A Friend in Need

By J.L. Masse (jlmasse@ntic.qc.ca)

Summary: A continuation of the episode "Big Girls Don't Fly" that picks up with Superman's press conference, where Perry suddenly makes the connection between Clark and Superman.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This is the first fanfic I've written in over 15 years (I wouldn't have known to call it that back then). I had in fact been toying with another L&C story idea for a while when this one came to me quite unexpectedly and refused to let go until I put pen to paper and fingers to keyboard.

Continuity-wise, this story opens with one of the last scenes of *Big Girls Don't Fly* (BGDF), in which Superman is holding a press conference at the Daily Planet to announce that he's leaving Earth.

Hope you enjoy. Any comments can be sent to jlmasse@ntic.qc.ca

The usual disclaimers apply. All characters in this story are the property of Warner, DC Comics and ABC TV.


Superman was really leaving. Perry hadn't quite believed it when Clark had come to him with the news, but there he was — the Man of Steel — holding a live press conference at the Daily Planet to let the world know that he was leaving Earth because he had another home as well, one that needed him now.

His speech over, Superman came down the steps to say some personal goodbyes. He walked over to where Perry and Jimmy were standing. Perry extended his hand to him.

"I'm counting on the Daily Planet to be the conscience of Metropolis," the Man of Steel said to Perry, giving his hand a shake.

Perry nodded, and Superman next turned to Jimmy, putting a hand on his shoulder.

"Jimmy, be a friend to Lois," he asked the young man.

"Of course," Jimmy promised. "Ah…hmm, Clark wanted to be here but he's out covering the reaction to your speech."

Jimmy's words caught Perry's attention. It had been Clark's idea to go cover the reaction to Superman's speech. Perry had initially planned to give that assignment to one of his junior reporters, but Clark had insisted, saying that he would have a chance to see Superman before the press conference and would tell him goodbye then. Clark's eagerness to get the assignment had surprised Perry, but he'd been too busy to dwell on it at the time.

Now that Perry thought about it, though, he felt some nagging, half-buried but never forgotten suspicions rise to the surface once more. Suspicions about Clark and Superman.

As Superman brushed by him and touched in shoulder, making his way to the back of the room, Perry somewhat absentmindedly gave him an encouraging pat on the back. Shaking his head, Perry sighed. Damn.

"Oh… ah, they're ready to roll on this," he heard Jimmy say.

The kid held up a pasteup of the front page of the next edition. The banner headline read *A WORLD WITHOUT SUPERMAN*. After one cursory look, Perry gave his approval. Jimmy immediately rushed off while Perry just stood there, thinking.

There was a definite resemblance between Clark and Superman. Both were the same height and had the same build and coloring. Sure, they talked, moved and held themselves differently (and of course Superman didn't wear glasses), but that could just be part of the disguise. How else would you explain that two men who were known to be close friends — Superman kept feeding Clark stories and all — were never seen together?

The only time Perry could recall Clark and Superman being seen together was outside the Daily Planet right after some nosy television reporter had claimed that they were one and the same. For a long time, Perry had reminded himself of that instance to push his suspicions aside whenever they came to the surface. But Jimmy had recently dragged him to some exhibit at the Museum of Technology, featuring computer animation and holograms, and since then, Perry had been wondering anew. The whole thing could have been a trick, especially since the two men had not once stood side by side, with Superman hovering about 30 feet in the air the whole time.

Not to mention that Clark had this habit of disappearing whenever a job for Superman came up. How many times had he gotten a sudden urge to go to the bathroom in the middle of a staff meeting, or left the newsroom in a hurry on some flimsy excuse?

And even before they'd announced their engagement, Lois had started covering for him. Not that her excuses were that much better than his. Perry smiled to himself.

Knowing Clark, it only made sense that he would tell Lois his secret before they made a commitment to each other. Or had Lois figured it out on her own, Perry wondered. She *was* after all one of the best investigative reporters around. But people were known to overlook even the most obvious when they were in love.

No matter if Clark had told Lois or if she'd figured it out on her own, Perry had no doubt that she knew. It explained why she'd looked so… subdued, even reluctant when Perry had asked her earlier to interview Superman and write a front-page article about his leaving. Not only was she losing a friend who'd saved her life more than once, but also the man who had become her soul mate, the love of her life. Geez.

Perry turned around, looking for Lois. There she was with the Kents. Superman — or rather Clark in his Superman persona - - stood before her, giving her hand one last squeeze before turning away to rise above the crowd with the two Kryptonians who had come for him.

The three of them flew across the room, then turned around, hovering in front of an open window. Even from a distance, Perry could tell that Clark was looking at Lois. The other two Kryptonians flew out the window and disappeared in a blur, but Clark stayed a moment longer. Perry saw quite a few people turn their heads, curious as to what or whom Superman was so intently looking at. Surprise registered on their faces when they caught sight of Lois, visibly devastated by Superman's departure. That they were friends was no secret, but Lois Lane was not one to display such emotions in public.

After one last lingering look, Superman disappeared through the window with a whoosh. As soon as he was gone, Lois lost what remained of her composure. Tears streamed down her face, a sight never before seen which attracted quite a few questioning glances.

Lois said something to the Kents, who held her hands in comfort. Perry didn't catch her words, but he saw the anguished look on her face and felt his throat tighten.

Unable to bear it, he turned his thoughts to the Kents. They had supposedly just arrived from Smallville and decided to pay their son a surprise visit at the Planet, not knowing that he was out on assignment. Perry now suspected that the real reason they had come was to lend Lois moral support — after all, it wouldn't have taken more than a few minutes for Clark to fly to Kansas and tell them goodbye there before he left.

Perry couldn't help but admire Martha and Jonathan Kent. No matter that they had just lost a son whom they obviously adored, they would make it a point to be there for Lois, now and in the days to come. That's the kind of people they were.

The thought suddenly occurred to Perry that they might also have come to help Lois explain Clark's absence, for with Superman gone, Clark would not be returning. Just how were they going to explain Clark's disappearance anyway? And how long would he be gone? Or had he left for good? Superman's answers on the subject had been rather vague at best. But surely, even if he were never to return, Clark would want his secret identity to remain just that — secret — so his parents and Lois wouldn't be harassed by the media, the government, or worse.

The announcement of Superman's departure had come quite unexpectedly, and it suddenly occurred to Perry that Clark, Lois and the Kents might not really have had time to think of an explanation for Clark's disappearance.

Perry watched Lois and the Kents a moment longer before clapping his hands to get everyone's attention.

"All right, people," he called in what he hoped was his usual, gruff managing editor's voice. "We've been standing here long enough. Everyone back to work. We have a paper to print."

Most of the reporters, photographers, and TV people who'd come to the Daily Planet for the press conference had already left. The staffers were now dispersing to go back to their desks.

Perry saw Martha Kent whisper something in Lois's ear. The younger woman nodded. She wiped the tears off her face with a tissue, making a visible effort to regain her composure.

The Kents exchanged a few more words with her in hushed tones, then walked over to Perry. Jonathan Kent held out his hand. "Thank you for the use of your office," he told Perry. "The whole thing came as a shock to us, but we're glad we had a chance to say goodbye to Superman and to… to thank him for all those times he saved Clark's life and Lois's."

"Think nothing of it," Perry replied.

"Well, we're grateful all the same," Martha Kent chimed in. "We'll be going now. Goodbye."

"Goodbye," her husband echoed.

As they headed for the elevator, Perry turned his attention back to Lois. She was sitting at her desk now, staring at the blank screen of her computer as if she had no idea how to turn it on. Perry walked over to her desk and put a hand on her shoulder. Startled, she jerked her head up to look at him.

"I'd like a word with you in my office," Perry said.

"Sure," Lois responded automatically.

She rose, and they walked together to his office. Perry closed the door behind them. The blinds were already lowered and turned for privacy.

"Sit down here with me on the couch," Perry told Lois when he saw her still standing in the middle of the room.

She came to sit on the couch without a word. Turning sideways, Perry took one of her hands between his own in a rare display of affection. He wasn't quite sure how to go about it, but he had to let her know that he knew and that he would be there for her.

"How are you doing?" he asked after a moment. "It couldn't have been easy for you two to say goodbye, considering how you feel about each other."

There went nothing.

"Perry," Lois said with a sigh, "I thought you of all people would know by now that Superman and I are just friends, that Clark is the man I love."

"Honey, I don't doubt that Clark is the man you love, but since he and Superman are one and the same—"

Perry saw her eyes widen in surprise as she pulled her hand free from his. "How… how did you know?" she asked, her voice barely above a whisper.

"I've had my doubts for a while now, but it all fell into place just now when Superman, or Clark rather, was talking to Jimmy. I… ah… (He cleared his scratchy throat.) I decided to tell you because I wanted you to know that I'm here for you."

"I… I appreciate that."

"And ah… well, for starters, I can help you cover for Clark and explain his disappearance. But tell me, do you have any idea how long he'll be gone?"

Lois shook her head, fresh tears welling up in her eyes. "No. I — we don't even know if he'll ever return." Her voice cracked.

Moving closer, Perry wrapped his arms around her, although a bit awkwardly. Lois wept silently on his shoulder for a while, then pulled away. Perry got up and walked over to his desk to get her a tissue.

"Thanks," she said with a poor attempt at a smile.

Perry sat back down while she wiped her tears away and blew her nose. "Now," he said when he felt that she was once again on an even keel or as close to it as she would get, "suppose you start by telling me the whole story behind Clark's departure."

And so Lois told him about New Krypton and about Zara and Ching, who'd come to find Kal-El (as Clark was called on their world) because he alone, as the head of his House, could prevent a tyrant named Lord Knorr from seizing power, which would lead to a civil war. Lois could not bring herself to mention that Clark and Zara had been married to each other as infants. The thought was still too raw, too unsettling, although she knew that Clark considered himself *her* husband and not Zara's.

When Lois fell silent, Perry, who was first and foremost a practical man, turned his mind back to his initial concern. "From what you've just told me, I get the impression that you and Clark didn't really have time to come up with an explanation for his absence."

"No," Lois admitted. "I mean, we talked about it last night. We both want him to be able to return to his life here as Clark Kent when… (Perry saw the look of pain on her face as she hesitated.) if he can make it back. We also agreed that even if he never returns, his secret must be kept safe, for his parents' sake."

"And yours," Perry added.

"Yes… So as I said, we talked about it, but I guess my brain and his were just too muddled because we never really came up with a workable plan."

"I see." Perry thought about it for a minute. "I think that first of all, we have to keep Clark around, so to speak, for a few days at least, just so people don't become suspicious and make the connection between Superman's leaving and Clark's disappearance."

"How do you propose we do that?" Lois asked.

"Well, the first thing will be to write that article Clark is supposedly out collecting material for. We'll put it in the morning edition with his byline."

"What if people notice that he never returned to the Planet to file his story?"

"I'll make sure the word gets around that Clark phoned to check in with me and that I suggested he might want to go home directly and e-mail me his story since his parents are in town for a surprise visit… Now, the first thing we have to do is call a few people to get their reaction to Superman's leaving. I'll phone the Governor, the Mayor, and the Chief of Police."

"And I'll call Inspector Henderson and Maggie Sawyer," Lois said, shifting into reporter mode. After all, her work had always served her well whenever she wanted to forget certain other aspects of her life.

"OK. That takes care of the authorities. But how do we get reactions from the people on the street? Neither of us has an excuse to leave the Planet right now."

And making something up was simply not an option.

"I'll call the Kents at Clark's apartment and I'll ask Martha to do it," Lois said after a moment's reflection. "She'll be only too glad to help."

"All right then. Let's do it. And later, the four of us will sit down and put our heads together to come up with a longer term plan to cover for Clark's absence."

"Right," Lois agreed. "I'll tell the Kents to come over to my place for dinner."

They both got up. Perry walked over to his desk while Lois made for the door. She had her hand on the doorknob when Perry called her name.

"Yes?" Lois asked, turning her head in his direction.

"I'll still need that follow-up on Superman's leaving," he reminded her, his tone and his expression apologetic.

"I know," she replied, her voice still a bit unsteady.

Without another word, she walked out of his office.


Lois pulled up in front of the brownstone where she lived. Driving on, Perry managed to find an other empty parking place down the block. He pocketed his keys, and got out of his car. Lois was waiting for him in front on her building. As he hastened to join her, he couldn't help but notice how tired she looked. The day had been a long and emotional one for her, and it was still far from over.

Between the two of them — and with help from Martha and Jonathan, who'd talked to some people on the street and phoned in their comments — they had managed to get *Clark's* article ready for the morning edition. As promised, Perry had made a point of casually telling Jimmy in front of others that Clark had gone home directly and e-mailed in his article.

So far, so good. But now they had to plan the rest of their strategy, so to speak.

Perry saw Lois glance at her watch and did the same. The Kents would be here in a few minutes. Martha Kent had apparently suggested that she and her husband stop on the way for pizza, and Perry couldn't imagine Lois putting up much of an argument.

Lois's mind was obviously miles — or more accurately light years away when Perry reached her side. His hand on her elbow brought her back to the here and now.

"Why don't we go in," Perry suggested.

"Yes. Of course."

Lois started up the front steps. Perry held the door open for her, and she led the way to her apartment. The Kents were there already, waiting in the hallway outside her apartment. Perry caught a fleeting look of surprise on their faces at the sight of him. Lois greeted them with a smile and asked them if they'd been waiting long.

"No, dear," Martha Kent answered. "We just got here. We stopped at that pizza place you like down the street, and it was less crowded than we'd expected."

If the Kents were wondering why Lois had invited Perry — and they had to be — they managed to hide it well while the three of them exchanged greetings. Once Lois had unlocked the door to her apartment, the four of them went in. Lois turned on the lights, left her purse and things on the chair by the door and hastily took off her jacket. When she turned to the others, Martha Kent had already put the pizza on the kitchen counter.

"I'll help you set the table," the older woman offered. "This is where you keep in the plates, right?" she added, pointing to one of the cabinets.

"Yes," Lois said.

The two of them quickly had everything ready. The four of them then sat down to eat, although Perry was pretty sure that none of them was really hungry. They just sat there until Martha Kent finally opened the box, grabbed a slice of pizza, and made of a show of taking a bite out of it. Her husband and Perry followed her lead.

Lois was the last to grab a slice and then only to put it on her plate, untouched. She stared at it for a moment before lifting her eyes to look at the Kents.

"Martha, Jonathan, there's something I have to tell you," she said to them. "Perry… Perry knows that Clark is Superman. He's… he's figured it out."

Jonathan Kent nearly choked on his pizza. His wife instinctively handed him his glass of soda. Perry thought that they were taking the news rather well.

"How did you find out?" Jonathan Kent eventually managed to ask.

Perry smiled wryly. "I've been keeping a rather close watch on Lois and Clark ever since your son came to the Planet. They're my best reporters, you see, and I — well, I care for them. So I noticed things, things that other people missed. Besides, I pride myself on being a good judge of character and I just couldn't imagine Clark leaving the woman he loves alone in a potentially dangerous situation to go find help or call the police. And if he'd really had to go to the bathroom every time he used that excuse to leave during a staff meeting, he would have had the smallest bladder on record!"

As Perry had hoped, his last remark brought a smile — albeit fleeting — to Lois's face and to the Kents'.

"Anyway," Lois put in. "I told Perry why Clark had to leave, and he's offered to help us come up with an explanation for Clark's disappearance."

"Yes. Actually, I've been doing some thinking on that and I have an idea, but…" Perry hesitated, turning to Lois. "Well, it would mean a lot of work for you, at least for a few days — although I'd help as much as I could. And… well, you might not be too thrilled with my plan because… well, because it involves convincing people that you and Clark have had a falling-out."

A look of pain crossed Lois's face, but she recovered quickly. "Tell us what you have in mind," she urged Perry in a steady voice.

So Perry started explaining his plan to Lois and the Kents. First, they would keep pretending for a few more days that Clark was still around.

"How do you propose to do that?" asked Jonathan Kent.

"I'm coming to that," Perry answered before turning to Lois. "Did Clark erase all his computer files before he left?"

"No. He gave me his password and told me that I was welcome to his list of contacts and the stories he'd been working on since they would no longer be newsworthy by the time he returned."

"Great," Perry said. "That's what I was hoping. How far along was he on his part of the article you two were doing on the urban renewal waterfront project?"

"Clark told me yesterday that he was working on a first draft," Lois answered.

"Which means that he'd already gathered all the material he wanted from the people living in the neighborhood, although other people don't know that, so we'll have an explanation for his being away from the office for the next couple of days."

"But people will eventually start to wonder why he doesn't come by the Planet, at least to touch base with you and Lois," Martha Kent said.

"Not if I let it slip that Clark and Lois here have had a falling-out and that Clark is deliberately staying away to avoid running into her," Perry replied.

"Yes," Lois said after a while, "that could work. As long as Clark keeps turning in stories and as long as Perry keeps mentioning that he's seen Clark, or at least talked to him, no one at the Planet will suspect that Clark is no longer in Metropolis."

"Exactly," Perry said. "But that means you'll have to do your regular work *and* ghostwrite Clark's articles for the next few days without anyone finding out. Are you up to it?"

"I'll be OK," Lois assured him. "It's not as if I had a lot planned for my free time anyway."

"And I'll help you as much as I can," Perry promised. "I may be an editor now, but I still remember how to be a reporter." Perry stopped for a moment, then explained the rest of his plan. "So after we've kept this up for a while and the newsroom is abuzz with rumors of Lois and Clark splitting up, I'll make an announcement, tell everyone that Clark came to see me at home and told me that he'd decided to resign and go back to traveling."

"And if people ask why he's not coming around to clear his desk and say goodbye?" Jonathan Kent asked.

"I'll tell them that Clark didn't feel up to it and that he'd asked me to give everyone his best. Given his alleged breakup with Lois, that should be credible enough. What do you think?"

"Doesn't the Sunday edition of the Planet have a travel section?" asked Martha Kent, whose expression had grown thoughtful.

"Yes," Perry confirmed. "Why?"

"When Clark was traveling around, he used to write travelogues and send them to us. We still have them at home, and I was thinking that we could maybe turn them into articles that could be published in the travel section, at least occasionally, under Clark's name. That way, Clark wouldn't disappear off the face of the Earth, unlike Superman."

"And it would make it easier for Clark to return to his former life if he still had some sort of tie to the Planet," her husband chimed in.

Clark's parents were sharp, and Perry liked their idea. "That could be arranged," he agreed. "Lois, are you up to it? Producing, say, maybe one article every two weeks until Clark comes back?"

"Yes, don't worry about me."

The pizza had grown cold by that time, but they had all eaten about just as much as they could manage, which wasn't much. So Perry and Jonathan cleared the table, while Martha and Lois made coffee. Afterwards, the four of them moved to the living room and continued discussing their plan.

At some point, Lois excused herself to go to the bathroom. Jonathan Kent watched her disappear in the bathroom, then turned to Perry. "You know," he told Perry, "I'm glad you found out about Clark's secret identity. Lois is going to need all the help and support she can get to make it through this."

"I think the world of that girl," Perry replied. "And I'll do everything I can to help her."

"We know, and we appreciate it," Martha Kent said. "Jonathan and I have come to think of her as our own daughter. But as much as we'd like to stay here with her until Clark returns, we can't. So we're grateful that you'll be here for her, especially at work, where memories of Clark will probably haunt her the most."

She said no more as Lois came out of the bathroom.

After they had planned just as thoroughly as they could for the time being, Martha Kent asked Lois if she would be OK all by herself. Lois said yes, not to worry about her. Clark's mother was visibly not convinced, but she did not press the issue.

Perry was impressed anew by how the Kents were selflessly ignoring their own pain to show concern for Lois and what she was going through.

As Lois rose to see them out, Martha Kent told her not to bother, and Lois didn't argue. Perry and the Kents said goodnight to her and headed for the door. When Perry looked around one last time before pulling the door shut on his way out, he saw Lois sitting cross-legged on the love seat, hugging a pillow and looking so forlorn that the sight nearly broke his crusty old newspaperman's heart.


A few days later, the now famous "By Lois Lane and Clark Kent" byline disappeared from the pages of the Daily Planet. Lois Lane and Clark Kent were each writing their own stories as if they were no longer partners. The rumor mill (discreetly fueled by Perry) was buzzing.

According to the latest rumor, Lois and Clark had had a falling-out because Clark was convinced that Lois was still in love with Superman. After seeing Lois's reaction when the Man of Steel had come to say goodbye, most people in the newsroom agreed that he was right. Perry had even heard some of his people speculate that Clark had broken it off with Lois after hearing about Lois's reaction from his parents. If another rumor (also started by Perry) was to be believed, the couple had actually been having problems since Lois had experienced amnesia after she'd been kidnapped on what was to be their wedding day.

Things were tense in the newsroom. People stopped talking whenever Lois walked by and then resumed their conversations in hushed tones as soon as she was out of earshot. Lois acted as though she didn't notice, and Perry wasn't all that sure that she did.

Actually, he didn't recognize this new Lois, who never seemed to lose her temper, never smiled, and kept pretty much to herself. No one could really fault her work. Her stories were still good, but they were no longer inspired. In fact, some people were starting to say that she'd lost her edge as a reporter. Rapping herself up in her work had always been a way for Lois to cope with personal difficulties. Lois had admitted to Perry that this time, however, it was not enough to fill the void in her life created by Clark's absence.

Perry understood all too well. His own wife had left him because he was married to his work, but without her, his work was not enough to make his life complete.

Looking at Lois through the window of his office, Perry sighed. Even from a distance, he could see that her face was drawn. Keeping up with her own work and writing Clark's articles on the side was obviously taking its toll on her. Perry wondered if she managed to get any sleep at all. A good thing that Clark would leave for parts unknown in a couple of days. At least then Lois wouldn't have to ghostwrite so many articles.

Perry decided to arrange for her to have a couple of days off. He would suggest that she spend them in Smallville. Being away from the Planet for a while and seeing the Kents might do her some good.


Lois unlocked the door to her apartment and hurried in while trying not to drop any of the files she'd brought home to read. Once she'd put the files down on the kitchen table with her briefcase, she turned around to leave her purse and keys in their usual place. That's when a picture of Clark caught her attention as it did every night when she came home alone and almost as often when Perry came home with her to work on Clark's stories or simply to share a meal and keep her company.

Clark had been gone over four months, and Lois still missed him every minute of every day. Blinking back tears — damn, she'd promised herself that she was through crying — she resolutely headed for her bedroom to change.

Her overnight bag was still by the bed where she'd left it this morning as a reminder — as if she needed one — that she had an early flight to catch the next day. Moving it out of the way, Lois decided to pack as soon as she'd eaten, before she started reading that pile of research that she'd brought home. It wasn't hard to get up early when you hardly slept at all, but Lois still preferred to pack the night before, just to be sure. She didn't want to miss her flight, knowing that Martha, Jonathan or the both of them would be waiting for her at the airport.

Lois and the Kents called each other often, and Lois was looking forward to seeing them again. Some of the Kents' neighbors in Smallville subscribed to the Daily Planet (no doubt because of Clark) and had asked about Clark when his byline had disappeared from the city section of the Daily Planet. Martha and Jonathan had told them that Clark had left Metropolis because he and Lois had had a falling-out, but they'd made it clear to everyone that they felt their son had made a mistake and that they still thought the world of Lois. So no one was really surprised when Lois first came to visit them.

Lois had gotten into the habit of going to Smallville every time she had a couple of days off (something Perry tried to arrange for her as often as he could without appearing to show favoritism). Lois always felt better in Smallville. She loved the Kents, and she'd promised Clark that she would take care of them. She wasn't quite sure though just who really took care of whom. Or maybe it was simply that they needed and took care of each other.

Would she have made it through the past four months, Lois wondered, without the Kents and Perry. Other people — namely her parents, her sister Lucy, and Jimmy — had tried to help; but they didn't understand what she was going through. How could they? Jimmy, in particular, had been true to his word to Superman and tried his best to be a friend to her. But he believed that Lois had been dumped by his best friend Clark, and that made things rather awkward between them and sometimes even painful for Lois.

Thank heavens for Perry, who kept an eye on her and always sent Jimmy on some errand or other when he saw her floundering for a way out. Truth be told, Perry had proven to be more than a friend since Clark had left. Thanks to him, they'd been able to explain Clark's absence and leave the door open for his return.

They had it all planned. When Clark returned — as Lois was convinced that he would if there was any way for him to do so — Lois would immediately tell Perry. Perry would then let it slip that he'd heard from Clark and that Clark was coming back to Metropolis in a few days, having apparently had a change of heart. Superman would then make a public appearance to let it be known that he'd just returned to Earth. After he'd been seen around Metropolis for a few days, Lois would request some personal time. After a couple of days, she would return to the Planet accompanied by Clark, who would ask Perry for his old job back (and Perry would be only too happy to oblige). People would assume that she and Clark had worked out their differences and that they were back together.

*I can't wait,* Lois told herself as she changed. Going back to the kitchen afterwards, she opened the refrigerator to find that she still had some rye bread and sliced turkey. Great. She'd gotten into the habit of stopping at a deli once or twice a week because Perry seemed to prefer homemade sandwiches to take- out food and he'd become a frequent visitor.

At first, he came mostly to help her with *Clark's* articles. But now that they only needed to produce one every other week using Clark's old travelogues, he came mostly to keep her company and offer a friendly ear. Without seeming to, he always let her lead the conversation so that she could choose to talk about Clark or not. Lois had picked up on that and loved him all the more for it.

She owed him so much. Closing her eyes, Lois thought back to the day when she'd walked into his office to hand in her resignation. By that time, they'd successfully convinced everyone that Clark had left to wander the globe once more. Perry had already offered to handle what little editing Clark's travelogues needed to turn them into publishable articles and Lois had lost her taste for just about everything (including work), so she'd decided to quit. In truth, she had given in to her pain and misery, unable to see past the void in her life.

Perry had been the one to pull her out of her depression. He'd reminded her that Clark — both as himself and as Superman - - had devoted himself to helping people and making the world a better place. He'd told her how in her own way, as a reporter, she had the power to do the same. Lois had then realized that she could give her life a new purpose by being the best reporter that she could be, not to win a Pulitzer or to scoop the competition, but to make a difference for the better as Clark had done.

So thanks to Perry, Lois had once again found salvation in her work. She had changed, however. Words like ruthless, brash, and brazen no longer applied to her as a reporter. And although her work was once again important to her, it was no longer an all-consuming passion. Lois was still achingly aware of all that was missing in her life, but she had at least regained her will to go on and a measure of peace.

Lois stared at the paper in her hand, trying to make sense of the numbers on it. Ledgers and such had always been more Clark's cup of tea than hers, but Lois had received a tip about a member of the board of a major charitable organization misappropriating funds to pay off gambling debts. Since the tip came from a reliable source, Lois had decided to look into it. Unfortunately, that meant going through the organization's books and annual reports with a fine-tooth comb, something Lois found less than appealing.

She had just about decided to call it quits for now and ask an accountant she knew to go through the numbers for her when she heard a knock at the door. Lois glanced at her watch. It was almost 11:30. Who could it be at that hour?

Lois silently made her way to the door and looked through the peephole. Her body froze instantly. She even forgot to breathe. Then she couldn't unlock the dead bolts and the chain on her door fast enough. At last, she opened the door wide, and there he was. The love of her life, dressed not as the superhero or as the star reporter, but simply as Clark, her best friend and soul mate, in jeans and a T-shirt.

Lois had dreamed about this moment so often that she had to convince herself that he was real, that he was not simply a figment of her imagination. So she reached out to touch his arm with a trembling hand. This was no dream. She could feel the warmth of his skin and the firmness of his muscles.

Before she knew it, they were in each other's arms, hugging each other as if they never meant to let go.

"I missed you," Clark whispered against her hair. "I missed you so much."

"Me too," Lois said. "My life was empty without you."

Tears were streaming down her cheeks, but she didn't mind this time because they were tears of joy. Closing her eyes for a moment, she gave silent thanks for his return. Now that he was back, she could acknowledge the fear that she'd fought to keep buried all those months — the fear that she would never see him again.

After a while, Clark pulled back gently and gave Lois a shaky smile. "I think we should go inside before someone sees us out here crying buckets."

Lois returned his smile and dabbed at her eyes. She could see him lift his glasses to do the same.

"You're right," she said as she took his hand to pull him inside her apartment.

As soon as she'd closed the door, they were in each other's arms again.

"It's so good to be able to hold you again," Clark sighed before giving her a long, lingering kiss.

"It's cold out tonight," she said, nuzzling his neck. "Don't you feel a little underdressed with just a T-shirt on?" This was a rather silly question to ask, but she felt a bit overwhelmed just then.

"Well, it was either that or the Suit because I didn't pack any other clothes before I left. I just couldn't see myself wearing jeans or a coat and tie on New Krypton."

Lois lifted her head, her thoughts at once a little clearer. "You mean, you didn't go to your parents' first?"

"No, I wanted you to be the first to know that I was back. I even walked to your place so no one would see me as Superman and know before you did."

"Oh, Clark." As always, he made her feel special, loved.

"I have so much to tell you," Clark said, all that he felt for her plainly visible on his face.

Lois kissed him, then stepped back, holding his hand in hers. "Me too," she said a bit shakily. "But you should call your parents first, let them know that you're back. They'll be so happy. And then you and I could fly out there tonight or tomorrow. I have the weekend off, you see, and I was supposed to spend it with your parents, so I'm all packed."

She was babbling, but Clark didn't seem to mind. In fact, he had an all-too-familiar grin on his face, one that Lois had missed dearly. She gave his hand a squeeze, then went to retrieve the cellular phone she carried in her purse.

"I'll just make one quick call while you talk to your parents," she explained.

While Clark picked up the phone in the living room and started dialing his parents' number, Lois walked to the other side of the room (wanting to give him some privacy but unwilling to let him out of her sight). She punched a key on her cellular phone and brought it to her ear. The phone rang seven times before someone answered with a muffled, half-asleep hello.

Lois suddenly realized how late it was. "Perry, did I wake you?… I'm sorry. You know I wouldn't call at this hour if it weren't important… Yes. Yes, he's back," she said, looking straight at Clark with a radiant smile.


Perry hung up the phone, relieved to hear that Superman was back — which would really put a damper on Intergang's attempts to extend its criminal activities. But even more relieved to hear that Clark was back to bring happiness to Lois. If two people had ever deserved to be happy, these two did.