Nightmares

By bakasi <bakasi_dick@hotmail.com>

Rated PG

Submitted October 2008

Summary: When Clark saves a woman from a thug, he certainly doesn't anticipate the nightmare he is going to face afterward. But not only is he stuck in a nightmare, Lois, who has finally worked up her courage to tell Clark that she loves him, has drawn some wrong conclusions. Unfortunately, they add up to a nightmare that she cannot wake up from.

***

"Um, see you tomorrow, Clark," Lois said a little awkwardly.

She could feel that she was blushing and she cursed herself for being so stupid. It hadn't been easy to make her passing by look casual. Lois wondered why she just didn't have the guts to walk up to him and say goodbye. This shouldn't be a problem. It had never been. Instead, she pretended to be busy somewhere on the other side of the newsroom for no other reason than to come back to Clark. She absolutely didn't need any new pencils. There were more than enough of them stored in her desk. And it was no use standing by the printer, particularly not when she hadn't sent anything to it.

Her behavior was stupid, girlish and in no way suitable for a business woman like herself. But her heart told her otherwise. It beat madly for the brief moment it took Clark to look up. The smile on his face increased her heart rate even more. She couldn't help but to think of Christmas Eve, the first they had spent with each other. Since that wonderful evening, she knew that she could no longer claim that Clark's friendship was all she wanted.

"You're behaving like a teenager," Lois mocked herself silently, while she was drowning in her partner's brown eyes.

"Good night, Lois," Clark replied gently, warmly.

"Good night, Clark." The sound of his voice reminded Lois of that night in the Honeymoon Suite. She had been so unkind that evening and yet he had been patient with her and gentle, just as he was now. She would never again behave so badly in his presence, Lois thought self-consciously. "You could call it a day as well," she suggested, not sure what she was expecting to happen then. Suddenly the idea of him walking her home seemed so very appealing.

His smile faded and he looked at her, guiltily. "I'm sorry, Lois. I'm afraid this can't wait until tomorrow. I need to finish these articles or Perry will kill me." He vaguely gestured at the huge pile of papers on his desk and had the decency to blush.

"I guess you returned too many books this week," Lois replied with a wry smile. She wanted to make sure he understood that she didn't believe in his stupid excuses anymore, if she ever had.

"You may be right," Clark agreed uncomfortably. "I'd really like to walk you home, Lois. But unfortunately..." he said and meaningfully glanced at the pile beside him. "....I can't", he finished his sentence and judging from his expression, he was cursing himself.

"See you tomorrow, then," Lois mumbled and tried to hide her disappointment, maybe a little too successfully. He didn't tell her what was going on and why he kept disappearing all of the time. Lois would have liked to turn her back on him, thinking that he didn't deserve her friendship. But would Clark suffer from being alone like she would? Maybe it was true what he had told her a couple of month ago. Maybe Clark didn't love her.

***

"See you tomorrow," Clark replied dejectedly.

He sadly watched her as she turned around, making her way through the almost deserted newsroom. She didn't look back at him; she just moved on, and stepped into the elevator that seemed to have waited for her. It was another one of those goodbyes that held no promise of change. Sometimes Clark thought that his life would just continue to be like this. He would greet Lois in the morning and say good bye to her in the evenings. His secret identity would always keep him from getting more than that. Was he really willing to give up on his dreams just to save a few cats in trees?

Clark sighed, staring at the elevator's doors as they closed behind Lois. For a moment he listened in on her heartbeat, waiting until the elevator had made its way down to the first floor. He heard a soft ping as the doors opened again and then the staccato sound of her shoes as she left the building.

"Good night, Lois," Clark whispered into the silence of the newsroom before he forced his attention back on his work.

He was alone, not even Perry was working anymore. Partially, this was a good thing because he really needed to cheat a little in order to get his work done. Lois had been right, he had indeed returned way too many books. This was going to take him a long time, despite his special powers. With another sigh, Clark started typing, stopping only now and then to keep the keyboard from starting to smoke.

An hour later, Clark was still flipping through papers and writing down notes. His eyes were getting weary and so was the rest of him, but at least the pile of work didn't seem so threatening anymore. It wasn't going to be long until he would be able to call it a day as well. For a moment he allowed himself to lean back in his chair and close his eyes for a moment. He heard someone approach in a quick pace.

Startled, Clark opened his eyes and listened more carefully. Steps at this time of night were highly unusual and instantly reminded Clark of the thugs who had searched for Dragonetti's money. The sound of steps approached and then stood still. A soft tingle was audible as the elevator's doors closed. It didn't take long before Clark heard another soft ping. He switched off the lamp on his desk. Holding his breath, he hid in a corner of the newsroom.

***

Lois shrugged her coat off as she closed the door behind her. Heavily, she leaned against it and closed her eyes, fighting the pain that being alone in her apartment caused her. She hadn't exactly hurried to get there. On her way home she must have been in at least six stores, leaving each of them without having bought anything. She was behaving strangely, no doubt about that. Usually, she didn't need that much time to decide whether she was going to take comfort in some chocolate ice cream or a romantic movie. Even fewer were the times she returned without any consolation at all.

Things had become so difficult between them since Clark had almost died. Well, difficult wasn't the right word to describe it, but for the lack of a better one it had to do. It had all started with the realization that she was in love with Clark, deeply and hopelessly in love with him. It was so like her that she had to find out such a thing in the worst moment imaginable, when she was going to marry another man. Of course she could be grateful that it had been before she had actually said her wedding vows.

But unfortunately, Clark told her that he hadn't been honest with her when he had declared his love. Lois thought that she would be able to live with it, that she liked her life with Clark the way it was. Friendship was great and most definitely enough for her, or so she had thought.

Clark's reputed death, however, had changed her mind. It had been worse than anything else she had ever experienced. Not even her parent's divorce had made her feel as if she was going to die. Losing Clark did. And now, even the thought of being rejected by him was almost killing her. She deeply regretted that she had ever rejected Clark, even though his words had been a lie, spoken in desperate times.

"Stop wallowing," Lois admonished herself aloud. "This isn't going to get you anywhere."

She looked at her phone. Should she call him, tell him how she felt about him? Maybe this was all just a huge misunderstanding and he really did love her. But the last week had been more like an indication that he was afraid of her, afraid that she might declare her love or anything along those lines. Why else would he be running off to return so many books, or whatever it was he was actually doing?

Lois turned around, mechanically locking her door firmly, checking each of the five locks. Then she picked up her coat and started to do all the things she usually did in the evening. Clark wasn't going to destroy her life just because he might not feel the same way about her. She needed to keep a clear head if she didn't want to go insane. Maybe a hot bath would help her. And afterwards she would decide what she was going to do about her feelings. However, she needed to talk to Clark like an adult.

***

He knew that this time nothing was going to happen if the Planet was abandoned but for him. Nothing was going to happen that he couldn't prevent easily. Yet he had decided to hide from whoever was approaching. He didn't know why he hadn't checked out whoever it was earlier. Now it was too late, he had rushed into a corner of the room, holding his breath until the elevator's door opened.

A long leg appeared, followed by another long leg. For a moment Clark's heart started to race as he thought that Lois had come back to him. But the legs were very long and the skirt above them extremely short. Clark stared at the woman, thunderstruck.

"Cat?" he exclaimed and stood up.

She squealed and almost stumbled, before catching herself. "Clark?" she said breathlessly, her voice trembling with shock. "Don't scare me like that!" she complained.

"I'm sorry. I was kind of shocked when I heard someone use the elevator." He hadn't been afraid, but Cat didn't need to know that. "What are you doing here?"

He hadn't seen her for weeks. Perry had told them that Mr. Stern hadn't been willing to continue Cat's column. Instead, he had offered her work in Paris. Writing about fashion had been appealing to Cat. Despite her strange taste in clothing, she really had a knack for writing those articles. They were better than her column had ever been.

"I was invited to write about the Metropolis fashion week," Cat said. "There is some background information that I left here. I just wanted to fetch it."

"In the middle of the night?" Clark asked, surprised.

"I could ask you the same,"Cat replied. A smile lit up her face, but in the darkness Clark could discern it only vaguely. He switched on the lights again.

"I need to get some work done," Clark conceded and shrugged, gesturing towards the heap of folders that covered his desk.

"Ahh, I see," Cat smirked and than gave him a sympathetic glance. "You still lack time for the pleasant parts of life. Why don't you stop working and the two of us could share a bottle of champagne in my hotel room," she whispered seductively, leaning towards him.

"Come on, Cat, you know I won't," Clark reached for her arms before she could place them on his shoulders.

"Oh, Clark, can't a girl try to seduce you?" she pouted. "After all, you could have changed your mind about..."

"I haven't," Clark stated, not exactly angry about Cat's new attempt to make him spend the night with her. They both knew very well that it was never going to happen. Neither of them were actually interested. "So why don't you fetch whatever it is that you need," he suggested good-naturedly, "and I'll get back to work."

Cat looked at him in pretended anger and threw her head back. "You're such a killjoy! You don't know what you're going to miss," she said. She left him, hips swaying.

Clark chuckled as he saw her little show and turned his attention back to his work. He was tired, although Cat had somehow livened up his spirits. Before he started typing again, he made sure that she wasn't watching him. The last thing he needed was Cat finding out about his secret. He could very well imagine that this would make her the new star in the gossip heaven.

Not so much later, Cat reappeared with a few folders. She said good night to Clark and left the newsroom. Clark sighed with relief, not really sure why he did it exactly. He hadn't been prepared for meeting Cat of all people. That was one reason, though it was sort of a late reaction to the fact that it had been only her to come here in the middle of the night. The other reason was that he liked being alone when using his powers as Clark Kent. He wondered whether he was also afraid of being tempted by her constant offers, though he had never actually found her attractive. But who knew if constant dripping couldn't wear away the stone, particularly while Lois continued to ignore him.

With another sigh, he leaned back in his chair, glad that he had finished his last article. Rubbing his eyes, he decided that he deserved a few hours of sleep before he faced a new day filled with catastrophes and attempts to make Lois see Clark. He turned off his computer and cleared his desk. A little later he left the newsroom, grateful that he could finally head home.

***

Clark left the Daily Planet and went down the street. Despite the late hour, the area wasn't deserted yet. People were running around hastily. Some of them were certainly on their way home, just like him. Some were standing at the side of the street, waiting for a taxi to appear. This city never really went to sleep. He hoped it would stay relatively calm, though. The week had been rough and he wouldn't mind a few hours to relax.

Suddenly, Clark heard a woman whimper. "No, please," she pleaded.

She sounded scared. Clark's heart started beating madly in his chest. Without hesitating, Clark hurried toward her, secretly wishing that he was already with her. More anxious cries were heard, and Clark automatically looked around, carefully checking if he could change into Superman. But he didn't see a place to hide, and too many people were staring in his direction. They must have heard the woman in danger, because most people around were getting slower, trying to locate the source of the desperate cries. So why was nobody trying to help her? Instead they were only making his job more difficult, Clark thought grimly and rushed on.

"No!" the distress in her tone indicated that he didn't have time to wait for the right moment.

Clark could hear her panting, could almost smell the sweat covering her forehead. She needed his help now and it really wasn't important that Superman was her savior. It only took a few more steps for Clark to make it around the corner. His heart clenched in sympathy for the poor woman as he saw what he had only heard before. Despite the darkness, Clark could discern a tall, broad-shouldered thug, who was pressing her against the brick wall. He was wearing a leather jacket that made him look even more dangerous than his wild mane of hair already did. Suddenly, Clark saw the blade of a knife dangerously close to the woman's neck as the light of a street lamp reflected in the cold metal.

"Let go of her," he shouted angrily, approaching the thug, who just ignored him.

Clark did his best to look somewhat more impressive than usual. At the same time, he cautioned himself not to let his anger take control. Remaining calm was always difficult for him in situations like these, because he knew that hard as he might try, he couldn't spare the poor women the moments of sheer panic. But no matter how cruelly he would punish the villain, this wasn't going to change. Besides, he couldn't risk hurting the woman.

"Let go of her or you'll regret it," he threatened again, cursing his suit and tie, which made him look as dangerous as a puppy.

"And what do you think you can do?" the thug laughed, playing with his knife, showing Clark that he was armed. It was obvious that the man was drunk, which wasn't an excuse, not in Clark's regard anyway. "You better run as fast you can, before it's you feeling my knife. Back off!" the thug spat as Clark closed in on him. "I'm just trying to have a little fun with the gal."

It sickened Clark as he saw the blade come closer to the woman's neck. She winced in fear and closed her eyes, bracing herself for what was going to come. It was all the encouragement Clark needed.

The knife made a metallic sound as it hit the ground. The thug growled, beginning to realize that he had been knocked over. A large figure wrestled him, held him down to the ground easily. It was an unfair fight between the dark guy in the leather jacket and the man, who'd pretended to be Mr. Goody-two shoes only a moment ago. The thug didn't feel like laughing anymore. Instead he tried to free himself. His elbow landed in the other man's stomach. A dreadful cry of pain was audible, and the thug would have thought that he had landed a good punch, if it hadn't been for his elbow hurting like hell. He whimpered, struggling to get away from the man who held him in a steely grip. But it was no use.

Suddenly there were sirens, and soon Clark could see the lights of approaching police cars. He looked over to the woman. Her pale face became visible as the lights flashed periodically. She was standing there, sagging against the wall. Her breath came in gasps, her legs shaking violently, but bravely she managed to remain upright. His heart missed a beat as he recognized her. It was Cat. Her face reflected the same surprise he was feeling. She mouthed his name, her eyes wide open with disbelief.

"Hands up!" someone yelled. Clark looked up, surprised and saw several police officers approach. They had their weapons pointed at him. "Get over to the wall, slowly," one of the officers ordered.

"Officer, he saved me," Cat said between body shaking sobs. She really sounded distressed, a state Clark had never seen her in. She was the ever-smiling woman who never took anything seriously. She nodded towards the thug who was still lying on the ground. "He attacked me. If hadn't it been for Mr. Kent, I..." her voice trailed off.

"Okay, then." the police officer lowered his weapon. "Thank you, sir. We'll handle this now." The officer flashed a small smile at Clark, obviously in an attempt to apologize.

Clark let go off the thug and stood up. He didn't really know what to do now. Had he been Superman it would have been simple. He'd probably say good-bye to everyone, nodding at them, and then he would fly away. But he wasn't used to saving people as Clark. He approached Cat, feeling awkward. Maybe it was Cat who made him feel so uncomfortable, he mused uneasily. He had never really known how to address her.

"Are you okay, Cat? Did he hurt you?" he asked cautiously.

Despite the darkness, he could see how pale she was. She was shaking like a leaf and had her arms wrapped around herself protectively. He had never seen her so afraid and so lost. Cat wasn't the woman he had ever expected to appear so vulnerable, and yet she was. It tore at Clark's heart. Suddenly, he held her in a firm embrace, caressing her back soothingly. He didn't know if she had fled into his embrace or if it had been him making the first step. But that wasn't important.

While he held Cat, Clark watched the officers as they arrested the thug. He knew that Cat would have to tell them what happened, but maybe he could ask them to postpone the interrogation until the shock wore off. Clark was grateful he had come in time before anything worse could happen.

When one of the officers asked how Cat was, she still hadn't said a word. She was leaning against his shoulder, sobbing and dampening Clark's coat with her tears.

"I don't think she's injured," Clark replied instead of Cat. "But I don't think she'll be able to answer any of your questions."

"But we need your statements," the officer said. "Without them, we can't arrest the man for more than twenty four hours."

Clark's mind raced and he hoped that he could think of something that would help both Cat and the police. But before he could say anything, Cat harrumphed. Her voice was low, barely audible and it cracked as she spoke.

"You'll get your statement, officer."

***

"Clark, I...." Cat swallowed hard as Clark gave her a gentle prod past his front door. "You... you don't need to do that. I mean, this is very kind of you, but..." She looked at him and gulped before staring at the floor uneasily.

"Cat, you told me that you would rather not spend this night alone in your hotel room and that's perfectly normal," Clark replied patiently. "I guess if places were reversed, I wouldn't like to stay alone either. So, if you don't feel bad about staying with me tonight, please be my guest."

Cat looked at him gratefully and nodded. A faint smile appeared on her lips, but she was smiling nevertheless. It was the first time since Clark had seen her leave the newsroom. Self-consciously, she went down the flight of stairs and nervously pulled at her short skirt in a futile attempt to make it a little longer. Cat seemed so lost in his living room. It was scary, because his former colleague had been the last person he had expected to stare back at him with those haunted eyes.

It was getting really late. Clark noticed that his weariness was catching up with him again. When he had hurried to help Cat, he had been wide-awake and the rush of adrenaline had also helped him in the police station. But now it was clearly fading, and he remembered that he hadn't gotten much sleep throughout the last couple of days. But watching Cat told him that it would take some time until he could think about getting rest. Like a caged tiger she was pacing through his living room, fumbling with her skirt. It started to make Clark nervous.

Suddenly she stopped. "You...eh...do you have...uh..." she didn't need to finish her sentence. Clark could see that she was feeling uncomfortable in her sexy clothes. The obscene threats of the thug had obviously taken their toll on her.

"Of course. Give me a moment to look for clothes that might fit you," Clark said, automatically thinking back to the evening he had spent at Cat's place. It had surprised him that Cat's interpretation of changing into something more comfortable didn't necessarily mean she would return wearing a negligee. He had liked the way she had looked then.

"I... thank you, Clark... I don't think I deserve your kindness." She said, her hands pressed against the hemline of her skirt. Her gaze wandered through the room, looking at everything, but avoiding Clark. "I mean, I didn't always treat you respectfully… for example when you lost your memory, or earlier today..." Remorse was written all over her face. The Cat Clark knew was hardly recognizable. She was obviously shaken to the bone.

"Let's forget about that, Cat. Would you like to take a long, hot shower to relax a bit?" Clark suggested, relieved when he saw her nodding affirmatively. "I'll go and see what I what I can find in my closet. I'll lay the clothes in front of the door of my bathroom. And I promise you, I won't peek." He grinned whimsically.

A small smile appeared on Cat's lips. "I guess, I can trust you with this," she murmured, and the tone of her voice reminded him a bit of her former salaciousness.

Clark returned her smile and invitingly waved toward his bathroom. Then, he made his way towards his bedroom. He wondered if his closet would contain anything a woman like Cat could wear. But that wasn't his only problem. There was also the yet unsolved question of where Cat would sleep tonight. To offer her his bed would be the decent thing, but the way to his bathroom would lead Cat through his living room. What would happen if he floated in his sleep, or if Cat saw him floating, more precisely?

But before he could find a solution, someone rang the door bell. A little confused, Clark looked at his clock. It was way past midnight. Who wanted to see him so late, or rather, so early in the morning? He lowered his glasses and was about to take a peek, when he remembered that he had a visitor. Given the circumstances, using his x-ray vision probably wasn't the best idea. Shaking his head, he set his glasses back in place and went to open the door.

He should have known it. When someone started to knock at his door impatiently and with certain perseverance, it became obvious that his late visitor could only be Lois. The slender silhouette in front of his door and briefly thereafter, the raving beauty herself only confirmed his suspicion.

"You're still awake?" Lois asked needlessly. Clark shook his head. Even if he had been asleep, he would have awakened from the noise Lois had caused.

"Hi, Lois!" he greeted his partner and wondered what she had in mind. Would she finally start to ask for his company before she risked her life once again?

***

Shaking violently, Lois stood in front of Clark's door and wondered what she had been thinking. Not even the sight of her partner's well defined chest would have sufficed to make her warm. Suffering from a sudden attack of mental derangement, Lois hadn't dressed warm enough, that was certain. Clark looked at her, curiously and a little surprised. It took him a moment to step aside and let her in.

"Clark, I..." Lois struggled with herself. The courage she had gathered to come here in the first place vanished as soon as she stepped into his apartment.

"Any interesting leads waiting for you, Lois?" Clark offered, and Lois would have liked to accept his excuse rather than say what she actually wanted to say. The declaration of love she had carefully prepared on her way to Clark's place just wasn't as simple to say as she had ludicrously hoped it would be. But she couldn't think of an investigation that couldn't have waited until tomorrow. She was trapped.

"Eh..." she said eloquently; she harrumphed, hoping for the lump in her throat to miraculously disappear. "Clark, I... I know it's late, and I guess that you want to sleep rather than... What about those articles of yours? I...I wasn't busy, and I thought that maybe I could help you, so..."

This was so bad! Lois couldn't believe she was actually saying this. Why would she have come to Clark's apartment instead of the Daily Planet if she wanted to help him do his work?

"Tell him already, Lois. Tell him that you love him. That can't be so difficult!" she admonished herself silently.

But it was difficult, so incredibly difficult. Her heart clenched with fear as she imagined Clark shaking his head and telling her that he wasn't interested. He had done it before, so why would he change his mind? While her tongue seemed to be glued to her gums, her eyes drowned in the sight of his lips, dreaming for the miracle to come true. She dreamt of Clark bending towards her, kissing her tenderly. Why hadn't she returned his kisses more passionately? It would have saved her from feeling so helpless now.

"I'm finished, but thanks for asking, Lois," Clark replied with a wry smile, interrupting her thoughts. One of his brows was furrowed, as if to ask for the true reason of her coming. He looked at her curiously, but his body was relaxed. "Is there something else you want to tell me, Lois? What is the matter? Don't tell me you came here just to ask me if I finished my articles," he said gently.

"Clark? Clark, where are you? You wanted to... oh, hi Lois!"

Lois froze and looked at Cat, who had seemingly appeared out of the blue. She stood in Clark's living room, wearing nothing but a towel loosely wrapped around her. With one hand pressed against her chest, she stopped it from just slipping away. Lois blinked, stunned. But what Lois had hoped to be no more than a hallucination did not disappear. Lois would have loved to wake up from this nightmare. But no matter how hard she tried, this brazen wench in Clark's living room was far too real to be just an ugly imagination. And what kind of cruel mind could think of something like this? Admittedly, Cat Grant was almost dressed decently, compared to her usual appearance. But that didn't change the fact that this was Cat, who was supposed to be in Paris. Cat! With Clark!!!

"Cat, you're here?" Lois managed to say, but her brave facade quickly began to break away.

Her knees were getting weak, and the world around her seemed to sway underneath her feet. Lois could see that Clark's lips were moving, but she didn't understand a word. Her heart hammered in her ears and told her to get away from him. And Lois did. She turned around and ran away as fast as she could. She didn't close the door behind her; she just fled this nightmare as quickly as possible.

Lois didn't see anything but the staircase that led her down from Clark's apartment. She took as many stairs at once as she could manage without losing her balance in the process. She just wanted to get away from Clark and Cat, as far away as she possibly could. Rage and sadness formed a lump in her throat that threatened to suffocate her. The stairs became blurred and Lois blinked the tears away. She wouldn't cry. No way.

"Lois, wait. Please wait!" Clark's voice resounded on the staircase.

She didn't stop her pace, but instead rushed on until she almost stumbled. Clark called her again and she heard him coming closer. What did he want to tell her? That things were not as they appeared to be? That the half naked Cat in his apartment was nothing but a huge misunderstanding? Not even Mr. Very-bad-liar could honestly expect her to believe that.

"Lois, please, I can explain," Clark shouted. It only served to convince her that leaving him was the right decision.

Finally, Lois saw the exit and left the apartment house. Through the darkness she ran over to her car. From behind her she heard a rumbling noise. For a moment Lois stopped, startled. She heard a loud curse, and Clark called her once again. Lois woke from her stupor and fled to the driver's seat of her car. Cat could take care of him, she thought angrily, her heart clenching painfully.

"Why? Why?" Lois whispered desperately; she could no longer restrain the tears. Why had she wanted to declare her love for this guy?

***

He was little more than a picture of misery sitting on the sofa, lost in thought. A few times, Clark jumped to his feet, wanting to follow Lois. He longed to explain the reason for Cat's being in his apartment to her. But each time, Cat pressed him back into his seat and told him that there was nothing he could possibly explain. It was rather strange that Cat could so easily keep Superman in his apartment. But on the other hand, Clark had to admit that he wasn't that super at the moment, except for being super desperate.

"She wouldn't listen to you, anyway," Cat said for the umpteenth time. "And even if you could make her listen, she wouldn't believe you." She sighed audibly and looked at him sadly. "I... I can leave you alone, if you want me to. If you don't want to see me, I would understand. I'm so sorry, Clark. After all you did for me, I'm doing this to you..." she whispered slowly, her voice full of self disgust.

For a moment, Clark looked up and watched Cat. He blinked and swallowed. As much as he wanted to, he couldn't respond. Cat's lower lip trembled and she looked at him apologetically. It was the first time he had ever seen Cat blush. It was a completely new Cat that he now encountered in his living room. This Cat was vulnerable and almost shy. Although she was kind of a stranger to him, she somehow seemed more familiar to him than ever before.

"If I had known that Lois had come, I'd have stayed in the bathroom," she murmured, a single tear rolling down her cheek.

"It's not your fault," Clark managed to say quietly. His voice was weak, not half as sonorous as usually. "If I didn't make it so difficult for Lois to trust me, this wouldn't have happened. I should have told her right away that you're staying at my place and why." He burrowed his face in his hands. "I should have told her..." he whispered.

Clark was no longer talking about Cat and the incident in the alley. He had made so many mistakes, one of the biggest taking back his declaration of love. His mother had warned him that his lies would sooner or later catch up with him. Unfortunately, she had been right about that. It was a strange insight for someone who usually fought for truth and justice.

Clark felt Cat sit down beside him. She laid her arm around his shoulders and hugged him soothingly. They sat there for a while, neither of them saying a word. Both wondered what they could say to help the other one. But perhaps the situation was already too bad to save anything. An eternity seemed to pass. They sat there unmoving but for the small sighs that escaped them now and again.

"You love her very much, don't you?" Cat asked after a while.

"Mmh," Clark hummed. "Since the first time I saw her."

Cat blinked. "Wow! I wasn't aware that Lois was the love at first sight type of girl." Clark raised an eyebrow in response, and Cat harrumphed embarrassedly. "Sorry, I didn't mean it. I just thought that Lois is, well, what can I say... a little cold?"

Clark had to think of the three rules Lois had claimed to act on. Or how she had never gotten tired of telling him that there was no *we* in their partnership. Although he didn't feel like it, he had to smile.

"You could be right there," Clark admitted, and Cat uttered a relieved sigh. "She's not always easy to deal with. But nevertheless, I was fascinated from the first moment on..."

He fell silent. Cat certainly wouldn't be interested in all these details. She wasn't that keen on Lois, Clark knew that. Over the years, they had had their daily skirmishes that occasionally turned into fights. All in all, Clark often thought that they just loved to hate each other.

But Cat hadn't heard enough. Gently, she made Clark tell her more about his feelings. And so, he told her almost everything. Starting with the bungled declaration of love and his awful idea to take it back afterwards, he continued with Lois' problems getting over the catastrophe with Lex Luthor. He mentioned Mayson Drake and how he secretly enjoyed Lois' jealousy. He even told Cat that he sometimes wished Lois would admire Clark as much as Superman. That wasn't entirely true, but Clark couldn't possibly explain the truth to Cat. Clark didn't want Lois to worship him like Superman. He just wanted her to see the man instead of the powers.

"Is she worth all the trouble, Clark?" Cat asked when he had finished.

He shrugged. "I'd like to claim that I know this without any doubt. Sometimes I wonder if fate couldn't have come up with a simpler task than courting Lois. But the truth is that Lois is the first woman who made me feel like I belonged somewhere. Before I came to Metropolis, I was a restless wanderer. With Lois, I could find a home."

"Oh, boy, sounds like you're truly smitten," Cat remarked.

Clark smiled in embarrassment. "You can say that again," he murmured.

One hour after another passed, and soon the night drew to a close. After they had talked about Clark, he patiently listened as Cat spoke about her nightmare in the alley. She told him about her fear as the guy suddenly appeared behind her, armed with a knife.

"I thought that I'd never escape him," she finally said. Her voice was low and she bent her head. "I can still smell him when I close my eyes. He reeked of alcohol and sweat. It almost made me sick as he covered my mouth with his dirty hands. And I heard him whisper that if I screamed again, he would show me what he was capable of."

Cat was sitting there, her face buried in Clark's shoulder, weeping softly. Clark laid his arm around her and stroked her back gently. He let her cry out her pain, hoping it was going to help her.

"I'm afraid that I won't ever be able to forget this night," Cat said somewhat later. "How am I supposed to go out and enjoy myself if there's a madman waiting for me behind the next corner? How...?" Her voice broke. "After all, I just went to the newsroom!" she added with a desperate sob.

"What happened isn't your fault, Cat. It was bad luck that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time," Clark said gently.

He didn't know what else he could say to soothe her. He couldn't claim that Cat would wake up the next morning and everything would be okay again. That just wasn't true. Time would help to make the wound smaller and hurt less. But Cat wouldn't be human if a night like this didn't leave a scar.

It was almost too late for getting to bed when they finally did. He wanted her to take his bed, but Cat won over and spent the night on the small, but comfortable sofa. They said good night to each other, both feeling that they had found an unexpected friend.

***

Lois looked at the pile of folders that lay on her desk. Stubbornly, she forced herself to read the same paragraph over and over again. It was futile because the words didn't make any more sense than they had the other twelve times she had seen them. She didn't learn much more than that black letters were printed on white paper.

She was not going to look at him. Not even if somebody paid her. Clark didn't deserve her attention. He shouldn't think that she paid any interest whatsoever in his private affairs. This was his business. If he was happy with it, so be it. His inexpressibly bad taste in women truly wasn't her problem.

But why did he have to act like this in front of all their co-workers? The pencil Lois held in her hand broke, falling victim to her anger and disappointment like so many other things had during the morning. There was her bathroom mirror, for example, which had been bold enough to show Lois her tear-stained eyes. Or her cup of coffee, which hadn't ducked away quickly enough as Lois had entered the kitchen.

Clark's behavior was embarrassing to put it politely. Lois couldn't understand what had gotten into him. She had always thought him to be considerate and sensible, but that was only true until his brain had stop working. Now something else had obviously taken over, causing this ridiculous scene.

Despite all her efforts to ignore what was going on just a few feet beside her, Lois couldn't help but take another peek. It was worse than ever. Cat was standing behind Clark, whatever she actually wanted there. That bitch was supposed to be in Paris. Or in Timbuktu! She should go jump in a lake.

Cat's hands were wrapped around him and she was looking over his shoulder, her cheek touching his. Why wasn't she sitting on his lap instead? That would get her closer to the action! Lois closed her eyes. She didn't want to know what else Cat was doing. Clark seemed to enjoy her attention, listening to every word that Cat purred into his ears, while she caressed, well, whatever it was that she caressed.

Lois blindly stared back at the passage she was pretending to read. She realized that she had absolutely no idea what it was about. She was angry at Clark and at herself for being so unhappy about what Clark was doing. She wasn't interested in him. Period. He could share his bed with anyone he liked. Even with Cat, if he had such bad taste in women. That really wasn't her problem.

After another glance at Clark and Cat, Lois knew that they weren't going to carry on their *flirtation* in the newsroom. He was dragging her toward the conference room. She could very well imagine what they were going to do there. Lois closed her eyes and tried to fight the unwanted vision of Clark kissing Cat with the same longing she had felt when he kissed her during their night in the honeymoon suite.

The mere mental image made Lois as devastated as she had been the night before. She urgently wanted to smash something to pieces, for example, Clark's foggy mind. Of course she wasn't likely to be successful with this. Maybe she could secretly set-off the fire alarm, or she could kill Cat slowly and painfully. One day Clark would certainly be grateful for this. As if on their own account, Lois' hands began to ransack her desk for a Double Fudge bar. Maybe the pain would become less intense then.

***

"Stop it, Cat," Clark said through clenched teeth as he shut the door of the conference room behind him, trying to restrain his anger in order to keep from strangling her. He had never been so close.

"I'm doing you a favor," Cat replied and sat down on a chair, laughing as she saw the mixture of despair and intention to kill in his expression. "Come on, Clark. Don't look at me like that. I know that I owe you a lot. I'm just trying to reciprocate!" She looked at him like butter wouldn't melt in her mouth. But her efforts to help him only served to destroy his last hope for reconciling with Lois.

"You've got an interesting way of doing that! You and I know that we're never going to be anything but friends. I'm not the kind of guy you're really interested in, and well," he felt his ears turn pink as he realized that he had been about to tell Cat that he didn't find her attractive. That was impolite. At the same time, he wondered why he was still trying to be nice. She had already pushed him so far that he was about to regret having helped her. Cat was stressing his patience, extremely.

"I know, I know," Cat said with a shrug. "Relax, Clark. It's all working according to plan," she winked at him and smiled broadly.

"According to plan?" Clark asked, nearly choking. "This isn't a plan, this is a disaster!" he emphasized and silently wished that someone would pinch him in order to wake him from this nightmare. Ever since Lois had seen him and Cat in his apartment, nothing had gone the way he would have liked.

Cat put her hands on her hips and looked at him provokingly. "You're being ungrateful," she admonished him wryly, playfully. "Haven't you noticed how jealous Lois is?"

"Cat, please. My life is already difficult as it is. I didn't ask you to make her jealous or whatever it is that you're actually trying to achieve. My feelings for Lois are strictly my own business and I can't believe I ever told you about them," Clark replied testily. "Would you please stop doing me any favors? It was my pleasure saving you and we should leave it at that, Cat. No need to *thank* me! " Sarcasm dripped from his voice and Clark couldn't believe he was being so harsh. Cat was only trying to help, or so he liked to believe. She was shallow, not malicious.

"There was no need telling me about them," Cat remarked. "I would have to be blind not to notice that you're a drooling fool when it comes to her. God knows why; I don't. But the point is that Lois would never admit that she feels the same about you. This is our chance to make her fight," Cat explained, sure of victory. She smiled at him cheerily.

Clark shook his head. Cat just didn't want to understand what the point was. After Paul and Claude and everything Lois had told him about her father, she certainly wouldn't put up a fight in order to get Clark. As long as she thought that he slept with Cat, she'd be far too afraid of burning her fingers. She wouldn't even think of having a relationship.

Look, Clark, all I'm trying to say is that you will need either a psychiatrist or a lot of help to survive rejection after rejection. After all, you're trying to compete with Superman," Cat continued.

"Thanks for reminding me," Clark said bitterly.

Lois would never stop worshipping her hero if Clark was going out with other woman, that much was certain. Mayson's admiration was already causing him trouble. Cat was just another nail in his coffin.

"Oh, Clark," Cat sighed sympathetically. Solicitousness was a character trait Clark hadn't expected to find in Cat. She managed to hit his soft spot. Once more Clark realized that he simply couldn't be angry with Cat, although he desperately wanted to. Clark had come to know Cat better than he ever thought he would. "You're a Superman, too. What you did for me was so courageous. I guess I wouldn't be here without you."

"You're exaggerating," he replied uncomfortably. "Anyone would have saved you, Cat." And I didn't even need to gather any courage to do it, he silently added.

"Maybe," Cat replied, but didn't sound like she really meant it. "But who would have been there for me afterwards? I'm not exactly someone who deserves that much care, particularly not yours. I was the lady trying to take advantage of your amnesia to get you into my bed, do you remember?"

"No, actually, I don't," Clark said wryly, sounding a lot softer. He winked at her and smiled. "Cat, I know you're only trying to help and it means a lot to me. Really. But you know Lois. She thinks that you and me in an apartment means, well," Once more Clark ears went pink. "I don't think it's the right way to make her see me."

Cat shook her head. "She won't see what a great guy she has unless she's about to lose you. As long as you're at her side 24-7, she can easily keep dreaming of Superman."

Clark groaned. "Cat, please!"

"Oh, Clark! No one who knows you would honestly assume that you and I," Cat had to bit her lip to keep from laughing out loud. "Anyway, I still think that a little jealousy on her part will work wonders. But you're the boss." She rolled her eyes and uttered an extreme sigh.

Clark watched her suspiciously. Just like Lois, Cat was stubborn and he didn't believe that she would give in so easily. He had to admit that in some way Cat was right. If he didn't want to lose Lois he was well advised to fight for her. Pretending to have an affair with another woman certainly wasn't the best idea. Cat's plan had one serious downside: Lois wasn't really jealous. A small frown had been the sole indication that she had paid any attention at all to Cat's uninhibited flirting. Maybe she was indignant that Cat should be his choice, but she was most definitely not jealous.

***

As Clark returned into the newsroom, Cat said goodbye, this time without attacking him. Almost relieved, he went back to his desk, pondering about how to reconcile with Lois. But before he could even think of a way that might help him, Lois was standing in front of him, as large as life. Her expression was very annoyed.

"Come on," she said shortly and turned around.

She hurried back to her desk, took her coat and than ran over to the elevators. Confused, Clark remained standing beside his desk and watched her. Suddenly it dawned on him that she had advised him to follow her. Hurriedly, he ran after her and just managed to catch up with her in time before the elevator doors closed in front of him.

On the ride down, Lois didn't say a word. She didn't look at him, instead stubbornly staring into space. Her lower lip trembled and her pretended unresponsiveness couldn't hide that she was not only furious but also deeply hurt. Was Cat right? Did Lois want more than mere friendship? The thought was almost too wonderful to be true. But if this was actually true, then Clark was so thoroughly messing with his chances that it came close to being well planned and intentional.

"Lois," Clark said quietly. He was glad that there was no one else in the elevator. Even so, the conversation remained difficult. "Lois, I'm sorry, I..." She didn't blink or turn her head. Not a single movement indicated that she was actually listening. "Cat is not my girlfriend. Yesterday..."

"I don't care, Clark. We're partners at work. What you're doing in your leisure time is none of my business," Lois interrupted him coldly. "I left you so abruptly because I had forgotten something. I'm sorry, I should have said good bye." Her voice dripped with sarcasm. She made it clear that that as far as she was concerned, the conversation was over. Turning her back on him, she continued to stare into space. Every inch of her was a professional reporter, a text book example of Mad Dog Lane.

Clark wanted to say something, but his voice refused to work as he received her angry glance. That surely hadn't worked according to plan. The elevator stopped as they arrived in the lobby of the Daily Planet. Still unable to say anything, Clark followed Lois as she stormed out of the building. She didn't tell him where they were heading and when he asked her, she remained silent and waved for a cab.

As they got into the cab, Lois asked the driver to take them to a shopping street a few blocks away. He didn't learn anything else. Lois had obviously decided to treat him with even greater disrespect than she had during their first investigation. What had he done?

The cab stopped in front of a jeweler's store. A crowd of people were standing there, curiously looking at the shop. Some policemen carefully watched and made sure the viewers kept their distance from the crime scene, while their colleagues searched for leads and witnesses. Clark thought about asking Lois what had happened, but then decided that he would find out on his own.

When Lois wasn't ignoring him, she shot him angry glances. Clark stifled a sigh and peeked over the rim of his glasses. The jeweler's store had obviously been robbed. Showcases that had also served as counters framed two sides of the sales room. They were all broken. Rings, bracelets and necklaces were lying on the floor. Pieces of glass and money were spread across the ground. The villain must have been strong, but nevertheless he hadn't managed to steal anything. A body was lying on the floor, covered. Clark swallowed hard. He should have helped instead of arguing with Cat.

Clark forced himself to have a closer look at the body. Choking, he realized that the dead body wasn't human. Or since when were humans made of metal?

***

Lois thought that she was really doing okay. She was asking questions, Clark was asking questions. They were working together. They didn't necessarily have to talk to each other to do so. They were professionals, a team that could do without words. And if there really was anything they had to talk about, they just did. She wouldn't have a problem continuing their partnership as Lane and Kent, the hottest team in town. Perry really couldn't blame her for not being cooperative. And after all, it hadn't been her making out in the newsroom for everyone to see.

Clark had just finished interviewing a policeman. "They're still not able to say anything about this..." He said slowly while he came over to her.

"Cyborg, Clark. The word is cyborg," Lois interrupted him impatiently as he was hesitating.

"Cyborg, right. Well, the police have absolutely no idea where it's from," Clark added, a little irritated.

Lois shook her head, annoyed. If he wanted to be her partner, he should be careful that his bedtime stories wouldn't distract him. From the very beginning she had known that a hack from Nowheresville just wasn't prepared to live in a big city like Metropolis.

"So, let's find out who is doing research on cyborgs at the moment," Lois said matter-of-factly. "Which of these people could possibly be criminal? That should shorten the list."

Clark nodded. "I'm going to work on that. And you..."

"I am meeting with Lucy. She is in town and I've promised mom to take care of her", Lois said instantly and managed to look down on Clark although he still was about a foot taller than her. Actually, Lois had wanted to take Clark to the meeting as well. He had somewhat of a calming influence on Lucy. In his presence, her sister wasn't so combative. But Cat turning his head was already more than she could endure.

"Lois, I..." Clark said, but she didn't let him finish his sentence. She didn't want to hear that Cat had changed, that she was someone special or whatever he imagined in his love struck brain.

"See you later, Clark," Lois replied rudely and ditched him in front of the jeweler's store.

***

Two days later things hadn't really become better for Clark. Lois didn't fight with him, she ignored him. She didn't talk to him beyond what was absolutely necessary. No matter how hard he tried to clear up the misunderstanding, she didn't give him a chance. Even Cat's departure hadn't soothed her. Clark tried to make himself believe that Lucy and her new boyfriend Johnny were responsible for Lois' sulkiness. But he knew that Lois would already have broken their partnership if hadn't it been for Metallo.

Clark sighed and sadly stared out into the pouring rain. Water ran down the windows, blurring the view. He couldn't have seen anything anyway. Although it was too early for dusk, it was almost dark outside. Thick thunderheads were covering the sky blocking the sunlight.

‘Now, of all times!' Clark thought grimly and growled. This just wasn't his week.

He shifted his weight from one foot to the other, flinching as his ankle protested painfully. Clark grimaced and turned away from the window. A soft stomach rumbling broke the silence, but Clark was not yet sure if he was actually up to eating anything. The fight with Johnny Corben still sent shivers down his spine. But could you call it a fight if one was punching while the other just kept landing on his butt or worse?

The flight back to his apartment had taken its toll on him. His last reserves were spent. The sprained ankle wasn't even Corben's fault. Clark had managed that with a crash landing on his balcony. But he wasn't to blame for his bruised ribs. Grimly, Clark vowed to give Corben a hard for time battering Superman. He would arrest him and let the police take care of this metal guy. Corben wasn't going to hurt anyone else ever again

Clark limped into the kitchen, vaguely intending to prepare dinner. Because it was raining, he would be stuck in his apartment for a while. His powers wouldn't return anytime soon as long as there was no sunlight. Superman had a night off, whether he liked it or not. It was no use standing there staring into space. He wasn't going to solve any of the mysteries concerning the cyborg. It worried Clark that someone had obviously managed to get a hold of kryptonite. But before he could take care of any villains, he was well advised to wait until his powers returned.

A loud knock interrupted his thoughts and made him pause for a moment. Clark wondered if there was anything outside that might have hit his door. But then there was another knock on the door and Clark realized that someone had to be outside. Who wanted to see him so badly that not even a thunderstorm like this could stop him? Usually Lois would have been the first person to come to mind. And almost certainly, he would have previously been proved correct. But lately every single glance of hers, every word and each tiny gesture just told him how much she disliked Clark.

After the short but painful *fight* with Corben, she had looked at him without daggers in her eyes. That had been the first time after days and days of reproachful glances. But the man she had looked at so worriedly had been the bruised Superman, not Clark.

"Open the door, Clark," Lois yelled impatiently and angrily. "Come on, I know that you're at home. I mean, where else would you be given this torrential rain? Come on, I want to talk to you!" Clark heard a loud curse before she pounded on his door. She didn't sound like she was up to clearing the air between them.

"I'm coming, Lois," Clark replied and limped on, heading for his door. "Would you please stop damaging my door? It's innocent." He tried to ignore the pain in his ankle as he trudged up the stairs. As much as he had wanted to talk to Lois the past few days, at this moment he would have preferred to be alone. She had a real talent for showing up at the worst times. With a fatalistic sigh, Clark opened the door.

Lois was dripping wet. Her clothes clung to her body and water seeped from her hair, running down her cheeks. In her hand was something that once must have been an umbrella. The metal had been too weak to withstand the wind. Lois's sheer power of will had to be the reason why the wind hadn't simply blown the umbrella away. But that hadn't changed anything for Lois, really. The water puddled at her feet and the puddle grew with every passing second.

"Lois," Clark said and didn't manage to hide that her appearance surprised him.

Considering the pouring rain, he shouldn't have been astounded. Nevertheless, a dripping wet Lois just wasn't herself, despite the determination that was written on her face. The wet Lois appeared to be lost rather than professional. It took Clark a moment to get a grip on himself and step aside in order to let her in.

"That was about time," Lois complained, handing Clark her ruined umbrella as she went past him. She left several puddles on her way. "So, Clark, tell me what you know!" she said, bluntly getting down to business. Lois eyed Clark challengingly and folded her arms in front of her chest only to lower them again. Her face told Clark that the wet clothes clinging to her body were obviously feeling pretty unpleasant.

"What are you talking about?" Clark asked, following her down the stairs. He did his best not to limp too badly. "And would you like to change into dry clothes?" "I...." Suddenly Lois sneezed violently. Clark flinched. "I..." Lois sneezed again. "First of all I want to know what happened to Superman! How is he?" she explained, as dignified as her runny nose would let her. "After all, you're talking to him all the time! So tell me!" she demanded resolutely.

She stood there with arms akimbo, but once again, she didn't manage to keep her threatening pose for long. Another sneezing fit undermined her authority. She stood in Clark's living room, shivering violently. Lois was obviously angry at herself. She grumbled and shot Clark furious glances whenever she could.

"What about a nice hot shower, Lois?" Gently he forced her to go toward his bathroom, ignoring her protests. "You'll catch an awful cold," Clark mumbled. "I'll go and see if I've got something in my closet you could dress in."

"Clark, I..." Lois fought against Clark, but she couldn't keep him from pushing her to the bathroom. He had her in a firm grip and wouldn't let go of her. "You're not going to push me around like that!" she yelled while Clark inexorably led her toward his bathroom. "Hey, I'm talking to you!"

"Later, Lois. I'm not going to take the blame if you wind up ill and confined to bed," Clark replied and Lois shot him a furious glance. But she stopped fighting against him, although she kept grumbling. Maybe she thought that she could argue better, once she was dry?

"Don't even think you're off the hook! And don't you dare run out on me claiming that you've forgotten to do something!" she warned him.

Clark shook his head, thinking of his sprained ankle which hurt with every step he took. "Don't worry, Lois. I'm not going anywhere."

***

Lois wondered how she had ended up under Clark's shower. The warm water felt good on her skin. When she had first stepped under the shower it had hurt like pinpricks on her numb, cold body. But Clark had stolen her thunder and she wasn't even really angry at him because of that. He was gentle and caring, Clark as she knew him.

On their way towards the bathroom he had handed her a pile of dry clothes that was now waiting for her next to the washbasin. Lois enjoyed the warming and soothing effect of the water for another moment. Then she turned it off and stepped out of the shower. Right next to her was a large, fluffy towel that she wrapped around herself. Suddenly, she thought of Cat and the old rage enflamed her all over again.

‘And what if he had saved Cat from the rain, just like me?' a low voice asked from the back of her mind.

That was nonsense. It hadn't rained that day. Moreover, why had Cat been there at all? No, it had been exactly what it looked like. It was simple as that. She didn't need to come to his defense. When it came to women, Clark was just like all the other guys.

With a sigh, Lois strolled over to the pile of clothes Clark had given to her. She found a sweatshirt that certainly would go down to her knees making it look more like a dress than a shirt. Next to it was the most embarrassing pair of boxer shorts Lois had ever seen. They were colorful to put it politely. Looking at them, Lois couldn't think of a color that wasn't in it. The word *sweatheart* was printed on them in bold, black letters.

A note was stuck on the fabric. <Sorry, Lois. Ralph was my secret Santa. The shorts are too small for me, but they might fit you.>

Lois chuckled softly and wondered how Clark had managed to smuggle this splendid specimen of a boxer shorts past her. She felt her rage subside. Taking on the obnoxious shorts, she thought about a suitable present for Ralph should she ever end up as his secret Santa. Then she donned the sweatshirt that smelled a bit like Clark, which somehow soothed her. The sweat pants were too large, but Lois managed to tie the ribbons so tightly that the pants fit her. Last but not least there was a warm pair of socks that Clark's mother had surely knitted herself.

Lois squared her shoulders and remembered the reason why she had come here in the first place. Superman! She needed to know how he was and why he had left so quickly. Clark's gentle behavior had distracted her, soothed her. But that didn't mean she had lost her determination. And she would need it if she actually wanted to learn something about the hero. When it came to Superman Clark was often reserved. But this time she wouldn't let him off the hook. She knew her partner well enough to notice when he was keeping things form her. And now she was going to find out what that was! This decision made, Lois stormed out of the bathroom.

"Now, spit it out!" she yelled before she had even made her way to the living room. "What's the matter with Superman? With her arms akimbo Lois stood in front of Clark who was sitting on the sofa. "And don't try to play fool with me. I can tell by looking at you that you talked to him."

"I think he's doing fairly well," Clark replied cautiously.

"Fairly well?" Lois asked incredulously. "Fairly well?" she repeated and sounded even more enraged than before. "But he didn't look like he was doing well! He barely managed to fly away. So please don't tell me that he is doing well!" It was incredible. She just had to come close to Clark and then she was instantly fuming with anger. How had she ever been able to believe that she loved him? And why was her heart beating so madly just because he looked at her?

***

Clark sighed. "Lois, if he managed to fly away, he had at least had his powers." Or so you would think, Clark added silently.

"Are you sure?" Lois asked and sounded a bit more hopeful, though still not convinced. "And what if he has just gathered his last reserves?" she threw in. There, she had hit the bull's eye. He should have been more careful visiting her as Superman. "So, where is he now? And don't change the topic!" she warned him.

"I have no idea where he is," Clark replied and for the first time he felt that he was telling her something that resembled the truth. For the rest of this night, Superman had vanished into nothingness. "I guess he will rest and think of a way to get rid of Corben."

In the meanwhile, Lois lowered her hands and didn't seem as angry anymore. She sat down next to Clark and sighed.

"I'd really like to know where Superman is now. He must be feeling terribly lonely," Lois mumbled sadly.

"Maybe he isn't so lonely after all," Clark said softly. "Do you know for sure that there is no one he can turn to?" He knew that he was walking on dangerous ground. Clark usually didn't talk about his intimate knowledge of Superman's life.

Lois gazed at Clark intensely. "Do you mean that he has someone?" she asked, almost disappointed that she wouldn't be able to save him from loneliness. "Clark, please tell me what you know. I'm sorry that I reacted so badly when I learned about you and Cat. I'll try to change for the better," she added. But her expression told him that she'd rather marry Ralph than accept Cat.

"Lois, concerning Cat..."

"Forget about it, Clark. After all, you're free to spend your leisure time..." she swallowed and again the words sounded pretty reluctant. "...as you please."

Clark watched her sadly and had to admit that his hopes concerning Lois were futile. Cat had been wrong. Lois' feelings for him hadn't changed in the least. He was her friend, but he would never be more than that. She would ignore his *love affair* for the sake of their friendship, but she wouldn't love him like she loved Superman. Unfortunately there was no Superman here this evening. He couldn't offer her more than the man who was sitting right next to her.

What would happen if he told her the truth? She could spend the night with Superman, the normal man. She could kiss him and let all her dreams become reality. But what kind of dreams did she have? What kind of wishes could he grant her, given the circumstances? Nothing that Clark hadn't been able to give her. And she had turned him down. So, what was the point in telling her if that was only going to disappoint her?

"Lois, please let me explain," Clark managed to say despite himself. He hoped that he would at least be able to clear up the misunderstanding.

He didn't make it far. The door bell rang, once, twice. Clark looked at the door. He could see the slender shape of a woman behind the glass. What was going on that everyone wanted to see him, despite the bad weather? Lois studied Clark thoroughly. Her lips were extraordinarily small and her brows were furrowed. Clark knew he was going to be in trouble if the woman in front of his door didn't happen to be his mother. And judging from what he could see, his chances for a miracle like that were pretty slim.

Clark had a hard time trying to hide that his ankle was one throbbing, painful bulge. It was exhausting to walk his way to the door. He suppressed a moan as he put weight on his hurt leg. Sweat covered his forehead, which wasn't a pleasant experience at all. The bell rang again before Clark had managed to reach the door. "I'm coming," he said with his teeth gritted against the pain. If this wasn't the fairy godmother who wanted to spirit all his problems away, this evening was going to be worse than any other disastrous evening. When Clark opened the door, he realized that his visitor certainly didn't qualify for the role of the fairy godmother.

"Mayson," he said in a mixture of politeness and sheer panic. He had no idea how it was possible in a rainstorm like this, but Mayson looked drop-dead gorgeous. Not a single strand of her hair had gotten wet and her suit emphasized just the right parts of her body. Her eyes were glowing and she smiled at him. Clark would have liked to close his eyes and pass out. "Nice to see you," he mumbled and hoped that he didn't sound wry.

"Clark!"

Mayson was all smiles. With something like a secret magic spell, she made him step aside so she could get past him. Clark couldn't think of another reason why he should have let her in, hard as he might try. He almost wished he was back in that small alley right next to Johnny Corben. This couldn't be worse, actually.

"I had to work all day and as I saw the rain... you're place is closer to my office than mine. I hope you don't mind," Mayson explained and continued to smile broadly. She obviously didn't care about the fact that her apartment was actually closer to the DA's office than his. Not that he had really checked the distance, but considering his second job, he knew the city like the back of his hand.

"That's...uh... great," Clark managed to say and closed the door behind Mayson. She had frozen on the last step to his living room and stared at Lois. His partner returned the gaze with the same deadly intensity.

"Hello, Mayson," Lois said icily and didn't even try to hide her feelings. Contempt was written all over her face.

"My timing is bad, I guess," Mayson replied waspishly. She eyed Lois suspiciously and then turned to Clark. Her eyes were pleading with him to tell her that she was welcome. Clark wondered if he would be particularly sad if Mayson would turn on her heels like Lois had a few days ago.

"No, it isn't," Lois said dangerously calm. "Clark just wanted to tell me if Superman is all right. Then I'll leave the two of you alone." Her pretended composure was betrayed by the threatening tone of her voice that made Clark's hair stand on end. He couldn't help thinking that Lois would rather leave him to Cat than to Mayson Drake. Maybe she was jealous after all?

But the fight of the furies that was about to take place in his living room dampened this small gleam of hope. The two women stared at each other contemptuously and with daggers in their eyes. Both had their hands balled to fists, but an invisible force seemed to keep them glued to their places for the moment. In the view of the strange scene in his living room, Clark remained at the door. But he decided to intervene before Mayson and Lois could start to kill each other.

The air seemed to be on fire. Mayson's eyes became small and she eyed Lois carefully, disparagingly. Lois' gaze wasn't any less fierce. Even without super hearing, Clark could almost hear the sound of their heart beats filling the air. Their breaths had quickened, but still everything was quiet. It was the silence before the storm, the brief peaceful moment before one of them would finally pick the quarrel. The tension was becoming unbearable and Clark wondered how he was going to prevent the explosion.

Clark's mind raced as he searched for the right words to say. Completely focused on the task that lay before him, Clark forgot about his foot.

***

"Clark, you're limping!" Mayson stated, shocked. "What happened to you? Why don't you sit down and rest?" she asked thoughtfully.

Mayson's exclamation had effectively cooled down the heated atmosphere. Lois, too, had heard Clark's muffled moan. But she had been far too busy scowling at Mayson to really care about its meaning. Now that she was actually looking at Clark, she realized that he was indeed limping. And Mayson that snake had noticed it first. How could she? After all, Lois knew Clark much better than her!

"It's nothing," Clark replied airily, standing in front of them with his arms folded in front of his chest. "Nothing, really. I just played basketball this afternoon and unfortunately I twisted my ankle."

Lois saw the slight flush on Clark's cheeks. Instantly, she knew that he wasn't telling the truth. Meanwhile, Mayson reached for Clark's hand, gently leading him toward his sofa. She verbosely apologized for having disturbed him and told him that a bag of ice would do wonders to heal his sprained ankle. In no time, she had placed him on the sofa. Her argument with Lois was obviously forgotten and with a triumphant smile on her lips, she vanished into the kitchen.

Lois stood there, frozen. Her hands were still balled to fists. She didn't know how to deal with the situation. It wasn't long until Mayson returned with the same happy smile, presenting the ice bag like a trophy. She looked at Clark and ignored Lois, as if she wasn't even there, as if she had vanished into thin air. Lois' fierce posture suddenly seemed pretty ridiculous. Automatically, she relaxed her hands.

"By the way, Clark. I heard that you saved that woman. What was her name again? Grant, or something wasn't it? That was so courageous!" Mayson said enthusiastically and shot Clark a sultry glance. "You're a real hero!"

Lois felt her heart beating madly. A lump was in her throat and the world around her seemed to fall apart. Clark had saved Cat!? Was that the reason for her being in his apartment that night? Maybe this was all just a huge misunderstanding and Lois had been needlessly rude? But what had been going on in the newsroom? Why had they flirted so passionately?

"Thank you, Mayson. I appreciate that," Clark mumbled and blushed. He put the bag of ice on his hurt ankle and smiled at her, briefly. Then he looked at Lois, who still hadn't moved.

"You saved Cat?" Lois asked softly, her dry mouth finally managing to form the words. "Why didn't you tell me?" Because you didn't give him a chance, Lois admonished herself silently. She hoped that she didn't sound too reproachful. Were her brows still furrowed? Did she look angry? Lois tried to turn her expression into something friendly. Her smile was a bit forced, but maybe it would help her win the fight against Mayson.

In the meantime, Mayson had sat down next to Clark, possessively taking his hand in hers. Lois had a hard time keeping herself from strangling her, before Clark could start to tell her about Cat. Lois breathed a joyful sigh of relief as Clark freed his hand from Mayson's grip on his own accord. That served her right! Mayson sulked a bit, but not for long. Maybe she thought that Clark would declare his love for her as soon as Lois was gone? She could wait until hell froze over!

"I didn't get around to telling you," Clark replied apologetically. He quickly told her what had happened that night. Even though he gave her no more than a summary, Lois could almost feel Cat's fear.

Lois somehow knew that there hadn't been anything more going on between him and Cat than he was admitting. Cat's strange behavior in the newsroom became all the more mysterious. But Clark certainly wasn't going to discuss that issue in Mayson Drake's presence. Lois looked over to the window as if she could stop the rain by sheer power of will. Mayson seemed to have similar thoughts. But the weather wasn't going to obey them and so the two women exchanged dirty looks.

"Clark needs to rest," Mayson declared, resembling a fire-spitting dragon rather than a caring nurse.

Lois wanted to give her a piece of her mind, but Clark was faster. "Mayson, I appreciate that you care so much about me, but that's really not necessary. Besides, it's about time that Lois and I have this conversation." He left the word ‘alone' unsaid. Yet, he couldn't have been more obvious had he shouted it. Lois couldn't suppress a satisfied grin as Mayson pouted.

"Well, if the two of you have to discuss such important issues, I'd better leave," she snapped. She gazed at Clark defiantly, obviously hoping that he would hold her back.

"Mayson, I..." Clark muttered and for an agonizing moment, Lois feared that he would really do it. Clark was polite. Moreover, Mayson certainly had treated him more kindly than she had. "... Lois and I need to work on that new story. I'm sorry, but I guess that we actually should see each other another time." He shrugged apologetically and smiled at Mayson in a way that would turn any woman's legs into jelly.

"Okay," Mayson sighed and shot Lois another angry glance. Her eyes were gleaming dangerously and she suddenly started to smile, sure of her victory. "I just came to ask you if you'd like to spend the weekend with me. I've got a cabin in the mountains. It's cold there, but there's a fire-place and..." her voice trailed off, leaving the rest to imagination.

Lois heart missed a beat. That sly....! She couldn't think of any swearword that would have even come close to describing Mayson. That woman was set on winning Clark over and Lois was beginning to fear that she would be successful. Honestly, Clark couldn't but happily accept Mayson's offer. Any man would want a caring woman who smiled at him, worshipping him for everyone to see. Why would he choose the snarling fury that lashed out at him and wouldn't even give him a chance to explain anything? There wasn't actually a choice, was there?

"Mayson, I..." Clark mumbled. "Thanks for inviting me. But honestly, I'm not sure this is a good idea. I don't really know you well enough, yet. I appreciate your friendship, but..."

"Ah, okay..." Mayson said, somewhat depressed. Her eyes became misty, but she blinked away the tears that threatened to roll down her cheeks. "I understand," she added thickly. "Maybe you'd like to join me for dinner on Monday?"

Clark didn't reply at once. The brief moment of silence seemed to extend to an eternity, in Lois' regard anyway. She hoped for Mayson to give in, to vanish into nothingness. But she kept looking at Clark. Her confident expression had faded and now she was pleading with him not to break her heart. There was no way Clark could reject her once again. Much to Lois' dismay, it wouldn't be Mayson who had to leave this place, defeated. It was going to be her!

"I can't," Clark said hesitantly and looked around as if his living room would somehow hold the solution to any occurring problem.

"Do you have an appointment with somebody else?" Mayson helped out. "We could postpone the dinner..." Her puppy dog eyes were still on Clark and she smiled at him warmly, completely ignoring how uncomfortable he felt.

"No, you don't understand..." he replied, obviously struggling for the right words. "Mayson, I really need to talk to Lois now. I promise you that we'll see each other next week. There is something I should tell you..."

There was something final about the tone of his voice that left little doubt what he was actually trying to say. Not even Mayson was able to miss that he wasn't willing to date her anymore. She stood in front of Clark, frozen in place and shivering violently as despair and anger welled up in her. Looking at Lois with daggers in her eyes, she seemed to hope for the right reaction to come to mind.

"Mayson, I'm sorry, I like you a lot, but I can't help the impression that the two of us are expecting different things out of this..."

He couldn't finish his sentence. Mayson's eyes had opened wide and tears were about to roll down her cheeks. The next thing Lois heard was Mayson slamming the door. The staccato sound of her steps indicated that she was storming down the stairs. They became softer and then died away. Clark looked at Lois.

"What...?" he managed to say.

Lois rolled her eyes. "She's desperately in love with you and you tell her that you like her a lot..." She chuckled softly. She wasn't actually gloating, but rather relieved that Clark obviously wasn't interested in Mayson either.

"You're a fine one to talk!" Clark replied sourly. "I never wanted to do something like this."

"But you did!" Lois corrected him. "About half a year ago as we were celebrating the reopening of the Daily Planet. I wanted to tell you that I was in love with you. But you wanted no more than friendship!" She lowered her head, feeling her cheeks blush. Now that she had admitted it, she was kind of relieved. At the same time, she had jumped head first into danger. She had provided Clark with the opportunity to hurt her deeply. If he told her now that she should search for someone else to love her, it would be worse than anything she had lived through in the past few days.

Clark watched her both bewildered and appalled. "That was what you wanted to tell me?"

Lois shrugged, tense but attempting to appear composed. She didn't want him to see the raging storm inside her. Her trembling fingers and her panting breath would inevitably give her away. Her voice almost refused to work, but finally she managed to say something.

"I wanted to tell you. I wanted to tell you when I found you here with Cat. I thought that the two of you were dating. And what happened in the newsroom only seemed to confirm that you were having some sort of relationship."

Clark closed his eyes and groaned. "She wanted to do me a favor by making you jealous," he explained and again looked at Lois contritely. His eyes, his lips, his whole expression begged her to believe him. "I tried to stop her, but you know Cat. She can be pretty stubborn."

Lois realized that she was still standing in the same place as if she had been glued to the floor. The distance that had initially offered her safety was now becoming awkward. She put down the arms that had been folded in front of her chest. Even though she tried, she couldn't manage to relax completely.

"She made me furious," Lois admitted embarrassed. "I would have loved to strangle her. But I thought that I could somehow manage to forget you. But the truth is that I can't. The mere idea of being without you is more than I can bear." She blushed deeply as she looked at Clark. Averting her gaze again, she insecurely stared at her hands.

Clark got up from the sofa and limped towards her. Taking her hands in his, he kissed the tips of her fingers. Then he looked at her, studying her face with his dark brown eyes. Nothing in his gaze made her feel like she had made a fool of herself. There was just sympathy and a gentleness that seemed undeserved. Still, it was very soothing.

"I love you, Lois. And only you. I've loved you since the day I first saw you," he said softly. "No one will ever change that, not Cat and certainly not Mayson. She doesn't know me well enough and I doubt that she'll be able to accept me the way I am."

Her fingers rested in his hands and he looked at her seriously. His eyes and his whole stance radiated warmth and reliability. Lois wondered how she had ever been able to doubt that Clark was hers. She clasped his hands gently and closed in on him, approaching his lips with hers. It wouldn't be long before they were going to share the kiss that was going to clear up all misunderstandings more thoroughly than any conversation possibly could.

Lois saw Clark swallow. He looked at his feet and interrupted the magical moment. Her heart beat madly and she opened her mouth to tell him that she loved him the way he was, with all her heart. But before she was able to say anything, he covered her lips with his index finger.

"I hope you'll be able to forgive me," he whispered and blushed. "There is something I should have told you some time ago, something you need to know before you say anything that you might regret."

He seemed to be smaller than usually, more vulnerable than she had ever seen him. He didn't stand upright, but was slumped down. It was as if he was bearing a heavy weight that was threatening to bury him. Again, he swallowed and his flushed cheeks paled awfully. Sweat covered his forehead. Seeing him like this made Lois' heart beat even faster.

"I... I still owe you an answer concerning Superman," Clark mumbled hoarsely. "He is... he is... here." Lois stared at him dumbfounded, seeing him more clearly than ever before. Yet, his words seemed to reach her ears through a haze. "I am Superman."

Suddenly, so many things made sense -- Clark's injuries, his inexplicable knowledge of Superman, his tendency to vanish when a situation was becoming dangerous or when Lois just wanted to talk to him. But why had he never told her? Why did he keep infuriating her when three little words would have explained everything? The glasses no longer hid the truth, and Lois wondered how she could have missed it before.

"Why?" Lois asked calmly, although a raging storm built up inside her. "A year and a half, Clark! You've been hiding this for a year and a half?" It was incredible. Saying these words, Lois realized what they really meant. For over a year he had been lying to her, day after day, each and every hour they had spent together. It was a painful realization. Still, it was not half as painful as his kissing Cat would be. Or Mayson, for that matter.

"I've been keeping this secret for so long..." he replied. "It got harder to admit the truth. I think I was afraid that Clark would lose you once you knew that you could have Superman instead." Clark didn't dare look at her. "I'm aware that this doesn't make any sense. Not when I'm saying it."

They stared at each other. Clark was right. His explanation was abstruse. Even so, it was absolutely understandable in a weird way. She told Superman that she would love him if he didn't have any powers. And that very day she rejected the normal man she had claimed to love like she loved the hero.

"I'm sorry, Lois," Clark said, sounding increasingly desperate. "I know that there is no excuse for my lying to you. I should never have kept this from you..."

For a moment, Lois had no idea what she was supposed to do. Her best friend, the man she knew better than anybody else had lied to her. She felt betrayed. His admission unsettled the faith in him that had been so hard to regain. But the way he looked at her, the despair in his gaze melted her heart. She knew that she hadn't exactly made it easy for him to trust in her. She wanted to forgive him, just like he had forgiven her.

And then she decided that she would do what was on her mind. Taking a step forward, she stood on the tips of her toes until her lips touched his. A jolt of electricity ran through her. It was the feeling Lois had secretly been dreaming of for days. In this moment there was nothing they couldn't overcome. Of course they needed to talk, about a lot of things. But that could wait for a while.

Her tongue caressed his lips gently. Lois pressed herself against Clark, enjoying the exciting contrast of his strong chest and his soft mouth. She felt his hands on her back, firm and secure. But as he opened his lips, returning her kiss hungrily, everything around her faded. She was lost in the fascination of this ancient dance that inebriated her. Clark's warm breath tickled her face softly. She wanted to enjoy the moment, wanted it to last as long as it possibly could. Maybe forever.

THE END