A Matter of the Heart — Part 2

By Evelyn Catano (evelyn4lc@aol.com)

September 16, 1995

Summary: A sequel to "A Matter of the Heart" in which Lois & Clark discuss their future and make a visit to Smallville. Clark considers popping the question and has another unfortunate encounter with kryptonite.

[Author's Note: This is a sequel to my first story written back in February, so it follows that revelation, *not* the current show. It takes up exactly where my first one leaves off. I was inspired to write this continuation after receiving some very generous and kind words about the first one with many people asking for more, complaining it had ended too soon. So here is the "more."

Special thanks go to Elaine for help "above and beyond," to Leigh for additional inspiration and to Sue for final proofing and suggestions. I also want to thank my husband(my very own Clark Kent) for his patience, understanding, and help with my ideas.]


Clark and Lois sat side by side on the couch in his apartment, arms around each other for many long minutes. The silent embrace continued, each tightly holding on, as if fearing they might lose the other any second. It just felt so good, so right for them to be together.

He loved the feel of her hair against his cheek. Finally, he moved his hand to touch her face, running his fingers through her hair, and pulled her in for a long, deep kiss.

Lois was the first to speak, "Clark, I still can hardly believe it. I—"

"Have questions?" He finished for her. "I want you to know everything, Lois. Let's see, where should I start?"

Lois jumped in, "How 'bout with 'I love you?'" And she kissed him again.

Clark returned the kiss, gave her another hug and, while still keeping his arms around her, her head against his shoulder, started to describe as much as he knew of his beginnings, his parents on Krypton, being sent to Earth, being found by the Kents, and his early years. As he spoke, Lois would stop him now and then to ask a detail, then let him continue. He tried to describe how and why he had come up with the idea of the "suit."

She watched him as he spoke and the more she heard, the more she felt greater understanding for all that he was. And she loved him all the more, her eyes misting at the realization. There really was so much more to this man than she ever could have guessed.

They had talked for over an hour, when Lois felt her stomach start to protest. "Clark, can we continue this later? Over dinner, maybe? But don't forget to tell me about your ship, too."

"I was about to suggest that, when I heard your stomach growling," he teased, tickling her there, causing her to double over laughing while trying to escape. She shook a finger at him as they got up from the couch. He promised a truce, temporarily.

"Lois, I really don't know much about the ship, just that I wish I could find it. I'll probably never see it again. Who knows where Trask had it taken?"

She saw the sadness in his eyes and heard it in his voice as he talked about it and how much the globe had shown him. He had told her he first found it with the ship in the Bureau 39 warehouse back when Lois and he had only known each other for a very short time.

He remembered running his hand over the "S" design, hardly able to breathe at the discovery. He managed to sneak the precious sphere out, but had never seen the ship again.

As they walked toward the kitchen, she grabbed his hand, squeezed it and said, "Oh, Clark, maybe we can find it someday— together."

"I hope so." He looked down at her, kissed her on the forehead, and whispered into her hair, "I love you *so* much."

They ordered Chinese to be delivered because they both still felt drained from the weekend's ordeal. Though Clark had recovered quickly once he regained consciousness after his accident at the pier, he still fought fatigue.

After dinner, he rested, stretched out on the couch with his eyes closed and his head in her lap, her hand caressing his forehead and temple, curling some of his hair around her fingers. As she looked down at him, it was hard for her to think how close she had come to losing him, and still breathtaking to know so much power was contained in one gentle, loving man. She realized she was staring.

"Mmmm, Lois, that feels so good," he said between yawns.

"Oh, did you call your parents?" Lois reminded him softly, knowing that he had wanted to again reassure them he was okay.

"Thanks. Let me do that right now!" He rose slowly from her arms to reach for the telephone.

During the call, he wanted to fly to his parents right then, to let them see that he was all right, but his low energy stopped him. Instead, he promised to come for the next weekend, hoping that Lois would accompany him. There was so much he wanted to show her there, too.

As he hung up, he grinned at her. "We're invited for the weekend. Will you come with me?" He looked over hopefully.

"Of course, I'll come. I can't wait to see your parents again. They were just wonderful to me when you were—" she couldn't finish over the lump that formed in her throat. "They're *really* special people."

"They just said the same thing about you, my love. Thank you for thinking of them like that." He thought of the way she had kept them informed when he was in the hospital. He cupped her face in his hands, then took her into his arms again, caressing her lips with his own.

She pulled away from him. "Clark, I need to go. You're exhausted, and I want you to go to bed now."

"Well, maybe if you tuck me in," he half teased, but was just about ready to collapse. "I wish you didn't have to go, though." He willed her to stare deep into his soft brown eyes and still leave.

"Me, too, but I know you won't really rest unless I do," she softly reprimanded him. Clark went to change, while Lois waited for him. Then, after he had crawled into bed, she made sure his covers were tucked all around, both of them enjoying every minute of it. She leaned over him. "G'night. I'll lock the door on my way out. And Clark," she paused, "please don't try to answer any calls for help tonight," she pleaded as she kissed him, wishing him sweet dreams.

"I promise." His eyes were already closed as he said it, and Lois was able to hear his steady deep breathing before she got to the door, indicating sleep had overtaken him. Relieved, she blew him a kiss, grabbed her bag and left, locking the door behind her.

She wouldn't have any trouble with sleep this night, either. The next day was Monday and back to work. She knew the days would fly by as they made plans for their trip to Smallville. * * *

Perry could tell that something was definitely different between the two of them, though he didn't say a word. He was very tempted, but held back, just for now, he thought. And he granted them the coming weekend off, humming one of Elvis' early hits, "Love Me Tender." Aw, I'm just getting too soft these days, he mused, laughing to himself.

Clark and Lois were together every possible waking moment, meeting for breakfast, work and dinner. Even though Clark seemed back to normal at the Planet, Lois could tell a difference. He made it through their busy days, but was still needing a lot of rest, the evenings cut short with Clark falling asleep on her shoulder, on the couch. Just a few hours sleep, he had told her, was all he usually needed. But now it was more like ten. His continuing exhaustion worried her, and she would have mentioned it to him, but she could tell that it was decreasing. She could also tell that he was quite aware of it and embarrassed by it. He was getting his energy back, but slowly. She told herself she would never again take his strength and invulnerability for granted. * * *

By Wednesday, he was feeling so much better that he talked to her about flying her to Smallville and not by commercial airlines. Lois wasn't so sure he should use up his energy like that, but she relented, thinking how exciting it would be flying with him again!

Things had been wonderful between the two of them, their understanding growing with each passing day. They'd not argued once, until he'd heard that stupid siren. She recognized the faraway look he got when there was a call for help.

"Clark, please don't go. You're not strong enough yet," she pleaded.

"There's a fire, Lois. I have to, but I'm okay, really. Please don't worry." He kissed her cheek, and breezed out.

Lois pounded her desk in anger, attracting the attention of some newsroom staffers. She sat down quickly, took a deep breath, and decided to check it out herself. After all, it was news, too. And *he* was always newsworthy. She grabbed her bag and headed for the elevator.

Sharing him was not going to be as easy as she'd hoped. * * *

Clark landed them in front of the farmhouse, setting Lois on her feet. With her arms still around his neck, she pulled him down to her, kissing him squarely on the lips. "That was a wonderful trip! Can I book you for all my flights?" she grinned up impishly.

"Of course, Ms. Lane," he replied formally, laughing as he gathered her up again and carried her to the porch.

He set her down and stepped back to spin. As Lois watched, ever in awe of the sight, he changed into jeans and a soft blue flannel shirt just as his parents opened the door.

"Clark, Lois, we're so glad you're here." Martha immediately grabbed her son in a long embrace, then looked him over.

"Now, Martha, give the boy a chance to get inside," chided Jonathan affectionately, as he then took his turn hugging Clark. Lois had already gotten a hug from him, and watched in silent appreciation at the loving exchanges amongst the Kents.

Martha turned her attention to Lois, giving her hand a loving squeeze. "Thank you for taking care of him for us." She then embraced her.

Lois was speechless until Jonathan piped in, "What're we doin' standing in the doorway? Come on in. Lois, we're so glad you came!"

They settled in the living room, catching up on farm talk and big city news. Lois could hardly believe how natural it felt, to be included as a part of this family. The evening flew by with dinner and then dessert with coffee over the kitchen table. How warm and comfortable it was.

Before calling it a night, Clark invited Lois for a moonlight stroll. The moon was full and the stars glittering as they walked arm in arm. Clark stopped to point out a constellation, then looked down at her to catch her gaze, suddenly sweeping her up into his arms.

"Would you like a closer look? I did promise I'd fly you to the moon." He grinned, remembering her song.

"Oh, Clark," she sighed as she lost herself in a kiss. The two of them soared smoothly toward the stars, the moon as their guide. Then she felt the sensation of just floating, as if suspended in the night sky. Time passed as murmurings of "I love you" interspersed with sweet kisses were exchanged. They forgot everything except each other. It was after midnight when they finally glided back to earth, deciding they should head to the house.

They had the whole weekend ahead of them. * * *

The next morning Clark enjoyed knowing Lois would wake to the smells of the home-cooked breakfast being prepared. He was also glad that she didn't rise any earlier because he had a chance for a chat with his mother. Martha was just as happy to get an opportunity to dig some answers out of her son.

"Have you proposed to Lois yet?" Martha asked.

"No, Mom, but I was kinda thinking about doing just that this weekend!" He replied, taken by surprise at his mother's question.

"Have you gotten the ring yet?" she pressed further.

"No, but—"

"Clark, do you remember the ring that's been passed down through the Kent family? Course I don't want to push, if you want to buy her a new one, but if you'd like it, your father and I'd love you to have it—for Lois." She managed to get it all out in one breath before stopping to wait for his reaction.

"I remember it. It's beautiful! And I'd love it, but it's yours," he protested.

"Now it's yours," and she quickly pressed a small box into his hand. As he opened it, she explained, "I took it to the jeweler in town. He cleaned it, checked the setting, and boxed it for me."

"How'd you know I was going to—?"

"Propose?" Martha interrupted. "Oh, honey, I guess I know my favorite son pretty well by now. I could tell by just watching you two together!"

Clark gave her a sheepish grin, and she started laughing as he picked her up in a big bear hug. Then he added, "I love her, Mom, and she loves me! I didn't know it could feel so good. And—she saved my life."

"Oh, sweetheart," she sighed, her arms still wrapped around her son.

"She did. She called me back. I don't really know what would've happened without her. I can't remember much at all— just a fog, like I was lost, until I heard her singing, pulling me back. Then I woke up in the hospital, and there she was."

Martha reached up and kissed his cheek, as she said, "Yes, dear, she *is* special. We're so happy for you both."

She grew more serious, pressing him about how he really was, physically. He eventually managed to convince her that, though he was still fatigued at the end of the day, his powers were all back to normal. Martha accepted his report with relief, and asked him to help set the table for breakfast.

Lois walked into the kitchen just as Clark placed the last plate on the table. He looked up as she entered, and Martha noted that she had never seen her son look so happy.

"Good morning!" they chorused, then laughed.

While Clark held a chair out for Lois, Martha called Jonathan in from the barn for breakfast. The table was decked out with platters full of pancakes, bacon and sausage, potatoes, blueberry muffins, and fresh strawberries. Eggs were made to order, and Lois requested one over easy. Clark took his scrambled. After generous helpings and offers of seconds, some accepted, they began to clear the table.

Jonathan recruited his son's help with some chores outside, so Lois pitched in to help Martha with the dishes. They began to chat comfortably. Clark's mother confided to Lois that she had never truly been able to talk to another woman about her son. This was a joy for her, and she knew Lois would have a lot of questions.

When Clark walked back in, they had barely had a chance to broach the subject of him as a child. Blushing deeply, he quickly diverted the conversation.

"Lois, feel like a walk? I have some favorite places I'd love to show you."

Martha interrupted before Lois could protest. "I can finish these up. You two go on. Enjoy the day!" She winked at him as Lois turned toward the door.

As they stepped out on the front porch, Clark took Lois' face in his hands. "I feel like we finally have time—time to talk about everything."

"So do I. I love you, Clark." She looked up into his deep brown eyes and leaned in for a brief kiss. Moving back slightly, she added, "I've been thinking of some more questions for you."

"And I have one for you." His eyes twinkled as he said it.

"Oh?" asked Lois, surprised.

"But you go first. Shall we sit a minute here on the steps?" Clark hesitated.

"No, let's walk. I want to see the pond you keep talking about." She took his hand in hers, as they started. "You know, the last time I was here was for the corn festival, almost two years ago," she remembered. "There are so many things I wish I'd known," she paused. "I could have helped you more." She gazed at him with regret in her eyes.

"Oh, my love." He smiled, his heart full at how much she cared. Bringing her into an embrace, he kissed her forehead. "I know. We talked about this just a few days ago. We can't change the past, but you're here with me now. And believe me, I'm glad to have you in my corner!" he teased her out of the dark mood.

Lois put her thumb through one of the belt loops of Clark's jeans, as they continued to walk, and he followed suit. They strolled along the dirt road between an orchard and a field of foot-high corn stalks. At the end, they came to a pond, just the right size for skipping stones or for skinny dipping! They looked at each other at the same time, both blushing as they realized the same thought. There were some rocks at one side, so they sat, shoes and socks discarded, jeans rolled up, with their feet dangling in the cool water.

"Ooh, I don't think I'd want to swim in this. Brrrr," exclaimed Lois, leaning heavily against him, but leaving her feet in as they slowly grew accustomed to the coolness.

"It does warm up over the summer," he smiled, putting his arm around her. They just sat there on the smooth boulders for several minutes, watching the ripples in the water, silently enjoying just being together. He loved feeling her next to him, the smell of her hair and how it shone in the morning sun. He never wanted to be without her again.

Clark broke the silence first. "Uh, Lois, there's something I've been wanting to ask you," he paused, gazing into her eyes. Hoping for the right words, he leaned back slightly from her to take both of her hands in his. "Will you marry me?"

"Oh, Clark, yes, *yes*!" She drew him close as their lips met gently yet fully. They both felt the promise of the future.

"Oops!" He reached into the pocket of his jeans and took out a small box. He opened it, revealing a ring, the diamond centered in a beautiful filigree setting in silver and gold. Taking it out of its holder, he took her left hand. "May I?" he asked, waiting for her nod before slipping it on her finger.

"It's beautiful!" she whispered.

"But not as beautiful as you." He smiled, as he brought her hand up to his lips.

She looked down at the ring for a long moment, then up at him. She didn't want to break the spell, but there were questions still nagging at her, one in particular. It had only been one week since she'd learned his secret, and this felt so right. But she had to find out.

"Clark, I need to—Ummm, I—I don't want you to think—I mean I haven't changed my mind, but I need to know—" her voice faltered. He was the most generous and kind person she had ever known. She didn't want to hurt him.

"Go ahead." His voice and his eyes were trying to encourage her to say whatever was obviously weighing heavily on her mind.

"Will we be able to have children? I mean—not that I ever wanted a big family or anything because I haven't always wanted kids, but—" she babbled, gazing nervously at her feet, until Clark interrupted her.

"Lois—" He spoke again once she looked up at his face. "I don't know. I wish I had the answer for you. I hope so. I mean—I'd like to if you would. Jor-El said that he chose Earth because it was the most compatible, but—I guess it wasn't fair for me to ask you before—I'm sorry."

She gazed at him as he spoke with a mixture of sadness and hope in her eyes. Then, seeing his despair, she quickly added with convincing resolution, "We could always adopt, couldn't we? But it doesn't matter anyway because we'll always have each other." This she felt in her heart.

"Always," he repeated, tears in his eyes. She reached up to wipe them and he drew her close for a deep kiss that took her breath away. "Lois, I will love you forever."

"Mmmmm, Clark, will you?" she said dreamily as she pulled out of yet another kiss, just resting her head next to his heart for a long pause. Then a big grin erupted across her face with a giggle. "Well, this contract calls for at least the next 80 years or so. You're stuck with me, babe," she teased, poking her finger into his chest. "And, as the future Mrs. Clark Kent, I have certain expectations." She grinned. "I—expect—" she hesitated between each word, trying to look serious, but not succeeding. She repeated, "I expect our marriage to be—just— super!"

"Oh, Lois, that was bad," he exclaimed as he burst out laughing, as well.

Regaining some composure, they left the water to explore further down a path near the pond. They walked side by side, hand in hand, but, after less than a minute, his arm moved around her shoulder, drawing her closer, hers again encircling his waist. Every few minutes they would stop to kiss again.

Lois didn't think anything could top the happiness she felt at that moment. The day was perfect; life was perfect. In fact, she felt in such a whirl, so lighthearted. She pulled away from him and decided to run. Enjoying her playfulness, Clark continued to walk steadily, but at the same pace, just watching her. She slowed back down to a walk when she noticed a change in the terrain. They were getting to a rocky area with some large boulders gathered beyond some trees.

"I think I see a cave over there," she pointed to an opening in the rocks on one side of the road. Clark still lagged behind, enjoying the view.

"There's a cave, all right, but the ground and rocks around it are unstable. The old wood supports are rotted out by now. It's not safe."

"But how can I not be safe when I'm with you?" She teased and challenged him a little at the same time. Then she turned and headed for the cave.

"Lois, please!" he called, but she ignored him. He caught up to her in a flash of speed at the mouth of the cave. "Can't you ever wait?" he blurted out, exasperated.

"Oh, come on, Clark, let's explore!" She gave him that look he could never refuse. Giving her a light tap on the tip of her nose, he stepped in.

"Well," he peered around, "okay, but let's be careful, please!" he pleaded. Then his tone changed as he began to reminisce. "I came here a few times as a kid. There were some native Indian writings. Let's see if they're still here. Back this way. Should be enough light to see that far in."

"Really? Native writings?" she said, her interest piquing.

"Here." He pointed to a rock wall about 15 feet from the entrance. Lois and he walked over to look. She examined it closely, and was impressed until she noticed some initials.

"CK?" She gazed up at him with pursed lips.

"Well—my friends and I made some of our own one summer," he admitted, grinning mischievously.

"Oh, you." She gave him a playful shove. She didn't expect him to budge, but, not prepared for her move, he lost his balance. His shoulder brushed the wall of the cave. "Oops, sorry," she whispered, holding her breath.

Some rocks overhead suddenly gave way. Clark grabbed Lois to fly her to safety, shielding her from the falling debris. But before he could get her out, one rock, larger than the rest, rolled down from above, grazing his head and shoulder. He started to stumble, crying out as he tried to break the fall, still sheltering her with his body.

"Lois, I—"

"Clark? Clark!" She'd looked up to see part of the cavern roof coming down. Light filtered in, and she knew that something else was dreadfully wrong. Clark was suddenly struggling, breathing hard, and his temple was—bleeding! What had she done!

"Must—be—kryptonite!" he gasped, confirming what she had already suspected.

She was painfully aware nothing else could affect him like this. He fell to his knees, then collapsed on the floor of the cave with her partially under him. When Lois reached her hand to the side of his head, it came back bloody. She could feel him still breathing, but he was burning up. She had to get them both out of there. When he no longer responded to her calls, her fear grew, but she was determined to keep calm.

"Now, Lane, we need a plan. Have to get rid of the kryptonite," she mumbled to herself. She struggled to free herself, and managed to crawl out from under Clark's upper body. Gently lowering his head, she wasted no time in locating the source of the trouble. She spotted the green glow, partially embedded in the boulder, and tried to move it away from him, attempting not to react to the sight of his limp form next to her. It was too heavy and wouldn't budge, and the kryptonite was too firmly set into the rock for her to dig it out.

She needed to move Clark, but his weight was too much for her to drag more than a few feet by herself. She had to get help. Tears filled her eyes as she realized she would have to leave him. But the Kent farm was too far for her to make it in time on foot. Her hand gently swept across his cheek.

Looking toward the cave opening, then back at Clark, she recalled him saying that this area bordered the farm of Wayne Irig, a close family friend. Irig and she had met at the Kent farm at the end of that whole Trask affair, almost two years ago.

All of a sudden, she could hear the hum of a motor, and it was getting louder, coming nearer. As soon as she was out of the cave, she started running toward the sound, tears streaming down her face. As she got to a slight ridge, she could see a man on a tractor in the distance. It was Wayne Irig.

"Yes!" she exclaimed and started running faster, yelling at him at the top of her lungs.

Wayne's pickup was nearby, so he quickly drove them back to the cave. It took a few minutes for him to help her drag Clark out. They had jury-rigged a stretcher from a tarp, rolled him onto it as gently as they could, and pulled him out. Once they managed to lift him onto the back of the truck, Wayne drove, while Lois sat with Clark. His head rested in her lap as she held a cloth torn from her cotton shirt pressed to his temple, trying to stop the still-oozing blood.

He was only semi-conscious at times, moaning in pain, and calling her name. She felt so desperate, thinking it was taking too long to get to the Kent farm. She really didn't have any idea how much Wayne might figure out or already knew, but it was clear they shouldn't go to a hospital. But was she right? She hoped that Martha and Jonathan would know what to do. Funny that Wayne didn't question their destination. Maybe he was aware of Clark's secret! But the Kent farm, about 5 miles away, was much closer than town and the nearest hospital. She just wished they could drive faster on the rough farm road.

"Oh, God, please make him okay," she prayed, struggling unsuccessfully to hold back more tears. "Clark, oh, Clark, why aren't you better now? Why're you still bleeding?" She held him tightly, trying to will her strength into him. She kept going over in her mind how long he had been in the cave, exposed to the kryptonite—almost half an hour had passed by the time they had gotten him out.

When they got to the Kent farmhouse, Wayne yelled as he opened the driver door. Martha came running out of the house as Jonathan appeared from the barn.

"What is it, Wayne?" Jonathan cried as he rushed over. One look in the back of the truck explained the urgency.

Lois blurted to them, "We were exploring a cave and some rocks fell and hit Clark. He's still bleeding," she sobbed, "and it's been almost fifteen minutes since we got him away from it!"

"Oh, dear God!" exclaimed Martha. "Let's get him inside."

They moved him to the couch. He was unconscious, though obviously in pain and burning up with fever. Remaining beside him, Lois held his hand, caressing it, trying unsuccessfully to hold back her tears. Martha cleaned the wound, finding it to be a deep gash at his left temple. Suddenly his body spasmed, his breathing becoming more labored. They looked at each other in alarm, realizing he wasn't far from death. Frantic, she wiped away some more of the blood, then noticed some green particles embedded in the skin.

"Oh, my, no wonder!" She pointed them out to Lois and Jonathan standing beside her. His body shuddered again and he moaned.

"We've got to get them out. He—can't—die!" Lois cried out in desperation.

Wayne had silently stayed in the background until needed. They held Clark firmly to keep him from moving suddenly, while his mother carefully went to work. Knowing time was of the essence, she removed them as quickly as possible, but altogether, his length of exposure reached almost an hour. Using her large magnifying glass, Martha made sure she hadn't missed any. Once she was able to get the fragments out and away from him, the bleeding stopped. Relief swept over them. His improved breathing confirmed the absence of the deadly substance, though he remained pale. Lois looked down at him, gasping at the sight of his wound closing, and she remembered a time before when Superman was shot.

Her thoughts were interrupted when Martha spoke, "Oh, thank God!" With a sigh, she took a moment to catch her breath. They both were sitting on the edge of the couch next to Clark, Lois again clutching his hand. Martha felt his forehead, then stroked his hair, lovingly.

"We need to get him out of these clothes," she observed. She couldn't believe the sight. Blood stained Clark's shirt and was all over Lois' top and jeans. "My poor dear, what you must have gone through!"

"How is he?" Their thoughts were interrupted by Jonathan's return. Wayne and he had immediately taken the bits of kryptonite out to the barn, planning to imbed them in some lead and bury them.

"Better, his breathing's steady now and stronger, and the wound's already closing. But I want to get him to bed," Martha answered.

As she spoke, Clark stirred, moaning softly, then whispered, "Lois."

"I'm right here," she said as she tightened her grip on his hand.

He gave her a weak smile. "You saved my life again."

"Oh, Clark—" She kissed the hand she held in hers. Her heart felt heavy, thinking she had been the cause of this, of so much pain for him in the past. Guilt, as well as the trauma of the last few hours, left her drained.

He remained groggy and exhausted, besides the exposure to the kryptonite, his loss of blood was significant. The two men had to practically carry Clark to his bedroom which was just down the hall from the kitchen. While Martha helped him off with the battered and bloody shirt, Lois pulled his shoes off. Doing any little thing for him made her feel better.

She caught her breath when she looked up to see the bruises on his now exposed shoulder and chest. Those rocks had certainly taken their toll, and she felt his pain. They helped him settle into bed as comfortably as possible, pulling the blankets up to his shoulders. It tore at her heart again when he tried to apologize for spoiling the weekend. He fell asleep still clutching her hand.

Martha could tell that Lois wanted to stay with Clark, so she placed a chair close beside his bed for her. Then she went to make some tea, knowing Lois needed to talk.

About fifteen minutes later, she peeked in to see Lois lying next to Clark but on top of the blankets, just staring at him, looking miserable herself. She was gently brushing his hair back from his temple and turned her head as Martha spoke.

"I remember when he was little. I always wanted to protect him, but couldn't."

Lois responded, "Yes, I wish I could protect him from kryptonite the way he protects me—us. Funny, he seems so indestructible sometimes and others—" her voice trailed off.

"Lois," Martha spoke softly, as she took Clark's hand out of hers, bidding her to rise. "Come, take a minute for yourself. Change your clothes and have a cup of tea with me. My guess is that Clark'll sleep for hours. It's okay to leave him for a bit. The door will be open, so we can hear if he stirs." * * *

Lois hadn't realized how she looked until she saw herself in the bathroom mirror. Showering and changing quickly, Lois met Martha in the kitchen. As she sat down to the cup of oolong, the clock was just striking one. Realizing they were alone, she inquired about the others.

Martha informed Lois that Jonathan and Wayne had decided to return to the cave. They would retrieve the kryptonite and dispose of it before anyone else could find it, before it could endanger Clark again.

"Martha, does Wayne know—everything?" Lois finally found her opportunity to ask.

"Well, he knows about kryptonite and that Clark is somehow connected to Superman. But he's never brought up the subject and probably never will. We think he figured it out that day when Trask challenged Clark."

Martha sat reflecting for a second. "It would have been mighty difficult to miss what was going on, especially when Clark ran up to untie the three of us, declaring, 'Superman's back.' Even though Trask interrupted the rescue, and his back was turned, Wayne was aware of the fight which took place and what was said before Rachel Harris arrived."

She added to ease Lois' concern, "Wayne's such a good friend, more like an uncle to Clark. He would never betray a trust."

There was a quiet moment between them. "Clark asked me to marry him." Lois blurted out the topic weighing most on her mind, and took another sip of the soothing brew.

"I know, dear. He told me he was planning to, and I noticed the ring."

"I want to say 'yes.' I mean—I did say 'yes' this morning, but I'm scared." She clutched the mug in front of her.

Martha reached across the table, taking Lois' hand in hers. "It's okay. Lois, it's not surprising. Clark's no average guy. And after what you've been through today—just don't expect too much of yourself right now. You need to rest, too."

"It's not just that. It's not just that I feel responsible. He would never've gone into that cave if it hadn't been for me. Never, never—" she paused, torturing herself with the memory. "And as Superman he's always putting himself on the line, in jeopardy to go to the rescue. It's one of the things that I really love about him and yet—Can I live with the risks he takes every day, sharing that part of him with the world? Never knowing if he'll fly back to me, when he responds to an alarm?"

"Dear, you couldn't have known what would happen in that cave," Martha soothed. "Don't blame yourself. Anyway, he's going to be fine. As for the rest, you're the only one who can decide if he's worth it. I know how much Clark loves you, but he wants you to be happy. Tormenting yourself over this won't help. Why don't you try to get some rest?"

"I don't think I can sleep. My mind won't settle down. It's only been a week since he shared his secret with me, and so much has happened. I've almost lost him—twice now. I'm afraid." She nervously twisted the ring on her finger. "Even before all of this—I remember when he tried to stop that asteroid. He could've been killed then, too. If only I'd known, I could've helped him through it," she said as she remembered his amnesia.

"But, Lois, you did help. Your words brought back his memory—*your* clear picture of Superman." Martha poured more tea in her cup.

"But how do you stand it? When he and I came to Smallville for the corn festival—The kryptonite made him so sick. It makes me miserable to think how little help I've ever been to him. Why couldn't he have told me sooner?"

"You had no way of knowing, dear. And, even then, you were a good friend to Clark. He's always considered you very special. You know, he's always wanted to tell you, but he's had to keep his powers secret for so long—had to be so careful. And he just wanted to be loved for himself. He was afraid that you'd only want Superman."

"Oh, Martha. There was a time when I wondered if Superman's suit actually came off!" Lois admitted, blushing.

Martha began to laugh and almost fell out of her chair. "Sorry," she managed to get out between the bursts. Lois just looked at her, then started giggling herself. Martha added, "Back when I made his first costume, I pointed out to him that they wouldn't be looking at his face. He was totally mortified at the time."

They both chuckled at the picture she painted of that moment. With the laughter, Lois felt the weight lighten.

"Thanks. I feel a little better. Maybe I'll find my notebook and put down some thoughts. It helps when I'm upset."

"Y'know, I write sometimes when things are on my mind." Martha rose from the table with Lois.

"Thank you. Thank you so much for listening. I'm going back to sit with Clark, if that's okay?" Lois couldn't stay away long.

"Of course," Martha gave her a big hug. "I'm sure he'll be asking for you when he wakes up, anyway," she smiled. "Lois, anytime you want to talk—"

As Lois sat at the edge of his bed, she slid the ring off her finger, looking at it, then at him. Oh, Clark, how I do love you, but—she thought wistfully. She sat there, fingering the ring between the thumb and forefinger of her left hand, then set it down on the night table. She started to write, her other hand never straying far from his.

She began with the negative feelings. As she wrote, the silence in the room was only disturbed occasionally by a moan from Clark, tearing at her heart. How could she stand this—and how could she not? She continued writing. * * *

"Wayne, just a second," Jonathan warned.

"Huh?" Wayne stopped dead as Jonathan grabbed his arm and dragged him off the path they'd been following and out of view of the men surrounding the military-looking truck parked in front of the cave entrance.

"What's the army doing here? We're nowhere near any bases." Jonathan shielded his eyes and squinted to try for a better look.

"They're not army!" Wayne declared fiercely.

Jonathan started, then stared at his normally mellow friend. Intense emotions ranging from fear to hatred were all vying for expression.

"They're Trask's men. I still have nightmares—" Wayne's voice trailed off until he shuddered and brought himself out of his reverie.

Jonathan clearly remembered the Bureau 39 "crazies" who had terrorized all of them less than two years before. "You wanna wait at the truck, Wayne?" he quietly asked.

"No!" Wayne stated firmly. "I don't know what they're doin' back here, but it's no good. That's for sure. I'm gonna find out what it is!"

The two men watched from their hidden vantage point until they saw the soldiers finish loading up the truck. They waited as it disappeared from view on the other side of the cave opening, taking the road toward Somis, the next town over.

"Think it's safe?" Wayne scooted a little farther down the path to get a closer look.

Jonathan shrugged. "We could wait all day without knowin' if there's anyone else there. Let's get on with this."

They walked cautiously into the rocky opening. Wayne guided Jonathan over to the kryptonite-ridden boulder. Jonathan broke out the hammer and chisels, and they made quick work of the boulder, separating the green substance from the rest of it. Wayne examined other rocks for traces, trying to be thorough in the removal, while Jonathan loaded all the suspicious-looking chunks into the backpack and set it outside of the entrance.

"Find anything else?" he asked, startling Wayne as he was working his way to the back of the cave, his flashlight grasped firmly in his hand.

"I saw some kinda reflection over there." He pointed to a darker corner. The sun filtered in through new openings in the roof, openings apparently resulting from the cave-in, and lit something shiny. Trodding carefully toward it, the two friends found a large, rectangular, metallic surface set into the rock wall.

"It seems to be solid steel, almost like a door." Jonathan ran his hand over the surface. "Wayne, we're not equipped for this kind of thing. I think we need to get back home and try to come up with an organized plan."

"Yeah," admitted Wayne, disappointment clear on his features. "We won't find any answers if we suddenly have to confront armed men."

"Wayne," Jonathan began as they exited and he grabbed up the backpack. "I can't even start to thank you enough for helpin' my boy, and you've never asked anything—"

Wayne interrupted him quickly. "Jonathan, nothin' to thank and nothin' to explain. I'm the one who owes you. You're the one who's always shared him with me. He's almost like *my* son, too—" He looked off, embarrassed by the subject. "Now, let's get outta here!"

Jonathan slapped him affectionately on the shoulder and laughed. "I'm with you. I have a nice lead-lined box out in the barn that should make a perfect home for these," he hefted his cargo a little higher on his back, "until Clark can decide how best to dispose of 'em." * * *

Lois heard a vehicle drive up to the house, peering out of Clark's window as the volume increased. Seeing the truck, she realized Jonathan and Wayne had returned. She stopped writing and set her notebook down on the chair to join them in the living room. As she reached the bedroom door, she paused to look back at Clark. He remained sound asleep, such a heavy sleep. She gave a sigh and closed the door behind her.

Lois walked into the living room and was suddenly engulfed in a supportive hug from Jonathan.

"How's Clark?" Jonathan asked, keeping his arm around her shoulders for a few minutes longer.

"He's resting comfortably. I think he's going to be fine." She actually managed a smile for Clark's father. "Did you get it all?"

Wayne rolled his eyes, sighing heavily as he answered her. "We got a lot more than we expected—"

Lois listened with rapt attention. The second she heard mention of a military vehicle, her thoughts jumped to memories of the Bureau 39 group led by Trask.

She was getting a funny feeling about this; she had to go investigate that cave further. Her reporter's instinct gnawed at her. Her heart leapt as she realized what this could mean to Clark. She had to get in and see if there was any information about the ship and its current location. Her mood brightened at the possibility of helping the man she loved.

"What?" Lois was brought out of her thoughts by Martha's insistent voice.

"Lois, what are you thinking? You look too determined," Martha repeated, eyes narrowing.

"We've got to check it out," Lois stated.

"Now, Lois, I don't think it's a good idea to go down there. Besides, we saw no way to get it open, if it is a door." Jonathan added, "We should probably wait for Clark, anyway."

"But we don't know how long he'll be out, and it sounds to me like we should try to find out as much as possible. Are you sure there was never anything special or different about that cave before?"

"Right. It's just been there forever, seems like." Wayne seldom spoke in her presence, but added a few more historical facts about the cave. Unfortunately, none of them helped with this mystery.

"Well, then, let's go. Maybe we can get in before that truck comes back. I—"

"But Lois," Martha interrupted, "it could be dangerous."

Lois ignored the statement. "So who's going with me?"

"Wait, let me call to town and see if Rachel knows anything about it." He picked up the telephone. "Martha, how long's the line been dead?"

"Why, I don't know. The last call was before Clark's accident," Martha responded in surprise.

Lois repeated, "Who's going with me or am I going alone?"

"Count me in," Wayne volunteered. "Don't look at me like that, Martha. They have to be stopped before they can hurt anything else." He rubbed his fingers absently.

Jonathan knew they couldn't fight Lois' stubbornness and finally agreed. "I'd best go to town to see the sheriff, tell her what's goin' on and see if she knows anything about this." He also planned to report the phone problem and promised to return as soon as possible.

Martha reluctantly elected to stay behind with Clark. He was in no condition to be left alone.

Lois had previously said she didn't want to leave him, but seemed so intent on going now. Martha had never felt more aggravated toward her. She couldn't understand Lois' reasoning, but only hoped that Clark would awaken soon, so she could get his point of view. Then she realized that, as soon as he learned what Lois was up to, he would try to follow her no matter how sick he was.

After they left, his mother looked in on him. She had no idea what she would tell him. * * *

Wayne parked the truck in the brush, well away from the cave as he had before, and they cautiously walked up to it, checking around it. There was no sign of vehicles or anyone around, so they snuck in slowly. He led her to the metallic inset in the rock wall.

"I wish Clark were here. He's so good with locks." She ran her hand around the perimeter, feeling for any loose rocks or spaces. It took several minutes, while Wayne nervously shifted from one foot to the other, but she managed to find the key. Pushing on a rock to one side of the object, it moved and the door slowly opened. Although Wayne was hesitant, Lois pulled him in with her. The automatic door closed behind them with a bang.

It left them in a small area with another door ahead of them. And here, Lois thought, just like Bureau 39's so-called "furniture" warehouse on Bessolo Boulevard, was the same kind of combination lock ticking off the seconds left for them to get out. If she could only remember what Clark did. He'd used a date as the key. But what date would they use here? She thought a moment, then turned the knob first to the right, then to the left, then the right again. The digital clock stopped suddenly. They were in. There was too much coincidence here for it not to be related to that maverick, top secret agency, Bureau 39. But it was supposed to have been disbanded.

"How'd ya do it?"

"Ssshhh! I'll tell you later," she whispered.

Inside there were lights intermittently placed along a narrow, but long corridor, which dimly lit the area. The walls were almost smooth here, appearing to also be manmade. And dirt covered the floor except for various spots which were taken up with huge boulders. All was quiet so far as they began to check the hideout. It appeared empty, but as though items had recently been moved, and there were a few scattered papers. Lois picked one up from the ground; it confirmed Bureau 39's involvement, but nothing else. Lois thought there may have been a hasty exit made by whomever had inhabited the place.

They tried to search the area systematically. Lois took her time, checking all containers as they went. Putting lids back on, they attempted to leave no obvious signs of their activities. Lois was getting disillusioned in her quest, but there seemed to be some large bins still stacked up in the last alcove they could see. They moved toward them cautiously. * * *

Hours after the cave-in, Clark awoke with a start, calling out her name, but she wasn't there. He started to realize that he'd had a nightmare. In it, Lois was dragged away from him, in deadly danger—and Trask was involved. But he had been dead for almost two years, ending that terrible incident when he had found out Clark's secret and tried to kill his parents and him.

Martha burst in, "Clark, what is it?" She'd been sitting with him, but had stepped out for a moment.

"I'm sorry, Mom, just a bad dream, I guess."

"How do you feel, honey? You've been out for hours." She felt his forehead.

"I—don't know. Better, I guess," he said as he sat up slowly. But then he tried to get up and immediately sat back down again on the edge of the bed. Rubbing his temple, he admitted, "I guess I'm still not quite back to normal, just a little dizzy."

"Well, that's to be expected. You lost a lot of blood along with the exposure to kryptonite. Gave us quite a scare, Clark, especially for Lois."

"Where is she, Mom? I have a horrible feeling about her, I mean my dream, like she's in danger or something. Once I see her, I'll be okay."

Martha hesitated, "Uh, she isn't here right now."

Just then the ring and the notebook caught Clark's eye. "What's this?"

Before Martha could stop him, he began reading what Lois had written. He had stood up to reach it, scanned it, then suddenly slumped down hard on the bed. "That's why she's not here. She's left—me." Tears formed in the corner of his eye. Clark struggled with his emotions. He was clearly devastated by what he had read.

She glanced at the paper, the last written line catching her eye, too. Lois' hasty scribbles ran on, "I should just go back to the city. Was I fooling myself? I'm bad news. My mind tells me to leave, can't do this—"

"Oh, honey, no. She was feeling confused and scared. She was just writing down some thoughts to sort things out for herself, but I don't think—"

He interrupted her, "Then where is she? And why would she leave the ring here if not— Mom, she said 'yes.' She let me put it on her finger." He was overwhelmed with this wrenching ache in the pit of his stomach.

Martha placed her hand on his shoulder, trying to find the right words to comfort him in his anguish, while not sure she wanted to tell him the truth of Lois' destination. She knew her son. He would want to go after her, even in his weakened condition.

"Clark, I—"

"Mom, please! Where did she go?"

She finally conceded, "Wayne and your dad went to get rid of the rest of the kryptonite in the cave, but found something else. There's a door hidden in the wall. Your father drove to town to talk to the sheriff because they also saw a military truck leaving the area. The phone is out, so we couldn't call. But Lois talked Wayne into going back with her. She's convinced herself there's a connection to your ship! They've been gone about an hour now."

"Oh, no! I have to find them," his concern overriding all other emotions at that moment. And he remembered his dream.

"You're still in no shape to go anywhere." Martha tried to discourage him.

"I can't just sit around when she needs me."

"Please, at least wait for your dad. He'll be back any minute. Please, Clark," she pleaded, almost crying. His recuperative powers were miraculous, but strained to their limit during the past seven days. Even though she was also worried about Lois and still upset with her for going off, dragging Wayne with her, she was determined that Clark would not go anywhere by himself when he was only just able to stand.

It was a losing battle, but Martha didn't let him go alone. She went with him. They took her old four wheel drive Suburban. It could take her anywhere. * * *

Just as Lois and Wayne were about to look in yet another crate, they heard noises. The door had opened. Someone was coming back! Lois pulled Wayne behind the boxes with her to watch and wait. As they struggled to remain completely still and noiseless, they peered toward the source of the sounds. They could see between the boxes and barrels. Two people were being shoved in followed by two others, one with a gun.

As they came a little more into view, Lois stifled a gasp, realizing it was Clark and Martha. They were prisoners! The soldiers had tied their hands behind their backs and now shoved them down to sit on some rocks nearby. As the two armed men argued about the fate of their captives, she tried to think of how to get out of this. The one who was holding the rifle obviously wanted to kill them on the spot, but the other man seemed to be trying to stall him. Their voices carried well.

"They were involved with Trask's death. Why should we wait? Let's kill them now. And I want to start with her. Kent here gets to watch his mother die first." The gun-wielding soldier had hate in his eyes.

"Hold on. We don't have orders. We wait for the others." The second man seemed to be trying to discourage him.

"We need to be ready when they get back. We cut the phone lines, but it may not buy us much time."

"She had nothing to do with it. Let her go. Please!" Clark pleaded with them. He could hardly believe the fate which timed their arrival at the cave to coincide with that of these men, who recognized them.

"Oh, that would be too easy on you," he replied, vengefully.

The discussion ended suddenly with the first guard grabbing Martha, pushing her away from Clark. Lois watched in horror as he began to take aim at her. He was going to kill her first. Clark tried to ram himself into the gunman, but was knocked back, then hit in the stomach with the butt end of the gun, causing him to double over in pain. He fell in front of his mother, still trying to protect her.

Lois knew he couldn't possibly have recovered fully in so short a time. Clark! Her mouth formed his name, but she managed to stifle her yell.

The gunman raised his weapon again, but this time was surprised with a fist from the other soldier. A struggle ensued as each tried to overpower the other. As they fought, the gun went off, wounding the man who had tried to stop the shooting. The first soldier again turned toward the civilians. Clark would be next.

Lois could only run. Thankful for the dirt floor, she remained relatively unheard until she had almost reached him. Then, pulling herself into an attack stance, she kicked the guard hard in the chest. He went reeling back. Before he could recover, she kicked again, this time sending him to the ground, his weapon flying off to one side. As he landed, his head hit the rock wall, laying him out cold. She made a mental note to thank her Tae Kwon Do instructor. She then quickly looked for the gun, only to be relieved to see that Wayne had retrieved it and stood guard against any further threats.

The situation in control for the moment, she turned to Clark and Martha. They had been speechless, watching their rescuers. She ran to them, draping them both in a huge hug. Misty eyes were shared in relief as she finished untying their ropes. While Wayne kept watch over the other man who was still unconscious, Lois tied him up with Martha's help.

Then the soldier who had fought to stop the attempted murder, suddenly coughed, gaining their attention. Blake, as his name was confirmed on his uniform, was bleeding heavily. He'd taken a bullet in the chest. Martha found a cloth and tried to apply pressure to the wound. He was gravely injured.

Blake motioned to Clark to come nearer. As he kneeled next to him, the man tried to speak, but produced only a whisper. They all gathered close as he went on in hushed tones, his words divided by coughs, as he explained.

"I know—*who* you are. I was with the Smallville team two years ago at the farm." His narrative was interrupted as coughing racked his body. The hacking finally subsided and he continued, addressing Clark almost exclusively. "I saw you break out of the back of that van to rescue your parents and challenge Trask. I was the driver. And I'm the one who shot at you when Trask pushed her," he nodded toward Lois, "out of the plane above Metropolis. I knew something was wrong after you jumped out and I found the flattened bullet."

He steeled himself to continue his dying confession as another bout of coughing came and went. "I found myself following Superman's exploits and gradually changed my mind about him—you. I kept your secret. I had to stay with Bureau 39, but hoped I could steer them away from Trask's legacy of paranoia and violence. There's only one way to 'retire' from the Bureau. Looks like I'm gonna get my gold watch now," he tried to joke about his wound.

This secret bunker had been built only a year earlier. The cave had been found when they had first visited Smallville, and plans for the place were made later. It was set up with a security system. If anyone came close, charges were set to send rocks crashing down upon the intruders, and it had an explosive in the entry for those not knowing the code. He noted the cave- in that had gone off earlier on Clark and Lois and apologized for not being able to prevent it.

"How did you get in?" motioning to Lois and Wayne.

Lois smiled and explained. "I just had a feeling and went with it. I dialed in the date the ship landed in Smallville, May 17, 1966."

"The ship!" Blake exclaimed as he suddenly remembered and pointed triumphantly. "If nothing else, I wanted to accomplish one thing as my legacy with the Bureau. I had to bring the ship back to this place, where it belonged."

He smiled almost peacefully. "You traveled as an infant from Krypton to Earth in it! I knew it was important to you. I had to make amends." As he finished his story, his final statement directed them to the dark recesses of the hidden cavern, warning that others would be returning soon and advising speed in their task.

Clark listened, moved by this man's courage and by his sacrifice for a stranger. He took his hand, grasping it in thanks as he met the man's eyes.

Lois was first to find the hiding place and shine her flashlight into the crate for all of them to see. There it was, the ship, missing for such a long time.

Clark felt it was like the missing key to his origins. He stood behind her, trembling, his hands on her shoulders, his eyes glistening in the dim light.

"Lois, we *found* it!!" He was incredulous at the sight.

Then, as urgency hit, they hurried to remove it from that place. Lowering the lid, two of them lifted it. It was bulky, but light in weight. Wayne helped Lois carry it out, then he returned to help Martha with the wounded man.

Seated on a rock near the entrance to the cave, Clark was catching his breath, not very much himself yet. Lois hovered over him, bidding him to rest, reprimanding him for having come at all.

"I had to, Lois. You were in danger." He confided his dream to her.

"Oh, Clark!" She wanted to wring his neck, but hugged him instead. Then, startled by sirens and realizing there might be too many questions, Lois took charge.

"Martha, will you go back to the house and take Clark with you? He's not up to questions, and this way you'll get the ship away from here, too. Wayne and I will stay for now."

Lois made sense, so Martha accepted her suggestion. She would take Clark home in the Suburban, the ship safely hidden in the back. He was too spent to fight them. Lois and Wayne remained, awaiting the sheriff's arrival. The sun was low, casting a brilliant golden glow across the sky.

Jonathan drove up with the sheriff, followed by her deputies. And prisoners were visible in the back of the patrol cars. Sheriff Harris had decided to come out to investigate when Jonathan had reported his concerns. His was not the first complaint about something going on in that area. They had captured the other suspects while en route.

An ambulance followed, the staff taking over the care of the wounded man, Blake, now unconscious and in critical condition. The emergency vehicle left as soon as he was secured.

The other soldier was brought out of the cave by the officers. He was regaining consciousness, yelling as they handcuffed him. They tucked him in the back of one of the patrol cars.

Wayne and Lois gave their statements with Jonathan's support. The sheriff wanted them to come in the next day to sign the reports, but it was still another hour before they got home.

Martha had succeeded in getting Clark back to bed, but she encouraged Lois to look in on him. "He's been waiting for you, dear. I think he really needs to see you right now."

He stirred when she opened the door. "Lois! I was afraid you wouldn't come back. The ring—" His voice cracked with emotion.

"Shhhh. Of course I'm here," she kissed his forehead. "Go to sleep. We'll talk about everything tomorrow. I promise." She sighed, only beginning to realize how her actions had affected him. She had completely forgotten the ring left in his room.

He closed his eyes but wouldn't let go of her hand. When he finally fell asleep, she went out to the kitchen for a bite to eat. They had missed dinner.

Jonathan and Martha were there waiting for her. They had made some hot chocolate, and Jonathan poured her a cup. She drank it with her meal. None of them had much to say by this time. The day had been too overwhelming.

She settled next to Clark for the night, holding him close. * * *

Lois slept soundly. Roused by noises from the kitchen, she awoke to find that he was already up. Worry crossed her mind, but was replaced with confidence of his health via that intuition of hers. She walked out to the kitchen where she found Clark's mother preparing breakfast, and she asked about him.

"Lois, I just have to get this off my chest. I want you to know how much I appreciate all you did for us yesterday. I'll never forget it. But I have to say how upset I was with you for leaving Clark. And when he read your notes, I was fit to be tied! I couldn't stop him from going after you."

"He read my notebook? Oh, no! Martha, where is he?" Feelings of dread and sorrow replaced the confidence. Martha directed her out to the backyard.

She found him sitting under a tree about fifty feet from the house, staring off into space, and wondered what he was thinking. She gently tapped his shoulder, interrupting his thoughts.

"Hi!" When he looked up, she could tell he was upset, and understandably so. She wanted to kick herself.

"Hi," he replied, subdued. He took a deep breath, then let it out slowly as if it were painful. "Lois, I saw your notebook. It's okay if you want to call off our engagement." He didn't know how he would stand it, the idea hurt so much, but he was determined that she know he would accept her decision.

She sat down next to him and took his hand, intertwining her fingers with his. "Clark. I was pretty confused after the cave-in, but I never meant for you to read that—my—uh—I never finished—I—Oh, Clark, you let me off too easy."

"Too easy? Lois, I want you to be happy and you're not. You suffered through more than anyone should be asked to yesterday and last week and—"

She interrupted him. "You suffered, too." She hesitated, trying to organize her thoughts. "I had a chance to figure some things out. I went to that cave to try to find something for you and ended up finding something for myself, too. It helped to hear I didn't cause the cave-in. And I know now that you'd be who you are with or without the super powers, risking your life for others, for what you believe to be right. I saw your courage in the cave last night, the way you tried to save your mother."

Clark started to interrupt, but she motioned with her hand for him to wait. She was glad he was a patient man.

"We aren't very different, really. Just like me, sometimes you jump in before checking the water level. I figured out life, for all of us, is a risk. Your job as Superman is just more like a fireman or policeman, never knowing what you'll face, but you go when you're needed. I admit it isn't going to be easy, but I want you in my life. I love you, Clark Kent. I won't run away."

"Lois," he whispered. "I love you, too, and I *need* you."

"I know," she whispered back, having realized how important being needed was for her.

She apologized for leaving him to check the cave. "Your mom's still a little upset with me. I hope I can make it up to all of you."

"You did already. You found the ship." He gazed at her with love and longing.

"*We* found the ship!" She pushed him backwards, causing him to slide from the tree to lying in the grass with her beaming down at him. She plunged herself into his kiss.

"Okay, okay, I give. You like to be on top," he grinned at her. He held his hands to both sides of her face, his fingers entwined in her hair.

"Clark, I forgot to ask. How are you? Are you okay?" She suddenly remembered how weak he was the day before and how easily she'd gotten him in this position.

"Well, not very super, but much better. I need a little more time, I guess. Maybe I just need a good nurse. Do you know one?"

"Does the job require experience?" she laughed.

"On the job training," he murmured. Then he quickly flipped her over so that he was on top. "Do I see a volunteer?"

"Wait a minute. I thought you were still sick."

"You're the best medicine." He leaned in for a kiss. No further need for words, she melted into him. * * *

After a lovely Sunday breakfast with his parents, Clark led Lois down to the storm cellar. He wanted a better look at the ship and to share it with her. Jonathan and Martha had moved the vessel there. It was the logical place to hide it for now. He was thinking of digging a subbasement for the craft later, when his powers were back.

He carefully pulled off the lid of the crate and pried out some of the nails. Then they were able to pry off the front panel.

There it was! Clark stepped closer to examine it, while Lois held back a little. He ran both of his hands lovingly around it, especially lingering on the symbol in front. He opened it to find a shell just big enough to hold an infant. Although he remained silent, with tears in his eyes, he motioned Lois to his side.

"Oh, Clark," her eyes misting, too, "it's so small."

With one arm around her, he drew her close. "I wish I knew why they—Jor-El and Lara—couldn't save themselves. Why just me?" Clark spoke so softly, Lois wouldn't have been able to hear him had she not been so near.

She stretched up and kissed his wet cheek, then put her arms around his waist. She watched as his face brightened.

"Clark, what is it?" She wondered why he pulled away from her embrace.

He stepped over to retrieve a small bag which he had brought down with them. As he reached in, she couldn't imagine what it could hold, but the answer was clear as soon as he held it up.

"The globe? Is that the globe?" She seemed to stammer slightly in surprise.

"Yes. I've had it stored here at home since I got it back. I brought it down to set it in its original place on the ship. It seems to have been the key to the navigational system. Here!" and he put it in the hollow made for it.

A bright light suddenly shone from the globe, spiraling all around them. They watched in wonder as visions of another land, another world, were displayed in three dimensional images. Two people were the focus, but only one spoke. They were his parents, his Kryptonian parents, Jor-El and Lara. And it was his mother who gave the message.

"Kal-El, we cannot know how you are, but hope that you are happy and have prospered. Your new home was chosen with care, that you might have the life that our home planet would have taken from you as it took us. We would have accompanied you, if we'd had the time to build a larger ship. But it was not meant to be. Please know that our love is with you always. Do not mourn us. We died as we lived—together.

"Now please allow the scanner to directly send you historical and other pertinent information about your heritage, our only legacy." Lara held up her hand in a farewell gesture, tears flowing down her cheeks, her husband beside her with his arm around her shoulder, his eyes also moist. They nodded and were gone.

The light faded, but was quickly replaced with a thin blue beam, striking Clark's face. He staggered back slightly from the intensity, but remained standing.

"Clark?" Lois grasped his arm, but he didn't respond. He appeared to be in a trance, not hearing her frantic calls. She was about to run and get his parents, when it abruptly ended.

He was left off balance and would have fallen had Lois not retained her grip on him. Shaking his head, he appeared to come back to the present.

"Lois?" He whispered, still looking confused.

"Oh, Clark, you scared me. That beam hit you, and it was so strange. I—"

"It was like a million messages hitting my brain at once. But now it's all becoming clear. It was the input from their libraries. They wanted me to know all about their history, their civilization, my—birthright as a Kryptonian." He still looked slightly dazed, but was smiling.

"Are you sure you're all right?" Lois couldn't shake her concern over the effect it had had on him.

"Honest, honey, I'm fine. I can't explain it. It's like a great fog has lifted from my past, and it feels wonderful!" He grinned down at her and pulled her into an embrace. "So many questions have finally been answered—thanks to you." Kissing her deeply, he added, "Oh, my dearest one, words can hardly express how much you mean to me."

Her arms tight around his waist, she observed him with a smile as he tried to describe some of what had been unfolded to him. He wanted to share it all, the culture, the architecture, the customs and much more.

They had a lot to tell his parents. * * *

Clark caught Lois dreamily gazing at him and silently questioned her motives again. She had remembered scientists mentioning something about his powers being solar-related and made him sit in the sun all that afternoon, shirtless. Clark had argued the need for this, but she had insisted, quite smugly, he reflected, pointing out to him that he would absorb the healing rays much faster without any obstruction.

Out there near the pond with her, he really didn't find it a chore. They had unfolded a blanket to lie down on the grass there with a picnic, then stretched out side by side, her head on his shoulder.

In fact, he was feeling better, getting stronger by the hour. He had felt a little cool at first, but the sun warmed him. It did seem to be energizing him. His Lois was right again! "His" Lois. He liked the sound of that very much. He had found his soulmate. Now, after all they'd been through together, she really seemed to understand. But more than that, she accepted and loved him because of *and* in spite of everything he was.

"Lois, you forgot something yesterday." He pulled her out of a sleepy haze. Recalling the item loose in his jeans' pocket, he dug for it.

"Hmm? What?" She stretched and raised her head slightly.

"This." He took her left hand and carefully slipped it on her finger.

"Oh, Clark! I'll never take it off again. I'll wear it forever. I'll—" She was starting to babble.

"Lois—It's okay." He interrupted her, wanting to ease her feelings of guilt over the ring and her notes.

She looked into his eyes and was overwhelmed with the love she saw in them. Yes, she wanted to be with him always, make her life with him, spend each passing day trying to love him as he deserved to be. She would never allow him to feel alone again.

He traced a line from her brow, down her cheek to her chin. Then, cupping her chin in the palm of his hand, he lifted her face to his. The kiss was long and sweet, their lips clinging as did their bodies against each other.

Lois had never experienced such feelings of love with such passion. She had never known anything so strong, so wonderfully encompassing. She realized what the difference was in their relationship. It wasn't just the love, the mutual respect, trust and partnership in work, and it was never just a physical attraction. They had a real commitment to each other in all facets.

As she tried to remember a line from an old poem, a love sonnet, she was surprised to hear the words come out of his mouth.

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height My soul can reach—"

Neither of them could remember the rest at that moment, but it didn't matter.


[Note: The poem quoted is the first 4 lines from "Sonnets from the Portuguese" No. XLIII by Elizabeth Barrett Browning.]