Montrose's Toast

By Phil Atcliffe <>

Rated PG

March 13, 1998

Summary: Lois has just "bought" Clark at the Metropolis Bachelor Auction. As Lois tries to figure out her feelings — and what she is going to do about them — Clark plans a date that Lois will never forget. A sequel to the fanfic "Sold!" by Erin Dawn McInnis.

[Yet another story that comes from my curiosity as to "what happens next" after I've read a good fanfic. This one is a sequel to "Sold! The Metropolis Bachelor Auction Incident" by Erin Dawn McInnis (available on the archive), but is very different in tone.

Writing this has been an interesting experience. I've never known a story to change so much in the course of creation. What began as a relatively light-hearted tale twisted as I wrote it to become something much more serious — and a heck of a lot longer — than I had intended it to be.

Actually, I blame Mike Grell (one of my favourite comics artists). There's a panel in issue #2 of "Starslayer" showing the Celtic hero, Torin MacQuillon, holding his wife Gwynereth in the air — when I first saw it, I wasn't at all sure that a human, hero or not, could actually *do* that (you have to see the drawing to understand — it looks quite beautiful, but it would be incredibly difficult to hold a woman that way); and when I came across the comic while I was writing this story, I couldn't get the image of Clark holding Lois like that (now, *he* could do it!) out of my head, and that led to the "dance" on the beach … and most of the rest of the story flowed from that. Strange are the mental processes of writers …

Many thanks to Erin for her kind permission— nay, *encouragement* — to release this to the public gaze. And to Demi; this isn't quite the Clark-loses-his-temper story we corresponded about, but it's along those lines … And, always, to proofer extraordinaire Gay Devlin for her invaluable help.

Okay, your turn: what did you think of it? — PA]


The headline story of the morning edition of the Daily Planet had something to do with national politics, and was therefore, naturally, ignored by all the newsroom staff except those who had written it, were assigned to follow it up, or whose job it was to cover that sort of thing. Of much more interest was a local story — *very* local, featuring as it did two of the paper's own stars — namely the previous night's charity Bachelor Auction, and what happened there.

Since they were all newsmen or -women, the inhabitants of the Planet's newsroom were prone to treat gossip like page one stories, and there was a cordial, but slightly heated argument taking place at a water cooler as to whether the most appropriate headline for last night's amazing events was "Kent Tops Auction: Superman Humbled by Planet Reporter" or "Lois Lane Turns Down Superman for Clark Kent". For, against all expectations, the highest bid for any of the men at the auction, *including* Superman, had been made for their own Clark Kent, and by *Lois Lane!* Even the most fervid Lane-and-Kent-watchers — a pastime that was remarkably popular amongst their colleagues — were flabbergasted by the news. *What* had got into Lois?

Lois and Clark had also been asking themselves the same question. Lois had the inside information, of course, but even she was wondering in the cold light of day why she'd done such a thing the previous night. In the end, she had to admit to an explosive combination of impulse, competitiveness, just a touch of jealousy — okay, okay, *more* than a touch — and … well, darn it, yes, a powerful, irresistible surge of attraction to Clark. Even if he did pull one of his vanishing acts straight after she'd spent *$20,000* on him!

He'd come back, though, not long after Superman had been auctioned off for a surprisingly, almost ridiculously low $10,000 — Lois could only assume that her huge bid for Clark had somehow taken the heart out of the audience — and they'd spent the remainder of the evening together, although much of it consisted of long, uncomfortable silences. Even so, she'd been better off than the woman who had actually *won* the bidding for Superman; the hero had had to rush off to some emergency or other, thereby depriving the triumphant victor of her opportunity to preen in front of all the other auction attendees.

Clark had taken Lois home in a cab, escorted her to her door, declined an invitation to come in for coffee, kissed her very gently on the cheek and left. She found herself inside her apartment, leaning against her front door in a state of dreamy confusion, half-delighted, half-appalled at what she'd done that evening.

'Twenty thousand dollars … on *Clark!* What *have* I done?' she had asked herself. But, without an answer, her mind turned to a question that had been occupying her thoughts for a while of late; she had become increasingly attracted to Clark, but she still had feelings for Superman. She hadn't been able to sort out just what she was going to do, or even what it was exactly that she felt.

Superman, she found exciting; not in the sexual sense — or not *just* sexually, although she had fantasies … — but in the way that any woman would be excited by a man who was handsome, super-strong, kind, invulnerable, honest to the point of nobility, faster than a speeding bullet, caring, brave and could fly. He was a dream come true, but he also had the dream-like quality of being … insubstantial, somehow. She cared for him, but the first white-hot intensity of her feelings was gradually cooling. Of course, if he ever made the effort, she was sure that he could make her forget the entire male population of the world. *If* he ever made the effort …

Clark, by contrast, just sort of lurked in the background, and had somehow wormed his way into her affections, almost without trying. He shared many of Superman's good points; not the super- powers, of course, but he *was* good-looking, kind, honest, caring (particularly about her) and brave. He could also be incredibly aggravating. She had never known a man who could … play ping-pong with her emotions quite the way he did: one minute, she felt that he was the best friend that she had ever had, and might be something much more; and the next, he drove her mad with frustration and anger. But he had become more and more important to her, and she wasn't at all sure just where this was going to stop.

It worried her; here were two men, both of whom she cared about, both of whom shared qualities that made them *worth* caring about, and both of whom, she thought, cared for her in their own way — whatever that was. But there was only one of her — what was she going to do?

The problem was, after last night, it was starting to look as if she'd made her choice. If she could only be certain that Clark wanted — *really* wanted — more of a relationship with her than their present friendship, then she might feel better about her unconscious decision — if that was what it was. He'd made the suggestion that they think about dating, so he had to be interested in her, but if that was the case, why did he keep disappearing? She shook her head; this was all so confusing …

Meanwhile, Clark was thinking long and hard about what *he* was going to do. To say that he had been stunned by Lois' behaviour last night was to plumb the furthest depths of understatement. He thought he understood some of why she had joined in the bidding for him — competition with Mayson, even if she would never admit it — but what on Earth had made her spend *twenty thousand dollars?!* On *him*, in preference to Superman. And then, when she had won the auction for him, she'd *kissed* him, in public..! For a second, he'd almost been tempted to x-ray her ankle to check that this woman was actually Lois Lane; she sure wasn't acting like her!

Or was she? Perhaps it was wishful thinking, but Clark thought that maybe, just maybe, Lois might have come to a decision last night. They'd talked about dating, about where their friendship might be leading, but Lois had been very wary about trying anything in the way of a romantic relationship between them. This was understandable, given the way her *last* "romance" had turned out — if her association with Lex Luthor could be said to warrant that title; Clark was of the opinion that the man's behaviour hadn't earned him anything other than a super-kick in the groin, but he was dead, so let him rot as he deserved. Then, of course, there was the continuing problem of her feelings for Superman (and, truth to tell, his for her — or, rather, Clark's inability to control himself around her, in *or* out of the suit). And, naturally, just as they had begun to move a little closer to each other, Mayson had turned up; Mayson, who was attractive, self-confident and not at all reluctant when it came to expressing her interest in Clark Kent — and also her dislike of Superman.

'What a mess,' Clark thought. 'This is like something out of a bad soap opera, except that even soap operas have story editors … ' However, there was a possibility that there was a way out of this tangle — a way that would bring Lois and Clark together. Unfortunately, it depended on Lois sorting out her feelings, and on him being able to tell her his without being interrupted by criminals, emergencies, prize-winning stories, crazed billionaires or predatory assistant D.A's.

Which is why the present situation had him both worried and hopeful. He hoped — he *wanted* to believe — that Lois' actions of the night before meant that she'd decided to go ahead with their idea of dating, that she was prepared to risk (well, that's how *she* saw it) a deeper relationship with him than their friendship. One thing was sure: they were definitely going on a *date!* There were twenty thousand reasons why *that* was going to happen!

But if that was the case, then the ball was most firmly in his court, because if Lois had decided that she was more interested in Clark than Superman, she deserved to know that the two were one and the same. And that was what worried Clark. Before he could tell her about his dual identities, he needed to know which of him, so to speak, she preferred, and how did he find that out? He couldn't come straight out and *ask* her … or could he? And what would he do if she told him that she still loved Superman, not him? And what would *she* do when — if — she knew the truth?

Clark sat in an easy chair in his apartment for most of the night, thinking. He had to go out a few times for the usual Superman stuff, but he wrapped that up as quickly as he could and returned home to settle once again in the chair and gaze at the wall, lost in contemplation of the complexities of his life and their effects on his relationship with Lois. He eventually went to bed, but sleep was elusive, and what little he got was troubled.


Lois stepped out of the elevator into the newsroom, and a hush fell over the place. She walked down the stairs and headed for her desk, and almost every eye in the room followed her. The few exceptions were Perry White, who was busy in his office, and Clark, who very carefully wasn't looking in her direction.

More-or-less the same thing had happened when he had arrived a few minutes earlier, except that the massed stares of his co- workers had been accompanied by a smile here and there, some whispered comments that he wasn't supposed to be able to hear, and a few hastily-smothered giggles from some of the female staff. No-one was brave enough to do that to Lois, so she was confronted with ranks of amazed eyes and a dreadful silence.

Clark had no intention of adding to the embarrassment that she must be feeling — even Lois couldn't take *this* in her stride, surely..? — and kept his own gaze fixed on his computer screen until his peripheral vision let him know that she'd reached her desk and sat down. Then he looked up, smiled at her, got up, walked over to her and said, "Morning, Lois. Want some coffee?" Without waiting for an answer, he grabbed her mug and headed for the drip machine.

This simple, everyday exchange seemed to kick-start the watching hordes, and the usual office buzz sprang into life as the newsroom snapped out of its paralysis. Lois watched Clark get them both coffee and was grateful — and not just for the coffee. She'd noticed that he hadn't looked round when she'd arrived, even though he usually did if he got in first — his smiling face was often the first thing that she saw at work — and she could guess why this morning had been different.

If he'd been greeted by such a fascinated audience, she knew that he'd have hated it, so he'd have been careful not to embarrass anyone else in the same way — especially her. The good manners that his parents had instilled in him, so well that they were an essential part of his personality, would prevent that, in any case — and today, if she knew her Clark, he would be particularly determined to keep things as calm as possible. Whatever he might be feeling after last night, he would no more want it spread around the newsroom (and the rest of the building) than she would.

This suited her. She had decided that she'd be all business today, and Clark seemed to be making it easy for her by taking a similar line. They'd have to get together, to talk, plan … *whatever*, but that could and should be done when they were alone. This was *their* business, not a soap opera for general consumption!

'Of course, it would help if I had the faintest idea of what I'm going to say to him,' she thought to herself.

Clark would have been amused to hear her echo his thoughts on their relationship and its resemblance to a TV show but, lacking telepathy, he remained calm, and just a tiny bit nervous, as he came back to Lois' desk and gave her the coffee.

"Oh, thanks, Clark," sighed Lois, taking a sip. It was, as always, just how she liked it. "I need this right now."

"Any time, Lois," he replied, taking up his usual perching position on the edge of her desk.

Lois looked at him for a second, and her eyes reflected a certain amazement as she thought, 'Any time … You *mean* that, don't you? You always have … ' She would have taken that train of thought further, but she saw that he was watching her, and her concentration dissolved into embarrassed confusion.

Clark caught the look, and her subsequent blush (even though she hid it well), but wasn't sure what either of them signified, so he stuck to business, saying, "So, partner, which story do you think we should start with today?"

She dragged her thoughts to the world at large, and the work day began.


Lois hit the "save" key, leaned back in her chair and sighed. It had been quite a day. As if the usual day-to-day city news wasn't enough to keep her mind off her personal dilemma, a long-running investigation into Intergang finances and money-laundering had suddenly come together, and she and Clark had spent most of the day after they'd made the breakthrough talking to the police, covering a series of raids that Inspector Henderson had managed to lay on in a phenomenally short time after getting their information, and then writing the whole thing up for the late evening and morning editions.

This had helped keep her occupied and stopped her brooding over the two men in her life. She'd hardly seen Clark since they'd split up to cover the raids, but Superman had flown in to help with one that she'd been on; just as well, really, because the bad guys had been packing some serious firepower as protection for the megabucks that Henderson had taken great delight in seizing under the RICO statutes. She'd heard from a source at Headquarters that the hero had helped with at least one other raid, possibly two; there weren't many details because no-one had actually seen him, but the torn or melted locks on the doors and the bent gun barrels were pretty effective give-aways.

Clark had caught up with her at the office afterwards and they'd planned their joint account of the day's happenings, but he'd disappeared again not too long afterwards, which rather worried her. She'd finished her part of the story, but his was just as important, and Perry would be yelling for it very soon.

'Where *is* he?' she groaned internally. 'Don't *do* this to me, Clark!' But he was nowhere to be seen, and there was nothing she could do about it. After waiting for a few minutes, she got up and went to the Ladies' to freshen up, and to think.

When she got back to her desk, a few minutes later, she sighed with relief, because her computer was showing a message from Clark, although he was still nowhere in sight. The message, once she'd called it up, said that he'd ducked out to cover Superman rescuing a would-be suicide — a jumper who'd changed his mind half-way down — but that he'd written his half of the Intergang story, and would she mind checking it over as usual before LANing it to Perry? He'd looked at her stuff, and had no comments. 'For once … ' she mused wryly as she did as he'd asked.

It was only after she'd sent the completed story to their boss that she noticed the envelope, which had been pushed to one side when she moved the keyboard to start looking over Clark's copy. It was a plain buff manila envelope, but with Clark's distinctive handwriting on it. She picked it up and read, "About that other matter … "

She tore it open it to find a small rectangle of mustard-coloured paper with some printing on it, and a folded piece of cardboard. She picked up the paper and looked at it; her eyes widened and then narrowed as she recognised what it was. Then … nothing. For a few moments, she just *sat* there, not knowing whether to laugh or blow her top.

It was a piece of play money, a "$20,000 note" that she recognised as coming from Clark's old, much-used copy of "The Game of Life."

She glared at it, but the slightly-smudged face of "G.I. Luvmoney", who occupied the George Washington position on the "note", gazed back impassively. Since that hadn't provided any relief, nor helped her to work out if she appreciated this not- exactly-subtle reference to her winning bid for him, she turned the piece of paper over, revealing that Clark had written something on its blank back. She was surprised to find that she was relieved that he'd had a reason for including it other than to poke fun at her.

She went to read it, finally noticing that she was holding it upside-down. Lois was quite good at reading upside-down (also sideways, backwards and mirror writing) but, not quite feeling up to the mental effort involved, took the time to turn it around to read:


The calendar will show you when I'm free in the evenings for the next few weeks. Let me know what you'd like to do, and when, and I'll make the arrangements. I await your convenience.


It took her a moment to realise that the calendar that he'd referred to must be the piece of cardboard still in the envelope. She took it out and saw that that's what it was — a cheap, gaudily-printed piece of advertising (for Dalremy Farm Supplies of Smallville, Kansas, she was amused to note) with small, tear- off monthly calendars stapled to the bottom. Clark had stuck a Post-It note on the backing board to the effect that he'd crossed out all the days on which he currently had commitments, but otherwise he was at her disposal.

She looked at the calendar for the present month, and was surprised to see that more than half of the remaining days were crossed off. She flipped to the next month, and the next, and saw much the same. After that, there were a couple of days here and there marked off, but not as many as in the next few weeks.

'Boy, you're a busy little bee, aren't you, Clark?' she thought. It was odd, though, that there was no discernible pattern to his "commitments". No weekly basketball games ('Or poker games,' she giggled to herself. Somehow, she just couldn't see Clark gambling — except, maybe, in the sense of a friendly, no-money-involved bet with … *her*).

She went back to the current month and looked at the next couple of weeks. She didn't want this to go on any longer than it had to; it wouldn't be fair to either of them, and she didn't think she could stand too much more of this "careful" treatment from the newsroom, and even (especially?) from Clark. What she really wanted was for the whole mess to just disappear and for everything to go back to what it had been this time the day before, but *that* wasn't going to happen. For better or worse, things were never going to be the same again between herself and her partner — she just wished she knew whether that would prove to be a good thing or not …

'Let's see … ' she mused, perusing the calendar. 'Tonight's out — well, that's okay; I've got my Tae Kwon Do class anyway, and Master Chee's been insisting I show up more often … ' But her concentration drifted as she couldn't help asking herself, 'Wonder what Clark's going to be up to?' After a few moments considering various ideas on that score, to no real conclusion, she dragged her attention back to the matter at hand. 'Hmmm, tomorrow's a possibility … not the day after, though, or the day after — *or* the day after that!' In fact, it would be the following week before Clark was free again, according to this improvised diary. Lois was surprised once more at just how busy he seemed to be.

'In that case, it looks like tomorrow night is *it*, 'cause I sure don't want this dragging on into next week! I just hope Clark won't suddenly find he has to go to a Cheese-of-the-Month Club meeting or something … '

Well, if he pulled one of his disappearing acts on her *this* time, she'd know that he wasn't serious about being anything more than her friend and partner, and maybe not even that. That would at least settle *that* problem, and she could concentrate on her relationship with Superman.

Of course, if he *didn't* disappear on her, and she could decide what she wanted to do tomorrow night, and they did it, they might have a really good time … which would leave her right where she was now — except that she would have had a terrific date with Clark. And he might want them to do it again … Was that such a terrible prospect?

She shook her head, grimacing at this sudden mad leap into rose- tinted optimism. 'One thing at a time, girl,' she told herself, 'Let's just concentrate on tomorrow night; you'll know where you stand after you see what happens then.'

With that "clear", she began to wonder what they might actually *do* on this date, assuming all went well. Unfortunately, nothing came to mind. Dinner … well, yes, but what else? The two of them had done so many things together as friends that it was hard to come up with something different or special for a unique occasion. In the end, she decided to pass the buck back to Clark — let *him* make the decisions for once! She who pays the piper may well call the tune, but Lois felt like being surprised, and she had to admit that Clark was good at surprising her …

Her computer beeped at her, and she saw that Perry had given the partners' story his okay, for once using the LAN rather than his usual method of bellowing across the newsroom from his office doorway. That meant that Lois was free to leave, but Clark hadn't come back yet and she wanted to tell him what she'd decided. She waited for a while, but he still didn't appear. Finally, she felt that enough was enough — just how long did it take to interview a would-be suicide? — and she began to tidy up and gather her things to go home. As she put away her notepad, she noticed Clark's "note" and the calendar again, and inspiration struck: he'd left this for her, so she'd return the favour.

She got out a marker pen and boldly ringed tomorrow's date on the calendar. She cut a piece of paper to the same size as the play money and attached both of them to the calendar with a paper- clip. Then she sat thinking for a few moments, before writing a few lines on the paper. She smiled as she finished, tidied everything away and headed for the elevator, dropping the calendar face-down on Clark's desk as she passed.


Clark returned to the newsroom after an hour or so as Superman to find it mostly deserted: most of the day staff, like Lois, had finished their work and gone home, and the night staff either hadn't arrived yet or had gone out to look for news. He found this convenient, because he was able to use super-speed to type up accounts of his latest super-feats — nothing outstanding, but they were newsworthy — and besides, having mentioned the first one (the jumper) to Lois, he needed to live up to his cover story.

It didn't take him long and, with the articles on their way to editorial, he was finally able to turn his attention to Lois' message for him. He'd noticed it as soon as he'd sat down, and recognised the calendar and the small piece of the "20-grand note" that was sticking out from underneath it, but had shifted it out of the way and got on with his work because he wanted to be able to devote his full, undivided attention to it. He could now do this, so he turned it over to see the marked calendar and Lois' note, which read:


There's no time like the present, particularly with your busy schedule, so tomorrow night looks like my "convenience", or at least the best opportunity we'll have. As for what we do — why don't you surprise me? I know this doesn't give you much time to arrange things, but think of it as a challenge.

I'll expect to see you at 7:30. And, hopefully, at 8, 8:30, 9, 9:30 … and who knows how much further on into the night?


Clark grinned at the challenge — all too typical Lois — but, as he read the final paragraph, his smile faded into a serious frown, relieved only by a wistful quirk of his mouth that expressed his … appreciation of the validity of her words. He knew that his frequent disappearances were becoming a real stumbling block in the way of building a relationship with Lois, and her note, he thought, reflected her unhappiness at what she no doubt regarded as his unreliability. On the other hand, she seemed to be offering him a chance to make good on his promises; if he was prepared to stay with her, to *not* run away, she had come out and said flatly that she wanted him to be there. That kind of commitment didn't come easy to Lois Lane …

'Surprise you?' he asked a mental image of the woman he loved. 'Now, how am I going to do that?' He thought for a few moments, ideas coming and going. Finally, he raised one eyebrow and commented wryly to himself, 'I can think of one thing that would *really* surprise her!' His mental "voice" then became wondering, and slightly nervous. 'Maybe I *should..?*'

Clark lapsed into thought again, ignoring the world around him as he tossed this "new" notion around inside his head. After a while, he turned his eyes towards Lois' desk, spending several more minutes apparently gazing at her chair. Eventually, he pulled a sheet of paper towards him and went through many of the same motions that Lois had made an hour or so previously. The calendar, now with another banknote-sized piece of paper under the paper-clip, went back onto Lois' desk as he detoured past it on his way to the elevator, and home.


Lois looked at herself in the full-length mirror, and was satisfied. She'd made a special effort in getting ready for this special evening, and the overall effect, completed just in time, was downright stunning, even if she did say so herself. Now, if she could only get rid of the butterflies in her stomach..!

The problem was, they'd been there all day, ever since she'd woken up this morning, and they'd only got stronger as the day wore on. The flutter rate had taken the first of several sharp lurches upwards when she'd got to work to find Clark's note on her desk. It hadn't said much, but somehow, what lay behind— what she *thought* lay behind— what she *hoped* lay behind the few words on that piece of paper had made her head whirl and her stomach tighten nervously.

Who would have thought that three little words — "I'll be there" — could be so powerful? Unless, of course, they were three *other* words … but Lois didn't think she was ready for *those* words, not yet.

When Clark had arrived, she hadn't said anything other than the usual good-morning-want-some-coffee-what-are-we-doing-today routine, but she'd watched him closely, hoping for some hint as to the exact meaning of his message. She'd implicitly dared him to make a commitment — thrown down the gauntlet, as it were — when she wrote her note to him, and his reply could either be construed as indicating that he'd picked it up … or that he hadn't. She wished she knew which.

If his behaviour that day was any clue, her hopes could well be realised — or maybe not. He'd hardly left her side all day, even when it might have made better sense for them to separate. If she'd suggested that they part, for whatever reason, he'd refused; he was perfectly affable and polite about it — those characteristic Kent manners again — but she had come to realise that he was utterly determined to stay with her, and this had so surprised her that she hadn't pressed the point, preferring to observe this new behaviour and try to make some sense of it.

Her observations had merely increased her puzzlement. For all that his outward demeanour was as friendly and pleasant as usual, there was something … grim about him today. And to add to that, she'd caught him staring at her several times. She hadn't said anything or let on that she'd noticed, so she'd been able to watch him back. He'd had the *strangest* look on his face — wistful, longing, even a bit hungry, but also somehow content; it was as though he was … *savouring* her, taking every bit of … pleasure(?) that he could from just being with her during a normal working day.

Then, when she'd left for the day — early, so as to have time to get ready — he'd seemed almost sad as they'd said good night … for the moment. She was, she had admitted, looking forward to the evening, but Clark, even as he said the same thing, had had an air of melancholy about him. Why? The only reason that she could think of, and the thought was like a knife in her heart, was that he wasn't going to turn up, but she couldn't— didn't *want* to believe that of him.

The doorbell rang, and she jumped. She looked at the clock — 7:30, on the dot — and her heart leaped. It was Clark! He *was* here, just like he'd promised. She rushed to the door, her fears dispelled, although she still had no idea why he'd behaved so oddly that day. Suddenly, it didn't matter; what was important was *tonight!*

She fumbled with the locks, cursing her nerves and the way that her hands were shaking. The final latch clicked open and she flung the door open. As she did so, part of her warned that it had *better* be Clark out there, or she was leaving herself wide open … but any fears of that sort vanished instantly, because it was him … and didn't he look good!

She'd been expecting him to be in a suit, or even a tuxedo, so an ensemble consisting of a black leather jacket over a black roll-neck sweater and black pants was something of a surprise, but it *did* suit him. He looked mysterious, even a little dangerous — somehow un-Clark-like, even though he still had that familiar, reassuring presence — and the sight of him sent a pleasant thrill down her spine.

"Hi, Clark!" she said brightly, stepping back to allow him to come in … after she realised that she'd been staring at him. She blushed as he smiled and walked past her, and she prayed that her mouth hadn't been hanging open or her eyes bulging.

"Hi, Lois," he replied, but quietly. He looked her up and down in obvious appreciation, making her blush again. "You look … lovely."

"Thanks, Clark … You look pretty good yourself. Black suits you … " She paused for a moment, not sure what to say next, until her mind, wondering about his unusual attire, asked itself a question, answered it, and wanted confirmation of its guess. "Do your clothes have anything to do with where we're going?"

"Ye-ee-es," he said slowly. "In a way … but before we go anywhere, I think we need to talk."

"Oh … " Lois' pulse leaped; she didn't know what Clark wanted to talk about, but she was sure that it must have something to do with his behaviour that day. This must be important … she just hoped that she was going to like what she was about to hear.

"Okay," she said, "What do you want to talk about?"

"Quite a few things, actually … " His manner, until now pleasant, had reverted to the grim, slightly sad air that he'd had in the newsroom when she'd left for the day, and Lois thought she could detect a certain amount of nervousness, too. She tried to think what that might mean, but he spoke again: "Let's start with the Bachelor Auction."

'Huh? What *about* the auction?' a startled Lois thought. Her mind raced, but to no avail; eventually, she asked him straight out what he was talking about.

He didn't say anything for a few moments, but just stood there, looking at her with the most intense gaze that she'd ever seen. Finally, he took a deep breath and began, "Lois … You went to the auction determined to bid for Superman, didn't you?"

"Well … yes," she replied in a small voice.

"Stop me if I'm wrong, but what you were really after was that night-time flight over the city, wasn't it?"

"How did you know? It wasn't *just* that … but it was the main attraction. I just thought that it would be so romantic … " Her voice trailed off before she could add, 'And I thought it might help me make up my mind about him … and you … ' She was about to say that, but he spoke before she could.

"Uh-huh. And yet you spent almost all your money on me. Well, I don't want to deprive you of your dream, so … you shall *have* your flight over Metropolis!"

"What? How? Oh, you mean in a 'plane or a helicopter. Clark, that's so sweet. Thank you, but you don't have to do that."

"I know. I *want* to do it. I also didn't mean in an aircraft. I thought about doing it that way, but who wants a pilot around? You know, three's a crowd and all that. So, I finally decided the heck with it, it was time you knew anyway. Get your coat."

So saying, he pushed her gently but firmly towards the coat rack, got down her coat and helped her into it. Lois was dumbfounded by his sudden decisiveness and more than a little confused by what he could possibly mean — time she knew *what?* — so she didn't say anything. Her surprise deepened as he led her away from the front door and over to the window, which he opened. Then he reached down and picked her up in his arms.

"Clark! What are you doing?" And yet, somehow, she already knew what he was doing. She'd been picked up in that same effortless manner before, and held that same way — lightly but firmly, as though she were something incredibly fragile and precious — but not by *Clark* …

"Taking you for that flight. Hang on tight." And with that, he turned to the window and lifted off, moving slowly until they were both clear of the opening, then accelerating up and away from the building.


By now they had climbed above the city skyline, but Lois barely noticed. Shocked and shaken to her core, her one desire at that moment was to get away from him, to be somewhere else, by herself, so that she could think about this. She began to pound on his shoulders with her fists. "Put me down!" she cried in a voice that was meant to be her usual resolute, decisive tone, but somehow came out rather too close for comfort to a hysterical shriek.

He reached up and lightly took both of her hands in one of his, restraining them with a grip that was gentle but quite irresistible. "Quit thrashing about," he said, quietly but firmly. "You'll hurt yourself, and I am *not* letting you go — not a thousand feet up!"

Realising that he was right, and hating him for it, she stopped her struggles and sat motionless in his arms with what was intended as an air of quiet, offended dignity. Had this been the flight over Metropolis with Superman that she'd dreamed of, she would have been torn between enjoying the scenery and wanting to get closer to the man carrying her. As it was, feeling hurt, angry and humiliated, she did her best to ignore everything around her — especially him — as they flew east towards the coast, and then south, away from the city.

Eventually, she noticed that they were descending, heading towards an isolated and deserted strip of beach. He touched down gently and set her on her feet. She leant over, careful not to touch him or use him as support, and took off her shoes, then walked a short distance down the beach, ignoring the sand and the discomfort of her stockings.

She stopped and spent a few moments just looking out to sea, collecting herself before turning back to face him. Looking at him, calmly standing there with a neutral expression on his face and that familiar lock of hair hanging down over one eyebrow, the whole situation somehow seemed unreal, and the strangeness of it demanded expression. "I don't believe this," she blurted. "All this time … all these years … all those *excuses!* I just don't … "

"Oh, you don't think a farm boy from Kansas could be Superman, huh?" he interrupted dryly, half-amused and slightly annoyed at her attitude. 'I'll show her,' he thought. "How about if you hear it from the horse's mouth, so to speak?"

Suddenly, even though Clark hadn't moved, Superman was standing there, slightly to his … own left? Lois was totally confused — one minute, Clark was flying with her as only Superman could; and the next, Superman was there, large as life, right next to him!

"What? How..?" she gasped.

"Not bad, huh?" Clark chuckled — or was it Superman? They were both smiling at her, but she couldn't tell which one was speaking. "I haven't done this since I was a teenager, and I didn't have the suit then."

Lois was beginning to get angry with this oblique crosstalk. "Done *what?* Clark … Superman … *whoever* you are, *what* is going on here?!"

Clark and Superman looked at each other. One of them — Lois still couldn't tell which — said conversationally to the other, "Will you tell her, or should I?"

"Claaarrrrkkkk!!" snarled Lois through gritted teeth.

Seeing her expression, Clark decided to stop his teasing. Without warning, Superman vanished and Clark stood there alone, but without his glasses and with the super-suit hanging from one hand.

"Okay, Clark, okay … " Lois, her eyes closed, spoke slowly and heavily, obviously fighting an internal battle not to explode with … well, it would at least be partly anger, but there was more to it than that. "You've convinced me. Now, tell me … *how* did you do that?"

Clark, realising that the time for levity was over, replied simply and seriously, "It's simple in concept, just a little more complicated in execution. I move at super-speed, back and forth between where each of me, so to speak, is standing, changing clothes as I go and stopping still at each end for an instant. If I do it more than 25 times a second, your eyes don't see any flicker as I move between being Clark and Superman, and it looks as though there's two people there. It's more difficult if I have to speak, because I haven't quite got the hang of synchronising my speech with appearing as one of me. That's why you couldn't tell who was speaking — *I* was, but I was zipping back and forth at the same time."

"Very clever," she growled. "But what do you do for an encore?"

"Oh, I dunno … Maybe I tell Lois Lane the real reason behind my 'disappearing act', as she calls it."

Lois would have said something in reply — quite what, she wasn't sure, but she had no doubt that she'd come up with *something* — but Clark didn't let her. Instead, he took a step towards her, looked her right in the eyes and began to speak, very seriously.

"Lois. Two nights ago, you paid *twenty thousand dollars* for a date with me — and all you ever had to do to get one was hint that you weren't revolted by the idea, that you'd decided that dating was the way that our relationship should go, and then say yes when I asked you, which would have been … oh, all of a second and a half later.

"You said that you did it on impulse. Okay — well, now it's *my* turn to be impulsive, and my impulse is to tell you the truth. No more lies, no more games, no more lousy excuses — just you and me! *All* of me — not just the mild-mannered reporter, not just the flashy superhero in the suit, but *me*: Clark Kent, a.k.a. Kal-El, alias Superman, citizen of Metropolis from Krypton by way of Kansas, who just happens to spend too much of his spare time flying around trying to help people, and then live something like a normal life on the side. Oh, yeah, and eating his heart out over a certain reporter who doesn't seem able to notice him for a … a *mirage* in blue tights!

"So, now you know. Now *I* want to know — what are you going to do about it?"

His words rang out like a challenge. Clark was rather surprised at the vehemence that he had put into what he had just said. 'I guess I'm tired of the run-around,' he thought. 'At least this way, things can get sorted out between us … one way or the other.'

Lois was now flabbergasted, on top of her anger. "What do you *mean*, what am I going to do about it?" she snapped back at him.

"Lois, I know you — not as well as I need to, right here and now, but well enough to have a fair idea of how you'd react to being told the truth. I figured you'd be angry, and you are — and I admit that I haven't made it any easier with that bit of showing off, but I couldn't stand the 'I don't believe it' talk. I've run *that* scene through my head a zillion times — every time I tried to think how to tell you, or whether I even should.

"I also know, or can guess, that a good half of your anger is at what you see as my 'betrayal' of your trust. Believe me, I *know* how hard it is for you to open up to someone, because it's even harder for *me* to really trust anyone. I've spent my entire life from the age of five, when my invulnerability started to come in, having to hide who and what I am. I've never had any close friends — until I came to Metropolis and met you, Jimmy and the gang at the Planet. I've had dozens of acquaintances, pals, but no *friends*, if you can appreciate the difference.

"For what it's worth, you are one of three— well, maybe four — people in the world who know who— no, *what* I am, and you're the *only* one who's ever been *told* the truth; my parents found out as I grew up, and Jack suspects but has no proof. So if you don't think I trust you, remember that.

"I've also seen how you react to situations like this in the past. You kick yourself for your supposed stupidity, and you lash out at the other person for what you *think* they've been thinking about you. Right now, I imagine that you think I've been laughing at you in your ignorance as I zip in and out of your life as two people. *Ha!*"

Lois winced at the scorn that Clark— Superman— *he* had put into that single syllable. She *was* angry, but her anger was currently suppressed by a wall of amazement at how well he'd been able to predict her reactions, and concern at his anger at … himself? Her? Fate? She saw him begin to pace back and forth as he kept speaking, and she was amazed at how he seemed to have grown in stature — he *loomed*; he was all that she could see though he was several feet away, and all her senses were concentrated on him and his words.

"Laughing? Why the hell should I *laugh?!**Crying*, more like," he went on, in a voice that was so quiet, but carried to her more effectively than the loudest shout. She tried to concentrate on what he was saying, but it was difficult because his voice was filled with such intense emotion — anguish, exasperation, bitterness, though at what, she couldn't say — that it tore at her. "You haven't seen the glacier I shattered, screaming in pain when you said you'd marry Lex Luthor. You haven't had to come up with a thousand *stupid* excuses to get away from the one person that you want to be with, even though you know it's tearing you both apart inside, every time you leave — but you *have* to go, so that you can protect her, or help someone else, or save the world. You haven't had to deal with people, especially women, who are only interested in half of you — *either* half — and who ignore or actively dislike the other half … which is there, all the time, part of you … "

And then, it was as though all his anger, whatever its target, drained away, to leave him standing there, no longer a god-like figure raging at the heavens, but simply what he had always appeared to her to be — a good-looking, mild-mannered farm boy from Kansas.

He turned to her and spread his arms towards her. His voice was tired. "Lois … this is where I have always run into a blank wall when I tried to work out what you'd do if you knew. Which is one of the reasons that it's taken me till now to tell you; the others are all very logical, and they seemed important, but they were never *as* important as this one. You are the only person in the world who has ever cared — I think that's the word I want — for both Clark Kent and Superman, and now you know that they are only one man — me. And that man cares for you, too, more than I have for anyone that I've ever known. So, I want to— I *have* to ask you this: what are you going to do, now that you know?"

"Uh … Clark … Superman … " Lois didn't quite know what to say. Her anger had drained out of her even as his had — or perhaps it was just hiding for a while; whichever, her dominant emotion at the moment was a dull, stunned surprise, together with a certain amount of sorrow, and even a little guilt, for what he had had to go through to live this double life that he had shown her. The guilt was for what she realised that she'd done to him, carelessly, unthinkingly, in her gushing over Superman, but she didn't want to think about that just now. She was also a little startled to hear her own thoughts — about caring for both Clark and Superman — turned back on her.

She tried to answer him again: "I— I'm not sure, Cl— Superman. I don't know … I mean, this is a shock. I— I never thought … " She realised that she was babbling and shut up, the better to gather her thoughts and try to sort out just what she *was* feeling. Not having any immediate success in doing that, she took refuge in flippancy, mixed with some honest astonishment. "After all," she said in a slightly more spirited manner, "it's not every day that you find that your best friend is really Superman!"

"Lois … " he said, and she recognised a very Clark-ish tone, the kind of voice that he used when he was getting fed up with her over something. "You still don't get it, do you? Superman isn't *real!* He's a … a *facade* that I put on, along with the suit, so that I can use my powers openly and keep some semblance of privacy. Oh, he's not all an act — I *feel* the same things in the suit as I do out of it; I just can't *show* many of them. So I put a lid on what I feel, and spend my time acting upright and noble … and most of the time, I do my damnedest to finish things quickly so that I can get away and go back to being *me* — Clark.

"Except, of course, half the time I can't even be *Clark* properly, because I can't let anyone know what I can do, and I keep having to rush off because I hear a call for help, or a siren, or a newscast, or … something! That's how we got into this mess in the first place!"

He was right, she came to realise. It hadn't yet quite sunk in that Superman, the champion of truth and justice, the idol, the man that every woman dreamed of — including, she blushed to admit, herself — didn't actually exist. Oh, he was real enough, but what Clark was telling her was that the hero was a … a shell, a disguise, something that he, Clark Kent, pulled on over himself, in order to *be* himself — or, at least, that part of him that could fly.

Because the implication of what he had told her was that he couldn't *ever* be himself — not *all* of himself. When he was Clark, he could do all the things that an ordinary human could do, but *only* what a "normal" man could do — except, a flash of memory said to her, when he had no choice, like the time when his cloned double had threatened them both — and when he was Superman, he could never relax, never let his guard down, never simply be what he was, because no-one would let him. Everyone, herself included, had put the Kryptonian on the highest of pedestals, and he must be so lonely up there …

Her mind, racing ahead of her feelings, took the next step, and she almost collapsed in shock. He *was* lonely, and he'd turned to *her* in his loneliness. He'd told her the truth because he didn't want to have to pretend with her any more; he was offering her the chance to know him as he really was, to be one of … what was it he'd said? Only *three* people with whom he need not hide half of himself away.

A wave of … well, tenderness was the only word for it, swept over her. She tried to say something, but the words died in her mouth. She realised that she didn't know *what* to say. Her mind raced back to the last thing that he'd said, and what she herself had said before that. Most of her own words now seemed to be mere babbling; he'd always said that he liked her babble, but now was not the right time for it.

"Well, Clark," she said haltingly, "You needn't worry that I'll ever tell anyone your secret … " He didn't react to that, though she was sure that he must have worried about it. "I— I'm going to have to think this over. Like I said, this is a shock."

Somewhat to her surprise, she was beginning to feel more comfortable with the idea that her partner and the guy in the suit were the same man. She wanted to think back over the time since she met Clark in the light of this new knowledge; she was sure that she'd think of a thousand little things that should have told her this before, but it didn't seem to matter so much. Her self-confidence, deeply shaken by the thought of her "stupidity" in not discovering the truth for herself, was coming back; more importantly, the deep-rooted need to know that made her the reporter that she was, and which other people — not Clark, though — called mere curiosity, was firmly concentrating on the prospect of getting to know him fully. Her thoughts began to turn to the future rather than to the past.

"I think I'll be able to cope, though — eventually," she went on. "But what about you, Clark? You've been impulsive and told me your secret — although I do wonder if impulse had much to do with it. Anyway, now that I know, where do you think we should go from here? What do *you* want?"

"What do I *want?!*" he cried, seemingly stunned that she should ask — that she should *need* to ask. "I want … " He paused for a moment, visibly seeking the right words. Then, with a force that surprised her, even after everything else that he'd said that night — and the way that he'd said it — he went on, "I want an *end* to this crazy masquerade! I want to *stop* these stupid misunderstandings, to stop hurting you and being hurt because I can't tell the world who I am and say that if it doesn't like it, it can go to hell! I want to tell you, show you, let you experience all the things I see, all that I feel, all that I *am* …

"Above all, I want *you* … " Suddenly, he was behind her and his hands were on her waist. Before she could make a sound, whether of surprise, joy or protest, he lifted her high above his head. She felt like a ballerina, but this was no dance. The grip on her waist was firm and strong; she was in no danger of falling, and he seemed to have no immediate need or intention to put her down. Almost in spite of herself, she began to relax. Her head fell back, her back arched and her limbs stretched out until she found, to her surprise, that she was in a very ballerina-like pose, but quite comfortable and secure.

Her response to his impromptu pas de deux seemed to encourage him, and she saw the horizon begin to sweep past as he began to slowly turn around, his feet a few inches above the sand. He was … flaunting her, almost, displaying her, although to whom or to what, she couldn't say. His voice had become slightly louder, but no less intense, taking on a challenging note as he spoke on, and she began to understand as she listened to him, whomever he might be addressing now: "I want to shout out to the whole damned universe, Here She Is! This is Lois Lane, the woman I would have to share my life. *This* is the one! *She* is the reason that I was sent hundreds of light-years; *she* is the only woman who has ever truly touched me; *she* is the other half of my soul … " And then, as before, he seemed to run down, as though, having said something that he'd been wanting— had *needed* to say, for far too long, his outburst had emptied him of almost all emotion and all of what little pretence he had ever used with her. He set her down on the sand and stepped back, finishing what he was saying in a much-diminished voice, " … she is the one I love … "

Lois was astonished. All that caring, all that passion, all that *need*, in someone who'd been sitting a couple of desks away from her for more than a year now, and she'd seen barely the merest hint of it. No wonder he'd seemed to blow hot and cold with her; he must have been afraid of being hurt, just as she was — or, more likely, knowing him, he'd have been afraid of hurting *her*.

'And,' she thought, 'he *could* hurt me.' The sheer power of the emotions that he had shown her could consume her like a moth attracted to a blowtorch. But, at the same time, to be loved like that, by *Clark* … The prospect thrilled her, even as it made her wary.

"Clark … " she said, haltingly, fearful of the intensity that he had shown her, yet, she was suddenly aware, wanting it so much, "*Am* I all that … to you?"

"Oh, Lois," he replied in a voice that made her heart lurch from that very intensity, "You are all of that, and *so* much more … " He shook his head, helplessly, and opened his arms towards her. "I— I can't find the words to say everything that I feel. I know hundreds of languages, but I can't find the words — not in English, not in Kryptonese, not in *anything*. I— I don't know how to tell you … "

Just, she realised, as he hadn't known how to tell her his secret, that one, big secret that had nearly put an impenetrable barrier between them — until tonight. Tonight, he had truly been Superman, because no concrete slab, no steel bars, not even her own prickly defences against being hurt, could have been as much of an obstacle as that secret and what it had been doing to them.

But he had crashed into that barrier and broken through it, as he had so many other walls in the past — except that, instead of breaking her out of imprisonment or helping her escape from danger, this time he had let her *in*. He had exposed his innermost self to her, shown her the man inside the costume — *and* the one behind the glasses. She knew that he was totally vulnerable to her at this moment, and this touched her, incredibly deeply — almost, she thought, as deeply as she seemed to have touched him.

Her mind went blank as she searched for some way to reply — as she tried to sort out just what it was that she felt and how she *would* reply. And then she remembered something that she'd seen in a book; appropriately, it came from a science fiction novel that she'd picked up in Clark's apartment one evening while waiting for him to finish dressing for a stake-out. It had seemed out of place in the futuristic world of the story, but it was almost too appropriate now; it was Montrose's toast:

"He either fears his fate too much, Or his desserts are small, Who dares not put it to the test, To win or lose it all!"

Clark had dared to "put it to the test" tonight, all right; he'd put it *all* on the line — his identity, his feelings, their relationship … and, she understood with a gasp, his life and the lives of everyone close to him. If she printed, or even just told anyone what she now knew about him, he would no longer *have* a life — the media, the public, the government, the world would descend on him en masse with demands that no-one, not even Superman, could fulfil and remain sane. He'd have to be Superman all the time — and he'd just told her that Superman wasn't real!

There was more; his parents, and his friends — they'd *all* be targets. Not just for his enemies, but for anyone who wanted a way to reach, or control, or *hurt* the Man of Steel. They'd had enough trouble that way as it was, with crooks using her as a shield or distraction for Superman — the thought of what could happen if his secret got out was horrifying.

And *she* could do that to him, unleash what could only be considered as hell on earth for him. Oh, yes, she'd be caught up in it as well, as much or more a victim of the craziness as he was, but she didn't think that he thought that fear would restrain her. That wasn't Clark; he was too straight-forward, too … *gentle* for that. It took exceptional circumstances for him to even think about threatening someone but, if he did have to, he didn't rely on oblique hints of distant or future retaliation; he was right there, giving the malefactor the simple, immediate choice — do the right thing, or suffer the consequences, here and now.

But he had given her that power, of his own choosing — because, she guessed, the alternative was to go on as they had been, strangling in a web of lies born of fear — fear of rejection, fear of vulnerability. He must have been relieved when she said that she'd never betray him, though she'd never have guessed it from his face.

Which brought her back to Montrose's toast. Clark had risked *everything* tonight, and was now standing over there, his hands still extended towards her, waiting for her to give her verdict — had he won or lost it all?

For a moment, she wavered. Could she match his courage? Did she, proudly independent woman that she liked to think that she was, dare to risk everything by giving herself to him — for she knew that *she* was the important stakes in his great gamble. He could lose his privacy, his identity, his friends and family, but that would only be secondary to his losing her; *that* would be his true loss, to which all else would only be added sorrow — painful, but as nothing to the real wound.

'Can I do that?' she asked herself. And, in a moment, she answered herself, 'Yes, I can— I *must!*' For she realised that he was offering her what she had always wanted in a relationship, but had had to armour herself against in the past because no-one, until now, had been prepared to give *her* what they insisted that she give them.

She no longer feared the intensity of his love for her, because she knew that it was not meant to consume or even change her. This was not Lex Luthor, who said he wanted her — but not as she was, only after she had been altered to fit his requirements, like a bespoke suit from a tailor. This was Clark; an enhanced Clark, to be sure, but still in essence the man (men?) she knew — and he wanted her, with all her faults, all her quirks, all her insecurities. He wanted *all* of her, and in return would give her all of himself — which, she now knew, was so much more than anyone could possibly have known. She wondered if this was not a *very* uneven trade, but dismissed the idea with the thought that Clark didn't seem to think so; for once, she had no way to argue with him, and didn't want to.

She was still afraid, though. She had been hurt too often and too deeply before for all her fears to vanish, even though her mind told her that the man who had brought her to this point tonight was— *had* to be different. But, in spite of her fears, she had made her decision and she summoned her courage, bolstering it with every assurance that she could think of as she began to walk haltingly towards him.

A few steps and she was there, right in front of him. He hadn't moved and was staring at her with a look that she could only describe as akin to terror. She reached down and took his hands, then, with one final surge of resolve, forced herself to say, "Okay, Clark, you've won."

"*Won?*" He sounded dazed. "Lois, this isn't a competition, or a game — not to me. What have I won?"

She looked deeply into his eyes, and she thought that she might have seen a flash of hope in them — but it was gone almost before she became aware of it. She suddenly realised that he still had no idea what she was going to say, and the suspense of waiting for her to answer had to be the most exquisite torture to him. She took a very brief, intense moment of malicious pleasure in paying him back, just a little, for what he'd put her through, but that was smothered quickly by a rush of more powerful emotions — concern for him, disgust with herself for being so petty, and a mind-whirling cocktail of hope, fear and tenderness.

"Me," she finally said, so softly. "Me, Clark. If you want me so much, then *have* me, to … to share your life. And let me have you to share mine … "

For a long moment, he didn't move, didn't speak, and his face went totally blank. Lois felt her heart start to break apart; she'd torn down her last defences, offered herself to him wholly and unconditionally, and he could have been a brick wall for all the effect it seemed to have had on him. The old fears sprang out from their lurking places with unholy glee. 'Oh, no,' she began to cry inside herself, 'Not again … '

Until his face lit up with such intense hope that she almost recoiled from him. She couldn't, though, because his hands clamped over hers like steel traps; he wasn't hurting her, but there was no way that she could move away. He tried to speak: "You— I— Lois … do you *mean* that?"

Her heart leaped at the look on his face. Her eyes, ready to cry already, filled with tears, but tears of joy, not sorrow. 'He *does* want me!' she yelled to herself, 'He just can't believe that *I* want *him!*' The realisation and the relief that it brought with it made her giddy with happiness. She smiled through her tears, suddenly anxious to reassure him. "*Yes*, Clark. Yes, I mean it … " she managed to choke out.

Before she could say another word, she found herself crushed against his chest. She gasped for breath against him, his arms holding her to him with such force that she might have been frightened were it not for the wave of love that seemed to be coming from him; it crashed over her like the most powerful breaker on a beach, and with its passage all doubts, all fears, all hesitation were pushed— no, *swept* away with yet more of that fantastic force, and they were no more able to resist than she could. They might return eventually, but she knew that they could never have the same power over her, not as long as she was protected — *armoured* — by his need for her and, she came to realise, hers for him.

He lessened his grip on her for the barest interval, just long enough for her to take a deep breath while he moved so that he could kiss her. And what a kiss! She felt as though her body had melted, the giddy happiness of a few moments before exploding into incredible, mind-shattering joy. She couldn't think — she didn't want to — and her entire being was content just to feel this unbelievable, rapturous bliss.

How long the moment lasted, the two of them locked in each other's arms, shutting out everything but each other, neither of them knew. Lois gradually became aware of a rushing sound and was then startled by a sudden, dull booming.

"Clark … " she whispered once their mouths finally separated, "What was that noise?"

"Uh … " he said after a moment, obviously embarrassed about something, "I tend to … float when I'm happy, and I guess I got a little carried away. I think we broke the sound barrier just then … "

She gasped, turned her head to look around, and then broke out into a peal of delighted, joyous laughter. They were several thousand feet in the air, speeding over clouds and sea, racing across the sky. As she watched, they flashed through a small cloud and she saw long tendrils of cloud-stuff follow them, dragged along by their passage but unable to keep up with them and eventually dropping back and disappearing from her view.

A thought struck her. "Clark … " she said, curious, "Why aren't I cold? If we're … supersonic, I should be freezing, but I can hardly feel a thing."

"You're right … Maybe it's my aura — the energy field around my skin that gives me my invulnerability — maybe it's protecting you as well."

"Oh." Well, that was something to think about — later. Right now was more for feeling than thinking, and that thought made her realise what it was that she wanted to feel. She pulled him to her and lost herself in another one of those kisses that set her body and her soul on fire.

"Now," he said softly, a little while later, "It's a nice night — how about that flight over Metropolis?"

"Who needs it … " whispered Lois before kissing him again. They may have done something rather like a barrel roll during the course of the next few seconds, but neither person was concentrating on anything but the other.



Lois arrived at the Daily Planet and came into the newsroom just in time to see Imelda Wells, the paper's latest gossip columnist, hug Clark and kiss him enthusiastically on the cheek. The sight merely made her edgier than she had already been all morning.

Last night, Superman had had his much-awaited date with the woman who had "bought" him at the auction. Much awaited by the media, and by people like Imelda in particular, that is; Clark had told Lois quite emphatically that *he* didn't want to go, but he had promised and he couldn't back out of this obligation.

Lois believed him — she kept telling herself that — but there was this little voice inside her that kept nagging at the fact that her boyfriend, whom she had only just been getting to know — to *really* know — was going on a date with a beautiful, *rich* redhead, and she was nervous. She thought back over the last few days, about that incredible night on the beach and what he'd said to her then, and about all the places that he'd taken her since then, and the romantic things that they'd done, and especially about the wonderful way in which he kissed her … and she was still nervous.

She kept her head high, squared her shoulders and marched towards her desk. She'd spent a long, lonely night deciding that the best way to play today was to be all business; after all, look what had happened the last time that she'd done that … She'd be with Clark a lot during the course of the day, so she'd find out soon enough what the score was, and then she'd deal with it appropriately. She could handle this.

'Wanna bet?' said that treacherous little voice.

Before she could reach her desk, however, Imelda rushed over to her and breathlessly gushed, "Lois, you are so *lucky*. That man of yours is an absolute *gem!*"

Before Lois could respond to this unusual statement from someone who normally worked on the Eleanor Roosevelt principle ("If you can't say anything nice about anyone … come sit by me."), particularly with regards to the male of the species, Imelda was chattering away again. "Do you know what he *did* last night? Oh, well, of course you do, you were there, weren't you?" Suddenly, Imelda looked shocked. "Oh, that means that it wasn't just Clark, it was you, too! Oh, *thank* you!" And she reached over and hugged Lois as well.

Lois, completely confused, didn't reply, but she probably wouldn't have been able to get a word in anyway as Imelda babbled on, "I *wish* I knew how you two managed to get so close to Superman all the time. I know, I know, trade secrets and all that. Oh my, look at the time; I've got to *rush!* See you later, Lois, and thanks again … "

"Uh, sure, Mel … any time," said a stunned Lois to the woman's rapidly-retreating back. 'What was all *that* about?' she thought. From what she could make out, it seemed to have something to do with Clark and Superman, and she was in there somewhere too, which totally mystified her. Clark had … what? Done Imelda some sort of favour? And Imelda thought that Lois was involved as well.

'This is nuts,' she thought. 'The only thing that I know of involving Clark and Superman that Imelda would be interested in is that … date … last … night.' Lois suddenly felt every nerve in her body tense.

By now she had finally reached her desk, where she found a neatly-folded copy of the morning edition, and on top of that a note and a single exotic orchid. She admired the beauty of the flower but was more interested in the note, which read:

Dear Lois,

You might find page 23 interesting.



This, naturally, sent Lois' curiosity through the roof but, before she could turn to page 23, Perry came barrelling out of his office in his usual fashion. "Lois! Kent!" he bellowed. "Great work last night, you two! Now get on over to City Hall — the Mayor's about to announce who's gettin' this year's Federal grants, and the word is out that half of the applicants are fronts for Intergang! I guess they need the money after last week!" With that parting word, he turned back into his office, chuckling to himself.

"We're on it, Chief," called out Clark as he came over to Lois' desk. "Hi," he said, smiling broadly.

"Hi," she replied, unable to resist smiling back. "Thanks for the orchid. Where did you get it?"

He leaned over and said softly, "From a grower I met. I … take it from that that you haven't had a chance to read the paper yet."

"Well, no. I only got here a few minutes ago — just in time to see Imelda try to take up where Cat left off," she added with just a touch of waspishness, "and then have her come and gush all over *me*. Just what did you do to make her so happy?" 'And did it have anything to do with a certain other woman?' the little voice added. "And what's with Perry and this 'great work' that we're supposed to have done last night?"

"It's all in there," he replied, pointing at the paper. "Come on, we'd better get going. I'll drive and you can read the paper, and then I'll tell you all about last night."

"Okay … "


Once in the jeep, Lois finally got to look at the mysterious page 23. Her eyes widened as she read the headline above what turned out to be Imelda's column. She began to read out loud before turning to look at Clark with astonishment. "'Super-Date A Super Disaster; Exclusive report by *Imelda Wells*?' Clark, what *happened?*"

Clark shook his head before lowering it onto the steering wheel. "Lois, you wouldn't believe it," he chuckled softly. "What a night! It was just one thing after another. And talk about bad timing: she kept trying to get close to me all evening, and *every time*, my hearing would kick in and I'd have to go to deal with another emergency."

He looked up, and she was delighted by the laughter in his eyes. "And it was all *real*, too. No fake emergencies to get me out of a potentially embarrassing situation. I'd wondered if I might have to do that—" His voice suddenly became dryly amused. "—and the way she kept trying to move in on me, I probably *would* have." The dry humour turned into a laugh. "But every bad guy in the city must have decided to try something last night because they thought Superman had a hot date!"

He laughed again, and the gay, joyous sound was infectious. Drawn into his mirth, she began to laugh too. He started the engine and began to drive, still talking and still chuckling. "A hot date? Lois, the only thing hot about last night was Red's temper. She asked me to call her Red when we arrived at the restaurant, and I *think* she was going to say something about matching my cape, but I had to leave — was that the first bank robbery? No, must've been the freeway — and things went downhill from there."

He waved a hand at the paper. "After you've finished with Mel, take a look at the city pages. It's all there — the bank robberies, the muggings, the freeway pile-up, everything."

Lois didn't wait to see what Imelda had written but turned immediately to her usual stomping grounds, where she found a series of articles describing Superman's feats the previous night. She was amazed at the sheer number of them — 'He wasn't kidding, was he?' she thought — and, just for a moment, she felt a flash of sympathy for poor "Red", trying to make time with someone who not only didn't want to be there but who kept leaving because he was needed and couldn't refuse a call for help. 'Oh, I know about *that* one,' she thought. The difference was that now, she also knew that he *wanted* to be with her, but what made him who and what he was could never disregard another's distress.

She quickly scanned the pages, trying to follow the course of the apparently disastrous evening. Two bank jobs; three— no, four— no, *six* muggings, including one attempted rape; a fire at a plant breeders'('Oh, *that's* where he got the orchid … ' she realised); a 30-car multiple shunt on the New Troy freeway; another fire, at an industrial plant this time; a sinking pleasure cruiser out to sea off Metropolis Harbour; the list went on and on and *on.*

She started to count the reports and cross-reference them in her mind, to see if she could figure out just how many times he'd have to leave his poor date. She'd worked out that it must have been at least nine times — or was it ten? — when her eye fell upon something that she had yet to notice: the by-line on the reports. Up in the top left-hand corner of the first page was a small-to-medium-sized box, the kind of thing Perry used to attribute multiple, connected articles to their authors. It read: "Special Report on the Latest Feats of the Man of Steel, by … *Lois Lane* and Clark Kent"..!

"Clark … " she said, turning to him with startled, wide eyes. "What … How..?"

He smiled at her again. "How come you have a by-line? Well, I was out and about so much last night that I knew that I'd have to write it all up. No reporter worth his — or her — salt could have missed all that super-activity, but I also realised that there was no way that an ordinary man could have covered *all* of Superman's appearances. So, I figured that my partner had better get into the act."

Lois felt herself cringe inside at his off-hand comment. *She'd* missed "all that super-activity" because she'd shut herself away from the world for once, to deal with her fears about his date. She wasn't sure that she liked his casual use of her to cover his double identity, but she suddenly realised that he was worried about it, too, and was, even now, apologising for it. She made herself listen to him.

" … so I'm sorry about that. I promise that I won't do it again, unless there's a real emergency. It just seemed like the best way to handle the situation. After all, everyone knows that we're close friends of Superman.

"Besides," he went on, his voice taking on a reminiscent, thoughtful tone, "you *were* there last night, in a way. Every time I did something or saw something, I wanted you to be there too, to share it. When Red came on to me, I wished that she was you, so that I could enjoy it and respond, rather than being horribly embarrassed by the whole business … And every time I had to leave, I could see that she was getting more and more upset, but I kept on thinking that *you'd* understand, now. I didn't have to give Red any stupid excuses, but all I could think about was that I didn't need to give *you* any, either — not any more, even if I wasn't wearing the suit."

His voice changed, becoming tighter. "And when I caught that rapist … well, let's just say that the only reason that he's still in one piece is that I couldn't come to you with bloody hands … "

He paused for a moment, and she saw a darkness lift from his face. He chuckled again. "Anyway, after the evening was finally over, I cleaned myself up and rang the office to say that I— *we* were coming over to write everything up for the morning edition. Which is how Imelda caught up with me. Perry must have had the phone on conference — or she must have been eavesdropping on an extension — because as soon as she heard that I was writing about Superman, she came on the line and was all *over* me with questions: had I seen Superman that evening? What was he doing? Did he say anything about the date? Did he look happy? Was he in a hurry to get back? You know the sort of thing … "

Lois did. She'd seen — and heard — Imelda in action; when the woman was in full flight, she was so melodramatic that she *almost* made Lois regret Cat's departure … Not quite, but almost. "So why was she so grateful this morning? What did you tell her?" she asked.

"Well, I told her that I didn't think that things had gone too well. It took her a minute to recover from the shock, but then she wanted to know *why*, and I told her that Superman had been so busy that he couldn't have had much time for his date in between emergencies." He cast a quick glance over at Lois, one eyebrow up. "What I didn't tell her, of course, was that he didn't *want* much time for the date …

"And then I said that I thought that the date would be over by now. That *really* shocked dear Mel, who couldn't imagine why any red-blooded woman would let Superman out of her clutches at *all*, much less before midnight, but she recovered when I suggested that Red — I didn't call her Red, of course; I said, 'Superman's companion' — might appreciate someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on … that sort of thing.

"She didn't need to be told twice! By the time I got to the newsroom, she was on her way out the door to see Red. Hence the 'exclusive report' on page 23, and Mel's … *effusive* thanks this morning."

Lois laughed at that, and then settled down to think a few things over while Clark kept driving. It certainly seemed that her fears over his reaction to "Red" were unfounded, however rich and spectacular the woman might have been. If anything, he seemed to have spent the entire evening wishing that *she* were with him. It was a stunning thought — here was a man (*her* man? — did she dare even think that?) telling her that he had wanted her to be with him through all the supposedly romantic events of the previous evening — and, she suddenly guessed from the way he'd spoken, through the *un*romantic events as well.

*This* was even more stunning. Clark was truly offering her a partnership; he wanted her by his side, or at least there for him, in good times *and* bad. Oh, he'd probably still be over- protective, but she could deal with that; more importantly, he really did want to share his life with her. *All* of it, from the wonders to the horrors …

But then she remembered something else that he'd said, and her new-found confidence almost collapsed. All her doubts and anxieties surged up again as she considered one possible interpretation of his words. The rational part of her brain was sure that she was reading way, *way* too much into an innocent phrase, but the voice of reason was being drowned out by the clamour of insecurity, which would only be stilled by finding out what he had really meant. "Clark … " she said, trying desperately not to let this sudden new fear show in her voice, "You said that before you went to the office, you had to clean yourself up. Why?"

"Hmm?" he murmured, obviously concentrating on driving. "Oh, *that* … Well, you see, Lois, I'd just taken Red home, and she'd asked me in for coffee, when that fire broke out in the industrial plant. I was going to beg off the coffee and say good night, but I had to fly off in so much of a hurry that I forgot to actually *say* it.

"The fire was a real mess, and the only way to prevent it from getting worse was to shut off the fuel supply — which meant diving into some of the chemical storage tanks. So, by the time that the fire department were satisfied that they had things under control, I was *filthy!* I mean, really awful: I was covered in a mixture of foam, brick dust and stuff from half-a- dozen tanks; I *reeked* of chemicals and smoke; half my cape had been burnt or eaten away — and there was Red, waiting for me to come back and have a nice, cosy tete-a-tete with her over coffee!"

He groaned and cast his eyes to the heavens, just for a second. "What could I do? I got a fire truck to hose me down, to get rid of as much of the muck as possible, but it didn't really work — that suit was a goner, and it took a quick trip into the sun not too long after. But before that, I flew back to Red's place in it. I figured that this was the perfect way to avoid having to come in for coffee; from what I'd seen of her apartment, she was very houseproud, so I was sure that she wouldn't want me messing up the place, and it was an excuse made in heaven … "

Clark chuckled and his voice took on a sardonic note. "What I *wasn't* expecting was her reaction when I hovered outside her window to say good night. She took one look, screamed and threw her coffee at me, cup and all! Then she collapsed onto her couch and started crying. I was mortified; I wanted to apologise, but I didn't dare go into the apartment, and then I noticed her heartbeat; she wasn't half as upset as she was making out. So I put the cup and saucer, which I'd caught — my suit 'caught' the *coffee* — on her window-sill, said good night and left. She's a good actress, I'll give her that … "

Lois just looked at him, wide-eyed, and then burst out laughing. Clark noticed that her laughter had a slightly relieved tone to it, and made a mental note to try to find out what she had been worried about, but said nothing, merely smiling as he looked at her, thinking yet again how beautiful she was.

For her part, once she had recovered, Lois sat back in the passenger seat of the Jeep with a small smile on her face and was silent for the remainder of the ride to City Hall. Once Clark had parked the Jeep, she reached over and pulled him to her in a long, hard, passionate kiss.

They separated — eventually — and Clark looked at her with a startled but eager gaze. "Wow … " he breathed softly, "What was *that* for?"

"Everything … nothing … " murmured Lois, who was starry-eyed and somewhat short of breath herself. "But mostly just for being you … " She gently kissed him again, the merest brush of her lips on his, then released him and sat up in her seat. Clark could almost see her switch from personal to reporter mode, and wasn't surprised when she turned to him and said, all business now — or *almost* all business — "Come on, Clark. Let's go find out which of their colleagues those crooks in City Hall are planning to give our tax money to."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied, getting out of the car a split-second behind her.

Clark stood still, just for a second, and watched Lois Lane, investigative reporter, head for the doors of Metropolis City Hall, marvelling once again at her confident, forceful personality. When she was like this, she'd tackle tigers, and the smart money bet against the big cats. Of course, sometimes there might be a few too many tigers, but that was what he was there for. They were partners, and that word was taking on new, more important and deeper shades of meaning every day. Right now, though, he'd better work on the earliest interpretation of their partnership and catch up with her …

For her part, Lois felt ready to take on the world, but she'd settle for the City Council at the moment. Her fears of the previous night had disappeared like the phantoms that they were, evaporated by the light and warmth that Clark and his love — there could be no other word for it, Lois finally had to admit to herself — brought into her life. She looked around for him as she reached the top of the City Hall steps, and he appeared by her side, seemingly out of nowhere as usual. She grabbed his hand and almost dragged him through the revolving doors and into the building.

The City Council didn't have the faintest idea of what was about to hit it …