You got me there. She did do that, but she really didn't try very hard."

"*That's* supposed to make me feel better?"

He shrugged. "Maybe?"

Lois crossed her arms in front of her and stared at him in the mirror. "Do you wish she would have tried harder?"

Clark just looked at her eyes reflected back at him. "Of course not, but it's not like it was an all out seduction or anything. She kissed me, I told her to back off and that was the end of it."

"Uh huh."

"Jimmy and Lucy are supposed to be getting over there early and getting seats for Lucy and Perry and Alice. Eduardo and Cat are officially covering it for the paper but said that unofficially they're there for us too. Jimmy's actually taking pictures for the paper so that there's enough tickets for everyone else. And we're meeting everyone at the tree in front of the Luthor Building afterwards. There's no way to get them all together beforehand so..."

"That's nice of Cat and Eduardo. Three tickets each just isn't enough. Though," she conceded, "that would have meant Lana could have stayed home if wasn't for..."

Clark knew what she was thinking about. Lois received a letter from Mayson in the mail a couple of weeks earlier containing one ticket. She apparently didn't need it and said they could have it if they wanted it and to give it away if they didn't. That gave them seven tickets total and meant Lana was coming.

"It's going to be okay, you know." He moved to stand behind her and wrapped his arms around her, careful not to bump her cap. "I'm *here* with *you* and nothing Lana or anyone else says or does is going to change that."

"I know, it's just..." Her voice tapered off.

"I know. We're going straight to Perry and Alice's after graduation is over. Are you going to take something to change into?"

Lois frowned. "Is this a fancy shindig or what?"

Clark shrugged. "I doubt it, but Perry mentioned wanting to play poker later if enough people want to, so 'fancy' probably isn't how he'd describe it."

Lois nodded and moved out of his embrace to dig through her drawers to find something to wear. "You're right about that shopping spree." She sighed.

Clark just grinned at her.

"What?"

"Here." He moved to the window seat and pulled out a box.

"What's this?"

"Your graduation present."

"I didn't get you one. I didn't know we were doing graduation presents. Well," she admitted, "I do have something for you later, but it's not actually a present. More like a loan."

Clark shrugged. "I didn't have enough money left to take us anywhere nice tomorrow, so I did this instead. Once we get the money from Aunt Louise, we'll go out."

"Has her lawyer called back yet?"

He shook his head. "No, but open it already."

Lois tugged the lid of the box off. "Oh, Clark, thank you!"

Inside was an almost new pair of jeans and a shirt.

"I know they're not *new* but..."

"It's great. Really."

She pulled the shirt out of the box to look at it. Underneath was another set of new undergarments.

"*Those* are new. I hope you don't mind. You've needed some for a long time."

"Thank you," she whispered.

He glanced at the clock. "We've got to get going. Why don't you toss those in the bag with mine and we can leave them in the car until later. It's going to be nearly impossible to find a parking spot as it is."

She nodded and they finished getting ready to leave.

***

Clark walked behind Lois as Pomp and Circumstance played. He held his name card in his hand and knew she held one too. He scanned the gymnasium and quickly found Eduardo, Cat and Jimmy in the area reserved for the press. He continued scanning until he found Perry, Alice, and Lucy and, several sections away from them, Wayne and the Langs. He guessed he could understand why Lois really wouldn't want Lana there, but she'd been his foster sister for years and her parents had, understandably, assumed that she'd be coming. He'd talked to Lois about it months ago and she'd said it was fine. Given the way things had changed in the last month or so, he probably should have checked with her again, but it honestly hadn't occurred to him.

He'd have to make sure that she had no reason to be concerned. No time alone with Lana. Period. It wasn't like he had an overwhelming desire to have a long one-on-one with her anyway.

Unless Lois told him to get lost, he'd stick to her like glue.

***

"Ladies and gentlemen, the *graduated* class of 1988."

Lois turned her biggest smile towards Clark and was rewarded with one back. His arms wrapped around her waist and he picked her up as the rest of their class whooped and hollered. "We did it!"

"We sure did!"

She knocked his cap askew with hers, but she knew he didn't really care. He'd commented several times on how useless they were.

One of the things that had surprised her was that he'd held her hand almost the entire time.

After a few short minutes, the celebration quieted down and final words were spoken by those on the stage. More music played and they slowly made their way out of the gym. Once outside, they moved quickly to the designated meeting spot and found the group from Smallville.

Hugs were given to Clark from everyone, and Lois noticed that Lana held onto him a second or two longer than was strictly necessary. She also noticed that Clark held her eyes the whole time. His look was apologetic.

She knew she'd said she was fine with Lana coming, but she wasn't; not really. She was much closer to understanding that Clark wasn't going to leave her than she had been a month earlier, but even when he'd talked to her about it several months ago, she simply hadn't had the nerve to tell him she didn't want his former foster sister there.

When Lana finally let go of him, he reached a hand towards Lois. She took it and moved to his side.

"Wayne Irig, Lewis and Laura Lang, Lana, this is my wife, Lois. Lois... well, you can figure out who's who." He let go of her hand and put his arm around her and pulled her close to him. "You are a college graduate after all."

She smiled politely. "It's nice to meet all of you. Clark's been telling me about you for nearly a decade now."

"Lois, Clark!" Perry and Alice finally caught up with the rest of them. "You two seen Lucy yet? Jimmy's taking some pictures still and we got separated from your sister."

Clark shook his head and then repeated the introductions, finishing as Lucy finally arrived.

A few minutes later, directions had been given and the group started to split up to head to the home of Perry and Alice White. Jimmy had joined them in the meantime to take some pictures and to give Clark a back-slapping hug and Lois a kiss on the cheek -- during which he blushed furiously.

"Lois," Lana said. "Would you be so kind as to ride with my parents and Wayne to make sure they don't get lost?"

"Lana, honey, then there's no room for you," her mother said gently.

"Oh, I'm sure Clark wouldn't mind giving me a ride." She smiled sweetly at Clark. "Would you, Clark?"

Clark looked at Lois helplessly. "Ah... Lana..."

Perry's booming voice cut in. "Now, none of that. These two have worked hard to get where they are and I'm sure they'd appreciate a few minutes alone now that it's all said and done. Alice, darlin', why don't you take Mrs. Lang and Lana in our car and I'll go with these two fine gentlemen?"

Alice eagerly jumped in. "That sounds like a great idea. Lucy, why don't you join us? Jimmy probably needs a few more pictures and then he can give his camera to Eduardo or Cat to take back to the Planet for him." Jimmy scurried off and Lucy nodded her head. "This way, ladies."

Lois tried to silently communicate her thanks to Perry who glanced her way and winked before walking off.

***

"Lois, Clark, can I speak to you for a minute?" Laura Lang asked quietly.

"Sure." Clark led the way to Perry's study. "What can we do for you?"

"A couple of months ago, I found something while I was cleaning out the room that used to be yours. I knew I'd be seeing you now and didn't think it would be a big deal to wait but..." She stared at her hands. "Why don't you wear a wedding band, Clark? I would have thought that would be important to you."

Clark took Lois' hand. "It is and I did have one. It broke about six months after we got married and things have been too tight financially to replace it. It's on our list of things to do as soon as we start getting regular, real, paychecks or when we get some of an inheritance that was left to us. That should be here in the next month or so. Why?"

She opened the purse she'd brought with her and pulled out a ring box. "Here."

Clark glanced at Lois but released her hand to take the box from his former foster mom. He slowly opened it and tears instantly sprang to his eyes. "My dad's wedding band," he said softly. "I don't even know when I lost this."

"Oh, Clark." Lois' eyes filled with tears too. She knew how much it had broken his heart when he couldn't find it.

He almost blindly reached for his wife and pulled her close to him. "Dear God, I still miss him so much," he whispered against her hair.

"We all do, Clark." Laura had tears on her face as well. "Your parents were good people. I know they would be so proud of you today." A voice from the other room called her. "I'm glad I found that. Really, I am. And if I'd known yours had broken I would have sent it as soon as I found it."

"I know. Thank you." He released Lois and gave Laura a hug.

The voice called again and she left them.

Clark stared at the open box. "Wow."

"Yeah."

"I wonder if it fits." He gently took the ring out of the velvet lining and set the box down. He looked at the inside and read the inscription. "I'll love you till the end," he whispered. He stared at it for another minute and as he started it towards his left hand, he was stopped.

"Let me." Lois took his left hand in her own and, with her right, began to slide the ring on his finger. She hesitated only slightly before saying softly, "With this ring, I thee wed." It slipped on easily. "Look at that. Perfect."

Clark pulled her back into his arms. "Thank you."

***

"Read 'em and weep, boys." Lois laid her two cards on the table. "Aces over Kings."

Clark groaned. "Beats my two pair." He tossed his cards in the burn pile. "What about you, Lewis?"

His former foster dad shook his head. "Beats me, too."

Perry smiled. "And that, boys, is why you should know when to fold 'em. Like I did."

Lewis tossed two chips in the center of the table as his part of the next ante while Lois raked her winnings towards her. "I think I should have watched that movie with the rest of the women."

"Nah. It's some sappy love story. Besides, if you can beat Lois, you can beat anyone. And if you can't... well, there's a reason why she's not usually invited to poker night." Perry winked at her. "And it's not because she's not twenty-one yet."

"No, it's because I'm usually working."

"That, too."

Ten minutes later, it was down to just Lois and Clark. Clark fiddled with his pitifully small stack of chips.

"You might as well go all in," Lois told him.

Clark sighed. "Fine. All in."

Lois tossed four chips in to match him. He flipped his cards. Eight, Jack off suite. Lois flipped hers. Pair of tens.

Perry quickly dealt five more cards which ended with Lois' two pair winning the hand. She squealed slightly. "Where's the mug?!"

Perry took it off the shelf behind him. "Here you go."

"Five dollar buy in... Six people playing... That's thirty dollars. Perry, Jimmy, Clark and Lewis all bought in twice... another twenty. I'm rich!"

Clark leaned back in his chair. "Why don't you go play poker for a living and I'll just be a kept man?"

Lois' retort was cut off by the sound of the doorbell.

They heard Alice answer and say that Perry was in the dining room but couldn't hear who it was. Their unspoken question was answered when Henderson turned the corner. Lewis had long since disappeared, so it was now just the four of them.

"I wanted to give you two the news in person."

Lois stopped helping stack the chips. "What news?"

"Perry, there's a press conference on Monday detailing all of it. I'll let you have the exclusive to run in Monday's morning edition, but you'll need to clear the details through me first. The press conference is late enough that no one else will get it into their afternoon edition, but early enough that your evening edition can carry the rest of the details that I'll get to you before the press conference starts. Deal?"

Perry nodded.

"Deals have been struck all around. Tony Rader is going to plead guilty to four charges of accessory after the fact to rape. He didn't know about any of them ahead of time, but Paul had him fire you two, Olivia and a couple of others. He's probably guilty of about eight cases but his testimony helped with the rest."

"So firing us isn't in there then? If it's only rape and not an attempted rape?" Clark asked.

"Correct. He agreed to plead guilty to half the potential charges in exchange for information. Accessory to rape carries a stiffer sentence than accessory to attempted rape."

Lois and Clark both nodded. That made sense.

"Terry McCarter is an officer at the police substation on campus. Or he was. His brother-in-law is Dr. Snodgrass. He's been fired and is facing corruption charges. He'll probably agree to a deal, also implicating Paul Smith in a number of crimes, but it's not done yet. Dr. Snodgrass has, of course, lost his job. It turns out that his youngest sister had dated Smith a number of years ago and he said she'd broken his heart. Snodgrass and Smith had been pretty friendly and Smith came to him about ten years ago with a problem. He'd had a sexual relationship with a student who was now going to file a formal complaint since he didn't want to make it a long term thing. He swore it had never happened before and would never happen again. Snodgrass reluctantly agreed to help him, for old times' sake. The student was graduating a few weeks later and he thought that would be the end of it. There was no confidentiality agreement or anything like that, just pressure on the student of counter charges and loss of credit and failure to graduate."

Henderson flipped the page in his notebook. "The next December, Snodgrass got another call from Smith, this time regarding a student who was graduating at semester rather than the end of the school year. Smith threatened to reveal his involvement in covering up the previous incident if he didn't help with this one too. Afraid for his job and his reputation, he acquiesced. And it went from there. We found a total of nine agreements at the lake home of Dr. Snodgrass. Five were names that you'd given us, Mrs. Kent, and four other ones, but I'm sure you knew that by now. Snodgrass is pleading guilty to seven counts of either accessory or accomplice to rape or attempted rape and bribery. Your case is included in that one. He's also lost his job and his pension. He would have been eligible to draw money from his pension in three years."

Perry whistled. "Wow. That's gotta hurt. I'm glad but..."

The police officer nodded. "Now, Smith... A closer look at his record shows allegations of misconduct as far back as college. A female student who worked with him accused him of sexual harassment. Nothing too serious in the scheme of things, but certainly inappropriate behaviors, including accidentally falling on her and fondling her breast as he tried to stand up. Eventually, the complaint was dropped, but we haven't been able to find her and he's not talking. As near as we can tell at this point -- based on the testimony of Rader, McCarter and Snodgrass as well as the women we talked to -- since he started at UNT Met thirteen years ago, he's been in twelve quasi-consensual relationships. We're saying quasi-consensual because the women say they agreed to it -- they didn't try to stop him; it wasn't rape -- but with him being a position of authority over them... We've found one attempted rape -- that's you, Mrs. Kent -- as well as thirteen allegations of rape from thirteen other women. I'm guessing that part of his willingness to deal is that he's afraid we'll find other skeletons in his closet."

"What about the tape?" Perry asked.

"That's what did him in. We didn't say anything before because we didn't want to until we knew more. In every student and employee handbook at UNT Met, there's a few sentences that explains that any verbal exchange on campus may be recorded for future use. The vast majority of conversations are not. The reasoning for it was so that a lecture could be recorded or a class discussion, things of that nature, for later use without having to get consent every time. However, since every contract signed by an employee says they've read the handbook and agree to abide by it, they have implicitly agreed to have any conversation recorded, with no prior knowledge necessary. Same for the application form for students. So the tape is admissible."

Clark pulled Lois closer to him. "Good job, honey."

"I didn't mean to tape the attack -- it just sort of happened."

"But if you hadn't thought to tape Snodgrass, who knows when we would have found it?"

Lois nodded. "True."

"So Smith is pleading guilty to one charge of attempted rape, six charges of rape and six charges of sexual harassment -- about half of what he could be charged with. The prosecutor is recommending thirteen years per charge of rape. That's a total of seventy-eight years for just the rape charges. Even with time off for good behavior and such, he's looking at almost forty years before he could get out. The attempted rape and harassment charges will add to that total."

Tears streamed down Lois' face. "It's over?"

Henderson beamed at her. "It is. I'm proud of you for doing the right thing. I will tell you that he wanted us to charge you two with leaving the scene of a crime or some such nonsense because you left him there unconscious, but..." He shrugged. "You said he was making noise when you left and that you did come back to check on him later and he was gone, so... I strongly doubt the prosecutor will do anything about it. Officially, the pleas are going to be heard first thing Monday morning. Perry, coordinate with my office on what you can print before then."

Perry nodded. "Thank you, Henderson."

Henderson stood and motioned Perry to follow him, presumably to continue the discussion.

Clark sat in one of the dining chairs and held a hand out to Lois. "Come here."

Lois gratefully took his hand then sank onto his lap. He wrapped his arms around her and held her while her tears fell.

Neither noticed when Lana came around the corner, intending to ask Clark for his help with something. Her mouth hung open for a moment, then snapped shut and she retreated from the room.

"Anyone for cake and ice cream?" Wayne's voice called out from the kitchen. "I don't know about ya'll but I sure could use some."

Lois swiped at her eyes. "Ready?"

Clark nodded and together they walked to meet their friends and family.

When everyone was gathered in the kitchen and had a drink in hand, Perry held up his cup of soda. "Now, I know this isn't a real fancy gathering, and since half our couple of honor can't drink, we don't have any champagne or anything like that, but I would like to propose a toast. To Lois and Clark, who have made it through the last three and a half years intact, with a bit of grace and dignity and who already have the first successful Lane and Kent investigation under their belts. You kids have done good." He raised his cup slightly higher. "To Lois and Clark."

"To Lois and Clark," everyone but Lana echoed.

Clark had put his arm around his wife while Perry spoke, and he pulled her closer and kissed the side of her head and then took a sip from his cup. "I'm proud of you," he whispered.

"Thank you," she whispered back. "And I'm proud of you. I never could have done any of this without you. But right now, I want some of that chocolate ice cream."

Clark laughed. "Me, too."

***

"I can't believe I'm about to say this, but... Lana didn't seem too bad."

Clark grinned at her as he emerged from the bathroom already dressed for bed, but still toweling off his hair and upper body. "Told you she wasn't so bad."

"Well, I might be willing to put her on my Christmas card list, but that's about it."

He laughed. "I never expected you to be best friends, but I don't think she's the she-devil you seem to think sometimes."

"I never said she was a she-devil, just a wanna-be home wrecker."

"Lo-is."

"Fine. I'll be nice."

"Good, because we *are* going to lunch with them tomorrow."

"I know."

He noticed, for the first time, the package sitting in front of her. "What's that?"

"I told you earlier there was something I want to give you. You'll have to give it back; it's not really mine, but I'd like you to at least read it sometime." She fingered the ribbon that held the paper in place. "I'm still not sure I'm ready for this, but if I want this to work, I have to trust you at some point." She handed it to him without looking at him.

He climbed into the bed next to her and held it on his lap. "Are you sure?"

She nodded. "Yeah."

He tugged on one end of the ribbon and the bow came undone. He unfolded the paper and pulled a book out. "The Amazing Adventures of Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy." He turned to look at her. "Really?"

"You'll have to give it back to Lucy at some point. She knows I'm giving it to you and encouraged me to, but she does want it back."

"Of course."

"It's not completely autobiographical, but it might give you some idea of what life was like before I met you. I told her different stories after Journalism Camp. The fairies went the way of the dodo and were replaced with Princesses who were a reporter and photographer living in the Wild West." She paused. "I have some of those written down, too. Maybe I'll let you read them sometime, but for now... I'm not ready for that."

"Come here." He wrapped one arm around her and pulled her towards him, kissing the side of her head as it came to rest against him. "Thank you," he whispered, his voice husky; his eyes misted over. "I know how hard this must have been for you and... Just thank you for trusting me."

***

Chapter 26

"This is a great place, Clark," Laura Lang said.

The six of them sat at a little family diner near the apartment.

"We came here for our second anniversary but haven't been back since. We enjoyed it then and have been looking for an occasion to come back when we had the time and it wouldn't break the budget."

Wayne looked thoughtful for a minute, but didn't say anything.

As they finished eating, everyone relaxed and moved from small talk to catching Clark up on the news of 'home'. Clark leaned back in his chair, his long legs stretching out as much as they could in the nearly empty diner. One arm easily rested on the back of Lois' chair, his thumb occasionally rubbing her shoulder gently.

Lana had managed to get a seat across from him and Clark was nearly certain that some of the 'incidental' touches of her shoeless foot against his leg weren't incidental at all. He'd angled himself slightly to one side so his legs were stretched more into the aisle than under the table; she'd have a harder time getting to him without being noticeable. He knew there was no way that her parents would approve of her hitting on a married man, even if they had once hoped that they'd end up together. He had no idea if he was the one they'd hoped their daughter would end up with, but that wouldn't matter. He was married and, therefore, off limits. Period.

He didn't think Lois had noticed. He'd mention it to her later, of course; he wasn't going to keep that kind of secret after all they'd been through the last month trying to rebuild their relationship.

He noticed Lois was quiet as the rest of them chatted amiably about Smallville. Which high school friends had gotten married, who had babies, who was getting divorced, who had moved to California to try to land the ultimate acting gig. Before long the conversation turned to the annual Corn Festival.

"Are you two going to make it this year now that you won't be in school?" Wayne asked.

Clark looked at Lois, who shrugged. "I have no idea what we'll be doing, but we'll try. I'd love to show Lois what it's really like to worship corn." He struggled to keep from smiling.

"Clark!" Lois was mortified. He'd mentioned the Corn Festival in one of his letters years ago and she'd written back that she could do a story on ritual crop worship.

Everyone but Lana laughed.

"Lois, don't worry about it. I thought the same thing when I first started dating Lewis. I grew up in Kansas City and this whole farm thing was new to me. You'll have fun though, I promise," Laura told her.

"You *can* two step and tush push, can't you?" Lana's question had a slightly bitter edge to it.

Lois shook her head. "No, sure can't. A friend of mine in high school tried to get me to take line dancing lessons with her my junior year -- she said it was a great way to meet guys -- but I didn't have the time and my parents wouldn't give me the money so..."

Clark's eyes gleamed. "That just means I'll get to teach you before the Festival rolls around."

Lois groaned. "Learning to line dance. Sounds like a lot of fun."

Clark just grinned at her. "Oh, I'm sure we can find a way to make it fun."

The double entendre wasn't lost on anyone, least of all Lois and Lana. Lois was turning eight shades of red. She knew what everyone would think Clark meant by that statement, and it was something that would be expected for a young couple who was finally about to have more free time to spend together. On the other hand, Lana's eyes narrowed. It was one thing for Clark to be married; it was quite another for him to flaunt it in front of her.

"I'm sure you can." She reached over and, apparently absentmindedly, patted his thigh then turned back to the rest of the group. "I'll put it on the calendar and, if we can, we'll be there, on one condition."

"What's that?" Laura asked.

"I get to hear all the juicy stories about Clark that he won't tell me." Her eyes sparkled. She doubted there were many truly *juicy* stories about Clark, but she'd take what she could get.

"How about one or two to get you started and we'll tell the rest when we see you this fall?" Laura winked at Clark.

Clark looked around for a way to escape. "Isn't there some sort of tractor that needs fixing or something? Come on, Wayne, Lewis -- you're not going to let them do this to me are you?"

Wayne laughed loudly. "Let them? Son, first it would take an act of God to stop them and second, who says we won't share a story or two of our own?"

Clark sighed, resigned. "Can't you at least wait till I'm not around?"

"Now, what fun would that be?" Lewis asked. "It's a rite of passage listening to your family and friends tell your wife embarrassing stories about you."

"I've got one," Laura said. "Clark was probably about six years old and Martha called me up in a panic. She couldn't find him *anywhere*. They'd looked in the barn, in his tree house, the root cellar, storm shelter, everywhere they could think of. They even checked his room, which was the absolute last place he would be on a sunny, summer day. He wasn't supposed to leave the farm that day, but other times it wasn't uncommon for him to end up at our house. Maisie's oldest daughter was getting married that evening so Clark was supposed to stay close."

She took a sip of her water as Clark stared straight ahead, sure he knew where this was going. "So Martha called and asked if we'd seen him. We hadn't, but we started looking for Lana to see if she had. Well, we couldn't find Lana either. Martha ended up calling Sheriff Harris and he and one of his deputies came out to help search. It was several hours later before we finally found them. We'd checked the barn, of course, but not the hayloft, because they weren't supposed to be up there without a grownup. Sure enough, they were both sound asleep up there. It turns out they thought getting married sounded like fun -- Jenny was getting a new dress and a big party and all of that -- so they'd decided to walk to Johnson County -- now, that's up near Kansas City so about 140 miles from Smallville -- and get married, but they'd only made it as far as Shuster's Field when Lana got too tired and they turned around and came back. They climbed up into the loft and fell asleep, completely unaware of all the fuss. By the time we finally found them, half the county was looking for them and poor Jenny was afraid that her wedding was going to be upstaged by a couple of missing six-year-olds. We found them about an hour before the wedding was supposed to start, and they ended up pushing everything back forty-five minutes so everyone else would have time to get ready and get there."

Clark sighed. "I was grounded for two weeks *and* Dad wouldn't let me watch or even listen to any Cardinal games or the All Star Game, which was on that week. That was something we did every year, and that year I didn't get to because I was in so much trouble."

"That was the day Clark promised he was going to marry me, you know," Lana said, her tone implying that that was one promise he should have kept.

"So sorry that didn't work out for you, Lana." Lois put on her best smile. "I'm sure someday you'll find someone you think is as wonderful as I think Clark is."

Lana looked like she was going to say something but thought better of it and simply glared at her.

"Lana, we were six," Clark said gently. "The week before you promised Terry Jones you would marry him and after I was done being grounded, you promised we'd get to walk on Mars and see if there really were any little green men. I don't think either one of us are going to hold you to those."

"That's good." Lois' eyes practically twinkled at him. "I'm not sure I want you out there searching for alien life forms."

Clark smiled at her. "Don't worry. I have no intention of joining NASA anytime soon."

"Good."

Lewis decided that it would be a good time to change the subject. "So, that cop that came to the Whites' yesterday... what did he want with the two of you? Nothing serious, I hope."

Lois and Clark immediately grew somber and it was like a wet blanket had been thrown over the conversation.

"I'm sorry," Lewis continued. "If it's something sensitive or..." His voice trailed off. "Forget I said anything."

Clark's arm moved to Lois' shoulder and he pulled her closer to him. "It's not that... It's going to be all over the news around here tomorrow anyway but it's a story we've been working on. We've known Perry for years but just started working at the Daily Planet a few weeks ago, and we've been involved in an investigation into a couple of people at UNT Met. Henderson came by to tell us that plea deals have been arranged with all but one of the people involved and since we -- and a couple of senior reporters at the Planet who've been working on it -- have the exclusive, he wanted to give us some of the details."

"Wow. What kind of investigation was it?" Wayne asked.

Lois sighed then spoke, knowing Clark wouldn't give out more information without her approval. "Allegations of sexual misconduct, including rape and attempted rape, by one of the professors on campus. One of the vice presidents was involved in covering it up, as was his brother-in-law who worked at the MPD substation on campus. Another person outside the school, but who works closely with the professor on internships and things like that, was implicated as an accessory after the fact for firing some of the women involved."

Wayne whistled. "What a way to get your foot in the door in journalism. How'd you two stumble on to that?"

Clark gently rubbed Lois' shoulder, waiting for her to tell what she chose.

She took a deep breath and leaned into him. "I was the attempted rape victim. Clark got there just in time to stop it. When I tried to file a complaint with the administration, the vice president said that the professor was accusing me of coming on to him, saying that I would cry 'rape' if he didn't sleep with me, and they both accused Clark of having an affair in an attempt to get me to do what they wanted. We went to Henderson because we trust him implicitly. Our boss at the Star fired us before our contract was up the day after this all happened. We went to Perry, he assigned two senior reporters to work with us and that's that. The heavily edited version will be in Monday morning's paper. Since the Planet has the exclusive, the details will be in the afternoon edition. It comes out after the scheduled press conference but no one else will be able to get it into their papers until Tuesday morning's edition. As one of the victims..."

"Not victim, honey," Clark said gently.

She smiled gratefully at him. "Sorry. As one of the *survivors* who worked on it, he thought we should know ahead of time. I would imagine they're either calling or visiting a number of the others today."

"How many were there all together?"

"Over the last fifteen years or so, there have been about thirty female students that he either had an inappropriate relationship with or that he eventually raped. That we know of. It's been ten years since the vice president got involved in covering it up."

"Are you okay, Lois?" Laura asked, concerned.

"Yeah, I'm okay. Physically, I was always fine. He was careful never to bruise me or anything. Mentally, emotionally... I'm working on it. Clark's been a rock for me." She patted his leg. "I don't know what I'd do without him."

"Then I'm glad you have him," Laura said, smiling at her.

***

"Um, Lois, we might have a bit of a problem," Clark said quietly as they drove back to their apartment.

"What's that?"

"Laura asked me if Lana could stay with us tonight."

"What? Why?"

"I guess she and Lewis want some time... alone." He grimaced. "I know they're not actually my parents, but..."

"Right. It's still..." She shuddered.

"Exactly. Anyway, we'd all talked about everyone coming over for dinner, but apparently they have reservations at that new restaurant over on Roosevelt. For two. So just Lana and Wayne are coming over for dinner in a little while. Then Lana's spending the night."

"Why?" Her voice was almost a whine.

"She just assumed it would be okay. I was about to say something about it being our first night alone in ages or something since Lucy won't be there either, but... I was interrupted. Then Lewis came over and thanked me for giving them some time alone."

"Great."

"Maybe it won't be so bad..."

Lois raised an eyebrow at him.

"Okay, it could *easily* be that bad." He sighed as he pulled into a spot in front of their building. "She was trying to play footsies with me at lunch."

Lois just glared at him as she climbed out of the car. "And, you know, you *did* promise to marry her after all. I think she's still mad you didn't keep that promise."

"She'll have to get over it."

"Wish she would." They climbed the stairs to the apartment.

"She will." He unlocked the door. "Eventually."

"I'm revising my opinion from yesterday."

"Can't say that I blame you."

Several hours later, Wayne and Lana were seated at the dining room table with Lois and Clark. They chatted amiably, though Lois noticed Lana sneaking sidelong glances at Clark.

Okay, he was good-looking; she knew that. And he was a great guy; she knew that too. But what was it with other women making brazen passes at her husband? She could sort of understand where Mayson might think that they were having problems and Clark could be available, but Lana... Lana had no reason to believe that things were anything but blissful between her and Clark.

When dinner was done, Wayne asked Clark if they could speak privately for a minute and they disappeared onto the balcony for a few minutes.

She cleared the table while Lana moved to the couch and studiously ignored her. Lois sighed. She *was* a guest, after all, so it probably shouldn't be expected that she'd help, but still... it would have been polite of her to ask.

Well, she guessed 'polite' was too much to ask of the woman who wanted to steal her husband.

***

"How're you doin', son?" Wayne asked as the door closed on the balcony behind them.

Clark shrugged. "I'm fine. I'm glad we're done with school. I quit my pizza and paper delivery jobs a week ago so I have a lot more time on my hands now. We're spending more time at the Planet than we did at the Star working on this story and some other stuff Perry has us doing. Nothing too big yet, but... it'll come. It's nice to just have some time to spend with Lois; that's been hard to come by the last three years."

"Well, that's good, but that's not what I meant."

"What'd you mean?"

"This whole near rape business. That man nearly violated your wife -- and did in many ways, even if the act wasn't actually finished."

"You know, you're the first person to ask me that." Clark rested his forearms against the half wall and stared into the alley. "I think I'm okay. I mean, if I ever run into him in a dark alley or catch him hurting someone else, I don't know that I could restrain myself. I nearly didn't that night. He was unconscious for a few minutes after I tackled him off Lois. He hit his head on a filing cabinet and it knocked him out."

"What about you and Lois?"

A small smile crossed his face. "If you ever tell Lois this, I'd probably deny it until I had a chance to really explain it to her, but in some ways it's been a good thing. I mean, I wouldn't wish something like this one anyone, much less the woman I love but... Things have been really hard between us for the last three years. Between school and work and everything else, our time together has been very limited. It wasn't uncommon for one of us to get home just as the other was going to bed, if not already asleep. I've been up before the crack of dawn to deliver papers nearly every morning and woke her up right before I left. It didn't leave much time for us to build a relationship. We'd written a lot but we hadn't dated or anything like that to get to know us as a couple, and we still haven't really had that chance. This whole thing... Afterwards, we ended up talking for hours about a lot of different things -- including the affair I was alleged to be having and a bunch of other stuff. We're closer now than we ever have been. Losing our jobs at the Star and being suspended from the Metropolitan has given us a lot more time together and we've needed that."

Wayne leaned against the wall next to him. "Maggie and I started dating in high school," he started slowly. "I don't remember a time when I didn't know her, but we were sixteen when we went on our first date. We broke up when she went off to college to study to be a teacher because we didn't think a long distance relationship could work." He was silent for a few minutes before going on. "She came home for Christmas her senior year a changed person. She didn't tell anyone what happened for a very long time. We started dating again and, at Easter, I asked her to marry me. I'd known since I was five that I wanted to marry her and I didn't really care what had happened to change her; I just knew that I loved her. She did love me, don't misunderstand, but she still wouldn't tell me what had happened. Just that something had, and she'd put it behind her and that she wanted to move on. We were married that June."

Wayne paused again and Clark waited patiently for him to continue. "I'd looked forward to our wedding night for well over six years by that point -- ever since I was old enough to think about those things. We drove up to Kansas City after the wedding and checked into a hotel. She'd gotten quieter as we drove and when I asked her about it, she just said that she was a bit nervous; after all, we'd never done this before. We checked in and started to..." he made a vague gesture with his hand. "Before I knew what had happened, she was curled up in a ball on one side of the bed, pulling the blanket over her and crying her eyes out. It was an hour before she'd finally tell me what the problem was. I was imagining all kinds of things -- she didn't really love me, something about me repulsed her, and everything else.

"She told me that she'd gone out with a football player that fall. We weren't together or anything at the time so it wasn't like she was cheating on me, but that wasn't the point. After they'd gone out a few times, he started pushing her for more than she was ready for. When she tried to stop him, he raped her. It was what you'd probably call date rape today. She said that she couldn't bear to go back to school afterwards and so she'd dropped out. When I asked her out again, she jumped at the chance and I didn't question it. She said she'd hoped that it was behind her, and because she really did love me and she knew I loved her, that it wouldn't be an issue, but it was. A big one. After six months, she offered to divorce me so I could find a wife who wasn't damaged goods. I told her she'd do no such thing -- that I loved her, all of her, even her scars and that we'd work through it together. It was our first anniversary before... before we were able to really be together. Even then, there were some nights when the flashbacks or nightmares still came. It wasn't until after our first son was born a couple years later that she was really free of them.

"I still remember how it made me feel to know that someone had hurt this wonderful woman like that. It tore up my insides, and I wanted nothing more than to hunt him down and make him pay for it. It hurt me and it hurt our marriage, even though we survived that very difficult first year. But you... you saw it happening. I never even knew what the man looked like, except for a very vague tall, blond and handsome description. But this man is someone you knew and trusted, probably even respected, and you saw him attacking your wife. I can't begin to imagine how you didn't hurt him worse than you did."

"I don't know how I didn't either."

"So, are you and Lois... okay?"

Clark shrugged. "We haven't... since then." Part of him wanted to pour his heart out to this man who had been a big part of his life for so long; his parents' best friend. But he also didn't want to betray Lois' trust like that. He knew she hadn't ever told Aunt Louise what things were really like between them and trusted that he hadn't either -- well, to be honest, she probably thought he'd told Mayson, but she knew better now. "She has nightmares most nights. Wakes up screaming. The only thing that keeps them away is if I'm actually holding her, which I don't mind in the slightest, but once I'm asleep... She hasn't slept well in years -- nightmares from growing up most nights. They don't usually wake her up but I can still tell she's not sleeping as well as she should."

"Was she abused?"

Clark shook his head. "Not as such. Maybe emotionally, but not physically or sexually. Very definitely neglected. Dad was gone most of the time with one girlfriend or another, Mom was usually drunk to the point of either throwing up or passing out most nights. She practically raised her sister even before we got custody of her. It was a little better once her parents remarried a couple years before they died but..."

"Sounds like she's had a rough go of it."

"She has," Clark confirmed quietly. "And she's worked so hard the last three years to graduate with me."

"Was it worth it?"

"What do you mean?"

"Working so hard to graduate together probably put a crimp in how much time the two of you spent together."

He shrugged. "I don't know that it would have made a difference, except that she probably wouldn't have had to work as hard her senior year because I'd have had a real job."

"That's another thing I wanted to ask you about."

"What's that?"

"Why didn't you ask me for some of the money from the account instead of just the rent?"

"What do you mean?"

"The money in the account in Smallville."

"I didn't think there was much in there. I thought I'd spent most of it when I fixed the house up."

Wayne shook his head. "No. You did spend quite a bit, but there's still a lot left. What you used came out of the farm maintenance account, but that wasn't all of what they left you -- not by a long shot. Your parents had quite a bit of life insurance. Between that and the rent on the farm over the years, plus interest, there's quite a bit there. It's not officially yours to do whatever you want with for a few more years, but if you want it, I would let you have it for just about anything. Nothing stupid, of course, but..."

"Thanks, Wayne. Lois' Aunt Louise left us quite a bit of money too, but we don't get any of it until sometime next month -- we think. We were supposed to get the first 25% after graduation, but we haven't heard back from the lawyer yet. She knew how much we were struggling to make ends meet and Lois has wondered aloud several times why she made us wait for it. The only answer we came up with was to build character. The reality is, it probably has. The struggles we've had to make ends meet the last three and a half years mean we'll never take having enough for granted. Between what Aunt Louise has left us and, from what you said, my folks, I don't think we can retire before we ever start, but I doubt we'll ever really want for anything."

Wayne clapped him on the back. "That's a great attitude to have, son. If you ever need someone to talk to -- someone who's been there -- you give me a call, you hear?"

Clark nodded.

"Now, something tells me that wife of yours might need rescuing from Lana."

Clark sighed. "Probably."

"I think she's still got designs on you," Wayne added quietly.

"She does," Clark replied just as softly. "She tried to get me to sleep with her when I came home to pack up after our honeymoon. She tried to play footsies with me this afternoon and then the whole 'promised to marry her' thing..."

"Clark, let me give you some advice -- something I wish Maggie and I had been able to do. I think it might have helped us resolve things sooner..."

"What's that?"

"Get away from here for a while if you can. From the sound of it, you two have the money that you can travel some -- I'll release funds for that -- and spend a couple months in Australia or six in Europe or Asia or wherever. Don't just be vacationers or whatever, write travel pieces or a book, things like that, but get away, just the two of you for a fairly extended period. You won't have the pressures of a job and bills and things like that but can spend the time getting to know each other again away from distractions. It sounds like you need to."

"I'll think about it."

"That's all I can ask."

***

Wayne had left hours ago. Lana was still talking Clark's ear off -- jabbering about one friend or another, relating every story she could think of that revolved around her and Clark and what good friends they'd been and how simply everyone had been disappointed that the two of them hadn't ended up together.

Clark had admonished her for that, saying that 'everyone' didn't matter -- he loved Lois and that was all that counted. They'd moved the oversized chaise Aunt Louise had left them into their bedroom for a while so it wouldn't sit in storage, but had never really used it. Lucy and Jimmy had moved it to the living room one night a couple months earlier when they were having a movie marathon and it had stayed there. That was where Lois and Clark now sat, neither one of them willing to let on that there might be the slightest rift between them for Lana to take advantage of.

Given the late hour and lack of interest in anything Lana had to say, Lois had begun to doze off. Before long she was sound asleep and Clark knew it was time to do something.

"It's time for bed, Lana. Lois left you some blankets and a pillow over there." He nodded towards the alcove next to the stairs that led to the door. "The couch is actually pretty comfortable."

"She makes you sleep out here?"

Clark gave her a look. "No, but I have napped there a time or two. So have Lois and Lucy and Lucy's boyfriend. It's not bad at all."

"Why do I have to sleep on the couch? Why can't I stay in her sister's room?"

"Well, it's not a room, it's a loft, and it's Lucy's. We haven't asked her if you can because we haven't talked to her since your mom asked if you could stay here tonight; we wouldn't put someone in her space without asking. Besides that, Lois wasn't sure if she's coming home tonight or not."

"Some guardian," Lana muttered.

"We're not Lucy's guardians anymore. She's over eighteen and she's graduating from high school in two weeks. Tomorrow she has study hall first period and is at a friend's house for an all day biology study session. She wasn't sure what time they'd be done and so she took her things with her to spend the night. Not that it's really any of your business." He shifted slightly so that he held Lois more securely and would be able to get up without an obvious use of his powers. *That* was something he definitely didn't want Lana knowing about. "Now, I'm going to put my *wife* to bed. I'll see you in the morning."

"Clark, will you please come talk to me some more? I haven't seen you in years and who knows when we'll see each other again. I'd like to make the most of the time we have." Lana smiled at him. "Please."

Clark sighed. "For a few minutes. I don't like to leave her alone too long at night. She doesn't sleep as well if I'm not there."

Lana looked like she was going to say something, but Clark cut her off.

"And I don't sleep as well without her either so..."

Lana nodded and smiled again. "Thanks, Clark." She pointed towards the back of the bedroom. "I'm going to use the bathroom really quick."

Clark nodded and waited for her to be out of sight and then floated himself and Lois up. He stood and carried her to their room.

***

Chapter 27

Lois was aware as Clark laid her gently on their bed and pulled the covers over her. He kissed her temple softly and whispered that he'd be back in a few minutes. She heard movement in the bathroom and realized that Lana must be in there. She knew Lana still wanted Clark and would have known even if Clark hadn't told her about the whole footsies thing at the restaurant.

She briefly contemplated faking a nightmare, knowing that would bring Clark to her side in an instant and he wouldn't leave her after that, but she couldn't do that. She heard Lana open the door to the bathroom and heard her walking across their room.

"Go to bed, Lana, and stay away from my husband," she said quietly, surprising both herself and Lana.

Lana paused, but said nothing and continued towards the living room.

Lois laid there for a few more minutes, straining to hear what was being said on the other side of the wall. It wasn't long before she heard Clark tell Lana good night and soon he slid into bed next to her.

"Hey, you still awake?" he whispered as he cautiously reached for her -- unwilling to scare her if he could avoid it.

"Yeah," she whispered back and rolled over into his embrace.

"Stay away from me?"

She could see his smile. "I already told off one woman who wanted to take my husband this month; the second one might get decked." She could see his face lit by the dim moonlight coming in through the big window on the other side of their room. She reached out and touched his cheek. "I do love you, you know."

He smiled again. "I know." He turned slightly and kissed her palm. "Get some sleep. Tomorrow's a big day."

***

The article by Cat and Eduardo, with special contributions from Lois and Clark, appeared on the front page of Monday's Daily Planet -- pictures of the four men implicated in the scandal and the sixty-point headline of "Campus Scandal Revealed" under which read "UNT Met VP, Professor, Star editor to plead guilty; MPD officer also implicated"; all above the fold. It told the city, and the world, the bare bones of the story that would be public knowledge by the end of the day. The hearings for the three who were pleading guilty were closed to the public, but Eduardo had been allowed in as part of the exclusive deal. No other reporter managed to get in. Tony Rader had been suspended indefinitely from the Star pending the outcome of the whole thing, and part of his deal was that he would not be allowed to write any of it up for the Star for a period of time -- another of their reporters would have to do it.

Eduardo arrived back at the Daily Planet just before noon with all the details. The four of them worked together to put the finishing touches on the articles they'd worked on, now that the details, like prison sentences, were finalized.

Lois' name had been thrown about for weeks by the campus paper as well as the Star before her full involvement was known. It was fairly obvious to those 'in the know' -- Professor Smith was suspended because of rape allegations the same weekend that Lois and Clark were removed from the paper. It was a logical conclusion to make.

Henderson had called that morning and asked Lois either to make a statement or have a statement ready to be read at that afternoon's press conference, and she'd agreed. She was in the conference room working on it with Cat when she realized that what she was wearing simply wouldn't work, and Clark volunteered to run home and get her something else.

He bounded up the steps to the apartment and unlocked the door. He opened it and stopped short at what he saw.

There, on the couch, wearing one of his blue dress shirts and playing solitaire on the coffee table was Lana.

She looked up and smiled at him. "I hope you don't mind that I borrowed a shirt. I spilled milk all over my clothes and threw them in the washer but needed something else to wear until they're done."

Clark left the door wide open and quickly descended the stairs. He tossed a blanket at her. "Cover yourself up, Lana. And, yes, I do mind. Why aren't you with your parents yet?"

She shrugged and, in apparent deference to his wishes, pulled the blanket onto her lap where it did precious little to cover her long, bare legs as she stretched them out to the coffee table. "They said they'd call when they were on their way over to get me and I haven't heard from them yet."

Clark glanced at the wall. "Could that be because the phone is off the hook?"

She shrugged again. "I must have bumped it at some point."

He glared at her. "There's a whole dresser full of clothes in there that probably would have fit you a lot better than one of my shirts," he pointed out.

She shuddered delicately. "I looked in Lois' dresser but everything was so worn and outdated that I didn't want to wear any of it." She stood and moved towards him. "You really should have someone show her how to dress if she wants to be attractive."

"You don't know what you're talking about, Lana."

"Sure, I do. If she knew how to dress a little better, maybe had a few somethings sexy, that 'alleged' affair wouldn't have happened."

Clark had moved into their bedroom and pulled a pair of shorts and a T-shirt out of Lois' dresser. He threw them at Lana as he headed towards the closet to find Lois some clothes. "Get dressed. And there was no affair. And there's not going to be. I love Lois and that's all there is to it."

His back turned, he looked through the bottom of the closet for the pair of shoes Lois had said she wanted. When they weren't there, he remembered that she'd mentioned Lucy had borrowed them to wear to graduation and that they might still be up in the loft. He turned, trying to avert his eyes from Lana, who he knew was still there. She had pulled on the pair of sweat shorts -- an old pair of his he now realized -- and was slowly unbuttoning his shirt. One part of him was just grateful it hadn't been a white one, the rest just wanted to get out of there.

Resolutely looking away, he hurried to the staircase and ascended rapidly. He went to the corner where Lucy kept her shoes and found the ones he was looking for. He prayed to whatever God might be out there that Lana wasn't following him up here.

That prayer wasn't answered the way he'd hoped. He turned to see her standing at the top of the staircase, having changed shirts as requested, but the way she was now backlit from the apartment below, it was obvious that she was... more generously endowed than Lois and she wasn't wearing anything under it. From the way she moved towards him, she had only one thing in mind.

Already off balance, he fell easily as she pushed him towards Lucy's bed, landing squarely in the middle of it. He started to roll but was stopped by her body on his. He felt her lips covering his own and with a loud growl pushed her upwards. "Get off me, Lana." He was practically shouting. "I don't want you. Don't you get that?" He pushed as hard as he could without hurting her and rolled away from her coming to a standing stop on the other side. "I never wanted you. Not in preschool, not in fifth grade, not in high school, not the week after I got married and certainly not now."

"You can't want *her*," Lana remarked snidely. "She's not half the woman you should have." She moved closer to Clark who moved back towards the stairs. "She never has to know. Just you and me and ecstasy, Clark. It's what we've always wanted. What you promised me. I know you married her out of some misguided sense of loyalty to a long time pen pal, but that's okay. As long as I know that you really want to be with me, I'm willing to share for now."

Clark reached the top of the stairs and carefully worked his way backwards. "No, Lana. I don't want you. I never wanted you. Get that through your head. What would your parents think if they knew you were making a pass at a married man?"

"They always wanted us to be together. Why do you think they let you live with us all those years? I asked them to and they did because they thought we would be great together."

"But I'm married, so even if they did, it wouldn't matter anymore."

Lana shrugged. "It's a minor detail."

"You're delusional." He reached the bottom of the staircase and turned around to see a startled Lewis and Laura Lang standing there.

"Clark," his former foster dad said seriously, "I think I need to have a talk with my daughter." He turned to Lana who was halfway down the stairs. "Young lady, it's about time we got a few things straight."

Clark looked relieved. "Um, you'll have to excuse me. I needed to pick up a few things for the press conference this afternoon. There's a key under the mat if you wouldn't mind locking up whenever you're done."

Lewis nodded; his stern gaze still on his daughter. "We were planning on attending as a show of support for you and Lois, but now I'm not so sure that's a good idea."

"Thanks for the thought, but you're probably right." Clark looked his foster dad in the eyes. "I have to tell Lois about this, you know. If she sees Lana after I do... I know who's more likely to come out unscathed, and it's not your daughter."

"Of course you'll have to tell her. We're not planning on leaving for a few more days, but rest assured, my daughter is going to steer clear of you and your wife. Wayne's planning on being at the courthouse. Tell him we'll meet him back at the hotel later."

"Yes, sir."

"Lana, go sit in the living room. I want to talk to Clark for a minute. Laura, will you go with her?"

Laura nodded and moved with Lana to the couch.

"Clark," Lewis spoke quietly. "I'm sorry for the way Lana's behaved. I thought she gave up on the dream of the two of you ending up together years ago." He clapped Clark on the shoulder. "I'm proud of you, though, for standing up for your marriage, for Lois, in all forums lately. By protecting her when she needed it and by getting away from Lana when you could -- and for leaving the door wide open so that we could come in without interrupting what was happening and so we'd see and hear enough to know what was going on."

"Thank you," Clark said quietly. "But I really need to get going. I'm not going to tell Lois until after the press conference. I don't think you'll see her before then, but if you do..."

"We won't say a thing. You have my word. And you have my word that, if I have anything to say about it, Lana will never bother you or your wife again."

Clark quickly gathered what he needed and left the Lang family in his living room where he was sure Lana was going to get the lecture of a lifetime.

***

Lois stood in her best business suit listening as Henderson and the DA informed the press about what had taken place in the courtroom that morning. She could see Wayne Irig, and Clark had whispered that the Langs had wanted to be there to support her as well but had been unavoidably detained and he'd explain later. She'd nodded, not really caring, but appreciating the gesture, at least from Laura whom she'd had several nice conversations with over the last couple of days.

Finally, Henderson turned to her. "And now, Lois Lane-Kent will read a brief statement. She will not be taking any questions."

Clark squeezed her hand gently. "You can do this. I'm right here."

She nodded and him and took a deep breath before moving to the microphones.

"My name is Lois Lane-Kent. I was the complainant who started this whole process. Almost a month ago, while working late at the UNT Metropolitan, I was assaulted and nearly raped by Professor Paul Smith. Except for the timely arrival of my husband, Clark Kent, Professor Smith would have succeeded. Later that night -- or rather early the next morning -- we went to Bill Henderson of the Metropolis Police Department and told him our story. A few hours later, I had a meeting with Dr. Snodgrass from the University of New Troy at Metropolis. In that meeting, he offered Clark and me degrees in exchange for signing confidentiality agreements, and if we did so, Professor Paul Smith would decline to file charges of assault against my husband and other charges against me. Because we expected this, the conversation was legally recorded. It was this recording, as well as a recording we later discovered of the assault by Professor Smith, that we took to Perry White of the Daily Planet.

"While I was meeting with Dr. Snodgrass, Clark received a phone call informing us that we had been fired from our positions at the Metropolis Star. During the course of the investigation that my husband and I assisted senior reporters Eduardo Friaz and Catherine Grant of the Daily Planet with, we were able to find a number of other women who, at one time or another, found themselves in the same position I was in, but without anyone to rescue them. We also discovered that other women had been in consensual relationships with Professor Smith, though it might be difficult to determine if the relationships were truly consensual as he was in a position of authority over all of them. All information we discovered was, of course, turned over to the proper authorities, and it is my understanding that some of this information was instrumental in the plea agreements this morning.

"Many of you already knew, or at least suspected, that my husband and I were involved in this, and so I have come forward publicly by making this statement. However, the other women involved deserve your respect and their privacy. Some of their stories, with their identities obscured, will be found in the Daily Planet over the next few days. I ask that you respect their privacy and if they choose to come forward in any publication and reveal their identities, it should be their choice, not yours.

"I wish to thank a number of people for their support over the last month. Bill Henderson has done an outstanding job following up leads, and without his help it is unlikely we would be here today. Assistant DA Jeremy Thompson has been relentless in his search for the truth and for justice for myself and the other women. Constance Hunter has as well, providing legal services for all the women involved. Perry White, Eduardo Friaz and Catherine Grant have used their incredible investigative skills to gather some of the evidence needed. One woman in particular -- and she knows who she is; I won't further her embarrassment by naming her here -- who was involved on the periphery, told the truth at great personal cost and I thank her for that. Beverly Green, former secretary to Dr. Snodgrass, at great personal risk supplied more of the initial evidence needed to get this ball rolling. She is now working directly for the president of UNT Met, and no one is more deserving of the promotion. The other women who came forward and told their stories are tremendously courageous and I respect them deeply for that. I would like to thank my sister, Lucy Lane, and good friends, James Olsen and Alice White for their support as well.

"Last, and most certainly not least, I would like to thank my husband, Clark Kent. Without him, the attack on me by Professor Smith most certainly would have been exponentially worse than it was. Without him, recovery from this incident would have been, and would continue to be, decidedly more difficult. His love and support have been invaluable in the three and a half years we've been married and absolutely indispensable the last month."

She paused for a moment and looked up from the paper she had been reading from. "Any questions you might have for me or my husband should go through Perry White, Cat Grant or Eduardo Friaz at the Daily Planet. We have nothing further to say at this time. Thank you."

***

Lois and Clark left the area as soon as she was finished with her statement. They tried to sneak out the back of the courthouse, but a few members of the press were staked out there for just such an eventuality and Clark wrapped his arm around her pulling her to his side as they 'no commented' their way through. It was only the beginning. He was sure it was going to get worse before it got better. Hopefully, if they went straight home as was their plan, no one would be there yet.

They climbed into their car and drove off, heading to Clinton Avenue. As hoped, there was no one there when they arrived.

Moments later, Lois sank onto the couch, her head in her hands. Clark came to sit beside her. "I am so proud of you." He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to him, letting her cry.

She pulled back after a few minutes. "I don't know why. I didn't do that much to be proud of. Just made a statement. Didn't even take any questions."

"That was more than enough for today. If anyone wants to know more, they can either read about it in the Daily Planet or continue to wonder."

Lois nodded then stood. "I'm going to change clothes."

"I'll wait right here," Clark told her, letting her know that she could safely change in their room rather than going to the small bathroom.

She silently thanked him as she walked towards her dresser. "Clark, do you know why some of my clothes and one of your blue shirts are on the bed?"

He groaned. "I'll tell you in a few minutes."

"I'm not going to like it, am I?"

"I doubt it."

"Great." Five minutes later, she reemerged in a pair of shorts and a Smallville High T-shirt.

He moved past her and an instant later, dressed in denim shorts and a cutoff T-shirt, was on the couch waiting for her.

She sat next to him and pulled her legs under her. "So, what is it?"

He sighed and took her hand in his. "Lana didn't listen to you."

"About what?"

"Staying away from me."

"Oh." Her voice was quiet. "Do I want to know what happened?"

He shook his head. "Probably not, but you should." In a few sentences, he told her what happened, including that she had been wearing one of his shirts but leaving out the fact that he'd inadvertently noticed her lack of undergarment. "When I made it back down the stairs, her parents were standing here and they were livid. Lewis promised me that she wouldn't bother either one of us while they're here."

"Oh."

"I didn't want to tell you before the press conference, but I told him I'd be telling you today. It's something you deserve to know."

She shifted so that she was slightly farther from him. "You mean, that my husband saw another woman wearing nothing but one of his dress shirts and ended up under her on a bed?"

"Yeah, something like that."

She was quiet for a moment. "Did you like that?"

"What?"

"Seeing her in your shirt. Was there something inherently sexy about it?" she asked quietly.

"There was something inherently *disturbing* about it. I threw her a blanket as soon as I could."

"Oh."

"You're thinking about what you asked Mayson, aren't you?"

She nodded.

"Would you like to know? In the abstract anyway?" he asked quietly.

Lois thought for a minute then nodded again. She rested her chin on her knee, refusing to look at him as he reviewed the questions in his mind.

"Let's see... Morning or night? I don't know that it matters. Whatever works for us with schedules and stuff. As for the rest... I think I'm probably more of the adventurous sort. Whatever you're comfortable with, I think I would be too, when we get to that point. Someday." He chuckled. "Given what I can do, it seems likely that we could do stuff no one else could dream of." His voice softened again. "And how I like to be kissed? We'll figure that out together some time. When you're ready." He reached out and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Would I like to see you wearing only one of my dress shirts?" He took a deep breath. "Oh, yeah." They were quiet for a moment. "Does it bother you that I've thought about those kinds of things?"

"I don't know. In some ways, no, because I'm glad you find me attractive and want to do those kinds of things with me, but are willing to wait until I'm ready. But in other ways... yeah, it does, because I'm *not* ready for those kinds of things." She sighed. "You realize that what happened... that set me back even further."

"Yeah, I know."

"I would have liked to date this summer. To get to know each other as a couple."

"I would have too."

They sat there for a few more minutes.

"Clark?"

"Yeah?"

"Would you ask me out sometime anyway? Not just yet and probably not for a while, but would you?"

"Of course."

"Thank you."

They sat for another few minutes, each thinking about life.

"Lois, there's something else I wanted to talk to you about."

"What's that?"

"When I was talking to Wayne last night, he told me a few things."

"Like?"

"Like there's a lot more money in Smallville than I thought, for starters."

"Oh."

"He also said that his wife, Maggie, was raped about six months before they got married. They weren't dating at the time because she was off at college, but... It was their first anniversary before..." His voice trailed off.

"Wow."

"He recommended something I've been thinking about a lot today."

"What's that?"

"He said that since we have the money, and we're young and carefree enough, to just pick up and do some traveling if we wanted to. Go see the world, just the two of us. Keep writing -- travel articles or a book or two, whatever -- but spend six months or a year or however long we want. Get out of here where things have been so hard for us and where both of us are likely to be hounded for a while by the press, with the reminders of the past, and just go."

"You and me against the world?"

"Something like that. We could still come home once a month or whatever since we won't have to pay for airfare -- see Lucy and everyone. Go to little out of the way towns and play tourist off the beaten tourist path. Set up a base out of a large-ish town -- say Sydney -- and do day or two day trips for a couple of months and write them up for the Planet's Sunday Travel section. What do you think?"

"It sounds interesting. I'd miss this place, but getting out of Metropolis for a while sounds nice. And it *would* be a lot easier to be able to come home as often as we want without paying for airfare." She looked at him contemplatively. "Let's think about it for a week or so. Talk to Perry, see what he says."

"That's fair."

The phone rang, but they both ignored it, having already decided to let the answering machine get it. Clark's voice filled the air.

>>>"You've reached the Lane-Kent household. We are currently screening our calls. We ask that you respect our privacy and our wishes. If you have a question regarding the press conference, please contact the Daily Planet. Otherwise, please leave a message and we will return your call when we can. Thank you.<<<

"Mr. and Mrs. Kent, this is John Horace calling regarding the estate of Louise Lane."

Clark dashed to the phone. "Hello? Mr. Horace?" The machine clicked off. "Sorry about that; we're about to have the press at our doorstep."

The rest of the conversation consisted of Clark simply agreeing with whatever the other man said. He then said good-bye and hung up the phone.

"Well?" Lois asked.

"He's going to be in town on Thursday and wants to meet with us. He said he has some questions to ask us with regards to the stipulations that he still won't tell us about and if we meet those, then the transfer of funds will be started and we should have the money within a couple of weeks."

"That's good. It would make that whole 'travel the world' thing easier."

There was a knock on the door. Clark glanced at it. "No one we want to talk to."

"Then ignore it."

"I'm planning on it."

Lois yawned. "I didn't sleep well last night. I think I'm going to try to take a nap."

"Good idea. Do you want me to lay down with you for a while?"

She shook her head. "No, but just stay close."

"Always."

***

Lois rubbed her eyes as she emerged from their bedroom.

"Hey," Clark said quietly. "You feeling better?"

She nodded. "Yeah. Anything interesting happen while I was asleep?"

"Lucy's home. She went to take a shower. Perry called. I told him we had something we wanted to talk to him about sometime soon and he said to come in tomorrow. He said that they had to print extra copies of the afternoon edition and that they've had a number of requests for interviews with one or both of us."

"Wow."

"Yeah, I know. He also said they might come by tonight. And Constance Hunter called and wants to meet with us tomorrow. I guess they filed the suit late this afternoon against the university and against the Star. She said the university wants to settle quickly and amiably rather than drag all of you through a trial and everything. They knew this was coming and are meeting with her either later tonight or first thing in the morning. Both UNT Met and the Star."

"That's awfully nice of them. They should have prevented it from happening in the first place."

"I know that and so does Dr. Emmert. He wasn't even at UNT Met when this all started, but he's the one who's going to get all the blame for it."

"So it's self-preservation and good PR."

"I think that's probably part of it, but he's been more than fair over the last few weeks. I think he's genuinely interested in making amends as much as possible."

"That'd be nice."

There was another knock on the door. Clark looked that way then stood. "It's Perry and Alice."

Lois quickly found herself in the embrace of the woman who had become almost a surrogate mother to her.

Perry held up a large bag from Luigi's Pasta House. "We brought dinner and Jimmy should be along soon." He stopped suddenly on his way to the kitchen. "I hope your friends from Smallville aren't coming -- I didn't bring enough."

Clark shook his head. "No. They have other plans tonight and even if they didn't, I don't think they'd be here."

"Want to give you two some time?"

"Something like that."

"More like Lana tried to seduce my husband," Lois said.

"What?!" the Whites and Lucy, fresh out of the shower, asked in unison.

"Something like that anyway," Clark told them.

She raised an eyebrow at him. "You said she was wearing only one of your shirts and somehow managed to pin you -- *you* -- on Lucy's bed."

"*My* bed?" Lucy looked aghast. "You won't let Jimmy up there for fear of something happening -- and believe me, if something was going to happen, not letting Jimmy up there wouldn't stop us."

Lois glared at her. "Is there something we need to talk about, Luce?"

"No," Lucy snapped back. "So, Clark, what were you doing on my bed with another woman?"

Clark shot a dark look at her. "I was looking for Lois' shoes and she caught me off guard. I got out of there as fast as I could and I *tried* to make it clear that I do *not* want her that way and her parents came in the wide open front door and heard the whole thing. Lewis told me he'd make sure Lana stayed away from us," he explained again. He looked straight at Lois. "You don't have anything to worry about."

Lois raised a brow at him. "That's the second time in a month that someone's tried to move in on you. I don't particularly like the frequency with which that's happening."

Clark sighed. Perry moved to Lois' side and put his arm around her. "You know you don't have anything to worry about, darlin'."

"I know, but that doesn't mean I have to like it." She sniffed the air. "Did you bring garlic parmesan manicotti?"

"Of course. I know what's good for me."

Fifteen minutes later, Jimmy had joined them and the six of them were sitting around the living room.

"So, what is it you kids wanted to talk to me about?"

Lois and Clark shared a look. "Um, just something we were thinking about doing."

"What's that?"

"A... good friend who went through something like this with his wife years ago offered a suggestion and we were thinking about it."

"What was the suggestion?"

"Going away together, going to see the world, just the two of us." Lois stared intently at her plate as she spoke.

"Ah..." Perry wasn't sure what to say.

"We talked about getting an apartment or something in a city like Paris or Sydney and taking day trips or short overnight trips to the surrounding country, going to out of the way places and writing about them for the Sunday travel section. Spending time together like we've never been able to before," Clark went on. "Getting to know each other like we should have years ago, away from the press that could hound us for a while, away from the memories of how difficult the last few years have been."

"The whole travel section thing could certainly be arranged, but how are you planning on financing this trip? The Planet can't."

"Oh, we know that, Perry," Lois told him. "We found out this weekend that Clark has a lot more inheritance from his parents than we thought, and Wayne said he'd let us use it for this. We also heard from Aunt Louise's lawyer and should be getting some of that soon. And Clark said Constance called and she thinks that university will want to offer a pretty decent settlement just to get this all over with for them and all of us. The Star is going to do the same thing. So we have the money to do it ourselves if we want. And," she teased, "it's not like we'd let you print those articles for free, you know."

Perry laughed then nodded slowly. "You're not officially under contract with the Planet yet so that's not a problem. We'd miss you kids..."

Clark grinned. "That's one of the beauties of it. Since all of you know about me, we can come home for a visit pretty much whenever we want. Once a month even, if we wanted to."

"That's true, though you'd have to be careful about people finding out you're home that often," Perry said slowly.

"Well," Clark said thoughtfully. "We haven't really thought through the logistics yet or anything, but if it's okay, we could maybe stay with you guys and Lucy and Jimmy could come over most of the time that we're here rather than going out. We could still go out sometimes, but most of the time we're here, just spend it with you guys in a private setting." He shrugged. "It's just something we started thinking about this afternoon. We said we'd think about it for a while, see what you thought, and go from there."

"Well, it's definitely something to think about."

"Does that mean I could live here?" Lucy suddenly said.

Lois shrugged. "I guess, but I thought you were living on campus."

"Are you kidding? This place is cheaper than a dorm room with two roommates and three more suitemates. It's bigger too. If the three of us could live together in a dorm room, we could certainly survive here."

Another knock sounded at the door. Clark looked over at it again and groaned this time.

"Who is it?" Lois asked.

"Lana," he said grimly.

"What's she doing here?" Lois stood and walked purposefully to the door. She flung it open. "What do you want?"

"Um, can I come in?"

"No."

"Fine." She turned on one heel and started to stalk off before turning again. "But don't say I didn't try to apologize."

"And don't say I never told you to keep your hands off my husband, because, if it ever happens again..." Lois let the words hang in the air.

Lana looked her up and down. "If you'd keep him satisfied, you wouldn't have to worry about it."

Lois laughed. "A much better woman than you has tried to take him from me and that didn't work. What makes you think you can do it?"

"I know things about him you don't; that you never will because you didn't grow up with him. You didn't spend long summer days together. You never went skinny dipping together. You weren't the first one he promised forever to. You weren't the first one he kissed."

Lois raised a brow at her. "Really? When was the first time he kissed you? I mean, really kissed you and not some six-year-old, let's pretend we're getting married kiss."

"We were sixteen."

She laughed. "Sorry, Lana. Hate to break it to you, but you weren't his first kiss or his first anything else. And you don't know him nearly as well as you think you do. I'll tell you what I told that other woman. He's spent the last three and a half years in my bed, in my arms, kissing me first thing in the morning and last thing at night. If you think waltzing in here and parading yourself around in one of his shirts and trying to convince him to do something he hasn't the slightest interest in is going to win you points with him, you're sadly mistaken. You might have been the one he promised forever to when he was six, but I'm the one he said 'forever' to in front of a preacher and I'm the last one he'll say that to." She moved to shut the door. "Stay away from my family."

She closed the door and collapsed on the floor as the adrenaline from the confrontation fled. Clark was instantly at her side, taking her gently in his arms, murmuring sweet nothings against her hair until she was strong enough to stand up.

She turned and looked at Clark, straight in the eyes. "You know, the more I think about it, the more I think seeing the world is the thing to do."

Clark pulled her into his arms. "I think you're right."

***

Chapter 28

"Why is it that I can confront Mayson or Lana or read that statement and be fine, but as soon as it's over, I collapse?" Lois asked Clark thoughtfully.

Their company was still inside playing a game of Trivial Pursuit, but Lois wasn't up to the mental challenge. She and Clark had moved to the balcony and were sitting on the chaise lounges they'd brought from her parents' home years earlier, sipping tea and staring at the stars.

He thought about it for a minute. "Maybe it's like the 'shakes'. You know, a cop or a soldier or whoever is fine during an incident, a shootout or standoff or whatever, but afterwards shakes like a baby. The adrenaline or training or something takes over while it's happening but afterwards, you have to come down off the adrenaline high and collapse."

"I guess that makes sense." They continued to gaze at the stars. "I'm not going to apologize to her, you know."

"I don't blame you. I wouldn't expect you to. What she did and what Mayson did... they were similar in the sense that they were both interested in me, but the motivations and attitudes were completely different. Mayson's not mean or vindictive, even if she was... misled about us. If she'd thought that things were great between us or whatever, she never would have said anything. If she hadn't thought that things were on the rocks -- and I'm still not entirely sure why she did -- she wouldn't have exposed herself to being hurt, if nothing else -- self-preservation. And she's kept her word. She made statements to the police and the university and she hasn't contacted us except to send us that ticket.

"As for Lana..." Clark sighed. "She had completely different motivations. She had no reason to even suspect that I might want her, but she set out to have an affair anyway. Mayson wouldn't have done anything like Lana did without me indicating that things between us were essentially over. She wouldn't have wanted to be the 'other woman' for long -- she'd have expected a commitment, I think. But Lana said that a divorce wasn't a big deal for now; it was just a detail and that she just wanted me regardless. That's completely different and I wouldn't expect you to apologize to her at all. I really didn't expect you to apologize to Mayson, either. And I certainly didn't expect you to thank her today."

"It was the right thing to do," Lois said quietly.

Clark reached for her hand, the silence broken only by shouts from inside.

"What do you think about the whole traveling thing?" Lois asked quietly.

"I've always wanted to see the world and not just from the air. I've done some of that since I realized I could fly, but I'd love to see it with you. Go to the places that aren't necessarily on everyone's top ten lists of things to do in an area. Out of the way beaches or restaurants or hotels with local flavor instead of a big chain or something. Write about them for the Planet and write a book too."

"Where would we go?"

"I don't know specifically. Sydney, Paris, London, Tokyo, maybe Africa or Athens. Rome. India. Scandinavia -- did you know there's an ice hotel there in the winter? I forget exactly where it is -- in Sweden maybe -- but that might be kinda fun visit and write about. We could get an apartment in Paris for a few months and see a lot of Europe from there. We could go to Dubai and ski indoors. Alberta, Canada, has the largest indoor water park in the world. Visit base camp at Mt. Everest. Whatever we want to do."

"That sounds nice."

"Do you want to?"

Lois thought for a few minutes. "Not forever. I think getting out of here and away from a daily grind where we have schedules and deadlines and stuff could be a good thing. I mean, if we're writing for the travel section, we'd still have deadlines, but no late night stakeouts or investigations, things like that. I still want to be an investigative reporter someday, but I think getting away for a while would help me in a lot of ways and I think it would be good for *us*."

"I think so too."

"I don't think I want to make an official decision yet though. Let's wait until we know what settlements we're getting from UNT Met and the Star -- if they're going to settle rather than go through a civil trial -- and if we met whatever requirement it is Aunt Louise left for us. If we don't get decent money from those, I don't know that we can afford to do it, not without spending all of the money from your folks and I don't really want to do that."

"Okay. We should know more from Constance tomorrow about those two and Aunt Louise's lawyer will be here Thursday so..."

"Yeah. So we'll make a decision after that?"

"Sounds like a plan. Where would you like to go?"

Lois shrugged. "All of those places you mentioned would be good. Maybe East Germany -- it's falling apart and it might be nice to visit -- at least from a reporter's perspective. Or elsewhere in Eastern Europe. Korea maybe. I don't really want to go be a war correspondent or anything, though."

"Me either." He took a deep breath then said tentatively, "There is something else I've been thinking about."

"What's that?"

"If there's a way I could maybe help sometimes. Given what I can do and all."

"How would you do that?"

He shrugged. "Nothing public, of course. Maybe visit rural areas and help with search and rescue after earthquakes or typhoons or whatever. Probably not for long periods of time -- I wouldn't want to leave you like that -- but maybe for twelve or eighteen hours after a tsunami or volcanic eruption just to try to do *something* with the gifts I've been given."

Lois nodded. "I wouldn't want to stop you from doing that, if you'd be careful to avoid cameras and news crews and stuff. And I wouldn't want you to be gone all the time or anything. That would kind of defeat the purpose of us, wouldn't it?"

"Yeah and I wouldn't want to do that. I'm talking about major events and only rural areas away from anything that might expose us."

"Then, yeah, that's certainly something we can talk about more -- logistics and stuff."

"Thank you for understanding." Clark pulled her hand towards him and kissed her fingers. "Somehow I knew you would."

***

"Mr. and Mrs. Kent, it's good to see you." Constance Hunter met them in the conference room at the Daily Planet, early Thursday morning. Way earlier than Lois ever wanted to be up. They all took seats and she pulled out some paperwork. "I don't want to keep you any longer than necessary, so let's get down to it. I'm either meeting or phone conferencing with all of the women involved this week. We're trying to get those of you that are local taken care of today if at all possible. Clark, you're the only male involved in this thing, so if I just refer to females at any point, it's only for ease of conversation."

"No problem, Ms. Hunter."

"This should all be over very quickly. The university doesn't want the bad publicity from dragging this out and from what I can tell, Dr. Emmert especially, really cares about all of you and doesn't want to go through a trial for your sakes. That said, because it was just Dr. Snodgrass and Professor Smith involved and not a systemic administration wide cover-up conspiracy, the settlement offers are smaller than they would be if that had been the case. The university lawyers have probably also told Dr. Emmert and the board that, if this were to go to trial, they would have no control over the damages awarded and it's very possible they would be higher. That's something I need to tell you, too. The dollar amount could easily go up considerably if there's a trial, but it's up to you whether that's something you want to go through or not. That said, this is a first offer. First offers are almost always low balled. That's something else you'll want to consider."

Lois shook her head. "If the offer is low ball, and we decide we don't want to accept it, then what?"

"I take them a counter offer. They will probably counter back with something in between."

"How long is that going to take," Clark asked.

"We could still have it done today. I'm meeting with the two of you now and the four other local women this morning. I have a meeting with UNT Met's lawyers early this afternoon. I'll tell them what, if anything, those of you I've spoken with have decided. If there's counter offers to be presented, I'll present them. They may decide to counter again immediately or they may wait until later today or tomorrow. It's always possible that they'll decide not to counter at all, but we'll have to see what happens, if that's the route you decide to go."

"So you think it's possible we can get a reasonable settlement and put this all behind us soon?"

Constance nodded. "I think so." She pulled some papers from the folder. "We'll start with you, Mr. Kent. You, obviously were not assaulted or anything of that nature. Your actions against the university include slander because of the rumor spread by Professor Smith; the threats against the two of you about failing the course and so on; and 'loss of consortium'."

Lois sighed. "I know you explained all of this to us before but... I really don't remember it. What's that?"

"It means that Clark was deprived of your 'society, companionship and services' because of the injuries caused by what happened. That doesn't mean 'loss of sex' necessarily, though that can be part of it. We're talking about the effect this has had on your relationship in general. The nightmares, panic attacks, all of those things have affected your relationship and, legally, that means that what Professor Smith did has deprived Clark of your companionship and so on."

Lois nodded. "Okay. So what did they offer Clark?"

Constance handed a piece of paper to him with a number highlighted on it.

Clark looked at it and passed it to Lois, whose eyes widened slightly.

"*That's* lowball?" she asked.

Their lawyer nodded. "I think so. I think you can counter at probably four or five times that, maybe even a bit more to make it a nice round number, and end up with somewhere between two and three times that amount."

"Wow." Clark slumped back against his chair. "That's a lot of money and that's just for my little part in this?"

Constance nodded. "You two can discuss it and get back to me as soon as you decide."

"The women who chose to file civil suits are receiving offers based on their specific situations. Those who were in consensual relationships are receiving one offer because their relationships -- though there was likely pressure because of his position of authority -- were not forced or coerced. Those women who were raped are receiving another offer. Those who were raped and had it covered up are receiving a third offer. You, Mrs. Kent, are receiving a different offer from the rest of them. The attack on you was 'only' attempted rape -- and I don't use the word 'only' lightly there -- but you were also the one who was instrumental in bringing the whole sordid thing to light. With each of these settlement offers come real nondisclosure agreements. Those agreements apply only to the dollar amount and other specific details of the settlement, including the names of those involved. That includes discussing it with other parties involved with this lawsuit -- specifically dollar amounts. Each person involved, even within each of the broader categories, has a slightly different offer. Of course, they do not expect the two of you to keep it from each other and that stipulation is in each of the agreements they will ask you to sign." She pulled another sheet of paper out and passed it to Lois.

Lois took it from her, almost scared to look at it. What dollar amount could be put on the suffering she and the other women had gone though? She had a number in mind of what she thought they might offer, but really had no idea what they would actually do. She took a deep breath and looked at the number highlighted in yellow.

Then she gasped.

"And you think this is probably low ball too?" She passed it to Clark.

"I'm almost sure it is. The university has insurance for these kinds of things and they know what kinds of damages have been awarded by juries in recent years. This is significantly less than most of them in this area over the last couple years and they know that. Most likely, they hope you'll take it and run, but they are also probably willing to go higher to make this all go away quickly."

"What happens if not everyone accepts the settlement offers?" Clark asked.

"It doesn't matter. Each civil case is separate. If you choose to accept the offer or the counter offer or some other offer at some point down the line, it's over for you. If you, Mrs. Kent, decide not to, then it goes until you reach a settlement or the trial and appeals are over. Same for any of the other women."

"Okay." Lois stared at the piece of paper. "How long do we have to decide?"

"Officially, the offer expires after seven full days. However, if you make your decision before that, the sooner the better, I think."

"I don't mean to sound crass, but just so we know..." Lois took a breath. "How much of a cut do you get? I don't remember discussing it with you."

Constance shook her head. "I did this pro bono. Too many women are raped or otherwise sexually harassed or assaulted and have no one on their side. In reality, as far as cases go, it's been pretty easy and not nearly as time consuming as many cases I've worked. Should you have an overwhelming desire to compensate me, please make a donation to the Red Cross on my behalf."

"So, all of this -- or whatever settlement we accept -- is ours, to keep?" Lois asked.

"Should you both choose to accept the settlements, then yes. After applicable taxes, of course, but you'll want to consult an accountant or tax attorney about that."

"Now..." She pulled out a different folder. "The Star is also offering settlements."

Lois did a double take. "They are?"

"Yes. Not nearly as high as the ones from the university but they are." She pulled out two pieces of paper and handed one to each of them. "In this instance, everyone was equally grieved and the settlements are based on how early the contracts were terminated. For the two of you that was about three weeks. There are also nondisclosure agreements with these -- similar to those from the university. They tried to stipulate that you can only discuss the case with the Star, but I made sure that was redacted out. These I think are pretty fair. You would probably get more through a trial, but maybe twice more than that, probably not much more. Basically, they figured out how much you would have made during the time left on your contract and multiplied it by ten. It's not a huge sum of money, but at the Star the only complaint is 'wrongful dismissal' and the losses are mainly monetary. We could make a case for some psychological trauma but I don't think the amount on that would be very large." She stood and gathered her things. "I need to speak with Perry for a moment, but you can contact my office when you've made your decisions. You can accept or reject any of the offers you choose. It's not an 'all or nothing' thing."

"Thank you, Ms. Hunter," Clark said, standing as she left the room. "We'll be in touch soon."

He sank back down into his chair as the door closed behind her. "Wow."

"Yeah." Lois leaned back. "What do you think?"

He thought before speaking. "I think she's right about the Star settlements. They seem pretty fair. With Preston Carpenter buying them out next week, it's not going to break them -- even for all six of us."

"Yeah, I agree with you there. I do hope that some of the ones from longer ago were at least adjusted for inflation."

Clark smiled. "I'm sure they were or the women involved were so far past expecting any compensation that they might consider it good enough."

"I hope they're not using that idea to low-ball the other offers."

"Oh, I doubt it. But let's take Olivia Anderson. She was fired a month early. If she was making $1500 a month, which would be a lot for our position six years ago, that's $15,000. That's a drop in the bucket for the Star, but could do her a world of good. It could set up a college fund for her son or put a down payment on a house for her and Mike, once they get married." They'd received a note from the young woman the week before telling them that she was officially engaged to the wonderful man in her life.

Lois nodded. "Yeah, I see what you're saying. So, we're okay with the Star settlements?"

"I think so."

"What about the university?"

"Well," he said slowly. "I don't really have any idea what dollar amount could be put on the pain and suffering all of you went through -- are still going through."

"I don't think there is, but I will say I was surprised by the amount they offered. I had no idea what to expect, but I think it was only about half of that."

"I didn't either. The number they gave me isn't large, but given the scope of this neither were my 'injuries'."

"And that's low ball."

"That's what she said."

"So, do you want to counter?" Lois asked him.

"Perry trusts her judgment and she says counter."

"So we counter and hope for the best?"

"I think so."

"And hope for twice this offer?"

"That sounds like what she thinks."

"It's more than enough that we could go travel the world for a while without worrying about what Aunt Louise's stipulations were."

"Yeah, it is that."

"We could even save a large chunk of it to buy a house with someday or something, just in case we don't get the money from her estate. We'd still have enough, especially if we supplement it with articles and stuff, to travel for a long time without blowing it all or touching the money from your parents."

"And then some. But you know that doesn't bother me."

"I know, but still... I don't know that that's what we want to use it for."

"What else would we use it for?"

"I don't know, but I don't want to blow it all on what's essentially a long vacation."

He smiled at her. "Or a long second honeymoon."

She instantly tried to pull her hand from his.

"No, don't take that the wrong way. We had fun on our honeymoon, didn't we? Even if we didn't... you know."

"Yeah, we did," Lois admitted quietly. "I don't know that I want to sit in a hotel or an apartment in Tokyo playing Scrabble though."

Clark laughed. "We won't. Well, we might, but that's not all we'll do. We'll see places and do things that most people only dream of. We'll write about them for the Planet and write about them in more detail -- or different detail -- for our book."

Clark glanced towards Perry's office. "She's still here."

"Let's go tell her then and hope we can get this over with today."

Clark stood, pulling her up by the hand. He wrapped his arms around her. "I've said it before and I'm sure I'll say it again, but I'm so proud of you."

They stood there for long minutes until Clark pulled back. "I think she's about done talking to Perry."

"Let's go."

***

They'd told their lawyer -- they had a lawyer; that was something they still had a hard time believing -- that they would accept the offers from the Star and that they wanted to counter the offers from UNT Met.

She'd said that was probably a good decision and they'd agreed on an amount. She'd be back in touch later in the afternoon. They'd told Perry all about it and he'd agreed with her -- that it was the way to go.

Lois spent the rest of the day working for Cat, helping her research a story, and Clark went with Eduardo to a press conference. He'd just returned when Constance returned to the newsroom. They made their way back into the conference room.

As they sat down, her face broke into a big grin. "Well, it's better than I would have guessed. They didn't like our counter offers, but we didn't expect them to. However, their next offer was more than I would have expected it to be." She pulled out some papers. "Clark, here's your new offer."

He whistled. "That's three times what they offered this morning."

"Yes, it is." She handed the other sheet to Lois. "And, Mrs. Kent, here is your offer."

Lois could only stare at the sheet. "Wow."

"It's part of my job to tell you both that if this did go to trial, juries would probably be very sympathetic to you, especially since you're the ones who blew the whistle on the whole thing and you're married rather than single like the other women. That makes a difference; it shouldn't but it does. It's entirely possible they could come back with a judgment well into the several million range, but there is no guarantees of that and you would have to face a long, drawn out and probably very public trial."

Lois nodded. "Can we have a few minutes to discuss this?"

"Of course. If you want to counter again, we can. If you simply want to reject either one, you can. If you want to take it, you can do that too." She stood. "There was something else I wanted to talk to Perry about. Let me know when you decide."

Clark waited until the door closed behind her. "What do you think?"

"I thought it was a lot of money this morning, but this..."

"*This* is a lot of money."

"It's more than I expected to see in my lifetime, much less in one fell swoop."

"Yeah, it is," he said, stroking her knuckles with his thumb. "Is it enough to compensate for what's happened without going through the ordeal of a trial?"

She fingered the paper with her settlement offer from the university on it. "What do you think?"

"It's your call."

"But I need to know what you think."

"It's your decision, but a big part of me says take it and run. You and me, run off together."

Lois nodded. "That's my thought too. Honestly, it's more than I ever dreamed of."

"So we take both of them?"

"Yeah, I think we take them," she said slowly.

"And tell Perry we're leaving?"

She nodded. "We can work out the details of when and where and stuff later."

"Sounds good." They looked through the window to see Constance shaking hands with their editor.

"Let's go tell her."

***

Friday night Lois sat on the balcony watching the stars while Clark went through some paperwork inside. Before long, he joined her, handing her a piece of paper.

"*This* is our net worth?" she asked incredulously.

He nodded. "Sort of. That includes my inheritance, the value of the farm, a third of the inheritance from your parents, all of the settlements and the first part of the money we're getting from Aunt Louise, but not the brownstone or the other two parts. I included a third of your inheritance because it doesn't look like Lucy will need most of it for college, so if she uses a third and you two split the rest..."

She leaned back in her chair. "Wow."

"I know we don't actually have all -- or even most -- of it in our names yet but... All but the inheritances from our parents will be in our control by the middle of July -- and the first part of the inheritance from Aunt Louise by the middle of next week. We'll have yours in about six months. Wayne technically has veto power over mine for a couple more years but as long as we don't do anything stupid, he'd let us have it, so I included that in there too. But we probably need to talk to Perry about finding a good financial advisor."

Lois nodded. "I thought we'd have to be a hundred or so before we had this kind of money. I know you told Wayne we wouldn't have enough to retire before we even started but..."

"Well, when I told him that, I hadn't even thought about the settlements."

"I wish that lawyer told us what the stipulation was. He must have asked a hundred questions. How are we supposed to know which one had the 'right' answer?"

"I think I can tell you," Clark answered with a gleam in his eye.

"You can? How?"

"I, uh, monitored his heart rate. It sped up at certain questions. It could have had to do with the nature of the questions, or..."

"Because those were the answers that affected the outcome."

"Exactly."

"So what questions were they?"

"What our immediate plans were."

"We told him we were going to travel the world together."

"And he relaxed a bit when you said that. I think that was the requirement for this one -- that whatever we were doing, we were doing it together."

"Okay. What were the other ones?"

"Ah, the ones about babies and pregnancy and birth control and stuff."

"You mean the one where you said 'when necessary, barrier methods are used'?"

"Yeah."

"Way to say something without saying it."

"Well, it wasn't a lie necessarily. Saying you were on the pill would have been a lie. Saying that when necessary, barrier methods are used is saying that every time we..." He waved vaguely towards the bedroom. "...use a condom or something, which technically is accurate. We've never been together without one," he pointed out. "Besides you say stuff like that all the time -- technically accurate but not necessarily the whole story."

"I know."

"Anyway, I think he was digging for whether or not we've... whether you've worn whatever it is she gave you that night." Clark stared at the table.

"Ah." She thought about that for a minute. "So we get a quarter of our inheritance based on whether or not we're having sex?"

Clark shrugged. "I don't know. That's what it sounded like. Or maybe it has more to do with having kids -- or finding out that we're not able to have kids. Because if we're not able to for some reason -- like me being an alien -- then that would indicate that we've tried or taken steps to determine if we can or something. Like we get that part of it when our first child is born and a certain part of it goes to a college fund or something."

"That makes sense, I guess." She fiddled with the pencil. "Do you want kids, Clark?"

"Yeah," he answered softly. "Someday I'd love to have kids. With you. Do you?"

"Maybe. Someday."

They sat for a few more minutes before Lois spoke again.

"So, where do we want to go first?"

Clark grinned at her. "Shopping."

She laughed. "You did say that was the first thing we were going to do, didn't you?"

"Yeah. So do you want to go to New York to shop or Paris or where?"

"I think the mall will be just fine."

"Okay, we'll go shopping at the mall. But we're also going to go somewhere and get you a couple of really nice dresses and me a tux so that I can take you out for a night on the town in whatever cities we end up in."

"That sounds nice." She chewed on her bottom lip for a minute. "You know, it would be a lot easier than we think to blow through all of this if we're not careful."

"I know."

"How do we prevent that?"

Clark shrugged. "Do the same thing we've been doing, just with a little bit larger numbers. We live on what we make as much as possible. When we get to a new city, we try to find a decent, furnished apartment in a fairly nice part of town rather than whatever flea trap we can get cheapest. Not go overboard or anything, but nice and functional for what we need. Close to public transportation. Perry said yesterday that he could get us up to a certain dollar amount a month reimbursed for expenses directly related to the articles we're writing and if we're writing articles, there's a good chance we can get hotel rooms or admissions, things like that, for free or reduced rates. He wasn't sure how much they'd reimburse but that he'd get us a number and we'd have to submit expense claims and stuff."

"You realize that we'll probably have to take commercial flights sometimes, right?"

His head jerked up at that. "What? Why?"

"Well, we wouldn't want anyone to look and realize that we've never been on a commercial flight. I don't mean for our trips home, but when we leave here and go to... Spain or Manila or wherever we go first, it should probably be on a commercial flight. And when we come home for official visits for the holidays and stuff."

He covered his face with his hands. "Oh, maybe this isn't such a good idea. Do you know how close I came to hyperventilating when I flew out here?"

Lois smiled at him. "I'll be with you the whole time."

"Will you hold my hand?"

Lois reached for it and twined her fingers with his. "After all you've done for me the last few weeks, the last few years, most of the time without me even knowing it... it's the least I can do."

Clark looked at their joined hands, well aware that this was the first time that she'd initiated this kind of contact. "Thanks," he said, and he meant it for more than just the promise to help him through transoceanic flights.

"It's what I'm here for."

"To help me with my irrational fear of flying inside a metal tube?"

"Something like that."

"I knew there was a reason I liked you."

Lois laughed. "I'm glad."

"Seriously, what are you thinking?"

She shrugged. "I don't know. Lucy wants the apartment and I don't blame her; it's a lot better than the dorms, but she's leaving for ten weeks soon so it would be empty. We'll leave most of the furniture, but leaving it empty for that long probably isn't the best plan. And I really don't want to wait until August to leave."

"Me either. Maybe Jimmy would stay here and watch it for us." Lois raised a brow at him, before he continued. "It's not like Lucy's going to be here. And they are both adults," he pointed out. "She's graduating next week."

"I know, but still."

"I know." They sat for another minute. "He told me the other night he plans on asking me if he can marry her before too long."

"That doesn't surprise me. I wish they'd wait until they get out of college but I don't think that's probably going to happen. I mean, look how hard it's been for us trying to be married and in college at the same time."

"They're not us, though. They've been dating for two and a half years already. It just isn't the same as it was for us. Jimmy's got a good job and a college fund that's paying for his tuition. That's one thing his dad did right. He's still living with his mom for now. He'd probably appreciate the chance to be on his own, even if it's just for a few weeks. Did Perry or Lucy tell you that she's getting on at the Planet, too? Part time photo and research assistant. So she's got a good job. And they'll be able to do their internships there instead of at the Star or somewhere else. And they won't be raising a teenager either."

"If that's what they decide to do I hope it's a lot easier for them than it has been for us."

"They'll have each other in a way we never did," Clark said quietly. "We both essentially isolated ourselves for a long time, for different reasons, especially from each other and they won't be in that position. Think about it for a minute. If we'd married when we did, but had been dating for a couple years and were madly in love like they are, don't you think things would have been easier?"

"'We ain't got money, honey, but we got looooove'?" Lois had listened to the finance guy on the radio from time to time, too.

Clark laughed. "Something like that. And they'll have the insurance money from your folks to help and we didn't, so they shouldn't have the problems with money that we've had." He untangled his hand from hers and did something that was becoming a common gesture -- he tucked her hair behind her ear. "I think they're about done with their game. You ready to turn in?"

"Yeah, I am." Lois pushed herself up and leaned her forearms against the wall. "So, flyboy, where do you want to go first? After we go shopping, of course."

Clark stood next to her. "I don't know. How about this -- we think about it for the next couple of days and each make a top ten list -- in order of preference. We'll compare lists and see if we have any matches."

"Sounds like a plan. And if we have an idea of where we're going, we can shop accordingly. If we're headed to Alaska, we'll need to buy different clothes than if we're headed to the tropics first."

"Good point."

Lois turned and headed inside. "But I think I'd prefer the tropics over Alaska first, given my choice."

Clark opened the door and stood aside to let her go in ahead of him. "I'll keep that in mind."

***

Chapter 29

~*~*~

*~

Fairy Princess Lois fluttered near her little sister's bed. Fairy Princess Lucy was finally asleep and now Fairy Princess Lois could go to bed herself. Their father hadn't been home in two days and their mother was already asleep. Fairy Princess Lois knew that it would probably be two days until she woke up and that their father probably wouldn't be home for a couple of days more.

She was glad they weren't little girls like she sometimes watched through the magic mirror in the living room. Here in fairy land it wasn't unusual or even dangerous for little fairy princesses to be left to take care of themselves for days at a time. Fairy land was a much nicer place than people world.

Fairy Princess Lois had a hard time sleeping that night, just as Fairy Princess Lucy had had a hard time falling asleep. The next day was the day that the Fairy Princes were coming from Princetown to Princessville. If the Fairy Princes found princesses they liked, they would take them to Married City and they would get married.

Marrying a Fairy Prince was the only way Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy would ever get married. Regular Fairy Men were known for leaving their wives or for having more than one wife or for having special 'Fairy Woman Friends'. That's what their Fairy Dad had been. Their Fairy Grandmother had been a princess who married a Regular Fairy Man and he was no different either. That had made their mother a Fairy Princess also but Fairy Princes rarely wanted to marry a Fairy Princess who didn't have a Fairy Prince Father. That was just the way it was. That meant that it was unlikely that a Fairy Prince would want to marry Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy.

Fairy Princes, unlike Regular Fairy Men, were well known for being faithful to their wives and good husbands and fathers. That was why Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy would be willing to marry one of them, but not a Regular Fairy Man.

The Fairy Princes who were coming the next day were extra special. It was Crown Fairy Prince Andrew and his brother, Fairy Prince Tom. Their father, who had been married to their mother for 635 years and had always been faithful to her, had died suddenly at the age of 650. Their mother, now 649, could not rule the kingdom and the new Fairy King must be married within two weeks of the death of the former king. So Crown Fairy Prince Andrew was looking for a Fairy Princess to marry and make his queen. Fairy Prince Tom, if he could find a Fairy Princess to marry and his brother couldn't, would become king. If they both found Fairy Princesses, then Fairy Prince Tom and his Fairy Princess wife would help rule the far kingdom.

The next morning, Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy got up early. They washed their hair in the dew found in the dew collector and helped each other polish their wings. By eight in the morning, they were gathered, along with all the other Fairy Princesses in Princessville, at the town square.

Fairy Princess Lois doubted that either Crown Fairy Prince Andrew or Fairy Prince Tom would want to marry her or Fairy Princess Lucy, but it was the only chance they had to get out of Princessville.

Shortly after ten, the trumpets sounded. The royal parade started to make its way to the stage set up on one end of the dewy green moss. From there the Fairy Princes would watch as the Fairy Princess were presented to them. All of the Fairy Princesses were divided into groups based on their parents. Those with Fairy Prince Fathers and Fairy Princess Mothers were in the first group, and everyone knew they had the best chance of being chosen. The second group was the group that had Fairy Prince Fathers but Regular Fairy Mothers. The last group, who knew they had the least chance of being chosen, was the group that Lois and Lucy were in. Within their group, they were near the end because their great grandfather was a Fairy Prince and not their grandfather.

As each group flew slowly by the Fairy Princes, a few were selected and moved to a special area. These were the Fairy Princesses that the Fairy Princes wanted to see again. Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy waited until nearly five before it was their turn. After they flew by the Fairy Princes, they were taken to the special area with only a few other Fairy Princesses.

The royal guard came in and asked Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy to go with him. They were sure that a mistake had been made and they were being sent home. They were surprised when they were taken to meet with Crown Fairy Prince Andrew and Fairy Prince Tom.

Crown Fairy Prince Andrew took Fairy Princess Lois' hand and asked her to marry him while Fairy Prince Tom did the same with Fairy Princess Lucy. The Fairy Princess Sisters immediately agreed, though for the rest of their lives they would wonder why they were the ones that were chosen and if they were really good enough to marry the Crown Fairy Prince and his brother and help rule the Fairy Kingdom.

When they found out, their parents were very mad and threatened to come take Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy away from their Fairy Princes, but the Fairy Princes wouldn't allow it.

A week later, in a big wedding that included none of Fairy Princesses Lois or Lucy's friends or family, because they didn't have any friends because of their parents and their family wanted nothing to do with them, Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy married their Fairy Princes.

During the wedding the Fairy Princes promised the Fairy Princesses that they would never leave them and would never have any other Fairy Wives or any 'Fairy Women Friends'. They promised to take care of Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy as long as they lived.

Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy lived to a very old age of 725 and each had many Fairy Prince sons and Fairy Princess daughters. However, they never truly believed that Fairy Queen Lois' Fairy King Andrew and Fairy Princess Lucy's Fairy Prince Tom would never leave them or have 'Fairy Women Friends'. It wasn't until they were nearly 700 years old that they were finally convinced that what happened in their childhood wasn't normal for true Fairy Princes. Their hearts broke for their daughters who married Regular Fairy Men because they couldn't find suitable Fairy Prince Husbands. One or two of them found good Regular Fairy Men who were better than the others, but most of them did not. That simply wasn't the way the world worked.

And so when they were 725, they died within minutes of each other, each holding on to the hand of the Fairy Prince that had chosen and married them so many years earlier. They cried tears for the people girls they had seen through the magic mirror in their childhood home because they knew that those little girls would never find Fairy Princes who would never leave them or have other wives or other special women friends. That was the real world for most little girls and for most Fairy Girls, even Fairy Princesses. But Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy had lucked out. They had found two of the last truly good Fairy Princes and were happy. They were only sad because it would happen to so few.

~*~*~

*~

Clark closed the book and gently traced the letters on the front cover. So that was one of the fairy princess story Lois had written down. He wasn't sure how old she'd been. She was probably no more than eight or nine when she started telling them, but he wasn't sure if she'd written them down right away or if that was the first one she'd written or just the first one in the book. His heart broke that she had been so jaded towards the world and marriage and men in general at such a young age.

Fairy Princesses Lois and Lucy had found their Fairy Princes who would love them and be faithful to them, but it was very clear that Lois hadn't believed that to be the norm and certainly wouldn't happen for little girls.

The beginning had said that their father had been gone for a couple of days and would likely be gone a couple more and that their mother was asleep and probably would be for a while -- days even. Had young Lois and Lucy been left alone for that kind of time? Or was that the exaggeration of a young, fertile, hurting imagination? He had no idea and wasn't sure if Lois would actually tell him if he asked. He could probably ask Lucy -- or even Jimmy -- but he didn't want to. He wanted Lois to trust him enough to tell him.

Would she? Could she ever overcome her scars to tell him what life had really been like when they were young? He was learning more, from her, from Lucy, from Jimmy -- and the fact that she'd trusted him enough to give him this book to read was huge strides forward in their relationship. At the same time, he knew it was one thing to trust him with fairly fictionalized versions of events to read when she wasn't around -- or sleeping next to him as she was now -- and for her to actually tell him about things. Maybe someday she'd be able to...

As he reached to put the bound pages on the nightstand, she stirred. "Clark?"

"Yeah?"

"What're you doing?"

"I couldn't sleep."

Lois pushed herself up until she was sitting next to him. "So what're you doing?"

He hesitated slightly. "I read one of the Fairy Princess stories."

"Oh," she said quietly.

He reached towards her carefully, not wanting to scare her. She was still so jumpy -- even after more than a month -- but he knew it could be a long time before she wasn't. "Come here."

She scooted over until she sat next to him and he wrapped his arm around her. She hesitated, he noticed, then rested her elbow on his thigh. "Thank you," he whispered.

"For what?"

"For trusting me with part of your childhood."

"Oh."

"I know you probably don't want to right now, but if you ever change your mind and want to actually talk about it with someone, I'm here for you."

"Thanks." She played with the sheet with her fingers. "Do you want to talk about it?"

"Do I want to? Yes. Am I willing to wait until you're ready? Yes."

"Oh." She was quiet for another minute. "If you want to ask me something, I can't promise I'm ready to answer it, but I'll at least think about it."

"Okay." He rubbed her upper arm with his hand. "Did your dad leave for days at a time?" he asked quietly.

"Sometimes. Usually it was things like business trips -- or at least that's what he told us -- but sometimes he'd leave for a few days and we wouldn't know where he was. Mom might have, but she didn't always tell us. It was better after they remarried. Then, as far as I know, it was always legitimate business trips."

"And your mom?" he asked gently.

She shook her head. "Not when we were little. There were times -- more than I can remember, but not weekly or anything -- that she'd leave the two of us alone for hours during the day, but she was always home at night -- at least she'd come home before we woke up in the mornings. When we were older... sometimes, we'd go a couple of days without knowing where either one of them was." She continued to stare at her fingers playing with the sheet as she spoke.

"How old were you, when she left you there?"

She shrugged. "Five or six, I guess. At least the first time I remember her leaving us by ourselves. Daddy had left the day before. The first time they both left the same day after a fight, I was six, I think."

He pulled her a little closer, aware of the tears that had managed to escape onto her cheeks. "I'm sorry," he whispered as he kissed her hair.

"It's not your fault. You aren't the one who left."

"No, but if I had known, if I had realized... I would have done things differently the last three years."

"You would have?"

"Yeah. That night you changed your name? Even if I would've taken a shower when I did, I never would have gone to bed without talking to you; even though I figured you were coming, I would have made sure. I certainly would have been a lot more blunt with Mayson about not wanting her company at lunch. I would have been a lot more persistent about our time together. I would have tried a lot harder to get our schedules fixed at the papers. Things like that. I'm not ever going to leave you if there's anything in my power I can do to stay. If I had known how hard that would be for you to believe, I would have tried a lot harder to convince you."

She was silent as he spoke, unsure of what her response should be.

"So I'm sorry that I..."

She shook her head. "No more 'I'm sorry's remember?"

"Yeah. I know." He rested his cheek on her head. "So have you thought about where you want to go first?"

"Somewhere warm. With beaches."

"That's what I thought."

"Do you have any suggestions?"

"Yeah, I do. I've been thinking about it. What would you think about spending the next few months in Greece?"

She pulled away to stare at him. "Greece? Really?"

"Sure, why not? The Mediterranean. Maybe do a cruise one week, maybe base ourselves out of Athens, maybe find a secluded beach or two that we can write about."

She tensed up at that.

"What? The secluded part?" he asked quietly.

"Yeah."

"Remember nothing's going to happen that you don't want to."

"I know, but still..."

"So we find somewhere and someday we'll go back, but not until you're ready. Until then, we have a beach to ourselves and don't have to worry about kids or other people or finding the best spot early or whatever."

"Okay. Secluded beach it is."

"We can visit the ruins of ancient Greek society, find little authentic Greek restaurants in out of the way places and write about them. It's probably the wrong time of year for skiing, but we could go mountain hiking or camping in the Greek mountains..."

"Camping? Really?"

"What? You don't want to go camping?" Clark was incredulous.

"No. If there's no electricity or running water and you have to pee outside, it's not my idea of fun."

"Okay, we could go to one of the resorts there and do day hikes."

"Resorts. I can do that."

"Resorts it is."

Lois yawned.

"But for now, it's back to sleep for you, young lady." Clark kissed the side of her head.

"It's not like we're really working, you know?"

"I know. It was good of Perry not to push us for two week's notice. Yesterday was our last official day in the newsroom."

"But I don't just want to sit around and do nothing. I want to write more about the other women."

"Are you going to tell your story?" he asked softly.

She shook her head. "Not yet, I don't think. It's too fresh and too personal. Maybe in a few years... Besides everyone knows that it was my story that started this whole thing."

"True."

"Perry suggested to me again that we write our life story one of these days. Maybe I'll tell it in there."

"Good idea."

"So, Greece first. Where do you want to go after that?"

Clark yawned. "I think first, I'm ready for sleep."

Lois didn't say anything.

Clark removed his arm from her shoulder and slid down in the bed. "Regardless, we need to get some sleep."

Lois slid down next to him, but didn't say anything.

"Worried about dreams?" he whispered.

She nodded.

"I'll do my best to keep them away."

She nodded again and rolled so that her head rested on his chest. One arm pulled her close, gently stroking her hair, and the other covered her arm as it rested across the top of his stomach.

"Thank you."

"It's what I'm here for."

***

Jimmy and Clark sat on the bench in front of Old Navy while Lois and Lucy browsed inside. Clark had found several pairs of shorts that he liked and a few shirts as well. He tried them on, picked up a couple of different colors in the same style and was ready to check out.

Women, he was quickly learning, even those who didn't like shopping, simply didn't shop that way.

He wasn't entirely certain how many times Lois had been to the dressing room, but it was quite a few.

They'd already been to Penney's and Sears and Montgomery Ward's. The perusals there had been fairly quick, though both women had found a few things they'd purchased. The Gap had gotten a nice chunk of change from them. He'd seen Lucy eyeing Victoria's Secret but didn't think either one of them would be... bold enough? Brazen enough? Something enough to go on a Victoria's Secret shopping spree with them there. He knew Jimmy had noticed, too. Jimmy had promised him the other day that'd he'd always treated Lucy the way he'd want some guy to treat his own daughter and that they hadn't taken *that* step yet. He wasn't sure how many steps they'd taken -- and now that he wasn't Lucy's guardian anymore and she was out of high school, he wasn't sure it was any of his business -- and he was almost certain he didn't want to know.

Regardless, Victoria's Secret was not on today's shopping list.

Finally, they emerged with a couple of big bags. Each. Clark and Jimmy stood to join them.

"Why don't I take all of this to the car and then we can move on?" Clark moved to take the bags from them.

"I'll help you." Jimmy picked up his and Clark's bags. "Where do you want us to meet you?"

"How about that swimsuit store on the second floor?" Lucy asked.

"Something Swim and Ski?" Jimmy confirmed.

"Yeah. That one. We both need new swimsuits."

Clark picked up all seven bags the female half of their group had filled over the course of several stores and Jimmy picked up their four.

Lois and Lucy headed for the escalator and quickly found themselves in front of the swim store.

"*Scardino* Swim and Ski?" Lois asked incredulous.

"Yeah. Why?"

Lois sighed. "Nothing. Let's go."

They wandered in and began looking through the suits. "What kind do you want, Lois? Something skimpy now that the two of you are traveling the world alone together?" Lucy winked at her and then saw the petrified look on her sister's face. "What is it?"

Lois took a deep calming breath. First, Lucy had no idea that Clark wouldn't have been seeing her in a skimpy bathing suit even if last month hadn't happened, and second, it probably hadn't occurred to her that what happened would have changed that. "Nothing. Just... skimpy isn't what I had in mind."

Lucy instantly understood. "I'm sorry."

Lois shook her head. "Not your fault, but I'm thinking let's steer clear of the string bikini section." She gave her best big sister look. "And none for you either, young lady."

Lucy laughed. "Don't worry. I don't really want one either. I was just thinking that since you and Clark are going to Greece, that you might want..."

"I know, but no."

"Yeah."

Lois moved towards the area that had more modest one piece suits or two piece tankinis. She picked out a dark green one-piece and a pink checked tankini top and matching bottoms. It had a vaguely country look to it.

"Can I help you ladies find something?" The male voice broke through her concentration on the swimsuits.

Lois turned just enough to flash a smile. "No, thank..." She stopped as she realized who was speaking. "Dan," she said blandly. "I wondered if you were involved when I saw the name."

"Hey, Lois. And, please, call me Daniel." He moved slightly closer to her. "Yeah, my grandparents founded the original Scardino Swim and Ski nearly forty years ago. We're the largest specialty ski and swim chain in the country."

"I'm happy for you, but we still don't need any help." Lois smiled again and moved to the next rack.

"I'm more than happy to help you find something." He glanced around. "Clark couldn't be bothered to come shopping with you?"

Lois glared at him. "Drop it, Dan. He'll be here in a few minutes. If you're nice, we might even buy from you. If not, we'll take our business elsewhere."

"I think that might be a good idea anyway," came another familiar voice from behind her. "Still can't leave my wife alone, huh, Dan?"

"Kemp. Hi. And it's Daniel." Dan looked at him with almost a sneer on his face. "What do you want?"

"Lois and I are leaving for a few months in Greece soon and we need new suits. Jimmy and Lucy do, too. But if you can't be civil, we'll go somewhere else."

Dan sighed. "I can be civil." Something crossed his face.

"What?" Clark asked.

"Lois," Dan said earnestly, turning to face her more fully. "I did hear about what happened... and I'm sorry."

Lois shrugged.

He put one hand on her upper arm in what was meant to be a comforting gesture, and had the decency to look appropriately contrite when she jerked back as though he burned her. Clark took another step towards them. "Sorry. Really. I am."

"Thanks. But if you really want to do something nice for me, back off and let us shop," Lois snapped.

Dan nodded. "Sure. Let me know when you're ready to try something on."

Lois took a deep breath. "Sorry. I didn't mean to snap, but we'll let you know if we need anything."

"Of course." Dan moved back to the other side of the store, near the checkout.

Clark moved behind her. "Are you okay?"

Lois took a deep, shuddering breath. "Yeah. I think so."

"Okay. I'm gonna go look over at the men's suits."

She nodded. She looked down at the suits in her hand. If they were going to be spending lots of time on beaches and cruises in the near future, she probably needed several suits, and she wasn't going to do what Clark did with clothes at Old Navy and just get a bunch of the same ones in different colors. She picked up a hot pink two piece. Would she be comfortable wearing this in front of Clark? It wasn't a bikini by any stretch of the imagination. The top was similar to a sports bra and the bottoms covered more than her underwear.

Wait. They were going to Greece. Were the beaches in Greece topless? "Lucy," she whispered. Lucy looked at her and she jerked her head indicating that she wanted her sister to join her.

"What?" Lucy whispered as she stood next to Lois.

"Are Greek beaches topless?" Lois whispered as quietly as she could.

"I have no idea. Maybe. Maybe not. But even if they are, you wouldn't have to..."

"Well, I know that, but..." She glanced Clark's direction, grateful that he appeared to be completely engrossed in conversation with Jimmy.

"You don't want Clark looking?"

"Something like that."

"You really think, after everything with Mayson and Lana, that Clark's going to be staring at other women on a beach? Especially when most of them will probably be old enough to be grandmas or something?"

Lois shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe."

"Lois, he's had eyes only for you since he was *fourteen*. He's not going to lie on the beach staring at women. I promise you that."

Lois sighed. If he'd spent the last three and a half years seeing her topless maybe she wouldn't be so worried about it, but he'd only seen her topless once -- and that certainly hadn't been her finest moment -- pinned under that slimeball about to have something precious taken from both of them. Maybe someday she'd get up the nerve to ask him how much he'd actually noticed. She'd mentioned it later that night in Colorado but hadn't actually given him a chance to respond.

She picked up several more suits that appealed to her and Lucy did the same. They headed towards the dressing rooms at the same time Clark and Jimmy did.

It seemed like Dan took unusual pleasure in showing them to two different sides of the store and telling Clark that men and women changed in different areas.

Lucy whispered to Lois as they changed into their first suits. "What is with him? It's not like you couldn't give Clark his own private swimwear fashion show later if you wanted to. Does he think that by putting us on opposite sides of the store, Clark's never going to see you in a swimsuit?"

"I don't know. He's never really given up on the idea that I should have picked him in high school. All he ever does is make snide remarks but still..."

"Yeah."

Lois was grateful that the entrances to the changing rooms were blocked from the rest of the store. Clark and Jimmy might not have been able to see a 'fashion show', but Dan wouldn't either. Quickly, they tried on the different suits and Lois finally settled on six -- more than she'd ever have thought she'd need at once, but given their recent change in profession... or rather change in the emphasis of their chosen profession -- it seemed prudent. After all, she wouldn't wear the same business suit every day, why would she wear the same swimsuit every day while on a cruise or something? If they were just going on a week's vacation or something, sure, but as a way of life? And it wasn't like this shopping trip was going to be an annual thing. Lucy picked four -- Clark had promised to bring them to visit if she had time in between camp sessions -- and she needed a couple of ultra conservative one pieces for camp.

They put their clothes back on and headed to check out. Lucy took Lois' from her and put them all in one big pile. Lois realized that her sister was protecting her from Dan -- he would really have no way of knowing which suit belonged to which sister since she and Lucy wore the same size. Clark threw several suits on top of the pile after Lucy put them on the counter. Jimmy threw two on top of that.

"You got this, honey?" Lois looked at Clark, silently pleading with him.

"Sure."

"We're going to go get a smoothie on the food court. Meet us there?"

Clark nodded and pulled his wallet out of his back pocket. He followed his wife and sister-in-law with his eyes as they left the store. He watched as Dan rang up the suits and blanched a little bit as the total continued to rise. He mentally shook himself. They had the money for this and they had determined a budget for this shopping spree the night before. They'd tried to be realistic as to what entirely new wardrobes would cost for the three of them -- and a few things for Jimmy thrown in because his birthday was coming up and he'd been a good friend to all of them for so many years -- but it was still hard to break themselves out of the mentality that they couldn't -- or shouldn't -- spend that kind of money. They had more money than they'd ever dreamed of and one good shopping spree wasn't going to break the bank. They weren't going overboard, just making up for years of not buying anything new -- all at once. He handed Dan his debit card as the other man stuffed all the suits into a big bag. A moment later he signed the slip and handed it and the pen back to Dan.

"Take care of her, Clark," Dan said softly.

"As long as I live." He and Jimmy turned and left.

***

"Street's Formal Wear," Lois read off of the sign and took another sip of her smoothie. "This is our last stop, isn't it?"

"For today, I think," Clark said. "We're going to need some formal wear before long. I'm taking you out for dinner before we leave, too. All of you."

"Perry's been telling me for a few months that I need to get a basic tux if I want to go to some of the more formal events that he needs a photographer for, so I'm getting one, too."

"You, too, Lucy."

"You mean I get to try on a bunch of fancy dresses and take one home with me?" Lucy's eyes gleamed.

Clark laughed. "Yes, but try to get something versatile and timeless, would you? We're splurging today, but it's not like we can do this all the time." They looked around. "I don't know where to start, do you guys?"

Lois shook her head. "I guess Lucy and I will go over there." She pointed towards the mannequins with dresses on them. "Do we want to shop for dresses then tuxes to go with them, the other way 'round, or separately?"

Clark shrugged. "Why don't we ask someone? I think we're out of our depth here." He looked around. "I wonder where the sales people are."

Jimmy went over to the counter and pushed the call button. "Maybe that'll get someone out here."

They turned their back to the counter and surveyed the store.

"Can I help you?"

They turned around and mouths gaped open.

"Mayson?"

***

Chapter 30

Jimmy recovered first. "Mayson, what're you doing here?"

"I work here. Della Street, my great-great-grandmother, started this store after World War I. She lost my great-great-grandfather, Perry Mason, in France and she needed a way to support my great-grandfather. She was a wonderful designer and seamstress and started Street's Formal Wear as a way to make a living. All of the cousins have worked here at one point. At least," she conceded, "those that live close enough. What about you guys? Shopping?"

"Yes," Lois said, unsure when exactly Clark's hand had found hers, but glad it had. "Clark and I are leaving for Greece soon. We'll be there for a few months and we need some formal wear. Night on the town, black tie night on a cruise, things like that. And Jimmy needs a tux and Lucy a dress."

Mayson shifted uncomfortably. "Listen, the only other person here is my Nana. She's a great seamstress and can fit anything you want for you, but she's not a salesperson at all. I'd be happy to help you guys, but if you'd be more comfortable going somewhere else, I'd understand completely. And it's just the two of us all day today and tomorrow so..."

Lois shook her head. "If you're okay with it, then I am too. We'd rather give our business to someone we know who deserves it than to someone we don't know."

"If you're sure..."

Lois nodded. "I am." She looked around. "Where do we start?"

"Well, I'm guessing you guys will want to match at least to a degree, so why don't we find you a dress or two that you like, Lois, and go from there." She turned to Lucy. "I'm guessing you're Lucy -- Jimmy and Clark have both mentioned you many times." She took a deep breath and held out her hand. "It's good to meet you."

Lucy glanced at Lois, then smiled and shook Mayson's hand. "Nice to meet you, too."

"Well, let's go this way..." Mayson headed towards the dresses on one side of the store. Coolly professional, she directed Lois and Lucy to dresses that would suit their needs. "I'd recommend a basic black for both of you as a 'main' dress. It'll work for just about any function or location. Even if you get something without long sleeves, it can work in winter if you get a coat to go with it. Most events you'll be at will probably be indoors and something too warm will end up being uncomfortable. Lois, it sounds like you probably want a couple more dresses than that and, for those, I'd recommend some colors that suit you. We can get Clark matching accessories for his tux for whichever one you wear."

Mayson expertly picked out a couple of black dresses for Lois and Lucy to try on. Even though they were close to the same size, she picked very different dresses for them. "I know you two aren't very far apart in age, but your different stages in life tend to lend themselves to different types of dresses. Lucy, you're just out of high school and the events you'll be going to are more likely to be work events with Jimmy for the Planet, things like that. Lois, you're out of college, embarking on your career, and the formal affairs that might go with that, but you'll also want something you can wear out on the town with your..." she took a deep breath, "...husband. Why don't you two go try these on and we'll see how they fit and if you like them? Even if they don't fit exactly right, Nana will do alterations for you. With any purchase, you get the first alteration and up to three more in the first two years included -- within reason. For instance," she continued as she led them towards the dressing area, "if you put on a couple of pounds or lose a few or whatever, not a big deal. If you change more than a size or so, then it probably can't be altered appropriately and you'd have to purchase something new rather than alter what you already have."

She looked directly at Lois as she spoke. "We can either wait for you two try those on or we can go start on tuxes. It's up to you. It's fairly common either way. Some women just want to help pick out accessories, others want in on the whole deal."

Lucy's eyes twinkled. "I don't know about you, Lo, but I want in on the whole deal. Find a couple of chairs and do some serious ogling while they try on a dozen different things."

Lois laughed. "That works for me." She winked at Clark. "Our turn to watch you guys."

The three women disappeared into the women's changing area. Mayson showed Lucy to a dressing room and told her to holler if she needed help. She and Lois moved two doors down. Lois started to enter the room when Mayson's hand stopped her. "Lois?"

"Yes?"

"Um, listen, when Clark tries on a tux..." She looked at the ground.

"Yes?"

"Um, part of helping make sure it fits right includes things like making sure it fits right in the rear and the shoulders and arms and sometimes that means helping smooth it down in different places," she said in a hurry. "I can try to get Nana out to help but... that's not really something she usually does."

Lois took a deep breath. "It's okay. I'm going to be right there, right?"

Mayson nodded.

"And you've proven to me the last few weeks that you're willing to do uncomfortable things to do what's right and I trust Clark. God help me, I think I almost even trust you, which is saying a lot given where we were not too long ago. You'll understand if I don't want to leave you alone with him but..."

Mayson nodded again. "If there's anything that you can do for me when we get to that point, I'll let you and you can do it instead."

Lois nodded and started moved into the dressing room.

"Lois?" Mayson said hesitantly.

She turned back.

"Thank you for what you said at the press conference and for not mentioning my name. You didn't have to do that and I certainly didn't expect it. And I heard that you guys got some decent settlements from the university and the Star. I'm glad. I know it's not enough to make up for what happened, but at least -- if it had to happen, and God knows I'd rather it never happened to anyone -- you got some compensation out of it. Most women don't get anything but heartbreak. Even before you said something out there about Greece, I'd heard that the two of you were taking off to explore the world. I hope you have a great adventure together and that it gives the two of you whatever it is you need."

"Thank you." Lois pulled the curtain behind her and put the first dress on.

"You ready, Lo?" Lucy called.

"Just a second." Lois struggled with the zipper but was unable to pull it up on her own. She exited the room. "Can you help me with this?" Unless this ended up being just perfect, the fact that she'd need help with the zipper was going to make this one a resounding 'no'. Having Clark help her in and out of a dress with any kind of regularity wasn't a good idea for her and probably wasn't fair to him.

Lucy zipped up the back of the dress. "You look fabulous, Lo."

"You think?"

"I know. Clark's going to love it. Come on." Lucy grabbed her hand.

They walked out of the dressing area to find Clark and Jimmy sitting in a couple of plush chairs placed there for just that purpose.

Both of their jaws dropped. "Wow," Clark managed. "You both look great."

"You think?" Lois glanced at her sister. They were both barefoot which made the dresses look a little odd, but overall her sister did look fabulous.

Clark stood and moved towards her. He made sure she was watching as he reached one hand towards her cheek. "You look *amazing*." He gently rubbed his thumb along her cheekbone. "I think the only time I've seen you look better was when we went to the Blue Note on our honeymoon."

Lois glanced down at the ground and blushed. "Really?"

"Yeah, really. I know you have another dress in there to try on, but unless it's just... wow, this is the one."

Mayson stood with Lucy in front of a mirror showing where alterations could be made to make it fit slightly better. Lucy nodded then moved back into the dressing room to put the other dress on.

"Lois?"

Lois moved towards Mayson and went through the same routine with her, making notes as she went. Very little would need to be done to make it fit perfectly. Lois glanced back at Clark and then went back into the dressing room herself. She had Lucy help her with the zipper again and then went to put the other dress on. This one she didn't need help with.

"Clark," she whispered, "I know you can hear me. If you're listening, cough." She listened for a moment and heard Clark make a noise that sounded like a cross between clearing his throat and a sneeze. She figured that was good enough. "Listen, I know you like that dress, and I do too, but I can't zip it by myself -- I'd need your help. If you're okay with that... and we really don't like this dress better, then that's fine, but if you're not okay with it, I understand." Clark made another noise and she moved out of the room towards the main part of the store.

Clark watched her carefully, she noticed. This dress was nice, but he was right, the other one was perfect.

"I like it," he said, "but I think I like the other one better." Jimmy and Mayson both nodded their agreement.

Lucy cocked her head to one side. "I agree. The other one is perfect for you."

Lois nodded, looking Clark straight in the eyes as she spoke. "I think so, too. I had a little bit more trouble getting in and out of the other one by myself, but I do like it much better." They looked at each other for a long moment.

Mayson cleared her throat. "Well, let's look for a couple others in other colors. Do you know how many other dresses you want?"

Lois continued to look at Clark. "I don't know. What do you think?"

Clark leaned back and chewed on his bottom lip. "Well, a couple? I don't really know what our plans are, but we're going to go on one of those cruises and it has a formal night. We're going to the Blue Note next week. We're going to be going to a couple black tie type places in Athens and who knows where once we're done in Greece. I'm sure you don't need a new dress every time we go out, but I'm sure you don't want to wear the same one every time either."

"I think two more is probably good," Mayson chimed in. "You probably won't be seeing the same people at each one or anything like that, but it'll give you some variety. If you decide you want more, you can always come back, but I think a total of three would probably be a good start for you."

Lois nodded and followed Mayson towards the dresses. She chose several and gave them to Lois to try on.

There was an emerald green one that went into the definite pile. Another was red and Lois determined it was too much. Clark agreed. It wasn't *her*. The silver one was a maybe. The pink was a no. The black one with red trim was a no. The white one was a maybe. The cream one was a maybe. Finally, she tried on deep purple one. It was her favorite color and she thought she would like the cut so she'd saved it for last.

Clark whistled when he saw her. "That's it. That's the third one."

Jimmy and Lucy nodded their agreement. Mayson had moved to help a customer who had come in to pick up a tux that was being altered.

"I agree." She pointed to the changing rooms. "I'm going to get dressed and then it's time for you two."

Before they knew it, Lois and Lucy were sitting in chairs on the other side of the store waiting for Clark and Jimmy to emerge.

Mayson had discussed the merits of the different types of jackets with them. Tails were out, she'd said, except for the most formal of affairs which they were unlikely to be attending. She recommended single-breasted because double-breasted jackets were to be buttoned when standing and unbuttoned with seated and would probably be more annoying than practical. A single-breasted jacket required a cummerbund and she recommended suspenders to go with it.

Clark and Jimmy came out at the same time with no cummerbunds or ties on. Mayson showed Jimmy how it should fit through the shoulders and arms, making a couple of notes for her grandmother. She had Jimmy take the jacket off and apologized before adjusting the waistband slightly to make it fit right through the rear. She glanced at Lois who nodded slightly and moved to Clark to do the same thing.

After making a few more notes, she moved to the accessories. She picked a black tie and cummerbund for both of them and tried them on, adjusting the fit and tying the tie for Jimmy. Clark managed to do his own, though it wasn't quite right, he said he could figure it out later. They decided to go with the matching deep purple for when she wore that dress, but with the black for when she wore the green. Matching that, Mayson said, was very prom-ish and probably not appropriate for the kinds of things they'd be attending. The deeper, darker colors, yes. The bright emerald green, no.

After getting an assurance from Mayson and her grandmother that all of the alterations would be done within a few days, they left for home.

***

June 1988

Lois sighed. "If we're going to make that cruise..."

"Yeah, I know. No Blue Note before we go." Clark sighed. "We'll go another time -- sometime soon, but since this is the cruise they're offering us for free..."

"We leave tonight. Our flight takes off in eight hours. We have to be at the airport in six."

"We could have taken a slightly later flight, but I think getting to Greece eight hours earlier will be good for us. We can rest up and try to acclimate to the time change. I don't know about you, but even though it's a twelve hour trip, I doubt I'll be resting much."

"You and your fear of flying." Lois smiled at him to take the edge off her words.

"You promised to hold my hand." Clark sat back in the chair. "You're not going to back out on that are you?"

"No. Just promise you won't break my hand."

"I won't." Clark looked around and sighed again.

New luggage sat in the living and bedrooms in various states of packing. Their new clothes had been laundered and were being packed. They'd visited an outdoors store and purchased boots and outdoor clothes appropriate for hiking and packed those as well. Clark had been to a suit shop and picked up a couple of nicer, new suits, shirts and ties. The one Lana had worn had gone up in a puff of smoke after judicious use of Clark's heat vision.

"We're not going to have time to find a place to live before the ship leaves," Lois reminded him. "Are we taking all of this with us for a five day cruise?"

"We might get lucky and find something quickly, but... we'll just take what we need for the cruise and a couple more days and I can come back for the rest. Or Perry said we could leave it with the Planet's guy in Athens. He's already talked to him about helping us out."

Lois sighed. "I guess that'll work. What's on the agenda for that cruise anyway?"

"Tomorrow we'll get to Athens. Friday afternoon we set sail from there. Saturday we go to Istanbul. Sunday night we leave Istanbul for Mykonos. We're there all day and then sail overnight to Patmos. We're only there for the morning and then go to Ephesus. Wednesday morning we'll be in Rhodes. Thursday we go to Herakion and Santorini. Next Friday we'll get back to Athens."

"Do you actually know what any of those places are?"

"Nope." He grinned. "Not yet. Just read the itinerary. I'll go get a book on Greece and a Greek/English dictionary here in a bit and read them later."

"Like on the plane?"

"Unlikely. I doubt I could concentrate. I might get a learn Greek on tape set or something to listen to."

"You mean you don't want to talk my ear off?"

"Somehow I doubt a plane is the best place for us to have a big heart-to-heart."

"You're probably right." Lois smiled at him and looked around again, feeling more than a bit overwhelmed.

"Put everything you want to take with us for the cruise on the bed and I'll pack it from there. There is a formal dinner one night so..."

"It's a good thing we got the clothes back from Mayson."

"Right. So which dress do you want to take?"

Lois thought. "I have no idea."

"Well, why don't we take all of them then and decide later?"

"Works for me." She spent the next half hour sorting through her clothes and making a big pile of things to take. Everything, it seemed, was going in the 'pack' pile. "I have no idea what to take."

"Well, we'll take as much as seems reasonable, even if you don't need all of it."

Lois sighed. "Okay." She waved a hand at everything on the bed. "This pile is must takes and as much of everything else as you can fit in what we're taking with us now in the suitcases. The rest can go in boxes." She looked around. "I don't get it. It seems like *so* much."

"Think about it. Really, we're moving, even though the first week or so of our 'move' is going to be on a cruise ship. We probably don't need the climbing stuff, hiking boots, stuff like that right now because I don't think we'll be doing any of that kind of stuff on the cruise."

"Right." She sighed and started digging through the pile again. She pulled out two weeks worth of clothes -- just in case. That way if she ended up needing to change each day for whatever reason, she'd have enough. She didn't plan on spilling anything on herself at breakfast, but it was always possible... She took care of packing all her underwear and pajamas, rightly guessing that Clark would do it but would probably prefer not to. All the new swimsuits went in there too.

Clark hung her three new dresses from Street's, as well as a couple of nice -- but more everyday -- dresses, in the garment bags. His new tuxedo and a couple of suits and dress shirts followed. Even though there was only one 'formal' evening that they knew of, it was possible that there would be a place where they'd need something in the middle. They had enough room in the garment bags to go ahead and take all of them.

She zipped up her underwear/pajama/swimsuit bag and set it at the end of the couch. "That one's done. Do you know where our passports are?" They'd applied for them several weeks earlier, as soon as the idea to travel had crossed their minds, because they knew it could take a while to actually get them.

"Yeah. I put them with your purse. Don't want to have those in a bag somewhere where we can't get to them."

She flopped on the couch. "Okay, Mr. Mental To Do List, what else do we need to do?"

"Well, you need to get your stuff out of the bathroom -- I'll let you take care of that and I'll get mine in a bit. Jimmy's supposed to be stopping by to get a key and drop off our tickets. He and Lucy are taking us to the airport later. Perry wants us to stop by the paper since he can't get over here to say good-bye. Alice is meeting us there. Is there anyone else you want to talk to before we leave?"

She shook her head. "No, that's it."

"Okay, so finish packing clothes. Bathroom stuff. Tickets and good-byes. Pack up the stuff that goes in boxes. Go to a book store and pick up information on Greece and the 'learn to speak Greek' tapes or something. Do you want to come and pick up a couple reading books or magazines?" Lois nodded. "As soon as Jimmy drops off the tickets, we'll go do that."

There was a knock on the door. "That's Jimmy now. Will you let him in?"

Lois nodded and Clark turned into a blur. By the time Jimmy made it to the bottom of the stairs, everything was packed and the suitcases and boxes were stacked near the couch. "That's everything except the bathroom stuff."

"Great. Thanks." She turned to Jimmy. "What ya got for us?"

He handed her a folder. "That's got your tickets and your itinerary. We've got a copy of it at the Planet. Perry said he expects your article on it a week after you finish the cruise. He wants to talk to you about the format for it, but said he's open to just about anything and to be thinking about it before you go over there. Your reservations for the cruise and everything are in there, too."

"That's great, Jim." Lois flipped through it. "Thanks." She picked their passports up and set them inside the folder and put them all on top of the suitcases. She grabbed her purse. "Ready, Clark?"

"Yeah, let's go. We'll see you at the Planet in a bit, Jimmy." He pulled his key ring out of his pocket and took a key off. "Here. Listen, we still want our deposit back so..."

"No wild parties. Got it. Besides, with Lucy gone, who am I going to party with?"

Lois and Clark both glared at him.

He laughed. "You guys are too easy. Don't worry -- no wild parties and no not-wild parties either."

They left the apartment and Lois locked the door behind them. She tried not to think that it was the next to last time she'd do that. The times they'd had in this apartment weren't all good ones. There were some... not good memories there, but there were also some very good memories there. Those were the ones she wanted to focus on. The first few months and the last couple months, when they were growing closer. There were some good times in the middle, but those were few and far between.

An hour and a half later, they were in Perry's office discussing their article formats.

"Kids, it's up to you, I guess. We could do a diary format. We could do a more formal article format. We could change it up some depending on what it is you're doing. For something like a cruise, a diary format might work well. For a day or two day trip, it might not be. You two have studied this stuff. Do what you think works and we can talk about it if we need to. This week and next week we're running promos in the travel section about an upcoming new segment -- Traveling the Planet: Lane and Kent in Greece. We're using 'Traveling the Planet' as the overarching title for a series that could continue for a long time. Even if you two don't have something to put in a weekend edition, someone else might. Traveling the Planet: Carl in Carlsbad or Traveling the Planet: the Whites at Graceland, things like that. For now, you two are the main attraction. But that means that the weekend after your cruise, I need copy."

"Got it, Chief." Lois smiled at him and willed herself not to cry. She looked at the clock. "Clark, we better get back to the apartment and finish getting ready."

"You're right."

The three stood and before she knew it, Lois was enveloped in Perry's arms. "I'm gonna miss you, darlin'. Even if you are going to be home in a couple weeks."

"Probably August, Perry."

"I know, but I'm still gonna miss you."

"Me, too."

"Alice wanted to be here you know, but she had a meeting she just couldn't get out of. You better come back and see us soon or she'll..."

"I know."

After another minute, they released each other and Lois swiped at her eyes. "I can't believe this. It's not like we're leaving for long." She pointed to the newsroom. "I'm going to go talk to Cat for a minute."

Once the door shut behind her, Perry turned to Clark. "I know this probably isn't the best time to ask this, but I've been meaning to and the time just hasn't been right -- time when the two of us can talk for a few minutes."

"What's that?"

"How are you doing?"

"With leaving? I'm fine. I'll miss Metropolis, but it's a great opportunity for us."

"I know that, but I mean you. What happened didn't just happen to Lois, it happened to you, too. In a different way, sure, but you saw it happening. You were able to stop it, which probably makes it a bit better than if you couldn't, but..."

"Mostly, I'm just trying to be strong for Lois. It's what she needs. There's a lot you don't know -- that *I* don't know -- about her past. She's so closed off about so much of it. Jimmy probably knows the most because Lucy's able to open up to him in a way Lois never has; I think because Lois protected her from so much of it. Growing up in their house wasn't easy. I've known that for a long time, but this has actually been a catalyst for us to connect in a way we never have before."

"That's all well and good, and I'm glad that you two are doing better, but what about *you*? All of that was still about Lois."

Clark sighed. "I don't know. Things are much better between us. That makes me happy. I try to stay close to her at night because the dreams come less often if I am, and it breaks my heart when she's sitting there screaming or sobbing and even touching her in the slightest makes her jump. When she flinches when I touch her unexpectedly, even in the most innocuous of circumstances, it kills me. Sometimes it surprises me we don't have two king beds shoved together since we can't actually get bigger bed. That's one thing that worries me about this whole traveling thing. I made sure we requested a king size bed at the hotel, but on the boat... it's not going to happen."

"I know you hurt when she does, son, that's only natural, but what about *you*? Are *you* hurting?"

Clark stared at the floor. "Yeah, I am," he said softly. "There's things I can't tell you about why or how it's affected me, but yeah, it hurts." He leaned against the desk. "There's things about us, about our marriage, problems we've had and things like that, that we've never discussed with anyone else and I'm not about to start to now without her explicit permission, and I know I don't have it. But yeah, things about that night hurt a lot."

"You're a smart man not to discuss those things without her permission, but I get the feeling it hasn't ended for you two. Whatever those problems were, they're still there, and if you two ever need someone to talk to, Alice and I are here. But what he almost did... that's something that should only ever be between the two of you."

"I know you guys are here for us so does she. She avoided Alice for a long time for that very reason. I think Louise knew more than anyone else, but neither of us ever talked to her either -- not really. As for the other... let's just say you don't know the half of it." He ran a hand through his hair. "I didn't protect her. I should have and I didn't. If I'd pushed for schedules that matched, she never would have been there alone at night. If I'd known what she believed about Mayson, I would have done things differently."

"She believed it about Mayson?"

"You didn't know that?"

"No. She believed you and Mayson were..."

"Yeah. That's part of life at the Lanes. Ellen was a drunk and Sam was a womanizer. There's more to it than just that but..."

Perry whistled. "I had no idea. Well, I knew that life in their house wasn't always easy, but Lucy and Jimmy haven't said much either."

"Sam made it incredibly easy for her to believe that no man would ever be faithful long term, and when she realized that I spent time with another woman -- even though we were *never* alone together; always in public -- it was very easy for her to come to the conclusion that I was just like her dad. I didn't realize how bad things with Sam had been until recently or I would have done things differently. If I had, and she knew that nothing was going on with me and Mayson, then I don't think she would have been as 'easy pickings' for Paul."

"You're not to blame for what happened. No matter what was going on between the two of you, there's no excuse for what he tried to do. And if it hadn't been Lois, it would've been some other girl, and there's a good chance she wouldn't have had the guts to do what Lois did and he'd still be on the loose."

"My head knows that, but my heart..."

"Yeah. The heart is a fickle thing isn't it?"

"That it is."

"I know there's things you can't tell me now, but if there's anything I can do..."

"I know." He glanced at the clock and noticed Lois watching him. "We do have a few more things we need to get done before we head to the airport. If you really want to do something, pray I make it through a twelve hour flight. Flying is something I'm meant to do under my own power."

Perry grinned at him. "You'll be fine."

"Lois promised to hold my hand."

The editor laughed. "Take that and hold on to it."

"I'm going to, believe me." He held out a hand and was suddenly engulfed in a big bear hug.

"I'm gonna miss you too, you know."

Clark laughed. "We'll be home soon."

Perry let him go. "Okay, go get me some copy."

"Yes, sir."

Perry stood in the doorway as Clark crossed the newsroom and met Lois near the elevator. He watched as they entered and waved as the doors closed behind them, watching them embark on the next leg of their journey of life together.

***

Chapter 31

Clark's head had been leaned back against the top of the airline seat for the last two hours. He'd gripped Lois' hand tightly as they'd taken off from Metropolis International Airport and hadn't let go since. Unfortunately, it was almost time to eat. Clark wasn't sure he was going to be able to, but Lois would.

He was glad that the Planet had purchased their plane tickets but he was even more grateful that Lois had suggested splurging to upgrade to First Class. The extra room was nice, making him feel slightly less claustrophobic. One of the things they'd done the night before -- or was it two nights ago now? -- was balance their bank account. Even with all of the shopping they'd done, there hadn't been a dent in their account. And that particular account only held some of the assets they now possessed. It was a weird feeling, knowing that as long as they weren't completely foolish, money was something that they'd never have to worry about again. It was difficult to flip that mental switch.

Oh, they weren't going to be buying yachts anytime soon, but the idea that they had to choose between either paying all their bills or Clark eating, even if it wasn't strictly necessary, was a thing of the past.

"Hey, I'm going to need my hand back," Lois said softly.

"I know. But can't I keep it for a little while longer?" Clark didn't open his eyes.

"Not right now."

"Why not?"

"Because this nice stewardess has our meal ready for us."

"Oh." He opened his eyes and smiled weakly at the young lady as he took the tray from her.

"Not a fan of flying, sir?"

He shook his head. "If men were supposed to fly, we'd have wings or something."

He heard Lois mutter 'or something' under her breath as she took her own dinner.

The stewardess chuckled. "You aren't the first one to say that and I'm sure you won't be the last, but if you can relax a bit, it'll help. Now, I certainly won't allow you to get *drunk* but maybe a glass of wine would help."

He shook his head. "No, thank you."

"Try it, Clark. It couldn't hurt."

"Alcohol never has a relaxing affect on me. In fact, it rarely affects me at all." Though right now, Clark would have given his left arm to be able to take the edge off with a glass of wine. Well, maybe not his left arm. That would entail removing his left hand, and it finally had his dad's wedding band on it -- put there by the most beautiful woman in the world. Maybe his right arm. He could learn to write left-handed. "On second thought," he finally said, "why not?"

She handed him a wine list. "What would you like?"

"I'll trust your judgment."

"And for you, ma'am?"

"The same please." Lois smiled at her.

Clark waited until she left. "Are you sure that's a good idea?"

"What?"

"You're not twenty-one."

"So? We're not in the U.S. anymore and I'm not going to get drunk. I won't let me and you won't let me and the stewardess won't let me." She looked at her chicken and then over at Clark's steak. "I'm not sure which looks better," she said, with nose upturned. "And how do you know alcohol rarely affects you at all?"

"Well, there was a party or two in high school. And poker nights have long necks and since I turned twenty-one... Perry insisted that I at least try one. It doesn't affect me, but it's not bad-tasting."

"Why didn't I know about this?"

"Why wouldn't you?" He shrugged. "I have a beer with the guys on poker night. One. Singular. Never more. I *can't* get drunk anyway and I guess I just figured you knew that there was beer there and that I might have one."

"Not a clue." She sighed. "And I want to be an investigative reporter."

"What? You're going to be a great investigative reporter."

"I didn't know the truth about you and Mayson, I thought *Paul* was nice, I thought Mayson was truly evil and Lana was nice enough. And I had no clue that you have a drink occasionally. You're my husband. Shouldn't I know things like that?"

He took her hand. "Probably. And you do. But when have we ever really had a good reason to talk about this before?"

"Never, I guess." She looked up as the stewardess came back. "Thank you," she said as she accepted the glass.

Clark took his. He thanked her then turned back to Lois. "To be honest, I'm a bit surprised that you want to even try something like this."

Lois sighed. "I'm not my mother. And she always drank hard liquor. We're headed for Europe, where, I understand, it's much more common to have a glass of wine with dinner nearly every night or whatever so..." She took a sip and made a face. "It may be an acquired taste. Besides, I trust you to call me on it if I ever start to overdo it or start showing signs of an alcoholic."

"Believe me, I will."

"I know."

***

They had to be nearing the mainland of Europe, Lois thought. They'd both finished their wine and most of their dinners. Even Clark. As soon as they were done, he'd taken her hand again and hadn't let go.

His breathing was even and his eyes closed. She thought he was asleep. Maybe she could slip off to the bathroom. She gently extricated her hand from his, but he stirred as she did so. She whispered to him, reassuring him that she'd be right back. He settled back into his pillow as she walked towards the front of the plane.

She returned shortly to find his hand tucked under the blanket that covered him. Deciding he'd be okay without holding on to her as long as he was asleep, she pulled the book on Greece out of her travel bag.

She couldn't concentrate on it. Her thoughts drifted to the notebooks she'd stashed in her underwear/pajama/swimsuit bag. Would she have the nerve to pull them out? To ask him the questions she'd written down over the years? Well, there were questions in there, but mostly it was diaries. Journals. Where she'd vented when she was angry or frustrated. Or hurt. Mostly hurt. She'd started the first one the night she came home sick to her stomach and sick at heart, pouring her heart out on the page, asking how he could betray her like that; that if it was sex he was after to talk to her and tell her that he couldn't live without that anymore. That if that was what it would take to get him to stay, she would. Well, she thought she would have. The theory was one thing; when it came time to actually go through with it, she wasn't sure what she would have done.

Letting him read the fairy tales was one thing; these were something else entirely.

Not all of the questions were relevant anymore -- the ones about Mayson and any other women there might have been. But others... others were. She'd worked on a list of them over the last several weeks, just in case she did have the guts to ask him about all of it. They were found on the last page.

But when would be the right time to bring all that up?

Not on the plane certainly. Or during their hour layover in Germany. Or while they were trying to get over their jetlag when they got to Greece. Or on the boat.

Would that be the right place?

Clark had mentioned that he requested a king room when they arrived in Greece, but on the ship... He'd said they'd tried to give them an 'outside premium stateroom', whatever that meant, but that it had two small, single beds. Perry had convinced them that two beds were unacceptable for the Daily Planet's newest -- married -- travel reporters. Apparently, he'd been quite persuasive and now, thanks to him and a late cancellation, they had been moved up to a balcony suite. They had their own private balcony -- not a big one, but something.

This company was fairly new -- at least to the Greek Isles cruise business -- and they desperately wanted the coverage the Daily Planet could give them. They'd wanted them to wait a few weeks and go in one of the Imperial Suites -- it had a Jacuzzi on the balcony -- but were booked for some time to come. Perry said they'd find a different cruise line. They'd countered with the stateroom which he'd turned down as not good enough, and they'd scrambled to find another way to get them on board and in nearly the best accommodations.

She was very glad she wouldn't be sleeping alone. Even though she wouldn't have been alone *alone*, she knew that proximity to Clark kept nightmares at bay. She wasn't sure what size bed they'd have on board, but she doubted it would be a king.

They'd shared her double bed once. That was too close for comfort at the time. They'd only been married a week or so, and though she'd found that she liked falling asleep in his arms, having to roll over in place left something to be desired. And Clark was bigger than he had been then. She didn't think he was any taller, but he was definitely bulkier. Maybe it would be at least a queen sized bed. They'd never slept in anything but a king except that once.

As much as she needed him close to keep the dreams away, she wasn't looking forward to sleeping cramped. They'd discovered over the last few weeks that, even though Clark was almost always touching her in some way as they slept -- more than he ever had before, as though he was aware, even in sleep, that she needed him -- they used most of the bed. He'd told her that nearly every time he woke, he was holding her hand, had an arm thrown around her waist, their legs were touching or that they were holding each other in some form or fashion. Usually, he'd said, even though they were touching, they sprawled. She'd noticed the same thing.

And as much as she needed him close, she needed room. Even if she didn't use it, she needed to know that she could have her own space if she needed or wanted it.

She sighed. There was no point in worrying about what she couldn't change. They'd make do with whatever they had. They always had. Though, she admitted mentally, usually that meant lack of funds not lack of bed space.

Would lying with Clark in bed on a cruise ship after a day of discovering ancient Greece be the time to ask him if he would have really left her sitting with Perry White thirty-six hours after meeting the editor and after he'd accidentally given himself away? Or what he would have done if she'd thrown herself at him on any one of a dozen occasions? Maybe 'thrown herself' wasn't right. If she'd set out to seduce him. He wanted to be with her, he'd never made a secret of that, but he'd promised her he'd never push and he never had. But if *she* had pushed -- even if she wasn't really ready -- what would he have done?

Was that a fair question to ask him? Regardless of his promises, would it have been fair to him if she had walked into their bedroom one night when Lucy wasn't home wearing nothing but his dress shirt and expected him to realize that she was scared? That regardless of the brave front she was putting on, she wasn't ready for that?

Probably not. That wouldn't be fair to any guy under just about any circumstances, but when it was the woman he loved, that he'd made no secret of his desire for, that was probably bordering on cruel.

She looked past Clark and out the window, noticing twinkling lights as they flew high over a small town of some sort. She wondered how much longer before they reached Germany. They'd only be there an hour, but maybe they'd come back now that they were officially travel correspondents.

She shoved her questions about the questions she'd ask Clark if the time was ever right and she ever got up the nerve to the back of her mind and, resting her head on his shoulder, willed herself to sleep. She woke when the wheels touched down on the tarmac.

***

"Are you hungry?"

Lois shook her head. "Not really. I just want to get some real sleep."

"I don't think that's such a good idea just yet."

She glared at him. "We left Metropolis over twelve hours ago. It's been over thirty hours since we woke up yesterday and neither one of us slept much, or well, on the way here. Why shouldn't we get some sleep?"

Clark moved to open one of his suitcases. "Because. We have to board the ship at ten in the morning -- no later than that if we want our interviews -- and we sail at 1500. It's about two in the afternoon right now. If we go to sleep now, we'll be up at midnight. If we get settled in here, take a shower, or whatever, we can head over to the Planet's Athens office and meet the guy there. Maybe he can help us find an apartment. If so, great. If not, maybe he can have a few things lined up for us when we get back -- places to look and stuff -and we can drop the boxes we brought off wherever he wants us to. We can eat dinner and get back here and go to bed at eight or nine or so. That'll give us time to wind down and get a good night's sleep before leaving in the morning."

"I hate it when you make sense."

Clark grinned at her. "I'll hop in the shower while you get some clothes out. Be right back."

Lois kept glaring at him until he sped into the bathroom. She sighed and hefted two bags onto the dresser. She pulled clean undergarments out of one and a new pair of shorts and a shirt out of the other. By the time she finished that, Clark was standing there, freshly shaved and not looking like he'd spent the last thirty hours getting ready for an unexpectedly quick departure and then traveling in a 'metal tube'. She sighed and headed to take a shower.

***

"It's good to meet you, John." Clark shook the man's hand. "This is my wife and partner, Lois Lane-Kent."

Lois shook the man's hand as well.

"It's nice to meet both of you. Your story has made it even to our little part of the world. At least," he conceded, "the Daily Planet corner of it. I'm looking forward to getting to know both of you." He gestured to the chairs across from his desk in the tiny office. "Have a seat." They did and he returned to his chair. "Perry called last week and said that you two would be coming and to do whatever I could to help you settle in. I asked around and there's an apartment available a couple of streets over from me. It's not a luxury penthouse or anything, but it's fairly affordable and probably something like what you want. It's a family home in central Athens and most of it's occupied by members of an extended Greek family. You'd be the only non-family members there. A friend of mine lived there a year or so ago and I called them on the off chance that it was available. They'll treat you like family."

"That sounds like exactly what we're looking for, doesn't it, honey?"

Lois nodded. "Affordable is good. Central is good. Family is good." She smiled at Clark. "Want to go see it?"

He nodded. "What do you think, John? Could we go over there? If we can get it settled before we sail tomorrow, it would be a load off of our minds for the next week."

John stood. "I told them we might be by tonight. I'm warning you, though, if YaYa likes you, we'll probably be there through dinner."

Lois yawned. "As long as I don't have to walk any more than necessary tonight, I'll be happy."

Their host laughed. "It's not far and I can point some things out to you on the way."

***

Clark returned to the dim hotel room to find Lois lying under the covers. He'd dropped everything they didn't need for the cruise off at their new apartment.

YaYa had loved them, and as promised by John, had fed them dinner. The apartment was perfect. Not as big as the one they'd left behind in Metropolis, it was recently renovated with a full eat-in kitchen -- though, they'd been told, they were always welcome to dine with the family; just let them know -- a living room, very nice bathroom and a bedroom with a king size bed.

He'd packed up several boxes the day before with things like the quilt his grandmother had made for his parents when they got married; his favorite poncho liner -- how he'd managed to forget he had that was beyond him; pictures that they'd use to decorate their new home -- Perry and Alice, Lucy and Jimmy, the two of them, Aunt Louise, his parents, none of Lana or even the rest of the Langs; some books, things of that nature. He was glad the Planet had agreed to pay for half their extra luggage charges. From now on, maybe he'd manage to take care of it under the cover of night, flying their things places themselves, or leaving most of it behind with a friend -- like John -- and having them ship the boxes via Fed Ex or something. Regardless, everything they weren't taking was now at their new apartment waiting for them on their return from the cruise.

"Hey," Lois said quietly.

"I thought you were asleep."

"Almost." She pushed herself up to a seated position. "Get it all over there okay?"

"Yep. And YaYa sent breakfast."

"I think I'm going to like living there."

"Me, too." He sped around the room, changing clothes as he went then laid down with a big yawn. "I don't know about you, but I'm wiped out."

She slid back down. "You mean you're finally going to let me get some sleep?"

A soft snore was her only answer.

***

"Beautiful, isn't it?" Clark moved next to her, resting his forearms on the railing of their small, but private, balcony.

"Yeah, it is." The wind whipped through Lois' hair as she stared out over the Grecian waters. "It's so... blue."

He laughed softly. "Blue it is." They stared over the waters for a few more minutes. "Got the first part of our article written yet?"

"We've been on board for a few hours and you want to know if I've got the article already written?"

"Well?"

She sighed then smiled at him. "I have a rough draft of the beginning of it in my head."

"That's my girl."

"It was great of Perry to finagle us a portable computer."

"I don't think it was Perry's doing. I think Stern had a lot to do with it. You know -- his whole 'cutting edge' technology thing. We're the first long term travel correspondents, or whatever they're calling us, doing something like we are -- at least in a long time. Most of the travel pieces in recent years haven't been by people who were actually doing nothing but *traveling*. Stern thought we'd be a good 'test case' for it. If it works well for us, he's talking about getting a few that can be checked out for out of town assignments. He even set it up with a modem we can use from any phone line and *email* to send Perry our stories."

"Will Perry know how to check to see if we've emailed him a story?"

"Probably not," Clark conceded. "But Jimmy can show him."

"More like he'll have Jimmy print it for him."

"Probably."

"Before you know it, everyone will have their own laptop."

He laughed. "Not in this century."

"Maybe not, but Jimmy swears it's the wave of the future."

"What does Jimmy know?"

"More than you'd think. He's a whiz at computer stuff."

"Well, at least we won't have worry about overnighting our stories."

"Just remember to go slow when you type because you almost burned up that keyboard at school. And I doubt Stern would be too happy about you ruining the first laptop he bought for reporters."

"I'll be careful." They gazed out over the open water for a few more minutes before he spoke again. "I'm going to type up our notes from our interviews this morning. It's almost time to get ready for dinner."

Lois nodded. "I'll get ready while you do that."

Clark moved to the table and set up the laptop. Jimmy had given him a crash course on how to use it the day before. He only hoped he remembered what he'd been told. He waited until he was prompted and then opened the word processing program. He typed up their interview notes with the ship's captain as well as the ones from their private tour of the ship arranged by the cruise line's PR department. He working on their notes from their talk with the steward assigned to their cabin, when Lois emerged from the bathroom.

"All done?"

She nodded, wrapped from head to toe in a new robe and toweling her hair as she did. "Your turn." She smiled at him. "The long, hot shower was nice."

"I bet. I think I'm going to take one of those, too," he said letting her know without spelling it out that she could get dressed without worrying about him walking in on her.

She pulled on a new pair of tan slacks and a new blouse, then sat down to finish typing up the notes Clark had started.

She looked up when he emerged from the bathroom. "Very Eddie Bauer," she said with a smile.

"There's a reason for that, you know."

"You bought those clothes at Eddie Bauer."

"Yep. Today is Eddie Bauer day, tomorrow Abercrombie and Fitch... the day after that... who knows."

Lois laughed. "Isn't it kind of pathetic that we know what store all of our clothes came from without looking at the tags?"

"Give us a couple months. Right now, everything is new."

She typed a couple more words in and sat back. "Do you know how we're supposed to shut this thing down?"

He showed her what Jimmy had shown him. "We'll write up the first part of the article tonight. Wouldn't Perry absolutely have puppies if he had the first part of something for a teaser in this weekend's edition? And tonight here, is this afternoon there. If we can get it to him by midnight here..."

"That's five there. When is he supposed to start looking for emails from us?"

"Jimmy's on email detail, I'm sure. And since it means he gets to play with electronics, he's probably already checked it twice today and it's only ten a.m. or so there." He pulled his shoes on and tied them. "You ready to go?"

"Just let me put my shoes on and we'll go paint the boat red." He gave her a look. "Or something like that anyway."

***

Clark leaned towards Lois and spoke quietly, so only she could hear. "You're free to say no if it makes you uncomfortable, but would you like to dance?"

Lois looked around her. Dinner was over for most of their shipmates and several couples were out on the dance floor. "Are you going to teach me to tush push?"

Clark laughed. "Not tonight. They do have dance lessons as one of the onboard things we can do. That might be fun. What do you say? Will you dance with me?"

She paused for a second then nodded. "Yeah. I'd like that."

He stood and held out a hand to her. She took it and followed him as he walked to the dance floor.

He rested one hand on her waist and held one of hers in the other. He was careful to let her dictate the distance between them, glad that, even though she wasn't extra close to him, she wasn't extra far away.

"You know, we haven't danced since the prom."

"It's nice."

He noticed that her heart rate increased and he didn't think that it was just from the slight physical exertion. Was that from... fear for lack of a better term, about being close to him? They were much closer at night, but that was for sleep. Specifically and she knew that. Was it because dancing was often part of romance? She'd told him on the plane, as they spoke quietly while many around them were sleeping, that she still wasn't ready for overt romance at all. If they weren't married, dinner and dancing would probably be considered a date. Since they were... dinner was a part of their life together and this particular dinner location happened to have a dance floor. Was she afraid that he might take dancing with her the wrong way?

Or was it something else?

Her heart rate had gone up the first time they'd danced together, too. Then, he'd been sure, that it was because she was at least somewhat attracted to him, even if she wasn't ready to act on that attraction.

Could that be what it was?

Attraction?

His musings were interrupted by a man with a thick Greek accent. "May I please cut in? Mrs. Kent was kind enough to promise me a dance."

He turned and smiled. "Of course, Captain."

"You will have to keep an eye on this one," the older man said with a smile. "There are many men here who would give their left arm for such a beautiful and gracious woman."

"Believe me, I intend to keep a close eye on her." He caught Lois' eye and smiled again. She smiled back, letting him know -- even though he already knew -- that he had nothing to worry about.

He handed Lois off to the captain of the ship. He reminded Clark a lot of Perry in many ways and he smiled as the captain dipped Lois deeply. She was laughing as he pulled her back up and towards him. Her heart rate had slowed a bit, even with the extra effort and more lively dancing she was currently doing, so he must be part of the reason for it. Good, or bad, he wasn't sure.

He moved back to the table and sat, watching as the captain twirled her around. He started to stand to claim the next dance with her when another of the ship's officers claimed her. They'd met both the captain and this man earlier during their interviews and he'd seemed nice enough.

His eyes narrowed as he noticed a tall, older man watching them -- one who looked slightly familiar. He took another sip of his wine and catching her eye again, motioned that he was going to visit the restroom, determined to be back before the next dance started.

He hadn't counted on the line at the nearest men's room. When did men's rooms have lines?

The next dance had started before he returned. Sure enough, the man he'd noticed earlier was dancing with Lois and holding her more than a bit too close for comfort.

And she was scared.

He knew she was. Her heart was racing and he could see her searching with her eyes for him.

He strode purposefully towards the dance floor, smiling at one passenger he'd met earlier and telling him that they would speak later or the next day, because he wanted to claim another dance with his wife.

He tapped the man on the shoulder. "Excuse me, but I believe I'd like to cut in."

The man didn't release Lois but turned to look at him. "Ah, but I am dancing with the lovely lady," he said with a light accent.

"Look, Mr...."

"Winninger. Vincent Winninger," he supplied.

"Mr. Winninger, I'd like to dance with my wife, if you don't mind." Clark moved closer to them. He was slightly shorter than the older man, but even if he hadn't been Kryptonian, he would have been stronger. He'd heard of Winninger. He was a scientist or something and had a reputation as a lady's man.

"Ah, but I do. You get to dance nearly every dance with this woman, so the least you can do is allow a poor fellow like me to finish one whole dance with her."

They were starting to attract attention, which he knew was the last thing Lois would want.

"Mr. Winninger," Lois said as forcefully as she was able, and with a smile even. "I would like to dance with my husband, please."

He finally stepped back and released her. "My dear, it has been a pleasure." He leaned low and kissed the back of her hand before finally letting go all together.

Lois unobtrusively wiped her hand on her slacks before moving into Clark's arms, definitely closer than she had been before.

"Are you okay?" he whispered.

"Where were you?"

"Line at the men's room. I'm sorry it took me so long."

The song ended.

"Can we go now, Clark? Please?"

"Of course."

He held onto her hand and led her as they weaved through the tables to one of the exits. They stepped onto a walkway open to the sea. Lois shivered slightly, from the breeze or Winninger, he didn't know, but he wrapped an arm around her and she leaned into him.

"Are you okay?"

"I don't like him, Clark, and we're going to spend the next seven days on a ship with him."

"I'll stay close. I promise."

"Thank you."

"I don't think you have anything to worry about though. He's never gone for married women."

"What? Who?"

"Winninger. I remember reading about him. He has a reputation as a lady's man, but he's always said that married women are off limits."

"Well, that's sweet of him," she said sarcastically.

He pulled her a little closer. "I'm here."

"I know. And I knew you were there somewhere and would be back soon. He seemed nice enough but he held me closer than I was comfortable with. I couldn't get away from him. It wasn't that I really thought he was going to hurt me or whatever, but he was there and I couldn't get away and you weren't there and..." Tears started to fall. "I was trapped and you weren't there and..."

He stopped and wrapped his arms around her. "It's okay. I'm here."

She sobbed for a few more minutes before finally whispering, "Please take me to our cabin, Clark."

"Of course," he whispered back, picking her up as he did so.

In mere minutes, their door shut behind them and she felt safe again.

***

Chapter 32

Lois yawned and rolled over, moving closer to Clark. He was still asleep, but he reached for her nonetheless. Feeling safe in his embrace she closed her eyes and tried to remember what the schedule for the day was.

She couldn't. They were arriving in Turkey at some point today, but she couldn't remember when.

After Clark had carried her to their cabin the night before, she'd fled to the shower again. She emerged to find her robe just inside the door. Clark must have cracked the door and put it inside for her. He'd waited on the balcony, staring out over the water, while she got dressed.

She'd sat on the sofa while Clark set up the computer on the table. Together, they'd worked out a draft of the first part of their article then took a bit of a break to stare at the stars off their balcony. Clark said it was a lot like Smallville -- no city lights or smog to get in the way.

They went back inside after letting their copy percolate for a bit and Lois made some edits to their teaser article. Clark went through his mental checklist from Jimmy to send it via email to Perry. Then they'd realized that they didn't have a phone line and it would have to wait until they docked the next day. The cruise line's PR people had said they'd have access to their phones whenever they were docked.

And then she'd crawled straight into bed. It hadn't been long before Clark joined her, and he'd held her close to him as she fell asleep -- exactly what she'd needed.

The bed was a queen size and, while it hadn't been too bad the night before, she was afraid that she'd end up feeling cramped at some point. Clark had mentioned it and offered to sleep floating if that would help. She'd said she'd let him know.

After he'd told her who Vincent Winninger was, she'd searched her memory. She remembered seeing him on one of those entertainment shows that Lucy liked to watch from time to time. He'd laughed and admitted that his weakness was women, but when they'd asked him about a particular married woman, he said that they were off limits. That gave her a bit of relief.

She sighed and gently extricated herself from Clark's arms, deciding it was time to get her day started.

***

Clark woke as she moved off the bed and headed for the bathroom. From where he was laying he could see her, a few minutes later, move to the balcony. He watched her contemplatively as she stared over the water.

A picture came to his mind unbidden.

Lois, standing there, on the railing, hair blowing -- much like what he was actually seeing -- but instead of wearing pajama pants and a T-shirt, she was wearing one of his dress shirts. A white one. And precious little else.

He'd meant what he said -- Lana in his shirt was disturbing -- but Lois... Lois was another story all together.

He closed his eyes and covered his face with his hands, groaning as he did so.

She must have heard him, because seconds later, she was watching him. "Hey. What's wrong?"

He left his hands on his face for a few more seconds. "Nothing. Just don't really want to wake up." He lowered them to see her leaning against the frame of the opening that separated their bedroom from the sitting area. He rolled to the side of the bed away from where she was standing and towards the bathroom. "I'm going to hop in the shower, unless you want to go first."

"No, go ahead."

He gathered a few things in a blur and then closed the bathroom door behind him.

Yesterday's shower had been a long, hot one. This morning's would be cold.

***

Lois was wearing one of her new swimsuits when he emerged from the bathroom. She'd pulled a pair of shorts on and was in the process of putting a shirt on over the top of it.

Lois in a swim suit. That would help.

Most days he was fine. Yes, it was nearly always in the back of his mind that she was beautiful and that he'd love to be able to kiss her and hold her and... he couldn't let his mind go *there*. But most days... He'd long since resigned himself to their platonic marriage -- even before the last month and a half happened. And if they *had* been doing those sorts of things, it was likely they wouldn't be at the moment or for a while to come -- not with what happened to her. It had taken Maggie a year, after all, and she'd loved Wayne and had been waiting for their wedding night for years, even if they hadn't been officially a couple the whole time. At least he'd had years to get used to this part of his life.

So why was it so difficult today?

He sighed as he looked for a pair of sandals to wear.

"Are you okay?" She tossed her sunscreen in a beach bag as she spoke.

"Yeah, I'm fine." He wasn't, but he couldn't tell her what was really going through his mind. Maybe later, if she asked again, once the moment had passed, he'd tell her. But to tell her that right now, he wanted nothing more than to throw her on the bed and have his way with her would completely freak her out. And, yes, that was what he wanted at the moment, but there was no way he'd actually act on it. He was sure she knew that, but there was no reason to scare her.

He sighed again. And he couldn't even go play with his favorite killer whales at the moment.

***

She was already in bed as he stared out over the water. He stood for a long time contemplating the waves that made their way onto the shore at Istanbul. So the waves he was watching were several miles away. That wasn't the point.

They'd eaten breakfast and then explored the ship some more, making it to the pool for a couple hours before lunch. Lois had mainly soaked up the sun while reading one of the books that she'd brought. Clark had tried to sleep and avoid staring at her.

He'd mentally castigated himself. Sure, she was his wife. Sure, he was -- in theory -- allowed to stare at her, and he'd even caught her ogling him a time or two when she didn't think he was looking. He was objective enough to know that he was well-built; that many men would work out several hours a day to have the physique that was his birthright as a member of a now-defunct planet. It was nice to know that he did have some effect on her.

But this wasn't a 'normal' marriage -- whatever that was.

As much as he wanted their marriage to move to that step eventually, he wouldn't -- couldn't -- push her for that. Not when two days earlier -- was it only two days before that they'd been in that small metal tube flying across the Atlantic? -- she'd told him that romance wasn't what she wanted or needed; 99% of the time, that wasn't a problem.

Today, however, for whatever reason, was part of that other 1%.

Small waves slapped the side of the ship and were suddenly immensely interesting.

They'd eaten lunch and Lois had gone to take a nap while Clark sat on deck and talked with one of the passengers he'd met the night before. He'd interviewed him officially, as well as a couple of other passengers, for their article. He'd typed up their notes while Lois still slept, curled up on their bed on top of the covers. She still wore her shorts, but she'd burned a bit and had taken off the shirt she wore over the top of her suit as it was irritating her reddened shoulders. He dug through his bag and pulled out the poncho liner he was glad he'd had the foresight to bring. It shouldn't irritate her skin and he'd covered her gently with it.

They'd docked at three in the afternoon local time. There had been enough time to connect the computer to the phone line in the cruise line's offices and email their story and notes to Perry. It was early morning Saturday in Metropolis and they had no way of knowing if he'd get it today or not. They'd check their email when they got back. The computer itself went into the office safe.

They'd spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Istanbul with a tour group and eating at an authentic Turkish restaurant before returning to the ship, having collected their computer and received an email from Jimmy saying that they'd gotten the articles and Perry was ecstatic. Clark had typed up their notes from the afternoon while Lois took a shower and went to get some Aloe Vera -- somehow they'd managed to forget to pack that.

The day had taken a lot out of her and now she was dozing under his poncho liner, thankfully wearing an old T-shirt, worn and washed so many times that it was soft enough not to bother her skin, rather than her swimsuit top. That it was one of his was something he tried to ignore.

He glanced at the clock. He'd better get some rest too. They were in Istanbul until right before dinner the next evening and he was sure they were going to be very busy seeing the ancient city.

He sighed once more before going back inside and pulling the covers back, climbing underneath them rather than on top with his wife.

"Clark," she said quietly. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," he answered.

He saw her wince as she rolled to face him and the shirt rubbed her sunburn the wrong way. Then he saw the tears that filled her eyes. "I don't believe you. You've been acting weird all day."

He tried to smile at her. "It's nothing. Really."

"That means it really is something." She bit her bottom lip and seemed to be contemplating whether to go on or not. When she spoke again, the words piled on top of each other. "Do you not trust me? Or what? Is it me? Is it something I..."

He stopped her with a finger on her lips. "No. It's not that at all." He closed his eyes for a minute, taking a deep breath as he did so. "It's just not something I really want to bother you with."

"What could possibly be wrong that you wouldn't want to tell me about?" He could see the wheels turning in her mind. Then her eyes closed and a tear leaked out of each side. "Did you meet someone else today?"

*That* was what she thought? Of course, that was the first conclusion she'd come to if something was bothering him. It was always what had happened with Sam. He'd suspected that though her head was starting to believe he wasn't leaving, her heart needed quite a bit more time.

Those thoughts flitted through his head in seconds before he reached his hand back out to cradle her face, wiping her tears with his thumb. "No. Lois, there isn't anyone else, there never has been. There never will be," he told her gently. "And deep down, I think you know that."

She didn't move.

"Okay, maybe way, way deep down, but somewhere inside, you know it's true."

She finally nodded slightly. It was another minute before she found her voice again. "Then what is it?"

He sighed and sat up, moving back until he rested against the headboard. "It's just about the exact opposite."

She moved next to, but not touching, him. "What does that mean?"

He pulled his knees up and stared at his hands as he rested his forearms on his legs. "Do you have any idea when the last time I saw you in a swim suit was?"

She shook her head.

"Camp. When I was fourteen. Almost exactly eight years ago."

"I don't get it."

"You know I love you. You know I want to be with you someday. You know I think you're the most beautiful woman in the world even if I haven't said it nearly enough, and..." he shook his head slightly, "...you look great in a swim suit. Really great. That's all." He still refused to look at her.

"Oh."

"Most of the time, it's not a big deal. You're a beautiful woman and even when you were wearing old clothes that were two sizes too big, you looked gorgeous. Now that you have clothes that fit properly and swimsuits that show a lot more skin than I've seen in a long time... it was just a... difficult day. That's all."

"Oh." She said it even more quietly this time.

He noticed that she pulled her legs to her and hugged them tightly.

"Does that bother you?" he asked just as quietly.

She shrugged and pulled her poncho liner blanket closer around her. "I don't know."

Sure. She didn't know. That's why she was hiding under the blanket. Not that he really blamed her. Maybe he should call her on it. "Now I don't think I believe you. I think it does bother you, doesn't it?"

"Some." He barely heard her.

"And that's why I didn't want to tell you." He reached out until his hand rested behind her neck and he gently ran his thumb up and down from the bottom of her hairline to the neckline of her shirt a few inches below. "I know you're not ready for that and I still have no intention of pushing you for anything you're not ready for."

"What makes today different? Besides the swimsuit, I mean."

A half-smile crept across his face. "I can't go play with my favorite pod of Orcas."

"What?"

"Especially that first year or so, I spent a fair bit of time on an iceberg or two in the North Atlantic. I got to know a pod of killer whales."

"Oh." He saw the blanket tighten around her a little bit more. "You actually know whales?" she finally said.

"A few."

"When was the last time you went?"

"It's been a while." Well, as long as he was confessing all... "The last time I actually saw the whales was after Aunt Louise died."

"What?"

"Yeah. After we got to Texas and I dropped you off..."

"You said you had an errand to run."

"That wasn't technically accurate." He moved his hand from behind her and ran it through his hair. "It had been a very long time since I'd been that close to you for that long, unless we were going to sleep. I hated myself for it, you know; that two days after our closest relative died, I couldn't control my hormones. So I went to the North Atlantic and sat on an iceberg for a while. They were there. One of the adolescent males kept eyeing me, wanting me to swim with them, but I didn't feel like it that day. I'm not sure when the last time I did that was."

She was silent for a minute. "Kryptonian version of a cold shower?" she eventually asked.

"Something like that. Swimming with them also gave me something else to think about."

"I'm sorry." It was barely a whisper.

He shrugged. "It's okay. I knew going into this that some days would be more difficult than others. And it's been a long time since I had a day like this." He finally turned to look at her. "I promise. Today's been... more... awkward than most. That's all."

***

This was her chance. She knew that.

He'd surprised her with the reason why he'd been distant and weird today. She'd tried not to stare at him at the pool, but he'd looked good, too. Really good. She'd found herself watching him sleep from behind her dark sunglasses.

She hadn't even thought that he might be doing the same thing.

Did it make her incredibly uncomfortable?

Yes.

Did it make her feel good at the same time?

Yes. Not as emphatically, but yes.

She took a deep breath and spoke.

***

"Do you ever think about that night?"

He wasn't sure what he expected her to say, but that wasn't it. "Which night?" Their wedding night? That night in Colorado when she kissed him?

"When you came into the conference room." She stared at the desert camouflage pattern on the blanket.

"When I came into..." He wasn't sure what she was referring to. "When Paul was..." He didn't finish the sentence. He couldn't. On the off chance that that wasn't what she was talking about...

"Yeah."

"Sometimes. I wonder what I could have done to get there sooner. I wonder what would have happened if I'd hit him harder. I try not to imagine what you must have gone through because it breaks my heart to think about what he did to you."

"Not that." She pulled her legs even closer, making herself even smaller, if that was possible.

"Then what?"

"I was..." She took a deep breath. "He'd practically stripped..." She bit her lip for a minute. "You saw..." She couldn't continue.

"You?" He filled in the blank.

"Yeah." Another tear made its way down her cheek.

"Yes," he said slowly. "I did."

"Do you think about that?" The tears came faster.

"Do you mean do I see the whole scene in my head and wonder what it might be like to deck him instead of tackle him or do I focus in on the part where you were nearly naked and try to remember what I saw?"

She could only nod.

"No. I don't. Have I been tempted a time or two? Yeah, but I have never intentionally tried to remember what I saw. I want to be completely honest with you and I need you to believe me." There was no response, so he took a deep breath and continued. "It's flashed before me a time or two and as soon as I realized it... I made it go away and focused on something else instead. When I see that in my head I focus on him and each time I try to imagine a different way I could make him wish he was dead for what he did to all those other women, but most especially to you. To intentionally focus on the part where it's the first time I saw my wife without clothes... that's an invasion of your privacy and I wouldn't dream of doing that. You were violated enough that night and I have no desire to add to it."

"Thank you," she whispered.

He put his hand back out, touching her shoulder and exerted light pressure. If she came willingly, he'd try to erase some of that heartache.

She did.

He pulled her onto his lap and wrapped his arms around her while she cried.

Long minutes later, he spoke. "You've been wanting to ask me that for a while, haven't you?"

She nodded against his chest.

"Did you think that I'd dwell on it?"

"I wondered." She pulled away from him and moved to sit back on the bed, but still next to him, with his arm around her keeping her close to his side. "I wasn't really sure. I mean, I'm your wife. You're supposed to be allowed to see me... like that."

"Yeah," he said slowly. "I suppose you could look at it that way, but that's not how I see it." He realized how that must have sounded. "That's not what I meant. I just mean that when you're ready for me to see you like that, then it'll be okay, not before. It's *your* body and *you* should be the only one to decide who gets to see it and when."

They sat there for a few more minutes after that, her head still resting against him, her body leaning towards his. This was... normal, comfortable, not a reminder of how unconventional they were like the rest of the day had been.

"Is there anything else you've been wanting to ask me about?" he asked, sensing that there might be.

She shrugged.

"I'll take that as a yes. Do you want to ask me something else now?"

She was silent for a minute as though trying to decide if it was a topic she wanted to broach. "Would you have left me there?"

"Where? With *him*? Never!" How could she even think that?!

"No!" she interrupted forcefully.

Well, that was good. At least she didn't think he'd have left her there, in the conference room, once he had any idea what was going on.

"I know you wouldn't have left me there. I meant at Perry and Alice's."

"When?"

"That night -- after Perry caught you building the fire."

"Why would I have left you there?" What was she talking about? Why wouldn't he have stayed with her?

"You said that you knew you could trust Perry -- he has that reputation for a reason -- and that if he said he wouldn't print something, he wouldn't. When I asked what you'd have done if he hadn't promised not to print, you said you probably would have left."

"I think I probably would have. I don't know what other choice I would have had."

"Would you have left me there?"

"You mean would I have left, by myself, after Perry saw me do that?" he asked slowly trying to make sure he understood the question.

She nodded.

"No. At least I don't think so. I think I would have woken you up and told you that we had to leave and I'd explain later and gotten us both out of there as fast as we could. You thought I might have left you there to face Perry -- Perry *White*, editor of the Daily Planet -- by yourself after that?"

She shrugged. "You said *you* probably would have left. You didn't say anything about me."

"And you asked me about this when you were sure I was having an affair and that I was going to leave you just like everyone else had," he said, beginning to understand.

She nodded again.

He pulled her a little closer and kissed her hair. "I had no idea you thought that or that you could have taken what I said that way or I would have explained it better. Is that a good enough answer?"

"Yes, it is. And..." She took a deep breath of her own. "...I don't know that you could have convinced me otherwise at the time."

"In Colorado?"

"Yeah. At the time, I was convinced that when you left to go help, that you went to go see Mayson for at least part of it."

"I didn't even know her yet."

"I wasn't sure I believed you about that."

"Why not?"

"The day you met her... I was close enough that you should have been able to hear my heartbeat but you didn't even know I was there. You'd told me that unless you were really concentrating on something, it was just automatic."

"But it's also if it's too loud -- like the cafeteria can be."

"I conveniently forgot that part."

At least she could admit that. He'd understood why she'd been easily predisposed to believe that he could be having an affair, but he'd never really understood the... logistics? That wasn't the right word but it was the only one coming to him. The logistics of his supposed affair. Okay, he ate lunch with Mayson -- and others -- but he obviously wasn't having sex with her in the middle of the cafeteria. So when was that supposed to have happened? Did he really want to ask that? Maybe he'd just keep wondering for now. Maybe someday he'd ask, but not now. He didn't want to get into all of that unless she brought it up.

But today, at least, she could admit that part of the reason why she'd thought he was totally engrossed in Mayson was because he hadn't known she was there, hadn't picked up on her heartbeat like he'd told her always happened.

"I thought she took that from me." Her voice was small.

"Took what from you, honey?"

"My heartbeat. You'd said I was the only one that you tuned into automatically and I thought she took that from me. That her heartbeat was the one that came automatically after that."

"No, that's always been you. Only you."

"Why is that, do you think?"

"Well," he said slowly, "I think you're my soul mate. I think that there is one person in this world for me and that's you."

"Why is that, do you think?"

"That you're the only one for me?"

She nodded.

"I don't know. I just know that you are."

She thought about that for a minute. "Purely hypothetical question..."

"Okay."

"And you don't have to be too vehement with your answer, no matter what it is."

"Okay."

"What if something happened to me? I mean, I hope nothing does, but if something were to happen to me and I wasn't here anymore... do you think you would find someone else?"

Clark exhaled slowly. "Well, first, I pray nothing happens to you until we're old and gray."

"But if something did. Say five years from now. You're not even thirty yet at that point. Would you live the rest of your life alone? And please, be honest with me."

"I don't know," he said as honestly as he could. "I really don't know. Could there be someone else out there for me? I don't believe that there's another soul mate for me -- you're it, baby."

"Baby?" He could see her wrinkle her nose.

He shrugged as he smiled at her. "It seemed to fit."

"Could you find someone else to be happy with though?"

"I don't know."

"I don't think I want you to spend the rest of your life alone, but I'm not sure I really like the idea of you with anyone else, even if I'm gone."

"I'd rather just not think about it."

"I know but..."

"I don't think I could ever love anyone like I love you, but I guess it's *possible* that I could find someone to be happy with, even if it's not like what I have with you. I don't think I could be as happy with someone else as I think we can be together."

"Will you promise me something?"

"Of course."

"If something happens to me, don't stay single just because. Find someone who can make you happy."

"I promise I won't be closed to the possibility, how's that?"

"Okay. But one more thing."

"Anything." Clark pulled her a bit closer.

"Don't be happy with Mayson or Lana."

He chuckled. "Don't worry."

"I mean, out of the two, I'd prefer Mayson if they were the last two women on earth, but really... I'd prefer neither."

"Me, too. Believe me, if Lana *was* the last woman on earth, it wouldn't happen. After everything that's happened, I can't believe I went out with her in high school." He shuddered. "If I'd stayed in Smallville, I can't imagine what would have happened."

"She would have been after you until she got you," Lois said quietly.

"Once I met you, I don't think that would have happened. I knew at fourteen. But it probably wouldn't have been pretty until I managed to get to Metropolis."

They sat in silence for a few more minutes. "Anything else, honey?" He could feel that there was something more on her mind.

"Maybe."

"But?"

"Maybe that's enough for tonight."

"Maybe," he repeated. "But we're already here, we're already talking, we're already being honest with each other, is there something else you want to talk about?"

He wasn't sure he wanted to wait to talk about whatever else was on her mind. They'd done the whole 'tell each other something' most days, but most days it wasn't anything too deep. Funny childhood anecdote or something that happened that day -- things like that most of the time. Deep conversations still didn't happen all that often, but they were making progress.

"Yeah, I guess." She shifted, seeming uncomfortable.

"Would you rather move somewhere else?" He kissed her hair again. "You might be more comfortable?"

She nodded.

"On the balcony? I think it's late enough that no one else should be around -- and I can keep an ear out."

"Yeah. That sounds good." She scooted away from him and he felt the loss of having her close.

He followed and took the two folding chairs, stashed in their closet for just such an occasion, to their balcony. It was small -- not much room for anything but the two chairs -- but they could sit and watch the lights of Istanbul. He was glad they were on the water side of the ship rather than the dock side. She'd taken the blanket with her and pulled her legs up on to the chair and huddled underneath it.

He set up one chair and waited for Lois to have a seat and then set up one for himself.

"What else do you want to talk about?" he asked gently.

"Something Cat said to me while you were talking to Perry the other day."

"What's that?"

"She said that even though what happened happened to me, in that I was the one that he attacked, that I shouldn't forget that you were affected too. Maybe not like I was or not to the same extent, but that it's affected you too."

He waited for her to go on.

"So..." She took a deep breath. "...how are you?"

***

Chapter 33

How was he?

Regardless of how he actually was, what could she handle hearing? If he said he was fine... If he said he was a mess...

Was he fine? If he was fine, then was it like he hadn't been affected at all? Would that tell her that he was indifferent to her? To her pain?

Was he a mess? If he was a mess, then wouldn't that put additional pressure on her to be fine? Only of them could be a mess at a time? The other had to be fine?

To be completely honest, he hadn't really thought too much about how *he* was doing. Sure, Wayne had asked him and so had Perry a couple days earlier, but...

He'd told Perry that there were things that he couldn't share about how the attack on Lois had affected him because it would mean violating Lois' confidence.

But this was Lois. She knew all of this. She knew that it was the first time he'd seen her body, and even though, as he'd told her, he never intentionally tried to remember what he saw, he did. He did remember and he tried not to dwell on it.

She was waiting for him to answer.

"I'm..." He started slowly. "...okay, I guess. I haven't really thought about me with all of this too much. Wayne and Perry both asked me that, and I hadn't thought about it too much then and I still haven't. I'm much more concerned about you and how you're doing."

They sat in silence for a few more minutes, watching a ship make its way through the harbor. He wasn't sure she was satisfied with that answer. Or if she was happy with it. He stretched his legs out and propped them up on the railing, crossing one ankle over the other.

"Do you think we lost something that night?" she finally said.

"You? Or us?"

"Us."

"Maybe. Probably."

"What do you think it was?"

"Innocence?"

She didn't respond to that.

"I know your life hadn't been easy even up to that point, but none of it -- at least as far as I know -- had been physical."

She shook her head. "No, there was never any physical abuse or anything like that growing up."

"I'm glad. I think maybe we lost that idea that 'it can never happen to us', the belief that we're invincible."

"*You* are," she said quietly.

There it was. Was that the crux of all of this? Did she believe that he couldn't be hurt? Nothing could be further from the truth. Sure, he hadn't been hurt physically in a long time, but his heart... his heart could hurt like hell.

"No," he said in equally quiet tones. "I'm not invincible. Physically, there may not be much that can hurt me these days, but that's not the same as invincible. I can hurt, you should know that. You were there with me in Colorado when we saw the explosion. You can't believe that didn't hurt."

She didn't respond to that directly. "So we lost our innocence that night?"

"That's part of it. And even though he didn't finish what he started, he still ruined that for us too. Not in the sense that we won't ever be able to be together, someday, and that it won't be wonderful, but in the sense that we should only be like that together, with each other, and now..." he let his thought trail off, unspoken

"Now I'll always know what it's like to feel another man kiss me or to feel his hands on my breasts or take my pants off," she said bitterly.

He hadn't known that he'd kissed her or... fondled her there. It didn't surprise him, but he still hadn't known for sure. "Exactly."

"Does that bother you?"

"That he did those things to you?"

"To know that another man kissed me and touched me and saw me naked."

There was something unspoken in what she said and how she said it, but he wasn't sure what it was. Was that something he should ask her? To explain what she meant? Or just answer the question at face value? Why wasn't there some kind of step by step guide to tell him what he should do?

"Yes, it bothers me. It bothers me to think you might carry that memory with you for the rest of your life. It bothers me that, when we do make love someday, you'll see him sometimes; that when I touch you, you'll feel him sometimes. That nothing I can do, no matter how many times I show you how much I love you, I'll never be able to erase that completely from your mind. Is that what you mean?"

"Yeah, I guess."

"You guess?" He looked at her as she just stared over the water, still curled underneath the poncho liner. "You still aren't sure we'll ever be together like that, are you?"

"It's hard for me to think that I'll be ready for that someday," she told him. "I hope I am. I want to be. But... still so close to all of this... it's hard to see that."

More long minutes passed before Clark spoke again. "I think he also took something very special from us."

"What?"

"I mean, if... we'd been together before, even if it wasn't regularly, even if it had only happened on our wedding night or prom night or whenever and then we decided that it was too much for now... *I'm* the one who should have been the *first* one to touch you like that, and then even if this had still happened, you'd have the memory of me, too. Instead of just him." He took a deep breath, willing his emotions back under control. "And I hope that the memories of me would have been good ones."

If he was being completely truthful with himself, it made him furious that Paul would take that from them. He couldn't let her see that though. If he thought about it long enough, it almost made him want to cry that someone had taken that from them. And it really made him want to say things his mom would have washed his mouth out with soap for. Loudly. And with emphasis. While hitting something.

And sometimes he wished that he had someone that he could vent all of this to without betraying Lois' confidence. He couldn't burden her with all of this.

"If I had told you one of those nights that I wanted to have sex with you, would we have?"

"If you had told me and meant it? Or if you had told me because you thought that's what I wanted?"

"Either."

"If you said it because you thought it's what I wanted to hear, then I don't think so. If you had meant it? Then I don't know why we wouldn't have. You know it's something I want someday and if you had too... what would have stopped us?"

"Nothing, I guess." She refused to look at him, even now.

"If you'd really wanted it too, would that have been a bad thing?" He wasn't sure how it could have been.

"I guess not." She was quiet, thinking. "If we had... If we hadn't stopped on our wedding night and we'd gotten... carried away rather than making some rational decision or whatever, would you have been okay with not... doing that again if that's what I wanted?"

He thought for a moment himself. "It would have been... more difficult, I think, but it's your body and I'd have to respect your wishes. But at the same time, I would have hoped that it would have been good enough that you'd want to keep doing it."

"We were teenagers, Clark. I've heard enough first time stories from my friends to know that it probably would have been awkward at best and quite possibly painful."

She had a point. It would have been completely foreign territory for both of them. "Maybe. But I guess I would have hoped that it was good enough, overall, to want to keep trying it until it was great."

"Maybe."

It had been a night of long silences and another one was upon them. Lois finally broke it. "You said the last time you saw the whales was when Aunt Louise died."

He nodded.

"When was the last time you went and didn't see them?"

He sighed and thought about it. When had it been? Would knowing it hadn't been fairly recent make her feel better or worse? "I'm not sure. February, maybe. March. Something like that."

He heard her sigh and saw her finally raise her head some. "I think I'm really glad no one else is outside right now." He watched her turn to him, wide eyed. "There hasn't been anyone outside has there?"

He shook his head. "No, the other balconies and the deck upstairs have all been quiet."

He saw her yawn.

"You should go get some sleep."

"Are you coming?" she asked.

"In a few minutes."

She stood and wrapped the blanket around her shoulders, leaning on the rail to stare at the water below. "Are you okay?" she finally said.

"I'm fine."

"Is there anything I can do to make... things easier for you?"

He shook his head. "Nah. I'm okay."

"Will you promise to tell me if there is anything I can do?"

He nodded.

She stared at him for another long minute and then turned to go inside. She paused before closing the door behind her. "I do love you, Clark."

"I know," he replied.

"And I want to want to."

"I know."

"And if it wasn't for..."

"I know that, too."

"Someday..."

He could hear the tears in her voice.

"...I promise that someday, we'll make love together."

"When you're ready."

She went inside and he stared at the night sky for a long while before going in to get some sleep.

***

Lois was still awake when Clark finally slipped into bed behind her. The first thing he did -- after sighing again -- was move close to her and wrap an arm around her. She noticed he held her more loosely than was the norm. She wondered if that had to do with what he'd told her.

She'd known from the time that they'd woken up and been making out on the couch on their wedding night that he really did want to be with her like that. Really, she'd known since he'd asked her to marry him and promised that he'd never push. But it had never occurred to her that he'd had days or moments or whatever when he was more attracted to her than others. At least not when she wasn't all dressed up like for prom or something.

She'd hoped against hope that he didn't focus on what he'd seen when he'd seen her nearly naked that night. And she believed him when he said that he didn't try to remember it. Part of it was that he'd admitted that it did come to mind from time to time. If he'd said he never, ever thought about it -- that she would have had a hard time believing.

She thought he'd mentioned going to the North Atlantic before, but she couldn't remember when or where. That he'd gone after Aunt Louise died surprised her in some ways, but he was right. Except for sleeping, they hadn't been that close for any period of time for a very long time before that. She wasn't sure she understood hating himself for it -- maybe being disappointed or something, but not hating himself. She imagined that it was probably a pretty normal reaction given their circumstances. It surprised her in some ways that he'd been to that part of the world as recently as a few months ago.

And he wouldn't have left her at Perry and Alice's that night. That was another weight off her mind. After the last few weeks, that didn't surprise her. Lucy had told her the same thing when she'd told her about it one day. Lucy'd also told her that she was absolutely crazy for believing about Clark and Mayson.

She'd talked to him about things tonight that she hadn't been sure she'd ever be able to. She wasn't sure where the whole 'would you find someone else if something happened to me' thing came from. Part of her was happy to hear that he wasn't sure that he could find someone else, part of her was happy that he promised he'd be open to it. She didn't want him to be alone, but she was very glad that he'd promised Mayson and Lana wouldn't even come close.

And then they'd moved outside.

Until Cat had said something a couple of days earlier, it really hadn't occurred to her that this would affect him to -- other than for him to worry about her. His words tonight, and the way he'd said them, said otherwise.

He'd surprised her with his vehement reaction to the thought that she might have flashbacks when they were finally together someday.

>>>*I'm* the one who should have been the *first* one to touch you like that...<<<

The only one.

He'd said that in Colorado and at least implied it earlier.

And he was right. That was the way it should have been. Whenever the time was finally right for them to be together like that -- when her heart and her mind were finally ready to trust him completely with her body -- he should have -- and would have -- been the first one to help undress her, to see her, to feel her.

The opposite was true, too, she knew now. She should be the only one to undress him, to see him, to feel him. And unless something very unexpected happened, she would be.

He felt like that had been stolen from him, from them. And he was right, but he didn't have anyone, she realized, that he could really express that to. He wouldn't to her -- not completely. She knew that. He wouldn't want to burden her any more than she already was. She'd talked to Lucy a little bit and to Alice, and even Cat some, about how violated she felt because someone besides Clark had done those things. She hadn't mentioned to them that he never had, but to a certain extent, that was irrelevant at this point. It was probably more accurate to say that she felt violated that *anyone* had done that to her at this point, but they would have expected her to say Clark and, if she was honest with herself, she really meant it -- only Clark should have been with her like that someday.

Maybe she should tell Clark that it was okay with her if he wanted to talk to someone. Not just anyone of course. Maybe Perry or Wayne.

She'd think about that.

She pulled the poncho liner closer to her. She wondered where Clark had gotten it and why she'd never seen it before. She was already in love with it and wondered if she could get away with not giving it back.

She finally fell asleep in the early hours of the morning.

***

"Would you like to dance tonight?" Clark asked her as they finished dinner.

She shook her head. "My feet hurt."

He smiled. "I'm sure they do."

"Yours would, too, if it wasn't for... you know."

"Probably."

They'd disembarked after breakfast, visiting the imperial residence of the Sultan -- the Topkapi Palace. They'd also gone to the Blue Mosque -- quite impressive with over 250 windows and completed in the early 1600s. After lunch at the Green House Garden, they'd gone to the Turkish and Islamic Arts Museum in the historical palace of Ibrahim Pasha. They'd gone to the Grand Bazaar where they spent a number of hours looking through the over ninety streets that made up the bazaar. They'd purchased a number of souvenirs for their friends and family.

"Are you ready to head to our cabin or is there something else you wanted to do tonight?" Clark asked as he sipped the last of his glass of wine.

"I think I'm about ready for a shower and to turn in early."

"Didn't sleep well last night, did you?" he asked quietly.

She shrugged. "I slept fine; it just took me a long time to get there." She took a deep breath. "And there's something else I wanted to talk to you about."

"What's that?"

She wiped her mouth with her napkin one last time and set it on the table. "Not here."

They pushed their chairs away from the table and worked their way through the dining area. They were stopped by a young couple from Canada. They'd spent quite a bit of their day together as they toured the city. Don and Beth asked if they'd like to go listen to some music in one of the other restaurants on board. After a quick glance at each other, they agreed.

The rest of the evening was enjoyable, even if the conversation Lois mentioned was put off for a while. She was actually okay with that.

The Knights, they'd discovered, were also fresh out of college and, having gotten married the week before, on a Grecian honeymoon before returning home to 'real life' and 'real jobs', they'd said. They had a few more weeks before those 'real jobs' as high school teachers in Alberta started.

It was ten before they made it back to their cabin.

Lois kicked off her sandals and sank onto the couch.

"It's been a long day, hasn't it?" Clark asked sympathetically.

She nodded.

"Why don't you go take a shower and get a good night's sleep?"

"That sounds like a good idea."

"I'll work on our notes while you do that."

Lois nodded again as she stood and gathered her things together before heading to the bathroom.

Twenty minutes later, she was curled up on the bed as Clark took a super fast shower and then joined her.

"So, what was it you wanted to talk about?" he asked.

She sighed and sat next to him, leaning up against the headboard. "Something you said last night."

"I said a lot of things last night," he pointed out.

She nodded. "And it wasn't so much *what* you said as *how* you said it."

"Okay," he said slowly, unsure about what she was talking about.

"You said that you should have been the first one to do those things with me." She didn't look at him as she said it.

"That's how I feel."

"I know. Me, too. But that's not what I mean. I realized that you don't really have anyone but me that you can really talk to about this and I know you won't do that because you don't want to burden me anymore or whatever. And I appreciate that, but I also realized that you need to have someone you can vent to. I'm able to tell Lucy or Alice or Cat or whoever, how it felt when he did those things -- probably not in great detail or anything -- but that it shouldn't be anyone but you and that's the honest truth. I don't *need* to tell them that you haven't yet. It *does* bother me -- a lot -- that someone besides you did, but I'd be violated regardless. You, on the other hand..." She paused. "I think you need to have someone you can tell the whole truth to. And I want you to." She took a deep breath. "I want you to know that it's okay with me if you want to talk to Perry or Wayne about *all* of this. Not just as the grieved husband, but also as the man who lost something that should have been very special and only between us. I'd never thought about it quite that way before and I'm sorry."

He reached on arm out and pulled her to him, kissing her hair. "Thank you," he whispered huskily.

"I mean, I don't want you broadcasting us to the world, but I know you wouldn't do that."

"It's okay with you if I were to talk to Perry then? To tell him *all* about us and the things we haven't done?"

She nodded against him. "I'm not sure I want you telling him *all* the sordid details of Lane family history, but enough to get the point across. And I can't say that I'm completely comfortable with the idea, but I realize that you need someone you can talk to and that's more important than me being completely comfortable. If I was completely *un*comfortable that might be different, but I trust Perry and I know you trust Wayne so... I think Perry might be a better choice because you could go see him soon and I think that might be good. You can't just go see Wayne."

"You realize," he said slowly, "that it might be unfair to Perry to ask him to keep something this big -- something that'll probably bother him -- from Alice."

"I know."

"And you're okay with that?"

She nodded, not trusting her voice at first. "It helps that I'm not going to see her for a while, but she's been more like real family than anyone else in my life, ever, except Aunt Louise." She fiddled with the blanket. "I think you should go see Perry soon though. I think it would be good for you to get whatever else you're holding inside out."

They sat in silence for long minutes. "Thank you, Lois. I know what a difficult decision that had to be for you to make."

"It's the right thing to do."

"That doesn't make it easy."

"The right thing usually isn't."

***

The next morning they spent on board the ship, spending most of the day with the Knights either lounging at the pool or taking dancing lessons. It wasn't the two step or the tush push, but it was fun. That afternoon, they docked at Mykonos, Greece. They had two options. Spend the late afternoon at one of the luxury hotels on the beach or touring Delos, the birthplace of Apollo and Artemis -- twin children of Zeus and Leto. They chose Delos.

It would have been their choice anyway, but since they were writing about what they were doing it also made more sense.

They relaxed on the ferry for the forty-five minute ride to the smaller island. The population, Clark told Lois, was officially fourteen.

Once they reached land, they spent four hours as part of a walking tour seeing things like the Temple of the Delians and Terrace of the Lions and the hall of Poseidioniasts, as well as former marketplaces. They saw the now dry Sacred Lake around which everything had been situated. The Temples of Isis and Hera were there as well as were the Houses of Dionysus and the Dolphins.

Another forty-five minute ferry ride took them back to Mykonos and the ship for a late dinner. Before boarding the ship, they emailed Perry some more of their notes and nearly completed story pieces and called him once they'd done that. As expected, Jimmy was getting their emails and printing the files off for Perry. Lois went to the bathroom while the conversation continued.

"Listen, Perry," Clark said. "We get back to Athens on Friday morning. We'll probably spend Friday and most of Saturday getting settled in our new apartment and starting to find our way around the city. But I'd like to talk to you at some point late Saturday or early Sunday. Are you going to be home?"

Perry thought a minute before speaking. "I don't think we've got any plans, son. Can I ask what this is about?"

"What we talked about in your office right before we left," Clark said somewhat cryptically. "Trying to get a *flight* to Metropolis just for a few hours so that I could talk to you in person would be so impractical -- too long and expensive -- but if you're going to be home, can I call?"

"Um, is Lois going to be... on the phone too?"

Clark shook his head even though he knew Perry couldn't see him. "No, just me probably. I'm sure she'd like to talk to Alice, but she also said that she didn't expect to until August."

"Gotcha. Yeah, we should be home."

"Okay. I'll talk to you then."

"Sounds good. And I'm loving the stuff you guys are sending so far. So is Stern. He said that if the next couple weeks are anything like this one, the whole office will have computers soon and that he's ordering a few laptops that can be checked out next week."

Clark laughed. "You'll have to figure out how to check your own email then, Chief."

"Watch your mouth. That's what Jimmy's for."

Lois walked back into the office. "Lois is here and we have to go get back on board."

"I'll talk to you soon."

"Bye, Perry."

"Give Lois my love."

"Will do."

With that he hung up and collected the computer before they headed back to the ship.

***

Lois sat straight up in bed, screaming.

Clark jolted awake himself. He spoke quietly to her until she calmed down enough to let him pull her close.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked quietly.

She shook her head. "Just more of the same really."

"At least it's the first one this week," Clark said, trying to put a good spin on it.

She shook her head again. "No, it's not. I guess it's just the first one bad enough to wake you up."

The ringing of the phone interrupted whatever Clark was about to say. He reached over to answer it, telling whoever was on the other end that everything was fine; his wife had had a nightmare but there was nothing to be concerned with.

"Who was it?"

"One of the officers. One of our neighbors heard you scream and called it in. They wanted to make sure everything was okay." He moved back towards her and pulled her down next to him. "Are you sure you're okay?'

She shrugged. "As okay as ever, I guess. So, you never told me what else Perry said."

"He sends his love and..." He paused.

"What?"

"If it's okay with you, I think I may go see him Saturday night."

"I don't see why not. We get in early on Friday so that gives us a couple of days to get everything situated first."

"Are you sure you're okay with it?"

"Not entirely, but enough that I still want you to do it."

"Saturday it is then."

***

The next few days flew by. Tuesday saw them visit Patmos in Greece and Ephessos on their last foray into Turkey. Wednesday had them exploring Rhodes. Thursday they visited Crete and Santorini.

Thursday night was the evening of the formal dinner on board the ship.

After what Clark had told her earlier in the week, Lois decided she wanted to wear the purple dress rather than the black. She didn't want to have to ask for his help with it. She went to the on board salon, their reporter status guaranteeing her a time slot that would give her enough time to get dressed without rushing afterwards -- they'd want her to experience it so that she could write about it.

She returned to their cabin to find Clark looking very frustrated as he tried to get his bowtie right.

"Problems?"

He sighed as he tweaked the tie again. "Not unless you tell me you changed your mind about what dress you're wearing and I have to change ties."

Lois laughed. "No."

"Okay, then not unless you say you're not planning on dancing with me tonight."

"I'm planning on dancing with you tonight."

"Good, we can practice what we learned this week." He tweaked it one more time, then turned to her. "How's that?"

She stood in front of him and reached out to adjust it slightly. "There."

He looked back at the mirror. "Perfect." He headed towards the sitting area. "I'm going to work on our notes for today while you finish getting ready."

She nodded and moved towards the part of the bedroom that was blocked from view of the sitting area and began to get dressed.

***

"Everyone is going to be staring at you two tonight, you know," Beth told Lois as they headed towards the dining room.

"Why?"

"Well, you look fabulous and Clark... I love Don, but Clark wears a tux *very* well."

Lois glanced back to where her husband was in an animated conversation with Beth's. "He does look pretty good, doesn't he?"

"You'll be beating all the unattached women, and half the attached ones, off with a stick before the night's over."

Lois' face fell at that.

"What? Did I say something wrong?"

Lois took a deep breath and shook her head. "No. It's just that I've done enough of that over the last couple of months. I really have no desire to do that again."

"Someone tried to make a pass at him?" Beth asked incredulous.

She nodded. "Two someones."

"Really?!"

"Yeah. One was an old friend -- a former foster sister -- from his hometown in Kansas who was under the delusion that Clark had wanted her since they were four; I'm still not sure we -- or her parents who walked in on her trying to corner him -- got through to her. And the other... let's just call her a friend from college and leave it at that."

"Clark didn't..." Beth's eyes were wide at the thought of Clark doing something like that.

"Oh, no. Nothing like that," Lois quickly reassured their new friend. "Clark's just too nice for his own good sometimes and she didn't quite get the message that he wasn't planning on leaving me anytime soon. She -- and you have no idea the kinds of things that have happened to make it to where I can say this -- really is a good person, just... misguided. She backed off and has actually done some things that were really hard for her to do, that helped us out a lot, because they were the right things to do."

"You're a better woman than I am then."

Lois shook her head. "No. I have no intention of speaking to her ever again, if I can help it, and while I wouldn't want Clark to see her stranded on the side of the road and keep driving or leave her hanging over a vat of boiling acid, I don't really want her anywhere near him either. But I'm also honest enough to know that she didn't have to do the things she did after I confronted her about it. I humiliated her -- in private, but still -- and the things she did for us... let's just say they weren't easy for her regardless."

Beth shrugged then nudged her with an elbow. "Will you let me have a dance with him tonight?"

Lois laughed. "Of course. But only if I get a dance with Don."

"Deal."

***

Chapter 34

Clark held Lois as close as she would let him as they moved around the dance floor. He'd heard what Beth said, and Lois' responses, and made sure that their new friends were the only other people they danced with. Vincent Winninger had stayed far away from Lois while he'd visited the men's room, but he'd been asked by two women while Lois was in the restroom and had politely turned them down. He was surprised by the magnanimity Lois had shown towards Mayson in the conversation.

He knew she didn't hate Mayson like she had for so long, but to actually say that she was a good person -- something he'd believed, except for that 'one thing' -- that surprised him.

"Are you sad we're almost done here or ready to get your feet back on dry land?" he finally asked her.

She shrugged. "A little of both, I guess. It's been nice, but it'll be nicer not to live in a floating hotel room anymore."

"And to get fed regularly by YaYa?"

They laughed together. "That, too. I am looking forward to getting to learn Athens and then finding little family restaurants and taking day trips and stuff like that."

"Me, too."

"I think I'm going to miss Don and Beth though," she said quietly.

"Well, we can write -- we've already exchanged addresses," he pointed out. "We have email and they said that their school library had email access for teachers so we can try to keep in touch that way. And we can always take a trip to Canada and get paid for it."

Lois smiled at him. "That is where that water park is, isn't it?"

"Yep."

"Canada it is then, at some point."

***

After hugs all around, Clark and Lois waved good-bye to Don and Beth at the airport in Athens and headed to their new Athenian home.

They spent the remainder of that day -- and there was a good portion of it left -- and most of the next unpacking and settling into their new apartment, as well as getting to know their new Greek family.

Clark had spoken to Perry again and confirmed their 'phone call' for about five that evening -- Metropolis time -- and so, at midnight in Greece, he asked Lois again if she was really sure. She told him to go, and he did.

After landing faster than the eye could see in the backyard of Perry and Alice White's home, he paused for a moment to gather his thoughts.

How did one tell a mentor and friend that so much of what he'd believed about them wasn't entirely accurate? And because of that inaccuracy, much of what had happened two months prior was much worse than previously believed? And it was already pretty bad.

Clark knocked softly on the back door and it was opened a few seconds later by the mentor he'd come to see.

"Clark! I'm glad you're here, son. Come on in." Perry motioned Clark towards the living room. "Alice thought you might be more comfortable if she wasn't here. Not sure what it is, exactly, that you want to talk about, but it seems big if you're coming all this way. And since Lois wasn't coming with you, she figured it might be a guy bonding thing."

Clark smiled slightly at him and walked to the front window to stare out at the street. "I guess it is pretty big," he admitted. "And it's probably going to be uncomfortable enough without her here, to be honest."

Perry sat in his favorite chair and stretched his legs out on the ottoman. "Well, you wouldn't fly here from Greece if it wasn't important. But I'm guessing you're not quite ready to get into it yet, so I'll start with something else. The stuff you two have been sending is top notch."

"Thanks, Perry."

"I kept a copy of last week's travel section and have one of tomorrow's already so you can take it back with you. I didn't get any of the copy in last week's, but there is a good picture of you two with the ad. Tomorrow's has some teaser copy and a couple of the pictures you overnighted a few days ago."

Clark nodded. "Thanks. Lois'll want to see it. I was hoping I could at least pick up last week's while I was here." He pulled an envelope out of his back pocket. "Here's the final copy for next week -- unless you want us to change something, of course. You'll either send us a copy or save us one right?"

Perry laughed. "Son, I'll have a few dozen waiting for you, but you'll get one anyway. Even if you have to fly back to get it, won't you?"

Clark nodded again, still staring out the window, wondering desperately how to start this conversation. Finally, he just blurted it out. "We've been married for three and a half years, Perry, and I've never made love to my wife." His head hung and his eyes were closed as he waited to see what the editor's response would be.

"Well," Perry said slowly. "I'm not quite sure what I expected you to want to talk about, but that sure wasn't it. You wanna back that train up a bit and start at the beginning?"

He shoved his hands in his pockets and his head rose slightly to stare out the window again. "I was fourteen the first time I saw Lois. I ran into her, or she ran into me, I don't really remember which -- and given my memory, that's saying something. I was stunned. And in that instant, I knew that somehow, our lives were destined to be intertwined. My mom said that it was part of the telepathic part of my Kryptonian heritage -- that Kryptonians just *know* when they meet their soul mate. And I knew. We spent the next six weeks making fun of mystery meat and planning our first big story in the Daily Planet.

"After we'd been there about a month, she got a letter from Lucy saying that Sam had moved out, and the night before we left, I kissed her."

"Ah," Perry said, as though a light had come on. "That's what she meant when she and Lana had it out."

Clark nodded. "We wrote letters. Weekly, sometimes more. She wrote eighteen pages, front and back, about her first trip to the Daily Planet. Even mentioned the editor a time or two."

Perry snorted. "I bet she did."

"She thought Billy Norcross was cute."

"Most girls did."

"I guess. And then, after I graduated, I moved back into my parents' farmhouse and sent her my phone number and said that if she ever wanted to talk, to call me. One night she did. Sam and Ellen had left to go skiing and never came home. I got on an airplane -- yeah, me... on an airplane voluntarily -- and came to Metropolis. She thought the authorities were either going to put them in foster care or send them to live with Aunt Louise. At the time, Lois thought she was this horrid old woman who hated children. Neither choice was a good one. New Troy law says you can get married at seventeen, you know, and her birthday was a couple of days later. I asked her to marry me and said that we'd try to get custody of Lucy. The official story was that our plan had always been to get married and the death of their parents had just moved things up a bit.

"The truth is, we'd joked about it a bit in our letters. When Norcross and Judd got married, I promised not to propose until after the first Pulitzer and she responded by saying no kids until after the second, but in a very lighthearted, joking manner at best. Before she said 'yes' that night, she told me that she wasn't ready for a physical relationship and I promised her I'd never push her for that. I meant it, and I haven't. We got married a few days later and Aunt Louise sent us to the Lexor for the week. On our wedding night, we fell asleep watching a movie and woke up making out. When we realized what was happening, it stopped and that's the last time I kissed her.

"You know what those years were like for us. Never seeing each other, stressed about money and trying to make ends meet. Trying to raise Lucy -- who wasn't all that easy to deal with until she started dating Jimmy. To this day, I think he said something to her -- I have no idea what -- that made her reevaluate things."

Clark moved from the window and flopped down in the oversized chaise he and Lois had shared on more than one occasion. "Do you know much about what life was like in the Lane house?"

"A little. Sam liked women. Ellen liked alcohol. But beyond that..." Perry shrugged.

"They were never physically abused, but starting about the time Lois was five or six, they'd be left alone all day some days. When they were teens, they'd sometimes go several days without knowing where their parents were. It was better once they remarried but... I knew some of this from things Lucy or Jimmy or Louise said, but it wasn't until the last few weeks that Lois has finally started to confide in me what life was like. The two most important people in her world left her. Repeatedly. Yeah, they always came back -- except the last time -- but that wasn't the point. It wasn't like leaving a child at daycare and coming back to pick him up. It was promising to be places and being with a girlfriend instead. It was promising to do something but being passed out drunk was more important. It was leaving a five year old for hours to take care of her three year old sister and then going ballistic when she used the good towels to clean up the spilled milk. Somebody or something was always more important than they were. Except Lucy. Nothing was ever more important to Lois than Lucy."

He ran hand through his hair. "She couldn't believe that I wasn't going to leave her someday. Sam Lane made it very easy for her to believe that no man would ever be -- *could* ever be -- faithful. Did you know his wedding vows didn't say anything about fidelity?"

Perry shook his head.

"Ellen didn't make things any better, telling Lois that whenever she got married, her body became her husband's. Period. But that her husband would be able to sleep with whoever he wanted. I think she was twelve or thirteen when that conversation took place. We just sort of stopped talking sometime that first summer, and that didn't help matters any.

"Then I met Mayson. She was this nice girl who needed some help with Political Science. That's it. I invited her to lunch with me and Lois that day but... Lois saw us, from a distance, and apparently thought that she was flirting with me -- which, given what I know now, she probably was -- and that I was flirting back -- which I certainly wasn't. What Lois saw was me, with another woman, and no different from her dad."

Perry whistled softly. "Some things are starting to make some more sense."

Clark nodded. "It's why she never tried to get our schedules changed so we worked together more. She always said that she didn't want to rock the boat -- she just wanted to graduate. Our conversations rarely involved more than the monthly budget or Lucy's curfew or who was taking what car when and where. And maybe the weather. There was never anything between me and Mayson. We were never alone together. We had lunch a lot, sure, but almost always with other people. But Paul..." Clark shook his head in disgust.

"He made sure the rumor went around the newsroom that I was having an affair. I never heard it but Lois did. She actually threw up when she realized that I had a girlfriend. Well, when she became convinced that I did. I didn't. I've never really had a girlfriend, ever. I dated Lana like three times and I've never dated Lois at all. We went from pen pals to engaged over a twenty-four hour period and married a few days after that."

"Uh, Clark," Perry interjected. "I probably should have asked this a while ago, but is Lois okay with you telling me all of this?"

Clark sighed. "No, she's not." At Perry's startled look, he continued. "But she told me to anyway. We had a long talk sitting in the harbor at Istanbul, and she realized that I need someone I can talk to about all of this. She said that even though it made her uncomfortable, she understood that and if you knew all of it I could talk to you -- I could tell you how the whole thing with Paul really makes me feel, because she knows I don't want to tell her."

Perry whistled again as the pieces fell in place. "You and Lois have never been together, but Paul..." His voice trailed off.

"You got it." He stood and started pacing. "The first time... The only time I've ever seen my wife's body was when he was about to rape her. I've never *really* kissed her. I've never touched her. I've never taken her clothes off as we get ready to... But *he* has. He *did*."

He took a ragged breath, before practically exploding. "Damn it, he took that from me! From us. If it had happened before we got married, like Wayne and Maggie, that would have been one thing. If it had happened after we'd been together like that, it still wouldn't be pleasant to know that someone else had done things to her. But for him to do those things to her... Not with her, mind you, but to her, before I did them *with* her... Her first experience with a man taking her clothes off... Her first experience with a man touching her... and it's him. I'm not saying it would have been easy whenever it happened, but even though we've been married for as long as we have, the only memories she has of a man is of *him*."

He started pacing the walls and the ceiling, not noticing Perry's startled look when he did so. "I almost wish we'd gotten carried away on our wedding night, and even if she'd said afterwards that it was awkward and painful, or even if it wasn't, but for some other reason, that it never should have happened and it couldn't happen again until the time was right, at least he wouldn't have been the first one. He wouldn't be the reason I've seen her."

He worked his way around the ceiling fan. "Do you have any idea how many times I've had to stop myself from focusing on that part of that night? The part where I see her? And how incredibly wrong it feels? I *should* be able to close my eyes and see her, because I know her so well after this long. I *shouldn't* feel guilty when I'm lying in bed, just waking up, and see her in her pajamas, leaning on the rail of our balcony looking out over the Aegean Sea and imagining her standing there wearing one of my dress shirts instead. I *should* have memories of a night or a day or a whenever when she finally decided that she was ready to be together and together we discovered each other." He narrowly avoided stepping on the smoke detector and turned back towards the front of the house. "And I *really* shouldn't be on a first name basis with a number of Orcas in the North Atlantic because of all the times a cold shower just wouldn't cut it."

He took a deep breath and turned to look at an upside-down Perry. He continued more calmly. "I was going to take her out on a real date the night after graduation. I'd been saving up for it for years -- since prom, really. I was hoping I'd have enough to get us both some new clothes and go somewhere nice and not that taco stand we went to for our last anniversary. And if I thought she'd let me, if I thought she wanted me to, I was going to kiss her, but that's it, and turn and walk away. No pressure. Not until she's ready. But I was going to court her. And even though I would have blown every last dime I had on that first dinner, I would have asked her out again. Maybe a homemade dinner on our own private beach somewhere. And I would have asked her out again, and again, until we were finally a real couple.

"She told me she would have liked that and she wants me to ask her out sometime, but not for a long time. She told me she wants to want us to be together like that, but she can't -- not right now. She told me she doesn't want to remember what it's like to have another man do those things to her, but she has no idea when she'll be ready to let me try to erase those memories -- or at least override them with new, better ones. And I understand that, I do, but I really hate him. I hate what he did to her. I hate what he did to us. I hate that he stole so much from us, more than he ever could have imagined. And I hate what it's done to her. She wakes up screaming a couple of times a week. She says she has nightmares the other nights, but not bad enough to wake me up. She has for years. Dreams of Sam and Ellen and the life that they had. I have no idea when the last truly good night's sleep was for her."

He floated back down to the chaise. "I love her, Perry. And I don't know how to make this better. And I hate him for it."

Perry leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, clasping his hands together. "I can't say that I blame you. I knew things had been rough for the girls growing up and that things certainly hadn't been easy for the two of you but... I never suspected."

He shrugged. "There was never any reason for you to. We've wondered if Lucy ever suspected anything but we've never asked her and we're not about to."

"It does make what happened so much worse in some ways, doesn't it?"

Clark nodded. "Not that it would ever be pleasant or easy or anything but..."

"Right." They sat for a few minutes, each in their own thoughts. "What can I do to help you, son?"

The younger man shrugged. "Nothing really. Just having someone to vent to has helped some already. I haven't been able to tell anyone any of that. I mean, about me and Lois. I don't feel like I can tell her how angry it makes me that he's taken that from us. I have no idea how long it's going to be before she's ready to be with me like that and to tell her how strongly that's affected me..." Clark sat back and sighed. "She asked me the other night about whether I think about what I saw and I told her the truth. I think it bothers her that I think about it sometimes -- even if I try not to -- because it violates her all over again because, even though her I'm her husband, I'm not supposed to see her that way."

Perry let out a deep breath. "I can't imagine what you're going through. Heaven forbid something like that ever happened to Alice... At least she'd have years of good memories to combat the bad."

"Exactly. And Lois doesn't have that."

"I'm sorry, son. I wish I knew what I could do to make things easier for the two of you."

Clark gave him a half smile. "You're doing it. You helped make it possible for us to get away from here -- just the two of us. The cruise was great. The last time we spent that much time together -- just us -- was our honeymoon. And before that, camp. Yeah, we've spent a lot more time together since it happened, but a lot of that was working or with someone else around. It's been good for us. She finally asked me about some things that had been bothering her -- some for years -- and we were able to really talk. Did you know she thought I would leave her here with you, the editor of the most prestigious paper on the planet, if you didn't give me your word that you wouldn't print what you found out about me?"

"When I caught you building the fire?"

Clark nodded. "She asked me about it after Aunt Louise died, and I told her if you hadn't promised I would have just left. She thought I meant I would leave her here. I always meant I'd tell her we needed to go and I'd explain later. She really believed I would have left her here -- with you -- after you saw that and I refused to explain. She wouldn't have stood a chance if you really wanted to know something."

Perry chuckled. "Probably not, but there was a few minutes there when I was trying to decide what to do. And you know what I thought about?"

The younger man shook his head.

"How the moment I met her, she was like the daughter I never had. I love Lucy, you know that, and I feel that way about her too. I liked her immediately, but I didn't have the instantaneous connection like I did with Lois. Same with you being like a son. And when I thought about it, I realized that if I said no, you'd both be out of our lives for good and I didn't see how I could let that happen. And you seemed like a good kid, and I couldn't believe that you'd ask something like that lightly."

"I wouldn't."

"I understand now, of course, why you wanted me to promise not to print, but I still can't believe Lois thought you'd just leave her here."

"It's what her parents -- the people who were supposed to love her more than anything -- always did, why would I be any different?"

"She doesn't really understand what it means to love, does she?"

Clark shook his head. "No. She understands what it means to love. On some level, she loves me. She wasn't ever planning on leaving me even though she 'knew' I was having an affair. But really, she loves Lucy. She never left Lucy. She married me, even though we hadn't seen each other in years. We'd written, but never spoken. In theory, I could have been an ax murderer good at hiding things with words. Or it's possible that, no matter what I'd told her, I would expect sex -- because we were married, or as... some sort of 'payment' or 'gesture of appreciation' for working hard or who knows what. Even if I never actually forced her, I certainly *could* have pressured her or made her feel guilty about it, things like that that would have made her feel like she couldn't refuse. But for some reason, she decided that a home for Lucy was more important than the risks she took marrying me. She knows what it means to love. What she doesn't understand is what it means to *be* loved."

Perry thought about that for a minute. "That's an interesting twist on it, isn't it?"

"Lucy loves her, of course, but a younger sister isn't the same. Neither was Aunt Louise. Sam and Ellen should have loved them more than other women or than liquor, but they didn't. I do love her more than anything, even if I'm not all that great at showing it sometimes, but she doesn't know how to accept that, how to deal with it. It's just not something that she understands. I realized that, to an extent, a long time ago. That the only way I could convince her I was never going to leave, was to just not leave. Words could never do it; her parents made promises and broke them over and over again, so words mean nothing to her -- promises like that mean nothing to her. The only things she understands are actions and by staying, I'm not going. By staying, I prove I will stay. Words just aren't enough."

"Words do mean something though, Clark. When they come from the heart, they do mean something. You can't just tell her, but you also can't *just* show her. She needs to hear it, too."

Clark nodded. "We figured it out -- she's a quality time girl and words of affirmation are a pretty close second. She needs time more than anything -- just being there -- but she needs to hear that I love her, that she's done a great job, those kinds of things."

"And you're personal touch, aren't you?"

"Yeah. And most of the time she's pretty good about that, these days anyway. Knowing all that, it makes sense that she hasn't felt very loved over the last few years. We hardly had any time together at all. And, really, even though it's not her primary, or even secondary, love language, she needs to feel safe. And she feels safe with me most of the time. The only thing that keeps her nightmares away is if I'm holding her, so that must mean something. Even before... the nightmares about growing up... being close to her seemed to help."

"I'd guess that maybe, subconsciously at least, she knows that you love her and that you're not going anywhere."

Clark sighed. "We had that discussion again the other night. Most of the time, I'm fine, really. It's not like I walk around all day every day thinking about being with her, but sometimes... One day on the ship was like that. I don't even know what brought it on. It wasn't like I accidentally walked in on her changing or something, but for whatever reason... I woke up thinking about what we're missing out on and it just got worse from there. First time I'd seen her in a swim suit in years," he said ruefully. "And I couldn't even go visit my whale buddies because how on earth would I explain that on a cruise ship? She went to bed before me and when I finally went in, she called me on my odd behavior that day. The first conclusion she'd jumped to was that she'd done something or hurt me somehow, and a close second was that I'd met someone else. She finally admitted that way deep down inside somewhere, she knows I'm not going to leave her."

"That's progress, isn't it?"

"Oh, yeah. We talked a lot that night. She asked me how I was doing and what I told her -- even though I tried to keep my emotions under wraps -- is why I'm here; why she said it was okay." He glanced at the clock and sighed. "I really should be getting back though. I would really hate for her to have a nightmare and not be there. It's late in Greece."

They both stood and walked towards the back door.

"I wish I could do more, Clark." Perry clapped him on the shoulder, then pulled him in for a bear hug, leaving an arm around his shoulder when he released the younger man.

"You've done plenty. Just being here, letting me vent... it's been a big help. Like a burden's been lifted."

"Well, I'm glad." Perry was thoughtful as they walked outside to stare at the darkening sky. "You know, Clark. What happened to her was awful, don't misunderstand, but it's not the same. When you two are finally together, you'll see that. Sure, she might have flashbacks from time to time, but the two of you being together like that is probably just about as far from what happened in that conference room as two things can be. The difference between being kissed and touched and such while being raped and being kissed and touched while making love with your husband or wife are two very different things. Remember that."

Clark nodded. It was another minute before he spoke again. "We know you might not want to keep this from Alice."

Perry nodded slowly. "I can't say that this hasn't been a bit of a surprise, and that is what I'd normally do, but if you don't want me to break your confidence..."

Clark shook his head. "I mentioned it to Lois and she said it wouldn't be fair to ask you not to say anything. So if you want to tell her, it's okay."

Perry nodded again.

They exchanged a few more words, discussing the upcoming article series and the next planned trip to Metropolis before Clark took to the air for his wife and his new home.

***

Clark let himself in as quietly as he could, not wanting to bother Lois if she was already asleep, but not wanting to peek just in case he might see something he shouldn't.

He needn't have worried. She was dressed in pajamas, curled up on the couch reading a book. Or trying to anyway. Somehow he got the impression she hadn't actually retained much of it.

"Hey. I didn't think you'd stay up," he said toeing his shoes off at the door.

She shrugged. "Couldn't sleep and you weren't gone all that long. We don't have anywhere to be tomorrow either so..." She stuck her bookmark in the book and closed it. "How's Perry?"

Clark grinned, handing over the travel inserts. "He sent these. Said he's going to keep a few dozen of next week's for us."

Lois smiled. "That's nice of him." She looked at the picture of the two of them in the corner of the front page. Most of it was taken up with a picture of one of the ski resorts in Northern New Troy that was used for hiking trails in the summer, but inset on the bottom right, was a picture of them taken by Jimmy a couple weeks earlier at Perry's house. Clark was standing behind her with his arms around her and they were both smiling. "In two weeks... Travel the Planet with Lane and Kent," she read. "It's a good picture of you."

"Then it's a good picture of both of us. You look great."

She set it aside and picked up the other one. The picture this time was one of the two of them taken by Beth. Dressed casually, they stood next to the rail on board the ship. Once again, Clark was behind her, with one hand on the rail and the other around her holding her close to him. His smile was nearly blinding and they looked for all the world like a happy couple with no problems in the world. She gazed at it for a minute then flipped it open to the page indicated. There she found a couple more pictures taken over the previous week and the teaser article they'd written the week before. "This is great." She smiled up at him. "Not bad for a start."

"Nope. Perry's happy with it and I gave him the finished piece. He was glad he wasn't going to have get Jimmy to pull it off his email for him."

Lois looked back at a picture of the two of them on Mykonos and her finger played with the corner of the page. "What else did he say?" she asked quietly.

Clark shifted slightly in the chair. "Well... he was surprised, but we figured he would be. I told him pretty much everything and he let me vent some." He sighed. "Thank you for letting me. I really had no idea how badly I needed to do that."

"Then I'm glad."

He chuckled softly. "I don't think he expected me to start pacing the ceiling though."

Lois gave him a puzzled look.

He shrugged. "The floor gets too confining sometimes -- too much to walk around. On the ceiling the only things I had to avoid was the fan and the smoke detector."

"Sometimes, your life is so weird." She punctuated the remark with a yawn.

"I think it's time for you to get some sleep." He stood and held a hand out to her, pulling her up when she grasped it. He pulled her into an embrace for a few minutes before dropping a kiss on her hair. "Thank you."

"You're welcome. I wish you didn't need to vent about all of that but..."

"It's not your fault."

"Yes, it is. If we had... if we did... those things you wouldn't need to vent about it and you would have been able to talk to Perry or Wayne or whoever more freely without worrying about betraying my confidence."

He put a finger under her chin and tipped it up. "No. It's not your fault. If it wasn't for him, there wouldn't be anything to talk about."

"Aren't you... frustrated? I mean, we've been out of school for over a month now..."

"And we would have been dating for a month now?"

She nodded.

"And it's possible that we would have by now?"

She nodded again, biting her lip as she did so.

"You know I was never going to push you for that, even once we were able to spend more time together and go on dates and such."

"I know, but it's still possible..." She turned her face away from him.

"Yeah, it is, but things change. We can't change what's happened, we can only go forward. And I love almost every minute I spend with you, no matter what we're doing."

"Almost?"

He grinned. "Well, not if you're beating me at poker. That I don't always enjoy."

She laughed. "Too bad. I'm not going to throw the game just so you can enjoy it."

"I'd never ask you to."

"Good." She pulled away from him, yawning as she did so. "But you're right about me needing some sleep."

He tucked her hair behind her ear. "I'm going to take a shower and I'll be right in."

She nodded and headed for bed.

***

Chapter 35

September 1988

Clark bit his bottom lip as he watched the news. It was in Greek, but they'd both picked up quite a bit in the months they'd lived there. Clark was nearly fluent. Lois wasn't, but she could get by.

"What is it?" Lois asked from the table where she was working on their latest article.

"Hurricane Gilbert."

"I saw that yesterday. Did it make landfall?"

"It passed right over Jamaica."

Lois' eyes softened. "Is it bad?"

"Sounds like it."

"Then why don't you go? See what you can do?"

Clark glanced at the clock. It wasn't late in Greece. Surely he could go help for a little while and be back before it got too late. "Are you sure?"

"Yes. Put on some old clothes and go."

Clark zipped into the bedroom and came back out seconds later wearing some old dark clothes. He stopped behind Lois and pressed a kiss onto the crown of her head. "Thank you. I'll be back in a little while."

She smiled at him. "Be careful. And remember, there's only so much you can do."

He nodded and then was gone.

Several hours later, Lois had changed into her pajamas and was watching a movie on TV. It was an old favorite, but dubbed in Greek and she giggled at some of the translations. She looked up as the door opened. Clark was clean -- not muddy or anything like that; she suspected a dip in the Atlantic or Med might be part of the reason -- but he looked tired. Even though he hadn't been gone all that long, it seemed that what had happened had taken a toll on him.

"Wanna talk about it?"

"Maybe later. Right now, I just want a shower," he told her as he headed towards the bathroom. He emerged ten minutes later and headed straight for bed to find Lois already there. He crawled in next to her, leaning his head back to rest it on the wall behind him.

She took a deep breath and reached for his hand, pulling it onto her lap. "Was it harder than you expected?"

He nodded and she put her other hand over the top of his. She waited for him to go on.

"There were people trapped," he finally said. "I was able to get to some of them, but..." He paused and tears filled his eyes. Lois gently stroked the back of his hand with her own. "There was one little boy that I didn't get to in time." His voice broke. "I was almost there, but there were other people around and I couldn't go as fast as I could and the car swept off and I couldn't get to it without calling too much attention to myself. There was a news crew nearby... I don't think they got a good look at me -- I was pretty muddy by then but... His mom was right there, screaming..." His voice trailed off.

"How many people did you save?" she asked him quietly.

He shrugged.

"Search that memory of yours. How many people did you save?"

"Twelve," he finally said.

"Men? Women? Children?"

"Three men, five women, one pregnant woman and three children."

"So there are at least three families, probably more, and dozens of people who didn't lose family members that they would have if you hadn't been there."

It was several minutes before he nodded. "I could have saved him though. If I had been able to move just a little bit faster without drawing attention to myself..."

Lois rested her head on his shoulder. "Whatever you can do... it's enough. There are moms and dads and kids, and even a new baby who are going to live because you were there."

"Yeah, I guess."

"I *know*."

They sat there for long minutes more when Lois finally dozed off, her head still on his shoulder, his hand still in her lap. Clark gently moved her until she was lying down and, hopefully, more comfortable. He slid down behind her and pulled her close to him, but it was a long time before he went to sleep.

***

They left early the next morning for Halkidiki. They were staying for ten days and enjoying the sun and surf while they were there. They were going scuba diving for most of that day. The evening would be spent at one of the local casinos before they enjoyed their first night at the Porto Carras Grand Resort. They'd hiked there a few weeks before but hadn't stayed long. The next day they'd be discovering the area on horseback. The days after that would be spent exploring the area and the resort -- sailing, swimming and all sorts of other things.

Though Clark didn't strictly need scuba gear, they'd both been certified since arriving in Greece and had enjoyed exploring the waters around their Mediterranean home.

Many of the excursions they'd taken could be done on a budget, but a couple were more on the high end. Those were extra nice -- and technically they were well off enough to enjoy those kinds of places even if they weren't either comp'ed or partially paid for by the Planet.

Thursday evening they were back in their suite after dinner when Lois turned the late news on while Clark took a shower. She translated in her head. 'After killing forty-five in Jamaica, Hurricane Gilbert sideswiped the Caymans. No deaths have been reported, but it is believed that there is extensive damage to homes as well as crops and other vegetation. He made landfall as a category five hurricane passing over Cozumel and then coming ashore at the Yucatan Peninsula. It is expected that large numbers of homes will be destroyed and that, combined with massive amounts of rainfall and the resultant flooding, may result in the loss of a number of lives.'

He would go. She knew he would. And she wanted him to.

Even though he'd taken the loss of that little boy hard, she knew that he knew he'd done a lot of good too. It was harder to see because the loss was much easier for him to recognize, but it was there.

They'd had a lot of fun the last couple of days, but she'd noticed him staring at a couple of different little boys on the beach and in the hotel dining room. She'd known what he was thinking about. She'd seen the footage from the news crew. He'd helped a pregnant woman, her husband and two other kids out before the last little boy was swept away with the car. The news crew had interviewed the family later and they were upset about losing their son, but also grateful for what they still had and wished they could find the man who saved them so they could thank him. They couldn't find him anywhere, they'd said. Lois doubted they were looking in Greece.

He'd seen that, too. And he knew he'd done what he could without jeopardizing all of them -- herself, Lucy, Jimmy, the Whites. He just had to come to the realization that whatever he could do was enough. It had to be or this would eat him up inside.

Clark finally came out of the bathroom. "What did the news say?"

"They re-ran part of the interview with that family and said it's getting ready to hit the Yucatan Peninsula."

"Ah."

"Go."

He looked intently at her. "Are you sure?"

"Yes."

"It's bedtime."

"I know." She smiled at him. "I'll be fine. I promise."

He shook his head. "I don't want to leave you at night. I promised myself I wouldn't."

"I'm a big girl, Clark. We both know that if you don't go, you'll end up feeling guilty about it later."

He sat next to her. "And if you have nightmares? And I'm not here?"

"I'll survive nightmares. Those people need help. Whatever you can do is enough, but you have to go to do it. If you don't..."

"If you're absolutely sure..." He reached out and cradled her face in his hand, knowing how difficult this must be for her.

"I am," she smiled. "Now go."

***

Lois had paced until she was practically asleep standing up. She'd told Clark she would be fine and that she'd survive any nightmares that came -- and she would -- but that didn't mean she was looking forward to it. In the wee hours of the morning, she'd finally curled up on the couch under Clark's poncho liner blanket and gone to sleep.

She wasn't sure how long it had been when she realized that she was sitting straight up and breathing heavily. She'd been back in the conference room again, his leering face looking down at her, his hands groping her, his voice telling her that Clark wasn't ever coming back.

And now, drenched in sweat, she was alone.

As her breathing slowed, she pulled the blanket tighter around her and slowly -- so slowly -- she began to feel safe again. Clark was coming back. He was helping in the aftermath of the most powerful Atlantic hurricane in recorded history. She'd told him to go -- she'd survive if she had a nightmare, but others might not if he stayed here instead of going.

But as much as she knew he'd have beaten himself up if he hadn't gone, she also knew he'd beat himself up for not being here when she woke up. It was the first time since all of this had started that she'd had a nightmare and he hadn't been there.

She'd survived.

He wasn't here, but she'd survived.

In some ways, that seemed like a major hurdle to have overcome.

She settled back down on to the couch under the blanket and somehow managed to doze back off.

***

Lois was dressed and nearly ready to go by herself when Clark opened the door. She put her pajamas in the dirty laundry bag. "Hey, how'd it go?"

Clark rubbed his neck and shrugged. "Fine, I guess. I was able to help. It was like Jamaica all over again though -- only this time there was more than just one little boy I couldn't get to."

Lois walked to him and wrapped her arms around his waist, feeling him rest his head on her shoulder as his arms came around her, pulling her closer to him. She could smell the dirt and grime on him. He must have taken a swim on his way back, but it was still there. They stood there for long minutes before he finally released her.

"I'm going to take a shower and get dressed. What's on our agenda for today?"

Lois frowned. It wasn't like him. He was the one who remembered itineraries and schedules. "Sailing," she reminded him. "Are you sure you're okay?"

"Yeah. I just need a shower."

"I ordered breakfast. It should be here in a few minutes."

"I'm not really hungry, but thanks."

She chewed her bottom lip as she watched him walk towards the bathroom. She hoped he really was okay.

The day showed that, physically, he was fine. He had no trouble keeping up with their sailing instructions and helping with their boat. They took several breaks to swim and he did with abandon, at least once swimming farther than he probably should have given the time constraints they were under during that swim break.

But emotionally... That was a different story. Lois kept a close eye on him and could see that he wasn't quite himself. Normally open and friendly with nearly everyone, he was quiet and reserved.

During both lunch and dinner, he'd only picked at his food. Though food wasn't strictly necessary for him, he loved to eat, but tonight... Lois realized he was staring over her shoulder at the bar in the restaurant. She turned and saw the television. Though the sound was turned down and it was on a station that normally didn't show the news at this time of evening, the top of the hour update was on and showing the aftermath of the hurricane in Mexico.

Lois motioned to their waiter and asked to have the check brought over. She signed it quickly, charging the meal to their room.

Clark was quiet as he followed her to the elevator and back to their suite. As soon as she'd let them in, she turned.

"Are you sure you're up to going back?"

He started as she spoke. "What?"

"Going back. Are you sure you're up for it?"

He shook his head. "I'm not leaving you a second night in a row."

She moved to stand in front of him and using her hand, made him look at her. "You want to go back and help, don't you? All day all you've thought about is the people you couldn't help last night and the people you weren't helping while we were sailing around the Med, weren't you?"

He nodded guiltily. "I'm sorry," he whispered, "but yeah, I was."

"Why are you sorry? You want to help, but you also want to fulfill your obligations here -- to me, to Perry, to the Planet. You're torn."

He nodded again.

"So, are you sure you're up to going back? You haven't slept in thirty-six hours -- are you going to make it another night helping with search and rescue?"

Clark sighed and sat on the couch. "It's daytime in Mexico and will be for a while. The sun will help -- a lot."

"But will you be okay?"

"I think so."

"Then you're going to go." It was a statement, not a question.

"I'm not leaving you a second night in a row," he reiterated.

Lois squatted down in front of him. "I made it through last night and I'll make it through tonight. Would I prefer that you stay? Of course, but I would never stop you from helping except for the most extreme of reasons. And sleeping a little better isn't extreme."

Clark looked straight in her eyes. "How did you sleep last night?"

She shrugged. "I've slept better, but I survived."

"Did you have a nightmare?"

She paused for a moment. "Yes, I did. But I survived and I'll survive if I have one tonight."

"Which one was it?" he asked softly.

She shrugged again, throwing herself off balance and landing on the floor.

"Lo-is..." he warned.

"Paul," she whispered.

"Oh, honey." He reached out and cradled her face in his palm. "I'm sorry I wasn't here."

She shook her head. "You were where you needed to be."

"I'm supposed to be here with you."

"No. Last night, those people in Mexico needed you more than I did."

"I promised," he whispered. "I promised *you* that I would always be there when you needed me."

"And I told you to go."

Clark sighed then nodded, dropping his hand from her face. "Are you *sure*?"

"Yes."

"What's on our agenda for tomorrow?"

Lois shook her head. "Nothing. Tomorrow is a day at the resort. Pool, swimming, maybe the sauna and a massage. That's it."

"Okay. I'll be back in time to hang out with you tomorrow."

"No. If you're needed there, stay. I can get a tan and a massage without you."

"Are you sure?"

"Yes. If things calm down enough, come back. If not, stay."

"Are you sure?" His look was one of concern.

"Yes. I'm sure. If you're needed stay tomorrow, too. As long as you don't overdo it. If you're tired or overwhelmed or need a break, either come back or go to Perry and Alice's to take a nap."

Clark sighed then nodded. "Okay. What about Sunday? What're we doing?"

"Hike is on the schedule, but we can rearrange it if we need to."

He leaned forward and pressed a kiss against her forehead. "I'll check in if I can."

"I know."

"Thank you."

She smiled at him. "Go."

He kissed her on the head again and then was out the door.

Lois glanced at her watch and waited three full minutes before sinking back onto the couch -- long enough to make sure that Clark was long gone. She wanted him to be there with her -- desperately -- but she also didn't want to keep him from helping whoever he could in Mexico.

She'd survived the night before without him. Surely she could survive again.

***

The night before, she'd paced the floor until her eyes wouldn't stay open any longer. This night, she watched a little bit of television then took a shower and put on her new favorite pair of pajamas.

They were the purple ones Clark had bought for her. It surprised her that they had become favorites -- she would have thought they'd be a reminder of *why* he'd bought them. Instead they were a reminder of what he'd sacrificed over the last several years so that he'd had the money to buy them for her -- even though that wasn't what he'd intended to spend the money on -- and of how they'd come through stronger and closer than ever.

So at something approaching a reasonable hour, she pulled the covers back on the big bed she would sleep in by herself and, foregoing the linens provided by the hotel, pulled Clark's poncho liner around her. For some reason, she loved it and it was Clark's. While not nearly as good as having him here to keep the nightmares away, it helped make her feel a little more secure.

She'd pulled the curtains as tightly closed as possible, hoping to get to sleep a bit late, but it wasn't to be. She woke early and felt vaguely unsettled. Maybe it was because Clark wasn't here. Though she didn't actually remember waking up in the middle of the night, she knew she'd had nightmares. They were there, just beyond the reach of her conscious mind. She didn't want to try too hard to remember. Deciding to take another shower and order room service, she made those the first orders of business for the day.

She wanted to call Perry, but a glance at the clock told her it wouldn't be appreciated -- it was the middle of the night in Metropolis.

Sighing, she tugged her robe around her a little tighter before answering the knock on the door. She'd ordered enough for two -- it wouldn't do for someone to realize that the room had only been charged for one meal. Realizing she hadn't eaten much at dinner the night before, she quickly downed about half of each meal.

Part of her was glad this was a day for relaxing because there was no pressure for her to be anywhere at any given time. Well, that wasn't strictly accurate. She'd made an appointment for a massage for late afternoon, but that was still many hours away.

She dressed for a day at the pool and, grabbing a towel and her beach bag, left the room.

***

Lois tossed her bag onto the couch. It had been a fairly pleasant day overall. It would have been nicer if Clark had been with her, just hanging out at the pool, swimming some laps, but not bad at all. She'd made the massage reservations for two, telling them that Clark wasn't feeling well when she called back later to cancel one.

She looked at the clock, flipping LNN International on as she went. The coverage, at the moment, was in Greek, but she could see from the pictures that they were talking about Mexico.

Her eyes narrowed as she watched the search and rescue footage near Cozumel. Was that Clark? A closer shot confirmed to her that it was. He looked tired. Tired and dirty. No one else would recognize him, not knowing that he was supposed to be in Greece. Their family -- Perry, Alice, Jimmy and Lucy -- were the only ones who might.

She picked up the phone and dialing the ridiculously long string of numbers, waited for Perry to answer the phone.

"White here."

"Hi, Perry," she said quietly.

"Lois, darlin'! How's Greece?"

"You should know -- or has Jimmy not been giving you our articles?"

"Oh, no he has, but with all this Hurricane Gilbert coverage, I haven't done much more than skim them the last couple of days. Jerry -- the new night editor; did I tell you about him? -- has been proofing them for me. How's Clark?"

How to word it so Perry would understand? "Oh, we've been watching and reading the hurricane coverage too. Did you see the footage of that man trying to rescue the little boy in Jamaica?" she asked softly.

Perry paused for a minute, as though digesting the words. "You mean, where a man rescued four or five people and then the car was swept away before he could help the last little boy?"

Lois nodded, knowing as she did so that Perry couldn't see her. "Yes. Clark's seen that footage over and over, wondering if he could have done something -- you know him -- always wants to help. For some reason, he's taking that little boy very hard."

Silence met her statement. Perry's voice was thick with emotion when he spoke. "I bet he is. There's nothing that man, or anyone else, could have done to save that boy though. Even if Clark *had* been there..."

"I know that and you know that..."

"Gotcha."

"Have you been watching LNN's coverage today?"

"Got it on now." He paused. "Here they're showing about four or five men searching a house."

"That's what they're showing here too," she whispered.

"Is Clark there with you?"

"No, he's out for a bit."

"I see."

Well, he hadn't become editor of a major metropolitan newspaper because he could yodel. Lois knew he'd read between the lines of what she said. "He did say he may call you later."

"He's always welcome to."

"I know. He knows."

"Is there anything I can do for you, darlin'?"

"No," she said. "I just needed to hear a friendly voice and let you know that you should have the resort write up in plenty of time for next weekend's edition."

"That sounds great. If you talk to him before I do, tell Clark I said not to overdo it."

"I will."

"Take care of yourself, Lois."

"I will, Chief. Thanks."

Lois hung up the phone feeling a little bit better. Perry knew Clark was in Mexico and he'd let her know if he heard from her husband.

***

Clark didn't return that night. A cryptic phone call from Perry seemed to indicate that he'd slept for a couple of hours at the White home and then gone back to Mexico. A hike was scheduled for that day and Lois really didn't want to miss it. She'd be with a group so it's not like she would be wandering around unknown territory by herself. It was now Sunday and she hadn't seen or heard from him since Friday night.

She bit her lip as she laced up her hiking boots. She shouldn't worry about him. Perry and Alice had seen him, or at least she thought so, and they would have made him either stay with them or come back if they thought it was too much for him.

It was many hours later when she returned to their room, having told the tour leader that her husband was ill, thus excusing him from another part of their exploration of the resort and its activities.

The hike was beautiful, if tiring, and she knew Clark would have loved it. She avoided the restaurants again, ordering dinner for two to their room. She picked two things she wanted to try -- grateful once again that during business hours, at least, the menu was amazingly similar to the restaurants downstairs -- and ate the better part of both meals. When she finally sat back, she couldn't believe how much she'd eaten. She'd never fit into most of the clothes they'd bought if she kept this up. As she moved to stand and head towards the shower, she knew that it wouldn't matter. She was sore from the long day and would have burned off the calories she just ate -- and then some -- earlier in the day.

She talked to Perry again, reminding him that they had reservations at the resort's nicest restaurant -- black tie was optional, but barely -- on Tuesday night. She knew he'd make sure to mention it to Clark if he heard from him again. It had now been a full forty-eight hours since he'd left and she wasn't sure when he'd be back.

She eventually crawled into bed, alone for the fourth night in a row, and prayed that the day's exertions would allow her a deep, dreamless sleep. Monday would be here soon enough and with it another day that was likely to see her alone.

Monday dawned and she contacted their public relations liaison. Alexandra had been very helpful in arranging their excursions and Lois was loathe to go through another one without Clark. They were supposed to go water skiing and then take surfing lessons, and she really didn't want to do those without him. Alexandra arranged for a full day at the spa instead; something Clark had expressed absolutely no interest in. It included another massage -- a hot rock massage that Lois was sure would feel wonderful after the hike the day before -- and Lois emerged from their suite ready for another day of leisure and pampering.

When Lois returned, it was nearly dinner time. She tossed her beach bag on the couch and headed to the bedroom, stopping short at what she saw there.

Clark was back, laying on top of the covers, and fully clothed.

He was face down, lying cross ways on the bed. Lois crossed the room and reached for his shoes. They were still a bit muddy and she was sure that he'd tried to clean himself up before he returned. He'd been in Texas, she was sure, after the tornados the remnants of Hurricane Gilbert had caused. She pulled off his socks and grabbed a bag out of an empty trash can.

She stopped and took a long look at him. He couldn't be comfortable in the jeans and t-shirt he'd been wearing for something like three or four days straight.

Could she do this?

Could she help him take his clothes off?

She took a deep breath. She could do this. He needed some good rest and he wasn't going to get it like this. She could get his shirt off, and go from there.

She knelt on the bed next to him and, grateful that the shirt wasn't tucked in, tugged it towards his head. Unable to get it any farther than his shoulder blades, she sat back on her heels and stared. "Come on, Clark, I need you to help me here," she muttered.

With great effort, she finally managed to maneuver his arms out of the shirt and then tugged the collar over his head.

He was heavy. Maybe it had something to do with his Kryptonian heritage, but he was a lot heavier than he looked.

She flopped on the bed next to him and stared at the ceiling. Those jeans absolutely had to come off and head for the trash can. The question was how was she going to do that -- both physically and emotionally?

The phone rang just then startling her. She moved to the living area and sat in one of the plush armchairs, grabbing it off the table next to her.

"Darlin', how you holding up?"

Of course it was Perry.

"I'm fine. Clark's sleeping. Finally."

"It's been a long few days, hasn't it?" he asked.

"Longer nights," she said quietly.

"Not sleeping well?"

"No," she whispered.

"Well, Clark's there..."

"Yeah."

"What is it?" Boy, he was perceptive.

"He's wearing the same clothes he's been wearing and I can't get him to move to help him out of them and..." Her voice trailed off.

"I understand. I wish I was there to help you."

"I know. I'll figure something out."

"Take care of him," Perry said softly.

"I will."

Lois sighed as she hung up the phone. She pushed herself up and stopped short when she saw Clark leaning heavily against the door. "Who's tha'?"

She could barely understand him through the slurring. "What are you doing up?"

"Fone wo'e m'up."

Lois moved to his side. "Come on, Clark. You need to get some sleep."

He wrapped an arm around her and leaned on her. "Onny wan' s'ee' wi'you."

"I know." She helped him towards the bed. "We need to get those pants off of you, too."

"Yah no ho'long I wait'ta hear ya say tha'?" He turned and faced her, wrapping both arms around her waist.

Lois sighed. He was obviously exhausted and probably half delirious. She stopped when he was in front of the bed. "Come on. Focus for me. Can you take your jeans off?"

"Shur'." His finger moved to the zipper and pulled it down before starting to fumble with the button. "Can'do it. Ya go'a"

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She could do this. She reached for the button and gently, carefully, undid it. "Can you help me pull them down?"

He shook his head. "Nuh huh."

She mumbled under her breath and moved behind him, cautiously sliding the jeans over his hips, then pushed them down his legs. When she had pushed them as low as she could, she let out the breath she didn't know she was holding. Gentle pressure against one calf told Clark to lift his leg and he cooperated allowing her to move the jeans off and out of the way. The procedure was repeated with the other leg.

Normally, he'd put on a pair of athletic shorts over the top of his boxers, but she knew that wasn't going to happen. There was no way that she'd be able to get him into them -- it was just too much.

She stood next to him. "Okay. Time to go to bed."

"On'y 'f ya come wi'me."

"I'll be there in a few minutes."

He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close to him.

Her breath caught. What was he doing?

"Have I ever told you how much I want to make love to you?"

Why, out of all the things he'd said, was that the only thing he hadn't slurred?

Before she could respond, his lips were on hers.

***

Chapter 36

She tried desperately to squelch the bile rising in her throat. This was *Clark*. He would never hurt her or push her. She made herself take a deep breath through her nose -- her lips were still otherwise occupied. Sort of. Clark's mouth was on hers, but she wasn't kissing him back.

Not really.

And to be honest, he wasn't *really* kissing her. The kiss he'd given her on the rock at camp when she was twelve was more... lively.

She put her hands against his chest and gently pushed back. She wanted desperately to shove him as hard as she could, but she wouldn't let herself.

"Clark. Honey. Not now."

"All I wanna do is make love to my wife. Wha's so wron' wi' tha'?"

For all his slurring before, this too came out more than clear enough, even if it was a bit pouty.

"I know, Clark. But not now." She pushed a little harder until he moved a step back.

His knees hit the bed and he fell down, pulling her with him. She was on top of him, her hands resting on his chest.

"Come on, baby. Please. Make love to me." He pulled her further down, until she was tight against him. His lips moved to her neck, kissing it gently. His hands moved down her back until they rested on her waist.

Lois fought to keep her control; trying not to feel trapped. He wasn't himself. He probably wouldn't remember this when he woke up. And if -- or when -- he did, he'd feel horrible about it.

She put her hands on either side of him and pushed up, rolling to one side.

He started to follow but pressure from her hand on his chest stopped him. "It's time to go to sleep now, Clark. Please."

He managed to nuzzle her neck anyway. "You smell so good. Please, baby." His hand rested on her hip and he slowly ran it up her side until he reached her shoulder. He followed her arm until he could move her hand off his chest and brought her fingers to his lips.

She tugged on her hand, trying to pull it from his grasp but instead he came with it. He was on top of her, arms on either side trapping her between them, the full weight of his body on hers, his lips on her neck and shoulder again.

This was Clark, she told herself again. He'd never hurt her.

She made herself take deep breaths and tried desperately to avoid a panic attack.

Suddenly, his arms gave out and she was pushed further into the mattress.

"Clark, please." It was all she could do to get the words out.

A soft snore was her only answer.

She tried to breathe a sigh of relief, but he was really heavy and she couldn't get enough air in. She managed to wiggle her arms until she could get her hands onto his sides and she pushed as hard as she could.

To her great relief, he rolled off her and onto his other side, murmuring something she couldn't understand as he did so.

She laid there, eyes closed, trying to fight off the panic attack that continued to threaten her. For long minutes she focused on deep breaths in and long, slow breaths out. Her insides were slowly stilling; instead of quivering like jelly, they began to calm.

Just as her insides settled down, Clark rolled towards her, reaching instinctively for her as he had so many other times, but this time... She couldn't do it. She rolled out of reach and off the bed, standing, unconsciously grabbing the poncho liner as she did so. She practically ran out of the bedroom, not stopping until she reached the balcony.

She braced her hands against the rail and lowered her head. Her eyes closed and her breathing was shallow.

The warm breeze off the Mediterranean gently washed over her, calming her soul and soothing her spirit.

She didn't know how long she'd stood there when she took a final trembling breath and raised her head to stare out over the water. She needed to go check on him; she knew that. Well... she *should* go check on him. It wasn't like he was going to get cold or something.

She glanced back through the open door and could see the bedroom reflected in the mirror there. She gasped slightly. He'd told her that he sometimes floated in his sleep and she'd felt him land a time or two but she'd never actually seen him. Until now.

She could see his reflection, wearing only his boxers, bobbing a foot or two in the air over the bed.

She finally sat in the chair, pulling the blanket over her and staring over the water until a glance at her watch told her it was past time to order dinner. She contemplated ordering room service but decided not to. She wasn't sure she wanted Clark to wake up before he was ready to -- both for his sake and hers.

Sighing, she slipped her shoes back on and left the room.

Clark was still asleep when she returned. He had landed back on the bed at some point and she pulled the covers over him.

She moved back out onto the balcony, curling back up under the blanket. The breeze had cooled as the sun had set.

Before long, she dozed off.

***

That was where Clark found her the next morning.

"Hey, Lois." He shook her gently. "Time to wake up, sleepyhead."

She opened her eyes just enough to glare at him. One part of her mind noticed that he must have taken a shower. His hair was still wet and a drop of water made its way down his chest. The rest of her mind just glared.

"What?" he asked.

She yawned and stretched her legs towards the railing. "Who are you calling a sleepyhead? You've been asleep at *least* eighteen hours."

He smiled at her. "Well, I haven't slept much the last few days."

"Yeah, I know. Perry said you were there for a few hours Saturday or Sunday but..."

He moved to the chair next to her. "Yeah. I'm not sure what day it was either."

"How was it?" she asked quietly.

"Harder than I thought it would be, but I managed to help save a few lives. I couldn't get to everyone in time but..."

"You did your best. That's all you can do."

Clark nodded and stared over the water. "Why were you sleeping out here?"

She shrugged. "Just dozed off, I guess."

"How've you been sleeping?"

"Okay."

"Not well?"

"I've done worse."

"How many?"

"How many what?" She was sure she knew what he meant but really didn't want to answer the question.

"Nightmares. Dreams."

"A few," she said vaguely.

"A few? Or a few a night?"

She wouldn't look at him, but finally answered him. "A night."

"I'm sorry I wasn't here."

She shook her head vehemently. "You were where you needed to be."

"Can I ask you something a bit awkward?"

She just shrugged.

"Um... how did I get undressed? I don't remember doing it and I know I was exhausted when I got here."

She knew she was turning red. "Um... I helped you. You were asleep on the bed and I could tell you were wiped out but didn't think you'd be comfortable, so I took off your shoes and socks and managed to get your T-shirt off. Then the phone rang. It was Perry checking on both of us. When I was done talking to him, you were standing there and I... we... managed to get your jeans off and..." She wasn't going to tell him what happened next. "...then you went back to sleep."

He reached for her hand. "Well, thank you. I appreciate it and I'm sure it couldn't have been easy for you. In more ways than one."

She shrugged. "I'm just glad you're back. Alexandra said that we could reschedule our water skiing and surfing for today if we wanted to."

Clark groaned. "That was supposed to be yesterday, wasn't it?"

"Yeah, but it's okay. I got a full day at the spa instead."

"Is that why you smell like lavender?"

She nodded. "I told them that you had been sick -- flu bug or something -- so that's where you've been."

"I'm sorry you had to lie for me."

Lois shrugged. "It's okay. It's what I had to do."

"Still..." He leaned over and kissed her cheek, noticing that she flinched slightly as he did so and filed that away for future reference. "Thank you." They sat in silence for a few more minutes. "Why don't you go get ready and I'll call Alexandra and make arrangements."

She nodded and stood up, releasing his hand as she did so. "Sounds like a plan. We have to be back by six though. I have an appointment at the salon to get all pampered for dinner tonight."

"Ah, that's right. Which dress are you going to wear?"

She leaned against the door. "I hadn't decided yet," she said honestly.

"Wear the black one," he replied. "You haven't worn it yet and it's perfect on you."

She paused then nodded slightly. "Are you okay with that? I can't get it all the way on or off by myself."

"I know, but you'll look fabulous."

She smiled slightly. "Okay then. Black it is."

***

Water skiing occupied their morning and surfing lessons the afternoon. Lois returned from the salon an hour before their dinner reservations.

Clark looked at her from his spot in front of the mirror, where he was trying to get his tie straight. "You look pretty good from the neck up."

She smiled, keeping the 'wow' to herself this time. "You look very nice yourself," she replied, remembering the conversation from their honeymoon. "I'm um..." she motioned to the bedroom. "I'm going to get dressed."

He nodded then turned back to the mirror a slight frown on his face as he adjusted the tie once more.

He sat on the couch and turned on a mindless game show. He'd thought about reading the papers from the last few days -- Lois had kept them for him -- but he didn't want to ruin the night. He was sure the images from the last few days would stay with him for a very long time, but right now he didn't want to see the coverage.

Lois emerged from the bedroom about twenty minutes before their reservations. "Can you help me, Clark?"

He clicked the remote, turning the television off. She stood with her back to him and he held his breath slightly as he finished zipping the back of her dress, fumbling with the fastener above it. The top half of her back was bare and he had an almost overwhelming desire to put his arms around her and kiss her neck. His sensitive nose could still smell the lavender from the spa the day before. He must have smelled it last night when she helped him with his clothes -- something he still couldn't believe she did -- because he'd dreamt about laying on top of her nibbling her neck at least once last night. Of course, he'd also dreamt that she was on top of him while doing more of the same.

He *had* to get his libido under control. After all he'd seen the last few days, why couldn't he do that? And her heart was beating like a trip hammer -- this couldn't be comfortable for her either.

He finally managed to get the tiny hook and eye properly joined. "There. All set." She turned and smiled at him. He offered his arm and she rested her hand in the crook of his elbow.

***

The meal was delicious, as was expected, though the portions were small.

Clark smiled at his wife and spoke quietly. "If you're still hungry later, I'll go get you something from Steak and Shake."

Lois spoke in equally quiet tones. "You'd fly all the way to the States to get me a milkshake?"

"Well, I'd get me a couple of steak burgers and some fries and something else for you, too, but yeah."

"Thanks. We'll see."

He nodded and took the last bite of his Mediterranean meal; Lois had already finished hers. "Would you like to dance?"

She bit her bottom lip, but knew he expected her to. How could she tell him how uncomfortable she'd been when he'd kissed her cheek earlier or when he'd helped her with her dress or when they'd been given one smallish seat to share on the boat earlier in the day? She knew he couldn't remember what had happened or he would have said something. And she knew he'd never do something like that when he was fully cognizant of his actions.

"Sure," she finally said.

He wiped his mouth once more with the napkin then pushed back from the table. He held a hand out to her and led her to the dance floor. He noticed that she took a deep breath before moving into his arms. "Are you okay?"

She didn't say anything for a minute but finally nodded. "I'm fine."

"I'm not sure I believe you," he whispered.

"I just haven't slept well, that's all."

Clark still wasn't sure that was the whole truth, but he didn't want to press it. "Well, you were on the balcony all night last night. And I noticed that you haven't gone a night without sleeping under my poncho liner since we set sail. Is the only way I'm ever going to get to use it again is if I share?" He smiled as he spoke. He'd realized not long after she'd discovered it that he'd likely never have exclusive use again.

She nodded. "You never should have let me use it if you were so attached."

She was still holding him at arm's length -- more than she ever had. "I promise -- no one else will dance with you tonight unless you want them to."

She nodded slightly. He'd thought that might be the reason she was uncomfortable, but apparently not. He moved his hand from her waist and tipped her chin upwards so he could see her eyes. "What is it?"

She sighed and tried to look away. "It's nothing. Really. I'm just tired and a bit... off. That's all."

"Promise?"

"Yes."

Clark moved his hand back to her waist and exerted the slightest of pressure as he moved her around the dance floor. She allowed him to pull her slightly closer, but that was it. He hadn't really expected more, so he'd take what he could get.

He closed his eyes and just enjoyed the feel of his wife in his arms.

***

Lois managed to forestall a panic attack that started to form in the pit of her stomach when Clark moved behind her that night. She reminded herself that it was just Clark. He wouldn't do anything to hurt her. He hadn't been himself the night before. She repeated that over and over until she finally fell asleep.

She woke the next morning feeling better than she had in several days. She had vague recollections of bad dreams but no nightmares. Then she realized that she was resting on Clark. Her head was on his chest and his arm wrapped around her.

She felt safe. Even after what had happened a couple of nights earlier, she felt safe in his arms. She felt him shift beneath the arm that was thrown across the top of his stomach.

"Morning, beautiful," he murmured, kissing her forehead as he did so.

"Hey," she responded in equally quiet tones.

He rubbed her back with the hand that was around her and Lois involuntarily went back to the night before. He'd managed to undo what he claimed was an impossibly tiny clasp on her dress and as he unzipped it -- and he unzipped it further than was necessary, though he probably didn't realize that -- she could feel his fingers or his thumb or something trail down her back. The night before it had made her slightly uncomfortable, but she could imagine that it *could* feel quite nice -- under different circumstances.

"What's on the schedule for today?" he asked.

Lois filled him in on the revised agenda and, before long, they climbed out of bed and got ready for the day.

The next couple of days rounded out their trip to Halkidiki and the Porto Carras Grand Resort, and they returned to their apartment in Athens.

***

That weekend they made their first unofficial visit back to Metropolis. They landed quickly and silently in the backyard. As they prepared to descend, Clark had warned Lois and she'd buried her head in his shoulder. He kept hold of her hand as they walked to the back door of the White's home.

Clark knocked and then opened the door as he heard Perry call to them from inside. Hugs were exchanged all around and then dinner was served. Lucy and Jimmy were both working so it was just the four of them.

Lois and Clark told Perry and Alice about the things they'd seen and done that hadn't made into their articles, and in turn, Perry and Alice caught Lois and Clark up on some of the goings on in Metropolis.

It wasn't terribly late in Metropolis, but the younger couple was on Greek time and would be back in Greece in forty-eight hours so the decision had been made not to try to acclimate to the time change too much.

After dinner Perry and Clark wandered off to watch a baseball game -- the Metropolitans were in the pennant race -- while Lois and Alice moved to the back deck.

Lois tucked one leg under her and stretched out on the deck chair. She was sure that Alice was going to bring up what Clark had talked to Perry about and she wasn't sure she was up to it -- not after what happened earlier in the week.

"So, you and Clark..." Alice's voice trailed off.

Lois shook her head wryly. "I didn't think you'd jump right into it. I thought you'd ease in a bit more."

Alice laughed. "Why? We both knew one of us was going to bring it up, right?"

"Well, I knew *I* wasn't, but I was pretty sure you would, " Lois admitted.

"Wanna talk about it?"

The question was quiet. Lois stared at the trees through the twilight. She finally shrugged. "I'm not really sure what to say."

"Well, I think Perry said Clark started with 'We've been married for three and a half years and I've never made love to my wife'. We could start there," Alice said gently.

Lois was silent for a long time. "We could," she finally said slowly.

"Do you want to?"

"Maybe."

Alice nodded slightly. "Well, we can sit here as long as you want. If you want to talk about something else we can. If you don't want to talk at all, we can watch the fireflies and the stars come out. But if you're ready to talk about it -- tonight or any other time -- I'm here."

"I know." Lois took a deep breath. "And I do want to talk about it, really I do. Something happened this week and... It, and my reactions, probably don't make sense unless you know the whole story." She sipped her tea. "When Clark proposed to me, I couldn't say yes until I told him that I wasn't ready for a physical relationship and I didn't know if I ever would be."

"Was he okay with that?"

"He smiled at me and promised that he would never push me for anything I wasn't ready for. And I believed him."

"And now?"

"Well, I went through a time when I didn't believe him. Well, I believed that he wouldn't push me, but I also believed that he was going somewhere else to..." She stared at the yard. "I believed the stories about him and Mayson. I'd even come to that conclusion on my own before I heard the rumors. But, I figured if I wasn't going to put out, I couldn't blame him for finding someone who would."

"But Clark wouldn't do that."

"I think I know that now." Alice started to protest, but Lois cut her off. "Believe me, that's a big improvement over where I was a few months ago. I'm getting there -- believing that he's not going to leave me; that he wouldn't go somewhere else -- but it takes time."

"Sometimes it does."

"I'm getting there, honest."

"I believe you."

"Has Lucy told you anything about what life was like growing up?"

Alice shook her head. "Not really. Perry's told me the little bit he's gathered from Clark and Jimmy, but that's it."

"Mom was a drunk. She'd pass out or throw up all over everything. I cleaned up or got her to bed or both." She wasn't looking for sympathy. She spoke the truth, her voice nearly monotone. It was what it was. "Dad wasn't there. At first I didn't know where he was, but as I got older, I realized that he was out with other women. While I was at Journalism Camp, he moved out. It wasn't until later that I realized that he didn't leave for another woman. He left because he thought Mom was flirting with another man. His vows said nothing about fidelity in them, but hers did. He saw it as a betrayal so he left. Mom never moved out like he did, but she left us alone all the time."

"How old were you?"

"I think I told Clark five or six, but I'm really not sure. I think it may have been younger than that. I do think Lucy was potty trained -- I don't remember worrying about her diapers when Mom wasn't around, but I do remember worrying about them when Mom was drunk." Lois sighed. "It could have been so much worse, you know. We were never abused or beaten or molested or anything like that. But I'm starting to be able to admit out loud that we were neglected. A lot. And probably severely neglected at times. Lucy told me once that the first time she came here for dinner she told Jimmy that she had abandonment issues and that before she could even consider a relationship with him, she needed him to promise that he'd never leave her. Well, never *just* leave. That if -- for whatever reason -- they were over, he'd discuss it with her even if the end result was the same."

"And you didn't do that with Clark, did you?"

Lois shook her head. "No. The first six months or so we were married, I made a lot of comments about how teen marriages don't work and how could we expect to be any different and stuff. Every time, he reassured me that we would. We'd beat the odds. Then, the night I told him I'd changed my name, he didn't. I made a comment and he didn't say anything. He just went and took a shower and went to bed. That was when I knew we wouldn't make it. Since then, he's told me that he'd realized the only way I was ever going to believe that he wouldn't leave me was to just not leave -- that words weren't enough."

She took another long drink of her tea. "Things went downhill from there. Here, during the ice storm, was by far the most time we spent together until Aunt Louise died. Then we were together almost non-stop for nearly a week. Things started to change a bit then -- Clark made a point of seeing me more often for lunch, helping my Physics study group or bringing me dinner while I was working, things like that. Not much but some. I thought he was just trying to throw me off the scent. I knew not long after the ice storm that he was having an affair with Mayson and I told myself I was okay with it. I would pretend everything was fine, because he was, and really, who was I to say he couldn't have a girlfriend, when I wasn't willing to really be his wife?"

"Lois..." Alice sighed. "Do you know how wrong that is on so many levels? Not just wrong in the sense that having an affair is wrong, but wrong in the sense that your thought processes -- while they may have made sense to you -- are completely skewed from reality? Clark would *never* cheat on you -- regardless of whether or not you two are having sex."

"I know that now -- or I'm working on it, but at the time... That's what Lanes did. Mom drank to oblivion because Dad was out with another woman. Looking back, he was probably with another woman -- or even two -- on an almost daily basis most of the time -- at least the first time they were married. I think the second time was better. Anyway, once we stopped talking, we grew apart. We were so busy with work and school and everything else... and once I knew he was having an affair, there was no way I was going to have sex with him unless he forced himself on me and I was pretty sure he wouldn't do that. Why would he need to? He had her."

"Lois..."

"I'm not saying it's logical or that I'm proud of what went through my head or how I rationalized things or whatever, but that's the truth. That's how I felt. The first time we really -- I mean *really* -- talked in years was after the attack." She laughed humorlessly. "If you thought all that logic was screwed up, wait till you hear this. Some of the things that *he* said while Clark was in there, insinuated that I'd had sex with him before." She waved a hand as Alice started to speak. "Oh, I know he was just trying to get Clark's goat and all that now, but at the time... When I played it back in my head and remembered what my mom had told me about how when you get married your body is your husband's but he can share his with whoever he wants, I went a little crazy. I just *knew* that Clark believed that I'd been with *him* before and that now he knew I'd... been around, he'd want me for himself. So," She took a deep breath. "I had him take me to Colorado and then made an extremely poor attempt at seducing him."

"What? Why?"

Tears had started to flow down Lois' cheeks. "I figured it was easier to give myself to him than to wait for him to take me." She snorted. "How's that for logic?"

Alice just shook her head sadly.

"That was the only time he's ever touched me," she said softly.

"What?! Clark..."

"No!" Lois was quick to interject. "Not like that. First, he knew that even if we had been making love on a regular basis, the odds of me really wanting that like two hours after I'd been assaulted were slim to none. And I was acting weird and I started crying when I tried to kiss him." She swiped at her face. "*I* took his hand and put it on me. It stayed there for all of half a second before he backed up. Then we had it out. Sort of. More like I yelled at him and he tried to figure out what the heck I was talking about. Mayson, what other women had there been, had he taken any of them flying, what if I'd thrown myself at him sooner, things like that."

"What did he do?"

"Stumbled around backwards in a circle until he finally fell down. Looked at me like I was crazy. Then we talked. Really talked for the first time in a very long time. By the time we were done, I believed him about Mayson and everything else. That was the night we saw Krypton explode."

"Excuse me?"

"You know there were messages from his Kryptonian parents on the globe?" After her friend nodded, she continued. "We saw the last one that night. At the end, his ship left the planet and then the whole thing exploded. It hit him really hard and he actually cried. I've never seen him cry -- before or since."

"I can imagine that was hard for him."

Lois nodded. "It was. But since then, he's been a rock for me. He's been there when I needed him to hold me at night to keep the nightmares away, to comfort me when they come anyway, to hold my hand and support me while we went through the investigation -- everything I could have asked for and more. He's never pushed me. He's never even thought about pushing me. He was honest with me when he finally told me that, while he doesn't intentionally do it, sometimes he sees my body when I was lying on the floor in the conference room. It's the only time he's ever seen me naked -- or nearly so. He told me that some days are more difficult than others and that he does want me that way, but, again, that he'd never push me. And he hasn't."

She took a deep breath. "Until Monday."

"What happened Monday?"

"After he got back from Mexico..." She stopped. "How long was he here last weekend?"

Alice shrugged. "Three, maybe four hours."

"Did he sleep all of it?"

"No. He ate too -- and normal speed."

"So, since we woke up... Thursday morning, I guess, he'd had less than four hours of sleep when he got back on Monday -- sometime in the late afternoon. He wasn't there when I grabbed something about three but was sound asleep by five-thirty. When I talked to Perry around seven, he woke up and started talking -- kind of. He slurred his words and he could barely stand. It was a lot like my mom, actually." She paused. Why hadn't that occurred to her before? She never suspected he might be drunk, but how many times had she cajoled her mom into changing clothes and getting into bed? What had happened with Clark really hadn't been much different. "Anyway, I finally got him down to his boxers and he started going on and on about how he wanted to make love to me. I kept telling him later, it was time for bed, and things like that. Next thing I knew..." She took a deep breath. "He'd pulled me down on top of him and was kissing my neck. I managed to get off of him, but he followed me." Her hand shook slightly as she wiped the tears from her face. "I kept telling myself that it was just Clark and he wouldn't hurt me; he'd stop before things went too far. But I couldn't move. He was on top of me, kissing my neck again and I couldn't move. I was trapped and then..." She couldn't go on.

"And then what?"

Lois jumped at the sound of Clark's voice. She turned to see him standing at the door with Perry, his face as white as she'd ever seen it.

"What, Lois? Oh, God. What did I do to you then?"

***

Chapter 37

Lois stared at him. She hadn't heard him come out and a glance at Alice told her that she hadn't noticed either.

"You weren't supposed to hear that," she said, not much above a whisper. "You're supposed to be watching the ball game."

"Rain delay in Philly, but that doesn't matter." Clark gripped the back of one of the chairs, not realizing that he was bending the metal. "What happened? What did I do to you?"

"How much did you hear?"

He shook his head vehemently. "It doesn't matter. You *have* to tell me what happened. Everything."

Neither really noticed as Perry and Alice moved quietly inside.

Lois swiped at her face again. "You freaked me out a little bit but that's it."

"Promise?"

She nodded. "Yeah."

He blew a slow breath out, the leaves of the trees in the yard fluttering as he looked at the top rail of the chair that was now flattened. He moved to the seat where Alice had been. "Please tell me what happened."

"What did you hear?" she asked again.

"That I was on top of you, kissing your neck and trapping you there. What did I do?"

"You were exhausted, Clark. I didn't think you'd remember any of it and you weren't yourself. I didn't want to worry you or anything."

"I want you to tell me. Please. I have to know." Hundreds of scenarios -- none of which were good -- ran through his head.

"Calm down. Whatever you're imagining, I'm sure it's a lot worse than it really was."

He took a deep breath, wondering if she was being honest or trying to protect him. "Okay."

"You were asleep when I got there. I got your shoes, socks and shirt off. Then Perry called and you woke up. You helped me get your jeans off and you fell onto the bed. You pulled me with you." She took a deep breath. "You were just holding me on top of you but you were kissing my neck and kept saying things like you wanted to make love to me, please. You called me baby a couple of times." She didn't look at him as she spoke. "I knew you weren't yourself. You were slurring your words. I could barely understand you until you told me you wanted to make love to me -- that was clear as a bell."

He cringed.

"Anyway, I managed to roll over and you rolled on top of me and were kissing my neck again and I couldn't get up; couldn't get away. I kept telling myself that it was you -- that you'd come to your senses or something. You'd never force me into anything even if you weren't quite yourself."

"And then what?" he asked quietly.

"You went back to sleep."

"What?" He looked at her in shock.

"You went to sleep. I was able to push you off of me and that was the end of it."

"That's why you slept on the balcony, isn't it?"

She nodded. "I just couldn't..."

He reached for her hand. "I understand. That's why you've been a little weird this week too, isn't it?"

"Yeah."

"Why didn't you tell me?"

Lois shrugged. "I knew you didn't remember it and you'd just feel horrible about it, but you were more sleep walking or something than actually trying anything."

"Still..." He stared at the deepening night sky. "I wish you would have."

"I'll remember that."

"It won't happen again," he promised.

"How can you promise that? If something like Hurricane Gilbert happens again and you're needed there and you're not needed wherever I am, you'll be there. And if you go days without sleep, it *could* happen again, but I also have no doubt that the outcome would be the same. Something would happen -- you'd fall asleep or realize that I said it was time for bed and we'd... do that later or something and you wouldn't cross any lines. Even in that state, you wouldn't let yourself."

"You have a lot more faith in me than I do then."

She squeezed his hand. "I do have faith in you. I trust you and deep down we both know you'd never betray that trust, even if you were... rip roaring drunk."

"I can't get drunk."

"You know what I mean."

"Would you be okay if I gave you a hug?"

"I'd like that."

He stood and tugged on her hand until she stood next to him. He wrapped his arms around her, holding her tight. "I'm so sorry, Lois."

"Nothing to be sorry for."

"Promise me something?"

"What?"

"I hope that what happened doesn't become fodder for one of your bad dreams, but if it does will you please tell me?"

She tensed in his arms.

"It already has, hasn't it?"

She nodded against his chest. "Not too bad, but yeah."

He pulled her a little closer. "I'm so sorry."

"It's okay. Really. As far as bad dreams go, they're not so bad."

"Still." They stood there for a minute. "Is it something you want to tell me about?"

She shrugged. "It's just what happened. You're on top of me and kissing my neck and I feel trapped because I can't get away and then it's over."

"Is there anything I can do to make them go away?" he asked quietly.

"No. Not that I can think of anyway."

"I'm sure Alice has told Perry the first part of that story by now."

"Yeah." She didn't make any move to head inside. "Clark, did you really start your conversation with Perry by saying 'We've been married for three and a half years and I've never made love to my wife'?"

"Alice told you that?"

"Yeah."

"Pretty close. I think I may have stuck Perry's name in there somewhere, but that about sums it up."

"Why'd you start with that?"

"I figured it's like ripping a band-aid off."

"When have you ever needed a band-aid?"

"You know what I mean. If I started at the beginning and worked my way into it, I might have psyched myself out or something, so I just blurted it out to get the conversation started."

"I guess that's one way to do it."

"It worked. And then he knew how to look at all the things I told him; what lens or filter to use as I told him the rest."

"Did it help? Talking to Perry?"

He kissed the top of her head. "It helped a lot. Thank you for letting me. It wasn't like he had any great words of wisdom -- mostly just that they're here for us if we need them -- but being able to vent about it was just what I needed."

"And you can't do that with me." It wasn't a question.

"Not about that," he replied quietly. "You have enough about that night to deal with without me adding to it."

"Will you at least tell me what it is that makes you so mad? Even if you don't go into details or smash icebergs or whatever?"

Clark wrapped his arms around her a little tighter. "Just what we talked about before, but more... vehement, I guess. That he took something from us. That the first time I ever saw you was with him hovering over you; that the first time a man ever took your clothes off or touched you was him, not me."

"I hate him for that, too, you know."

"I know, but I think it's different for me. Not that it's not a big deal for you, too, but you're not ready to make love with me. You weren't ready before this happened and you still might not be, even if it hadn't. So maybe -- at least I think; I could be wrong -- it's more... abstract for you. I don't know. I can't really explain it."

She nodded. "I think I understand what you mean. If I told you I was ready to be with you, and you believed me, we'd be back in our apartment in Greece in about a minute and a half."

He pressed a kiss to her hair. "I could probably get us there in under a minute if that's what you wanted."

"Really?" She pulled back to look at him. "You could get us there that fast and I wouldn't vaporize or something?"

Clark laughed. "I don't know, but it wouldn't be long, I can tell you that much. We wouldn't even say good-bye to Perry and Alice. I might just yell in there that we'll call them later and take off." He sobered. "But only if that's what you really wanted."

"I know. And since I'm not ready for it yet, it's easier for me to... detach from the part where it's not you that was the first one to do those things. It's bad enough that he did them, but I don't... focus on the part where it wasn't you, but rather that it happened at all. You tend to focus on the part where you weren't the first one."

"Exactly. I think. Something like that."

They stood there for another minute before she spoke again. "Did you know that Alice has her Master's degree in Psychology?"

"No. I didn't know that."

"She never got her license or anything, but yeah. She's got the right education for it."

"Ah. Do you think you could talk to her? Do you think that would help?"

She shrugged. "Maybe. I'll think about it. I mean, I plan on talking to her as a friend, but I don't know about as an almost therapist."

They stood there for another long minute. "Ready to go face them?" Clark asked quietly.

She nodded. "Ready as I'll ever be, I suppose."

He held her hand as they walked inside to explain the rest of the story to Perry and Alice.

***

Lois looked around the apartment on Clinton. It had changed some since they'd left several months earlier. The living room furniture was the same, but had been rearranged. She wandered to the bedroom to see that their king size bed had been replaced by a nice set of double bunk beds -- she hadn't even known they made bunk beds that held double mattresses, but apparently they did -- up against the wall separating it from the kitchen. Lucy was still living up in the loft, she knew, because she'd made it her own over the years and really found it quite cozy. Lois tried not to wonder if it was because it was easier to have Jimmy sneak up there for a make-out session than it was to have one in the main bedroom.

Lucy knew she was coming over and she knew that her roommates would be gone, so they wouldn't wonder how she'd gotten there from Greece. She'd come to collect some things she'd left behind when they moved.

She moved to the window seat and lifted it. She removed the items stored there and carefully felt around the bottom, prying up several boards to expose an empty space beneath. She looked at what was there. She'd told Lucy that there were still things stored in secret hiding spots -- Lucy thought she meant the one in the closet -- and not to let her roommates know about it and if they ever moved out, to make sure they could retrieve them.

The hiding spot here was deceptively large. She carefully opened the top of the box Aunt Louise had given her on their wedding day but didn't move the tissue paper to look at the gown. Instead she simply removed the packet of letters lying on top of the paper and carefully closed the lid, replacing the wood and the rest of the things that had been stored there.

Once that was done, she sat on the window seat and stared at the bundle in her hand.

The top one was labeled 'To Mrs. Clark Kent'. She had been feeling for a couple of months that it was time for her to read this, but this was the first opportunity she'd had to retrieve the letters. She'd never opened the ones from Aunt Louise either and they completed the stack.

She carefully secreted them in her purse and locked the apartment as she left. They'd have to wait until a quiet moment in Greece.

***

A quiet, but fun, two days were spent at the White home. Lucy and Jimmy were there as often as their schedules allowed. Lois and Clark enjoyed the time spent with the younger couple.

One of the main topics of conversation was the next stop on Lane and Kent's 'Traveling the Planet' journey. They'd enjoyed their time in Greece immensely but were ready to move on to the next stop. No decision had been made, but they had a couple more weeks of adventures planned in Greece so the decision didn't have to be made immediately. And if they weren't ready to move on by then, they could probably hit Egypt or Israel or Italy some without moving.

Eventually, that was what they decided to do. Stay in Athens for a few more months and travel in the Mediterranean and the Middle East, then move to Paris to explore the rest of Europe after the New Year.

Sunday evening arrived and with it time for Lois and Clark to return to their Mediterranean paradise. Hugs were given all around and then, they walked out the back door where Clark wrapped Lois securely in his arms and took off.

***

Several nights later, Lois waited for Clark to finish taking his shower and join her in bed. Butterflies swarmed in her stomach but she wasn't sure why.

Maybe because she should have done this years ago.

Before long, Clark crawled onto his side of the bed and propped himself up on an elbow. "What's up?"

She gave him a small smile. "What makes you think something's up?"

He shrugged. "Just do. Am I right?"

She nodded.

"Well?"

"Nothing really. I mean, it's something, but in some ways it was pretty anticlimactic."

"What was?"

She paused before speaking. "Your mom's letter."

"My mom's..." Realization dawned. "You read the letter from my mom?"

She nodded.

He reached for her and pulled her to him. She noticed they found a comfortable position much faster than they used to -- like they were getting used to each other. That was a good thing she supposed. Her head rested somewhere between his shoulder and his chest and his arm held her close. Her leg found its way over one of his legs as her body stretched along the length of his. One arm was tucked up under his shoulder and under her pillow and the other stretched across the top of his stomach.

She had discovered this was her favorite time of day. They didn't lie like this every night, but when they did, they generally had good conversations -- the foundations of the relationship they were slowly building. It was her safe place. Not just in Clark's arms -- though that was always safe no matter where they were -- but here in Clark's arms, lying next to each other, but not spooning; wrapped in each other's arms, because not only was Clark holding her, but she was holding Clark.

It was a big deal for her, she knew. She distinctly remembered lying with Clark, just like this, in a hotel in Texas and willing her stomach to relax from the knots it had been tied in and wondering how long it would be before she could roll over and cocoon herself in the blankets. It wasn't like that now. Being together like this was special. This was how they had many of their late night 'tell me something about yourself' talks. Not all, but many. And not the talks that just sort of happened, like that night on the cruise ship, but the ones they planned, more or less.

One hand would wrap around her and often he'd run it up and down her arm. Sometimes it gave her goosebumps if his touch was too feather light -- and that sort of scared her sometimes -- but usually his touch was firm enough to be comforting. Or he would play with her hair, stroking it or twirling it around his fingers. His other arm would usually lie across hers as it rested on his stomach. There, too, she would often realize that he was drawing mindless patterns on her forearm or something of that nature.

Sometimes, she wanted to do the same thing -- draw abstract designs on the smooth planes of his stomach and chest -- but she never did. Someday she would.

"Do you mind to tell me what she said?" he asked quietly shaking her out of her reverie.

Lois gave a one-armed shrug. "Nothing earth-shattering. Said if you hadn't told me about your heritage I was to give you an earful and badger you until you did. That she would have loved me, because she loved you and she couldn't imagine you marrying someone that she wouldn't love." Lois paused for a second. "And she talked about sex some."

Clark chuckled softly. "That doesn't surprise me. Nearly every letter mentioned it some."

"She also said that because of your heritage, you would probably bond with your mate on an entirely different level than regular people. Well, um, once the relationship was consummated that is."

She could feel him nod. "That doesn't surprise me. It's probably part of the telepathy thing Jor-El mentioned; how I would know my soulmate when I met her."

"Anyway -- just that and to take care of you, basically. Nothing earth-shattering."

"Were you expecting earth-shattering?"

"I don't know. I'm not really sure what I was expecting, but I'm sure she wasn't expecting us to be married for three and a half years before I read it. I'm glad I read it though. I'm just sorry it took me so long." They laid there for a few more minutes before Lois said something else. "Clark, can I ask you something about being you?"

"Of course. I don't have any secrets from you."

"I know; it's just something I've been thinking about." She tilted her head slightly so that she wasn't looking at him but staring at the wall.

"Okay."

"Do you feel pain? I mean physical pain?"

He shook his head. "Not since I was young."

"You swim with Orcas and sit on icebergs, right?"

"Yes," he said slowly, not sure where she was going.

"Don't you feel cold?"

"Well, I do, but it doesn't bother me. If I take a hot drink for instance, I know it's hot, but it doesn't burn my tongue. I know the water's cold when I swim under icebergs, but I don't get hypothermia."

She rolled away from him and pushed up until she was leaning against the headboard.

He sat up too but shifted so he could see her. "Hey." He reached over and took her hand. "What is it?"

She sighed. "I don't know that I really want to get into this. I mean, it's something we should talk about and something that the sooner we talk about the sooner I'll stop worrying or eventually obsessing about it, but... I'm still not really comfortable with it."

He laced his fingers with hers. "I'm guessing it's something about sex then?"

She nodded. "It is, but what makes you think that?"

"I just can't think of anything else that would make you this uncomfortable."

"Ah."

He held her hand and waited.

"Clark, do you..." She stopped. "I mean..."

"Whatever it is, you can ask me."

"Do you think I'll be good at it someday?" she finally said in a rush, the words tumbling over each other.

"I think," he said slowly, "that, because we love each other, we'll figure out what's good together."

"What's that mean?"

"I mean, neither one of us has any real world experience so we'll have to figure things out as we go along. I think that when we do make love, it'll be a wonderful experience because we're doing it together, even if it takes us some practice to figure out the practical side of things. Especially for you, the first time could hurt and I hate that but I don't know what to do to prevent it. I think it's one of those practice makes perfect things and even if it's not straight out of a romance novel or something the first couple of times we'll figure out what works for us, together. Remember that list of questions you asked Mayson?"

Lois nodded.

"I don't know any of those answers for you either. Do you like to make love in the morning or at night? Are you an 'only in bed' kinda girl? What kind of lingerie do you prefer to wear? What do you like to see me in? How do you like to be kissed? I think being good takes practice and, when the time's right, I'm willing to practice with you as much as you want." He stared at their hands for a minute. "Are you afraid you won't be?"

She nodded. "I'm afraid that after all the years of waiting, I won't satisfy you and you'll be disappointed and upset."

"I don't believe it for a minute. Like I said, I think it could take some time for us to figure things out, but I think we'll be just fine." He paused. "I worry about the same things, you know."

She finally looked at him. "You do?"

"Sure. I've never made love before. I mean, I know the basics -- and if I hadn't before, Mom made sure I did -- but I'll have to figure out what you like and what you don't like. Do you like to be kissed on your neck but not your ear for instance? And there's no way to know until we get there, but I think that we'll be able to work those things out as long as we communicate about them." He squeezed her hand. "What brought this on? Why do you think you'll disappoint me?"

"If you can't feel pain or hot or cold, can you feel pleasure?" She didn't look at him as she said it.

"You mean if you kiss me or touch me, how do I know it's intended for pleasure and not for pain? If I can tell hot from cold but they don't affect me differently, will different touches from you affect me differently?"

"Something like that."

"I think part of it's in the way you touch me -- or will touch me," he said thoughtfully. "A light touch feels different than a firm touch."

"Can you get goosebumps?"

"Yeah. Why?"

"Well, I get goosebumps when you rub my shoulder or arm lightly sometimes. I just wondered if you can get them."

He reached over and pulled her closer to him. "I don't think it's going to be a problem. Remember our wedding night?"

She nodded.

"I can definitely feel pleasure." He played with the hair at her temple with one hand. "I feel breathless when I dance with you. I feel whole when I hold you at night. I feel safe the times you hold me in your arms. I feel loved when I hold you like I was earlier because that's when you seem to trust me the most and when we have some of our best talks. And I have absolutely no doubt that making love with you will feel amazing."

"Do you really mean that?" she asked quietly.

He kissed the side of her head. "Oh, yeah."

***

December 1988

>>>Clark moved behind Lois and wrapped his arms around her. "Good morning, beautiful." He kissed the side of her head. "Merry Christmas."

"Merry Christmas, handsome." She looked into his eyes in the mirror. She turned easily in his arms so she could look directly at him and slowly ran her hands up his arms until they met at the back of his neck. "Are you my Christmas present?" She leaned up and kissed him slowly, deeply.

"If you want me to be," he mumbled between kisses as she pushed him gently backwards with her body, stopping when he hit the bed only to tumble onto it, taking her with him. He quickly rolled them so that his body was stretched out next to hers, kissing her as he did. One hand tangled in her hair.

"Clark."

"Hmmm?"

"Clark."

"What, baby?"<<<

"Clark!"

His eyes opened to find Lois propped up on one arm staring at him. "What?"

"It's time to get up, sleepyhead." She smiled. "You look like you were having a nice dream, though. And you called me 'baby'."

He wrapped an arm around her and pulled her close to him in the bed they shared when they visited Metropolis. "Is it so bad that I want to stay in bed with my wife for a little while longer? I finally got the warm spot warmed up just right and it's comfortable here."

She snuggled down in next to him. "You're right. It's finally perfect here, but I can hear Perry up stomping around. And Jimmy and Lucy are here and it's Christmas morning."

"Merry Christmas," he said, kissing her head.

"Merry Christmas."

"Can't we stay here until they come make us get up?" he groused. "Seriously. We can claim jetlag."

"We've been here for three days already," Lois laughed.

"But I had to ride in one of those metal tubes again," he whined. "I'm having some sort of delayed stress reaction and it can only be cured by lounging in bed with my wife for a little while longer."

"They'll think we're doing more than lounging, Clark," she finally said.

"So? We're married. Let them."

"Want to tell me what you were dreaming about?"

Clark turned red. "You don't want to know."

"Yes, I do."

He sighed. "Fine. It was Christmas morning and we were making out."

"Is that all we were doing?"

"I don't know. You woke me up." He pouted a bit. "I didn't get to find out."

"You are nothing but a big kid, you know that?" Lois asked laughing amazed at how far their relationship had come in the last few months. The night she'd read his mom's letter had been a turning point of sorts. She didn't worry about Clark taking things too far, but she'd been more comfortable being with him like this -- little touches and flirting a bit -- and knowing that he wouldn't take anything the wrong way; that he wouldn't make any moves without her explicit approval. It was allowing them to begin to explore the romantic side of their relationship just a bit without any pressure.

"It's Christmas. Everyone's supposed to be a kid."

Lois laughed again. "Well, I guess you can be excused for a little while."

"Can we stay here until they make us get up?" he asked, pulling her a little closer.

A bang on the door was the answer. "Come on, kids. Jimmy's about to go crazy if he's not allowed to go downstairs soon."

Lois hid her face against Clark to smother her laughter at that. Clark just laughed. "We'll be out in a few minutes, Perry."

They heard him grumbling about uppity travel reporters as he walked off.

Lois sighed and rested her head against Clark's chest. "At least it's Christmas, which means we get to wear our pajamas all day unless we go somewhere."

That was one Lane tradition that had stuck. When they were growing up, Lois and Lucy -- and even their parents -- had stayed in their pajamas all day on Christmas unless they were having company or going out. Jimmy had started spending at least part of Christmas with them that first year and loved the idea. Perry and Alice had too when they were talking about spending this Christmas together -- the first one the six of them had spent together since forming their own family.

"That's true. And since you don't have to change clothes, and I can be dressed and have your slippers on you in about two and a half seconds, we can stay here for a few more minutes before we have to get up."

Lois ran a hand through his hair. "You might want to do something about that bed head though, Captain Hairdo."

Clark mumbled something about how his hair should be invulnerable, too, and Lois just laughed.

There was more pounding on the door. "Come on, guys!" Jimmy was whining. "It's Christmas morning!"

"And you're old enough to know that presents don't change just because you sleep in," Clark growled at him.

"Yours might," their young friend mumbled. "If you don't hurry," he said a bit louder.

Lois laughed. "Fine! We're getting up. We'll be right there."

"Good!" Jimmy called.

"Spoilsport," Clark mumbled into her hair.

Neither moved for a minute, then Lois sighed. "Okay, do your whole get dressed and find my slippers in seconds thing, would you?"

"Two and a half," Clark said without moving. "You know, I think that if we had been... you know... making love on a regular basis while we lived on Clinton, Jimmy would have interrupted us at least half the time."

"Probably. He probably thinks he's interrupting something right now."

"He is, just not what he thinks he is. He's interrupting what was shaping up to be a very nice morning in bed with nothing to do."

Lois laughed. "How about we find some little bed and breakfast somewhere that caters to couples who never want to leave their room and we stay there? They'll bring us breakfast in bed and we'll make sure it has a TV and a VCR and a wide movie selection and we'll spend all day in bed one day. You can even eat popcorn in bed because we can spill a soda all over the sheets so they'll have to be changed and I won't have to sleep on popcorn crumbs. And they'll bring us lunch and dinner and it'll be a nice enough place that we'll have our own hot tub or Jacuzzi or something in case we want to relax somewhere else."

Clark turned serious. "That sounds like an awfully romantic getaway -- the two of us spending all day in bed together."

Lois shrugged. "We've gone to other romantic places and written about them just fine."

Clark kissed her forehead. "Then it sounds like a great idea to me. Maybe we can find a place in Vermont or something while we're here."

"Guys!" Jimmy pounded on the door again.

"I swear, he's worse than Lucy was when we were kids," Lois grumbled then waved a hand. "Two and a half seconds."

Three seconds later, Clark opened the door.

***

Chapter 38

Lois and Clark sat in the oversized chaise as the credits for "Sound of Music" began to roll. The new White-Lane-Kent-Olsen family tradition was: stay in pajamas all day, use Clark's powers to make breakfast and Christmas dinner because he could have it done in minutes and no one had to slave over the stove all day, and, after presents were opened, watch movies. Lucy was a bit better cook than she had been when she moved in with Lois and Clark, but still had no desire to make Christmas dinner for everyone. Lois was hopeless in the kitchen and Alice loved Christmas dinner but hated making it. Jimmy and Perry were the same way. Clark didn't mind doing it -- and was capable of it -- so everyone was happy.

Lois had picked "Miracle on 34th Street" and Lucy had picked "It's a Wonderful Life". Alice had gone with "Sound of Music" and now it was Clark's turn to pick.

"'Die Hard' coming right up!" Jimmy said gleefully. "No more of this sissy stuff."

Lucy groaned. "Do we have to?"

"Now, darlin', we all watched the sappy stuff you guys picked, so turnabout's fair play, Perry told her.

"Fine." Lucy went to refill her hot chocolate. "I really want to hear more about Venice though."

"We have a week before we go back, Luce," Lois reminded her. "Besides, it's Bruce Willis without his shirt on for half the movie."

"Mmmm, good point."

"HEY!" Clark and Jimmy exclaimed at the same time.

Lois patted Clark's chest. "Relax." She looked at Jimmy. "Both of you. We're not going anywhere."

"And actually... about that week thing..." Clark started, then picked an envelope up from the side table where it had been hiding under a book. "After what we talked about this morning, I made a call."

Lois gave him a puzzled look, but opened the envelope. "A week at Chateau Roberge. Kinsington, New Troy. January 2nd -- 9th. What's this?"

"Well, we're here until January 2nd. We don't have anything planned until the 12th in Paris -- we were just going to start exploring the area, but nothing concrete. You mentioned a couple weeks ago that you hadn't been skiing in years; combine that with what we talked about this morning, and I thought I'd give them a call."

"Chateau Roberge is supposed to be an ultra-exclusive hideaway for the rich and famous. How'd you get us in?"

"Well, we sort of fall into the rich category, but I got a letter from them last month offering us a stay sometime. Apparently, their head PR guy is a 'Travel the Planet with Lane and Kent' fan, so we're famous, too. I called up there and he happened to be in -- something about a country singer needing the right kind of Skittles or something -- so... He's got us in a really nice suite that week, if you want to. I told him I'd have to double check with you first, but he said that skiing, room service, whatever else we want, *everything* is on the house. Provided we write it up, of course."

"Do we want to know what you talked about this morning?" Lucy asked warily.

Perry and Alice exchanged a glance.

"Just that it would be really nice to get to sleep in as late as we wanted without *some* people banging on the door." Lois glared at Jimmy.

"Don't you guys get to sleep in whenever you want? I mean, you're *travel* writers who are *traveling*. You don't have to be at story meetings or anything else. Must be the life," Jimmy said.

Clark laughed. "It's not quite like that. If we're out late at a club or restaurant or something, we might sleep in, but we're usually out the door no later than nine or so most days."

Lois nodded. "Even though we're travel correspondents, we do have a minimum contract with the Daily Planet on how much we have to provide every month. Some months we provide a lot more and other months a little less -- like when we moved from Athens to Paris and then took a week off for Christmas, so it's not like we just work as little as we want. And we do lots of stuff that doesn't get written up. Mostly, we only write up the good stuff so we do lots of things that aren't good enough to make it into the paper. It's a good life, don't get me wrong, but we don't sleep in very often. So, yes, sleeping as late as we want would be really nice."

Just then the previews were over and they turned their attention back to the television.

***

"I do have something else for you," Clark said as he sat on the edge of the bed.

Lois was already sitting under the covers, looking at one of the books she'd received. She looked up at him. "Something else? Clark, you've already done too much. I mean, I know Chateau Roberge was just a phone call, but still..."

He smiled at her. "This one was easy and very inexpensive." He pulled another envelope out of the suitcase. He stared at it, fingering the corner as he spoke. "I've been debating about giving this to you for a few weeks now." He handed it to her. "Open it and then let me explain before you decide how to react, okay?"

Lois nodded and took it from him. She slipped a finger under the flap and pried off the sticker that held it closed. She took a slip of paper out and read it slowly to herself and then out loud. "This coupon good for one date with your husband, anywhere in the world, on any date of your choosing." She continued to stare at it, not sure what to think.

"There's no pressure or anything of the kind," he hurried to reassure her. "I wanted to give you a way to let me know that you're ready for me to ask you out without the additional pressure of having to bring it up in conversation or anything else. Whenever you're ready -- and I know that could be a while -- just leave it somewhere you know I'll find it and it couldn't be by accident. So if I'm looking for something in your nightstand and see it, I won't take that as a sign. If I find it taped to the bathroom mirror... That's different. Once I find it, within twenty-four hours, I'll ask you out on our first real, proper date. That way you know it's coming but don't have to wonder for days or whatever. Unless I get called off to a volcano or something of course."

He reached for her hand. "Things have been so much better between us lately -- like this morning. Six months ago, there's no way we could have talked about spending all day in bed together -- even if it is for nothing more risqué than a movie marathon. I'm enjoying where we are now. We're friends. We can flirt a little bit and I enjoy the touching and all of that and I know you wouldn't be like that if you thought I would get the wrong idea and I'm not; I won't. I love that we're getting more comfortable with each other and I don't want to ruin that by pushing you, but I also get the feeling that maybe you're getting closer to that place and I wanted to give you some way to let me know when you're ready for that without making it any harder for you."

He continued to stare at their hands as he took a deep breath. "And I'll tell you right now, so there's absolutely no expectations or pressure of any kind, I'm not going to kiss you on that first date. I don't want to finally get there and be out for dinner and dancing or whatever and have you be concentrating so much on the end of the date and freaking out because I might or might not kiss you or whatever that you can't enjoy the date itself. So please, don't read any more into this than there is. There's no pressure or anything of the kind."

Lois smiled as she stared at the slip of paper. "You've said that like twelve times now."

He smiled back at her. "I wanted to make sure I got that point across."

"Well, you did. And thank you. I have wondered how I would manage to start that conversation when I'm ready. This alleviates that concern."

Clark shifted so he was sitting next to her. "That was the point."

She rubbed his hand absently with her thumb. "I know you won't take this the wrong way, but what if we go on this date and we get back to the apartment or here or wherever we're staying and I want you to kiss me?"

"Not going to happen."

"Why not? We're standing there and I want you to kiss me. Why won't you?"

"Because I don't want that or any other decision about our romantic, physical relationship to be made on the spur of the moment; in the heat of a moment. I want us to have clearly defined boundaries that you're comfortable with, that you're free to move back at any time, but that can only be moved further after we talk about it when we're not in the middle of a make out session or whatever."

Lois nodded slowly. "I like that idea, but I want to make sure I have it clear in my head, even though it'll be a while. If I understand what you're saying, then I won't obsess over it. Maybe."

Clark laughed. "That's what I was hoping for. That you wouldn't obsess."

She smiled back at him. "Scenario one: We've gone out a few times. I've told you that I'll give you some sort of signal if I want you to kiss me -- like touching your face a certain way or something."

Clark nodded.

"I invite you in for coffee and I touch your face. You kiss me. We keep kissing for a few minutes. I'm really enjoying it so I try to pull you down on top of me on the couch. Technically, we're still just kissing but..."

Clark tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "I take a deep breath, get up, tell you I had a good time, I'll call you and walk away. If we haven't discussed something like that, I don't want you -- or me -- to get carried away and do something that one or both of us will regret because you're not ready."

"Okay. Scenario two: We've been dating a while longer. We've agreed that horizontal kissing is okay, but no wandering hands or anything like that. We're sitting on the couch. You kiss me. We've said it's okay. We've done it on our last couple of dates. You push me back on the couch and I suddenly decide that it's not okay -- for whatever reason. Flashback, panic attack, just not comfortable with it because I've had a bad day or whatever. Then what?"

"You tell me to stop and I do. No hard feelings, no pressure to do anything you're not comfortable with just because we've done it before. I mean it when I say I'm not going to pressure you into something you're not comfortable with just because one or both of us got carried away."

Lois nodded. "Thank you. You don't know how much that means to me."

Clark just kissed the side of her head.

"One more. Scenario three: I've decided that I'm ready to take that final step. Maybe we've been dating for a while, maybe not, but for whatever reason, I've decided that I really do want to make love to you. But I don't want to talk it to death or talk about it on Monday but our next date's not till Friday because we have Planet stuff the next few nights but if we know it's coming on Friday -- or could be coming on Friday -- those days could be awkward and then get to Friday and the anticipation has totally psyched me out."

Clark winced. "That doesn't sound like a good scenario for either of us."

"That's not to say we won't talk about it at all when we get closer to that point -- I think we will and we should -- but I don't want to *have* to say something like 'Okay, Clark, I know it's Monday but I've decided that after Friday's date we'll have sex for the first time'. The week could be awkward and what if we get to Friday and I've got a headache -- a real one not a 'to get out of sex' headache -- but I don't want you to know because I feel obligated to go through with it then..."

Clark nodded before saying slowly, "But that week could be like anticipating your wedding night. It wouldn't have to be awkward, but like waiting for Christmas or your birthday or something -- you know it's coming but waiting isn't necessarily a bad thing."

"That's possible, but let's say I've decided I'm ready, but don't want to talk about it -- for whatever reason. Maybe it's a sort of spur of the moment thing or something. Or something I've been thinking about for a while, but that 'tonight's the night' snuck up on me. How can I show you that without you misreading it accidentally? Like I mentioned some sort of signal that I want you to kiss me. Something like that. Something that clearly indicates I've thought about it and I'm ready for it, but I didn't want to talk it to death before hand."

Clark nodded. "I see what you mean." He thought for a minute. "The most obvious answer is whatever Aunt Louise gave you."

She nodded her agreement. "Okay. That's plan one. But let's take a for instance... we're at a resort somewhere. I didn't bring it with me because I wasn't planning this, but suddenly, somehow I knew that this was the night. I can't just tell you to run back to get it."

Clark thought about that. "Just out of curiosity, do you even have it with you in Paris? I mean, I really don't expect you to, because we're obviously not to that point yet but..."

She shook her head. "No. It's not in Paris."

"Okay then. It's still here in Metropolis then. At least that's my guess."

Lois nodded.

"Okay, so whatever Aunt Louise gave you is here in Metropolis, but you've decided that you're ready?"

"Yeah."

A slow grin spread across Clark's face. "Well, if that isn't available and you want to give me some kind of signal that you're ready to make love with me, you could always put on one of my dress shirts. Believe me; that would do it."

"And you won't have Lana flashbacks?"

Clark chuckled. "Honey, trust me. If I come home one night or we get back from a date and you tell me to have a seat while you freshen up and then I see you wearing one of my dress shirts... Lana will be the absolute *last* thing on my mind."

"Okay. So Aunt Louise's nightgown or a dress shirt. Got it."

"That also means no dress shirts unless you mean it," he said with mock severity. "Not that I know why you might be walking around in one of my dress shirts for any other reason but..."

Lois laughed. "No dress shirts unless I'm ready for you to take it off of me. Got it."

Clark got up to pull the covers back and climbed under them. "Now, let's see if we can find that warm, comfy spot Jimmy made us leave this morning."

***

January 1989

"Happy Anniversary." Clark held up his glass of wine. "And now, you're officially old enough to have this here."

Lois laughed and raised her glass. "Happy Anniversary."

"I didn't get to propose a toast to you at our wedding, so I'm going to tonight, okay?"

Lois nodded.

They were seated in the extremely upscale dining room at Chateau Roberge. She wore the black dress Clark loved and he was in his tux. She knew they would be dancing before long.

He swirled the wine around in his glass. "The last four years haven't been easy for either one of us. The first half of last year was a nightmare and the fallout from that was no picnic, but it was a catalyst that brought us closer together and has us moving in the right direction. Here's to another year with the most beautiful woman in the world as my wife; to a year for us to continue to build our relationship; to a year for us to continue to learn to love each other." He paused.

Lois continued softly. "To a year without people trying to tear us apart, both individually and as a couple; to a year of continued prosperity so we never have to eat Ramen noodles again; to a year that will hold our first date." She couldn't quite look him in the eye as she continued. "To a year that, I hope, will see us make love for the first time."

Clark reached across the table and lifted her chin with a finger. "I hope it is too, but just because you say that here, tonight, doesn't mean it has to happen."

"I know. But I want it to. I want to be able to go somewhere for our fifth anniversary and do something besides sleep or have a movie marathon in the bed. I'm not ready for that now, but I want to be before this time next year."

"I know. And if you are, believe me, I will be the happiest guy alive. But if you're not, I'll still be the happiest guy around, because I have you with me." He raised his glass again. "To us."

She sm