Identity Crisis

By Wendy Richards <>

Rated PG

Submitted March 23, 1998

Summary: One interruption too many makes Clark decide it's finally time for Lois to know the truth, but does the truth reveal one lie too many?

This is my first fanfic, and it doesn't have an A-plot. Well, give me a chance — I can't get everything right the first time! In terms of continuity, it is set somewhere around the time of *Lucky Leon* in Season 2, but diverts from continuity from there on. In *my* L&C universe, Mayson is nothing more than … an efficient Assistant DA, safely married or engaged or whatever, and who never showed the slightest bit of interest in Clark.

For those who are interested, my motivation for writing this is that I always wanted to see Clark tell Lois about his dual identity himself. That isn't to say I didn't enjoy TF and ATAI/WHALLTA (I did!), but I wanted to explore the 'what if' of Clark's confession and Lois's response to it. Of course, this premise has been covered before, in many really great stories, but there is an added dimension to what I wanted to consider. I've always felt that Lois's pain over Clark's 'death' in TOGOM was swept aside and forgotten by the series continuity, but I couldn't believe that when she discovered the truth about Clark she would not feel a sense of betrayal …

Thanks go to Lynda, my first fanfic editor — until I wrote one of these I had *no idea* how much work editors put in! Lynda did great job and made a number of enormously helpful suggestions, including one which provides the basis for another fanfic … watch this space!

All characters are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros, and I suppose ABC, December 3rd Productions. The plot, such as it is, is mine. I also must acknowledge the 'borrowing' of a couple of my favourite lines of dialogue from TF: I couldn't resist it.

WendyMR March 1998.


Lois pushed the door of her apartment shut and turned to Clark.

"At last — a free evening with no deadlines, no stakeouts and no interruptions!" she exclaimed with delight, discarding her coat and making her way into the kitchen to take a bottle of wine from the fridge. "Clark, can you open this while I get changed?" Without waiting for an answer, she thrust the bottle at him and hurried into her bedroom.

Used to Lois's ways by now, Clark just raised one eyebrow with an amused smile and found a corkscrew. He could of course remove the cork without using the corkscrew, but since he was spending so much time with Lois these days he tended to be extra careful about not using his superpowers around her. He wanted to choose his moment to tell her about being Superman, not be forced into a confession because he'd given himself away …

"Haven't you poured it yet?" Lois demanded, returning wearing a Metro-U sweatshirt and shorts. Without waiting for an answer, she went straight to the sofa and flung herself down, turning to watch Clark approach with the wine and glasses. As he settled himself beside her, she wriggled closer to him so that she was leaning against him, and he was able to drop his arm around her shoulders.

Clark enjoyed being with Lois like this, and enjoyed even more being able to touch her without an excuse. They had been 'best friends' for some time now, and had even had a couple of evenings out together which had not simply happened because they'd been working late together, or because they were both at a loose end and needed someone to go to a movie with. He had kissed her a few times, and she hadn't seemed to object; in fact, the last time he had taken her out to dinner she had even kissed him goodnight when he had walked her home — before sending him away with the excuse that it was late and they had an early start in the morning. So things were going well, he thought; she might even be ready to accept him as a boyfriend rather than a best friend. He might even be able to tell her he loved her. If only …

Yes, he reminded himself ruefully. There's still the little problem of the 'other job', the one she knows nothing about and which you haven't told her about. <I should tell her now> he told himself. <I should just come out with it and get it over with. After all, what can she say?>

Plenty. That's just the problem, the small voice in his head pointed out. After all, you did lie to her. You pretended that you and Superman were two different people, and worst of all, you didn't trust her enough to tell her the truth. You know Lois: you don't need too much imagination to know how she'll react to *that!*

And it's not as if you haven't had opportunities to tell her, the little voice continued. After all, she knows that Superman and you are 'friends', and that you seem to be the only person who can contact Superman on a reliable basis — without having to lean out of a window and shout 'HELP' either! And she has been asking more and more questions about Superman recently. Like last week at your apartment …

Out of the blue she'd observed, "Thanks to Diana Stride, I know that Superman comes here to wash his suits — not that *you* were ever going to tell me, of course," she'd added sarcastically, "but how come he never comes when I'm here? He's supposed to be my friend as well — at least I thought he was, he's told me he is, though there was that time-" She'd tailed off abruptly as if she had suddenly remembered that she didn't want to tell Clark whatever it was she'd started to say, though he had a pretty good idea what it was. He still cringed inwardly with shame every time he remembered his 'lead-lined robe' remark the evening Lois had told him — as Superman — that she would love him even if he was just an ordinary guy. And he'd ended up driving her straight into Lex's arms!

Clark had struggled for a convincing explanation. "Oh, ah, he … he doesn't come here that often, and when he does he doesn't exactly stay around and chat … But I'm sure he's not avoiding you, Lois — I don't think Superman would do that. And he does consider you a close friend, I know."

At least that last bit was the truth, Clark comforted himself as his thoughts returned to the present. As for avoiding Lois as Superman, he

*had* been doing that lately. Even though she had been showing signs for a few months now of being over her crush on Superman, he wasn't sure he could entirely trust himself to spend time with her in The Suit, particularly when she treated him so differently as Superman than as Clark. While she seemed happy to accept Superman as a friend, she still got excited about things like going flying with him, and she liked hugging or touching him if they were alone, which was why he'd stopped coming to her apartment in The Suit. He wasn't sure how much longer he could stop himself from returning her affectionate gestures and sweeping her off her feet and into his arms.

And what if you did do that, the little voice taunted him. What would she say if you asked her to give up Clark and be with Superman — if Superman said he was in love with her? You think she likes being with you as Clark and might just be falling in love with you — well, how long would that last if she thought Superman was hers for the asking? <I can't put her to the test like that!> Clark answered the annoying little voice in his head. <That REALLY shows how much I trust her, doesn't it!>

You're just afraid of what might happen, that she might actually dump you for Superman, the voice persisted. <But *I'm* Superman!> Clark insisted. Yes, but you want her to love Clark, not The Suit, don't you? the voice challenged.

"Earth calling Clark!" Lois's slightly irritated voice impinged on his consciousness. Judging by her expression, she had been trying to get his attention for some time. He pushed his thoughts to the back of his mind and gave her an apologetic smile. "Sorry, I was miles away. What were you saying?"

"It must have been important — you were completely oblivious! Is there something wrong? Or something I should know about?" she asked.

"No, no; I was just … " he hesitated, trying to come up with a convincing excuse. <I should be used to this by now!> he thought wryly. "I was trying to think of an angle for that op-ed piece Perry wants on the amendments to New Troy's discrimination code."

"I thought you'd got that all worked out," Lois challenged. "You said you didn't need any help on it."

"I don't," he said. "I know what I want to say; it's just a matter of getting the right angle. But we're supposed to be having an evening away from work. What do you want to do?" He congratulated himself on having got out of that one, at least.

"Well, I had asked you which video you wanted to watch," she pointed out with a hint of sarcasm. "But you were too busy obsessing about work — and you call me a workaholic!"

"Sorry," he apologised. "So: it's Gone with the Wind or War and Peace - there wouldn't be a bit of a theme there, Lois, would there?" he challenged with a grin.

"So what if I felt like watching an epic romance?" Lois replied. "It's not a crime!"

"No, of course not," Clark replied. "And as it happens, I think they're both great movies." He got up, selected a tape and inserted it into the VCR, topping up his and Lois's wineglasses before sitting down again. Lois snuggled into the crook of his shoulder again as the theme music to Gone with the Wind wafted across the room. "Oh, you farmboy!" she teased. "How predictable!"

Clark laughed and wrapped his arm more tightly around Lois, loving the feel of her against his body, the scent of her hair and her perfume surrounding him. It was at times like this — which were, unfortunately, all too rare given the demands of their work at the Planet (and of his other job) — that he wished time would simply forget to move on. She seemed comfortable as well, he thought, watching her sip her wine as she followed the events in the young Scarlett O'Hara's life. He had known Lois liked Gone with the Wind, and he could understand it: Scarlett, the heroine, was a feisty, strong woman who was well able to stand up for herself and run rings around the men in her life. But she had a bad habit of choosing the wrong men, while failing to notice or appreciate the man who genuinely cared about her and was always there for her … just like Lois, he thought wryly. But not any more, he hoped. After all, she was with him now!

"Mmmm, this is nice," Lois remarked, interrupting his reverie. "No interruptions, and you haven't run off once!"

He winced at this reference to his penchant for doing disappearing acts. His excuses were getting more and more pathetic, he knew. And what was worse, Lois was beginning to take his disappearances personally.

"It's not that I don't want to be with you, Lois," he tried to explain. "It's just … " He tailed off as at that precise moment his superhearing kicked in.

<Damn it!> he thought. <Not now — please!!!> But the voice on the radio, in an apartment downstairs somewhere, wouldn't go away. Two packed commuter trains had crashed and both had derailed, leaving hundreds of passengers trapped. Even worse, diesel was spilling from the fuel tank and there was a possibility of fire … He couldn't possibly just leave the emergency services to cope.

Lois hadn't failed to notice his distracted expression. She sat up and glared at him. "Oh no you're not — don't even *think* of leaving now!"

"Lois, I — I've got to go," he protested weakly, not wanting to at all; knowing that once he left her apartment he had absolutely no chance of spending any more time with her that evening — always assuming he could get away from the accident scene in under a few hours anyway. If he left now, he knew from experience that she would be furiously angry. Justifiably so, he reminded himself, since she had no idea of why he had to leave. Not only would she refuse to see him if he returned later, she would probably also spend the entire next day alternately ignoring him and treating him like something the cat had dragged in. He would be back to being the 'hack from Nowheresville', and all because of Superman. The great irony was that his alter ego, which he had invented to make his life easier, was actually making things far more difficult than he had ever imagined possible.

"Lois, I have to go, now," he said in an agonised tone, getting to his feet. His insides felt as if they were being twisted by a mangle, an odd sensation for a Kryptonian who had never been ill in his life, unless you counted the occasional encounter with Kryptonite. He wished he could tear himself in two; send Superman off to deal with the emergency so he could stay with Lois.

"Yeah? And what's the excuse this time? You forget to put out the garbage? Or feed the cat we both know you don't have? It couldn't possibly be the fact that you're scared of getting too close to someone, of having to talk about how you FEEL, could it?" she threw at him, standing up and flinging her arms out in a furious movement. The expression on her face only made him feel even worse than he already did.

"No! Of *course* I'm not scared of … Look, Lois, I HAVE to go, right now," he said urgently, as the radio announcer's voice took on a new tone of heightened tension. It seemed as if flames had just been spotted under one of the carriages. "I'm sorry!" he called as he ran towards the door. "There's something I have to do — I'll be back as soon as I can."

He knew it had been a mistake to add that last promise, even before Lois's last words reached him.



Left alone in her apartment, Lois collapsed onto the sofa, tears streaming down her face. She had only just managed not to cry in front of Clark, determined that he should not be able to see how much he could hurt her. Oblivious to the video still playing in the background, she sobbed quietly, "I don't understand you, Clark Kent. You're the only man I really thought I could love — but how can I love someone who treats me like this?"

She was vaguely aware of a sonic boom in the air outside her window, and something niggled at her subconscious. There was something about that sound, she realised. She shook her head, trying to dismiss the idea that there was something she should be aware of. *It's Superman*, she told herself. On his way to some emergency or other. She dried her eyes and forced herself to get to her feet, then switched the TV over to LNN. The picture changed to a disaster scene: railway carriages, a couple of which were on fire, were scattered all over the tracks and embankment, and ambulances, fire engines and emergency services workers were all over the scene. As she watched, Superman flew into view and quickly extinguished the flames, then conferred with the director of operations before lifting a carriage from its resting place on top of two others.

Still keeping one eye on the TV, Lois went over to the phone and rang the Planet to check that a reporter from the newsroom was on the scene. On being told that Ralph and Jimmy were there, she decided to go into work and help with writing up the story for the morning edition. After all, she reasoned, what's the point in staying at home now? Might as well get another headline … Being occupied was better than sitting at home brooding, or weeping over some man who doesn't deserve it.

*And Clark Kent can go to Hell!!* she thought fiercely as she exited her apartment.


In the small hours of the morning, Clark landed quietly on his balcony and padded silently, wearily, into his apartment. He spun out of his Superman suit, changing into a sweatshirt and sleep-shorts, and gave his blackened, torn cape a grimace. It had been a long night. After putting the fire out, he had helped to separate carriages and free passengers who were able to walk, then under the direction of paramedics he had helped to locate people who were trapped in the wreckage. His heat vision had been working on overtime, as he had cut through the twisted metal of seats, doors, luggage racks and other obstacles. He had also in some cases X-rayed people in order to tell the paramedics which victims had broken bones, internal bleeding or other injuries. Later, he had flown a couple of ambulances direct to hospital emergency rooms either because victims needed immediate medical attention, or because their injuries wouldn't have withstood the bumping and discomfort of travel by road.

Once all victims had been cleared, the accident investigation people had wanted his help in determining how the accident had happened, so he had flown over the site and examined the tracks, the driver's compartments on both trains, the signals and so on. And as the accident site was still not safe for ordinary humans, he had lifted other carriages up and stabilised the position of others. Superman felt as if he had been the last to leave the accident site.

At least, Clark corrected himself, apart from the investigators. The paramedics and fire crews had gone long before, as had the massed representatives of the Press and television. At one point earlier in the evening, Clark had scanned the journalists and photographers, wondering whether Lois was there. She wasn't, but he did recognise Ralph and Jimmy. He had noticed that Jimmy was trying to get a good shot of Superman doing something heroic, and so as he lifted the next carriage he surreptitiously turned so that Jimmy would get a perfect angle, and held the pose until he could see that the young photographer had managed to get a couple of shots. At least I can still do something for my friends, Clark thought wearily. Not that anyone knows …

He looked again at the grimy and very smelly suit — besides the smoke from the fire he had extinguished, he had managed to get himself covered in diesel and, he was pretty sure, one or two other fairly unpleasant substances. "I suppose trains do have to have toilets," he observed aloud in a resigned tone, to no-one in particular. He bundled the suit up and threw it in the washing machine with plenty of powder for an extra-long wash.

He thought about phoning Lois, but dismissed the thought just as quickly. It was nearly 4 am. She would be in bed, fast asleep.


Lois looked at her watch and saw that it was almost 4 am. Time to go home, she thought. The Planet team had done a good job on the rail crash story, and Jimmy had got some great pictures, especially the one with Superman lifting the crushed carriage. Lois thought that it seemed as if Superman was deliberately looking towards the camera, but she rejected the idea as fanciful. He had had a job to do — a very difficult job, she reminded herself. He would have been far too busy to care about newspapers getting their stories!

Perry had been surprised when she had shown up back at the Planet, especially as he had known that she and Clark had been planning a quiet evening together. He had asked Clark's whereabouts, but had dropped the subject very quickly when Lois had snarled, "I don't know, and I couldn't care less!" She immediately regretted having let her feelings show to that extent — after all, fond as she was of Perry, she didn't really want to discuss her relationship with Clark with anyone at this point. Not while she had no idea exactly what that relationship was! She assumed that Perry's apparent lack of interest meant that he had other things on his mind. It was noticeable, however, that none of her colleagues who were still in the newsroom mentioned Clark at all …

Lois yawned, stretched, and got to her feet stiffly, collecting her bag and coat. "Jimmy, can you call me a cab?" she called to the young photographer who was still scurrying around the office.

"Sure, Lois — but I thought you came here in your Jeep?" Jimmy responded, looking at her over the pile of documents he was taking to the file-room for Perry.

"Yeah, I did, but I'm too tired to drive. I'll just leave it here for the night and take a cab or walk in the morning."

Jimmy hurried out of the elevator into the entrance lobby, followed more slowly by Lois. He found a cab within a minute or two, and Lois climbed in, giving her address.

As the cab took her home, she again fell to thinking about the events of earlier that evening. She had really been looking forward to spending that evening with Clark. They had deliberately decided to stay in rather than going out somewhere, and Lois had hoped that it would mean that they would have an opportunity to talk properly. About their relationship, about where it was going, about how they felt about each other … <Guess I know how he feels about me now> Lois thought sadly. <Anyone who really did care about me would never drop me the minute something slightly more appealing came along.>

But try as she might, she couldn't chase the image of Clark from her mind. His handsome features: dark hair, beautiful brown eyes and that body — how had she worked with him for over a year and never realised until just recently how attractive and sexy he was? And not only that, he was about the most caring, sensitive and thoughtful man she had ever met in her life. <But he's not!> she told herself angrily. <If he really was that caring, if he really cared for *me*, he would never treat me like that … >

<I should hate him,> she thought, dragging herself up the stairs to her apartment. <But I don't. If only he'd be honest with me! I guess I just have to admit that I was wrong about him. But then, my judgement in men has always been pretty poor,> she acknowledged.

Wearily, Lois went into the bathroom for a perfunctory wash, and fell into bed.


"Hey, CK!"

Clark, striding in his normal loose-limbed fashion down the ramp into the newsroom, paused to greet Jimmy.

Clark had, unusually, been very reluctant to come into work this morning. He had tried to tell himself that it was tiredness, hardly surprising after his exertions of the night before. However, he knew very well that the real reason was that he wasn't sure he wanted to see Lois today. After their disastrous evening she'd be mad at him, he knew. And he wasn't sure if he could face being the target of the Lane temper. Especially since he knew that on one level he deserved it, but on another … well, he did have a very good reason for having to run off each time. But she didn't know that!

Jimmy had stopped and was looking at Clark expectantly. "So where did you get to last night, CK?"

"Last night?" Clark repeated, unsure where this was leading.

"Yeah — most of the team was in here until 4 or 5 writing up the train crash story."

"Oh yeah," Clark replied. "I saw the front page on the way in — nice picture, Jimmy. The Chief must have been very pleased with you."

"Yeah, he thought it was pretty cool. Even Lois seemed to like it, though she wasn't very talkative last night."

"Lois?" Clark was taken aback. "She was here?"

"Yeah, she came in at some stage while I was still out at the crash scene. Said she'd nothing better to do. She seemed a bit — I dunno — *driven*, though. You two had another argument?"

Is it that obvious? Clark wondered. "Well … ," he replied, stalling and shuffling awkwardly with his hands shoved into his pockets.

"I knew it!" Jimmy gave Clark what the younger man clearly believed was a 'man-to-man' conspiratorial smile. "See, even the Chief said we'd better not mention you in her hearing … "

Oh no, Clark thought with an inward groan as Jimmy chattered on. *That* bad? It was going to be a long day. He just hoped that his stop-off on the way into work in a desperate attempt to make up for his shortcomings was actually going to work. He finally allowed himself a glance in the direction of Lois's desk. She wasn't there.

Jimmy followed Clark's gaze and shrugged. "She's probably going to be late - she only went home a few hours ago."

"So when did you leave?" Clark asked, grateful for the opportunity to direct the conversation away from Lois.

"I didn't — I figured since Perry's pleased with my work at the moment I might as well stick around and find ways of impressing him further. You know he's already managed to syndicate my picture?"

"No — that's really great, Jimmy. But I guess I'd better do some work myself," Clark excused himself and continued over to his own desk. It seemed strange to look across at Lois's desk and see it empty. He sighed and logged onto his computer. At least he could make his own contribution to the story of the day, he thought wryly.

After he had typed up his exclusive 'interview' with Superman on the train crash, he reached for his telephone and called the accident investigation department, telling the officer who spoke to him that he had already spoken to Superman. That conversation gave him another story to work on, leading him to wish that his personal life could run as smoothly as his professional one.

Instinct rather than the benefit of any of his superpowers led him to look up suddenly. Lois was emerging from the elevator. She looked as poised, professional — and beautiful — as ever, but as he pulled down his glasses (under the cover of scratching his nose), and studied her closely, he could see shadows under her eyes and, he thought, traces of tears. It nearly cut

him in two to know that he and he alone had been the cause of her pain.

Lois walked swiftly over to her desk without stopping to exchange greetings with any of her co-workers; in fact, a couple noticed the 'don't speak to me unless you don't care about keeping your head on your neck' look and deliberately steered a wide berth. Clark knew that look well by now, but it had been a long time since he had been the cause of it. He took a deep breath. "Good morning, Lois."

Lois carried on logging into her computer and began to check for messages. Outwardly she looked cool and uncaring — or so she hoped. Inwardly she was shaking. How the *hell* could he sit there looking so — so *normal*, and speak to her as if nothing had happened? When she had been devastated at his walking out on her *yet again* without any kind of explanation? Forget him, an inner voice reminded her. Anyone who treats you like that isn't worth it — he's certainly not worth crying yourself to sleep over again.

She gave herself a shake and continued scanning her incoming mailbox, then noticed the file Clark had LANed to her earlier. She called it up and quickly realised what it was. She looked accusingly at Clark. "How did you manage to get an exclusive interview with Superman when you weren't even around last night?"

Clark flinched at the biting tone. He had already decided that speaking to Lois had been a mistake: given the mood she was in that would be held against him as well. But he replied in the most even tone he could manage, "He came by my place this morning. His suit was in a bit of a state after the crash and he needed to clean it. It seemed like … a good opportunity, I guess."

"Yeah, it would do," Lois retorted. "And you get another exclusive!"

Clark shook his head, annoyed and hurt at the accusation. "Make the byline Lane and Kent if it means that much to you — I really don't care!" He added, "By the way, I've spoken to the accident investigators and got some information for a follow-up."

Lois ignored the latter part of Clark's answer and glared at him before returning her attention to her computer screen. Did he have to be so irritating? Offering her a joint byline on a great exclusive which, she knew, would get the paper lots of kudos, as if it meant nothing to him. <Ignore him and get to work!> she told herself. And I'll ask Perry to assign me another partner, the sooner the better, she promised herself.

"Where can I find Lois Lane?"

"Right over there."

Clark's superhearing picked up the exchange which had taken place by the elevator. He watched with mixed feelings as the delivery boy made his way across the newsroom. He remembered what had happened the last time he had sent Lois flowers at work. She had thought the yellow friendship roses were another 'gift' from the Prankster and had dropped them in the bin, pouring coffee over them. Admittedly, it had been a mistake and she had been genuinely apologetic, but still … Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, he thought with a grimace. Too late now, though. He ran his fingers anxiously through his hair as he pretended to be looking anywhere but in the direction of Lois.

Lois, on the other hand, was completely unaware of what was going on. By now engrossed in her work, she was interrupted by a strange voice asking, "You Lois Lane?"

"Yeah, who wants to know?" She looked up and saw an enormous bouquet of red roses. The delivery boy took note of her tone of voice and facial expression, and, deciding that his chances of getting a tip were minimal, simply placed the flowers on Lois's desk and hurried off. Unsure as to who the roses could be from, Lois opened the small envelope and drew out the gift card. She recognised the writing immediately.

I'm so sorry about last night. Can I try to make it up to you? Forgive me, please. Clark.

Lois dropped the card from trembling fingers. This she had not expected, and she felt tears begin to prick at her eyelids. She got up abruptly and headed for the ladies' room, not wanting to let anyone at the Planet — and that included Clark Kent — catch her crying.

Clark saw her hasty exit from the newsroom and his heart sank. OK, she hadn't thrown the flowers away — at least, not yet — nor had she yelled at him. But on the other hand, nor had she thanked him nicely and said "Yes, Clark, of course I forgive you, let's just forget it." Who was he kidding? This was Lois he was dealing with!

Again, he used his super-vision to focus on her face, and what he saw made him hate himself even more than he already did. She was clearly upset - again — and he hadn't intended that. And it was all his fault. Was he able to get nothing right? He got up and headed in the direction Lois had taken. His superhearing picked up the sound of her blowing her nose and wiping her eyes; he X-rayed through the door of the ladies' room, first checking that no-one could see him, and confirmed his suspicions.

When Lois emerged she found Clark waiting for her. Not wanting to speak to him, she tried to brush straight past him, but he put out his arm to detain her. "Lois, please." He gazed at her tear-stained face, wanting desperately to take her in his arms but knowing that would be a mistake.

She turned on him. "Don't think that you can just — just send me a few roses and that makes everything all right!" she exclaimed angrily.

"I don't!" he protested. "I sent the flowers to say sorry, because I *am* sorry. I know it doesn't make everything all right. I know I hurt you last night, and that by walking out on you all the time I'm treating you badly … "

"Oh you do realise that, do you!"

"Yes! But last night I — I had a very good reason for leaving, even though I hated doing it. I *care* for you, Lois, and it hurts me to keep having to walk out. I'd really like to explain to you why I had to leave last night, Lois. Will you listen to me? Please?" He looked at her earnestly, his brown eyes pleading with her.

She stared back at him, initially belligerent, but then the effect of his words began to sink in. He cared for her — yeah, she'd heard that one before. But he sounded sincere — and besides, she really did want to know what story he'd come up with this time. The truth, or just another excuse? Curiosity, and the knowledge that whatever Clark felt for her, she was pretty sure she loved him, led her to decide to give him one last chance.

"So? What is this … very good reason?

"Not here," Clark muttered anxiously. "Lois, this is a … conversation I'd much rather have with you in private. Will you come to my apartment after work this evening?"

Lois sighed, then decided that she had nothing to lose and possibly a lot to gain. In any case, the longer she argued the longer she would have to stay here talking to Clark, which at the moment she didn't particularly want to do. She was pretty sure that if this discussion continued for much longer she wouldn't be able to prevent him from seeing how much he had upset her. "OK then."


Lois climbed into her Jeep and started the engine for the drive over to 344 Clinton, Clark's apartment. She had been debating with herself all day whether this was a good idea or not. Luckily for her sanity, Clark had left the Planet not long after their conversation and had later called in to log a story about another Superman rescue he had covered. He hadn't been back to the newsroom by the time she'd left. Back in her apartment, she had contemplated cancelling their arrangement, and on one occasion she had even picked up the phone and dialled Clark's number. The line had been busy. She briefly considered not turning up at all, but then her eye had fallen on the red roses which she had brought home from the office and were now in a vase in her living room. She had told herself they were too beautiful to throw away.

"Why would he send me *red* roses," she wondered aloud. "Yellow I can understand, but red … Is he trying to tell me something?"

<I'm not going to be taken in by any more lame excuses!> she promised herself. <I'll listen to what he has to say and if it's stupid, another Cheese of the Month Club or something like that, I'm leaving and he can just get out of my life.>


Clark paced up and down in his apartment as he waited for Lois's arrival. He wasn't sure, despite her earlier agreement, that she would actually come at all. Besides, he was very nervous. He had taken the decision in the small hours of that morning to tell her the truth about Superman, if he could get her to listen to him. But telling her had seemed easy enough then. Now, he ran his hands through his hair as he contemplated the range of possible Lane responses to finding out that her hero, Superman, was none other than the mild-mannered reporter, the 'hack from Nowheresville' who had been the butt of her bad humour only too frequently over the 18 months or thereabouts they had known each other.

His parents had tried to help, and in fact had been rather more upbeat in their assessment of the situation than he was — but then, he reminded himself, they didn't know Lois as he did. He had spoken to them on the telephone half an hour ago; he'd wanted to fly out and be with them, but hadn't wanted to take the chance that Lois might come early and find him gone. His mother had been very pleased that at last he was going to tell Lois the truth, since she'd been urging him to do just that since he and Lois became closer. His father, Jonathan, had been a little more cautious, worried that the more people who knew Clark's secret the greater the potential danger to him.

"Lois won't tell anyone, I know that, Dad," Clark had insisted.

"But Clark honey, if you're so sure of that why haven't you told her before?" Martha had cut in, as usual finding the flaw in his reasoning.

"Oh, I don't know, Mom — or, I guess I do, really. I need to know -"

"That she loves you and not the man in the cape. I know, honey. But I really don't think that Lois is that superficial. Don't you think you're being insulting to her to suggest that she is?"

Clark winced. It wasn't as if he hadn't told himself that on occasion, and it was one of the things he just knew Lois would bring up. "Yeah, I know, Mom, but you haven't seen her with Superman. I have."

Martha had sighed. "Clark, honey, you're talking about yourself in the third person again. Of course Lois cares for Superman — he's you! You'd want her to love all of you, not just one side of you."

"Your Mom's right," Jonathan had chimed in. "Lois is a lovely person, and if you want a relationship with her you've got to be honest. Just make sure you explain to her why she has to keep this a secret. Just imagine if it got out … "

"They'd dissect me like a frog, I know, Dad," Clark had finished. "At least, once they'd got hold of some Kryptonite, I guess."

Martha and Jonathan had wished him luck and he'd felt a little more cheered. For a couple of minutes, that was; until he'd rehearsed his conversation with Lois once more and yet again arrived at a conclusion in which she'd stormed out of his apartment in a furious temper, telling him that he needn't bother flying up to her apartment window any more.

It was almost a relief when he heard Lois's knock at the door. He'd been so engrossed in his thoughts that his superhearing hadn't picked up the sound of her car, or her footsteps on the outside steps.


Lois knocked tentatively on Clark's door, wondering for the two hundredth time why she didn't just turn around and go straight back home again. She had at least a million more important things to do with her time this evening, like … like washing her hair or feeding her fish or phoning her mother. On second thought, perhaps trying to talk to Clark wouldn't be too bad after all. As long as he stayed put …

When Clark opened the door Lois slowly went in and down the steps into his apartment, noticing again just how attractive Clark was in casual clothes. This evening he was wearing a pale blue collarless cotton shirt with blue jeans. In a suit he often looked as if he'd stepped straight out of the pages of GQ, she thought, though his ties tended to be a little off the wall sometimes. But in casual clothes his muscle tone and hard stomach were much more obvious. Clark denied that he worked out, but Lois knew that he was fit and very strong. Watching him walk across the room to the kitchen area, she felt her mouth become dry and her thoughts drifted to areas she certainly did *not* want to get into! Not before they'd talked and Clark had given her at least a passably credible explanation.

"Ah — Lois — you want something to drink?" Clark asked nervously, causing Lois to snap out of her reverie.

"Yeah, whatever — I mean, if you're having something," she replied. Playing with her hair, she turned away and pretended a close interest in his bookshelves; anything than be caught staring at him! He certainly had a strange collection, she thought, not for the first time. Books from all around the world, many of them in foreign languages. But then, Clark was a strange one himself. He could speak several languages; she'd never actually been able to find out how many, but they included some Asian and Oriental languages which, Lois knew, were very difficult for foreigners to learn. Lois found herself remembering that Superman also spoke a lot of languages. <Now where did that thought come from?> Lois wondered, puzzled.

"Here you go," Clark called, putting two mugs down on his coffee-table. He waited nervously for Lois to turn around and join him. He had been trying to gauge her mood ever since she'd walked in, but it had been difficult since he realised she was avoiding looking at him. She sat on the edge of his sofa, careful not to come too close to him. Recognising Lois's need for space, Clark pulled up another chair and sat opposite her.

"Lois -"

"Clark -"

They both began to speak at once. Clark tried again. "Lois, please, let me go first. I've been rehearsing this all evening — well, actually, since last night, trying to find the right words to tell you … " He paused, taking a shuddering breath. This was *much* harder in reality than his worst imaginings.

Lois was now watching him, studying his face. She could see that he was nervous, and clearly afraid that she was going to walk out on him. More importantly, in his deep brown eyes she saw sincerity and that, more than anything, led her to reassure him. She spoke softly, "I'm not going anywhere, Clark. Take your time."

Clark took another deep breath. <Please,> his inner voice pleaded, <a siren, an alarm, anything to let me get out of here … what am I talking about??> "Lois, I want more than anything to tell you this. I have a secret, something I've been keeping from you and from everyone else for nearly as long as I've known you." He stopped, considering how best to continue.

"This secret … it's connected with your disappearances, right?" Lois asked, by now curious.


Lois stared at him. "You're not married, are you?"

"What? Of course not!" Clark exclaimed. "Lois, I couldn't deceive you like that!"

"Well, you've been deceiving me about something," Lois pointed out.

"Yeah, but not that." Clark got abruptly to his feet, running his hand roughly through his coal-black hair. He circled around the small living-room, then returned to stand a few feet from Lois. He fixed his gaze on her and spoke quietly. "Lois, the first thing I need you to know is that I love you. I have loved you almost since the first day we met at the Planet, nearly two years ago." He paused, seeing that whatever she had been expecting, it hadn't been his declaration of love.

Lois, for her part, was trying to come to terms with what had been, for her, an astonishing revelation. She stared at him, her brown eyes wide. "Clark … but you said you'd lied, that you'd only said it to stop me from marrying Lex … " She stopped, still unable to believe what she had heard.

Clark remembered that day outside the Planet offices, when he'd taken back his words of love to Lois, albeit with his fingers crossed behind his back. He had never been sure, since, whether it had been the right thing to do. His Mom hadn't thought so: Martha had told him off for it as soon as he'd told her about it. "Lois, I *do* love you. I meant it that day in the park before you got engaged to Lex and I mean it now. That day … I guess I thought you might feel awkward about working with me, being friends, when it was obvious you didn't feel the same way, so I told you I hadn't meant it."

She gave him a hesitant smile, which gave him hope. Maybe this was going to work after all? "Clark, do you mean you *lied* to me when you said you didn't love me?"

Clark turned half away, and said in a rush, "I had my fingers crossed … it wasn't exactly a lie."

She stared at him, open-mouthed. "You Boy Scout — you crossed your fingers? I don't believe it! Have you any idea what I was about to say to you that day before you got in with your little white lie?"

He shook his head. "I thought you were going to tell me again that we could only be friends."

Lois brushed her hair back from her face and stood up to face him. "No, I wasn't. I'd realised that my feelings for you -"

"Lois," Clark interrupted suddenly. "I want to hear what you wanted to say that day. But I have to tell you my secret, and I'd rather do it before we talk about anything else. I want so much for us to have a future together, and we can't even begin to think about that until you know — everything."

She stared up at him, seeing the love and the anxiety and the determination in his face. She couldn't imagine what he had to tell her that could be as earth-shattering as his demeanour was suggesting. "OK, Clark, this sounds pretty serious. I'm listening."

He took yet another deep, shuddering breath and tried to find the words to begin. <Lois, ever since you've known me I've been moonlighting in a cape and tights.> No way. <Lois, you know how you thought Superman was a real person, well he's not, he's me in disguise … > Pathetic! He paced up and down the room a couple of times.

"Clark!" Lois called to him. "It can't be that bad — just spit it out!" She sat back on his sofa watching him as he paced, dragged his fingers through his hair, threw back his head and stared at the ceiling as if for inspiration, and eventually turned back to face her. This was clearly big-time.

Clark came to squat in front of Lois and grazed her cheek lightly with his knuckles, then took her hands in his. "I've practised this so many times, and now you're here and it's finally the right time and I don't know how to say it. It's that … " He released her hands and spoke again. "Lois, I'm Superman." He took a deep breath — it was finally out!

Lois had been gazing intently at Clark's face, wondering what on earth there could be to have him in such a state. She heard his words, but at first they didn't register.

Watching her expression for some reaction, Clark realised that his confession had not quite sunk in and he reached for his glasses with one hand, unbuttoning his shirt with the other. "Lois, look at me. *Really* look."

*Lois, I'm Superman.**Lois, I'm Superman.* The words were beginning to ricochet around and around in Lois's head as they finally sank in. Clark's actions only added to the impact. As Lois watched, he removed his glasses and as he opened his shirt the familiar Spandex suit became visible under the cotton. Lois's breath caught and she emitted a small cry of anguish.

"Superman … no! I can't believe it!" She jumped to her feet and, pushing past Clark, ran to the other side of the room, her chest heaving. A plethora of images were running through her head, each more painful than the next given what she now knew. Images of talking to Clark about Superman, talking to Superman about Clark … practically ignoring Clark one minute, then simpering and blushing the next when Superman appeared.. and the worst of the lot, telling Superman she would love him as an ordinary man, when only a few hours earlier she had rejected the same 'ordinary man' when he had told her he loved her.

It was all too painful to bear. Tears now coursing freely down her cheeks, she fumbled for a tissue, ignoring Clark who, she could tell, was now standing close behind her.

"Lois?" Clark said softly. "Talk to me, please. I know this has been a shock, but I needed to tell you the truth. I needed you to understand … "

Lois whirled around to face him, now uncaring about the tears which flowed unchecked. She lashed out at him. "You need me to understand, do you? Understand why you *lied* to me? Humiliated me? Laughed at me behind my back for the way I hero-worshipped Superman? And I thought Superman was so … good, and honest. That he'd never deceive me or anyone!" she choked out. "Who else knew about this?"

"No-one knew — no-one in Metropolis, anyway," Clark replied quietly. "My parents know, of course — Mom made the costume." He looked despairingly at Lois. She had taken the news very badly, and he had no idea how to get through to her, even to comfort her, let alone help her to come to terms with what she now knew. "Lois," he began again, his soft voice betraying his own pain. "I never laughed at you. I never humiliated you -"

"No? What about that night when I … you said I should have a *lead-lined robe*?" she flung at him, dragging the back of her hand across her eyes to brush away tears in an attempt to regain her control.

Clark flushed. He had regretted that remark as soon as he'd said it, but it had been too late to take it back. Besides, he'd felt angry and betrayed at the time. He reached out a hand towards Lois, but she backed away. Hurt and by now despairing of being able to retrieve the situation, he moved away from her and turned to stare out of the kitchen window into the now-dark night. He spoke at last, "Lois, I … was very hurt that night. I had told you … how I felt about you, laid my heart and my dreams at your feet. Of course I would never have told you if it hadn't been for Lex, because I knew you didn't … love me." He paused, taking a shuddering breath. It was painful for him to remember, but he forced himself to relive that night. "You rejected me, which you were perfectly entitled to do. But then you told me you wanted to see Superman, and it was pretty obvious that you wanted to tell him you'd be his for the asking. I was — angry — that you couldn't see beyond the suit and the superpowers. So when I got there … I guess I wanted to hurt you in return. I would have apologised, but then you said you'd love me if … well, you know now that it would have been impossible for me to believe that." He turned back to face her, and saw that she was watching him warily.

Lois had listened to Clark's words in silence, hearing the sincerity in his voice and taking in and acknowledging the truth of what he'd said. But she felt that it wasn't that simple. There was still the hurt, the knowledge that he had deceived her for so long, allowed her to make a fool of herself, and *lied* to her when she had thought he was her best friend, the one person she could *really* trust. The tears now dry, she looked him straight in the eye and said, "How was I supposed to see beyond the suit if you didn't tell me and went out of your way to make sure I never found out?"

"You're right," Clark said. "I didn't want you to know — not then, anyway. But, irrational as it sounds, I still felt that you should have realised … " He tailed off, unsure exactly what he'd wanted. Not to be passed over as Clark in favour of a one-dimensional creation in a Spandex suit, that was for sure. But Lois's objection had made perfect sense. He had convinced her that he was two separate people.

Lois, for her part, was gradually coming to terms with the knowledge of Clark's identity. Her journalistic instincts were also coming to the fore, and she was now seeing how she should have worked out Clark's secret long ago. The clues had all been there … She took a deep breath and made a decision.

"Clark, can I use your bathroom? I'd like to wash my face." Without waiting for a response, she moved in the direction of the bathroom.

"Sure," he replied. "What do you want to do? I know you're upset — do you want to go home, or can we talk?"

She glanced back at him and replied, "I think we should try to talk. I am upset — I'm *angry* — but I've got a lot of questions and I don't want to leave this just yet."

"Okay," Clark agreed. "I'm glad you want to talk."

"Just as long as you don't get called out to an emergency," she added as it struck her that this was a distinct possibility.

He shook his head. "I'm sure the emergency services can handle things for an hour or two. I'm not going anywhere until you want to go home — then I'll fly you."

Lois didn't reply to this, feeling unsure as to whether she was quite ready as yet to confront this practical evidence of Clark's Super-identity. She splashed cold water on her face until the puffiness and traces of tears had gone. She was still upset, and she was angry. But she wanted to remain in control of herself and of the conversation. <What do I want from this?> she asked herself, but was unable to find an answer. Everything had changed completely. A few minutes earlier she had been delighted when Clark had told her he loved her, and she had felt sure that there would be a simple explanation for the disappearances. Never had she imagined anything as big as this!!

And yet the evidence had been there, if she had only been prepared to see it. The disappearances, yes; and many of them had been followed shortly afterwards by the appearance of Superman. There was Clark's Superman exclusives, and the fact that she knew he was the only person who could always contact Superman when he was needed. There was the fact of their physical similarities — why had she never seen that before? How could she have been fooled by a pair of glasses and slightly different posture? And there was the sonic boom last night. Lois now understood what her subconscious had been trying to tell her. On many occasions when Clark had run off, like last night, the sonic boom of Superman flying at superspeed had been heard shortly afterwards. Yet another clue. And, of course, all the little things which Clark had failed to explain properly over the time she had known him: how he had known who was at the door before he answered it, how he had been able to see something at a distance, how he had appeared at a crime or accident scene after Superman had left, and yet known things only Superman had seen … *How* had she been so stupid, so blind?

In the kitchen, Clark made himself carry on with routine tasks, washing the mugs they had used earlier, making fresh coffee and finding some chocolate chip cookies — made by his mom the last time he'd been in Smallville, a couple of days earlier. Inwardly, he was in turmoil. How could things have gone so badly wrong? It had seemed as if he was about to get everything he wanted: Lois had strong feelings for him, he had felt sure about that. She possibly even loved him. And he was well aware that she had always wanted to be close to Superman. How had the knowledge that Clark and Superman were one and the same destroyed the possibility of her love for him? Would she even want to be friends?

What was she *doing* in there??

Lois emerged feeling calmer, but with a mass of emotions whirling about under the surface. There were a number of questions she wanted answers to before she was leaving, she had decided. She still wasn't sure whether she could accept Clark/Superman as the friend he had once been, let alone as a lover, but she was determined to talk, to try to understand why he had done what he had. At least then she might be able to achieve a measure of acceptance, even if she could not be happy about what she now knew.

She felt a sense of relief now as she noticed that Clark, who was in the act of pouring coffee — she assumed he'd heard her approach, even though she had been moving quietly — was now wearing his glasses again and his shirt was buttoned. Lois felt that the discussion might be a little easier once she was talking to a familiar figure, rather than some hybrid of Clark and Superman.

"Hi — you OK?" Clark asked awkwardly, turning to face Lois. He studied her face, looking for clues as to her frame of mind, but found none. Her expression was calm, which could mean anything.

"Yeah, I guess, " she replied. "Can we talk now?"

"Sure," Clark agreed. "You want to come back over here?" He led the way to his living area and gestured to Lois to take the sofa. He sat opposite her and asked, trying not to show his inner nervousness, "So — where d'you want to start? I'll tell you anything you want to know."

Lois thought for a moment. She had so many questions, but they were all muddled in her mind. <Where's your journalistic instincts? Who, why, what, where, when, how — and start at the beginning!> She took a deep breath, looked down at her hands — which were trembling — then looked back at Clark. "So, you're not really Clark Kent at all, and Jonathan and Martha aren't your parents, right? You're really from Krypton?"

Clark relaxed a little. If she simply wanted information, that he could provide without difficulty. It was when she got around to questioning his motives that, he was well aware, she might make things rather more difficult for him. "Jonathan and Martha Kent are the only parents I've ever known. They found me when I was a tiny baby, and they raised me as if I was their own child. I don't remember Krypton at all; all I know about it and about my real parents I found out from the globe."

"The globe?" Lois questioned.

"Yeah, remember the globe that Jack stole — the one which I said belonged to Superman? It's in my bedroom — I can show it to you later if you like."

"It really was yours all along then," Lois said slowly, as yet more events in their shared past suddenly appeared in a different light. "I *knew* you were holding out on me then."

"Yes, I know. I hated lying to you, but I couldn't help it." <Oh no,> Clark thought, <we're back onto that subject.>

Lois didn't take the opportunity, though. She had more questions for him first. "I knew you were from Krypton — well, that Superman was, anyway, but I didn't realise he -you — had grown up here. Oh, this is so complicated! I'm used to thinking of you as different people!"

"I know, Lois," Clark acknowledged. "But it's just me." He paused. "Yes, I grew up in Smallville, and until the globe spoke to me and told me about my origins I had no idea where I came from. I was just the same as any other American man … except for the flying and superstrength and so on. The superpowers developed gradually, so as a kid I was completely normal. Once I started seeing through things and being able to lift abnormal weights - and especially when I realised I could fly — it was obvious that I wasn't … normal." He looked at Lois, wondering if she could possibly understand how it had felt to be so different from everyone else, different in a way he had never been able to admit to anyone except his parents, and to be afraid of what would happen if people had found out.

Lois was watching Clark closely and she saw the naked emotions in his face. "So when you came to Metropolis you just wanted to be an ordinary person … to fit in?"

"Yeah, that's it, exactly!" Clark exclaimed. He realised that he shouldn't have underestimated Lois, the 'best damned investigative journalist the Planet has ever had,' according to Perry.

"And someone who can see through walls and fly and bend steel with his bare hand wouldn't exactly … fit in, would they?" Lois asked softly. "You'd have been a freak."

"You do understand," Clark breathed softly.

"Yes, but what I *can't* understand is why you couldn't have told me!" she pointed out in frustration. "OK, I know I wasn't exactly the … the nicest person possible when you first came to the Planet. I know I treated you pretty badly — the hack from Nowheresville and all that — but we did become friends. And I've trusted you with an awful lot of things you know I've never told anyone else. It hurts, you know?" she added, quietly. "My best friend couldn't trust me, was holding out on me on something *this* big."

"I know," Clark agreed quietly. "I have wanted to tell you about … Superman for a very long time. The thing is, I invented him in the first place so that I could help people without exposing myself. If no-one knew it was *Clark Kent* doing all these amazing things, then I might be able to have something of a normal life. A mysterious superhero flying in and out, who could never be found when he didn't want to be seen, seemed an easier way to manage things."

"Yeah, I understand all that," Lois said, a little impatiently. "I mean, with madmen like Trask around, if the world knew Clark Kent was Superman you'd probably be shut up in some laboratory by now."

Clark nodded. "That was always my Dad's argument. He always said I should be careful."

"OK," Lois said abruptly. "But you still haven't explained — *why couldn't you tell me*?"

Clark sighed. Here was the difficult bit. He gave Lois a wry glance. "To begin with," he said, "as my friend you'd be in danger. The last thing I want is someone using you to get to me — to think that you'd be in danger because of me. That's happened once or twice already, like when Trask thought that you and I could contact Superman."

"Do you really think I'd give away your secret?" Lois demanded furiously. "*Don't you trust me*?"

Yeah, he'd messed it up. Clark got to his feet and came to sit next to Lois, tentatively taking her hands in his. "Yes, I trust you, Lois," he said quietly but insistently. His eyes met hers, making it difficult for her to look away from the sincerity and caring in his expression. "I'd trust you with my life. Don't you remember when I asked you to take the Kryptonite bullet out of my shoulder?"

Lois bit her lip, remembering. That had been one of the most difficult things she'd ever had to do. Terrified that she wouldn't be able to manage it, that she would only drive the bullet in deeper, that in his vulnerable state she would hurt Superman even more … She nodded.

"I really *didn't* think you'd tell anyone. But the more people who know … " He paused, knowing that he had to be completely honest with Lois now. "Lois, there is another reason why I was reluctant to tell you. You see, what I didn't expect when I invented Superman was that you would … that … " <Oh God, how can I say this … ?> He swallowed, then just decided to say what he meant. There had been enough lies and half-truths: " … that you would fall for him."

This made Lois blush with embarrassment, and she looked away from Clark. Then she realised what he'd really meant, and she glared at him. "You mean you didn't tell me the truth because you thought I might only want you for Superman, not Clark?"

Clark nodded slowly. Then he was completely taken aback as Lois slapped his face with a resounding crack. "Don't pretend that hurt, Superman!" she bit out. He stared at her in confusion.

"I can't believe you thought I could be so shallow!" she yelled at him. She continued in a quieter but no less furious tone. "It must have been obvious for months now that I was interested in Clark. Of course I cared for Superman — and you didn't do a great deal to stop me, did you? I remember you kissing me on several occasions, and it wasn't always at my instigation either!" It was Clark's turn to flush with embarrassment.

"Lois, I loved you. Whether I was Superman or Clark at the time, it was always still me underneath, and I loved you so much it was … very difficult … not to hold you, or touch your face, or just take the opportunity to be near you."

Again, Lois heard the sincerity in his voice and saw in her mind how difficult it had been for Clark. She wasn't sure how she would have behaved in the same circumstances, and so she decided to accept his explanation for now. But there was still something else. She met his eyes, hurt clearly visible in hers.

"There's one more thing, Clark, and this is the thing that really hurts more than anything else: *you let me think you were dead!!* Have you any *idea* how that felt? How much pain that caused me — how many tears I shed … I thought my best friend, the man I lo -" She broke off with a choke, the tears beginning to flow again. "You let me believe that you'd been killed, and that it was all my fault. I don't know if I can forgive you for that."


"So what happened then?" Martha asked Clark, concerned. It was an hour later and he was pacing up and down the kitchen in his parents' farmhouse, agitatedly recounting the events of the evening.

He turned to face his mother, his face agonised. "I … just didn't know what to say to her, Mom. I mean, *I* hardly understood what I was doing at the time either, remember?"

"Yes, son, but remember Mr. White told us that Lois was really cut up about you 'dying'," Jonathan pointed out. "It's understandable that she should think it was unfair of you to let her suffer like that."

Clark flushed. "You do too, I guess?"

"Don't you, sweetheart?" Martha asked in the gentle but pointed manner which usually had the effect of making Clark feel extremely guilty.

"Mom, Dad! *I* was hurting at the time too, you know? I believed that Clark Kent was … dead too."

"Now you're being stupid, Clark," Jonathan pointed out. "Clark, you were never dead. You just had a problem letting people know you were alive without anyone finding out you were Superman. You can't possibly compare that with the way Lois felt."

"I *know* that — no, I guess you're right, Dad," Clark conceded. "I love Lois, but I was so busy feeling sorry for myself then that I didn't think how she might have felt."

"Don't you think you should be telling *her* that?" Martha pointed out.

Clark ran his hands through his hair again. "I *want* to, but she won't talk to me. She said she'd never forgive me for that, and she went home immediately after. I … guess I've really messed it up." He threw himself down into a chair and let his head sink into his hands.

Martha rounded on him. "Clark Jerome Kent, I know you're a lot of things but I never thought I'd call you a coward!"

The Man of Steel jerked upwards and favoured his mother with one of his patented Superman glares. "Mom, I am *not* a coward!"

"No?" Martha taunted. "Yes, I know you can face down armed robbers with your bare hands and dive head first into the middle of a volcano, but isn't it easy to do things like that when you *know* you won't get hurt? Your problem is that you won't take the risk when you might get hurt. And by doing that you end up hurting more than just yourself."

"I have to go with your mother there," Jonathan interjected. "From what you've told us, Lois is hurting pretty bad too, and a lot of it could have been avoided if you had taken a chance earlier."

"I don't believe you're saying this, Dad!" Clark exclaimed in frustration. "You were the one who kept warning me to be careful about telling anyone about my super-powers!"

"I know," Jonathan admitted. "But your mom was right: Lois is different, and I guess she loves you."

"She doesn't love me," Clark protested in a muffled voice; his head had slumped into his hands again.

"I think she does, sweetheart," Martha insisted. "Why else would she have been *so* hurt about your not trusting her?"

Clark got to his feet abruptly and walked over towards the window, gazing up into the night sky as if for inspiration for the second time that night. Finally he took a deep breath and turned back towards his parents. His expression was firm, resolute. "Okay, Mom, I admit it. You're right. I *have* been a coward about this. But I'm not going to be any more. Thanks for your support." He walked over towards Jonathan and Martha and enveloped both of them in a hug. "I love you both."

Then, leaving a gust of wind in his wake, he spun back into Superman and flew out of the kitchen door and up into the sky. Martha looked ruefully at the after-effect of the mini-whirlwind her son had produced and sighed. "I wish he wouldn't do that!"

"Do you think he'll be OK?" Jonathan asked her, as they both strolled over to the window and looked out as if they could see Clark in the sky.

"*They'll* be OK," Martha replied, smiling. "Once he talks *properly* to Lois, I'm sure everything will be fine." She looked up at her husband. "I knew as soon as I saw that girl she'd be just perfect for our Clark, and she's not going to let me down."

Jonathan, well used to his wife's certainties, hugged her as they walked together to their bedroom.


Flying back to Metropolis, Clark reflected on his conversation with his parents. He knew that they had only told him what he himself was well aware of. He *had* behaved badly towards Lois, in so many ways: the shooting incident was only one of these. He also should have anticipated that Lois might have focused on that particular incident: after all, what sort of a best friend was he if he allowed his friend to suffer such pain needlessly?

Clark had no reason to underestimate the importance of being regarded by Lois as her 'best friend', nor how much of an achievement this was. He had never needed Jimmy or Perry to tell him how unusual this was for Lois, who had always given the impression of never *needing* to be close to anyone, and who had resisted the well-meaning efforts of other colleagues to get to know her better.

He had come a long way from his initial arrival at the Planet. Then he had been very much the unwelcome 'junior' partner in the Lane and Kent writing team. He well remembered Lois's abrasive manner towards him, her attempts to intimidate him, and her hostile response to his tentative attempts at a more friendly relationship. She had resented Perry's foisting of him on her; she quite simply had not considered him to be her equal — although, to be fair, that attitude hadn't really lasted long. That, he acknowledged, was reasonable, and he had even recognised that at the time. After all, Lois was an established journalist, whose reputation had travelled beyond Metropolis (he had read her work himself before coming to the city, although he hadn't told her this), and she was used to working alone. She also, as he had subsequently discovered, had little reason to trust work colleagues, especially ambitious male ones. He had had to work very hard to persuade her to trust him. Saving her life had undoubtedly helped …

But even after their first big story together, for a long time Clark had been aware that Lois quite simply didn't *see* him. Oh, she knew he was there, in the Planet offices, working with her on stories and so on, but she was completely unaware of him as anything other than one of her many work colleagues. That impression was, of course, reinforced by her attitude towards his *alter ego*. She had no difficulty noticing Superman! *He* got Lois's attention, all right; yet Lois could have a conversation with Superman, and Clark could then turn up not two minutes later, and it never dawned on her that she was speaking to the same person.

Yes, sure, Clark acknowledged, that was mainly his own doing; he hadn't wanted anyone to put two and two together and so he had differentiated Superman as much as possible from Clark: a different posture, different tone of voice, altered hairstyle, more controlled facial expressions. But it still rankled that Lois, who probably spent more time with Clark and Superman than anyone else (except his parents), had never noticed the similarity. Apart from when she was under the influence of Miranda's pheromone … but when that had worn off, she had rationalised away her thoughts with a trite comment about every woman in love thinking her man looks like Superman. Sigh …

But he had overcome all of these obstacles and became Lois's friend. Even if he hadn't fallen in love with Lois the moment he met her, he would have wanted to be her friend. All the qualities which she possessed: her intelligence, her humour, her loyalty (once she *did* decide to trust someone!), her dedication to journalism and the quest for truth and fairness … these were all qualities he hoped that he himself possessed, and which he valued very highly. And so, love aside, he had worked assiduously to overcome Lois's resistance to friendship. Gradually she had come to trust him; although there had been signs early on that he was making progress, for instance her genuine relief that he had survived Trask's attempt on his life in Smallville. The first real indication of her trust had occurred after Lois had been witness to a murder, and the murderer, disguised as her landlord, had tried to strangle her. Clark, who had been keeping guard outside her apartment building, had scared the assassin off. He would have run after the man, but Lois had pleaded with him not to leave her, and he had simply held her, on the floor of her apartment.

Lois had never really had *friends*, Clark had gradually realised. She didn't keep in touch with her college classmates, and she had male acquaintances with whom she went on occasional dates — *interviews*, her sister Lucy had termed them. The experience of having a friend, Clark knew, had been completely new to Lois. Thus she would expect him to be completely honest with her while not returning the compliment — and never saw the contradiction. She behaved as if she expected Clark to be *there* for her whenever she needed him — which he was more than happy to do, so long as Super duties didn't intervene — but was occasionally impatient with him if he needed to talk.

But for some months now she had publicly acknowledged that Clark was her partner *and* her best friend.

So now she was fully entitled to feel betrayed. He knew that; it hadn't needed his parents' intervention to make him realise it.

And he was going to make up for it, if she would let him.


Lois sat curled up on her bed, tears again drying on her face as she relived in her mind the events of the evening. The shock of finding out that Clark, *Clark*, her best friend, was really *Superman* was beginning to wear off, although she still felt embarrassed at certain memories. She had calmed down enough to admit that Clark had had a point in relation to her crush on Superman; she remembered the evening she had tried to bid for a date with Superman in a charity auction and her tearful disappointment when she had been unsuccessful; and later telling Clark despairingly that Superman didn't even know she was *alive*. Oh, but he did, she now realised. The only problem was that she hadn't realised *he* was alive - she really had been too wrapped up in the superhero in the suit to pay any attention to the real person underneath. The person who, she had slowly come to realise in the past few months, was warm, caring, sincere, genuine, and *really* good company.

Superman had been like a hero on a pedestal, she had realised recently, someone she admired from afar and had been lucky enough to get close to a couple of times. Clark, on the other hand, was *real*. He was someone she had underestimated when he had first arrived at the Planet; he had turned out to be intelligent, witty, attractive, and someone who really cared about her. He was the one who was there for her when she was afraid, who would sit up half the night watching videos with her, would listen to her for hours when she wanted it, and, she knew, would protect her with his life.

His life … she had thought that he *had* protected her with his life when Clyde had shot him. Clark dying had caused more pain than she had ever experienced, or believed was possible. That, she knew, was when she had begun to think that he meant more to her than simply her best friend.

But Clark had never died and been resurrected. He had been alive all along, and had simply let her *think* he'd been killed, and let her agonise about it being all her fault, and therefore he hadn't cared about her feelings - *couldn't* have cared, otherwise he would never have put her through that agony.

Acknowledging this fact yet again made the tears well up in her eyes anew and she gulped, trying to hold back the desire to cry. She got up off the bed and padded into the kitchen, intent upon raiding the fridge for ice-cream. Comfort food was what was required.

Sitting cross-legged on the sofa, the final few minutes at his apartment played themselves out again inside her head. When she had told Clark she would never forgive him for letting her think he was dead, he had jerked back as if in pain, a more physical reaction than when she had slapped his face. He had repeated her name as if it was a prayer, once … twice, then simply crumpled on the sofa and whispered, "I'm sorry. I … never intended to hurt you."

She had turned away, not wanting to be seduced by his obvious pain and remorse. She had said, in as businesslike a tone as she could manage, "I'm going home now," and had walked towards the door.

He was there before her, and she hadn't even seen him move. "Lois, I won't stop you from going," he had reassured her in a gentle, hesitant tone in response to her "get out of my way" facial expression. "I just … I'm worried about you — I want to make sure you get home safely." His expression had revealed a multitude of emotions, although the uppermost was concern for her safety. "Will you let me … fly you home?"

She had shaken her head. She did *not* want to be that close to him, not at that moment. "I can drive. I'm *fine*, Clark. Let me go." Her sentences had emerged staccato; she had not wanted to reveal the true state of her emotions at that point. She had been very close to breaking down completely, and she had felt that the longer she stayed around Clark the more likely she was to lose control altogether.

He had moved aside to let her pass. She had glanced at him as she went through the door; she thought, not quite believing it, that she saw unshed tears glistening in his eyes. "Goodnight, Lois; take care," he had whispered. She hadn't replied.

She had driven home on autopilot and, when she had arrived outside her apartment building, had realised that she remembered almost nothing of the drive itself. <I guess he was right to be concerned> she thought — <I could have easily had an accident>. She had slid wearily from the car, but some instinct had caused her to look up, above the roof of her building. She hadn't been able to see anything at all in the cloudy, dark night sky, but still … "Go *home*, Clark!" she had whispered.

Does he always watch over me? she now wondered, astounded at the thought.

And am I being unfair to him now? He trusted me with something … enormous, his biggest secret, something which was incredibly difficult for him to tell *anyone* … can I really blame him for not telling me before?

How could I have accused him of not caring about me, when it is so obvious that he does? How could I have *not* seen *his* pain tonight?


Hovering over Lois's apartment building at that precise moment, Clark paused, considered, then landed in an alley nearby. He spun back into Clark and walked purposefully up to the entrance of Lois's building and up the steps. He had left Smallville determined to try to explain properly this time, always assuming Lois would listen, of course. He had been about to fly to her window and ask to be let in, but then it had occurred to him that now she knew the truth it was more honest to present himself as Clark - after all, he had made it pretty plain to her that it was *Clark*, not Superman, he wanted her to be interested in. And, as she had correctly - and uncomfortably for him — pointed out, he had given her some very mixed signals as Superman. He wasn't going to make that mistake any more.

Besides, he hadn't failed to notice her expression of relief when she had emerged from his bathroom to see that he was again dressed as Clark and that the Supersuit was nowhere in sight.

He hesitated outside her door, then closed his eyes briefly as if in prayer, then knocked.

He listened, heard the sounds of Lois replacing something on her coffee-table (an ice-cream carton? he guessed) and getting to her feet. He heard her footsteps padding towards the door, recognised that she was barefoot. He resisted the temptation to Super-look through the door, and waited.

"Who is it?" Lois asked, not really wanting any visitors and prepared to tell whoever it was to go away.

"It's me — Clark," came the reply. Lois backed away from the door in shock. She had not expected this.

"Can I come in?" he asked. "I think … we need to talk."

She moved to the door again, but didn't open it. "I won't tell anyone, if that's what you're worried about." Lois was torn. She was aware that she really *did* want to talk this thing through, and that she had been unfair to him, but she needed reassurance. What were his motives?

"No, it isn't," his voice came back, insistent. "I *really* want to talk to you, Lois. I want to … try to explain, try to … see if we can at least be friends. I *don't* want to lose your friendship — that's *far* more important to me than anything else — and I *mean**anything*."

Lois inhaled sharply, then made a decision and opened the door. She moved aside to let Clark in, then closed it behind him and fixed him with an intense stare. "Explain that."

Clark, relieved that Lois had at least let him get this far, returned her gaze and spoke in a low, insistent voice. "I mean it, Lois. Everything — my career, my life as Clark Kent, Superman … *none* of it means anything if you're not part of it. If you didn't want anything at all to do with me then … there'd be no reason for me to stay in Metropolis — or even America, for that matter."

Lois was momentarily speechless; he cared *that much* about her? She didn't doubt his words for a second; she had become an expert in knowing when Clark was lying to her, even though she hadn't known *why* he was lying; this time she was well aware from his expression that he was telling her the absolute truth. The little voice in her head whispered <he *loves* me - does any of the rest of it matter?>. But she shook her head slightly. It mattered; it just didn't matter as much as it had. But she still had to know how he could say he loved her, and yet behave in a way which had hurt her so much.

She moved towards the sofa and sat down, gesturing for him to join her. Clark sat at the far end, but facing her, and said, "Thank you for giving me a chance, Lois."

She nodded, and said abruptly, "Tell me about when you were shot."

He nodded in response. "You were right earlier … I hadn't realised, until you said it, how much my actions then had hurt you, and I should have realised. Dad said … well, that I'd been very unfair to you." "You called your parents?" Lois asked. Clark shook his head. "I went to Smallville after you got home — I've just got back." Lois's jaw dropped. She stared at him, then said, "I guess I hadn't quite appreciated it yet - you're Superman, of course you can fly to Smallville and back whenever you want — or anywhere else, for that matter."

"I'm *Clark*, Lois," he pointed out quietly. "Superman is just — something I can do. The suit is a disguise, that's all. I don't *have* to be wearing it to … do certain things." He watched her reactions, trying to see whether she understood. As she nodded slowly, he allowed himself to float a couple of inches off the sofa, as a demonstration. Her jaw dropped again and she said, in little more than a whisper, "My God."

Clark let himself fall again and took a deep breath. <Here goes>. "Lois, I want to explain about Clyde and being shot. First, though, I … I've wanted to tell you about Superman for quite a while, but it's kind of a difficult thing to tell anyone, especially as I've had good reasons to keep it secret for so long. I *did* want to tell you, but not … in the middle of a gambling den with hordes of other people around. When Clyde shot me, I realised I *had* to play dead. I saw your face as I fell; I heard your voice as you bent over me and held me, and I felt your tears. It … was tearing me apart. But I couldn't do anything — I'd been shot at point blank range and anyone else — any *human* — would have been killed outright. I was just desperately hoping that no-one would notice there wasn't any

blood. When they dumped me out of the car, I ran off, then flew home to Smallville."

Lois was listening, white-faced; his words were bringing back the full horror of that evening. It had been a time she never, *never* wanted to experience again.

Clark paused, then continued. "I should have gone to see if you were all right — as Superman, I mean. But it's been really difficult, for a long time now, to keep saying 'Superman told me' or 'Clark told me', as an explanation for knowing what's been going on. I didn't want to go to you then and say I'd heard what had happened to Clark but had got there too late to help … " He stopped, knowing what he needed to say but unsure how to continue.

Lois's brain, however, was now working overtime. "Wait a minute — if you were pretending to be dead, you wouldn't have known immediately how you were going to explain being alive again — I mean, Professor Hamilton's genetic work was a great excuse, but you wouldn't have known that you'd use that … you thought Clark *was* really dead, that you couldn't come back to Metropolis as Clark, didn't you?"

Clark wondered again just how Lois always managed to figure things out with so little information. She had to be the most intelligent — no, not just intelligent, but intuitive person he knew. Just another reason why he loved her so much, of course.

"Yeah, that's the way it was. I spent hours and hours in Smallville not knowing what I was going to do. All I could think of was how much I'd lost: my career, which I love, my friends, who mean a lot to me — and you, who I love more than all the rest put together. I guess I was so busy feeling sorry for myself that I forgot to consider how you might be feeling."

With an understanding smile, Lois replied, "I guess you had a lot of other things on your mind. Anyway, you probably had no idea how I felt — okay, I've told you a few times you're my best friend, but no more than that, and I do try very hard not to let anyone see I'm anything other than a hard-headed journalist … "

"I saw beyond that facade long ago," Clark informed her. "And anyway, I *should* have known — not just because of the way you reacted when I was shot, but my parents spoke to Perry while I was in Smallville and he told them you'd taken it really badly. I *should* have done something about it, but I was too busy wallowing in my own self-pity. I didn't even want to go back to Metropolis to be Superman. Mom and Dad had to work pretty hard to shake me out of that." He sighed, remembering his behaviour then with regret. "When I did go back, I didn't want to see you as Superman — it would have been too tempting to tell you I was really Clark, and it just didn't seem like the right time. Then I went to Professor Hamilton's lab looking for Capone and the others, and found his research notes — that showed me how I could 'resurrect' myself. The only thing I can say in my defence is that I let you know I was alive as soon as I could."

"Yeah, I guess you did," Lois murmured, remembering her joy as she had seen Clark walking towards her, and how she had simply run to him, smothered in concrete as she had been.

"I know I could have done a lot to lessen your distress," Clark added penitently. "And I am really sorry. Do you think — you said you couldn't forgive me … ?" His dark eyes focused on her with a sad and longing expression.

"I was angry," Lois defended herself, "and hurt. Very hurt — but I guess I understand now why you did what you did. And I understand why you didn't tell me about being Superman." She gave him a quick, tentative look from under her eyelashes, her expression a little guarded and … was that embarrassment, Clark wondered.

"I think … you know, in a way I'm more angry with myself over that, because I *should* have *known*," she continued. "I mean, my best friend spends half his time masquerading as a superhero — a superhero *I* know better than just about anyone in this city, and who I talk to on a pretty regular basis, and who takes me *flying* — and who keeps saving my life … and I can't see beyond a pair of glasses?" She shook her head in exasperation and frustration. "I can't *believe* that I was so stupid! And I've won *three* Kerth awards — for investigative journalism!"

Clark smiled. This was the Lois he knew and loved. "I can understand how you feel about that. You *are* a brilliant investigative journalist. But I'm just … very good at disguising what I do. I know my excuses for disappearing to go and be Superman aren't very good … "

"Pathetic!" Lois snorted.

"Yeah, but other than that I try really hard not to give myself away. And anyway, why would you possibly suspect that Superman was really your partner? You had no reason to suspect it," Clark pointed out. "And anyway, the disguise isn't just the glasses." He removed his glasses to reinforce the point. "It's the suit as well — like Mom said, when I'm in the suit, people tend to concentrate on that and what I can do — not what I look like."

"Mmm … I don't know about that," Lois murmured, thinking that he looked *very* attractive in the suit. "But you do look very different without the glasses — which I guess explains why I've never seen you without them before tonight."

Clark grinned. "Yeah — I'm very careful about wearing these."

Lois sat up straight suddenly as another thought occurred to her. "You're Superman — so why did you fall asleep in the car? — I mean, after Superman - you — had captured Capone and his mob at the Planet and I drove you home?"

Clark managed to follow Lois's sudden shift of topic, but then he was used to her going off on tangents, after all. But he was puzzled at this question: it seemed to him to be a *non sequitur*. "Lois, I may have super-powers, but I still get tired. Okay, I don't need as much sleep as everyone else, but that night … I hadn't slept at all the night before and it *had* been a pretty stressful experience, you know … I just — fell asleep!" He gave her an enquiring look. "Why do you ask?"

"Oh … " Lois trailed off, and smiled wryly. "I guess no reason — it doesn't matter." <Oh Clark!> she thought <how is it you have a plausible — and totally *forgivable* — explanation for *everything*!>

Clark had other priorities on his mind, though. He still wasn't sure whether Lois's understanding manner towards him meant that she *had* forgiven him, and whether their relationship had any future. "Lois … you know that I love you … "

Her expression softened and she involuntarily swayed towards him. "Yeah. I know — now. I didn't before — well, I mean I wasn't sure. I thought — it was as if you were blowing hot and cold, especially the way you kept rushing off. And it *always* seemed to happen just as we were about to have a serious conversation about us, our relationship … whether we *had* a relationship."

Clark nodded, well aware of what Lois was referring to. He was about to speak, but she waved him into silence, and continued.

"But I understand everything now. And I love you too … that's what I was trying to tell you earlier, before you went into this whole Superman thing … well, I guess you know I was in love with Superman, but what I mean is that I love *Clark*, I realised a few months ago that Superman wasn't real, Clark was and that Clark — you — meant more to me than best friends- umph … "

With a blur, Clark was sitting next to Lois and had taken her in his arms, and had stopped her babbling by kissing her. Not tentatively as he had previously done as Clark, neither was it the brief but firm pressure with which Superman had occasionally kissed her. This was a lover's kiss, tender, passionate and loving. Lois melted into his arms, wrapping her arms around his neck and curling her body into his. This was where she belonged. Clark, her *super* guy, had claimed her at last. Or had she claimed him? She wasn't sure, and she didn't care really.

After some minutes, Lois gradually became aware that they were no longer sprawled on her sofa, but were floating a foot or so above it. "Oh my God - Clark — what are you doing!" she squealed, tearing her mouth from his. He looked down and saw what she meant. He grinned, revealing a flash of brilliant white teeth. "Sorry. That — happens sometimes, if I'm very relaxed or … happy." He drifted them down again. "That better?"

"Yeah," Lois replied, still amazed by what had happened. "It's still incredible, though … I mean getting used to what you can do."

It had been gradually getting darker as time went by, and Lois, as she was speaking, reached for the table lamp, but Clark stilled her hand and gave her a quick smile. "Watch."

She looked at him, puzzled, and saw him remove his glasses and begin to stare at … something across the room. She didn't understand at first, but then saw a slim ivory-coloured twisted candle on the dresser begin to smoulder and then the wick took light. She stared open-mouthed. "Wow … that's incredible! Clark … " He continued to focus his attention on his task, however, and didn't stop until all of the decorative candles which Lois kept around the living-room of her apartment were lit. "I … don't *believe* I've just seen that!" she breathed, as Clark smiled broadly, enjoying her disbelief. Lois caught her breath again: she knew that smile. It was Superman's rare but beautiful grin of pleasure. Even though she now knew Clark *was* Superman, it still felt incredible to be faced with this evidence of his dual identity. And to see him use his super-powers as *Clark* was … But there were definite possibilities here!

"On the other hand … " Lois murmured, giving him a mischievous glance from underneath lowered eyelids, "these powers of yours could be really useful for undercover investigative work … "

Clark grinned in return. "I know — it is!"

"What! You mean you already use your powers for investigating? Without me finding out?!"

"Yeah, occasionally," he replied, enjoying her indignant response.

"That is so — not fair! You could have got stories I would *never* have been able to get!" Lois protested loudly.

Clark laughed aloud, enjoying the situation. "But Lois, you're the competitive one, not me. When have I ever held out on you on a story?"

Lois had to acknowledge that he was right there. Even in the early days of their working relationship, when she had been very competitive and had seen him as a potential rival (despite his junior status) she had frequently held information back. Clark, on the other hand, even in situations where it was 'every reporter for themselves', had always shared what he knew with her — even after she had stolen his Superman story! (though he'd got his revenge for that, of course, although that was another story … ).

"Clark?" She had remembered something else.

"Yeah?" He smiled at her, love in his expression.

"Did you follow me home — you know, earlier?"

He nodded. "Yes. I was worried — I wanted to be sure you got back safely. But — how did you know I was there? I deliberately stayed high enough to be out of sight."

Lois flushed slightly. "You *heard* me?"

He tapped an earlobe. "Yes. My super-hearing's pretty strong, and given the way I feel about you — and that I was worried about you anyway — it was attuned to your voice. I just couldn't understand how you knew I was there."

She shrugged. "Intuition more than anything else. I don't know — it seemed like I *felt* your presence. Weird, huh? But I'm grateful, despite how it might have seemed. I wasn't as alert or focused as I should have been, given that I was driving."

Clark gave her a steady, reassuring glance. "Don't worry. I would *never* let anything harm you if I could possibly avoid it."

Strangely, instead of Clark's words reminding her of the times when Superman had promised to protect her, Lois found herself remembering the evening she had run to Clark for comfort when the Prankster was threatening her. She had told Clark that Griffin had said he would kill her, whereupon Clark had replied that he would *not* let that happen. At the time his words had comforted her; now she realised that he had a lot more power to prevent such an occurrence than she'd thought.

She turned to him and wrapped her arms around him, welcoming the way in which his arms swiftly enfolded her in return. It felt like … like coming home, she realised in wonder. This was where she belonged, with this man. She caressed his face with her hand. "How many times have you saved my life, Clark?"

He grinned, and caressed her face in return. "I stopped counting a long time ago, Lois. I'm just glad I was able to be around when it mattered."

"Probably more times than I realise, as well," Lois admitted ruefully.

"And there'll probably be many more times, if I know you, Lois," Clark replied. "But then, isn't that what best friends are for?"

Lois gave him a wry smile. "Yeah, but that seems a little one-sided — after all, I don't do much saving of your life in return."

Clark gave her an incredulous look. "Apart from saving me when Ariana Carlin shot me with the Kryptonite bullet, you have saved me several times. I don't mean 'rescuing me from the jaws of death' necessarily, but you have rescued me from despair so many times. There were times when … I wasn't sure I could continue as Superman, when I couldn't cope with not being able to save everyone, when I couldn't get there in time, every time, when people turned against Superman or when it seemed that my attempts at helping only hurt. Each time you were there; you gave me a reason to go on. *You* made me bring back Superman when I nearly gave the role up altogether, right at the beginning when Luthor was testing my powers to see what I could do." He focused intently on Lois's face, and saw the dawning realisation: the times when Lois had talked to Clark about Superman without knowing that Superman could hear her all along.

"I'm glad I was able to help," she whispered.

He hugged her tightly. This woman meant the whole world — no, considering where he had come from, the entire *universe* to him, and he intended to spend the rest of his life making sure that she was aware of that. He didn't know exactly where they were going from this point; what difficulties there might be ahead of them; how Lois would cope when she *really* realised that her boyfriend (future husband? he hoped) would have to spend the rest of their lives rushing off at a second's notice to prevent some disaster or other from occurring, which meant that they would never really be able to plan special occasions and guarantee being able to enjoy them. But they loved each other, and that love seemed to him at that moment to be so special, so deep and so … *preordained* … that he was sure they would find a way to be together and happy.

Clark released his hold on her slightly and Lois glanced upwards to see him smile into her happy face. He had not replaced his glasses after lighting the candles, and as Lois watched him in the soft light she realised how different he looked without them — and yet not quite like Superman either. This was a *different* Clark; but then, she was fast appreciating that the *real* Clark was very different from the Clark Kent she had thought she had known, and also quite different from the superhero.

"What're you thinking, farmboy?" she asked him with that particular *gamine* smile which he loved.

He grinned at her. "Nothing much … and everything, I guess. Just how much I love you, and need you … and want to spend … " a lifetime, he thought, but knowing his love's caution and resistance to the idea of commitment, decided not to run that one past her just yet; " … every minute of every day with you."

She tossed her hair and smiled back at him, love in her brown eyes. "You'll find that a bit difficult when you're sorting out the next train derailment, won't you?"

He laughed and hugged her again. "I'll just have to take you with me."

She stared at him, not having thought of that yet. "You will?"

"Sometimes. If I can." He could see that this was probably not going to be enough for her, so he distracted her in the most effective manner possible. He kissed her. Thoroughly.

They could discuss details later, he thought. A *long* time later.

Lois, kissing Clark every bit as passionately as he was kissing her, also smiled inwardly as she thought of all the things she *intended* to discuss with him — including getting a promise from him to take her with him as often as he could. <But that can wait until tomorrow> she told herself. <Now … now, *nothing* else matters … >

She didn't even notice Clark gently flying them across her room to the window; as she wrapped her arms even more tightly around him, he blew gently across the room to extinguish the candles. She threaded her fingers through his hair as he freed one hand to open her casement; and she protested as he freed himself from her — though didn't remove his lips from hers — for the very brief moment it took to don his Superman outfit. He then took her back into his arms, wrapping her in his cape and flew them out of the window into the cool, fresh night air, and drifted them straight up away from the lights of the city and towards the stars.

His favourite things, Clark thought. Flying, night-time, the stars … and Lois. Always Lois.

All my fantasies come true, Lois realised. Flying with Superman … and being with the man I love, and who loves me in return.

They looked into each other's eyes simultaneously and whispered, "I love you."