By Demi/Demona firstname.lastname@example.org
(PG-13) Summary: An elseworld story that shows how Clark, consumed with guilt, handles a personal tragedy. Can Lois bridge the gap between them and thaw the wall of ice Clark has built around himself? Is either one willing to try again? The author calls the story a "PG-rated version of an experiment which I felt the urgent need to explore ever since I saw 'Contact' [the third-season LnC episode] last year." Author's foreword:
To My Sweet Guinea Pigs: If you think you've already read HP … think again <bg>. Almost every scene has been altered or enhanced. The story winds itself in still new and undiscovered directions even as I write this. ;)
To Everyone Else: Welcome to the Lois & Clark elseworld of "Heaven's Prisoners." This is the PG-rated version of an experiment which I felt the urgent need to explore ever since I saw "Contact" last year. Needless to say I couldn't make myself go to the necessary lengths for some time, but now that I have I do feel that I need to qualify.
This is also by no means a "complete" or "total" story. The more I write the more I realize that there probably is no such thing. Life goes on forever, even the lives of two made-up characters in a novel or on TV. We poor souls in the real world only get to see glimpses of some of the more interesting parts if we're lucky.
As I delved into the "What If" premise my story based itself upon, I discovered that the primary "catalyst" would not, in my opinion, work! Fancy that. However, I then decided to throw caution to the wind and follow the story anyhow, see where it lead me. What I ended up with (I believe) is my take on the way L&C might react were they in this 'made up' situation. Had any or all of my plot devices occurred. I hope I haven't done them any wrong. :) There are both Whams and Waffs in this story and I stand by all of them. If you cannot stand to think about L&C apart for any reason and might suffer direly if you read something like that, then please read no further! Rest assured that I don't leave my toys broken, but I do take them apart along the way.
That said, what you are about to read takes place in the future, but not so far into the future that things are completely off beat. Clark and Lois ARE married. (Well, it would be about 2-1/2 years into their marriage if things hadn't gone wrong.) Now we KNOW how made for one another the two of them are so if you'll allow me some credit, <g> there is no cliche 'falling out' scene … per se. Hear me, oh great minds <g> The first bit of story you will read is something of an unfinished prologue (until "Two Years Later"). It explains very briefly what 'happened' to change things. It too is another catalyst and not a reason in all fairness. Clark feels that he should have been able to stop 'it'. He blames himself completely and I think you can guess what a Clark like that might be like. In a nutshell, everything changes for him, and inherently, for Lois.
This story is not registered with WGA so if you're a professional writer/producer — go away. ;P All copyright apologies apply … WB/DC's characters, my story blah blah!
Oh and if you were wondering about the extremely inventive title, I decided to call it "Heaven's Prisoners" because it's a direct copyright violation — well, and every FoLC will read at least the first part of a story called "Heaven's Prisoners." <eg>
Heartfelt thanks go out to all my guinea pigs, Zoomway, DaveL, LesS, Jeagan, Beth, Pam, Nancy and Judi (for whom I named one of my characters :)
Special thanks also to KathyB for her wonderful ideas and suggestions many of which I blatantly sucked up and used <g> … and to Rhen who inspired me to go with my heart instead of my sense of humor. She, as always, was so right about that, somehow I managed to write 60 pages 10pt without an A-Plot. <g>
This copy has been edited for content and re-rated PG. Those scenes omitted contain somewhat more explicit sensual material. If you are interested in the 'unedited' version of this story, and you are over 18, please email Joyceef@mcs.com and ask for "Demi's HP."
Without further adieu …
Clark watched in agony as the small explosive fell from the sky only yards away from where he was lying. He curled around himself in a futile attempt to rise, to do ANYTHING. Next to him, a tiny green rock glowed sullenly making it all — impossible. Crying out in frustration with the last of the strength he possessed, Clark saw the device find its final resting place, clinking against the roof of his parent's farmhouse several yards away. There was a moment of nothingness when Clark couldn't even remember the sound of his own labored breathing. Or maybe he had held his breath. An instant later the Kent home exploded in a blinding flash of light. Shards of glass and wood fragments flew across the yard at terminal velocity; several of them finding new homes in Clark's now vulnerable flesh. Later he would regret that there had not been enough of them to kill him.
The house was utterly gone. A charred heap of burned- out wood was all that remained of the once beautiful home he'd grown up in. And the remains of his beloved mother and father somewhere inside. They'd had no warning. He hadn't been able to get to them in time and now they were gone , forever. All of it was. Clark knew in that instant that nothing would ever be the same again. Laying his head back against the killer rock next to him, Clark closed his eyes and prayed for death. It was the last thing he remembered doing before everything went black.
TWO YEARS LATER
"Clark, honey, would you get my black coat out of the closet for me? We have to hurry or we'll be late."
"Sure." Clark deftly unhooked the long dark coat from its hanger and slipped it over one arm before moving across to the window and looking out. The sound of the ocean roaring 17 stories below the building was almost inaudible, even to him, but he could see the waves crashing against the shoreline and he could almost feel their intense need. Something violent and rage-filled. A part of himself that he had suppressed for a long time. He sighed when he felt two hands against his shoulders from behind.
"What is it, Clark?" Her voice was soft as ever and he chastised himself for not being able to take much of its offered comfort. "Clark?"
"What?" Clark shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other, causing her to smile. "Nothing. Really. It's just, I guess, I'm tired that's all." He tried to match her smile but made it only half way.
"You've been living in Europe for a little over a year and you're only getting tired now? I'm impressed." She ran her hands down his back and put her arms around him, hugging him from behind. "We really do have to go, or we'll be late. You know I can make an excuse for you if … "
"No. No more excuses. Let's show these people what we're made of." Clark really did smile this time and hugged her back.
"All right." She turned and walked toward the door of the apartment.
Clark watched her move away from him and admired the soft look of her curves. She was incredibly beautiful. "Marie, don't forget your coat." He reached his arm out and Marie skipped back to pull it playfully from him.
"Whoops! Thanks, sweetheart. Come on, we'd better hurry!"
Clark closed the door to her apartment behind them and, as he was placing the key in the third lock, his mind wandered, as it always seemed to, back to another time and another place. Another apartment with so many locks. Shaking his head and sighing, he followed Marie into the elevator which would take them downstairs to a waiting car.
"Clark! Marie! You both made it. We were beginning to wonder if you hadn't decided to skip our little soiree for some more … interesting entertainment." Jean-Marc winked at Marie and nudged Clark's arm knowingly while she blushed. Clark just shook his head — and his finger — at his playfully offensive co-worker.
"You're lucky she doesn't work with us, Clark. I doubt we'd ever see you then … " Jean-Marc continued in the same vein and Marie pretended to look affronted.
"Jean-Marc, you are absolutely incorrigible and I'll have none of it tonight. This is Clark's big evening. If everything goes well he'll— "
"Never have to work with YOU again," Clark laughed as he poked the edge of Jean's lapel with the tip of his finger.
Jean-Marc mimed a knife in his chest and practically doubled over laughing. "You know, Marie, Clark is the only American I ever met who speaks French better than the French do."
"You mean better than YOU do." Clark grinned. It had been a while since he and Jean-Marc had gotten together for some friendly sarcasm. He'd missed that. Just like he knew he would miss Jean's sense of humor if he did get the assignment he'd been waiting for. The banquet hall was teeming with friends and colleagues, executives and news moguls from all over Europe. It wasn't an international event, but it was almost as huge. An annual gathering of everyone who was anyone in the European media, for no other apparent reason than to spend an evening schmoozing with 'connections'. Clark's editor at La Lettre was here as well, and he'd already dropped the bombshell that he had 'news' for Clark'. Something he wouldn't tell him until tonight. It was Marie who spotted the short, burly man first. Wearing an expensive, custom-tailored tux and sporting a large cigar, which no one ever bothered (or dared) to ask him to put out.
"Clark, there he is. Let's go say hello? Maybe he'll tell you his secret." Marie's excitement was infectious, so Clark took her arm and the two of them made their way across the room.
"M. Benoit. It's good to see you this evening, sir." Clark held out his hand, which was firmly grasped by the older man. He had never been able to give up the sense of formality he felt around his new editor. He remembered with fondness the relationship he had once had with his former editor in Metropolis, Perry White, but here, everything had been so much different.
Even if he hadn't withdrawn substantially from his former self, he might never have achieved the same rapport with Clemont Benoit. The man was friendly in a high-school principal kind of way, but never more than that.
"Clark. Clark Kent. Just the man I've been looking for." He smiled at Marie. "And you, my dear Marie, are looking as radiant as ever!" Taking her hand in his, he kissed the top of it and laughed from deep in his belly. "Clark, I hope she loves you!"
Clark raised an eyebrow and stared at Benoit for a few moments, not quite comprehending.
"My boy, La Lettre has been purchased."
Clark's eyes widened. "Purchased? You mean … "
"Mmm. Bought out. A great merger! But this isn't bad news. It's good news! Especially for you! You see, an American broadcast news company, Planet News Network, has taken an interest in several European newspapers and magazines. We are now simply part of a much larger conglomerate, I'm afraid. But the good news is that this means GLOBAL PARTNERSHIP. And we need an operational head back in the US right away."
Clark was amazed. "You want ME to be a "
Benoit laughed loudly. "No, no, Clark, they've already got a woman assigned to that position. And you're probably the best damn reporter I've ever witnessed in action. There's no way I would ever stick you behind a desk pushing paper, so to speak, for the rest of your life! What we want is for YOU to head up their investigative division. They've got a lot of pretty anchors, but they need a few more brains!"
Benoit glanced at Marie. "No offense, my dear. You are probably the best *anchor* I have ever witnessed as well!"
Marie smiled. "None taken." She turned her attention to Clark. "I heard about this merger last week. I didn't think anything of it; TFN news has been purchased several times in the past and it has never affected our positions."
"Sir, not that this isn't a terrific opportunity, but why me? When I came here I was very specific about my intentions. I don't want to work in the US again."
"Unavoidable, Mr. Kent. If you want to work at all, you'd better start working with PNN. They will own much of the world's mass communications in very few years. You know as well as I do that they've been the largest global communications firm in the world since they took over the former LNN. So unless you'd rather work for a small municipal paper with no potential for growth, I'd advise you to take this opportunity now, before it's too late."
Clark swallowed. He couldn't go back to the US. He had made that decision over a year ago. There were too many memories there. Too many still-open wounds that he was not prepared to face again so soon.
Oh, he knew about PNN. Stern had founded the corporation soon after his revival of the "Daily Planet" newspaper. And now that there was no more "Daily Planet" and newspapers themselves seemed almost a thing of the past, PNN was *the* monolith in techno-journalism on a global scale. Clark didn't know if that excited or scared the hell out of him, but either way, he didn't intend to find out. And what about Marie? He had known her for months but they'd been together for three. How would she react to all of this? "Sir, I just can't."
"Clark. They asked for you personally. You'll go, or you won't work." Benoit smiled as best he could and took his leave. Marie watched him go and saw a faint shadow cross over Clark's face.
"Clark. You have to go." She whispered, taking his arm in hers. "I'm sure it won't be that bad. What could possibly be so bad that … "
"Marie I can't." Clark cut her off and turned away. There was so much that she didn't know or understand. Things he had deliberately kept secret from her all this time. He hadn't used any of his powers in two years, and were it not for the occasional dream where he woke up floating, he might have forgotten he had them. She couldn't know of that and she couldn't know about the rest of his past. That was over; a chapter in his life which he never wanted to look at again.
And yet a part of him ached for something he didn't even know how to analyze. It was a deep and soulful yearning more powerful than what he might have even defined as "Love," and it was beginning to consume whatever the accident had left of him. Some nights, he would wake up and actually feel cold. He had never felt cold until the accident, but something had changed inside of him that night. Something had died along with his parents, and now though physically still invulnerable, he would pitch in bed for hours in his sleep, finally sitting upright, breathing raggedly and calling out her name as if it would save his soul. A name he hadn't heard in over a year. That was what he couldn't face right now. He knew he was acting like a coward, but there was more to it than that. The desperate need he felt, the impossible anger he directed toward himself. All of it was tied in to Her. And as he turned to grab his coat from the check nearby, with Marie only inches behind him, he heard a soft voice in his head. A voice he recognized but hadn't heard in a very long time. And without a thought, his mind responded, whispering urgently from within. "Lois."
He sucked in a breath and took Marie's arm. Leading her out into the night toward their waiting car.
3 WEEKS LATER
Clark fidgeted with his tie as he sank into the soft cushioning of the 747's first-class seating section. He hated planes. Passionately. Well, more to the point, he hated flying in 10,000 tons of steel casing when he knew he could be soaring through the clouds under his own power. But doing that would mean that he would once again have to use his powers and that, he vowed, he would never do again. It was bad enough that he woke some nights, suspended in the air. Often dreaming Lois was there with him. That was especially disconcerting when thoughts of Marie would intrude into his consciousness. He wondered vaguely what she would think of Metropolis when she arrived in two weeks. Getting herself transferred as an anchor had been easy enough, she was born in the USA; but she was originally from the West coast. Europe was probably less of a culture shock than Metropolis would be for her. Clark smiled inwardly. Well, at least he'd have those two weeks to get something 'homey' arranged. She'd need an apartment. And as much as he cared about her, he still wasn't prepared for any type of live-in relationship just yet. And it was because of this that he was eternally grateful she had never broached the subject with him.
"Can I get you anything to drink, sir?" The sound of a stewardess' voice ripped him from his reverie and he looked up.
"No, no thank you, I'm fine." The older woman smiled and headed off toward the rear of the jet. Clark fastened his seatbelt and looked out the tiny window next to his seat. Well, at least they'd be in the air soon. The thought of returning to Metropolis worried him more than a little. For one thing, it was the last place he'd seen Lois. She'd been on assignment in Japan for the Daily Planet shortly after their separation, but now that there was no more Daily Planet, she could be anywhere. There was no reason for him even to assume that she'd still be living in Metropolis.
He was at least relieved that they hadn't ended things on an angry note. Mostly, they were both hurting so badly that it had numbed them completely to any form of hostility. And Lois was beyond anger. For almost a year, she'd coaxed and cajoled him. Trying desperately to find SOME way to get through the horrible walls he'd built after the accident. Neither one of them had talked much in that year. At least not to each other. And he had to admit, that wasn't because Lois hadn't tried. No, Clark conceded, if it weren't for her stubborn and seemingly inexhaustible fortitude in searching to resurrect what was left of him, things might have ended even sooner. But eventually, even she was forced to give up and admit defeat. He wasn't going to let anyone in. Not then, and maybe not ever again.
When he told her that he would be moving to Europe, she'd cried. He hadn't seen her, but he could hear her tears even over the telephone. Her despair only added incentive for him to get away. Be the coward he always knew he was, and just let the world be a better place without his interference. Failure was even more painful than any death ever could have been.
He'd wanted to take refuge and solace in the arms she held out to him night after night. But how could he let her offer him forgiveness when he couldn't forgive himself? And the two people who might have been able to forgive him would never speak again. Starting over was what he wanted. If he couldn't die, then he could let the rest of it go. All of it.
Yet here he was, on a plane, bound irrevocably for Metropolis and all the memories that came with. Dimly, he noticed that the jet was already well into the air. It was only a matter of time now …
"What have we got?" Lois tipped her head forward and cracked her neck back into position, causing the older woman holding a file next to her to cringe. Lois smiled. "God, you have no idea how good that felt."
"I believe you! I don't think I want to know!" Judi laughed. "Well, it looks like this is almost wrapped up. I can put it to bed." She gathered the file together and closed it, but before moving away she stopped and turned back. "Lois?"
Lois pivoted around to face her. "Yeah?"
Judi shook her head and smiled. "It's been really great working with you. We'll all miss you when you move on to that new promotion tomorrow."
Lois sighed. "I'll miss this place too. But I'm sure I'll be back on occasion. I'll need information from all over, and this is probably PNN's biggest stockpile." Grinning, she continued on to her office and Judi disappeared down a nearby corridor.
Gathering the last of her belongings from her now- empty desk, Lois pulled the final drawer open and stared inside. She never used this drawer. In fact, she'd almost forgotten that she had it, third from the bottom on the left side. Now, as she moved to empty it, she gently removed a framed photograph she had placed there so long ago. She and Clark. Shortly after they were first married. God, they looked so happy. She remembered how silly she felt inside when he held her like that, standing behind her with his hands at her waist, pulling her close to him. How loved she felt. When he put his strong arms around and just — held onto her. She closed her eyes. She could almost feel his arms around her now. No, she *could* feel arms around her now! Opening her eyes quickly, she dropped the photo back into the drawer just in time to be twirled around and into another man's arms.
"Lois," David crooned in her ear. "Are you almost done?"
Lois moved backward slightly, out of his grasp, the uneasy feeling of her previous thoughts making her completely unable to enjoy his hug. Making her more than a little uncomfortable just being in it. She hoped he hadn't noticed. To her relief, he didn't mention it if he had.
"Yeah. Yes. I'll be done in a few minutes."
"Good, I'll take you home."
"No!" Lois responded quickly. She hoped not too quickly. "No, David, really. It's my last evening here; I just want to take it slow and maybe reminisce a bit. Is that dumb or what?" She giggled nervously.
"No, it's not dumb. And you go ahead. Take all the time you need. I'll see you tomorrow." He leaned forward and kissed her cheek, adding, "At work."
Lois smiled. "Yes sir."
"Well technically, Lois, my being a producer for PNN puts me at about par with you on the food chain down there. Heading up the investigative team." David laughed. "Your 'co-administrator' better be good. He has no idea who he'll be up against!"
Lois sighed. "Not *against* David, *with*. We'll be in this together. I gave up trying to outdo my partners a long time ago." She half smiled, remembering what 'a long time ago' meant. "Anyway, if I hate him, maybe I can just avoid all contact or something." She winked.
"If you hate him, Lois, I'd hate to even *think* about what you'd do." David flashed a brilliant grin and turned to leave. "Tomorrow," he pointed one finger back at her. "Maybe Perry will even let us in on who this mysterious 'He' is before he shows up. He'd never tell me, but maybe he'd tell you. He's always had a soft spot for his Lois."
"What?" Lois mocked. "*Executive Producer Perry White* has a soft spot?" She grinned. "Well, maybe. Anyway, you better get out of here. You've got work to do and I need some me-time, so scram."
"Yes, Ma'am." With a tip of an invisible hat, David brushed past the rows of desks and into an elevator.
Lois turned her attention back to her desk and found herself staring once more at the happy couple inside of left drawer number three. What a mess. She sighed. Placing the photo upright on the desk, she rummaged through some old files before glancing up at the time. It was getting late. This floor of the building, at least, was already empty except for her. Moving out of her office and one desk down toward Judi's, she flipped a switch on the older woman's radio and felt better when she heard the calming sound of an evening DJ's voice break the silence. She walked back over to her office and picked up one of the large bags she'd be carrying out to her car.
Suddenly, she put it down. The radio hummed softly and she almost choked when the familiar words to the first stanza of "Fly Me To The Moon" flowed past her. Perhaps through her. For a moment, she just stood there listening. And then something silly inside of her woke up and she picked up the photo. Lois closed her eyes and rested the smooth face of the glass pane against her chest, allowing the music to caress her mind. She swayed back and forth, feeling *connected* to something, however intangible, for the first time in what seemed like forever. It was such a profound feeling that she didn't even notice the tear which trickled slowly down her cheek. She clutched the photo to her and she could almost feel him … "
High above the buildings of PNN, a 747 jet began to make its descent into Metropolis from Paris.
THE NEXT DAY
"This is a joke, right? Someone knows about, the, about," Clark stared incredulously at a shorter, balding man who continued to bustle back and forth across the tiny office, gathering up miscellaneous odds and ends.
"I'm sure that I have no idea what you are talking about, Mr. Kent — and my name is Dan by the way. You don't have to call me Mr. Rollins. I'm just an administrator, well below your own position, I assure you."
"Perry White? But that's just … " Unable to verbalize his racing thoughts coherently, Clark ended up simply staring incredulously at Dan.
"Just exactly who is in that office waiting to see you, sir. I really can't see why you're so upset; he's not so terrible," Dan leaned in conspiratorially " … once you get to know him."
"I *do* know him! And I'm not upset, I'm just very — surprised. That's all. To be honest, I thought he had retired."
"Well." Dan laughed. "If you know Mr. White, then you must also know that he probably won't *ever* retire."
"Yeah, yes, you're right. He's waiting you said? Should I just go on in then?" Clark asked, still trying to sort it all out in his mind. Of course, Perry wouldn't retire. The man would probably die of boredom if he gave up working. He supposed that that was one of the reasons he had always admired Perry so much. He was as dedicated as anyone could get.
"That's what he said, Mr. Kent. For you to just come on in when you arrived. By the way, you aren't *single*, are you?" Dan inquired with a sly smile.
"Actually, no, I'm not." Clark grinned. "But … thanks." He turned toward Perry's door.
"Damn." Dan pouted. "The really *good* ones are always taken."
Clark turned the knob on the large oak door and felt it slide easily inward. The first thing that caught his eye was the immense floor-to-ceiling windows of Perry's corner suite. You could probably see most, if not all, of Metropolis from this office. It was a spectacular view and one which Clark almost got lost in until his eyes fell on the desk across from him, where Perry sat leaning over a stack of papers, in obvious concentration. Clark closed the door behind him and stood there for a moment while Perry worked, oblivious to his presence. He had to admit, the Chief looked really *good*. He looked even better than Clark remembered him looking over a year ago when things had begun changing at the Daily Planet — as well as in Clark's own life — just before he had left for Europe. This Perry was definitely a happier Perry. But why that was, Clark couldn't even begin to speculate. He cleared his throat.
"Chief?" Clark walked slowly toward the older man's desk.
"What is it — CLARK! When in the King's name did you get here? And why didn't Dan buzz me? Aww, forget about that. Come here, son, let me get a good look at you. How's Europe been treating you?"
Clark laughed. It really was great to hear a familiar friend's voice again. He hadn't realized how much he'd missed everyone back here. His friends in France had been wonderful, but Perry had always been like a kind of an uncle to him. Perry rose from his seat and extended one hand, which Clark took and shook, only to be hauled in for a familial-type bear hug. "Great, Chief. It's all been — great."
"Well, good for you, son. You've been missed back here. I guess you know that the Daily Planet sort of flew out by the wayside round about the time you left. And all … *this* started!" Perry gestured around his office. "Mr. Stern's idea of 'advancement'. Hmm. Well, Planet News Networks has certainly taken the world by storm." Perry leaned forward and spoke more softly. "But sometimes, son, I miss the old days of lino-type and the smell of fresh newsprint. Well, but even the King knew about progress. You have to move on to keep up. And that's why you're here, Clark. I guess you've probably figured out by now that I was the one who asked for you."
"Well, I did have that thought, Chief."
"Ahaha! That's the Clark I remember! Always one step ahead of the game. You and Lois were always … " Perry suddenly looked up, aware of his unintentional faux-pas. Clark swallowed and looked generally uncomfortable. "Well, you were always a great reporter, and I always said that —"
"How is she?" Clark interrupted, unaware of any words Perry had spoken beyond her name. "I-I mean is she still in Metropolis? When I left she was — in Japan." Clark pulled self-consciously on his tie and regarded Perry with what the older man considered to be a tortured gaze.
"Well son, she's … "
"Never been better."
Clark felt his heart lodge itself firmly into his throat. Lois. She was here. She was —
"Perry. What is this all about?" He could hear Lois' voice, soft and controlled, behind him and he heard her shut the office door. Clark was almost insanely afraid to turn around. He stared at Perry, wanting an answer to the same question and desperately trying to compose himself. He did turn, finally, because it was the polite thing to do … and because he could smell her perfume even from where he was standing. It mingled with the smell of just *her* that he knew so well — and he was suddenly helpless against the cascade of emotions he was feeling. He faced her. And in that moment, it was much too late.
"Lois," he half whispered. The name rolling easily off his tongue as though it hadn't been so long since he had spoken it. She looked at him but did not speak. At least not aloud. But Clark could see it in her eyes, a firewall of emotions never given in to, of things left unsaid. The same things, he was sure, she could see in his own eyes.
"Lois, I'm glad you're here." Perry broke the silence and part of the tension from behind them. "The thing is, I needed to talk to both of you. That's the reason I pulled you from PNN's south side offices. It's also the reason I requested Clark here from the European merger."
Perry cleared his throat, hyper-aware of the discomfort in the office. The truth of the matter was that he wanted to explain things and get OUT of there. Let the two of them talk. The King knew they needed to talk. Especially if they were going to be partners again. He hoped he hadn't made a huge mistake in doing this. Oh, he'd known from the get-go what the risks would be, but there were some things more important than mergers or money or even the almighty scoop. It was Lois and Clark who had taught him that. It was their new love that had helped him make the decision to take a risk of his own. And he had Alice back in his arms today because of that risk. To have watched the two reporters back then, so happy and so much in love, one would never have been able to reconcile where they were right now. Only two and a half years later, so much in pain.
Lois and Clark held eye contact and Perry sighed inwardly when he noticed just how much they seemed to be communicating without even verbalizing their thoughts. Suddenly, his long and flamboyant explanation flew right out the proverbial window, along with his caution. Ceremony be damned. These two needed time, NOW. "Ahhh, okay. Well, now that you're both here, you'll need to talk about how the new 'Investigative Division' of PNN is gonna run. Congratulations. You're partners again, and I don't wanna hear another word about it because quite frankly, I don't have the time. If you have any objections you can either quit or take them up together. I gotta get out to a meeting, so the two of you can use my office for, well, ah, whatever. But if I hear that either *one* of you threw a tantrum and left, you're fired. And don't think I wouldn't do it either. I care about you both as though you were my own children, but this is it, folks. I've got a News Network to keep up on its feet. Good luck."
Perry gave them each the sternest nod he could muster and charged boldly past a gaping Lois, through his office door, shutting it firmly behind them.
"Dan, NOT EVEN GOD gets into that office until those two come out in a civil manner. If either one of them leaves in a huff, I want to hear about it."
Dan nodded, mildly surprised by Perry's seriousness. But the older man turned gruffly away and headed down the hall, shaking his head.
Silence loomed over Lois and Clark like an enormous fire blanket, and neither one of them was very willing to shove it away. Lois watched him, halfway across the office, standing with his hands shoved into the pockets of his suit like a little boy who knew he was in trouble. And *Damn* him to hell for playing the victim! He'd had more than enough time to feel sorry for himself, but it was quite clear to her now that he was still doing it. What was worse was that she knew him so well. Knew why he was beating himself up and it still killed her inside to watch him in so much pain.
If she went over to him now and took him into her arms and held onto him — maybe he would know that she had always been there for him and that she always would be. Maybe, just maybe he would let her in this time; let her take some of the enormous pain he steadfastly refused to share. She took one step at first. Moving slowly toward him. As if drawn to him, she continued until she stood only inches away. Standing so close, she could feel the heat of his body, could smell his aftershave, and it was all … the same.. She looked up and found his eyes staring into hers.
Slowly, she raised her right hand upward toward his face. He didn't move; he just stared, waiting, barely breathing. She felt his skin for a fraction of a second beneath her palm but then pulled back, hauling her hand away and bringing it back to slap him hard across the face.
"Damn you." She brushed by him and stood, looking out the open window of Perry's office into the dusky sky.
"Lois," Clark turned to her, even as she turned her back to him. His hand pulled up to touch the skin she had struck; not out of any sense of pain, but because it was the first time she had touched him in so very long. He let out a short breath when she didn't answer him. "Lois … "
"You never said goodbye." Lois crossed her arms over her chest and ran her hands over her shoulders.
"I couldn't … "
"You never wrote, or called."
"I wanted to but I-"
Neither one spoke for long moments. Finally Lois hissed sarcastically. "Perry thinks that he can just wave some magic wand and it will all be better. That he can throw us together like the first time and it'll be easy — "
"The first time? The first time was NOT easy, Lois. Nothing about us was ever easy," Clark cut in ruefully.
**Except being in love. That was so — natural.** Lois sighed. **Falling in love with you was the only thing that was ever easy.**
"We made it difficult, Clark." She shook her head. "We were always our own worst enemies."
"And now?" Clark wasn't even sure what he was asking. It was just what he was feeling.
"Now?" Lois almost laughed. "Now. There is no 'we' anymore, Clark. Lest we — forget. We may not be divorced, but we are legally separated." She reached out and traced the outline of a building through the window, absently.
"NO, I mean—" Clark stumbled over what it was he was trying to say. What he really wanted to do was reach out and take her into his arms. But something inside of him refused to allow him that.
"I'm seeing someone else." Lois' whisper wrenched Clark back into reality. "I have been for about two months." She held her breath, waiting for his reaction. Knowing she probably should not have told him this way. But she was angry and hurt. And he was the reason. He needed to know what that felt like. She heard him breathe out and then in again slowly before he responded.
"Me too." He sighed.
This time she turned from the window and regarded him straight-faced. After a while she nodded silently, and then turned her head ever so slightly. Her hair was longer now. It fell just below her shoulders, a deep chestnut brown just like he remembered it. And it framed her face like an angel. Through all this, Clark could see the moisture which had been gathering in her eyes throughout their conversation. Not yet on the verge of tears, but visibly headed in that direction. If some great claw had reached in and torn his beating heart from his chest, he couldn't imagine feeling any more agony than he felt now. So he made a resolution. If he never did anything more courageous in his entire life, he would take his pride into his hands and act on impulse this one time. He had nothing more to lose.
Impetuously, he moved forward and gathered his wife into his arms; he pulled her body snug with his and wrapped his strong arms around her. He expected her to pull free, to wrench herself from his grasp and possibly even slap him again for being so bold, but she did none of those things. Instead, he heard her moan softly in the back of her throat; it was the closest to crying she had come so far, and he felt her arms slide around his own waist as she clung to him. They held together like that for several moments. She cried softly, pressing her forehead against his chest and pulling him even closer. He could feel her hot tears through the fabric of his shirt and he couldn't get enough of her. He ran his fingers through her hair and down onto her back. He rested his head atop hers and breathed in the smell of her shampoo. It was wonderful … it was miraculous … it was—
Suddenly, Lois began to pull away. Clark caught her look of uncertainty and before she could go any farther, he leaned forward on one last whim and captured her mouth with his. It was a hungry, soul-shattering kiss, and Lois let herself fall forward until she was pressed tightly against him. She opened her mouth and accepted his questing tongue as she too sought to join with him. Her arms slid up around his neck and his wrapped around her waist as the kiss continued, inexhaustibly. Finally, gasping for breath, Lois parted lips with his and Clark pressed his forehead against hers. She moved against him one last time and took his lips gently in a much softer version of the first encounter. Tasting him and allowing herself to marvel in the feel of his strong arms pulled around her. Slowly, this kiss too disengaged, as gently as it had begun and Lois let her arms fall slowly back down to her sides. She moved backward to stand near him, but no longer against him.
"That was goodbye, Clark." Lois swallowed and tried to hold her tears in check. "That was the goodbye we never had."
Clark had known, somehow, that what had just happened was not the beginning of something. That it was an ending long postponed. They both had known. He nodded, backing still further from her to allow her space. She let out a breath and there was silence for a time.
"Can we work together?" Clark asked the question first.
"I don't know. I guess so." Lois managed in a small voice and Clark nodded but didn't speak. After a while, Lois spoke, answering the question she knew was on his mind.
"His name is David." She smiled. "He's a producer for PNN, and he's really a wonderful man. I think you two could be friends."
"If you care for him, then he must be a wonderful man." Clark moved with her to one window and they stood side by side, both looking out at the now-darkened sky.
"What?" Lois turned toward her new, old partner.
"Her name is Marie Rickard and she's-"
"An anchor for TFN, I've seen her work. She's very good." Lois held her breath and tried not to think about the two of them together. Clark with this other woman. She had been his first and insanely she wondered — did he use any of the things they had discovered together, making love, on her? Did he make the same sounds when they were together? Was she—
"Yes, she's very good." Clark continued. "And I think you'd get along with her too. She'll be here in a few days."
"She's coming here?" Lois wasn't really surprised. There was a time when she would have followed Clark across the universe, never mind the tiny sphere of earth. She would have even followed him to Europe, if he'd let her.
Neither spoke for several seconds.
"Did Perry have time to tell you about the Governor's Ball later tonight — around 9?" Lois continued to stare out at the starry sky as she broke the silence.
"No, are we supposed to be there?"
"Yup." She glanced at Clark and added playfully, "Good guess."
Clark smiled. "Yeah, well, I learned from the best." He felt her hand brush against his where she stood next to him and resisted the urge to take it. This was going to be far more complicated than he had ever envisioned. And while a part of him was joyful to be near Lois once again, to be able to work with her, another part was terrified.
Marie would be in Metropolis soon. And that would only make things more difficult, for all of them. On top of that, Clark wasn't sure just how he'd be able to ignore the familiar street sounds which had called him to help so many times before in his past. One thing was certain. Superman was dead, and no matter what happened here, there was no way Clark could allow him to be resurrected. The city had been without him for over two years already. Initially headlines had speculated that he had left, gone back to the planet he'd helped save so long ago to be with his own people. If society had felt hurt or betrayed, they certainly hadn't made a very big deal over it. Yet another reason that Superman's disappearance was hardly cause for mourn. No one cared. The entire media hype lasted for about two weeks before, it seemed, the world had forgotten he ever existed. Superman was gone. The question that now remained was simple. What had happened to Clark Kent?
He looked over at Lois beside him. She hadn't said a word in several minutes. Neither one of them had. Clark supposed that they both knew some 'thinking' was in order and had simply given in to that. But Lois was aware of him watching her. He could tell by the way that she stood; she knew his eyes were on her. What was the cliche? The people you feel most comfortable around are the ones you can stand next to forever and never feel guilty remaining silent. Clark sighed inwardly. He'd have to get back to his hotel room and change before the party tonight. Though he dreaded the idea of seeing Lois in another man's company, he could hardly deny her that freedom when they had both moved on and started over. This was, after all, what was best for them. Wasn't it? He watched her admire the stars through the window and wondered what kept her here, in this room with him still. What kept him here for that matter? They had already effectively finished their conversation and yet neither one of them seemed willing to leave.
"We should go." Lois vocalized Clark's own thoughts almost simultaneously.
"Okay. I guess I'll see you tonight."
"Yeah, I'll be there. Maybe we can talk — about things—"
"Work—" Clark cut in softly.
"The division, if there's a lull."
"Okay." Clark watched Lois turn from the window and head toward Perry's office door. He watched her leave through it and then followed soon after.
For his part, Dan slowly shook his head as he watched Clark pad softly down the office corridor several paces behind Lois. "Taken *and* straight. It just isn't fair." He sighed dramatically and got back to the paperwork on his desk.
LATER THAT NIGHT
She was absolutely stunning. Incredible, amazing, incomprehensibly beautiful. Taken. Clark watched from a distance as Lois entered the Paradise Room of PNN's private banquet hall in a long, elegant off-the-shoulder evening gown, and glided across the dance floor to greet Perry and Alice. Perry and Alice? That must mean that, well, *that* at least was wonderful news. He wondered what else he had missed while hiding away across all those miles of ocean. What else indeed.
Clark set his champagne glass down and moved toward the rear wall of the banquet room so that he could see her more clearly. It was a silly, frivolous thing to do, but Clark had finished his own initially compulsory meet-greets and had been thankfully left to his own devices. He hadn't really all that much to do now *except* to watch her. And it had been so long since he had really been able to see her; so long that he now found himself drinking up the opportunity like too much fine wine. Intoxicating didn't even begin to describe what she was doing to him.
**I had her. I had her in my life and I threw it all away.** The realization struck him like a proverbial Mack truck and rattled what was left of the loose corners of his mind. This wasn't exactly breaking news. He had known fairly well what he was doing for two years. Pushing her away time and time again, believing he was only ever going to be the fastest road toward heartache for her. The woman married to the Superman. Only the Superman wasn't so super. He had let his own parents die. How could he expect to be able to keep anyone he cared about safe if he couldn't even take care of his Mom and Dad?
Lois loved him. Once. She loved him enough to try to save him. But even she knew that there was no saving someone who didn't want to be saved. And that had been Clark. What he reconciled as a means of keeping everything from falling apart in his world had only been a poor, vain excuse to run away from it all. If he had realized only one thing in Europe, it was this. Yet starting over, in some ways, had indeed been exactly what he needed. It gave him back some of his objectivity, and it had allowed him to put to rest the one person whom he felt was the root of all his troubles. Superman.
"Lois, honey, we appreciate your taking the time to come and talk to us, and you know that we love you, but I think there's a man standing right over there that could probably use a little conversation more than ourselves." Alice smiled at the young woman in front of her and squeezed Perry's hand.
"Ah, Alice is right, honey … "
"David's here?" Lois turned toward the entryway of the banquet hall and scanned the crowd of new arrivals for his familiar face. "He said he had to work tonight. I don't see him.."
"No, dear, it's not David. It's Clark. Over there." Alice pointed vaguely in the direction of the rear wall where Clark was indeed standing. Holding what appeared to be a pad of paper in his hand and sketching something slowly, in a very focused manner, without looking up. Lois stood and watched him for a time, from across the room. Perry and Alice exchanged knowing glances and moved off toward their table hand in hand, leaving Lois, oblivious to their departure, to her own thoughts.
A moment later, Clark looked up. There were no super- powers involved. It had simply been that sixth sense that somehow always tells of someone watching. Their eyes met from across the room. Lois watched Clark take in the view of her entire form and she smiled, self-consciously, but still liking the attention. She also knew that they couldn't stand there all night gawking at one another from afar. So she made the first move and crossed the dance floor, winding her way through a mass of tangled couples, until she stood face to face with her husband.
"Hi." She could still smell his aftershave, and an insane part of her wanted him to take her in his arms so she could kiss his neck, feel his warm skin against hers.
"Hi. I-um, I made it. Though it did take me a while to figure out which wardrobe the hotel put my tux into." Clark held his breath and made a mental note to slow his heartbeat.
"A while?" Lois inquired. "Well couldn't you just ~-> … you know, take a few seconds and … "
"I don't do any of that anymore. I never started again."
"Oh." Lois sighed. "Well, that would explain a lot then, I guess." She reached up impetuously and wiggled his tie before she realized what habit had made of her. She giggled. "Oh, I'm — well, your tie was crooked. It's straight now." She tipped her head down the way she always did when she was a little embarrassed, and Clark reached out to tuck a lock of wayward hair behind her ear.
"It's all right. I never was very good at that. When I was little, I remember Mom used to — "
Clark stopped suddenly and Lois looked up for an instant before she realized why. But before there was time for an awkward silence, Clark continued as though there had never been an interruption. " … always scold me that I'd better marry a woman who had a sense of symmetry or I'd be in trouble." He almost laughed. "She was right."
Lois saw the dark shadow leave Clark's face as quickly as it had come, and she felt hope for him for the first time in a long while. Two years ago, he would have never continued speaking. "She was right about a lot of things, Clark."
"Well she — " Clark started, but Lois placed two fingers over his lips and shook her head.
"A lot of things." She crossed over and leaned against the back wall, next to him.
"So, do I get to meet David tonight?" Clark inquired, as causally as he was able.
"Actually, no. He — had to work. Something about problems with the dailies in something he's been working on for a while now and they're going to try and fix it, tonight, of all nights." Lois sighed.
"I'm sorry," Clark lied. Lois gave him an odd look.
"Yeah, well, I'm very good at picking men with jobs that call them away at the last second."
She smiled ruefully and Clark couldn't help but do the same. He turned and faced her. This woman who accepted him in a way no other ever had. Probably ever would. The one person he had ever been able to trust completely with *everything*. His soul mate. He had denied her that trust in the end.
"Lois … " Clark reached out and took her hand. She appeared a little startled, but not overly so. And if it bothered her at all, she didn't pull away. He took a breath. "Lois, sometimes, do you ever wish that you could — well, that the things you'd said — or — done, could —" Clark sighed. "I'm not communicating very clearly here, am I?" He let go her hand self-consciously.
Lois smiled. "Poets often use many words to say a simple thing."
"Fly me to the moon," Clark whispered.
"You remembered." She held her breath as she looked into Clark's eyes and tried to see what it was he was feeling. This was more than a milestone for her. It was so much more of a response from him than she had ever been able to get before he'd left. She didn't know why, but some of his barriers weren't up this evening. And she felt both relief that he had let himself heal, if only a little, and betrayal that he had not let her be there with him when he did.
"How could I forget?" The moment went on for what seemed like an eternity. Neither one willing to break the sweet silence that meant they could just stare into each other's soul for a time. Finally, Lois spoke.
"What are you drawing?" She tipped her head toward the palm-sized pad of paper Clark held at his side.
"What? Oh, this. It's just something I do now." Clark grinned lopsidedly. "You know, you'd be surprised how difficult it is to do when you have to work so slowly. It's hard to keep your hand from shaking, but I think I'm getting better at it. Marie says I was probably an artist in a former life." He laughed at his own dark humor and Lois raised one eyebrow.
"Okay, so what are you drawing?" She repeated, more than a little curious.
"It's nothing. Honestly, you really wouldn't care."
"Try me." She fixed him with an 'I dare you to defy me' look and Clark shook his head, unable, as ever, to refuse her.
"All right. But it's really not very good, it's — " He tipped the pad slowly outward and Lois took it into her own hands. Clark shut up and waited while she studied it for what seemed like forever.
"Ohh, Clark it's — "
"Really dumb, I know. Well, I only ever did sketches of bad guys before, quickly for the police. This is, well, new to me."
"No! No, it's not dumb. It's incredible. It's — me." She glanced up at Clark, who had shoved his hands into his pockets once again. "But I look really — good. Wow." She took another look at the pad and shook her head.
"You look beautiful." Clark watched her look up at him, and this time neither one of them smiled. "Do you want to dance, Lois?" She looked like she was about to cry. Uh oh. Had he gone too far?
"Dance. I think I'd love to dance." Clark heard her breathing; it was only a little irregular.
But if she was feeling anything even close to what he was feeling right now, he didn't wonder why. Lois set the small pad of paper down on the table next to them and Clark reached out, taking her hand gently in his as he lead her out onto the dance floor. Once there, he realized that this would be more of a challenge than he had thought.
Dancing with Lois had never been something he'd thought much about. Not even in the beginning, before they were a couple. It was always sort of second nature to him; he'd simply known how to hold her even then. Of course, things had become much more intimate between them once they had admitted their feeling for one another. Their embrace, even the way their bodies pressed together on the dance floor had become far more — satisfying after that. But now? Now they weren't exactly anywhere. Not together, not even trying to *get* together. Well, something was certainly happening between them tonight, but it appeared to be more of a final moonlit stroll down a dead-end pier. What would happen when they got to the end of the dock and David was waiting there for her? Or Marie for him?
One thing was absolutely certain: no one would ever be able to make him feel the way that Lois did. Never before and never after. Clark had always known that, just as he knew that there would never be another 'love' for him in this lifetime. The fact remained, however, that Lois was continually in danger whenever he was near, just as his parents were, and just as anyone else he cared about would always be. But holding her close to him this way, in this moment, Clark wasn't sure if he *could* let her go when the song was over. He knew that he didn't want to, but also that he should. It was so impossibly complicated and yet so magically simple all at the same time. Maybe there were no answers? Maybe there were only questions that had to be answered together, or not at all.
Clark rested one hand gently at Lois' back and took her offered hand with his other. Lois smiled and raised her own arm up to light against his strong shoulder. The music carried the slow movement of their bodies in tandem and neither spoke at first. Clark found himself going insane. Wanting so desperately to pull her closer, to feel her warm body pressed tightly against his. He raised his eyes and met her own, briefly. Lois caught her breath and looked discretely downward for a moment, before returning her gaze to his.
She'd seen that look in his eyes before! She'd waited and prayed to see it again, so many times in their last year together, but he'd hidden it from her while she quietly mourned for him. **Oh, my Clark. Why did you shut me out?** Her mind implored him, though her voice remained silent. Were things different now? *Could* things ever be different? She swallowed and fought at the firewall of emotion which begged her to take him into her arms right here, in front of everyone.
More out of habit than any conscious thought, she reached up the hand which had been on his shoulder and smoothed his hair, smiling when she had it the way she liked it. She let her gaze trail over the chiseled features of his gorgeous face and along the corded muscles of his throat. He loved it when she kissed him there. She remembered the soft groans he used to make when she touched him, when she brushed her lips gently over his neck. She trailed one finger over the firm flesh while she languished in her delicious thoughts and looked up only when she heard Clark's sharp intake of breath. They both froze.
Lois slowly, reluctantly shifted her hand back onto his shoulder and Clark swallowed. She was so gentle with him, always. His mind spun from the effect that just the very tips of her fingers against the warm skin of his neck had caused inside of him. The words to a nameless slow song continued to flow through the air and their bodies reclaimed a previous rhythm. He felt her hand on his shoulder, and unconsciously began to move his hand gently over the small of her back. Before Lois was aware of what had happened, she found herself pressed against the front of Clark's warm body in a way that was *not* how they had started out. Caught up in the magic of the moment, Lois let her arm slide down from Clark's shoulder, over his lapel and inside the folds of his jacket, against his side. God, he smelled so good. She remembered what it had been like before, when he would take her in his arms and hold her close. How she would fold herself into his embrace, pressed against his chest, his hips, his— Just losing herself to the feel of him, of *them* and the way he made her heart so exquisitely warm. It was incredible then. It was pretty incredible right now. She wondered if he was also aware of what had happened to them through out the course of the song. The way his own arms held her close. But she was too afraid to look up. She knew that if she pulled away for even that instant, the moment would end. He would let go of her, and she of him, and there would be that coldness that she had almost overcome in the last few months. A coldness that hurt more than she ever dreamed possible. No, she was not prepared for this moment to end. She heard Clark sigh and felt him move closer, pulling their joined hands in toward their bodies, he brushed the side of his head against hers. Lois shivered.
Both Lois and Clark froze in their positions as a woman's voice invoked the interruption for them. Lois sighed deeply and disengaged from her husband, who opened his eyes and stared deeply into hers. She felt a rush of conflicting emotions. Most of them begging her to kiss him.
"May I cut in?"
Clark turned toward the familiar voice and backed two steps away from Lois, clearing his throat. "Marie!" How had she? He smiled, trying his best to look as pleased as possible, which, under the circumstances, he wasn't very. "You're here. I'm — a little shocked, I-I mean, I thought you'd be out later next week … "
Lois stood on the periphery of the couple who were now taking small steps toward each other. Her heart rate increased and she held her head up higher than she had been before, though she remained silent.
"I was." Marie reached out and Clark hugged her awkwardly, trying not to look at Lois. Trying not to think of Lois. Which was impossible since she was standing right there; since she had just been dancing in his arms. "I caught an earlier flight. I wanted to surprise you." She disengaged and grinned up at him. "Surprise!"
"Yeah, yes, I mean … that's great." Clark swallowed and then remembered his manners.
"Oh, oh, Marie, this — " He moved aside and indicated where Lois was standing. " — this is Lois Lane, my — "
"Ex. Yes, I've seen your photos. You know, ever since I've known Clark, he's had those photos up on almost every open surface in his flat. There are so many, you must have lived in front of a camera for over a year." Marie laughed and extended a hand in greeting. "Marie Rickard." Lois cleared her throat, took Marie's hand and shook it firmly. "Well, I guess we did — take a lot of pictures, in the beginning." There was a pregnant pause as Lois glanced over at Clark and found his expression to be one of quiet apology. It was so sad; she almost felt like reaching out and telling him that it was okay, They had both moved on. So then why did she feel so-
"Is it hot in here, or is it just me?" Lois fanned herself slightly as her eyes searched for an escape. *Anything* to get her away from 'Marie Surprise Rickard'. It wasn't that she didn't like the woman. Well, okay, it was. But up until now, she had always had a healthy respect for her as a journalist and as an anchor person. Why should the fact that she was Clark's new … whatever … make any difference to her? Whatever the reason, it just seemed that it *did* make a difference, and since rationalizing things wasn't nearly as satisfying as allowing herself the luxury of disliking the woman immediately, Lois decided not to fight it. At least for now.
"I am a little warm myself, actually," Marie chimed in sweetly. "And I just got here. But Clark looks fine." Clark shrugged and tried somewhat unsuccessfully not to look as uncomfortable as he was feeling. "In fact," Marie continued, "Clark's the only man I've ever met who doesn't seem to get hot in a close, crowded room." She smiled and patted his shoulder.
**I've seen him get hot before,** Lois thought impetuously, and then mentally slapped herself for the indulgence. She tossed a look at Clark and understood almost immediately when he swallowed and returned her another. He hadn't told Marie. She didn't know about him, or his powers. In fact, Lois wasn't sure if she knew much about the man in the tux at all beyond the obviously wonderful way it fit him. To her surprise, and somewhat to her chagrin, she found herself taking more than a little smug satisfaction in that fact. In knowing that he still hadn't trusted someone else with his secret. She was now the only person alive who knew about who he really was — or maybe more to the point — who he *had* been, once. Yes, that had to be it. He wasn't telling anyone because he'd closed the book on that chapter in his life. Or tried to, anyway. Judging by the pathetic expression on his face right about now, she wasn't at all sure that he had fully realized *any* of his resolutions over in Europe.
Did this mean he hadn't slept with Marie either? She was a beautiful woman, and she hung over Clark even better than Mayson Drake ever had. How could he have resisted her? But there was so much she didn't seem to know about him, things that an intimate relationship *should* have revealed. Lois stifled a sigh of relief, or maybe it was an irrational form of joy. If Clark truly hadn't been with this woman, despite all of her obvious charms, then that might mean-
"You know what?" Lois smiled at Marie. "I think I'm going to get something to drink. Maybe that will — cool me off a bit." She turned, heading out toward a man in black carrying a try of glasses and Clark watched her go, regretfully. Almost wishing …
"What?" Clark felt the tug of Marie's hand on his arm and he turned to her.
"What is it, Clark? You're a million miles away. With Lois, I think." She watched him with a pleasant enough expression, and Clark wasn't sure exactly how to respond.
"I'm sorry. I wasn't. Uh, with Lois I mean. She and I were just dancing — for old times' sake. It appears that we're going to be partners again." This time he waited for Marie's response before continuing. To his surprise, she grinned at him!
"I know. They told me in Paris. To be honest, not that I'm the jealous type or anything," Clark looked worried. "Because I'm not," Marie continued, "but I guess that's one of the reasons I took an earlier flight." She toyed playfully with one of his lapels. "Well, that and I really wanted to see you."
Clark sighed. She did look very nice, well, very *very* nice in her dress. But he had been right. Seeing her *and* Lois in the same room at the same time was difficult to reconcile. It was something he thought he'd never have to do, so many miles away in Paris. Hiding from — himself? Whatever. It was happening now, and he still had yet to figure out how to handle it. Or even if he was *supposed* to 'handle it.'
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we have a very special request right now … " Clark and everyone else in the room snapped to attention as one of the members of the band, which had been unobtrusively playing soft music up until this point, suddenly spoke up. "The dedication is: To Lovers. Past and Future." The tall band member went on as the rest of the crowd continued to whisper at their tables or among themselves while they waited on the dance floor.
"You forgot Present!" Someone threw back, and the group murmured their amusement.
"No, it was explicitly left out." The man with the mike raised his eyebrows and the entire room laughed. "All right then, 'Fly me to the Moon.'"
Clark's heart nearly stopped and he whirled around to face Lois, who stood across the room from him, staring back. She definitely looked like she had had the same reaction, but Clark was unable to respond to her gaze because he felt himself pulled around, his arms taking another woman into their grasp.
"I guess, since we aren't lovers yet, that could apply to us," Marie whispered. Clark cleared his throat, readjusting his position and trying not to listen to the familiar words of a song which would only ever remind him of one woman …
#Poets often use many words to say a simple thing …
In the far corner of the room, Perry exchanged a glance with Alice and shook his head. Lois stood off to the side wall of the banquet hall and looked — lost. Holding a glass of Chardonnay in one hand and a dream in the other, she reminded him a little of a high-school girl at a gymnasium dance.
#With music and words I've been playing,
#For you I have written a song …
Perry glanced up from his table and moved one hand slowly forward, pointing at a man in a tuxedo near the entrance to the Paradise Room. The man nodded and disappeared around the corner.
#To be sure that you'll know what I'm saying,
#I'll translate as I go along:
Clark felt Marie's arms around his neck and he closed his eyes. He was such a traitor. But all he could think about was Lois, in this same position, as she had been only minutes ago. It wasn't fair. It was impossibly unfair and he forced himself to visualize all of the really good times he had had with Marie in Europe. The things that had made him care so much about her. It was working …
Clark opened his eyes and was grateful that they hadn't turned in their position; his back was still toward Lois. But what had that noise been?
He patted his pockets and realized that he wasn't carrying his cell phone on him this evening. It had to be …
"Damn. I'm sorry, Clark. I have to take this — I've only told three people my cell number over here and it might be important." She apologized and moved quickly away from him toward the room's entrance. Clark watched her for a brief moment, but his mind was elsewhere. It was impossible to concentrate so intently on a thing and not emerge somewhat confused when reality began to set itself stubbornly back into place. The music was still playing …
#Fly me to the moon …
He began to turn around, slowly.
#And let me play among the stars …
She was still there. Still absolutely, incredibly breathtaking. She held half a glass of Chardonnay in one hand and she glanced down, self-consciously, at the floor when she realized he had seen her watching him. Lois' sensitivity to these types of situations was one of the things that had made Clark fall so head-over-heels in love with her. The way she threw out 'hard-bitten news woman' with one hand and desperately sought emotional justification with the other. That, and Clark remembered with a slight smile, just about everything else about her.
#Let me see what spring is like,
#On Jupiter and Mars,
He moved toward her slowly, not really thinking about it. Not really caring why. Just … following something he didn't feel the slightest urge to fight right now.
#In other words,
#Hold my hand …
He was either crazy or the music had made him so, yet still he placed one foot firmly in front of the other, until he stood face to face with her. She was right next to the band stand, just off the edge of the dance floor, near a small table. Clark froze; his gaze locked with hers. And for a moment, neither of them spoke or moved..
#In other words,
#Darling, kiss me …
Slowly, she set her glass down on the table next to her and took two steps toward him.
It was she who finally moved forward, into his arms. She who felt his hands around her back, moving softly, pulling her closer. She who lay her head against his chest and felt him sigh beneath her. There were no words. There didn't have to be. There wasn't anything that either of them would have allowed themselves to say anyway.
#Fill my heart with song,
#And let me sing forevermore …
After all, what could you say to the one person who made your heart skip a beat every time she looked in your direction? The one person who held you helpless in his arms every time your body melted against his? What could you say when you *knew* that there was no going back …
#You are all I long for.
#All I worship and adore,
Clark closed his eyes and concentrated on the feeling of her body pressed against him. He breathed in the smell of her perfume and let his fingers trace a slow pattern across the bare skin at her back. Lois shivered and melted further into his embrace.
#In other words,
#Please be true;
If there were any justice in the universe, this song would never end. Lois felt her mind reach out to *any* deity that might listen. She didn't know if Clark had any idea of what his soft caress at her back was doing to her. The way she had to consciously keep herself from shivering as his fingertips brushed against her skin. The way she longed to press her entire body deeply into his and take his mouth in the most primal, desperate, urgent kiss imaginable …
#In other words,
Clark looked down at Lois, whose eyes were closed as they clung to one another, experiencing their song, one last time, together. He was feeling a thousand different things, the most urgent of which was an aching, pulsing, agonizing heartache, begging him to satisfy himself with her the way he'd dreamed of for so long since their separation. She opened her eyes, large and luminous, dark with pent-up desire. Clark thought they were more beautiful than he had ever seen them before. Her lips were soft and moist and parted ever so slightly, and he KNEW.
#I love you …
Her arms reached up around his neck and he shifted his body against hers as the music, by some miracle, continued. Clark felt her breath against his skin and then, at last, the brush of her lips against his own. God, it was so sweet, so incredibly sensual, and he felt her instinctively press forward to deepen the encounter. She was so soft, so-
What? Oh God, that was Marie! What if she had … no, he had picked her voice out from across the room. She hadn't seen them yet, but her call had been loud enough to hear, even without superpowers. Suddenly, as if on some diabolical cue, the entire moment had been shattered. Lois' body stiffened and straightened in his arms and the two disengaged, breathing deeply and staring into one another's eyes, not entirely sure how to proceed.
But there wasn't time to decide because Marie would certainly see him in a few seconds. Clark's shoulder's fell a little and he began to turn away from Lois, toward Marie's direction for the inevitable encounter. But suddenly, inexplicably, Clark found himself once again face to face with a slightly defiant looking Lois Lane, who had slipped around and in front of him. He saw her eyes glistening with moisture, though her head was held high and then, somehow, they were kissing again. Hungrily, their hands urgently exploring one another's bodies, in the most incredibly sensual way and in the midst of so many other dancing couples. It was absolutely primal, exhilaratingly exquisite. And then it was over. Almost as suddenly as she had embraced him, Lois stood back. Letting out a long breath and licking her already moist lips, she gazed into his dark eyes for what seemed like an eternity. Until he reluctantly turned in the direction of Marie's voice once again. He cast one last glance over his shoulder as Marie came forward into his arms, but Lois was gone. And it had all been so impossibly uncontrollable, he wondered if she had ever even been there to begin with.
Across the lobby, a man in a dark suit slipped his cell phone into a jacket pocket and smiled. Mr. White would be pleased.
Marie slipped her phone back into her purse and frowned. It was so strange that someone from work would call her this late at night, and at a party they all knew about, just to remind her of tomorrow's lead-ins. What was even stranger was that she didn't remember giving her new cell number out to anyone at the studio. Yet somehow … well, whatever it was, it wasn't interfering with any of her other plans right now, so what did it really matter? Marie smiled as Clark accepted her hug, then she pulled away to speak.
"So, stranger, did you get to enjoy that last song, at least? I know you like it; I've heard you listening to it nights in your flat. But when I've gotten there, you've always turned it off." She frowned slightly and then shook her head. "You know what I don't get about men? Why they are always too shy to let the world know they're real romantics at heart. That song is so … "
"Yeah." Clark sighed but then quickly found his reserve once again. "Anyway, you're back now; was it important?"
"Oddly enough, no. It was just the studio. I have no idea how they got my number or why they called so late."
"Oh, well, all right, I- um, I guess we don't have to stay here late tonight. We could — go. If you want." Clark glanced over his shoulder once again in a last-ditch attempt to catch a glimpse of where Lois might have disappeared to, but she was nowhere to be seen. He sighed, softly, sadly, and looked back at Marie.
"Yes, actually," Marie moved in closer and whispered against him. "I was thinking that we might leave a little early and — "
Clark swallowed and couldn't believe how relieved he had been to hear that noise once again. He shouldn't have been relieved at all. But he had been. His encounter with Lois had been so incredibly sensual and yet so heartbreakingly sad all the same. Clark took in a deep breath, remembering her hands against his arms, his neck, the way her breath felt against his skin. She tasted so sweet. Clark shifted in his position, finding that he was now larger in places he wished he wasn't and desperately praying that Marie would not notice. They had never talked much about being together intimately, but the thought of spending even one moment in that way with any woman other than Lois made Clark almost ill with guilt. That, and he didn't think that he could ever want or need anyone the way he wanted and needed Lois Lane.
Marie sighed, exasperated. "This will — just be a few minutes, sweetheart, I promise." She tipped her head up and kissed his cheek quickly before moving off once again toward the relative quiet of the lobby.
Clark watched as Marie scurried out toward the coat check area and then disappeared. Thoughts of Lois continued to arouse him and he was more than a little confused and anxious. Mostly, he wanted to get out of there. Away from his feelings and far from the intense reminder of Lois' body against his.
Superman suddenly needed some air.
Slowly, Clark scanned the room and then, finding what he had been looking for, headed in the direction of a small doorway. PNN's main building was enormous, and they had designed it with small, office-like boardrooms accessible even from the banquet hall. One never knew just when an urgent meeting would have to take place, even at a social gathering. Clark smiled. Lois probably loved the new building. Making his way through the table and chairs, and the bodies seated in them, Clark found himself sliding quickly and quietly through the doorway, shutting it softly behind him and sighing inwardly as the rush and hubbub of the party beyond fell silent.
He was greeted by a dark, empty room. A dozen or so leather executive chairs stood guard around a Chippendale oak table, and floor-to-ceiling windows looked out, a short three stories over the city street. Light filtered in from the street lamps below, and from the stars, but Clark decided against the ceiling fluorescents. All he wanted to do was unwind, and this certainly seemed as ideal a place as any.
And so he stood, looking out at the city, listening to the sound of his own breathing and not surprisingly, thinking of Lois. Reaching out, he pulled a chair forward from behind him and sank into it, grateful for the executive comfort it offered his traitorous body. But now, something was different. In the darkness he could hear the sound of soft breathing — or was it —
Turning in his chair, he moved the chair next to him aside, slowly, and then stopped suddenly, letting out a breath.
Lois sat, or rather perhaps she lay, curled up in the large chair, her dress folded underneath her, her legs pulled inside. She had been asleep. That much was obvious, but now she was awake, and it was very clear to Clark that she had been crying.
"Lois." Clark whispered again as he reached out a hand and brushed her hair back behind her ear, gently. "What's wrong?" He had to ask. Assuming he knew the answer would be arrogant, and besides, asking gave him *something* coherent to say to her now, when all he really wanted to do was gather her into his arms and hold her. Lois breathed in slowly, aware now that she had been crying in her sleep, and even in wakefulness, feeling a sense of overwhelming sadness wash over her.
"Clark." Lois acknowledged both his presence and his awareness of her current — situation. She sighed softly before continuing. "I don't know."
Bowing her head, Lois tried somewhat unsuccessfully to quell her newly impending tears. "I mean … " Lois stood up slowly and made her way toward the window before turning back to face him. " … I just came in here before, to get out of all the noise after — "
She glanced at him and he looked as though he completely understood her. In that moment, she wanted him to hold onto her more than she had ever wanted anything in her entire life. Or at least, it felt that way. But she continued instead. "I guess I was watching the lights in the city and I just curled up in a chair the way we used to, by the fire, only there was no fire here, but for some reason I still felt — " Her voice trailed off into silence and neither spoke for a moment until Lois looked up once again. Her eyes shone with new and ready teardrops. She shook her head, unable to speak. Clark thought that his heart would twist out of his chest at her admission. **Lois, I do love you; I need you. I want to make this right again! But I don't know how! I don't even know if I have the right to try.** Clark's mind screamed in frustration and anguish and his body moved forward in the chair of its own volition.
When she did not move, but continued to hang her head, Clark stood. He came forward and pulled her gently into his arms, rocking with her back and forth until she began to cry in earnest. He used every ounce of willpower in his body to keep his own emotions in check as he tightened his arms around her and moved them both back into the chair. Lois clung to him as though it would save her soul. Clark could not remember having seen her this way before, not even when he'd held her in her apartment soon after they'd met, when she feared for her life after witnessing a crime.
Right now, she seemed a lot like a little girl, and yet, this was no little girl he held in his arms. She had fought off men twice his size in the past and had come out 'on top.' Lois ducked her head underneath Clark's chin as she held onto him, and Clark shifted sideways to accommodate her, pressing his face into her hair. Feeling the softness of her and needing her there as much as she needed him. Through the windows, the light from the city filtered in and shimmered off of her hair, making the tiny trails of silent teardrops sparkle against her skin.
Clark let his hands move down her arms from her shoulders in a comforting way, letting her cry and trying desperately not to go there himself. He knew now. Where things had been painfully unclear before, they were so apparent in this very moment. And he had never been more wrong, or felt more like a coward.
He felt Lois inhale deeply and press the side of her face tightly against his chest. If she could allow herself to let him hold her now, after everything, and take solace in his arms, then why couldn't he have let her offer the same when he'd needed it? There were no easy answers, but after two years, one thing was abundantly clear — it was a matter of trust. She trusted him to comfort her. And him? He had … not given her that same trust. Oh, God, what had he done?
"Oh, I do trust you, Lois," Clark murmured softly. "God help me for not telling you two years ago. I've always trusted you." He sighed, though he wasn't even aware that she had heard him.. Lois turned in his arms until she could see into his eyes, and she searched them for a moment. There was so much pain there, longing, regret, despair, and incredible strength even so. That was Clark. He kept all the pain and the horror of his life inside. Maintaining some impossible struggle to keep everyone he loved safe from harm … even emotional harm. Lois knew all about bottling things up. She understood how crazy and intense things could become, and how out of control they could get. Even a Superman couldn't last forever that way.
And then there was her Clark. She loved him so completely and utterly that sometimes she wondered if the rest of the world could even understand the bond they shared. It had always been the most intense, most wonderful feeling she had ever experienced. And it had nearly killed her when he wouldn't let her in, wouldn't let her help him or touch him emotionally, when he needed that so much.
And now? Well, there wasn't anything she could bring herself to say right now. Breaking eye contact, Lois slowly lowered her head back onto Clark's chest and sighed deeply. She heard Clark do the same and felt his arms continue to caress hers. Where were they?
They were on their first night of Clark's return to Metropolis, and already they had found themselves in each other's arms three times. That was almost more intimate contact than Clark had allowed himself to have with her for the final year before their separation. If their situation had been somewhat different, Lois might have laughed at the irony in that. But for right now, holding onto Clark seemed like the only sure and solid thing Lois could do. Something was different. Clark was different. And Lois wasn't sure what had changed in him, or how, but despite any rational thought to the contrary, she was unable, and her traitorous body was completely unwilling, to push him away when he held her like this.
It was him, she decided. Clark had been so hopelessly lost before; Lois could never have stood to see him in so much agony. Helping others had always kept a measure of Clark's sanity and purpose intact. Helping her, helping *them*, had kept them both whole and strong — together. Things had only begun to fall apart the day that Clark had stopped letting them keep each other strong.
Clark could sense that she was thinking. Her soft crying had stopped some time ago and ever since she'd turned and looked at him in a way that made him feel like she had found a way to see into his very soul, he'd known that she was making some sort of a decision. But he had never been very good at second guessing Lois Lane. No one could. That was, perhaps, one of the reasons he'd fallen in love with her. She was his equal, in every way that mattered.
Clark inhaled deeply, taking with his breath the smell of Lois' shampoo and that innate knowledge he always felt silly about, the one which made him hyper-aware of how soft her hair was. It made him feel almost giddy. But overwhelming even that sensation was the one which held him apart from her. The one which held them both at emotional arms' length despite their physical closeness at the moment. He wished he could do more than let his fingers brush against her arm, comforting her. He wished that he could —
Clark wasn't sure what happened first. Had the door opened? Or had Lois suddenly disappeared from his arms and reappeared by the window an instant later? The two events seemed almost simultaneous to him, despite any Super Senses which he could have been (but hadn't been) using. The door *did* open, and Lois was certainly now standing silhouetted against a floor-length window overlooking the city lights below.
"Perry." Clark rose from his seat to greet the man who now stood in the doorway, staring in an almost paternal way at both himself and at Lois. A decidedly Perry-like stare certainly. Clark tried to smile and even made it halfway. "I just ca— *we* just came in here to —"
They had both spoken at the same time and Clark shook his head. It was happening all over again, wasn't it? Was that the way history worked? Doomed to repeat the same simple steps over and over and over again, until all you really wanted was some …
"We needed some space, I guess." Lois spoke softly and Clark glanced up at her, not quite surprised that she had finished his thought, but somewhat struck by the realization that he wanted to feel this way again almost as desperately as he wanted to run right out of the room and take the next flight out of Metropolis.
She smiled at him then. She smiled, and all of it somehow simply … went away. His fear, his thoughts of leaving, his ability to speak.
It was then that Clark knew he had been staring. Looking straight at her, maybe inside of her. Oh, not in the traditional "X-ray" way, but in his own personal, emotional way. In 'their' way of somehow being able to know and understand each other's innermost feelings and desires. She was so … hurt by him.
He looked up, away from her liquid eyes and faced Perry. "I'm — sorry, Chief, Lois." He afforded her a glance before continuing. "I know I wasn't listening, it's just — there's been a lot on my mind tonight. I just got back here and it's taking time for me to settle in, I guess. Anyway, I think I just need a little rest. I hope you don't mind. I'm going to see if I can find Marie and take her home. I need to go home. I need — Look, um, goodnight."
Clark nodded to the Chief and made his way quickly past the smaller, yet no less significant man in the doorway. He didn't even stop to look at Lois this time. He needed to go home? Home? Where exactly was that here? He sighed and hurried through the substantially less crowded dance floor. Better go find Marie and get them both out of here before he lost any more of his answers to … Her.
Lois sighed and Perry shook his head before walking slowly into the room. He watched her standing near the window, not really focusing on any one thing in the room, and for the first time in a long time, he felt angry. Angry at Clark for being this way, angry at himself for not being able to help the two kids he thought of just as fondly as he did his own children.
"Ohh, honey. Ah, I guess I can talk to you alone, though I had wanted to speak with you both." Perry tossed a look over his shoulder at the empty doorway. "Are you all right with this, Lois? I know that sometimes I can get some really hair-brained ideas into my old head and if you feel like — "
"No." She cut him off, smiling slightly. "No, Perry, it's fine. We're fine. I mean, there is no *we*, so everything is just — fine. Really."
Perry looked at her as though she had just told him that she was about to skydive out the window without a parachute. But whatever he was thinking, he didn't say it. Instead, he simply nodded, more to himself than anyone else, and let out a breath. "Do you need a ride home, honey? Alice and I can take you; it's getting late."
"Sure, yes. I'd appreciate that, Perry. I've had … well, I guess I don't remember how many glasses of wine I've had tonight. That's probably a good idea." Lois smiled again and let Perry put an arm around her and lead her from the conference room. Tomorrow was another day after all. Another day at work. Another day — with Clark. Oh, heaven have mercy.
Clark stopped in the foyer of PNN's enormous building. Marie was nowhere to be found, and he was becoming more than a little worried. She'd said she had only a phone call to complete, so where was she? He sighed, resisting the urge to look for her with his powers. No, if he was to be simply a man again, he would need to forget that he even had those abilities. Clark grimaced when a tiny corner of his mind intruded rudely to the fore with the comment that if it were Lois who was missing in this way, he would probably already have broken all his personal vows of inaction to find her. But that was different. That was different because, because, well, because Lois had a penchant for getting herself into trouble in a way that no other person he'd ever met had. She could certainly always — Now was not the time to be thinking of Lois! Clark chastised himself and concentrated on finding Marie. She had to be here somewhere. She was too new to the city to be on anyone's hit list. And he knew her better than to believe she would have ventured out into the night street when she knew almost nothing about the city.
"Marie?" Clark called into the partially filled foyer. Couples were entering and exiting the building at a fairly regular pace, but he couldn't see her anywhere. "Marie?" Suddenly he felt two female arms on his back and he spun around.
"Marie! You had me worried! I'm sorry; I — um … shall we go? It's getting late and I'd like to get to bed at a reasonable hour tonight, seeing as — " Marie cut off his babble mid-sentence.
"All right." Marie reached up and patted Clark's arm softly. "I think we should — "
" — talk." Clark finished for her.
"How did you know?" she chimed, smiling playfully.
"I was thinking the same thing, well, about the talking anyway." Clark smiled sadly and linked his arm with Marie's, guiding her toward the heavy double doors at the building's entrance. "But not here. The hotel room?"
Marie gave a low chuckle. "How could I refuse an offer like that, Mr. Kent?"
Clark sighed and ducked his head down with the appropriate amount of modesty. As he looked up, he caught sight of the other end of the room and stopped his head mid- motion.
Across the floor, Perry and Alice were putting on their respective coats. Lois was with them and he heard her laugh as Perry helped her on with her uncooperative car coat.
Clark sighed. Lois turned just then, and for a brief moment their eyes locked. Her expression seemed impassive. If she minded that he was holding another woman, it didn't show on her face, but she looked almost —
"Clark? Are you all right?" Marie's voice brought him out of his trance and he turned his head around to face her, realizing that he must have looked odd from her angle.
"I'm — fine." He cast a quick glance at Lois who caught his eyes again and then looked away just as quickly. He frowned. "Just a bit of a headache, I guess. Strange. Maybe it's still the jetlag. I haven't traveled extensively in a long time; I'm probably not used to it anymore." He smiled ruefully and felt Marie's soft tug on his arm. In seconds, they had made their way across the room and outside into the cool night air.
Lois slipped the key into the lock of her elegant one- bedroom apartment and wiggled it until it clicked and the door slid quietly open. It was a nice apartment, a lease she had taken over four months after Clark had left Metropolis. The brownstone they'd bought after their honeymoon had been wonderful, certainly within her new and much improved salary range, but there was too much of … Clark for her to remain there comfortably. It was the memories that had hurt her most afterwards. And she wondered how and why he could have done what he did in taking off, never even calling to say goodbye. There had been nothing then, except a single white rose on her pillow when she'd come home from work that evening.
The hurt, the anger, the maddening, soul-shattering ache she'd felt when Perry gave her Clark's message the next day and she realized he never intended to come back; all of it reeled anew inside of her tonight, and she fought her feelings the way she had learned to long ago.
Dropping her purse onto a nearby chair, Lois pulled her earrings off and headed toward the bedroom with a deep sigh.
Clark sat on the edge of his bed and started to remove his tie. Marie moved quickly from one end of the hotel room to the other, dropping two ice cubes into a glass and pouring herself some water from a nearby pitcher. She made her way around the side of the bed and sat next to Clark, holding her glass in her lap with both hands.
"So … " Marie smiled and watched as Clark fidgeted with his tie.
Finally, he gave up, placing his hands in his own lap. "You know, it's always worse when you plan on having a conversation, isn't it?" He chuckled and Marie followed his lead.
"I guess that depends on what you plan on talking about," she said matter-of-factly.
Clark nodded in agreement. "Right. Well, that's actually -"
"It's Lois, isn't it?" Marie cut in, nodding as she spoke. Her hands trembled in her lap and a small drop of water spilled over the edge of her glass.
Clark dropped his head to his chest and then lifted it again. "Marie-"
"I could see, Clark. I mean, at first I pretended that it wasn't there, and then that it didn't matter, but it was so obvious. I saw the way you were looking at her. I saw the way she was looking at *you.*"
Clark glanced at his hands in his lap. Marie went on, the tremor evident in her voice despite her best 'news anchor' training. Clark had to admire her courage.
"You're still in love with your wife, aren't you?"
A heavy silence fell over the room and Clark swallowed. This wasn't exactly what he had intended to happen, but then, nothing ever seemed to work out the way he intended where women were concerned.
"Marie. I care about you — so much. You're more special to me than you can ever know," he began.
"But?" Marie tried to smile, but was losing her ground rapidly.
"But — I wasn't fair to you." He found her eyes and held them for a moment.
"I see." She looked away and Clark could see the tears in her eyes. "I mean I- " she trailed off and turned away from him completely. Clark reached around and turned her slowly back toward him. Hurting her was the last thing in the world that he'd ever wanted to do and yet —
"Marie … if Lois wasn't —"
"But she is, Clark. She is." Marie wiped her eyes with the tips of her fingers and took his hand in hers.
"I know." His voice was almost a whisper. "I just — I don't want to hurt you anymore. It isn't fair to you."
" — and it isn't fair to you, either. I've known you for a while now, Clark. Long enough to know that you are the most sensitive and caring man I have ever met. I know that I was falling in love with you … " She blushed slightly, but continued on, boldly. " … but I'm not blind, and I've known from the beginning that there was always someone else. When I saw your loft, all those pictures everywhere … I knew."
"You knew?" Clark laughed slightly, despite himself. "Well, that makes one of us." Clark's rueful tone saddened Marie even as it made her smile at its sweet charm. It was always that boyish naivete which contrasted so sharply with a keen and wise intellect beyond his years that had attracted her to him from the very beginning.
"Well, that," Marie began, "and the fact that you never seemed ready to make love." She colored slightly at the admission.
"Marie … that was *not* because I didn't find you attractive. I did. I mean I *do*. But it's just that— " Clark fumbled for the right words and knew he was failing miserably. How do you tell a woman you care about that you've never wanted her intimately because you don't think you *could* ever want any other woman except one. Lois held captive his soul just as surely as she did the desires of his body, and she never even had to try.
"She does love you, Clark." Marie cut in softly, lessening the tension, letting him know without so many words that she understood. "Any woman can see that in another woman's eyes. And Lois Lane has got it just as badly as you do." She forced a smile and Clark regarded her with an expression of desperation and frustration. He wanted to know how she knew, he wanted to ask her, but he knew that asking would probably only hurt her further. Unforgivable.
"Marie … "
"We had quite a trip though, didn't we?" She laughed through her tears and Clark stopped talking and squeezed her hand instead. "No regrets?"
"Not one." He smiled at her and brought her toward him for a long, deep hug. She clung to him tightly for a time, and then let go, surveying his rumpled shirt and half- hanging tie.
"Lois Lane is a lucky woman."
Clark frowned slightly. "I don't know if Lois and I can ever go back to the way things were, Marie. I hurt her so badly. I know that now. It's all just so complicated." Clark sighed sadly, shaking his head. "But I do know that I can't keep doing this to us, to me and you. I never wanted to hurt you." There was an uncomfortable pause before Clark continued. "It would probably be better for everyone if I stopped trying to do this whole 'love' thing altogether." His lip twisted up into a half-smile, and he absently rubbed the back of his neck.
Marie suddenly looked serious and took both of his hands in hers. "Clark, promise me one thing?"
He nodded, uncertain.
"Stop running." Clark looked up in surprise at her words.
"There's only so far you can go before you realize you're on your way back to where you came from. Life's like that. And I don't want to see you hurt." She squeezed his hands briefly. He shook his head.
"Marie, I don't know if I deserve- "
"You deserve to be truthful with yourself, Clark. Be honest here." She tapped his chest affectionately. "You can't live with yourself — even alone — if you're not. Trust me, I've been there." She pulled his tie the rest of the way off and tossed it onto the bed as she stood.
"I better go. I've got airplane reservations to make." She smiled and Clark stood.
"You just got here —" He offered her her coat and she took it.
"I know, but I guess I came to say goodbye … or to let you say it. I guess I was hoping that I'd get here and everything would be magical between us, but I think inside I knew that I'd already lost you. That's why I had to come early, while I could still stop my transfer. I was jealous of a woman I'd never even met, and my instincts are usually good." She gave him a little smile, then broadened it into a grin. "But tell Lois not to worry; I swear I'm not the violent type."
Clark returned her smile. "I know you're not." He kissed her cheek. "You're wonderful."
Taking hold of the door handle, she slid it open and then turned back into the room. "Good luck," she announced, shoving one hand into her pocket. "Being back here in the US reminds me of why I hate it!"
Clark smiled back and nodded. "Take care of yourself, Marie."
"I will." She inclined her head, touched her fingers to her lips, then held them out toward him. "Bon soir, mon cher."
And then she was gone. The door clicked shut and Clark was left standing there, staring at the blank reminder of her presence and wondering if his life could possibly become any more complicated than it had already.
"Absolutely!" Lois' excited tone turned several heads in the work area outside of her own large office enclosure, and she put her hands to her smiling lips. "Okay," she whispered several decibels lower, "will the D.A. be able to get him to testify?"
Judi shook her head until it became almost a circular motion, shrugging her shoulders.
"I'll take that as a definite maybe." Lois grinned and then put both hands on her hips, adding, "You know, I never told you how great it is that they let me have you back as an assistant, Jud. You've been indispensable to me. I didn't know what I was going to do when Jimmy took off in search of his career." She rolled her eyes dramatically and both women laughed. "But, I guess I can't blame him; I used to know that same excitement about being a reporter." Lois' expression suddenly took on a far-off look and Judi raised her eyebrows.
"Excuse me? Am I talking to *the* Lois 'reporter extra-ordinaire, get out of my way or I'll step right on over you, nobody gets there first' Lane?" The older woman tapped her on the shoulder and Lois dissolved into a fit of helpless laughter, sinking down to the floor against an expensive mahogany desk, just one of the few perks her new position had allotted her. She pulled her knees up to her chest like a little girl and laughed while Judi stood watch over her, frowning in odd contrast to the giggling woman beneath her.
"Lois," Judi's voice was soft as she spoke to the younger woman. "I worry about you sometimes, honey. You're so strong and independent. You against the world-"
"That's right!" Lois continued to laugh softly. "Me against- " she suddenly broke off her sentence and sighed.
"That's what I mean. Are you sure you're okay? I've worked with you long enough to know that when you get —" Judi was unable to finish her sentence however since Lois began to laugh once more, dissolving into helpless giggles.
"I'm *fine*, Judi, I swear, I'm- " As suddenly as her laughing had begun, Lois' eyes filled with tears and she was crying, placing one hand to her lips as though she herself were shocked at the intense turnaround of emotions. She sucked in a breath and gave up trying to fight any of it. Judi moved quickly and quietly to the large office doorway and shut it. She turned around, seeing tears making shiny trails down Lois' cheeks.
Lois looked up at the older woman, her eyes large and shimmery. Her voice broke as she spoke softly.
"I don't know … I don't know what to … " Lois trailed off as Judi came around the desk and plucked several tissues off a box on top of it. She moved beside Lois and sat herself down next to the reporter, head of the Investigative Division at Planet News Network. She took a little girl into her arms and rocked with her back and forth, listening to the soft sounds of her crying and feeling for the first time in such a long time, that she truly had a daughter. She never believed she would ever know that joy.
"Shh, it's all right, Sweetie. You're all right. You're going to be just fine." She whispered soothingly, and Lois sucked in yet another strangled sob. Several moments later, Lois brought the end of an offered tissue up to her eyes and dabbed at them carefully. She took a deep breath and hugged Judi before pulling away.
"Thank you." She smiled at the older woman who nodded, giving her a concerned, caring look.
"You wanna talk about it?" Lois glanced at Judi once and then smiled a shy-smile. She lowering her head and let out a short breath. Judi recognized the sign immediately. It was a "no." This time. She pulled herself up against the desk until she was standing once again and then watched Lois do the same thing.
"All right, I won't pry." Judi smiled and Lois returned the favor.
"You never do. You're a wonderful person." The young executive turned and stared out of a large floor-to-ceiling office window — a signature PNN window. Every major office had these. She cleared her throat. "It really is a beautiful view, you know?" She turned around once more but Judi was gone. Lois could see her filing papers just outside her office door, at her own desk. She shook her head and sat down in the large executive chair, squeezing its arms with a perplexed frown.
Lois looked around. The office really was large. Two of her Kerth awards sat in an elaborate display case along with several other precious items of her possession which she had opted to keep at work instead of home. Artwork she didn't own, but might have liked to, hung from each of the office's four walls and gave the room a sort of somber wisdom she doubted was contagious. A soft knock on her door startled her and she looked up, uttering the word "Yes," out of habit at the same time.
"Lois, are you busy?"
***CLARK*** Lois couldn't believe how relieved and happy she was to see him standing there. He had been the object of the most confusing, conflicted feelings she had had in over two years. She was angrier at him than she thought she had ever been in her entire *life*, and yet, the sight of him standing there, in her doorway, with his perfect suit and his slightly off-key tie caused a rush of warmth and a feeling of inexplicable contentment to flow over her traitorous body even so.
"No, no, I am not busy." She glanced once again around the strange room surrounding her. "Actually, I have no idea *what* I am right now, but busy — busy isn't it."
Clark smiled his patented 'nervous' smile. Lois felt a pang of remorse for him. She quelled it immediately and began to gather paper absently from around her desk. "So, how do you like your new office?" she chimed in conversationally and Clark stepped inside, putting his hands in his pockets and looking around.
"Actually, I like yours better."
Lois almost choked. "What?" She looked up quickly and Clark tensed at her response, gesturing quickly toward a window. "Western exposure." He replied as casually as he could — which wasn't very. "I got the northeast corner. I'll bet you can see the sun setting from here."
"Oh, yes. I hadn't thought about it, actually." Lois turned and glanced outside of her west window. "But otherwise?" Okay so she was making conversation. It wasn't that bad. It wasn't as though she had flown from her chair on the moment of his entry, launched herself into his arms and kissed him hungrily, the way that she'd wanted to.
" — beautiful." Lois caught the tail end of Clark's remark and shook her head, indicating that she'd failed to catch the beginning of it. "I said otherwise it's really beautiful." He was looking straight at her. "Actually, I did come here for a reason," Clark added quietly. Lois found her eyes inescapably drawn to his.
"Yes?" she almost whispered. Clark opened his mouth to speak again but never got the chance.
"Hey, gorgeous — " Another man's voice preceded another man's body as his head tipped around the corner of her office and brought with it the entire man, carrying flowers. He stopped mid-stride, however, when he caught Lois' gaze shift up toward him in surprise and noticed her company.
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't know you had … " He floundered a moment before regaining his composure. He stuck out his hand and grinned suddenly. "Where are my manners? David Morris."
Clark took the offered hand and shook it firmly and courteously. "Clark Kent." David didn't flinch. In fact, he smiled as warmly as any business man meeting another for the first time might. Clark tossed a questioning look toward Lois, which she noticed, but failed to respond to. Either that, or she simply decided not to.
Lois folded her hands on her desk and tried to pretend her insides weren't doing the shimmy shake with an armada of butterflies. "Clark," her voice cut in, "David is a producer for PNN. David, Clark Kent is my new partner for the investigative division." She smiled congenially at both men and David nodded, grinning.
"Well, actually, 'new' isn't — " Clark began.
"Are you here for our lunch date?" Lois cut in, shooting Clark a dark stare and then quickly turning her attention back to David, who didn't seem to have noticed the exchange.
"Yeah, yes, I am. Sorry to have barged in like that. I had no idea you were in a meeting and Judi wasn't at her desk, so I just — well, I can come back later, if you'd like." David glanced at both Clark, who tried valiantly to keep the fixed smile he'd created glued to his face, and Lois, who suddenly stood up.
"No, actually, I think we were through here. Right, Clark?" She smiled a 'friendly' smile at Clark, who nodded slowly, a sinking feeling swelling in the pit of his stomach.
"Yeah. We can get back to … this, later." He returned the fake smile and Lois looked away, linking her arm in David's as he escorted her through the door, leaving Clark by himself in the large office.
David sat across from Lois at the small table they'd reserved for lunch. Max's wasn't an incredibly expensive place to eat, but it was quiet, intimate and usually one of Lois' favorites. Today, however, she stared at her pastrami sandwich and poked at her french fries with her fork.
"Lois, is something bothering you?" David's voice intruded on her thoughts and Lois looked up.
"David, there's something I haven't told you about Clark." She fixed him with a serious gaze, but David smiled.
"Lois, I know I should let you speak first here, but I just have some really exciting news and I wanted you to be the first to know."
Lois stopped mid-sentence and nodded. "What is it?"
"I got the job in California. They want me to take over! It'll be my production, Lois, executive producer. Do you have any idea how great that will look on my resume? And the pay … Lois, they told me they could use several more producers down there. I mentioned that you might be interested, and they were very excited!"
"You what?" Lois' dumbfounded look took David by surprise and he reached across the table, taking both of her hands in his.
"Lois, I didn't sign your name on any dotted lines, but think of the potential. We could — we could move there together. I have a great little place lined up already, and Lois … " David suddenly reached into his pocket and extracted a small, velvet box.
"Will you marry me?"
Lois stared in shock across the table. "David," she whispered, glancing at the beautiful engagement ring. She afforded her own bare finger a glance and sighed, remembering a time when Clark's ring had been there and she had been the happiest woman in the world. That was a long time ago.
"David, that's what I wanted to talk to you about." She placed her hand on top of the ring box and looked up. "You know that my husband and I are legally separated."
David nodded, smiling. "Yes, I know that you haven't signed the divorce papers yet, but that doesn't matter to me, Lois. We can still be together while you are pushing that through. I know how determined you can be when you want something. We can get that cleared up quickly. I promise I'll make you happy. I love you."
Lois swallowed. Engagement? David was right; she and Clark hadn't signed the divorce papers. Actually, Clark probably didn't even know that there even were divorce papers. She'd had them drawn up almost six months ago, and then put them away the very same night, unable to sign even her own portions. She'd cried a lot that night.
David continued. "Lois, when I first moved to Metropolis a year ago, I never dreamed that I'd be meeting the woman I wanted to spend the rest of my life with. I was a small-time producer with huge dreams … and there you were. It was the most incredible thing. So much has happened since then, in *both* our lives. The past doesn't matter to me — "
"I-I never told you what his name was." Lois cut him off quickly. David looked perplexed.
"His name? It never came up. I don't need to know, Lois." He took her hands in his and squeezed them gently. She frowned.
"Yes, yes, it does matter. Especially now."
"Lois, I love you. That's all that matters. Say that you'll marry me." David's voice was the epitome of sincere and it made Lois' heart reach out to him. He'd tried to be there for her, but ultimately, there was only one man she could ever truly be with and be happy.
"Clark Kent." She froze after she'd said the words and watched his face. He stared back for a moment.
"The man … the man I met in your office today? Your new partner, he's-"
"My husband," Lois finished for him.
"Ex-husband," David corrected.
"Well, the papers — not quite," Lois whispered quietly.
"So that's why—" David trailed off and Lois looked up at him.
"Why what?" she asked.
"You were looking at him when I came into your office; you were looking at him the way I've always wished you'd look at me." He gazed across the table at her and she lowered her eyes but said nothing. Finally David broke the silence.
"Lois, I *love* you. Will you come with me to Los Angeles? No conditions, no looking back, please?"
Lois looked up at him and met his pleading gaze levelly. "I-I care for you, David. I think that maybe, in time, I might have even- "
"So, you won't." He spoke softly, cutting her off. "Because he's back."
"I can't." She admitted. "And it's more complicated than that, David."
"I see." He closed the velvet box in his hand slowly. There was silence between them for a time. "I have to go on this trip." He sighed.
"I know. David, I'm sorry." She tipped her head and patted his hand on the table. "I wish things could have been different … "
"Do you love him? Are you still in love with him? Lois, just tell me that, please." He swallowed and Lois looked up, beyond him for a moment before meeting his gaze once more.
"Oh, David. It's so hard for me to explain this. And I don't want to hurt you." She smiled ruefully and David whispered.
"So, just say it. I'll be okay."
"It's — it's like he's a part of me. He's part of my soul, and no matter how I feel about him … or you, or anyone else, it's always going to be that way. I don't even understand it myself. Sometimes, I-"
"I understand." David stopped her with his voice and the touch of his hand on hers. "I think I know what that might feel like." Lois nodded and swallowed back the tears she knew were already shimmering in her eyes.
"I hate him for hurting you," David said finally. "I'm sorry that I had to say that, but I do. And at the same time, after meeting him, it's hard for me to hate him at all." David shook his head in confusion, and Lois laughed through her tears.
"Oooooh, David, you have *no* idea!" She smiled and then took his hand in hers. There was silence for a time. "When are you leaving?"
"Well," David began, letting out a long breath. "Circumstances being what they are, probably tonight." She nodded.
"I'll miss you." Lois swallowed and David let out a the low first note of a laugh that wasn't quite.
"You know what they say about that one great love that changes us, Lois." David stood from his seat and moved around to her side of the table, kissing her tenderly before hooking his jacket in his fingers and slinging it over his shoulder. Lois looked up at him in surprise.
"No, what do they say?" She questioned, but David shook his head.
"It also finds us wherever we are," he finished.
"Goodbye, David." She smiled at him and every trace of teardrops seemed to vanish from her face. "I know you'll be successful at whatever you do."
"Tell Kent I said he better take good care of you!" David called out to her as he turned to walk proudly out of the restaurant. He hailed a cab and Lois watched him get inside as the door to Max's finally swung shut.
"I don't think so, David," she whispered. "Not this time." Lois drank the last of her water and then dropped a bill onto the table, gathering her purse into her arms and hurrying through outside through the same door.
Clark leaned against the wall of his office and shut his eyes. **Lois** His mind called out to something he knew he couldn't reach right now. She wasn't here, and even if she was … he'd broken her heart. He could never reconcile that, and he doubted she would ever be able to either.
And then there was David. What was working with Lois going to be like with David in the picture? Would he be able to keep his feelings hidden from her all over again? To keep from touching her when he ached to? It was going to be more difficult than he had ever imagined and Clark found himself insanely wondering if he'd done the right thing in letting Marie go. He shook his head violently to clear it. NO. Even if Lois was involved with someone else, even if she never came back to him, he knew that his being with Marie could never work. He was, and always would be, completely in love with Lois, and no other woman could ever take her place in his heart. Not in any lifetime.
If it made Lois happy, then he could go back to being simply friends. He'd learned in Paris, all those miles away from her in quiet agony, that no matter what the price, Lois' wellbeing and happiness were far more important than his own. It would hurt a lot at first, but he would do it for her. The absolute certainty of that fact struck him so completely that he felt his body hold back a sob of despair. He needed her so desperately and now he'd lost her forever.
Lois walked quickly down the hallway toward her office, purse in hand. She stopped several paces from Clark's open office doorway. She watched him leaning up against the wall. She watched him run his hands through his hair and shut his eyes. She watched him as he sank slowly down to the ground until he sat, oblivious to anyone and anything except for his own tortured thoughts. Turning, she hurried toward her own office door, and ducked inside, shutting it quickly behind her.
She spent the rest of the day attempting to finish up the stacks of new and impending paperwork which both she and Clark had been handed. It was a near impossible task. Thoughts of David flooded her mind alongside images of Clark sinking to the floor against the wall of his office.
She doubted anyone else had seen him. The building was enormous and there was only a skeleton staff on their level. Just the executives and their assistants. Of course, Clark had yet to find himself an assistant. That was so like Clark, to leave something like that until last. But it did afford him a large degree of privacy in his office.
Lois shut her eyes against the heart-wrenching image of Clark in his office once again. This was impossible. *Concentrating* was impossible. David had asked her to marry him! And she refused. She refused? Of course, she refused. She was still in love with Clark. She would always love him. Big, dumb, stubborn ox that he was. He was also the nicest, kindest, most wonderful man in the world. He was just … Clark. Lois broke the end of her pencil off against her desk and cursed under her breath.
All this paperwork. If it weren't for her overactive imagination, Lois knew that she had probably never been more bored in her entire life. Luckily, she thought, this would be a pretty rare thing. Perry had promised that he would delegate extra assistants to handle the bulk of the paper- load so Lois could concentrate on being something more akin to a reporter again. Management made money, Lois had to admit, but more than a few times she caught herself longing for the old days, when all she had to worry about was the next story or the validity of a source.
She picked up a new pencil and chewed on the end of it for a moment in thought. The quiet chime of an elegant clock on her wall sounded off seven times and Lois looked up. Where had the time gone? She sighed and dropped her pencil, noticing the red-orange hue of the paper on her desk for the first time. The sunset. She spun her chair around and was accosted full force with the most beautiful sunset she'd seen in years. From her vantage point, high up in PNN's main building, she watched the shimmering fireball descend into the water-filled horizon, reflecting off the polished surfaces of the building all around her. It was stunning.
There was a soft knock at her door. "Come in," Lois called back, absently. Clark took two steps inside the office and closed the door softly behind him.
"Hi, Clark." Her voice was soft from her chair, but she hadn't turned to face him, or even verified that it was really him. Clark swallowed his perplexed expression and moved to stand behind Lois' large chair.
"It really is beautiful, isn't it?" He placed his hands on the back of the chair and Lois nodded, still not looking back.
"Yes — it — is," Lois punctuated softly, tipping her head up so that she could see him, finally. Clark resisted the urge to bend down and take her lips in a soft kiss, the way he used to, the way he still wanted to. She smiled suddenly, obviously reading something in his expression.
"No, Kent, that would definitely *not* be a good idea."
"I'm sorry?" Clark feigned innocence and Lois smiled enigmatically.
"I've seen that look in your eyes before. I know it very, very, *very* well." She shook her head and Clark had the decency to look embarrassed.
"I'm sorry," he murmured. "Did you finish your paperwork?"
"Yeah." Lois looked almost triumphant. "Just did. You?" She glanced up at him. "I mean now that you can't just ~-> … " She waved her hands in front of her and smiled.
"Yes, I did." Clark couldn't resist smiling back. "I think we're the last people alive here tonight, except for post-production downstairs."
Lois nodded thoughtfully, then turned her attention back to the sunset. Clark followed her gaze.
"You drive here today?" he asked out of nowhere.
"Cab." Lois tapped her pencil between her fingers. "They're renovating my parking space."
Clark grinned. "Well, I drove, so if you'd like a ride-"
Lois spun around in her chair so suddenly that she found herself face to face with Clark's lower abdomen. Her nose brushed against him and she backed up self-consciously. "YOU have a car?"
Clark laughed. "Yeah, I have a car. This is newsworthy?"
Lois chuckled and stood up until she was face to face with him. Clark noted that there were only inches separating their faces but Lois was bold and defiant as always. "I think so! Clark, when did you get a car?" she began, taping his shoulder accusingly, "You used to tell me you would *never* … wait a minute, I have a better question. What kind of car is it?" Lois looked positively playful and Clark couldn't help but grin in response.
"I don't see what that has to do with whether or not you'd like a ride home, Ms. Lane."
"Ohh, it has *everything* to do with it, Kent." She reached into a drawer and grabbed her purse. "What kind is it?"
Clark watched her, an amused grin spreading across his face. "Well, if I'm driving you home, I guess you'll find out."
Lois laughed out loud. "You're a sneaky one, Clark. Okay. My coat is on the rack behind the door." Clark moved to the other side of the office and picked up the small car coat which hung there. He held it open for her and she slipped inside.
"Thanks." She turned, smiling, and Clark could have lost himself in her eyes. He reached up slowly and Lois held her breath.
**He's going to touch me** She waited … the moments seemed like forever until Clark's hand brushed against the hair near her ear. She shivered involuntarily. Clark shifted his hand and slipped a forgotten pencil out from behind one ear. Lois swallowed, unable to believe that something so small could be so …
"You always forget." He curled her hair around her ear the way she liked it, smoothing the temporary mess he'd made and smiled in satisfaction when he'd completed the task. "There. Perfect."
Lois swallowed and Clark held an arm out toward her. "Shall we?" She nodded, a silly expression crossing her face as she linked her arm with his. As they made their way through the doorway to her office, Lois said something that Clark would never have believed she would. Leaning into him very slightly, she bumped him with her hip.
"I missed my best friend."
It was very softly spoken, but the force of feeling that hit Clark at her admittance almost knocked him off of his feet. He had no words. It took every ounce of his willpower to keep him from falling to his knees and begging her for forgiveness right there and then. His mind reeled until …
"So, where is this car of yours?" Lois interrupted his thoughts playfully.
Clark swallowed, realizing how close he'd come to giving everything over to her. He knew in that moment that there was no turning back — ever again.
Lois surveyed the parking lot trying to second guess the type of vehicle she might find. "Clark, come on, which one is it?"
"Why is it so important?" Clark chuckled.
"Well- I mean, a car says a lot about a person, I think." Lois tipped her head in concentration.
"Well," Clark began. "You know a lot about me … guess." He smiled and Lois slapped his arm playfully.
"All right." She furrowed her brow, suddenly looking up. "It better not be a mini-van."
Clark laughed. "Why not? What's wrong with mini- vans?"
Lois shrugged. "Well nothing, really, it's just … I don't see you as the mini-van type. Besides, they're boring."
Clark had to stop himself from laughing. God, it had been so long since he'd laughed this way with anyone! "It's not a mini-van, Lois."
"Good." She smiled.
"In fact … " They rounded the corner of the parking lot and Lois gasped.
"You're kidding, right?"
"Nope. That's it." He watched Lois as she disengaged from his arm and moved to examine the small red Lotus. She placed her hands on its edge and ran her fingers along the roof in a way that made Clark wish she had done the same thing to him.
"What — did they pay you in gold bars over there in France?" She looked up at him and Clark stoically shook his head.
"No, I mortgaged my underwear for that thing," Clark admitted.
Lois giggled, moving back toward him. "So," she tapped his chest, "there *is* an earthling male in there somewhere, huh?"
Clark looked down at her and caught her hand in his. She looked up at him and for a moment they just stared into each other's eyes.
"Whoa." Lois spoke first, pulling gently away from him.
"What?" Clark whispered.
"I'm thinking things that are *not* good for my resolve." She smiled slightly. Clark let out a breath and nodded.
He moved around to the passenger side of the door and held it open for Lois, who smiled in thanks and sat down inside. "Well, one good thing about taking this job … " she started. Clark raised an eyebrow as he waited and Lois shot him a smug grin. "You can get your underwear back."
Clark shut the door and spun around to make his way over to his side, hiding his silly grin from Lois. Was it time he needed? He had been such a fool … a selfish, mindless fool to shut her out those years ago. But would he have been able to let her in if it were happening right now? Did knowing how wrong he'd been really change things, or would it still be just as hard? Clark sighed. Whatever happened, he was here again, whether he liked it or not. And Clark was beginning to discover, very quickly, that he liked it a lot.
Sitting beside Lois, Clark maneuvered the car out onto the road. "Where to?" He asked casually, though he was burning with curiosity.
"Raynard and McGavin."
Lois watched his reaction, but Clark merely whistled.
"Nice area," he admitted and Lois nodded silently. They traveled that way for a while, in silence. Lois watched the scenery float slowly by and Clark turned every so often to glance in her direction without speaking. She knew he was looking at her; she didn't have to see him.
"So, how's Marie?" Lois broke the silence.
"She's fine … I assume." Clark swallowed.
"You assume?" Lois turned in her seat to regard him for a moment.
"I'm not following you." Lois' voice was almost perfectly calm, but Clark could hear the subtle edge to it.
"She went back to Paris." Clark cleared his throat.
"When is she coming back?" Lois asked and then immediately regretted the indiscretion.
"She's not." Clark stopped at a red light and turned toward Lois. "Lois-" Clark began.
"You're going to miss the turnoff. Here," Lois interjected quickly as the light changed to green.
Clark turned obligingly onto McGavin. Lois pretended to stare out of the window, but she clutched the trembling fingers of one hand discreetly around a door handle next to her. Clark said nothing.
That had been very close. Lois glanced at Clark out of the corner of her eye. He was probably going to say something he'd regret just then. Something they both might. Lois had to admit that curiosity burned inside of her almost as brightly as the passion she felt for him. But emotional mountains were never her strong suit. She took a deep breath and continued to not watch the scenery go by outside the car window.
The lights from the city were beginning to come on and the sun had all but left the horizon when they pulled into the apartment complex's parking facilities. Lois handed Clark her key card ID to slip into the slot.
Clark navigated through the darkened parking area and pulled into a spot of Lois' choosing. Looking over three car lengths, he spotted the familiar silver Jeep parked nearby. He shut off the engine. Neither he nor Lois moved.
They both spoke at the same time, turning toward one another.
"I really enjoyed meeting David today; he seems like a great guy." Clark hurried on first, needing to let Lois know that he wasn't trying to take anything from her that she wasn't willing to give. Lois let out a breath and looked down at her lap.
"Yeah, he is." She smiled a crooked smile. "David went to California tonight, Clark."
"California?" Clark's question was almost lost in the semi-darkness of the car's interior.
"Yeah. He- asked me to marry him."
Clark swallowed. "I see."
It was all he could manage. His heart felt as though it were twisting in half. **Oh, God, this must have been what she felt when I left her, when I never came back.** He shifted in his seat.
"Lois, no matter what you choose to do in your life, I want you to know that I'm so sorry for all the pain I've caused you. It was so selfish for me to leave you and I just didn't even see that then."
Clark turned so that he fully faced her, resolute to finish his confession. "I thought … you know, in my usual bonebrained way … that I was doing what was best for you, or anyone else I cared about. I made that decision all by myself and I've never come to regret anything more in my entire existence. It was my own foolish pride and fear that forced me to hurt the person I loved most in the world."
Lois swallowed hard but held his gaze, unable or unwilling to look away. His eyes shone with unshed tears, and he held them back valiantly. Lois wanted so much to reach out and touch him, to brush the tears away. But she couldn't. Instead she folded her hands in her lap and nodded.
Clark continued. "If — if I could undo that hurt, if I could take the pain away and make it gone, I would give my life for that. I think it's wonderful that you've gone on with your life and found someone else. I want you to be happy. I'm so sorry, Lois; I'm so very sorry, and I know you'll never be able to forgive me, but I wanted you to know — no matter where you go, or what you do … I just needed you to know that … " He trailed off quietly, looking down at his lap as the first of his resolve broke and the tears came.
Lois finished listening to Clark's admission and watched him hang his head. She knew that he was crying. Tears she had begged him to shed two years ago in memory of his parents, in admission of his need for her. She'd pleaded with him to let her in and he wouldn't. He couldn't let her comfort him and he'd never cried once. She felt her immediate empathetic response to his deep hurt and knew that she too was crying.
"I was such an idiot," he finished in a whisper.
"Yes, you were!" Lois whispered back, reaching out to brush away the tears which fell slowly down his cheeks. "You're an idiot who went through hell all by himself because of it."
"Lois, I'm so sorry," Clark repeated fervently, and Lois swallowed while she shook her head.
"I had to watch you, Clark. I had to watch you slowly disappear until finally one day you were truly gone. I had to watch you!" She repeated the phrase once again. Her words were fierce, but her hands traced a slow path over his face until she cupped his larger features in her small hands.
"Oh, God," Clark tipped his head down in Lois' hands and Lois reached up to remove his glasses. She set them down on the dashboard and Clark fell forward like a little boy. Lois, taken aback for only a moment, realized almost immediately what had happened. She wrapped her arms around him as best she could, feeling the force of his emotion shake his larger frame and listening to him grieve for the first time in two years. He clung to her as she rocked with him, and he sucked in each breath on a sob.
"I let them die … I let them die … " he whispered over and over again, clinging to her and shaking. "My mama is dead because I couldn't save them in time. I couldn't get to them. Lois!" He nearly wailed. "Lois, what have I done?"
"Oh, Clark." Lois ran her fingers softly through his hair. "You couldn't have saved them. Not even Superman can be everywhere. It wasn't your fault … "
Here he was. Crying in her arms the way he should have two years ago. The way he couldn't then. But he was here now, and so was she. She vowed that if she never took another breath, she *would* help him through this. What had been, paled in significance to what was in this moment. He needed her and she would be there for him no matter what. She knew that her words must have sounded hollow to him, but they were all that she could say. There was nothing anyone could say or do that would magically make two years of suffering and anguish vanish from either of their lives. Most especially Clark's, for he had had to live not only alone, but with the knowledge that he had been responsible for the deaths of two of the people he loved most in the world. No, not responsible, never responsible. Yet he believed that he was, and that was enough for Clark. The strength of his convictions had always had to be enough to keep him sane. Now they were slowly driving him over the edge.
"Lois, I'm so sorry." Clark rushed on. "I'm so sorry for hurting you, and I know I can never undo that pain. I can never go back. I wish that I could go back … I wish that I hadn't been such an idiot."
He ached inside, years of pain bottled up and only now exploding. Yet, she never once let go, never once held him away from her. Instead she pulled him closer, brushing her face against his and kissing a wayward teardrop. He was completely vulnerable right now and she wasn't even moving in to take the victory he knew she deserved.
"I love you so much, Lois," he whispered finally, at first surprised that he had let such a great deal of his control slip. But Lois didn't turn away. She sighed.
"I forgive you — idiot." She moved her hands over his warm, tear-moistened skin and felt her own tears continue to fall. She could also feel his warm breath against her skin. "I forgive you," she whispered again and then opened her eyes to look into his. What she saw there was a struggle that made her heart break. She'd seen that look before. He wanted to kiss her as desperately as she wanted to fall into his arms and feel that power again. But he was holding back because … David. Her commitment. He knew that she was seeing someone else and he wouldn't get between that. **Clark!** Lois shook her head and moved even closer to him.
"When I said David went to California, I meant that he's not coming back. I told him I couldn't marry him, Clark. I told him I-"
Lois' words were cut off as Clark's mouth fastened on hers in a kiss borne of urgency and desperation. She answered the pull of his tongue with a loud moan of her own, driven by two years of longing. His hands slid behind her head and pulled her gently forward into the deepening kiss. She reached around him and ran her hands through his hair the way she'd wanted to since the first time she'd seen him in Metropolis again. But caution kicked in far too quickly and Lois Lane felt her brain pull her body away from its encounter.
"Clark," she gasped as the kiss parted, tears still trickling down her cheeks, though whether his or hers she was no longer sure. "I know this is pretty intense, and I'm feeling it, too, trust me." Lois breathed out and ran one hand through her hair. Clark swallowed and sucked in a deep breath. "There are a lot of things I'd like to do right now," she continued and met Clark's dark, passion-filled eyes with two of her own. "But we can't — just do this. I don't know if we can just pick up and … " She trailed off softly and Clark swallowed. Lois looked down at her lap for a time and then brought her gaze up to his once again. She smiled shyly.
"Would you like to come inside for a drink? This place has a wonderful lounge downstairs; it's almost as good as the Metropolis Regency. We can talk. Do you need to talk?" She asked him with complete sincerity and she held her breath waiting for his response. Would he? Now that the breaking moment was over, would he let her in?
Clark picked up one of her hands and let her fingers roll over his. Caressing them softly, he let his gaze travel upward and met her eyes. "I want to talk, Lois. I *need* you-"
Lois smiled and sucked in and out as tears of a different kind began to well up in her eyes once again . "I'm always here for you, Clark. Always." She reached out to stroke his cheek with the back of her hand and Clark placed his thumb and his index finger into his eyes, fighting back the tears he knew were coming. They were tears of relief as well as regret.
Lois sat at a small table across from Clark. The lounge was completely empty save for their two occupied chairs. Even the small bar had closed up early at her request and Lois had taken the liberty that all residents in the complex had on occasion. She locked the door. By now, traces of her tears and Clark's were almost nonexistent.
She heard Clark sigh. It had taken him two hours to relate the story of his parents' death to her. Not the version the police had filed, but the version he remembered. Where he had lain there, helpless, as his world exploded around him. That he blamed himself exclusively for the event was beyond any doubt, and Lois felt his grief so keenly she thought that her heart might break for him.
"— I didn't want to tell you, Lois. I felt like anyone who knew what really happened would also know that it was my fault. And know that no one close to me was safe. So I left. I rationalized that I was doing the right thing, but I know I was really running away. I've spent the last two years of my life running away, and I'm ashamed of that." Clark looked down and Lois shook her head.
"It wasn't your fault, Clark." Lois' soft voice brought his head up.
"That's moot, Lois."
"No, it's not." Lois stared at Clark until he met her gaze. "Clark, you have to believe that it wasn't you who caused their deaths. Jonathan and Martha would never have wanted you to believe that. It isn't true." She reached out and took his hands in hers, absently caressing him with her thumb.
"Mom would probably drag me off by the ear and scold me." Clark smiled a small smile and Lois nodded.
"Thing is," Clark continued, his smile turning almost immediately into a frown, "I'd give anything to have her do that again right now."
He looked lost and afraid. And Lois had never been more in love with him.
"It hurts a lot to lose someone you love, Clark. And nothing can take that pain away from you."
Clark looked at Lois and knew that she was speaking from her own experience. His chest felt like someone had begun carving a hole out of him.
"But allowing yourself to grieve helps. Will you let me in this time, Clark? Let me help you." Lois held her breath waiting for his response. When he did not answer her, her heart sank into the pit of her chest.
Clark stood instead and made his way around to her side of the table. He pulled her gently to her feet. Lois looked away from him, but he brought his hand up and cupped her face, turning her toward him.
"Would you dance with me, Lois?" Clark asked tentatively, unsure what her response would be. Lois felt herself go weak in his arms. She nodded slowly, wordlessly, and Clark pulled her closer, leading them several steps away from their table as the music from the stereo near their table began to softly play its next song.
#Here is my hand for you to hold,
#Here's the part of me they have not sold.
"Clark?" Lois voice was tentative and unsure. "You never answered my question." Clark gazed down at her and lost himself in her warm, brown eyes. Yes. He'd known the answer to that question for so long now. But the question that had always remained for him was would *she* want to be a part of his life? After everything? He finally knew the answer to that question as well.
"Lois, if you'll have me, I want to share everything with you. Completely. Will you have me?" He held his breath and waited as her eyes widened in hearing his response.
#I've wandered far;
I've had my fill.
#I need you now; do you love me still?
Lois pressed her body closer to his and felt his arms tighten around her. His hand traced light circles in the small of her back. She shivered and brought her arms around his neck, resting her head against his chest.
"Yes, Clark. Yes," she whispered.
#Only you have seen the hidden part of me.
#Call me foolhearted, if you will.
#I loved you when; do you love me still?
Clark brought one hand up from her back and placed it gently against her head, brushing against her hair and tucking it back behind her ear. He sighed.
"That's twice in one day, Kent," Lois murmured against him. She smiled as she felt the warm vibration of his soft laughter wash over her. He continued to stroke her hair and Lois felt herself slipping into the ecstasy of complete contentment. It had been so very long …
#So many smiles and lies surround me,
#empty expectations, faceless fears.
#Sometimes this life is a bitter pill.
#I love you now; do you love me still?
"I've never heard this song before." Lois breathed deeply against him and Clark held her closer, if that were possible. He closed his eyes.
"Do you love me still?" he whispered. Lois pulled her head away from his chest. She watched him for a few moments until his eyes opened once again.
"I'll always love you, Clark."
#You have been mine since time untold.
#All of this, immortal, don't you know.
#Others will come and they will go.
#But I loved you young, I'll love you old.
#Only you have seen the other side of me.
#Call me naive; I think you will.
#I loved you then; do you love me still?
Clark inclined his head and Lois met him halfway. The kiss was long and sweet and filled with the promise of more. Lois tangled her hands in his hair, and Clark sighed against her lips. He pressed forward and she lay her forehead against his.
#Here are the eyes that only see you.
#Here is the mouth that only calls your name.
#Here is the song they cannot kill.
#I love you now; do you love me still?
The song ended as softly as it had begun and Lois and Clark remained trapped in one another's embrace. Her hands slowly caressed the back of Clark's head, and he held her so close to him that neither was sure they were really two people anymore.
"I've missed you so much, Lois. I *love* you so much. I don't think I- "
"Then don't think."
Lois pulled his lips down to hers once again and felt his mouth devour hers with desperate urgency. She moaned softly and fell forward against him. Their bodies pressed together, their hips still swaying to a song that had ended several moments ago.
Soft moonlight spilled in increments through the large-paned windows surrounding the lounge and shimmered off of Lois' hair. Dark shadows surrounding the numerous empty chairs around them swallowed up one shaft of light and fed it toward the surface of the countertop. Clark spun their bodies around until his back was to the bar and Lois was pressed against him in front. He brought one hand upward to caress the side of her face with his fingertips and she did the same, brushing her hand over his jawline. Neither spoke. They stood that way for several minutes, touching each other and staring into one another's eyes.
The door to Lois' darkened apartment slid open and two bodies tumbled through its entrance. Clark used his foot to shut the door behind them, keeping his arms firmly wrapped around Lois, the way they had been as the couple made their way upstairs.
Lois moaned impatiently and pulled on Clark's lower lip with her mouth, playfully, bringing him forward into another sultry, exploratory kiss. Clark felt his knees weaken as he responded to Lois' touch. God, how he'd missed her. Missed feeling this way. Clark gently traced a path with his hands along the outside of Lois' ribcage, through her blouse. Lois whimpered and fell backward into his arms, giving him better access to her body.
"Please … I've longed for you to touch me, Clark … It's been so long … "
Clark took only a fraction of a second to study her form, arched within his grasp, the curve of her neck and the way her shoulder-length hair fell loosely behind her. Her eyes were closed and she sighed as she felt his hands move higher.
He gently brushed his fingertips against the warm skin near the base of her neck and her head fell backward and off to one side. As his fingers reached the edge of the collar on her blouse, Clark deftly hooked his hand around to her front and unbuttoned the blouse in several easy movements. Lois pulled back suddenly in surprise.
"Where did you learn that?" She was still pressed intimately against his body, but she had tensed.
Clark used both hands to caress her arms at each side while he pressed light kisses against her hair, her face, next to her eyes, the tip of her nose. Lois shivered and leaned into his touch involuntarily.
"Clark … don't," Lois pleaded, more for the sake of her own sanity than his.
"Lois, only you," Clark murmured against her hair, pulling on her lower lip with his hot mouth. Lois made a small noise of pleasure in the back of her throat, but still demurred.
"Only me? What does that mean, Clark? It's probably none of my business, I know, but I— "
Clark sighed. He curved his head around hers and took the shell of her ear into his mouth gently, brushing his lips over the sensitive skin. "I've only ever been with one woman, Lois, and she's right here in my arms." Clark's whisper against her moist skin caused Lois to shiver violently in his arms. She made a strangled sound of mindless pleasure at his assault on one of her most erogenous places. But she willed herself to concentrate. And being Lois Lane, she won. She pulled away for a moment and studied his eyes.
The look in his eyes was tender as he banished the remainder of her insecurity. "I swear to you, Lois, I never could— "
Finding the answer she'd needed, Lois suddenly pressed forward against him, covering his face and his neck with wet, urgent kisses. "I love you, Clark. I love you. I love you. I love— " She brushed her lips against his neck, barely touching his skin and felt him shudder in response. "I never did either, Clark. I couldn't— " She pressed another kiss to his collarbone and felt his arms wrap around her.
"Are you trying to seduce me, Ms. Lane?" Clark's low voice rumbled against Lois' chest and she shivered.
"I hope so … " Lois' voice was hardly more than a sigh in the darkness. " … 'cause I've already been hopelessly seduced." Her warm breath against his skin sent Clark almost to the edge of sanity.
"Make love to me, Clark," she whispered, drawing herself further into his embrace and pulling at each of the buttons in the front of his shirt.. She ran her fingers lovingly over him and heard Clark's soft moan of approval.
"Slowly," Lois murmured against him. "I don't want this to end." She clung to his shoulders and Clark felt the sorrow of knowing that he had caused her to mistrust his staying power.
"I love you, Lois," he whispered against her hair. She slipped backward into his strong arms and allowed her body to go limp in his grasp. Clark moved over top of her to find her lips. He caught them in his own and she convulsed toward him, pressing her mouth into his. Her hands moved feverishly inside of his open shirt and over his back.
"Don't let me go, Clark. Don't stop," she gasped, as he began walking farther into the extravagant apartment. Noticing the lights of the city beyond, Clark made his way across the room to the window which covered almost an entire wall of the dark apartment. He pressed Lois' body up against the glass …
(Snip about 5 pages <eg>)
Clark lay forward on top of her, his hands resting next to her head. They were still locked together when he pulled slowly from her, and Lois shivered. She clung to his body and Clark rolled onto his side, bringing her forward so that they were pressed together, face to face. He caressed her arms and kissed her face.
"I love you, Lois," he murmured against her warm skin. She took a deep breath and pressed her lips to his collar bone.
"I love you, Clark," she breathed, running her hands over his sides and down his back. "I love you," she whispered again, more quietly this time.
There was silence for several moments before Lois broke it. "God, I don't know if I could live through that again," she teased, breathlessly.
Instead of laughing the way she was sure he would, Clark moved up her body and kissed her tenderly, drawing his lips over hers and pulling gently. Lois answered his pull with one of her own, sighing into his mouth.
He began kissing her over and over again, the way that he knew she loved. She gave in completely and moaned as he sought gentle entrance into her mouth, then pulled out again just as sweetly. Lois hadn't felt so loved, so absolutely content, in what seemed like forever. And Clark was taking his time, kissing her slowly, repeatedly, pulling his hands through her hair. He pressed a light kiss against her face, and her eyes opened as she felt the warm wetness of his tears on her skin.
"Clark, what's wrong?" Lois asked tenderly.
Clark opened his tear-filled eyes and gazed into hers. "I love you so much, Lois. I'm so sorry."
Lois raised herself up on an elbow. "I already forgave you, farmboy!" She kissed him sensuously and then added, "Though after *that*, I'd forgive you for anything else you might have thought of as well."
Clark buried his face in her hair and sighed. She ran her fingers through his own fine dark locks, but she knew something was still not right.
"What is it?" Lois whispered. Clark raised his head.
"I guess— I can't forgive myself," he admitted softly. Lois wound her bare leg around one of his and let her fingers follow his hair down onto his back, then traced the length of his spine.
"Oh, my Clark," she whispered softly, brushing another soft kiss against his lips. "We've still got a lot to work out. I know that. But I also know that I *love* you, and that you love me, and whatever else we have to say to one another, nothing is as important as that." She kissed his shoulder and Clark reached up to cup her face in his hand, running his thumb over the edge of her chin. She tipped her head to one side, in that endearing way she had, and Clark smiled through his tears.
"I swear to you, I'll never leave you again." The absolute conviction in his voice almost made Lois gasp, but she knew also in that instant that he was being completely honest with her. She felt herself nearing joyful tears once again and fought the urge to cry. He needed her to be strong right now.
"You better not," she teased, falling forward against him and capturing his lips with hers for a long, slow kiss.
"There's still the matter of Superman," Lois added, after they came up for air.
Clark sighed and shook his head, getting emotional again. "No, Superman is gone," he said adamantly. After a pause, he smiled sadly, his voice softer. "I- I don't know if he can ever come back, Lois. I don't know if I can ever … I need time, Lois … there's still so much inside of me. So much that I'm still afraid of. So much that I need to work through. That I need to prove to you … and to myself."
"I know you do, Clark. And as long as we're together, we can work through anything. Even Truth, Justice, and the American way." She grinned playfully at him and Clark pressed her back into the soft carpet beneath them.
"Truth … " Clark kissed her neck, and slid his open mouth along her collar bone. " … and Justice … " He slipped his arms around her and cupped the back of her head in both hands, leaning forward to kiss her fully on the lips. " … can wait until tomorrow," he finished. Lois moaned softly as he began yet another exploration of her body.
"Are you sure?" she whispered, half teasingly. But Clark would have none of it. He gazed down into her face, then moved lower to rain light kisses against the drowsy lid of her eye.
"My love," he whispered against her skin as he made his way across her face to the other eye. He kissed it, too.
"My soul mate." He heard her sigh and then placed his lips a breath away from hers.
"My life. I need you desperately," Clark breathed over her lips.
She made a small sound in the back of her throat, even as a shiny teardrop flashed in the moonlight against her cheek.
"Then take what you need, my Superman. I'd give you anything," she whispered back.
Clark pressed his mouth to hers, pulling her forward into his arms. He drew from her strength; they drew from each other.
Epilogue: THE NEXT EVENING
Clark stepped quickly along the office corridor with a photo in hand. Getting back into 'reporter-mode' had been a godsend after yesterday's stacks of paperwork, and he smiled to himself as he checked his watch. 7:30 p.m. The only downside to the event was that he hadn't truly been able to see Lois today. Not the way he'd wanted to at least, not being able to hold her and touch her the way he ached to even more keenly since they'd made love last night. He shut his eyes and smiled. Focus had been another real problem today.
Lois had probably already left for home. They'd both been working on gathering the necessary team to take over Planet News Network's investigative line staff, a group which was to be unlike any other major news corporation's — tighter knit and more organized, for one thing. Lois had some fantastic ideas for the unit, and he was getting more and more excited at the prospect of running it with her.
She really was brilliant, Clark mused, then tapped himself on the head with his photo for zoning out again. Their morning meeting had been the only time they'd seen each other during the day today, and Clark had been able to focus on little else, especially during moments like this when not much 'else' was really going on anyway.
Last night had been … incredible. Exhaustive, but incredible. They'd stayed up well into the early hours of the morning, talking mostly … well … and kissing … touching, holding each other. In the beginning, they'd been like starved animals, but later … later, when the fire of immediate passion had cooled to a warm, glowing ember between them, there had been a beautiful sense of belonging as Lois wrapped her arms around him and dropped her head to his chest, sighing. Clark had been unable to get enough of her. The way she felt, the lingering smell of perfume on warm skin. The way *he* felt knowing that she was there with him, and he with her. She was like the first taste of a wildly visceral narcotic after months of withdrawal. But this was one addiction Clark never planned on giving up again.
The anger, the fool in him twisted his gut in remembrance of what had yet been left unsaid, and he swallowed the growing lump in his throat. They still had a lot to talk about. And Clark was determined that, though it might take the rest of his life, he would make it up to her somehow. He shook his head.
But thoughts of Lois no longer saddened him the way they had only a few days ago. Now, no matter what seemed 'in the way', thinking of her only served to put a silly smile on his face and a warm feeling in his chest.
Clark turned the corner of the hallway on the way to his office and stopped in surprise, nearly bumping into a member of the evening cleaning crew as he made his rounds through this almost deserted floor of the building.
The door to Lois' office stood open, and a faint orange glow filtered through the window behind her desk. But what had stopped Clark in his tracks was the woman behind the desk. Her head was down, her pencil tapping against the edge of her paper as she read the document it contained. Lois' hair spilled forward over her face as she bent her head still lower in concentration. She looked so much like the way she had when Clark had first met her, a feeling of deja vu swept over him as he watched her from afar. He found himself walking past his own office without thinking, instead padding softly down the corridor until he stood silently in her doorway.
She didn't see him at first. He listened to her sigh as she read something that was obviously incorrect to her sensibilities and watched her circle it with her pencil, making a note. It was the strangest thing, and yet … not so strange at all … but standing there, seeing her as if for the first time, Clark couldn't believe the depth of his emotion for her. It was as if, after all this time, after all of the holding back and withdrawing he had done, last night had flung the floodgates wide open and here was a man consumed by the force of his feelings. It hurt and it felt really incredible at the same time.
Lois suddenly looked up at him, as if she had sensed the pounding of his heart or the exploding firewall of emotion he'd experienced. Her eyes shone when she saw him, and a shy smile crept to her lips.
"Hey, I didn't see you." She spoke softly and Clark knew that he was looking at her through a mixture of longing and love. This time, he didn't even try to hide it from her. She looked down at her paper, the smile growing on her face and she laughed.
"You always know," he mused, sighing.
Lois nodded and looked up at him again, her eyes sparkling. "Well, I know *you* if that's what you mean." She stood up slowly, moving around her desk. "I know the way you look … " She tipped her head to one side coyly. "I know what your looks *mean*." She emphasized the last word as she came to stand face to face with him.
Lois lifted her hand up to press it against Clark's chest, but he caught it before it reached its destination and he held it, caressing her fingertips with the pad of his thumb before bringing her hand to his lips and kissing it softly. He held it against himself but she spoke first.
"I didn't know you'd still be here," she whispered, allowing him to play absently with her fingers, twining them with his own.
"Neither did I," he whispered back, then noticed that Lois tipped her head in confusion. "I mean— I didn't know you'd still be here either." He smiled at her and she nodded.
"Well, how could I miss a sunset this beautiful?" She smiled softly, though she hadn't turned to look out the orange-tinted window behind her.
"I don't know," Clark responded, taking their joined hands and pulling them over her hips, down the side of her body. She leaned forward.
Clark continued. "They say that if you miss the sunset often enough, you forget what it's like to feel its beauty in time."
Lois met his gaze. "Do you think that's true?" Her voice was soft, her eyes serious.
Clark let out a breath. "No, I think it's absolutely untrue. Impossible."
She fell the rest of the way forward into his arms. Their lips met and Clark drew her closer, pressing one hand against her back while keeping hold of her fingers with the other.
He shifted his head and whispered against her ear. "Dance with me, Lois."
She shivered and pulled in closer to his body.
"Yes," she whispered, then giggled as Clark spun her away from the door dramatically before stopping their bodies in the middle of her office. He nuzzled his face against the side of hers.
"Lois," Clark breathed against her hair. She leaned in closer still to him as their bodies swayed together to some distant song which only they could hear. "I want to spend the rest of my life dancing with you like this."
Lois tensed a little in his grasp and Clark pulled his arm from her back to stroke her hair gently. "Lois?"
Lois swallowed and gazed at the sunset behind them as she let Clark's arms envelope her with warmth. She knew what he was asking, and she knew that she had to tell him as well.
"You left me, Clark." Her voice was soft, and she felt Clark instinctively tightening his arms around her. "I wanted to forget. I forgave you, with all my heart, and I wanted to forget, but I can't." She pressed her head against him and Clark stopped the motion of their bodies just long enough to change the rhythm so that he now rocked with her almost imperceptibly.
"I know," he whispered. "And there is no excuse, nothing I can say that could ever atone for what I've done." He paused and felt Lois' body twitch in his grasp. She wept softly, her tears wetting the front of his shirt, but Clark held her fiercely.
"You are my life, Lois," he uttered fervently. "You were my life from the moment I saw you. And … after my parents died, I didn't feel like I deserved to live. I didn't know how to reconcile my guilt. I did some unforgivable things. I let myself forget that, in this life, though we may have two bodies, we share our souls."
Lois wound her arms around him and sighed sadly.
Clark continued. "I don't know … I thank God every time I remember your breath against my face when you told me you'd not given up on us. I still can't even imagine— "
"I *love* you!" Lois' strong voice filled the office and she pulled from his embrace so they could look at each other. "You're a part of me, Clark, and I did what I did for selfish reasons as well. I can't imagine living a life without you in it. And I know … "
Clark stood before her, watching this strong, determined, spirited woman lay her convictions out before him, and he kept the physical distance she had created for them out of a deep respect borne from years of knowing an equal.
"I know … " she continued, now bridging the distance between them on her own and taking his face into her hands, " … that no matter what's happened, and no matter how large the mistake … inside here," she tapped his chest with her hand softly and then brought it back up to cradle his features, "is a *good* man. The best man I've ever known. The only man I've ever truly loved."
"You hurt me, Clark," she announced, and Clark nodded wordlessly, transfixed by her. Knowing only that she had spoken the absolute truth and that he had no right to take that from her. "But I also know that if I let you go, I'd be making an even bigger mistake. And it would hurt a whole lot more." She ran her fingers over his jawline and Clark shut his eyes.
"I love you so much, Lois Lane," Clark whispered, opening his eyes and staring deeply into hers.
"Kent," she whispered back at him, smiling. "Lois Lane Kent." Clark reached forward and brought her slowly into his embrace. She happily complied, folding herself into his arms until he completely enveloped her.
"I am the luckiest man in the universe," he spoke up toward the ceiling and Lois let out a low laugh.
"Yeah, I think so." She felt his arms tighten around her at the words and she smiled against his lips when he began to kiss her tenderly. As the kiss slowly parted, Lois breathed against Clark's skin. "Clark, your kisses have been so incredible ever since you came back from Europe …"
"Lois." Clark looked seriously into her eyes. "I promise you — I mean I hope you don't mean that you think— "
"I think," Lois began, fastening her lips to his once again and dragging him forward until their bodies tumbled to the floor of her office. She shut the door with the side of her foot, and Clark brought one arm up to tangle his fingers in her hair as the kiss continued. "That we're doing way too much thinking," Lois finished breathlessly.
The fiery red sun spilled liquid gold over the surface of Lois' desk as Clark slipped his hands around her and kissed her hungrily.
Perry White frowned at the stack of paper on his desk and glanced at the clock. It was late, but not late enough yet. He looked up suddenly when he heard laughter echo in the hallway. *Lois.* Now what in the Sam Hill was that girl doing at the office at this ungodly hour? And who was she talking to? Perry strained to hear the other voice but failed, assuming that the person was either speaking very quietly on purpose, or Lois was just out there talking (and laughing) to herself. Certainly a possibility … this *was* Lois, after all, but, still …
He rose from his seat and made his way toward the door of his office …
Lois walked two paces in front of Clark and he grabbed her hands from behind, pulling her hard against him. She gasped in feigned surprise and turned in his arms to face him.
"We're never gonna get outta here," she murmured against his face before pulling on his lip with her mouth.
"Who cares," he whispered and wrapped his arms around her. She grinned at him and he bent down to kiss her again.
"You're insatiable!" she added breathlessly as the kiss disengaged.
"I'm in love," Clark corrected and proceeded to brush his lips over her neck. She groaned and leaned forward into his touch.
"Mmmm, me too." Lois rolled around in his embrace and pressed her back against his front, holding his hands in hers. She leaned into him and Clark moved his face over her hair. He parted it from behind and kissed the back of her neck. Lois rolled her eyes.
"Remind me to scold you more often," she whispered and Clark smiled.
"Remind me to let go of your body later; I don't think I'll remember." He nipped at the shell of her ear and she gasped.
"What if I don't want you to let go?"
"Then I won't," Clark affirmed, pulling her back more snugly against him and giving her other ear the same treatment.
In the background, someone cleared his throat and both Lois and Clark froze. Lois' mouth hung open for a moment and then she bit her lower lip as a small smile spread over her face.
"Busted," she whispered playfully so that only Clark could hear her. She felt the answering nudge of his hips as they thrust once against her behind in reply.
Knowing that whomever it was had already seen at least this much of their intimate rapport, Clark kept his hold on Lois' hands, leaving their fingers twined together. He turned their bodies around to face the intruder. Well, it was a free hall, wasn't it?
Perry stood with his hands on his hips, a practiced (and decidedly bad) imitation of a serious frown on his face. He took one look at their faces and lost the entire act, bursting into laughter.
"I see you two have, ahh … talked." He spoke through a grin and Lois felt the right side of her mouth curl up just a little bit higher in response. She tipped her head back until the top of it was pressed against Clark's chest and she could almost see his face clearly above hers.
"Talked? Did we talk?" Lois asked him innocently.
Clark leaned forward, unable to resist her this time, kissing her parted lips very gently. She smiled against him, almost giggling, and returned her head to a more comfortable position.
"Perry, how come you're here so late?" Lois asked.
Perry huffed. "I could ask the same of you, Lois," he began, then hurried to continue at the sight of her arched eyebrow. " … But *unlike* yourselves, I was working." Perry smiled. "Well, and Alice said she has some kind of a surprise planned and I'm not allowed to come home before 9:30."
He shrugged and Lois grinned.
"You see, Clark? Two more soul mates who found one another." She sighed and snuggled deeper into his receptive embrace. Clark returned the favor and exchanged a knowing look with Perry, who shook his head, smiling himself.
"You know, you two kids are … well, I'm happier than a preacher in a month of Sundays that you two finally knocked some sense into each other. I'll say this; I've never known two people more in love. I mean if Alice hadn't suggested that we call up Marie on—" Perry went on, oblivious to both his mistake and the fact that Lois and Clark were each staring wide-eyed at him now. He stopped suddenly as realization set in.
"Oh, ah, damn this old mouth of mine. The older I get, the worse *it* gets at keeping things quiet." He shot Lois an apologetic look, but she just smiled.
Clark interjected. "Chief, you were the one who called on Marie's cell phone so many times the other night?"
Perry nodded slightly. "Clark, I'm sorry if—" he began.
"No, Perry, it's okay."
Clark gave Lois a squeeze and rubbed his fingers absently over hers. "You gave Lois and me one of the most incredible dances we've ever had. I should *thank* you. In fact, I *do* thank you." He grinned and Perry watched Lois settle down against Clark in that subtle, almost imperceptible way she had that meant he'd said something she adored him for.
Damn, but it was good to see the two of them together again, Perry thought. The King knew they'd have a lot to get through now, but it was so obvious from the way they held one another that everything would find a way to work itself out in time. Their feelings betrayed them as strongly as a beacon on a dark night.
"I was just on my way out, you two." Perry winked at Lois, who blushed. "I don't wanna be late." He chuckled to himself and, with a nod, whistled his way down the hall and toward the elevator doors.
Lois turned in Clark's arms as the elevator chimed its arrival and Perry stepped inside. She wrapped her hands around his neck and he brushed his nose against the tip of hers.
"So, where to now?" Lois whispered, and Clark shook his head slightly.
"Anywhere, as long as it's with you." He smiled and Lois tipped forward on her toes to kiss him playfully.
"I want to walk. It's a beautiful night." She fixed him with a stare of askance and Clark reached up to tuck her hair behind her ear.
"Then, let's walk." He hooked his arm around her waist and she twined her fingers back through his.
It was a cool night. Not unpleasantly so, but enough so that Lois could justify the closeness with which she held herself to Clark. Not that she needed any justification, but there was still something about escaping from the chill in the air by allowing herself the comfortable warmth of his arms around her. (And his jacket — it really *was* getting chilly!) She shivered.
"Lois, if you're cold, I can take us some place warm," Clark mentioned, slightly concerned, but Lois demurred.
"Warmer than this?" Lois pulled on Clark's arms and ran her fingers over his skin. "I don't think so." She sighed and Clark chuckled.
"Well, as long as you're sure."
"I'm being clingy, aren't I?" Lois shifted her position to regard him fully.
"Lois, no … at least, it wouldn't matter to me if you were. I'm feeling the same way right now. I don't want to let go either." Clark pulled her closer as if to illustrate his thoughts.
"Then we don't have to, do we? I mean … if we're both feeling this way, we should give in to it?" Lois asked hopefully.
Clark cupped her face in his hand. "There's nothing I want more," he whispered, leaning forward to initiate a soft kiss.
"Isn't that the Regency?" Lois queried as their mouths separated. Clark looked up in a daze and nodded. Lois tossed him a shy look, yet Clark caught the sly sparkle there as well. With an eager smile, he gathered her close and they hurried toward the large, glittering building only a block away.
"Oh, Clark, it's beautiful," Lois gasped as they entered the large suite he'd been living in since his return to the city. Well, he'd been there one night at least.
Clark grinned at her and she looked around. "It's even larger than the honeymoon suite at the—" Her voice trailed off as she felt Clark's arms slide around her waist.
"Well, that's why it's a hotel suite. Living like this every day would just be— too much." He spun her around in his grasp and ran his fingertips over her arms.
"Not enough," she whispered and leaned forward, initiating a deep and searching kiss. Clark moaned and felt her body slacken against his as the encounter became more intense. The couple disengaged, if only for a short gasp of air, before their lips pressed together once more and the ritual began, over and over again. Lois drew her hands up to his neck and placed her palms on either side of the back of Clark's head, feeling his soft hair trickle through them.
"God, I'm so drunk on the way you feel, Clark," she whispered, pulling his mouth to hers repeatedly.
"I know," he breathed out on a sigh. "I feel the same way about you."
His body shuddered at the light caress of her fingertips near the base of his neck and he rocked forward, dipping the tip of his tongue inside of her ear.
"Mmmm," Lois moaned softly. "Don't stop."
"I won't," he promised, finding the sensitive shell and pulling his warm mouth along it playfully. Lois gasped and Clark chuckled. "You really like that, don't you?" he murmured against her skin.
Lois pulled back as though she would answer his question directly, but then fell forward once again, brushing her moist lips over his neck and throat.
"Lois … " Clark breathed, and she smiled.
"I think I'm going insane," he whispered into her hair, as she continued her explorations, pulling on the lobe of his ear with her teeth and then kissing him softly behind it. He groaned.
"Take me with you," she whispered back, and he pulled her forward into his arms.
(Snip several pages <eg>)
Clark held Lois close to him as he reclaimed reality, listening to the sound of their breathing returning slowly to normal, and loving her more than he ever dreamed it was possible to love. He cradled her in his embrace.
"I love you so much, Clark." He heard her whisper against him and he sighed happily. "I love … " She trailed off, seemingly at a loss for words. Clark slowly caressed her arms and Lois pulled closer to him. She wrapped her leg around one of his and reached up to brush his hair away from his face.
"Lois, you are *everything* to me. And I intend to spend the rest of our lives together proving that to you over and over again." He bent forward and kissed her lips, tugging gently as they separated.
"Clark … " Lois stared into his eyes for several moments and he used his fingertips to brush at a lock of hair which clung stickily to her forehead. "Just shut up and kiss me." A smile crept over her face and Clark looked down at her with an expression of absolute adoration.
"Absolutely," he murmured, fastening his lips on hers and pulling her to him as his questing hand found an even more precious prize.
"Clark!" Lois gasped, and then added breathlessly, "Ohh … don't stop … "
… (For Now , <eg>)
"Fly Me To The Moon (In Other Words)," by Bart Howard
"Do You Love Me Still," by ???