By Wendy Richards <email@example.com>
Submitted December 1998
Summary: What if Superman hadn't crashed in Suicide Slum in the episode "All Shook Up"? What if he managed to reach Lois's apartment instead? This seemingly minor change in continuity results in some very major changes in Lois and Clark's lives.
This story takes as its starting point Superman's first flight to stop the Nightfall asteroid in All Shook Up, but has a rather different outcome, and I suppose is therefore best described as an 'elseworld' tale. I would like to express very grateful thanks to Sheila Harper and Nancy Missen, who were kind enough to read the draft of this story and provide very useful comments; and to KathyB at the Archive for some additional fine-tuning and that extra typo! Naturally, any errors, inconsistencies or other faults remain entirely my responsibility.
All characters in this story are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros and December 3rd Productions Ltd; no infringement of any property rights are intended by their use in this work of fiction.
Wendy Richards firstname.lastname@example.org
Superman struggled to continue flying through the stormy night, his energy resources almost completely depleted. He *had* to get there. She would help him. She would …
The wind howled fiercely, battering his exhausted body as he battled to remain in the air amid the rain and the biting cold. He had already flown hundreds of thousands of miles, and had stretched his strength to the limit in order to destroy the asteroid which threatened Earth. He had taken an oxygen pack since he had known he could not hold his breath for the duration of the flight. But the pack had been ripped away from him by the force of his collision with the asteroid.
He had managed to fly back, faster than he had ever before travelled, to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere and reach an altitude where he could breathe again. But he was now drained, his body more tired than he had ever experienced. Other than his encounters with Kryptonite, Clark knew that this was the closest he had ever come to dying. And he wasn't safe yet …
Looking down, he saw that he was over the ocean. If he fell now, he would not have the strength to swim. He forced himself to keep going, although his body felt both numb and, contradictorily, ached all over. He thought of her, the one person the thought of whom could keep him going, who made him want, fiercely, to live …
Land, ahead suddenly; the lights of a city shone like a beacon in the midnight-black, starless sky. He wasn't sure; he focused. Yes, it was Metropolis: there was the tower headquarters of Lexcorp, the Lexor hotel, the Daily Planet globe, the twin towers of the power company. Not far now; keep going, keep going, he urged himself. He was now moving much more slowly, his big body losing altitude with every few yards he flew. A sudden gust of wind hit him with the force of a hurricane and almost blew him over. Drawing on reserves of power he didn't believe he had left, Clark managed to stay in the air and fly on.
At last, the window. He threw himself towards it.
Lois was preparing for bed, the TV tuned to LNN. She, like most of Metropolis, had spent much of the evening waiting for news of the progress of the asteroid, and had been immensely relieved when a report had at last come through from EPRAD. The asteroid appeared to have disintegrated and most of the pieces seemed to be on a flight path which did not threaten a collision with Earth. Superman had saved the day yet again.
But since that report, there had been no news of Superman. EPRAD had clearly been trying to play down that fact, refusing to comment on reporters' suggestions that the Man of Steel was missing, that his voice-link with EPRAD had failed, and that although their satellite systems were able to track the position of the remains of the asteroid, they could not trace Superman.
Lois had, for a while, considered going over to EPRAD, her memories of Superman's departure still vivid in her mind. He had said goodbye to her just before his take-off, and she had kissed him — "for luck" — just out of sight of the assembled masses of the Fourth Estate. He had told her not to worry, that he would take care, and that he would be back.
But he hadn't come back. And only the knowledge that she was unlikely to find anything out even if she did succeed in getting past all the sophisticated security systems and breaking into EPRAD had stopped Lois from making the journey. Instead, she had continued to watch TV until the news broadcasts switched their attention from Superman to the breaking political scandal which was splashed on the front cover of the morning edition of the Planet (another Lane and Kent scoop, thought Lois with no little amount of satisfaction). Keeping the TV on in case there was further news, she undressed and got into her favourite Superman nightshirt.
She was in the bathroom, brushing her teeth, when she became aware of a strange noise. At first Lois thought it was the wind, which had been howling ferociously for a couple of hours now. But it came again; it was a banging sound; it was as if something was thudding against her window.
Pulling on a robe, she padded into the living-room and looked cautiously towards the window. She thought she could see a shadow, although it was so dark outside it was almost impossible to tell. Lois glanced around her apartment, thinking swiftly; she suddenly grabbed a glass vase which stood empty on the table. Walking towards the window, she brandished it in front of her as a makeshift weapon.
The banging came again, this time simultaneously with another howl of wind. But … was that wind? It sounded like … a voice. A voice … calling her name.
"Lois … Lois … " The sound was weak, faint, the words carried away by the wind almost as soon as they were voiced.
Lois threw down the vase, uncaring for its safety, and rushed to the window to throw it open. There was only one person who was remotely likely to be outside her window. The red cape flapping in the breeze confirmed her suspicion.
"Superman … where have you been? EPRAD wouldn't say anything, but you'd disappeared … " she exclaimed at breakneck speed, more relieved than she could imagine that he was safe. Then, as he climbed, not without difficulty, through the window, she noticed his state. "Superman, you're freezing! And … you look so pale -"
Lois broke off suddenly as he stumbled and fell against the wall. She hurried to his side and slipped her arm around his waist, offering her support. "Thanks … weak … couldn't go … any further … " he managed to get out, in barely more than a whisper.
Lois half-dragged, half carried him to her sofa, where she left him to go and get a blanket. When she returned, he had not moved from the position in which she had left him, and his teeth were chattering. She tucked the blanket around him and went into the kitchen to make a hot drink.
Returning again a couple of minutes later, she saw that while his skin was still deathly pale, he had at least ceased shivering. He managed with difficulty to take the mug from her, so she sat beside him and helped him to hold it to his lips. He drank in jerky gulps until the mug was empty, then collapsed against the back of the sofa as if the activity had completely drained him of all energy.
"Superman, what happened?" Lois asked, very concerned. She had never seen him like this before. She had thought he was completely invulnerable, yet here he was in her apartment weaker than a newborn baby.
He managed to turn his head towards her, and she saw in his eyes a helpless, deadened expression. "Nearly didn't … make it," he tried to explain. "No … strength … too far." He stopped again, the effort of speaking clearly too much for him.
Appalled, Lois could only stare at him. "You could have died!" she whispered in a horrified tone. "And I … all of us, we'd never have known what happened. You risked your life to save the planet, didn't you?"
Clark didn't answer her. Now that he did not have to make any further demands on his body, it had just ceased to respond. He had never before been so tired, so drained of all energy. He ached all over, and he was still so cold. His arms and legs felt like blocks of ice, and he wondered if he would ever feel warm inside again. He lay back against the sofa cushions and closed his eyes.
Lois had reached for Superman's hand as the reality of the danger he'd been in had sunk in. She had intended to give it a comforting squeeze, to try to let him know that he was safe, he was with a friend. But she was shocked at how cold his skin felt. It was icier than the tub of Rocky Road she had taken out of the freezer earlier that evening to eat while watching the broadcasts from EPRAD.
Pulling aside the blanket, she ran her hands quickly over Superman's body, to discover that he was freezing cold and soaking wet all over. She shook him hard, realising that in his condition, if he really didn't have any energy and his super-powers were failing him, he could simply drift into unconsciousness. "Superman, wake up!" she shouted at him.
Groggily, Clark squinted at her. "Whassamatter … lemme … sleep.."
"No, Superman," Lois stated insistently. "You *have* to wake up. You're freezing. I've got to get you dry and warm."
Alternately bullying and cajoling him, Lois finally managed to get the Man of Steel into a more or less upright position and again half-dragged him into her bathroom. She left him leaning against the wall while she switched on the shower, adjusting the water until the temperature was warm — not too hot, not until he had warmed up a little, and then turned her attention back to her guest.
"Superman, come on, you've got to get that suit off," she told him firmly. <My God, what am I saying!> she thought in amazement. <For months I've been wondering whether the suit comes off and what he's like underneath it — and now I get a chance to find out and he's barely able to stand!>
Since Superman hadn't moved in response to her instruction, Lois went towards him and began to pull at the cape, attempting to find an opening. He was slumped against the wall, his eyelids lowered. Lois shook him vigorously, yelling at him in as commanding a tone as she could manage. <I wish Clark was here> she thought. <Between us we could manage to get him stripped and in the shower>. She briefly considered phoning Clark to ask him to come over, but dismissed the idea. It would be at least twenty minutes before Clark could get over, always assuming he could get a cab at this time of night. Superman needed to get out of his wet things and to get warmed up *now*.
But clearly the tone of Lois's voice had penetrated through the fog of Superman's exhausted brain, and he began at last to respond to her instructions. He dragged the cape off his shoulders and, turning around, managed to tell Lois where the fastenings of the suit were. She undid them and helped him to drag the top of the suit down, off his arms and away from his chest. Then it was the briefs, the boots and finally the leggings.
Lois couldn't help herself. She inhaled sharply at the sheer perfection of his naked body. His thighs were muscular, his chest and upper arms firm and well-developed without an ounce of extra fat; his stomach was washboard-flat and his buttocks did not owe their shape or firmness to any exercise regime. As for the rest of him … She blinked and forced herself to concentrate on the task at hand.
Throwing the last of his garments on the bathroom floor, she slipped her arm around Superman's waist and pulled his around her shoulders and led him, slowly, to the shower. He was shivering again, and, slipping off her robe, she squeezed herself in beside him to ensure that he didn't simply fall to the floor. She directed the water jets over his body, increasing the temperature after a while as his body temperature appeared to rise. When she was satisfied that he would be all right on his own, she exited and, wrapping a towel around herself, gathered up the sections of his suit, taking them through to the kitchen and throwing them in the washing machine.
Back in her bedroom, she dressed in a dry nightshirt and hunted through closets and drawers until she found a large sweatshirt which she thought would fit Superman. It was actually Clark's; he had lent it to her one day when they were at his apartment and they had decided to go for a walk. The weather had turned colder after she'd arrived, and she hadn't been very warmly dressed. Somehow, she had never got around to returning it. She also found a very baggy pair of shorts with a drawstring waist; she hadn't worn those for several years, and only then for exercising.
Lois re-entered the bathroom and pulled open the shower screen. Superman was leaning back against the wall of the shower stall, simply letting the warm jets play over his body. He turned to look at her. His expression was different now; no longer bleak and lifeless. He still looked exhausted, Lois thought, but at least he now seemed aware of his surroundings.
He smiled at her, a faint smile, but still an improvement.
"Ready to come out?" Lois asked.
"Yeah," he said, still needing some effort to speak.
Grabbing some towels from the heated rail, Lois held them out to him. He didn't appear to be particularly embarrassed at his nakedness as he climbed slowly, stiffly out of the shower. Lois wrapped the largest towel around his shoulders, handing him the rest, and went past him to switch off the water flow.
"Come through to the bedroom when you're dry," she told him. "You can wear these — the shirt's Clark's, so it should fit you." She placed the sweatshirt and shorts on the toilet tank, and went into the bedroom.
A few minutes later, Superman emerged, dressed in the sweatshirt and shorts. That he was still very weak was evident by the way he staggered and reached for the doorpost to steady himself. Lois, who had been lying on her bed reading, dropped her book and went to support him.
"Thanks," he murmured.
She led him to the bed and let him lower himself down. He gave her a puzzled look, and she explained with an amused smile, "You're hardly in a state to go anywhere else tonight, are you, Flyboy?" He smiled wryly back at her, recognising the truth of her words.
He was still cold, Lois realised. Not as bad as he had been; the warm shower had helped. But his body was still cool to the touch, and his colour, while not as pallid as it had been before, was not back to normal. Lois pulled back the bedclothes and encouraged him to lie down. She hesitated. For decency's sake, she should probably grab her spare quilt and pillow and sleep on the couch. But she didn't really want to. The thought of having Superman so close to her, even though he was rapidly falling asleep, was too tempting.
She rationalised her decision with the thought that as he was still cold, she could help to warm him with her body heat.
Moving to the other side of her double bed, she pulled back the covers and slid in beside him. His eyes flickered open. "Lois?"
"I'm right here, Superman."
"Thanks, Lois," he murmured weakly. "I … knew I could count on you."
"Always," she assured him. "You must know how much I care about you."
Clark swallowed, barely aware of his surroundings, just knowing that he was close to Lois, the woman he loved. She had moved closer still, wrapping her arms around his waist, pulling his big body next to her slender one. He instinctively wrapped his arms around her. "I care about you too, Lois," he murmured drowsily. "So much … " His head fell against her shoulder, and he slept.
Lois lay awake for some time, simply listening to his breathing. At first it was even; after a while it became laboured and he started to thrash about. His head tossed back and forth on the pillow, and he started to cry out in agitation. His words were almost incoherent at first, but gradually they started to make sense to Lois, and she realised that he was reliving his flight back to Earth and to her apartment. He had been so close to losing consciousness through lack of oxygen, it seemed. He had held his breath so long that his lungs had felt like they were on fire. Then, when he had finally re-entered the Earth's atmosphere, he had been so weakened that he could barely fly and had been at the mercy of the appalling weather conditions. It was a miracle that he had managed to make it to her apartment, she realised.
Trying to calm him, Lois touched his face with her fingertips and realised that he was feverish. His ravings were now delirious, and he was trying to kick the covers off.
She slipped from the bed and went into the bathroom; soaking a towel in cold water, she returned and bathed his face with it. The rest of his body now seemed to be burning up; with difficulty she pulled off the sweatshirt and bathed his chest with the damp towel.
After Lois had made several trips to the bathroom to refresh the towel, Superman seemed to calm a little. Lois slipped back into bed and wrapped her arms around him again. He stirred and pulled her into the curve of his body, her breasts against his bare chest.
"Superman?" she enquired, wondering if he was awake. She reached up with her hand and brushed his damp hair away from his face. His head turned, and his mouth brushed lightly against her palm. She stared at him; his eyelids were open, and his brown eyes looked intently into hers.
Neither of them moved for a few moments; neither of them could have said how long.
Then Superman dipped his head, and at the same moment Lois stretched up towards him. Their mouths met and fused in a passionate kiss which seemed to go on for an eternity. His arms pressed her body even closer to his, and she wrapped her arms around his waist, loving the feel of his bare skin against her.
They made love; it was almost like a dream, Lois thought afterwards. Neither of them spoke; they simply touched and moved and kissed. Somehow her nightshirt disappeared, and a short while afterwards she realised that he was no longer wearing the shorts she had given him. When they came together, she felt no awkwardness or discomfort; it was as if their bodies had been meant for each other.
Afterwards, they held each other. Superman quickly drifted off to sleep again, though Lois remained awake for a little longer. She lay watching him, running a finger very gently along his upper arm. Close to sleep herself, she murmured happily, "Superman, I love you."
Lois stretched as the morning light penetrated her bedroom, and as she came to full consciousness, she remembered the events of the previous night. She reached out to the other side of the bed to feel …
He was gone.
Throwing back the covers, Lois searched for her robe and pulled it on over her naked body. She hurried out of the bedroom; perhaps he was in the bathroom? The kitchen? But he was nowhere in the apartment.
The sweatshirt and shorts he had worn the night before were still on the floor in the bedroom where they had been thrown. The super-suit was still in her washing machine, waiting to be taken out and dried. But its owner had vanished.
Lois knew that she had not dreamt his presence in her apartment — his suit was evidence enough of that. And the stiffness in certain parts of her anatomy was proof, if proof were needed, that she had not dreamt the events of the early hours of the morning. She *had* made love with Superman.
But why had he left without a word? Did he regret what had happened?
Lois felt hurt; she had not imagined Superman to be the kind of man who would satisfy his desires and then leave before his partner awoke. Admittedly, he hadn't intended making love with her. He had come to her for help; neither of them had intended what had happened. But still … why had he left without a word?
Landing silently on the balcony of his apartment at about four in the morning, Clark hurried inside to pull on some clothes. He had wakened a short time before to find himself naked in Lois's bed, next to her, with little recollection of how he had got there. The last thing he remembered was Lois persuading him to get into the shower. Afraid that Lois would wake, see him and realise that he was Clark, he had slipped silently and carefully out of the bed, and without bothering to find his suit, had flown home naked, confident that the darkness of the night would hide him for the short time it would take him to get back. He had not recovered his full strength yet, but the brief trip took only a matter of minutes.
He would recover his suit another time, he assured himself. He could visit Lois in a day or two, telling her that an emergency had come up and he'd gone off to get a spare suit. He could also thank her then for her help, he reflected, as he remembered that he had been in such a hurry to leave that he hadn't even left a note.
Still exhausted, he dragged himself into his bedroom and collapsed on the bed.
Arriving at the Planet's offices, Lois saw that, according to the TV screens which were continually tuned to the news channels, Superman still appeared to be missing. This was the big story of the day, attracting even more attention than the political scandal. Knowing that Superman had in fact made it back from stopping the asteroid meant that Lois was less concerned than the newscasters appeared to be. However, her feelings were torn between anger at his walking out on her and worry that he still might be ill.
<If only I knew where to find him!> she thought.
Some hours later, Clark appeared from the elevator. As Lois glanced up and caught sight of him walking down the ramp, she thought that he looked tired. His movements were slower than usual, and his face was weary.
"You're late," she commented to him. "I could have used your help with writing up this asteroid follow-up."
"Sorry, Lois," Clark apologised, crossing to her desk. "I didn't get to sleep until really late, and I just couldn't seem to wake up this morning. I don't really feel too good right now."
Lois assessed her partner. He really didn't look too good. "Take a couple of aspirins, Clark," she suggested, her tone less sympathetic than she might have sounded if her mind hadn't still been focused on the whereabouts of Superman.
She began to explain to him where she had got to on the story, but after a few moments she noticed that his attention had wandered.
"Earth to Clark!" she called aggressively. She needed her partner to concentrate, not daydream.
"Er … sorry, Lois, I was … " Clark gestured towards the TV screens. "What's that they're saying about Superman?"
Lois stared at him. "You really have been out of it, Clark, haven't you? What have you been doing for the last twenty-four hours? Superman went to stop the asteroid -"
"I know that, Lois."
"Well, he managed to break it up, but the reporters at EPRAD say that no-one has had contact with him since. EPRAD wouldn't confirm it at first, but in the last hour they finally admitted that they lost voice contact with Superman not long after he left the moon's orbit, and that their tracking system couldn't find him after the asteroid destructed." Lois paused, half-wondering whether to tell Clark that Superman had visited her last night and that she knew he was safe, but something stopped her. She didn't really want anyone to know what had happened at her apartment. And anyway, she didn't actually know whether Superman was safe. She had no idea what might have happened to him after he'd left her.
But Clark wasn't waiting for any further information. His hand on his tie in what Lois recognised as one of his nervous gestures, he was saying, "I'm sorry, Lois — can we continue this later? I've … uh, I've gotta go." As he spoke, he was already hurrying off in the direction of the elevator.
Lois watched him go, exasperated. First he didn't come into work until nearly midday; then he left almost immediately. Sometimes, Clark Kent was worse than useless as a partner.
Clark flew to EPRAD, wondering how he could have forgotten that he needed to give the scientists a report on the asteroid's composition and the likely destination of the pieces now that he had shattered it. Arriving at the headquarters, he flew quickly to avoid being noticed by the reporters still waiting outside the protective fence and made his way to a rear entrance. Attracting the attention of a security guard, he was admitted to the building and escorted to the scientists and defence chiefs who were anxiously awaiting him.
"And EPRAD has just announced that Superman has returned and has been briefing top personnel for the past half-hour. A press conference will be held in one hour." Lois looked up at the excited voice of the LNN newscaster, and on assimilating the information jumped to her feet and grabbed her bag.
"Jimmy! Tell Perry I'm on my way over to EPRAD for the press conference!" she yelled, on her way to the elevator.
General Arthurs, sent to Metropolis from the Pentagon, and then EPRAD's head scientist, had both spoken and answered questions for some minutes on the fate of the asteroid, reassuring their audience that the planet was no longer in any danger from a potential collision. Superman had stood behind them, waiting for them to finish their part of the press conference.
At last it was his turn, and the reporters and photographers all surged forward, eager to be able to catch his eye and get a question in. He held up his hand, silently asking them to allow him to speak.
"You've heard that I managed to shatter the asteroid last night," he said, more calmly than he felt. "I have apologised to EPRAD for failing to return and report on progress last night, and I apologise to you also. I don't have any memory of what happened after my collision with the asteroid. Obviously I managed to get back to Earth somehow, but I have no idea either how or when. I woke up a couple of hours ago and it was as if twelve hours of my life had simply vanished."
Lois, listening, stood as if turned to stone. He didn't *remember* anything about last night! They had slept together; it had been the most perfect experience of her life — and he had no memory of it.
But that still didn't explain why he had left when he had, or what he had been doing between then and a couple of hours ago. Sleeping, it appeared from his explanation — but where? And had he *really* forgotten what had happened, or was that version simply for public consumption? Perhaps … perhaps he really had had a good reason for leaving, and he would come to see her later to explain. Yes, that was probably it, Lois considered hopefully.
Jostled by another reporter, Lois became aware again of her surroundings. It appeared that the press conference had finished, since Superman was floating upwards preparatory to flying away. Lois realised that she had not actually asked a single question; she had better write up a good account of Superman's return, or Perry would not be happy.
When Lois arrived back at the Planet, Clark was at his desk, typing speedily at his computer. Lois glared at him. "Where did you get to earlier?"
He looked across at her, guiltily, it seemed to Lois. "I — had to do something. It was important."
"It's always important with you," Lois replied grumpily. "I don't know how you ever get any work done." She got herself some coffee, then came over to his desk, noticing as she approached that her partner still seemed a little paler than usual. "What're you working on?"
"A sidebar explaining the technical information about the asteroid — speed, density, structure and so on," Clark explained.
"Oh." Lois was secretly quite happy that Clark was covering that aspect of the story; geology and the density of space rocks were not exactly the kind of subjects which she found riveting. "I just covered the EPRAD press conference — do you know that Superman's claiming he doesn't remember anything about what happened after he hit the asteroid until a few hours ago?" she told her partner.
Clark paused his typing to look up at Lois. "Claiming?"
"OK, I guess he's telling the truth — after all, Superman doesn't lie, does he?" Lois replied, a little begrudgingly.
"Lois, what's up? You're not normally like that about Superman," Clark observed, surprised.
"Like what?" Lois demanded.
"Critical — sceptical," Clark replied, watching his partner carefully. He was so used to her hero-worship of his *alter ego* that this attitude came as quite a surprise.
Lois realised that she had better pull herself together. If she didn't want Clark — or anyone — to know what had happened last night, she had to behave normally. She shrugged. "I guess I'm just a bit tired — I was watching LNN until quite late last night. And anyway, Superman should have known that people would have been worried about him — it just seems to me that he took his time letting people know he got back to Earth all right."
Clark regarded Lois thoughtfully. Of course she would have been worried; whatever else he had forgotten, he clearly remembered saying goodbye to Lois outside the EPRAD headquarters. She had kissed him as if she was really concerned for his safety. Oh well, she knew now that he was safe; there was nothing further he could do.
Lois, unaware of her partner's thoughts, returned to her desk to write up the information from the press conference. Clark quickly finished his story and, on hearing a news bulletin that there was a pile-up on an expressway just outside the city, escaped with the excuse that he was going to do some research at the university library.
"Clark, honey, are you *sure* you're OK?" Martha Kent asked, concerned.
"Yeah, Mom, I'm fine. I promise." Clark twisted the telephone wire around his hand as he spoke. He couldn't blame his parents for being concerned, and he felt guilty at not having contacted them as soon as he'd wakened that morning. He had just explained to them that he remembered nothing before awakening in bed in his apartment at almost noon.
"I'm still a bit tired, I guess, and my powers seem — a little sluggish," he added. "But apart from that, there's no problem."
Apart from the fact that he was missing a suit, he thought. He had no idea what had happened to the suit he had been wearing when he'd left EPRAD the previous day. All he knew was that he had not been wearing it when he'd awoken, and it was not anywhere in his apartment. He wondered whether it had somehow been burned off him on his re-entry to the Earth's atmosphere. Well, he had a number of spare suits, and his Mom would make him more whenever he wanted.
Lois folded the super-suit which by now had dried. She was aware that she needed to find an opportunity to return it, but given Superman's apparent memory loss it was going to be embarrassing to explain how she had come to have it in her possession.
<Superman, you spent the night at my apartment … > Doing what? Errr …
<Superman, you came here cold and wet, and I made you take a shower; then you left without your suit … > So what was he wearing? Why did he leave?
<Why did he leave?> Lois had asked herself that question hundreds of times. Clearly, Superman had wakened up at some stage during the night, realised where he was — and who he was with — and had decided that he didn't want to be there. Maybe he had remembered when he awoke that he had made love with Lois, maybe he hadn't; either way, he hadn't wanted to stick around to talk. *That* was what made the situation difficult. Did he regret what had happened? Would he simply prefer not to remember?
But, on the other hand, Lois mused, he had actually told her how much he cared about her. His manner had been gentle, considerate … loving. He had not satiated his lust in a purely mechanical way. Which seemed to suggest that … she meant something to him. Maybe he even … loved her.
And surely that meant that even if he'd forgotten about their night together, he still cared for her, and sooner or later they would be together. He would come to her, tell her how he felt, and she could tell him how she felt, and — maybe — she would tell him that they had made love, but it wouldn't matter then because she would know for sure how he felt and …
<Stop babbling, Lois!> she instructed herself.
She placed the suit carefully at the bottom of her closet, along with the sweatshirt of Clark's which Superman had worn for such a brief time.
- Ten weeks later -
Lois bent over the toilet and retched yet again. This was the fourth morning this week that she had wanted to throw up shortly after getting out of bed. The first time, she had thought she must have eaten something which disagreed with her; by the second day, she wondered if she had some sort of flu bug. But she usually felt all right by late morning, so she couldn't understand what was the matter.
It *would* have to happen this morning as well, she thought viciously. Clark was due to arrive in just a few minutes; they were going straight over to City Hall to interview the new Mayor for a Planet exclusive. The mayor had granted the interview on condition that it could be over by nine am. It was after seven already and Lois wasn't even dressed.
Washing her face and hoping that the bout of sickness had passed, Lois ran over the list of questions for the interview in her head. She dressed hurriedly in a smart red suit which was a favourite of hers, although she hadn't worn it for a few weeks. The skirt button seemed difficult to fasten.
"What on earth … this fitted *perfectly* last time I wore it!" she muttered in annoyance. "I *can't* have put on weight!"
She managed to fasten the button, and as she was slipping into her shoes, there was a sharp knock on the door.
"Coming!" she yelled.
"Sorry, Clark, I'm running a little late," she apologised, opening the door and immediately turning back towards the bedroom. "Just gotta do my makeup, and then I'll be with you."
Clark strolled into the apartment, looking unconcerned and quite stylish in a charcoal suit in which Lois secretly thought — but would never have admitted — he wouldn't have looked out of place in a style magazine. "Slow down, Lois, we don't have to leave immediately."
Lois swung back to face him. "Did you bring the spare batteries for the tape recorder?"
"Sure — Lois, are you all right?" Clark asked, concerned, noticing the paleness of her face and dark traces under her eyes.
"Yes … no," she confessed, allowing her whole body to slump a little as her voice became less assured. "Clark, I don't know what's wrong with me. I've been getting sick the last few mornings, and I feel so tired all the time. I think I might be getting the flu or something."
Clark crossed the room quickly and slipped his arm comfortingly around Lois's shoulders. "Hey, if you're sick you should stay in bed. I can manage the interview on my own."
"No, I have to go," Lois protested weakly. "The mayor wanted both of us, and I'm a professional. I'll be fine. Just give me a couple of minutes to finish getting ready."
"OK." Clark hugged her lightly and stepped away, preparing to wait.
The interview went well, and on the way back to the Planet Clark suggested stopping for coffee and a donut. Lois agreed happily, but once her large cafe mocha had been placed in front of her, she felt her stomach revolt again. Clamping her hand over her mouth, she ran for the ladies' room.
Clark was waiting outside when she emerged. "Lois, were you sick again?"
She nodded weakly, trying to fight back tears. *Why* did she feel so wretched?
"Come on. I'm taking you home," Clark insisted firmly. He put his arm around her and guided her out of the cafe. Lois gratefully leaned on him. Clark could be such a sweetheart at times, and despite her occasional impatience with him she was well aware that he was a good friend in times of need.
Outside, Clark looked around for a taxi; not seeing one immediately he turned to Lois, wondering how he could phrase what was on his mind. He spoke hesitantly. "Lois, this sickness you've been having … could it be, ah … could you be … pregnant?"
Lois stared at him in shock. Pregnant!
Clark looked back at her, his compassionate brown eyes taking in her reaction. "I guess it's … possible, then?"
Lois forced herself to concentrate on the possibility. It was now over two months since the night Superman had nearly died destroying the asteroid. They had not used contraception, and now that she thought about it, she had not had a period since. Lois was normally very regular, and it now surprised her that she hadn't noticed the absence of her normal monthly cycle. And the sickness, and the skirt which no longer fit … Yes, it was *very* possible that she was pregnant. And if she was … she was carrying Superman's child.
<Oh my God> she cried silently.
She turned to Clark. "Yes, it's … possible. I guess." She tried to think of what she should do next; her mind was awhirl with unconnected thoughts. <I need to be sure … a baby … I need a test … where's Superman … >
"Clark, can we get to a pharmacy?" she asked anxiously.
He thought. "There's one a couple of blocks from here — can you walk that far, or do you want to wait for a cab?"
"I can walk," Lois insisted. "That is — if you don't mind me leaning on you - I still feel a little light-headed."
"Of course not, Lois," he assured her. "That's what friends are for, remember."
They walked together to the pharmacy, where Lois purchased a couple of pregnancy tests, and then took a cab to her apartment. Clark hesitated as Lois opened the door, unsure whether she would want him around. "Look, Lois, if you'd rather be alone … "
She stared at him, wild-eyed. "No, I don't want to be alone. I need to … to find out if I *am* pregnant, and if I am … it'd help to have a friend to talk to."
Clark entered the room, closing the door behind him. "In that case, I'll stay as long as you want me."
In the bathroom, Lois paced up and down counting the seconds after she had performed the test. Finally it was time, and she grabbed the plastic wand and stared at it.
Shocked, she rushed back into the living room, clutching the test, and waved it at Clark. He stared at it for a moment, then mumbled, "Lois, errr … I don't like to show my ignorance, but how do these things work?"
"I *am* pregnant, Clark," she wailed.
Clark just looked at her, hoping that his expression didn't reveal his reaction to her words. His own emotions were in turmoil. He loved Lois; now she was pregnant by another man. She had been *sleeping* with another man in the last few months. Sure, he had no claim over her, he realised; they were friends and that was all. But he couldn't help being jealous and feeling as if all of his hopes had been dashed with the simple wave of a little plastic wand.
On the other hand, he acknowledged, Lois clearly had not planned this pregnancy, and by her reaction she didn't appear to be overjoyed about it. And so far, she had not mentioned anything about a man who needed to be told that he was going to be a father.
"Lois, come and sit down," he told her, taking her arm and trying to push his own feelings to the back of his mind. "Do you want to talk about it?"
Lois simply stared at the test. It was still stubbornly showing positive.
"Wild guess — you're not exactly happy about being pregnant, are you, Lois?" Clark suggested, trying a little humour in an attempt to make her smile. It failed, miserably. Lois burst into tears.
"Clark — I don't want to be pregnant! I don't want to be a single mother! I'm an investigate reporter, and I want to win a Pulitzer!" she sobbed.
Clark took her into his arms, cuddling her and stroking her hair, doing his best to be the sympathetic friend that she clearly needed. Never mind that his own emotions were screaming at him to get out of her apartment as fast as he could manage, to take an express super-flight to the North Pole and let his hurt and anger rip where no-one could hear him. "Lois, it's not the end of the world. There are — lots of things you can do. We'll talk about it, if you want. You know I'll help you."
Lois buried her head in the crook of his shoulder. "Clark, you're such a great friend," she gasped almost incoherently.
Already hurting, Clark felt as if someone had just ripped his heart in two. *Friend*; that was all he was to her, and all he was likely to be. "Lois," he began, trying again to ignore his own feelings, "surely you're not on your own in this anyway. The baby's father -"
Lois sat up abruptly, pulling away from Clark. "No. Oh no. He … I can't tell him."
"Why not, Lois?" Clark objected in amazement. "He has a right to know he's going to be a father, whoever he is. And he has a responsibility towards you and the baby."
Lois took in Clark's words, and considered them for a few moments. Should she tell Superman that he had made her pregnant?
But he clearly remembered nothing of the hours he had spent at her apartment that night. Lois had initially hoped that his memory would return and that he would tell her why he had left; but although she had seen him and spoken to him a couple of times in the intervening weeks, his manner towards her was the same as it had always been. Pleasant, considerate … impersonal. Not remotely like a lover or even an ex-lover. And he had not visited her apartment at all since that night. She had finally accepted that he simply did not remember making love to her, or even telling her that he cared for her.
If she told him, would he even believe her?
And what would he do? Marry her? She almost snorted in self-disgust at the thought.
Of course Superman wouldn't marry her. Not just because he didn't love her, but because he *couldn't* marry her. Not leading the kind of life he did. Superheroes just didn't marry reporters and live happily ever after in a house with a white picket fence. Or even in her apartment.
No, it would be better if she didn't tell him.
But … this baby is Superman's; what if it inherits his super-powers? That thought suddenly hit Lois with the force of an express-train. In that case, Superman *should* be told. The child would be a Super-baby. How could she ever explain that? Superman would need to be consulted, at least, on the child's care and upbringing.
<Oh, I don't know!> Lois screamed silently.
<That's what you get for your Superman fixation!> she told herself sternly.
She turned to look at Clark, who had been watching her with a concerned expression. "Lois, are you OK? I don't want to interfere, but … did the baby's father hurt you in some way? Were you … " he hesitated, again unsure whether to proceed, "were you … raped?"
Lois met his eyes, hers exhibiting shock. "No, Clark, I wasn't raped," she hastened to assure him. "It was … " she paused, then inspiration struck, "It was a … one-night stand. This guy and I … we just got carried away. I didn't mean it to happen, and I guess I just forgot about contraception. Stupid, I know."
"*Very* stupid, Lois," Clark said tightly, amazed that Lois could have behaved in such a manner. It was … irresponsible. And dangerous. "You could have caught *anything*. You know that."
"I know," she muttered. But not in this case, I think, she added silently.
"Clark, I want you to know that I don't … do that kind of thing all the time. One-night stands, I mean. In fact, I've never done it before, which is why I tried to forget about it, I guess. I never imagined I was pregnant."
"And you don't want to contact the guy?" Clark asked again.
Lois shook her head firmly. <Not yet, anyway> "I'm going to do this on my own."
Clark put his arm around her shoulder again, compelled by his love for this beautiful, stubborn, foolhardy … incredible woman. "You're not on your own, Lois. I'm here for you, if you want me."
Lois seemed content, for a time at least, simply to sit cradled in Clark's arms. In reality, her head was buzzing as she attempted to come to terms with her situation. Pregnancy and motherhood were not things she had ever really thought about. Lois's own childhood had not been especially conducive to fostering a maternal instinct, she felt. Her career at the Planet had seemed to fulfil her needs for a busy and successful life. If she had ever contemplated a permanent — or semi-permanent — relationship with a man, children had never really seemed to figure in the picture. Now, like it or not she was going to be a mother. A single mother, at that. It was a terrifying prospect.
Clark had been doing some thinking of his own, and after a while he spoke again. "Lois, tell me it's none of my business if you want, but the father of your child … it's not Luthor, is it?" The idea appalled him. He had suspected that Luthor might be responsible almost from the first; he couldn't think of any other man Lois might have been dating. If Lois was having Lex Luthor's child … he shuddered at the possibility. With any other man, Clark knew he would have felt jealousy; with the prospect of Luthor's, involvement, he felt blind rage.
Lois sat up and stared at Clark in disbelief as his words cut into her thoughts. He was so far from the truth that … She shook her head. "Clark, no! Of course it's not Lex. I've never even slept with him — I'm not that stupid. I realised some time ago that if I did, it would give him too much power over me." She paused, then added, "Besides, if it had been his, I would certainly have told him."
"OK, Lois. I'm sorry," Clark replied, relieved beyond words.
"It's all right. I guess I shouldn't be surprised you wondered. But Clark, I'm not going to tell you, or anyone, who the father is," Lois insisted. Clark was being very kind and understanding, but was asking too many questions about her baby's parentage. She certainly had no intention of telling him, particularly when the father himself didn't know anything about it …
Clark made some weak tea then; he commented that if they'd been in his apartment he would have made Lois herbal tea, and promised to ask his mother which kinds were best for morning sickness. He sat next to her again and, taking her hand in what he hoped was a reassuring manner, asked whether she had any idea of what she wanted to do about the pregnancy.
"I … it's all so soon … I haven't had a chance to *think*," Lois complained.
"That's OK, Lois, but you have to decide quite soon if you don't want to go ahead with the pregnancy," Clark pointed out. He wasn't exactly keen on the termination option himself, but he was well aware that it was Lois's body, and that even if the baby had been his — God, how he wished it was! — he felt that it would still be her decision.
Lois stilled. She hadn't really considered that option up until now. For all her adult life, Lois Lane had been a supporter of the woman's right to choose; at college she had gone on demonstrations in defence of the Roe vs Wade principle and opposing attempts to challenge abortion rights. But now that it was her *own* child under consideration …
"No," she stated abruptly. "I can't do that. I can't kill my baby."
Clark squeezed Lois's hand, relieved but trying not to show it. "OK, that's one decision taken. How about adoption, or do you want to bring up the baby yourself? You said you weren't keen on single parenthood … " Clark *wanted* to say so much more than that. He knew that if Lois permitted him, or even if she gave the slightest hint that she wanted him to, he would be happy to help her with the baby … to act in whatever capacity she wanted. The realisation surprised him … a few minutes earlier, he had been ready to run as far from Lois as he could get; now, he simply wanted to be with her and to support her. He supposed that this was what loving someone entailed; love could not be turned off like a tap simply because the object of the love had found someone else.
Again Lois thought about what Clark had suggested. If this was a *normal* baby, perhaps … But no. This was a Super baby; if she gave it up for adoption, and it inherited Superman's powers … The scenario was too dreadful to contemplate. No, adoption was out of the question.
"No, Clark, I'll keep my baby," she said decisively. She stood up abruptly, regretting the suddenness as she felt momentarily dizzy. It didn't last, however, and she turned to Clark and said that it was about time they went into work.
"Not a word to anyone at the Planet about this, though!" she warned.
Lois lay in bed later that night musing over the way in which her life was now going to change, without her agreement, without any way in which she could affect it — at least, not without going down a path she already knew she could not contemplate. The whole idea of pregnancy was completely alien to her. Oh, she had friends from college who were now married and had kids, but since Lois had never been particularly keen on children, she and her friends had drifted apart. Lois had never been any good at listening to long conversations about stretch marks, scans, blood and urine tests, and baby movements. Nor was she particularly interested in admiring endless baby photographs or in being left holding a screaming, squirming infant.
Now *she* was going to be the one with the screaming infant. Maybe she had better try to get back in touch with some of her friends … if they were still speaking to her!
It was all going to be so difficult … Wearily, she yawned and closed her eyes.
The sound of the baby's cry disturbed Lois yet again. Frustrated, she saved the file on her laptop computer and padded over to the crib which she had set up in her living-room. She had barely managed to type two sentences since the last interruption. Her son, not yet two months old, lay staring up at her, his brown eyes creased and tears of anger and frustration streaming down his cheeks. He had a very healthy pair of lungs, Lois well knew; she was going to have to think very soon about moving out of her apartment because the noise wasn't fair on her neighbours.
Tiredly she bent down and picked up the baby, cuddling him against her. She was exhausted; she hadn't had a proper night's sleep since before he'd been born. And in the last few days he just wouldn't stop crying. Every time she thought she'd managed to get him off to sleep, he'd wakened a few minutes later wailing loudly.
And her work was suffering. OK, she should have been on maternity leave, but as she'd insisted to Perry, she would be bored stiff at home with a baby all day and nothing to do, so she would be able to do some writing at home. And after all, how much work could a little baby be?
Hah! That was a joke! Why hadn't anyone told her how much hard work was involved in childcare? What kind of massive deception was practised on childless women by those women who had kids? How come no-one had explained that once you have a baby you can give up all hope of sleeping, eating, having a conversation, going to the bathroom … any kind of normal activity? The apartment was a mess. Discarded clothes lay all over her bedroom, because she hadn't had time to put them away. Used dishes and takeout wrappings littered the kitchen. The living-room was full of baby clothes, bottles, packages of disposable diapers, unread newspapers and the baby manuals and magazines she had ordered in desperation, none of which had been the least help in coping with a real, live, crying baby. Lois herself was still wearing her nightshirt and robe, not having had the time or energy to shower and dress today.
Now her son simply wouldn't stop crying, and his wails grew louder and louder. Lois tried walking up and down the room with him, rocking him in her arms, but he only became more upset. She warmed his bottle in the microwave, performing the tasks one-handed since she didn't want to put him down and risk his cries getting louder still. But he didn't want food either. His diaper was dry, so he didn't need changing.
What was wrong with him?
"Oh God, I'm a terrible mother!" Lois wailed, to no-one in particular.
Lois sat up in bed, sweating. The nightmare had been so vivid that she was still trembling. She reached for her bedside phone, and dialled a number from memory.
<Please be in, please … >
"Hello?" The voice sounded groggy, barely awake.
"Clark? Oh, thank God you're there! I was afraid you might be out, and then I'd have to leave a message, and then you might not get it for hours, and then I might be asleep and dreaming again and … "
"Lois, calm down," Clark interrupted. "Please, tell me what's wrong." He was alarmed, afraid that something was wrong with Lois, with the baby. He threw back the bedclothes and prepared to make a dash to her apartment.
"Clark, I'm going to be a terrible mother," Lois wailed.
"Of course you're not!" he replied, very relieved that the problem was not what he had been imagining. He wondered where on earth she had got that idea from, and spoke firmly and reassuringly to her. "Lois, you'll make a wonderful mother. You're strong, independent and intelligent, and any child with you as a mother will have an excellent role model. You'll be great."
"Clark, that's really nice of you," Lois sobbed, "but I don't believe it. I'll be awful. I won't be able to cope."
"What makes you think that?" Clark asked in deliberately level tones, trying to encourage Lois to calm down.
"I just had this awful nightmare … " Lois detailed the events to Clark. " … and in the end I just couldn't stop him crying, and I didn't know what to do. I don't want to have to cope all on my own!"
Clark paused before speaking; he suspected he knew what was really bothering Lois. "Lois, are you worried about not being a good mother, or about having to manage on your own?"
Lois, now a little calmer, considered this. "I'm not sure, Clark — I think it's probably a bit of both. I really can't see myself as a mother. And I know a lot of women bring up kids on their own, very successfully, but I just don't think I can!"
Clark tucked the phone under his chin as he ran his hands through his hair. By now wide awake, he had lain back down on his bed. "Lois, there's a long way to go yet — you've got plenty of time to work all of these things out. And I promised you, you won't be on your own. I'll help you in any way I can. All you have to do is ask."
"Oh Clark!" wailed Lois. "You're … such a great friend."
"Yeah, Lois, so you said," Clark replied, with a wry expression on his face. If only he could stop being a *friend* and move on to something more … "Lois," he added, "do you want me to come over?"
"Oh, that's sweet of you, but I couldn't ask you. I mean, it's late, and you were asleep … " Lois replied wistfully.
"Look, if you want me, I'll come," Clark promised. "You know it doesn't matter what time of day or night it is, I'll always be there if you need me." He prepared again to get out of bed, but Lois's reply stopped him.
"No, Clark, it's kind of you, but I'm all right now. You really helped me, you know?"
"I'm glad, Lois. You sleep well."
"Yeah, you too, Clark. Goodnight."
"Goodnight, Lois." Clark replaced the receiver and lay back on the pillows, thinking. He had always wanted children; it was one of the things he really wanted out of life. A job he enjoyed, a wife, a nice house, and kids. Perhaps a few cats or a dog as well. As he reflected on his dreams, a picture came into his mind, of two children playing in a back garden. The boy was bigger, possibly a couple of years older; tall, with dark hair and eyes like Clark. The girl had dark brown hair and eyes, and a smile … a very familiar smile which had the power to melt Clark's heart. A smile identical to that of her mother … Lois.
It was no good. Clark had known almost as soon as he met Lois that she was the woman he wanted to marry, to be the mother of his children.
Now she was going to have someone else's child. He wanted to find the man whose child she was carrying, to make him see just what he was missing, the precious gift he should be cherishing. He clenched his fists and grimaced. Lois had told him, she had made it very clear: it was none of his business who her child's father was.
And anyway, he argued fiercely with himself, anyone who could treat Lois Lane as just a — a one-night stand obviously did not appreciate her. Would never appreciate her as he, Clark, did. The baby's father did not deserve Lois or her child.
*He*, Clark, would be there for her.
Over the next few weeks Lois began to understand how a laboratory rat must feel. She had been poked and prodded, had blood taken from her, given numerous urine samples and been subjected to several internal examinations. Her gynaecologist confirmed that all was well with her and the baby, at which Lois was very relieved.
She had had serious doubts about going to see her doctor about the pregnancy; as she'd thought about the tests which would certainly be conducted, she had realised that there was a possibility that the baby's unusual parentage might well be detected. At the very least, if the baby had Superman's invulnerability, it might not be possible to conduct some of the normal prenatal tests.
But all had seemed well so far. So far … Lois crossed her fingers. She was still undecided about telling Superman he was to be a father; after all, not only did he have the right to know, she conceded reluctantly, but if there *were* things she should know about carrying a half-Kryptonian baby, he was the only one who could tell her.
But it wasn't as simple as just telling him. He still obviously remembered nothing about the night they had spent together. A week or so after Lois had discovered she was pregnant, she had covered a building collapse in the Hobbs Bay area of the city. Once he had done all he could to bring trapped people out of the building and to secure the structure so that the emergency services could get in, Superman had strolled over to the press representatives to answer a couple of questions. He had answered one from Lois, giving her a brief and very impersonal smile as he'd invited her to contribute. Later, when most of the other reporters had gone off to file their stories, Lois had been looking around at some of the debris, as usual trying to find that vital clue which had been missed by everyone else …
Superman had strolled up to her.
"Lois? Looking for something?"
She had spun around to face him, her heart in her mouth. Here was her chance; if he gave the slightest sign that he wanted to talk …
She had smiled, a genuine, broad smile indicating how pleased she was to see him.
"Superman! It's been a while since we talked … how are you?"
His voice had been distant, formal. "I'm fine, Lois. How are you? Indefatigable as ever, I see."
"Oh well … ," she'd said, dismissing his reference to what Clark called her terrier-like tenacity when it came to her work. "But are you really OK? I was worried, you know … after that asteroid, when you disappeared … "
His expression wasn't encouraging. Giving her a polite smile, he said, "You were at the press conference, I noticed. I was fine, just tired — it was a long journey. I must have slept for hours after I got back, though I still don't remember getting back." He inclined his head at her and added, "You take care, Lois. I must go."
With that, he had swung his cape around him and taken off, flying up and over the ruins of the collapsed building.
<Not like a lover at all> Lois thought. <If anything, he's even more distant than he was before it happened> Struck by a thought suddenly, she went rigid. <What if he does remember, and he's behaving like this so that I won't get any ideas about repeating the experience?>
On reflection, she had later decided that this was unlikely. Superman had always been clear about his moral standards. He believed in honesty and fairness; if he had done something which he regretted and which involved someone else, Lois was sure that he would say something, explain that it was a mistake, not simply expect the person to understand from his behaviour that he had changed his mind. <At least, I hope so … > she thought.
Clark wouldn't. The thought appeared from nowhere and planted itself in Lois's brain. Clark would tell her how he felt in such circumstances, even if it was difficult for him.
But then, Clark was just about the last decent, honest man alive. Lois was well aware of that. He had been so good to her in the past few weeks. He had kept his promise; the morning after she had discovered her pregnancy he had arrived at her apartment with several types of herbal tea, and insisted on making her a cup each day now while she got dressed. He continually distracted her with his bad jokes when she was feeling down. It *had* all helped, she had acknowledged.
He had also been incredibly protective of her. She had told him off for it, insisted that she was pregnant, not an invalid, but secretly she enjoyed his solicitousness. No-one had ever treated her like that before, as if she was something precious which needed to be cherished. He had never again raised the subject of the baby's father, recognising that it was a subject Lois did not want to discuss and respecting her privacy.
Instead, Clark quietly and unassumingly set about making Lois's life easier. A few days after she had done the test, he had bought her several books on pregnancy, which had been very helpful in explaining the changes her body was undergoing, how to cope with backache and morning sickness, and what to expect in the later stages. He also, without a word, started to bring her decaffeinated coffee at work, and when he went out for food for them, either at work or on the occasions they spent evenings together at one or other's apartment, he avoided ingredients inadvisable for pregnant women.
Clark could hardly be more caring if it was *his* baby I'm carrying, Lois found herself thinking one evening. It suddenly occurred to her that he would make an excellent father. Unlike her own father, Clark would love his children unconditionally. It wouldn't matter to Clark whether they were male or female, intelligent or not; he would love them and care for them regardless. He would make time for them, take them out for treats, play with them, talk to them … She sat up abruptly as she realised where her thoughts were taking her. *Clark* would be a terrific dad to her baby …
"Lois, oh God, Lois … "
Clark's eyes shot open suddenly as his mumblings woke him from his dream. And what a dream it had been. He couldn't understand it. He had had the same dream at least five times in the last few weeks, but he had no idea why, or what had triggered it.
In his dream, he was making love to Lois. Mad, crazy, passionate love. They were naked together in bed — her bed, he thought — although he had no idea how they had got there. One thing he was sure of, though: in his dream, Lois loved him every bit as much as he loved her.
But it was only a dream, and much as Clark wanted it to be true and had dreamt of making love with Lois in the past, he couldn't understand why *this* dream was so vivid, nor why it had recurred so frequently. Staring up at the ceiling now, he puzzled over the situation. Lois's pregnancy had definitely unsettled him, he knew. He had been able to deal with his unrequited love for her and had been perfectly happy for her to regard him as a friend as long as there was no-one else on the scene. He hadn't counted Lex Luthor as a significant rival for Lois's affections; she had been out with him a couple of times, but although she appeared to have been impressed by his power and status, she still regarded him as a challenge. As she had told Clark several times, Lois Lane was determined to get that first definitive Lex Luthor interview.
So while Lois was still single and heart-whole, Clark had been prepared to wait in the background. But now she was pregnant. Suddenly there was a large part of her life which was not open to him. *Who* had she been seeing? Who was this mysterious 'one-night-stand'? — the whole idea sounded completely alien to his image of Lois. But one thing was clear to Clark now: Lois's pregnancy appeared to have heightened his awareness of her as a sexual being. Being pregnant seemed to suit her: she looked even more beautiful than before, if that was possible, the changes to her body having softened her shape and given her features a more translucent appearance. Perhaps it was this increased awareness which had prompted his dreams.
He was jealous. He was well aware of that.
But on the other hand, he couldn't help thinking, selfish as it might be, a Lois Lane who was pregnant and alone might represent a potential opportunity. Perhaps, at last, she would *notice* Clark Kent. Not as a work partner and friend, but as a potential *life* partner. With that thought in mind, Clark had changed his behaviour towards Lois. As himself, Clark, he tried to be as helpful and considerate as possible, without making a nuisance of himself. But as Superman, he was distancing himself. He had been well aware that Lois was in danger of falling in love with the super-hero — with a character who doesn't even exist, Clark had muttered to himself a number of times in the past when witnessing evidence of Lois's attitude towards his *alter ego*. But he had also noticed her strange remarks about Superman the day after the asteroid crisis. Perhaps she was finally beginning to outgrow the crush? At any rate, Clark had decided that the less encouragement Lois received from the Man of Steel the better. So he had subtly withdrawn from her. He had not visited her at her apartment for about three months now, and when he encountered her in public as Superman, he was polite but distant. He had suspected that she was a little surprised at this behaviour, but he thought it worthwhile if it meant that Lois was no longer distracted by the red-and-blue suit. Perhaps in the absence of a super-hero to focus upon, she might begin to pay a little more attention to the man in glasses and a business suit who was in love with her.
"Clark, can I ask you a favour?" Lois barely waited until Clark had let himself in the door of her apartment before making her request.
Clark had been coming over to Lois's apartment first thing every morning ever since she'd told him that the herbal tea and some dry toast made the morning sickness easier to bear. She had given him her spare key, and he had developed a routine of simply letting himself in, making breakfast and carrying it in to her in her bedroom. She would drink and nibble in bed while he read aloud to her from some of the day's headlines, and then he would wait while she got up.
Now that she was into her fifth month, the morning sickness had eased off, but Clark continued to arrive at her apartment and accompany her to the Planet. Lois liked it, though she felt a little guilty that she hadn't told Clark she could manage by herself in the morning now; she could have given him the choice as to whether he wanted to continue or not. Instead, she said nothing, aware that Clark's strong sense of responsibility would ensure that as long as he thought she needed him, he would come. Now, though, she would join him in the kitchen for breakfast, and complain that she was fed up with toast and wanted a danish or a chocolate doughnut instead.
Lois found that pregnancy, now that the morning sickness had receded, was actually not an unpleasant state. The weight gain and some tiredness apart, Lois's body and hair felt extremely healthy; she supposed that the stories about pregnant women glowing were not so far from the truth. She was in excellent health, and in spite of her fears, was beginning to enjoy being pregnant. She did therefore feel guilty about continuing to take advantage of Clark's good nature in so many ways, but he had on so many occasions insisted that he liked being able to do things for her, and it did feel good.
"Sure, Lois, what is it?" Clark's voice burst in upon her thoughts, forcing her to concentrate on him again.
"Oh … you know I saw my doctor yesterday?" she began to explain.
"Yeah. Is everything OK?" Clark's concern was evident to Lois from his tone and his expression.
"Fine, no problems," Lois reassured him. "But I've got an appointment for an ultrasound in a couple of days. I should have had one before now, but anyway … It sounds pretty exciting — I'll be able to see my baby! But it will also show if there are any problems … deformities, anything like that … " for an instant, her face was clouded " … and I can bring someone with me. Most women go with their partners, but … " She paused. "Anyway, Clark, I was wondering … would you come with me?"
Clark's eyes widened. Lois could have asked her mother, her sister — both knew she was pregnant and were being supportive, although Ellen's support occasionally managed to irritate Lois. But she had chosen him! "Lois, I'd be delighted — and honoured."
Lois grinned at him and said, "Great — I'll have someone to scream at if I get carried away." She hooked her arm through his and added, "So, you driving us in today?"
At the Planet later that day, Lois knocked at Perry White's door. She had decided that, while she wasn't ready for the entire newsroom to know about her pregnancy yet, her editor deserved to be told.
She had reckoned without Perry White's reporter instincts. As she told him, she saw with astonishment that his expression showed no surprise.
"Aw, Lois, do you think I don't notice anything? Like the way you rub your back from time to time? Or the fact that you've been looking a little green around the gills in the mornings for a while? I figured that any time now you'd be in here asking me about the Planet's maternity leave arrangements." Perry gave her a straight look. "Anyway, I remember what Alice was like when she was pregnant, and it wasn't too difficult to spot the signs."
Lois was taken aback; she hadn't realised it had been so obvious. "Does … everyone know?"
"Aw, no, I don't think so," her editor replied. "Most people around here are too busy getting on with their own lives to notice. And people are in and out of the newsroom all the time. I'm about the only one who's here all day, and anyway, I've been in this business a long time. I guess I see things most other people wouldn't."
<Like Clark Kent> Perry thought to himself after Lois had left. <Does she really think she can fool me with that ridiculous story about the baby's father being no-one we know and none of anyone's business? It's as plain as the nose on Elvis's face that Clark's the daddy-to-be, the way he looks out for Lois these days. Solicitous … there's no other word for it. That boy's on the way to being a father, and he knows it.>
<So why in the Sam Hill aren't they moving in together or at least being open about their relationship?> Perry scratched his head in bemusement.
" … and it was absolutely miraculous, Mom! We could see the baby moving around — it looked so tiny and perfect, and Lois just cried and held my hand." Clark's expression was ecstatic as he told his parents about the ultrasound Lois had had earlier that day. As he spoke, he recalled Lois's reaction, and the expression on her face. Rarely had he seen his hard-bitten newswoman of a partner so moved by any experience.
Martha and Jonathan exchanged glances, and Jonathan approached his son. Placing a hand on Clark's arm, he spoke in a concerned voice. "Now Clark, I don't want you to think that we're not pleased for Lois. We're glad she's well and the baby's all right. But your mom and I are worried about you. Clark, you know this isn't your baby Lois is carrying, yet you're starting to talk and behave as if … well, as if you want it to be."
Feeling as if he'd just been slapped in the face, Clark jerked away from his father's grasp. "I *know* it's not my child!" he retorted angrily. "But I promised Lois I'd be there to help her and support her, and that's what I'm doing. It's what I *want* to do. The baby's — parentage — isn't important."
Martha moved across the kitchen towards Clark. "Clark, honey, you know your father and I only have your interests at heart. We know you love Lois, and we know that you would bring up her child as your own if she wanted you to. And we don't object to that — as long as it was for the right reasons. As long as Lois loved you too."
"But son," Jonathan added, "that's not on the agenda, is it? Lois hasn't said anything about what happens after the baby is born — or about wanting you as more than a friend. Has she?" Clark didn't reply. Jonathan continued, "We have to remember that the baby's father is still out there somewhere, and whatever Lois says now, she may well decide later that she wants him involved — and where will that leave you?"
Clark remained silent, aware that his parents were only raising questions which were also uppermost in his mind, much as he tried to ignore them. He *was* worried that closer to the birth, or after the baby was born, Lois would want to tell the father and give him a chance of knowing his child. Then it would be "thanks for all your help, Clark," and back to being partners and friends, and a permanent role of "Uncle Clark" to her child. And years upon years of pretending that his feelings for Lois were no stronger than that of one friend for another.
But regardless of all this, he was still determined to carry on doing whatever he could to help Lois. He faced his parents at last. "Mom, Dad, I appreciate your concern. Really, I do. But Lois is … special to me, and even if I wasn't in love with her I'd want to help her. What happens after the baby's born … " he shrugged, "who knows?"
Martha and Jonathan exchanged glances again; they knew their son, and they were well aware that in this instance he had made up his mind. Their only concern was for his happiness, and silently they shared their hope that, whatever happened, Clark would not ultimately be hurt by whatever course of action Lois chose to take.
In her apartment, Lois was on the telephone, fielding her mother's more and more insistent questions about her pregnancy. She had phoned her mother because Ellen had made Lois promise to let her know how the ultrasound had gone, but she was now beginning to regret making the call …
"Yes, Mother, I am taking folic acid and vitamin supplements … "
"Yes, Mother, I am watching what I eat … "
"Yes, Mother, it was very thorough — the baby's healthy and as developed as it should be at this stage … "
"No, I don't know whether it's a boy or a girl. It wasn't positioned right for the technician to be able to tell, but anyway I'm not sure I want to know now … "
She listened to her mother again, inserting 'yes' and 'uh-huh' at what she hoped were appropriate points as Ellen rambled on about friends of hers who had hoped for a baby of one particular sex and then were disappointed after the birth to discover that the baby was not what had been desired. Lois, who was well aware of how it felt to have been a child of the 'wrong' sex, was determined that she would have no expectations of her baby in that respect.
She was disturbed in this musing by the realisation that Ellen had moved on to another bone of contention: the fact that Lois had chosen to ask Clark to accompany her to the scan, and not her mother. <You fuss too much! That's why I didn't want you to come> Lois muttered to herself silently. <I'd like to have you there, but I couldn't bear all the questions, comments, criticisms … >
"Clark's a close friend, Mother, and he's been very good to me," she explained patiently.
"Well, I suppose it was less embarrassing for you, turning up with a man," Ellen replied with a resigned sigh. "I hope you were sensible enough to let the staff think he's the father?"
"Why would I need to do that?" Lois exclaimed, finally feeling herself losing her battle for control over her patience. "It's not as if there's anything unusual or shameful about single parenthood these days."
"Well, Lois, I still think that every child needs its father — that's why I stayed with your father for so long," Ellen retorted in a critical tone. "And I still don't understand why you won't tell anyone who the father is. It's as if you've got something to hide, or you're protecting someone," she finished.
<How true that is!> Lois thought, listening to her mother warm to a theme which had been the subject of many conversations over the past couple of months. "Look, Mother — " she began, but was interrupted by Ellen.
"In fact, given the way Clark Kent fusses over you — and the way you let him! — I'm sure everyone must think he's the father. In fact," she added triumphantly, "I wouldn't be at all surprised if he was! I'd just like to know why he won't admit responsibility like any decent man ought to."
"Mother!!" Lois exclaimed, now genuinely angry. "Clark is *not* my baby's father! And don't you go suggesting to *anyone* that he might be!" Lois was appalled at the thought; Clark certainly did not deserve anyone's condemnation. And what if Ellen happened to visit Lois when Clark was with her — would she accuse him outright?
"Lois Lane, how dare you speak to your mother like that!"
The knock on the door came as a welcome relief to Lois. Speaking loudly to be heard over her mother's continued complaints about ungrateful and disrespectful daughters, Lois said firmly that she had to go, and replaced the receiver.
Glancing through her spy-hole before opening the front door of her apartment, Lois saw that her visitor was in fact Clark. Although he possessed a key to her apartment, he was sensitive to Lois's privacy and only used the key when he came over each morning. As she let Clark in, Lois noticed that he was carrying some files, and he explained that he'd had some further thoughts about their long-running investigation into Intergang and wanted to discuss his ideas with her. Grateful for the distraction, Lois helped him to spread out the papers on her dining table, and they got to work. However, Lois found it difficult to give her full concentration to the investigation; her thoughts kept drifting back to the conversation with her mother. Of course Lois wasn't surprised that people should speculate on the identity of her baby's father; it was disturbing, however, to find the speculation focusing on Clark. Not only was Lois concerned as to how Clark might feel if he discovered that he was under suspicion, but the idea also brought to mind thoughts of Clark, not as a friend and partner, but as a lover. To Lois's great surprise, the images running through her mind were having a strange — and not at all unwelcome — effect on her.
As they took a break some time later, Clark looked across at Lois. He had been aware that there was something troubling her; he had noticed as soon as he had arrived that she was attempting to calm herself down, but as time had gone by the apparent anger had died away, to be replaced by some other emotion which he couldn't quite identify. Deciding that this was as good a time as any to see whether he could help, he smiled across at his partner and friend.
"I'm kinda thirsty, Lois — can I get you a drink while I'm making myself one?"
Lois started to get to her feet. "I'll do it, Clark." His hand on her shoulder pressed her gently into her seat again.
"I think I know my way around your kitchen by now, Lois — I'm certainly capable of making myself coffee." He threw her a grin as he sauntered into the kitchen area. "Anyway, I think I prefer my coffee to yours … " He ducked as Lois aimed a screwed-up piece of paper at him, smiling to himself in the realisation that his little barb had had the effect of distracting her from her thoughts, as he'd thought it would.
A couple of minutes later, Clark placed a cup of jasmine tea in front of Lois, and, sipping his own coffee, he gave her a direct stare. "So, Lois, what's on your mind?"
Startled, Lois stared back at Clark, eyes wide. She was aware that at times he was far more astute than he was often given credit for, but she hadn't expected him to pick up on her mood this evening. She debated fobbing him off with an excuse, but then realised that it was very possible that he would see through that as well. And anyway, it was really only fair to Clark that he should know what her mother had said …
Taking a deep breath, Lois began nervously, "Clark, I think you should know that my mother thinks you're my baby's father." She kept her eyes focused on his face. To her surprise, instead of the shock and horror that she had expected, Clark smiled wryly.
"That makes two, I guess," he murmured.
"Two?" Lois exclaimed.
"I'm pretty sure Perry thinks that way too," Clark explained. "I seem to have fallen out of favour suddenly, and he's given me some pretty judgmental looks in the last few days. You know how protective he is of you … "
"But Clark, I *told* Perry that the father … that it was no-one anyone at the Planet knows and … you know, Clark, what I've told you," Lois protested.
"Yeah, I guess so, but it looks like Perry doesn't believe it," Clark replied, musing silently that he wasn't actually sure he believed her story about a one-night stand either. It seemed to be so out of character for Lois, he had realised once he had had time to think it over, and after a week or so he had decided that he just didn't find it convincing.
"Oh Clark!" Lois wailed despairingly. "I never meant to do this to you - you've been so kind and supportive and really, really great … and all you get in return is for my mother and Perry to see you as a deadbeat dad! I'm so sorry -"
"I'm not, Lois," Clark interjected insistently. "You know I'm happy to be here for you. I don't care what anyone else thinks — as far as I'm concerned Perry can believe what he wants."
"I'll tell him you're not responsible," Lois insisted. "In fact, I'll announce it to the entire newsroom, if they're so interested. 'Clark Kent is not the father of my baby. Clark and I have never even kissed each other, let alone engaged in that kind of intimacy' -"
"Now Lois, you know that's not true," Clark interrupted with a knowing grin. "We have kissed — a few times, if my memory serves me correctly." He watched with amusement as Lois's expression turned from indignation to blushing embarrassment.
"But … well, they don't count. They weren't proper kisses," Lois protested. "Once was to distract Trask when he wanted to push me out of that plane; then you kissed me to say goodbye that time you left Metropolis … and you can't possibly count when I was under the influence of that dratted pheromone!"
"And of course, in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor," Clark added softly, observing Lois's face flush again as the memory of that particular kiss came back to her. It had been extremely passionate, and completely unlike anything she had expected from Clark … Her own reaction had also taken her by surprise, and she had been almost disappointed to discover that Clark had only kissed her to maintain their cover in front of the chambermaid.
That had been quite a kiss, Clark mused. Regardless of his original motives, he had very quickly become carried away with the passion of the moment, as, he suspected, had Lois. That incident had made him wonder a little about Lois's claimed indifference to him.
"Well, never mind that!" Lois said hurriedly, trying to disguise her embarrassment and the growing suspicion that she would be more than happy if Clark decided to kiss her again. She dipped her head, allowing her dark hair to obscure her features, and added quickly, "We have to deal with a more important issue here. We can't have everyone assuming you're responsible … "
"Lois, I've already told you, I don't care what people think. You should know that by now," Clark insisted, getting up from his seat and crossing to crouch in front of Lois. He took her hands in his. "You can tell people whatever you want. It doesn't bother me if you'd rather say nothing and simply let them assume what they like." He wondered idly why he had made that offer; was he somehow hoping that Lois would become accustomed to the idea of Clark as a father to her baby? That if other people thought of them as a couple about to become parents, Lois might find it easier simply to allow perception to become reality?
Lois smiled in relief at Clark. She had been worried that he might be angry to think that her pregnancy was being attributed to him, especially as he'd done nothing but help her since he'd found out. "You're so sweet, Clark," she replied softly. "But I couldn't take advantage of your good nature like that. Everyone would want to know why we weren't moving in together, or … " She broke off as the other logical option occurred to her.
"Or getting married," Clark finished for her in a quiet tone.
*Married.* To Clark? Lois was shocked at her reaction: the thought wasn't at all unpleasant.. <But that's impossible — how *can* I … — I love *Superman*! Maybe it's just because Clark's been so good to me, and the thought of being alone … *No*!> she told herself angrily. <I will *not* use Clark like that!!> She stood up, pulling her hands away from Clark's, and walked across the room, her heart beating at a furious rate. <What am I thinking of?> she asked herself, as she tried to calm herself sufficiently to resume the discussion.
Clark, meanwhile, had been weighing in his mind the idea of actually proposing to Lois. He had no idea whether she would be likely to accept, but he wondered, given that they had been getting much closer of late and that Lois had barely mentioned Superman for weeks, if there was a possibility that she was beginning to care for him, for Clark rather than the super-hero. Even if she was willing to see him as a safe haven in the storm … that would be a start; successful marriages had been made out of less …
But when Lois pulled away from him, he sighed. <Not a good idea — it's obvious that she hates the very thought of it. It's too soon, in any case … > Grimacing, he got to his feet, took their cups into the kitchen and busied himself washing them, and then returned to the table to collect the papers he had brought with him.
Lois turned, hearing the shuffling of papers, and exclaimed in surprise, "Clark? You're not leaving? We haven't finished discussing … "
"I don't think we're going to get much further with Intergang this evening, Lois — you're tired, and I'm not sure I can give it my full attention," Clark replied. "I'll go and let you get some rest." <Better to leave now before she realises that I was about to ask her … >
Lois crossed to him, placing her hand on his arm. This was a topic, she felt, which needed to be dealt with *now*; she couldn't let Clark leave yet. Besides, he now seemed to be preoccupied with something; if he was really concerned that he was being identified as the man who had made her pregnant, she needed to reassure him. "Clark, I meant that we need to talk about what we're going to do. I can't let you be blamed for … " she hesitated, raising her brown eyes to Clark's face, "this," she finished, gesturing to her stomach.
"'Blame' sounds such a censorious word, Lois," Clark commented, letting the papers fall to the table again. "I know you didn't exactly want to be pregnant, but do you really feel that hostile to the guy who made the baby with you?" His deep brown eyes held hers. Clark wasn't sure why he'd asked that question; was he trying to torture himself with the knowledge that Lois had *enjoyed* sleeping with the baby's father, that she still cared for him? Or was he genuinely trying to ensure that she didn't feel resentful towards the baby?
He watched the expressions cross Lois's face: a wistful smile, as if at some distant memory; then puzzlement, disillusionment; finally, a determined expression. He flinched, now wishing he hadn't raised the subject.
"No, Clark, *I* don't blame him; I don't regret the experience at all!" she replied at last, insistently. "I do wish that some things could have been different, though … " she added, thinking of Superman's apparent complete loss of memory where that fateful night was concerned, and his altered attitude towards her ever since. Why had he appeared to go out of his way to create a distance between them … ? Shaking her head, she pushed such thoughts from her mind; there was no point in dwelling on something which couldn't be altered. "It's not me who looks at it in terms of blame: it's my mother, and maybe Perry, and maybe other people. And I don't want people thinking badly of you, especially when you've been so good to me."
"That's up to you, Lois — though I want you to know that I really don't mind," Clark assured her, trying to put out of his mind the hurt he'd felt at realising how much Lois clearly cared for her mysterious lover.
Still touching Clark's arm, Lois's expression silently asked him why he was willing to be thought responsible for her pregnancy. He met her gaze and shrugged lightly, covering her hand briefly with his. "If it stops people pestering you, trying to find out who … " He left the sentence unfinished, then added, "Well anyway, it doesn't bother me if Perry or anyone else makes assumptions, so don't feel you have to put anyone straight unless you really want to."
Lois grimaced. "It would certainly stop my mother asking interminable questions!" she commented, half-laughing. "But you certainly don't want her demanding to know why you haven't done the decent thing by her daughter, Clark! *No-one* deserves that!"
"You can always tell her you turned me down, Lois," Clark suggested with a wry smile. "I can get down on one knee now if you'd like … ?" Again, he wondered why he was torturing himself. If Lois only knew that he was aching to propose to her for real …
"Don't, Clark. You never know — I might just say yes and then where would you be?" Lois teased. <And right at this moment, if he asked me I probably would say yes> she admitted to herself. <But would it be for the right reasons? What *would* be the right reasons?>
Before Clark could reply, before he could even decide what to say, Lois moved away, deliberately breaking the mood. The conversation this evening, she felt, was moving onto dangerous territory. The subject of marriage had come up twice, and there had been the discussion about kisses they had shared; the memories which that had brought up had disturbed Lois more than she cared to admit. *Why* was she suddenly feeling this … strange attraction … to Clark? Was she simply looking for an easy way out of her situation?
<It's because I'm pregnant. My hormones are shot to pieces> she insisted to herself. Deliberately, Lois yawned. "You're right, Clark; I am tired. Do you mind if we call it a night?" She moved towards the door of her apartment in a further subtle hint. As Clark exited, she reached for him and hugged him lightly, a gesture which he returned warmly.
"Thanks, Clark … for — you know, everything … " Lois murmured softly against his shoulder.
Clark, unseen by Lois, grimaced, but gently patted her back in a reassuring manner. "Sure, Lois. You sleep well. See you tomorrow."
Clark was quite grateful for the excuse to leave. As he exited the building, his thoughts drifted back again to Lois's expression and her words when he had asked her about the baby's father. He was now very sure that Lois's story about the one-night stand was a fiction: it just sounded so unconvincing. He was well aware that — unlike himself! — Lois was sexually experienced, but from what he had seen of her in the year and a bit they had known each other, she was certainly not promiscuous.
But he also felt that, whatever she claimed, she was in love with the man, whoever he was. Her expression when he had asked her about the baby's conception had shown her feelings clearly, whether or not Lois realised it. The relationship, whatever it had been, was obviously over, but Lois's feelings had not died. So he must have abandoned her … and if he changed his mind, if he came back into her life, Lois would welcome him with open arms.
And where would that leave Clark?
The same place as always, he reflected, ducking into an alley and spinning into his super-suit. Good old Clark, great friend, always there to help when needed.
He took off, shooting directly upwards into the night sky. <What if I'm *not* there?> he asked himself. After all, why should he continue to do everything she wanted, be there when she needed him, even be prepared to take on the responsibility of someone else's child, when she was never likely to care for him in the way he wanted?
<Because you *are* her friend> his conscience pointed out to him. <Are you really only helping her because you think she'll fall into your arms with gratitude and marry you?>
<I don't want her gratitude. I want her love!> Clark replied to the taunting voice inside his head.
<If you really love her, you will be her friend regardless of whether you get anything in return.>
And I'll watch her go off with her ex-lover one of these days, too, Clark mused. It might well come to that, he knew. But he had no choice. He did love Lois; and however hurt and bitter he felt at the thought that she was in love with someone else, he would not abandon her. He would arrive at her apartment at 7 am the following morning to make breakfast for her, as usual, and the next day and the day after that. Because she needed him.
But there was still the mystery of her ex-lover's identity. It clearly had to be someone she was, or had been, very close to. And Clark, who had spent most of his waking hours in the past year with Lois, could only think of two people with whom Lois might have had that kind of relationship. One was Superman, the other Lex Luthor.
<And she told me it wasn't Luthor> he recalled in relief. But that leaves …
<Don't be ridiculous!> he chided himself in disbelief. <Of course it wasn't me! How could it have been?>
<If you weren't Superman, he would be the obvious choice> his conscience pointed out.
<Maybe, but as I *am* Superman, that rules that one out, wouldn't you say?> Clark retorted to himself. His conscience had no answer to that one.
As he touched down on the balcony of his own apartment a few moments later, he remembered the last couple of minutes of their conversation, and it occurred to him to wonder why Lois had warned him to be careful about proposing to her: "Don't, Clark, I might just say yes … "
<No. She was just joking. She didn't mean it> he damped down the faint stirring of excitement which had dared to rise in his heart. Leaving the files which he had brought home with him from Lois's apartment on a table, he flew off into the night again, looking for someone to help, something to take his mind off Lois.
<What was I thinking of!> Lois exclaimed silently as she prepared for bed. <I practically begged Clark to ask me to marry him!>
Memories of the conversation flooded insistently through Lois's brain; she simply couldn't put it out of her mind. The subject of marriage had come up twice, and on both occasions it had been her fault. She didn't *want* to marry Clark, and he certainly didn't want to marry her … but she couldn't understand just what she was feeling for him.
<Clark's a friend — my best friend. That's all!> she insisted to herself, as she tossed and turned, unable to sleep. But the unwelcome reminder of her reaction as she had remembered their kisses invaded her thoughts. And then there was the pheromone spray … they had worked out that the spray only caused a reaction where there was an underlying attraction to begin with. Which meant that she *was* in some way attracted to Clark. Well, okay, he was quite an attractive man, she admitted. In a conservative sort of way. For someone who likes that type of guy.
<That kiss, in the Lexor hotel … where did he learn to kiss like that?!> Lois wondered, as her body grew heated at the memory. <Probably behind the dairy-freeze with some corn queen> she mocked herself, attempting to ignore the growing conviction that she *did* feel more for Clark than platonic friendship.
<I love Superman! And I know I'm attracted to him — that night proved just how good we were together> she insisted to herself, sitting up as she realised that sleep was not going to come easily tonight. <But Superman doesn't want you … > a voice taunted.
"So that means I settle for Clark, does it?" she muttered. "Is that fair to Clark? And how do I know he's even interested? He'd run a mile in the opposite direction if he thought he was going to be lumbered with me and a baby." Lois sighed. <I'd just better make sure he knows he isn't going to be trapped into any situation he doesn't want.>
Over the next few days, Perry White noticed that both Lois and Clark appeared constrained in their dealings with one another. This in some ways was a state of affairs to which he was not unused; while his top reporters really were turning into 'the best team in town' within a year of his teaming them up permanently, they did have a tendency to argue from time to time, and occasionally those arguments turned into full-scale wars. Sometimes the aftermath of these arguments dragged on for days; frequently one of them (usually Lois) would appear to be the injured party and would act as if she or he was simply oblivious to the other's presence, while the other (usually Clark) would try to apologise, only to retreat in the face of being ignored and ridiculed. Sometimes both felt aggrieved and believed that whatever actions or words on their part had led to the argument had been fully justified, and so both behaved towards each other with an exaggerated politeness which masked their seething emotions.
But over the past four months or so there had been no such rows. Clark had been noticeably solicitous towards Lois, while she appeared to appreciate and enjoy his assistance and concern. For some weeks now, they had taken to arriving in the newsroom together; while this was not exactly unheard of, Lois having occasionally in the past offered Clark, who did not drive, a ride to work, their simultaneous arrival each day was new. When Clark was absent from the office, as he still tended to be from time to time — and Perry still had not managed to obtain a satisfactory explanation for these sudden disappearances — Lois could occasionally be observed staring over at the empty desk as if attempting to conjure up her absent partner. The confirmation of Lois's pregnancy had appeared to Perry to explain these changes in their relationship, although he was still baffled as to why the two of them appeared to be pretending that Lois's condition had nothing to do with Clark. That story Lois had spun him about some man she barely knew was as phoney as a party of Elvis impersonators.
But now the two of them were walking on eggshells around each other again. Clark was still very protective in his behaviour towards Lois, that much was obvious, but instead of the warm smiles and gestures which had been in evidence over the previous several weeks, his manner was much more tentative. It was as if he was afraid of rejection. This was an unusual response from Clark; in his early days at the Planet he had continually faced rejection and rebuffs from Lois, but this had never appeared to deter him. On the contrary, it had simply made him more determined to pursue her. Then had come the period in which Lois had accepted him as a friend, and their relationship had altered, become much closer and exhibited clear signs of mutual liking and respect. And of course more recently they had been behaving like an established couple, but for the oddity of the aura of secrecy surrounding Lois's pregnancy.
Lois was also noticeably awkward in Clark's company, Perry thought, and over the last couple of days she had seemed to avoid meeting Clark's eyes. When he spoke to her, her acknowledgement was usually low-voiced, constrained — although not unfriendly, it did not encourage further conversation.
But this new behaviour, Perry was aware, was not the same as on previous occasions when Lois and Clark had rowed. There was not the same suppressed anger or hurt in the atmosphere. On this occasion, it was as if they were both embarrassed by something which had happened, and were both so afraid that the other would refer to it that they were almost avoiding all possible contact and conversation other than what was necessary to do their jobs. Clark's protectiveness towards Lois did continue, but in a less obvious way.
This state of affairs worried Perry, and not only because he was afraid that it would affect their work. He genuinely cared about the staff at the Planet, and in particular, he had felt for some years that Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen were in many ways closer to him than members of his own family. The more recent arrival at the Planet, Clark Kent, had also quietly and unassumingly taken his own place in Perry's affections. Perry had for some time nursed the secret hope that the older two, his star reporters, would form a partnership outside work as well as professionally, and it had seemed as if this was finally happening. But now … this change in their behaviour towards each other was not good.
So when Lois approached Perry to ask if she could be given some solo assignments, he thought for some moments before replying. Would some time on her own, away from Clark, allow Lois the opportunity to reflect on the situation and her true feelings and help her to see that, whatever had happened between the two of them, it wasn't worth the loss of the relationship?
Or would Clark see Lois's desire to work alone as a final rejection of him and everything he might have meant to her?
Perry hesitated, then decided that peace was more likely to break out if Lois was forced to remain in close proximity to Clark. He assumed his sternest editorial manner, telling Lois that he needed the two of them working together, for the good of the paper. Using the most combative of his usual lines in such situations, he pointed out that the working arrangements at the Planet were designed for the most effective producing of news stories, not for the convenience of its reporters. And since sales were beginning to slide thanks to the tactics of their competitors, Lane and Kent were needed more than ever to get out there and get the news - together. Journalists were hired to work on assignments given to them by the editor, and if Lois was not happy with that, she should know what options were available to her. And while he, Perry, was certainly happy to make whatever allowances were necessary for her pregnancy, where appropriate, he didn't think that solo assignments — unless she was asking to cover the Metropolis Cat Show and similar fluff pieces — were what was currently required.
Lois exited Perry White's office wondering, as she occasionally did, just what side of bed her editor had got out on that morning. All she had done was to make a simple request, that she work on her own for a bit. It wasn't as if she had pitched him a story which wouldn't stand up, or which needed vast amounts of expenses, or indeed if she'd asked to start her maternity leave now instead of in three months' time. No, all she wanted was some assignments on her own. It wasn't even as if she was incapable of working alone — what on earth had she been doing before Clark came to the Planet, for heaven's sake? She even had three Kerth awards for her own work. And Clark was also a good journalist, so surely Perry could see that if she worked solo there should be twice as many good stories coming in.
And it wasn't as if she had asked to break up the Lane-Kent partnership permanently, anyway. She had just suggested a couple of weeks, one or two investigations, that was all. Just to give her time and space to put these strange feelings and embarrassing memories out of her head — not that she had told Perry that. Yet Perry had insisted that she carry on working with Clark as normal, and made it clear that if she wasn't happy about that she could look for another job or find herself covering no-brain stories until her maternity leave. She, Lois Lane, an award-winning investigative journalist!
Lois stalked back over to her desk and threw herself into her chair with a loud sigh.
Clark, who had seen Lois enter Perry's office and had noticed her gesticulating and looking annoyed during the discussion, got up and strolled across to Lois. He had with difficulty restrained himself from listening to the conversation with his super-hearing; he suspected that it might have had something to do with him, but he'd had no proof and in any case it was none of his business.
He approached Lois's desk, noticing with amusement the frenzied way in which she was introducing a pencil to a sheet of paper. He touched her shoulder lightly; she jumped.
"Clark! Do you have to creep up on people like that?"
"Sorry, Lois, I didn't mean to startle you," he apologised, wondering why he still felt that he was tiptoeing on thin ice around Lois. That awkward discussion, when he had very nearly made it patently obvious how he felt about her, had been several days ago now. He tried a more light-hearted approach. "What's that pencil done to annoy you?"
Clark moved to perch on the edge of Lois's desk. "You're stabbing it into that page as if you were trying to kill something." He reached out and gently but firmly removed the pencil from Lois's grasp, glancing at the page as he did so. The only words on the page appeared to be a shopping list, with 'Rocky Road ice-cream' and 'Double Fudge Crunch bars' heading the list.
"Going shopping on your way home, huh?" he remarked.
Lois grunted. "Maybe," she replied without looking up at Clark. She sat rigidly in her chair, willing him to go away and leave her alone. She felt oddly uncomfortable with him so close to her.
Clark was well aware that his presence was considered unnecessary and perhaps even unwelcome, but he had not enjoyed the difference in their relationship over the previous few days. He decided that it was time to try to get things back to normal. "Lois, tell me it's none of my business if you like, but has Perry upset you?"
Lois sighed, contemplated telling Clark to mind his own business, then decided against it. After all, what had Clark done to deserve that? All he had done was to try to make her life easier; he hadn't asked her to start thinking of him as … a potential lover. It wasn't his fault that she had started dreaming about a lover who appeared to be a curious amalgam of Superman and Clark.
And anyway, whatever the state of her turbulent emotions, she *needed* Clark right now. Not for what he was willing to do for her, but because even with Clark's calm, good-natured concern there had been many occasions over the past weeks when Lois had felt ready to scream the place down. She couldn't have contemplated coping with two months of morning sickness without Clark's kind, unassuming presence in her apartment, and he also seemed to know just how to help her calm down after conversations with her mother. Her mother … Ellen was being generally supportive, but Lois did wish that her mother could offer support and encouragement in a manner more like Martha Kent's non-judgemental style.
Lois thought for about the thousandth time that Clark was extremely fortunate in his parents. And the Kents had always been very kind to her; Martha Kent had been particularly supportive about the baby on occasions when she had seen Clark's parents or spoken to them on the phone. Lois had, however, sensed a slight degree of reserve in Jonathan lately, and guessed that there was some unhappiness about Clark's involvement in the situation; she wasn't entirely surprised at this, and was grateful that the Kents weren't allowing their feelings to get in the way of their relationship with Clark.
"Lois?" Clark prompted.
"Oh — sorry, Clark," she responded, leaning back in her chair and stretching her back. "Oh, you know how Perry can be sometimes — I put an idea to him, and you'd have thought it was completely off the wall by the way he reacted. But I guess it doesn't matter."
"Want to talk about it?" Clark enquired, his eyes studying Lois's face and noticing the dark shadows under her eyes.
"No, there's no point." She met Clark's eyes and smiled hesitantly. "Look, Clark, I'm sorry about the other night … "
He shook his head, relieved and very pleased that she had raised the subject; also a little ashamed that he himself had not had the courage to do so. "What about? You didn't do anything to apologise for — it's not your fault if people are jumping to the wrong conclusion about us, and you have no obligation to explain either."
Lois dipped her head, allowing her glossy dark hair to obscure her face. Maybe he hadn't read anything into her strange behaviour after all? She took a deep breath. "No, I meant … well, things have been a bit strained between us since then … "
Clark sighed. "Yeah, I know. I wondered whether … well, if I'd spoken out of turn by asking about — " He hesitated, gesturing with his hand towards Lois's developing bump.
Lois reached out towards Clark, and touched his hand where it rested on his knee. "No, you didn't. I'm not surprised you're curious, and I guess with all you've done for me, you have more right to be than anyone else."
Clark turned his hand over and curled his fingers around Lois's much smaller one. "You're perfectly entitled to say nothing to anyone."
"I know, Clark, and there are … good reasons why I'm not saying anything," she replied softly, so quietly that he almost had to use his super-hearing to hear her. "I promise you, if I ever do want … or *need* … to tell anyone his identity, it'd be you I'd tell." <And one of these days I may have to!> she thought to herself. <This isn't going to be just any baby, and sometime in the next few months I'll have to decide what to do about that … >
Clark became conscious that a number of newsroom colleagues were watching them curiously. He stood up and dropped Lois's hand, murmuring that this was not perhaps the best place for this discussion.
"We should get to work anyway," Lois agreed, grateful for the opportunity to change the subject, now that the air appeared to have been cleared. "If Perry's on the warpath, I don't want him demanding to know why we're socialising on Planet time."
"Well, I was going to talk to you about that before you disappeared in there," Clark replied, nodding towards the editor's office. "I got a tip-off this morning that those arson attacks on small merchants in the north of the city are linked, and that it's connected with a planning application for a new shopping mall in the area. I think we should check it out."
Her journalistic instincts aroused, Lois instantly switched into professional mode. "A reliable source, Clark? We don't want to waste our time following up cranks."
"Very reliable," Clark answered. "A phone call from someone who's given me a couple of tip-offs in the past, and they've turned out to be dead on. And remember, both Superman and the fire department commented that the methods used were similar, although there hasn't been any forensic evidence so far to prove a link."
"OK," Lois agreed. "We should get onto it — as long as Perry doesn't think that Anna should take it? She wrote the reports on the fires originally."
"True," Clark agreed, "but that was when everyone thought they were isolated incidents. She hasn't been following them up, and you know Perry wouldn't give her this kind of investigation yet. I'll let him know we're on it — he shouldn't object since we've just about finished that series on the city council."
Some time later, having compiled a list of merchants who had been subject to attacks and others who had not, but operated the kind of outlets which might be found in a shopping mall, Lois and Clark set out to interview the owners. They had decided to ask whether anyone knew of the proposed mall, whether objections had been lodged, and whether any of the merchants had received any offers to sell, or to move into the mall.
The line of enquiry appeared to be fruitful; of the four shops attacked, three owners had been vociferous in their opposition to the mall. Two had received letters offering to buy them out, which they had refused. A further five shops, not so far attacked, had received similar letters, from an anonymous property holding company, offering to buy. As the reporters returned to Lois's jeep with the intention of going back to the Planet to check out the holding company, they felt very satisfied with the results of their afternoon's work.
Suddenly a loud explosion made them jump.
"My God, Clark, what was that?" Lois exclaimed, dropping her briefcase and spinning around in shock.
Just along the road, the jewellery shop they had left only a couple of minutes before was in flames. The front window had blown out and shards of glass were all over the pavement. Large, angry orange flames licked their way along the outside facade, and the interior of the shop was a raging inferno.
"Clark — the owner — he was in there!" Lois ejaculated, horrified.
Clark was already tugging at his tie; he gripped Lois's upper arm and said urgently, "Lois, go call the police and fire department. I'm going to see what I can do."
As he ran off towards the shop, Lois stared after him and shrieked, "No, Clark, you can't go in there … " She watched in horror as he pushed open what remained of the door and disappeared into the blazing shop. Remembering what he had asked her to do, she fumbled in her briefcase for her mobile phone and called the emergency services.
Clark, meanwhile, had managed to change into the super-Suit under cover of the flames as he'd entered the shop; he ran over to the counter and saw the prone figure on the floor behind it. The owner, a middle-aged black man, was covered in shattered glass and items of jewellery. Clark bent and examined him; he was breathing still, though coughing due to the smoke in the shop. He also appeared to have suffered burns, though Clark didn't wait to determine their seriousness. Quickly, he picked the man up and carried him out through the shattered window, stepping over broken shop fittings and detritus as he did so. He laid the man carefully on the pavement some distance from the burning building, then turned to go back inside to put out the fire.
About to take a deep breath in order to blow on the flames, Clark noticed Lois attempting to get close to the burning building, with an anxious expression on her face. In a flash, he was beside her; he swept her up and carried her some distance from the flames. As he set her on her feet, he turned back and blew on the building with his super-breath. Satisfied that the fire was almost completely extinguished, he turned back to Lois.
"What on earth did you think you were doing? Do you always have to jump feet first into trouble?" he demanded in a low, angry voice.
Hands on her hips, Lois faced the blue-suited superhero. "Superman, Clark ran into that shop, and he hasn't come out yet! Wouldn't it be a better use of your time to make sure he's all right, instead of criticising me?" Her voice was unsteady, partly through genuine fear for the safety of her partner, but also through the shock of coming face-to-face with Superman after such a long time. This was the first time she had spoken to him in almost two months.
Clark was momentarily taken aback; he had forgotten that Lois had seen him enter the building as himself. He tried to cover up. "Clark … er, when I arrived I told him I could manage, and he went out the back way. He … he should be back here any minute." Thinking that distraction was the best form of defence in this situation, he crossed his arms on his chest and added firmly, "Anyway, you shouldn't have taken that kind of risk. If anything had happened to you, you'd be risking the life of your baby as well, and that is highly irresponsible."
Furious, Lois was initially unable to respond; she took a shocked indrawn breath, then raised her eyes to meet Superman's. Her expression was cold, angry. "Superman, I don't think my behaviour, or my — condition — is any of your business." She was shaking with anger. Superman was aware that she was pregnant, and had the … the *gall* to lecture her on the way she took care of herself and the baby! Yet where was he when it came to taking responsibility for the consequences of his actions?
Clark stared back at Lois, recognising the hostility in her gaze and the tone of her voice but failing to understand the reasons for it. He began to speak, to ask what was wrong, but realised that a crowd had started to gather, along with the emergency services who were now dealing with the shopkeeper and the remains of the fire. Briefly, Clark contemplated scooping Lois up and flying off with her to a place where they could talk privately. But his common sense reasserted itself; Lois was in no mood to be abducted, and it was not a good time. He swept his cape about him and swooped upwards.
Landing behind some nearby buildings, he quickly changed back into his normal clothes and hurried back to the street, replacing his glasses as he ran. Lois, he saw, was now talking to a police officer, presumably giving a statement about the fire. Clark began to regret disappearing as Superman; he could have helped with the forensic investigation. This time, he might have been able to come up with hard evidence linking the fires. On the other hand, he mused, the fire department had been doing that kind of thing long before Superman had ever been conceived of, and he could always offer his assistance later.
He joined Lois and added his version of events to hers, including what he had seen when he had entered the burning building, up until Superman was supposed to have arrived. Clark was so intent on explaining his supposed exit through the shop's rear exit and his meeting with Superman that he at first missed the expression of joy on Lois's face at his safe reappearance. As soon as the police had finished, Clark urged Lois back to the Jeep; he was no expert on pregnant women, but he thought she had been standing long enough, and she was rubbing her back as if she was in pain.
They were silent on the journey back to the Planet, although neither of them were concentrating on the investigation. Lois was suffering from a bad attack of backache, and was also wondering just why she had turned on Superman like that. Why should she be angry that he failed to realise her baby was his child? How could he know, if she hadn't told him? Lois's conscience was urging her to be reasonable and to accept that Superman's ignorance was her own doing. On the other hand, she reminded herself, he had slept with her, run out on her, and never again referred to the incident, and he had also appeared to be avoiding her ever since. Was that the behaviour of a man willing to take responsibility for his actions?
Clark, as he drove, was mulling over Lois's strange behaviour towards Superman. He realised that for probably the first time since he had known her, the positions were reversed. She was angry with Superman and didn't particularly want to talk to him; yet when *Clark* had reappeared, she had appeared delighted and relieved to see him, and had even clung to his arm as they had both spoken to the police. Why was she behaving in this way towards Superman? Clark couldn't think of anything he might have said, or done, to provoke this reaction. He reflected on the last few months; he certainly had followed through his resolve to spend less time with Lois as Superman, and apart from one very brief conversation, until today he had only seen her in her usual position as part of the press corps. He had shown her no particular favours on such occasions. Was she annoyed because she was no longer getting special attention from him? He had not been very forthcoming on that occasion when they had met after the building collapse. Was she punishing him for that? Although that was not very like Lois …
Casting his mind back, Clark remembered another occasion on which Lois's attitude to Superman had appeared to him to be odd. The day after he returned from stopping the asteroid, when he had returned to the Planet after the press conference, she had made some strange remark which suggested that she might not have believed Superman's version of events. Clark couldn't understand why that might have been the case, but it did suggest to him that perhaps this altered attitude to Superman had been in existence for some time.
<So what do I do about it?> he wondered. Clark contemplated visiting Lois's apartment in the Suit that evening, trying to talk to her and to win back her friendship. After all, he acknowledged, Superman was part of who he himself was. He wouldn't want Lois to like — love? — one part of him and not the other. On the other hand, he reflected, it was certainly a refreshing change for Lois to enjoy Clark's company more than Superman's. He asked himself whether he really wanted to go back to the days when Lois ignored him and hero-worshipped Superman, and acknowledged that the answer was 'No'. <Maybe I'm being a coward> he mused <but I want to keep what I have … for now … >
One day, he thought, he would be able to tell Lois his biggest secret: that he and Superman were one and the same. Then, it would be important that she should be able to accept the Super-hero as just another dimension of Clark. But for now … Clark sighed, and decided to leave well alone.
Lois, lost in her own contemplation, did not notice Clark's sigh, and as the Jeep pulled up in the Planet's car park, both had decided to continue in their deceptions; for both of them, it appeared to be the easiest course of action.
"Oh, God, Clark, my back hurts!" Lois groaned some hours later. They had been working on the arson story continuously since returning to the Planet, and were now the only reporters left in the darkened newsroom, although the night shift would be arriving shortly. Clark had excused himself at one stage and had flown back to the burnt-out store to offer his assistance; there he had discovered that the fire officers had found a small remote-controlled incendiary device. Apparently the components of the device were made of similar materials found in a couple of other stores which had been burnt; as Superman had been able to put out this fire quicker than any of the others, the device was still mostly intact. This not only gave investigators a lead, but also helped to prove that the attacks were linked. Thus the two reporters were feeling rather satisfied with their work on the story. Lois hadn't questioned Clark's absence; he had explained it by suggesting that he would obtain more information by going to speak to firefighters and investigators face-to-face, and since Lois was feeling quite tired — not that she would have admitted the fact to Clark — she agreed that it made sense for her to remain at the Planet writing up the story.
"Want me to give you a back-rub?" Clark offered, getting up from his desk. Lois pushed her chair back, murmuring, "Yes, please!"
Clark massaged her shoulders and lower back, taking Lois's groans of satisfaction as an indication that he was doing some good for her. He decided to take a chance, and shot a couple of darts of his heat vision along her spine as he rubbed. Just as he was about to ask whether she'd had enough, however, Lois gave a sudden cry.
"What is it? What's wrong? Did I hurt you?" Clark asked in concern.
Lois twisted to look at him, her face a picture of wonder. "No — no, Clark, it's not you. It's the baby — he just moved!"
"He?" Clark was nonplussed for a moment. "I thought you didn't know … "
"No, I don't," Lois replied quickly. "But I can't call her 'it' so I alternate … Oh! There he goes again!" She paused. "It's happened a couple of times before, but it was so slight I wasn't sure if I'd imagined it - just a funny fluttering sensation. But this baby is definitely moving now!"
Clark stared at her, taking in the wonder and delight in Lois's expression. His heart was filling up with a whole range of emotions he couldn't have identified if he'd tried. He began to stretch out his hand to touch Lois's stomach, hesitated, then withdrew it, realising that he had no right to expect that she would let him.
Lois, still engrossed in the wonder of feeling her baby's movement, caught Clark's gesture out of the corner of her eye. She reached for his hand and drew it to her stomach. Clark stepped closer to her and dropped to his knees to bring himself level with her. As his hand rested on her bump, the baby began to move again.
At first, Clark couldn't feel anything, but then as he became accustomed to the shape of Lois's bump he thought that he could sense a tiny flutter beneath his hand. He gazed at her stomach with a rapt expression as the fluttering continued for a moment, wondering whether he would even have been able to feel it without his super-powers. He was briefly tempted to lower his glasses and sneak a look at the baby in Lois's womb, but rejected the idea instantly out of consideration for Lois's privacy, and also because he wasn't sure whether his super-vision would be safe for an unborn child. Looking up, and meeting Lois's eyes, he whispered, "It's … miraculous!"
Lois raised shining eyes to Clark's. "Isn't it? I've read things, you know, and heard other women talk about how they felt when they felt their baby move for the first time, but I never imagined it would be so … so *special*! Before, when I felt her, I wasn't sure … but this time she was definitely moving." She brought her own hand to her stomach, and Clark moved his other hand to cover hers.
They stayed like that for several minutes as the baby, evidently restless, moved and kicked a little more. Eventually realising that their position, with Clark kneeling in front of her chair in the middle of the Planet newsroom, could look extremely compromising, Lois gently pushed him away and stood up.
"Hey, come on, we can't stay here all night! And if anyone came in and saw us like this, no-one would believe this isn't your baby!" She spoke chidingly, but her tone was gentle, still softened by the experience they had just shared.
"OK, Lois, you're right," Clark agreed, but not without some regret. "Want me to drive you home?" he enquired as he got easily to his feet.
Lois winced as she took a step away from her desk; she was feeling extremely tired and her back and upper thigh muscles were protesting. "Yes, please, Clark! How about we order some takeout at my apartment — you don't have plans for tonight, do you?"
Pleased that their relationship appeared to be back on its normal footing, Clark accepted. Lois smiled. "Great. Maybe … well, we could get a video, perhaps, and … " she hesitated, then took a deep breath. It was time to stop vacillating between Clark and Superman, Lois thought. Superman's attitude that afternoon had been … illuminating, she realised, while Clark had shown himself to be reliable and trustworthy, and had genuinely seemed to care about both her and the baby. She had also been quite shocked by her fear for Clark's safety while he had been in the blazing shop earlier. She continued in a determined voice, "Maybe we can talk. About … well, about this morning, and the other day, and … well, whatever." She gestured in an apparently careless manner, trying not to give any hint of her inner turmoil or of the direction in which her thoughts were heading.
"Sure," Clark agreed, offering Lois his arm as they proceeded towards the elevator. Welcoming the support, she leaned her body into his, and he shifted his grip, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. Without consciously realising she was doing it, Lois allowed her head to rest against Clark's upper arm as he guided her into the elevator. Glancing down at his companion as he pressed the elevator button, Clark allowed himself a smile. He wished he had the right to stroke her hair as she leaned against him; to tilt her chin with his free hand and draw his thumb along her jaw, and to lower his mouth to hers. As his body reacted to his thoughts, the memory of his recurring dream flashed into his mind and he realised, yet again, that there was so much more he wanted to be free to do with Lois Lane …
"Clark?" Lois's voice interrupted his thoughts.
"Yes?" He loosened his grip on her a little and turned to face her as he realised that the elevator doors had opened and they were in the basement. "Sorry — I was miles away."
"I noticed. Not very flattering for me, hmmm?" Lois murmured in a teasing voice, shooting him a glance from under lowered lashes.
"I guess not," Clark replied, wondering what Lois meant — was she … *flirting* … with him? His eyes searched her face, but all he saw was a teasing expression, and the weariness Lois was trying to hide. He sighed and began to walk, urging her with him. "Come on, Lois, let me get you home." He wondered what Lois wanted to talk about. It sounded as if it could be important …
He walked with Lois to her apartment, discussing with her what kind of takeout food they should order. Lois wanted Chinese; she had a menu from a new restaurant called Ralph's Pagoda which she thought was worth trying. Clark wasn't sure whether Chinese food was advisable for pregnant women, and in any case he was dubious about trying anywhere new in case Lois got food poisoning. *That* would not be good for the baby. Lois, however, thought he was fussing too much.
As they entered the apartment, still squabbling good-naturedly about what they would eat, Clark's super-hearing kicked in: there had been a bomb warning in the tourist district of Metropolis, and the emergency services were all on stand-by. He sighed again, realising that he would have to go and help. If there was a bomb, he could find it in seconds and defuse it, thus saving all the devastation, death and injury which could result from an explosion.
Lois, sensing Clark's mental withdrawal from her, turned to look at him. The expression on his face was familiar to her: he was going to run off. <Oh, Clark … why now? I thought you'd got over running out on me?> she thought, upset.
Clark spoke, confirming her suspicions. "Lois, I'm sorry, but I can't stay and have dinner with you after all — there's something I forgot to do. I'll call you later, OK?" Without waiting for her response, he left the apartment and ran down the stairs.
Left standing in her living-room, Lois stared at the open door in dismay. She had been looking forward to a quiet evening in with Clark; she had missed his company over the previous few days. She had thought, that morning at the Planet, that everything was all right again. She had also, in those few moments at the Planet after she and Clark had seemed to form that special bond over her baby's movements, decided to take a step which might change their relationship permanently. She had thought that Clark hadn't seemed averse to the prospect. But it now appeared as if she might have frightened him off after all …
But why? He had seemed so happy to be with her when they were alone in the Planet, sharing the joy and excitement of her baby's first movements; and in the elevator she had noticed his distraction, and the expression on his face, and had wondered whether Clark was feeling the same sort of attraction to her as she now admitted she was feeling towards him. In hindsight, perhaps he had just been wondering how to extricate himself from the situation.
Now he had distanced himself from her again … and just when she had come to a decision about his role in her life.
In those few moments at the Planet, she had decided to put Superman out of her mind and ask Clark whether they could move their relationship beyond that of friends. She had thought that Clark would not be averse to that suggestion. He certainly behaved as if he wanted to be an important part of her life; he had made it clear in behaviour as much as words that he would be happy to help her to bring up her child as if it was his own. And she had always known, on some sort of sub-conscious level, that Clark found her attractive, maybe was even a little in love with her.
Lois's own feelings, she knew, were a little harder to define. Clark was … her best friend. She couldn't imagine life without him. And yes, sure, he was attractive: he had a great body, a lovely smile, and although he had a tendency to be over-protective, there was something really rather special about the way Clark looked out for her. But did she, or could she, love him?
She pondered that question as she inspected the contents of her fridge and decided to phone for a pizza. Yes, she loved Clark … as a friend. But as a potential lover and partner … that was more difficult to answer. Lois had thought that she was in love with Superman, and even now, after his seeming betrayal and more than four months of neglect, she still knew that if the super-hero came flying in through her living-room window and offered to sweep her off her feet, she would go with him willingly. But she now acknowledged that she had always been very cynical about love; probably as a hangover from her parents' marriage, she guessed.
Perhaps that was one reason why she had fallen so hard for Superman, Lois admitted to herself as she poured a glass of milk. Ordinary men all have flaws, feet of clay — they all just let you down, she had told herself many times. Superman had seemed to be so different … until, of course, the day when he too had let her down.
Maybe life is just easier without complications like love, Lois now reasoned. And that was why, she admitted, she had contemplated a closer relationship with Clark. They were the best of friends; they knew each other very well; there was an attraction between them. She felt that there was every chance that a relationship between them could work. There may not be any passion, but after all, passion could be grossly over-rated as a basis for a lasting relationship, she argued with herself.
Lois sighed. All this was now irrelevant. By leaving in the abrupt way he had, Clark had signalled clearly that he didn't want a closer relationship. And anyway, she acknowledged, her suggestion could easily sound very selfish. After all, she was unlikely to have seen Clark as a romantic partner if she hadn't been pregnant; he probably realised this, and was entitled to feel that it wasn't fair to him.
That was certainly true. But why couldn't he have stayed and talked about it with her? Why did such a sensitive and caring man find it so difficult to talk about his feelings?
A couple of hours later, Clark logged off his computer at the Planet newsroom for the second time that day. He had returned to the Planet after discovering and defusing the bomb, and had written up the story together with an 'interview' with Superman and some quotes which he had obtained over the telephone from emergency personnel. No-one had much idea, it seemed, why Metropolis should be the target of a terrorist grouping, yet from the type of explosive used, this seemed to be the most likely possibility.
He checked his watch as he exited the Planet building — after 11pm; it was too late to go around to Lois's apartment. He sighed; in the hours since he had left her, that brief period in the Planet had constantly been on his mind. He knew that he hadn't imagined their shared excitement and wonder, the feeling of togetherness as they had left the building — and the sense that something momentous might be about to happen. What had Lois wanted to talk to him about? Remembering his abrupt departure, Clark couldn't remember an occasion when he had less wanted to go and be Superman.
He strolled into the alley behind the Planet, checked around for any curious watchers, and then spun into his super-suit and launched himself into the air. Landing on his apartment balcony a few moments later, he quickly changed into a T-shirt and shorts. His feet brought him to the telephone; his hand hovered over the receiver.
<No, it's too late, she'll be asleep> he told himself. His recalcitrant hand picked up the receiver, and his fingers hovered over the buttons.
<I can't call her now> he insisted, ordering his hand to replace the receiver. His fingers dialled Lois's number.
She answered on the second ring, sounding tired but not sleepy.
"Lois? It's Clark."
"Clark?" Lois sounded as if she was annoyed with him. "You said you'd call - it's nearly 11.30 now!"
<Stupid!> she chastised herself. <What did you do that for — making him think you were sitting here waiting for his call, especially after he ran out on you!>
Clark bit his lip; clearly he shouldn't have called now. But did this mean that she had *wanted* him to phone earlier? "I'm sorry, Lois … " he thought quickly, " … when I'd finished what I had to do, I heard there was a bomb scare over in the tourist district — I went over, and Superman was there defusing the bomb. I stayed around, got a couple of interviews and I only just finished writing it up a short time ago. I just got home."
Sounding slightly mollified, Lois grunted, "Oh, OK." She paused, then added, "I guess I'll see you tomorrow?"
Clark hesitated; what did she want from him? "I can come over now if you like," he offered tentatively.
Lois was silent for a moment or two. Then she yawned and replied, "It's OK, Clark, I'm tired anyway, and you won't want to go out again now."
"I would if you needed me, Lois, you know that," Clark said softly.
"Yeah, I guess I do," Lois replied.
"You said earlier there was something you wanted to talk about?" he prompted, attempting to maintain a casual tone in his voice.
Lois hesitated. Whatever her plans earlier had been, now was not the time for such a discussion, even if she had not already decided to abandon the idea. "It wasn't important. Goodnight, Clark."
Clark heard the sound of Lois's receiver being replaced, and he hung up himself. He paced his apartment restlessly; he was feeling more and more confused about Lois's attitude towards him. The past few days when she'd been distant, he had been hurt and puzzled, unable to understand what he had done; this evening, however, she had behaved as if she saw the two of them as more than friends.
If only …
Frustrated and angry that yet again his *alter ego* had caused problems for him, Clark groaned aloud and punched his fist into — and through — the interior wall of his apartment. He stared at his fist as if surprised that it had acted in such an out-of-character way, then suddenly spun, causing a mini-tornado to stir up books, papers and other loose items in his living-room. Superman took off from the balcony of Clark's apartment, and headed north.
Lois threw down her book in exasperation; she couldn't tell — or didn't want to know — whether it was the backache and pressure on her bladder which was ruining her concentration, or Clark Kent. Just how was it that in a few short months he had managed to insinuate himself so far into her affections? She *missed* him when he wasn't around, for goodness' sake! And yet this was *Clark* she was talking about, her partner and good friend. Not her lover … not *Superman* … so why had he become so important to her?
<Because he's been around for me, been supportive and caring> Lois reasoned with herself. <I'm becoming dependent on him — and maybe that's not such a good idea!>
She climbed out of bed and padded to the kitchen, taking a carton of milk from the fridge and drinking from it. Replacing the carton, she immediately regretted quenching her thirst as she felt the need to pay yet another visit to the bathroom.
<Maybe I should try to put some distance between Clark and myself> Lois thought as she wearily got back into bed. <It's not good for either of us. And he's made it clear that he doesn't want me to use him as a partner-substitute. So I need to wean us off each other, somehow.>
- Two months later -
Putting some distance between herself and Clark had not proved to be as straightforward as she had thought it would be, Lois reflected as she levered herself wearily out of bed one Monday morning. It was autumn, and she was grateful for the fact that the weather was getting cooler; in her six-and-a-half-month-pregnant state, hot city weather was not fun. She had heard Clark let himself quietly into her apartment just a few minutes ago, and she knew that he would be in the kitchen preparing breakfast. Over the past few weeks he had become even more insistent that she eat properly and healthily; it was sweet of him, and although Lois protested that he was fussing too much, secretly she still enjoyed his care of her. And after all, it wasn't Clark's fault that Lois had wanted more from him than he was prepared to offer …
As she selected today's blouse and skirt (maternity-wear, of course; little else would fit her now), Lois recalled the morning she had tried to suggest to Clark that perhaps he didn't need to keep coming over to check on her. <I handled it all wrong> she mused. <I should never have suggested that it was too much to ask of him … Clark's just too much of a Boy Scout to let that bother him. I should have said that *I* didn't need him any more … >
She paused, shaking her head at her thoughts. <No, his feelings would have been hurt … Clark's just so like a little puppy when he's hurt. And I couldn't have been so unkind, after all he's done … >
Traces of a telephone conversation with Lucy floated back to Lois. "Face it, big sister, you don't *want* to let Clark out of your life," Lucy had challenged. "You like having him around, looking out for you … and I bet you get a kick out of having a big handsome man at your beck and call."
At the time, Lois had vigorously denied Lucy's suggestion; now, as she listened to the sounds Clark was making in the kitchen, she admitted to herself that what her sister had said was true. Clark had become, and continued to be, important to Lois in ways she had never anticipated. Oh, she still found his habit of occasionally running off intensely irritating, particularly as he could never seem to provide an adequate explanation for his disappearances. However, she could think of no-one else she would want to have with her at childbirth classes; and although the thought of giving birth to her baby still had the power to fill her with dread, the knowledge that Clark had promised to be there with her if she wanted was immensely reassuring.
No, Lois admitted, she really had not wanted to distance herself too much from Clark, however unfair it might be to lean on him to such an extent. She *needed* him … So while she had not encouraged any more intimacies such as allowing him to touch her stomach, and had tried to avoid complaining of backache when in his company, she continued to rely on him in countless other ways, persuading herself that he was doing no more for her than a brother might.
But, her conscience prodded her yet again as she showered, what about Superman?
<What *about* him?> she told her conscience angrily. <This has *nothing* to do with him!>
Her conscience reminded her that, in fact, the situation had a great deal to do with Superman. It was unfair of Lois to regard him as little more than a Super sperm-donor; after all, the man could hardly be blamed for failing to take an interest in her pregnancy when he didn't know it was his child. And since her baby was due in less than three months, it was about time she decided what she intended to do about telling him.
<He shouldn't need to be told!> Lois objected, though she was aware that she was being a little unfair. <Anyway, I'm fed up with this argument … I keep going round and round, and never get anywhere … >
Lois sighed as she dressed. She knew that she would have to speak to Superman some time soon, but she didn't feel ready to face that problem yet. As she considered it, she realised that one of the reasons for her reluctance to tell Superman the truth was standing outside in her kitchen.
Clark. Once Superman knew that the baby was his, it would completely alter Lois's relationship with Clark. She couldn't allow Superman to acknowledge the baby as his without Clark knowing, and Clark would have to stand aside for the baby's real father. His pride and sense of what was right would probably stop him from continuing to care for her and spend time with her in the way he had been doing. And try as she might, Lois could not envisage Superman taking over Clark's patient and considerate attention.
She sat down at her dressing-table and picked up her hairbrush, but made no attempt to use it, simply staring sightlessly into the mirror. Lois let her head fall into her hands as she admitted to herself just why she did not want either Clark or Superman to know the truth. She didn't want to lose Clark … She needed Clark in her life, *wanted* him in her life … far more than she wanted Superman.
"Lois? Are you all right?" Clark's concerned voice, shouting from the kitchen, intruded upon Lois's thoughts. She shook herself from her reverie and called back,
"Be there in a minute, Clark!"
Clark shook his head and smiled wryly. Just before he'd called out to her, he had allowed himself to look into Lois's bedroom using his super-vision; he had justified it to himself by arguing that he knew she was dressed — he had heard her pull her clothes on — and that he was worried in case she was ill or in pain. Instead, he had seen her seated at her dressing-table, staring into the mirror. He sighed, regretting again Lois's reluctance to confide in him.
As Lois exited from her bedroom, Clark gave the tea a quick blast of his heat vision to ensure that it was still at the correct temperature. Repositioning his glasses before she saw him, he began a light-hearted conversation about that morning's news headlines in an attempt to distract Lois from whatever was weighing on her mind. Clark wondered whether Ellen - who had taken to visiting her daughter twice a week — had upset Lois again, or whether she was brooding yet again about her baby's father.
Clark was well aware that Lois had tried to cool her relationship with him; he recognised exactly when it had happened as well, and had never ceased to regret having to leave to be Superman that evening after the arson attack. It had been clear to him that Lois had wanted to discuss something important, perhaps momentous, and that she had interpreted Clark's departure as a rejection. Although he had tried very hard to apologise the following day, she had pretended that it wasn't important; yet from that point on her behaviour towards him had subtly altered. Although Lois had always been a very tactile person, frequently putting her hand on his arm, slipping her arm though his, hugging him when she was happy and so on, her manner towards him since that evening had become rather more reserved, and she no longer asked him to rub her back, even when she was clearly in some discomfort. Things had almost come to a head when she had suggested that there was no need for him to come and make breakfast for her any more, but he had protested that it was no trouble, and that in any case it gave them an opportunity to discuss their work agenda for the day.
So he had managed to retain a significant place in her life, but their relationship had returned to the brother-sister friendship which had existed before Lois's pregnancy had brought them into more intimate contact and had appeared to have taken them to the brink of a deeper relationship.
<I blew it> he admitted softly to himself as he watched Lois move carefully around her apartment collecting the items she required for the day.
At the Planet that morning, Lois and Perry engaged in a discussion which had been rehearsed on a number of occasions over the past few weeks. Clark, sitting at his desk and eavesdropping with his super-hearing, grinned to himself in amusement. He didn't feel guilty about listening; both Lois and Perry had filled him in on the content of the conversation, on separate occasions. The format was that Perry would begin by insisting that Lois was to take things easy and therefore was not to go out on any potentially dangerous assignments. Lois would firmly reject this advice and would remind Perry that she was an award-winning investigative reporter who was more than capable of looking after herself. Perry would point out that Lois was more than six months pregnant and should be taking things easy, instead of continuing to taking risks. Lois would object that pregnancy was not an illness or a disability, and point out that she was perfectly capable of acting in the best interests of her baby. There the conversation would end, with Lois insisting that she did not need nor would she accept special treatment. Then she would return to her desk, where she, Perry and Clark all knew that she would take on more desk-bound tasks than would have been her practice before the pregnancy.
This suited Clark; it meant that most of the time when one of them was needed to go out to chase up a lead the task fell to him. This meant that if he needed to get away to be Superman, the escape was much easier since Lois was rarely with him. In addition, since Lois's strange coolness towards Superman appeared to continue, she didn't seem to object to his getting the rescue stories or exclusive interviews. After the terse scene outside the burning store a couple of months ago, Clark had stuck to his resolve to avoid Lois as Superman. Not that it had made much difference to his status in Lois's life, of course; the super-hero had managed to wreck his chances with Lois simply by existing, given that it seemed to be his having to leave Lois to be Superman which had caused her to distance herself from him. Still, Clark had been reluctant to give Lois any opportunity to rekindle her crush on the man in spandex. Not that she had shown any desire to do so.
And, as both Perry and Clark were well aware, Lois's less frequent trips beyond the confines of the Planet building did not mean that she was any the less able to produce excellent reporting. When she and Clark were on stories together, he did much of the leg-work, while she pursued lines of enquiry by telephone and, as usual, used her highly intuitive brain to figure out solutions to seemingly intractable problems. Perry increasingly asked her to write op-ed pieces, which Lois found that she enjoyed. That type of writing would never, for her, completely eclipse the excitement and adrenaline rush she received from investigative journalism, but she was aware that she had a talent for it, that it was also very valuable in shaping public opinion and that it was a form of journalism which — she hoped — she could combine with looking after a small baby.
Lois was aware that she needed to discuss her future at the Planet with Perry. She had no intention of giving up her career, but it was clear to her that with a small baby it would not be possible to continue working at the level she was used to. Her current working habits were unpredictable: investigative journalism was no nine-to-five job, and no day-care centre would be able to cope with her erratic hours. She would therefore either need to employ a full-time nanny, or alter her working hours. A nanny was completely impractical: not only could Lois not afford one, but there was no room in her apartment for a live-in nanny. And, of course, there was the problem which arose with every form of childcare which Lois had considered: in what ways might it be obvious at an early age that this was a Super-baby? She could not risk the child floating in his or her crib or shattering a toy with bare hands in front of anyone else. On the other hand, Lois couldn't manage without some form of child-care unless she was willing to resign her job, or at the very least work part-time from her apartment.
Perry had tried once or twice to raise the subject of what Lois intended to do after her maternity leave, and so far she had managed to stall by saying that she hadn't fully thought out her plans yet. Of course, Perry was not aware of the reason why normal childcare arrangements presented a difficulty; nor was Lois's mother, who had also been badgering her recently to get the baby enrolled in a kindergarten which, so Ellen had heard, had an excellent reputation and a long waiting list. Lucy had also volunteered to be available for occasional baby-sitting; a very welcome offer, except that again Lois was concerned that Lucy might see the baby exhibiting some unusual abilities.
Of course, Lois thought savagely as she mused over the situation at her desk, *normal* mothers-to-be can discuss these problems with the father of their child. But, even if she had told him, Lois somehow couldn't imagine sitting down to discuss childcare arrangements over a cup of coffee with Superman. She couldn't quite figure out why; after all, she reluctantly admitted to herself that if she *had* told him that he was to be a father he would have done what he could to share the responsibility, even though for a Superman it would probably be a rather different sharing than for a normal male, she surmised. It wasn't fair to keep casting Superman as the villain of the piece, she finally acknowledged as her eye fell on one of that day's front-page stories: Superman saving the victims of a building collapse, by — as usual — Clark Kent.
She *could* imagine, however, discussing such problems with Clark, and in fact there had been several occasions over the past few weeks when Lois had wished that she could ask his advice. Of course, it would have meant telling Clark about Superman; he could hardly appreciate her difficulty otherwise — and she considered that it wasn't fair to tell Clark while keeping Superman in ignorance. But it wasn't just her reluctance to end her concealment of the baby's parentage — after all, she had known for some time that Clark was the one person she felt she could trust enough to tell - but she was also afraid that Clark would see a discussion of her difficulty in deciding on appropriate childcare as a plea that he become involved in the care and upbringing of her baby. And, knowing the Boy Scout that Clark Kent was, he would probably offer to do just that. While Lois might have gratefully accepted such an offer a few months earlier, she now knew that she didn't just want Clark to offer out of sympathy.
What *did* she want, though? She ran her hands through her hair in frustration. <I wish I knew … >
Over the next couple of days, Lois began to make enquiries about the availability and cost of various childcare options, and also seriously contemplated, for the first time, contacting Superman to tell him that he was to be a father. That presented another difficulty, however: deciding to contact Superman and actually doing it were two entirely different things. Lois did not particularly fancy the idea of standing on a window-ledge and shouting 'Help, Superman!', yet she couldn't immediately envisage an alternative means of arranging a private discussion with the Super-hero. Of course, she realised, she could tell Clark that she wanted to see Superman; somehow Clark always seemed to be able to contact him. <Now how on earth does he manage to do that?> Lois asked herself, puzzled.
However, she didn't want to go ahead with what was obviously going to be a very difficult conversation without being very clear in her own mind about what she was going to say and how, in particular, she would explain not having told Superman about his role in her pregnancy until now. Although she was an award-winning journalist, Lois had never before found it so difficult to articulate her thoughts.
Finally, at the end of a long week when both she and Clark were scheduled for a weekend off, Lois shut down her computer and slowly got to her feet. It was late afternoon, and the Planet newsroom was still busy. Clark had gone out a couple of hours beforehand for a meeting with their snitch, and had not yet returned. Lois had intended to ask him whether he could contact Superman for her, but she was tired and her back was aching; the baby had also been kicking on and off all day, and she just wanted to go home and put her feet up.
"Jimmy?" she called, seeing the young photographer standing several feet away.
"Yeah, Lois, what is it?" Jimmy replied, sauntering over to her desk.
"I've decided to call it a day -" Lois explained.
"Really? That's not like you," Jimmy interjected, looking very surprised. "You and CK are usually among the last to leave."
"Well, I'm feeling a bit tired," Lois said dismissively. "Look, Jimmy, if Clark comes back before you go, can you ask him to give me a call? Thanks." She picked up her bag and coat and headed towards the elevator, leaving Jimmy staring after her, taken aback at Lois's admission that she felt any form of weakness.
In the lobby, she asked the duty security guard to call her a cab, and when it arrived, she spent the journey musing over the best possible location for her discussion with Superman. Her apartment was of course the obvious choice; but might more neutral territory perhaps be better? She could suggest that they meet in Centennial Park. Wherever the meeting took place, it was going to be difficult, Lois knew.
A couple of hours later, Clark returned to the newsroom; he had detoured *en route* to rescue a plane in distress, and had then been just in time to prevent a petrol tanker from overturning on the freeway during rush hour. As soon as he exited the elevator his gaze went to Lois's desk, only to find it vacant, her computer switched off. He looked at his watch — only 6 pm — and glanced swiftly around the office. Catching sight of Jimmy in conversation with Ralph over a copy of a popular football magazine, Clark hurried across the newsroom.
Detaching Jimmy from Ralph's proximity by means of a firm hand on his friend's upper arm, Clark asked tightly, "Where's Lois?"
Jimmy gave Clark a curious glance and allowed his gaze to fall deliberately on the hand still gripping his upper arm. "Hey, CK, what's the big deal? You're hurting me, by the way."
"Oh … uh … sorry, Jimmy." Clark released his grip with an embarrassed half-smile. "Sorry. I didn't mean to hurt you — I was just expecting to see Lois still here, and I got a bit … uh … "
"You're really wound up, aren't you?" Jimmy observed. "I guess you must really be hung up on her. Too bad she's having this other guy's baby — " Seeing the displeased expression which appeared on Clark's face, Jimmy judiciously decided to change the subject. "Uh … she went home a couple of hours ago — said she wasn't feeling too good — "
Jimmy suddenly realised that he was speaking to empty air, as Clark had made a dash for the elevator. "CK!" he called in vain. "It's no problem … she just said she was tired … "
Clark, however, had already disappeared into the stairwell, having clearly decided not to wait for an elevator.
In fact, Clark had headed up to the roof of the Planet, where he quickly changed clothes and launched himself into the air. Arriving above Lois's apartment a minute or so later, he initially contemplated letting himself in through her window, but dismissed that idea. The last time he had spoken to her as Superman, she had told him to mind his own business as far as she and her pregnancy were concerned. He landed behind her building and spun back into his light grey suit, then ran lightly up the steps and into the building. Pausing outside her door, he hesitated then lowered his glasses.
He saw Lois sitting on one of her sofas with her feet up, looking tired, drawn and not very comfortable. As he watched, she shifted position and grimaced, then ran her hands through her hair in a manner which he recognised as suggesting that she was worried or upset about something. He slid his glasses back into position and knocked.
Hearing the knock, Lois shouted, "Who is it?"
The familiar voice of her partner replied, "It's me, Clark. Are you OK, Lois?"
Feeling distinctly disinclined to get to her feet, Lois called back, "Let yourself in, will you?" She felt too weary to move and yet was unable to get comfortable where she was; Clark's arrival was extremely welcome.
The sound of a key in the lock followed, and Clark hurried into the room. "Lois, are you all right? Jimmy said … "
He trailed off as Lois grinned in amusement. "I thought he looked a little shell-shocked — I guess he's not used to me admitting that I'm actually too tired to work."
Clark sighed, relieved. "I guess I didn't exactly give him a chance to tell me why you left — he said you weren't feeling too good, and I was just worried. I came straight over … but would you rather I just left you to rest?" His voice was concerned; he wondered whether she would prefer to be left alone.
Lois, on the other hand, was aware that she had wanted to talk to Clark anyway, to ask him to get a message to Superman. This was a good opportunity, although at the moment she wanted distraction from the nagging ache in her back.
"No, Clark, I'd like you to stay — that is, if you haven't any other plans?"
Clark smiled, pleased that his presence seemed to be welcome. "No, I don't. Are you hungry, Lois? Like me to order some food?"
Lois considered; she realised that she was actually hungry, and suggested a Greek restaurant they had used a few times before. "Get some koftas, and hummus — and some of that wonderful hot bread, OK?"
Clark grinned; Lois had liked Greek food before her pregnancy, but over the past couple of months she had practically overdosed on it. His concern for her health intervened, and he also ordered a Greek salad, substituting extra tomatoes and olives for the feta cheese which he suspected might not be recommended in the circumstances.
Lois listened to the telephone call, then faced Clark with an exaggerated glare. "I don't believe you, Kent!"
Clark turned to face her, wearing a half-amused, half-indignant smile. "What have I done now?"
"You … your mother seems to have taught you all she knows about healthy eating, judging by the way you've been trying to control my diet over the last few months. Yet going by the contents of your own refrigerator, no-one would ever guess!"
Shrugging, Clark grinned in unholy amusement; he was aware that one thing Lois resented about him was his ability to eat whatever he wanted and never put on weight.
Lois dragged herself up on the sofa until she was almost sitting upright and swung her legs to the floor. Gesturing Clark to the other chair, she enquired in a voice which could not quite hide the suspicion which lay behind the question, "So — where have you been all afternoon? You went out at about two to see Bobby Bigmouth, and you said yourself you had only just got back to the newsroom when you came over here."
<Here we go again — more excuses> Clark thought while attempting to appear relaxed. How would Lois react, he wondered, if he said to her, 'Lois, what I haven't told you is that I'm Superman, and I actually spent this afternoon preventing a plane crash and a freeway pile-up'? He knew her well enough by now to realise that she was intensely loyal to her friends, and he felt confident that she would not rush to print her scoop. On the other hand, he was so used to safeguarding his secret; and there was the problem that Lois seemed not very favourably inclined towards Superman at the moment. He sighed and told her the story he had concocted for Planet colleagues to explain how it was he had obtained yet more 'Superman saves the day' stories. As he related his version of events, he watched Lois carefully; it occurred to him for the first time that, although her manner professed a lack of interest in Superman's doings, there was something indefinable in her expression which suggested that she wasn't quite as indifferent to the Man of Steel as she claimed. <Now *that's* odd … > he told himself.
However, the arrival of their food at that moment prevented him wondering any further at his discovery, and they spent the next half-hour eating and discussing their long-running investigation into Intergang. "It just kills me that we can't get any evidence linking Church to Intergang," Lois muttered fiercely between bites of pitta bread dipped in hummus. "I *know* he's involved … but he covers his tracks so well I bet even Superman can't pin him down."
"No," agreed Clark, who knew very well that Superman had so far been unable to penetrate the inner workings of Intergang. "But we'll keep digging, Lois - one day we'll trip him up."
"Yeah, well, I just hope it's while I'm still doing investigative work, so I can write about it," Lois grumbled.
About to take a bite of meatball, Clark stopped and stared at Lois. "What do you mean?"
Lois shrugged awkwardly, remembering that she had intended to say nothing to Clark about her childcare worries until she had spoken to Superman. Then, since her partner continued to look at her with an expression which made it clear that he was not about to drop the subject, she finally replied, "Well … it's just that once the baby's born I'm not going to be able to carry on working the way I've always done. I haven't quite decided what that means, but I guess at the least it means I won't be doing the kind of investigative stories I do now."
Clark listened to Lois in stunned silence. He realised that perhaps he now understood how she might have felt when he had resigned from the Planet, purportedly to take up a job back in Smallville. The thought of losing Lois as his partner was not one he wanted to contemplate; that she hadn't talked about leaving Metropolis, or even leaving the Planet, made little difference to him. It was as a result of being partners, working closely together every day, that they had become best friends — and he had fallen in love with Lois, although that had happened long before she had admitted him into her life as a friend.
He cleared his throat at last and spoke, quietly but with emotional sincerity. "Lois, you can't stop doing the job you do. You are a brilliant journalist, the best I have ever had the privilege of knowing and working with. You know Perry feels the same way — and the awards you've won show that a lot of people agree. You are a fantastic investigative reporter, and you've … worked really hard to get where you are today. You *can't* just give all of that up … "
Lois, touched by Clark's words, swallowed a couple of times before replying in a low voice. "Clark, I … I appreciate what you said. But I have to be realistic about this. Over the last few months I've had to face the fact that my life is going to change drastically once my baby is born. I might not have wanted it that way, but it's happened, and while I might be sorry to have to change my career path, I'm not going to start by blaming my baby." Her hands curved protectively around her abdomen as she continued. "I've carried this baby inside me for over six months. I … you know I've never really been the maternal type, but I already love my child. I'm really looking forward to getting to know her or him. And I know I'm going to have to make sacrifices, but I'll do it. Without a backward glance, because that's the way it has to be," she finished firmly.
Clark recognised the resoluteness in Lois's tone, at the same time as he noticed the brightness of the tears in her eyes which she was refusing to acknowledge. He swiftly moved to sit on the sofa beside her and took her hands in his. "Lois, I do understand that, believe me — I never for one minute imagined that you could just go back to the life you had before. But there are nurseries, and day-care centres, and babysitters … you can still do your job and work with me as a partner."
Lois gave him a wry smile, and managed to frame an answer which avoided any mention of the reasons why she was cautious about using childcare. "On nine-to-five hours? I'm not so sure, Clark. A lot of our work at present is outside normal working hours because that's the way it has to be. I can't do that without a live-in nanny, which I can't afford, and anyway, I don't want to be in a position where my baby never sees her parent."
Clark shook his head. "We can work around that, Lois … someone else could work with me on any unsocial hours stuff … "
"You think I'd be happy with that?" Lois demanded. "Working on the background and preparation with you, then watching someone else do the undercover stuff? That's what I really get a kick out of — you *know* that. It wouldn't work. That's why I've decided to talk to Perry about doing more op-ed stuff, and perhaps a regular column. I can do a lot of that kind of stuff from here — " she gestured at her desk in the corner of the living room " — and spend more time with my baby."
<There must be a way around this> Clark thought, but instead, acknowledging that it was Lois's decision, simply squeezed her hand briefly before getting to his feet again. "It's your decision, Lois — I just want you to know that I'll support you with whatever you want to do, and I'm sure Perry will feel the same way." He hesitated, then added, "I'm not sure exactly what I can do … I don't really have any experience with babies, but … well, I want you to know that I'm here." He collected the debris of their meal and took it to the kitchen to dispose of, trying to collect his thoughts as he did so.
Lois, meanwhile, was going over the brief exchange in her mind. She had almost burnt her boats now; while Clark could be trusted to keep the conversation to himself, as far as she was concerned, by telling Clark of her tentative plans she had committed herself. She would talk to Perry within the next week or so. First, there was Superman to deal with …
She pulled herself to her feet, only to fall back on the sofa with a stifled groan. Clark had heard it, however, and was beside her in an instant. "What is it, Lois?"
"What is it with you? — do you have super-hearing or something?" she grumbled, and missed Clark's alarmed double-take as she reached behind her to rub her back with one hand, while stretching down to massage her calf with the other.
"Back aching?" Clark enquired sympathetically.
"Yeah … as usual," Lois replied in wry acceptance.
"Look, let me take care of it," Clark insisted. "You know it's no problem … I don't know why you stopped letting me."
<Nor do I, really … it hasn't stopped me wanting you to touch me … > Lois thought, as she sat with her legs up on the sofa and leaned forward. Clark stood behind her and slowly, blissfully, kneaded his palms and fingertips up and down her spine and along her shoulder-blades. It felt so *good*, she thought … and just how did he manage to create that sensation of deep heat as he massaged?
"Better?" Clark asked after about ten minutes.
"Oh yeah," came a deep-throated groan in response. "I just wish this cramp in my leg would go away."
"Cramp? Where?" Clark asked, moving around to crouch in front of the sofa.
"Right here," Lois muttered grumpily. "I've been getting it a lot lately - nothing seems to work except waiting for it to go away."
Clark leaned forward to squeeze Lois's shoulder lightly, then said, "Let me see what I can do. Excuse me." With that, he lifted her legs and sat at the end of the sofa, facing her, and drew the offending limb across his lap. "Just lie back and relax," he instructed her, as he began to massage up and down her calf. He sneaked a glance at Lois after a couple of minutes; she was obeying his instruction. Carefully, he lowered his glasses and shot a couple of darts of heat vision onto the cramped area, continuing to massage as he did so.
Lois's eyes flicked open, and he hurriedly pushed his glasses back into place. "I don't know what on earth you're doing, Clark, but that feels great," she enthused, smiling at him.
He smiled back, giving her a flash of brilliant white teeth as his warm brown eyes twinkled at her through his glasses. "It's better, then?"
Lois flexed her calf. "Yes, but what you're doing feels so wonderful, I'd love it if … would you carry on a while longer?"
"Sure," Clark agreed, reaching for her other leg and giving it the same treatment. As he continued his massage, head bent slightly in concentration, Lois allowed her head to tip forward so she could watch him. He had removed his jacket some time ago, and had slipped off his tie before massaging her back. She could see the muscles of his upper arms flex and stretch as he worked on her legs, and it struck her yet again that under his formal work clothes Clark hid a great body. She began, without conscious intent, to fantasise about undoing the buttons on his dark blue shirt and slipping it off his shoulders …
Clark glanced up to see whether his massaging was still having the desired effect, and found Lois's eyes on him. The expression in her eyes stopped him short; there was no hiding the fact that she found him attractive … was perhaps even aroused by him. His hands stilled, and he met her eyes, unable to drag his gaze away.
Lois returned to reality to find Clark's eyes on hers. She was shocked to see how the deep emotion in his expression, and the sensation of his hands still gripping her calves, affected her. Suddenly the atmosphere in her apartment felt very close … warm, with a throbbing tension in the air.
Lois was the first to move, stretching her hand out towards Clark's face. He responded, shifting closer to her and sliding her legs along his lap in order to do so. Her fingers touched his face; his slid along her jawline and into her hair. Neither spoke.
Clark lowered his head and allowed his mouth to touch Lois's. At the same moment, she parted her lips and slid her hand around to the back of his head, running her fingers into his hair. She returned his kiss, at first tentatively and then more passionately as his own movements grew more ardent. Lois could barely believe the sensations Clark's kiss was arousing in her; she had known for some time that she was attracted to him, but this … this was nothing short of explosive.
Lois moaned inarticulately against Clark's mouth, causing him to come even closer to losing control. Without allowing his lips to leave hers, he scooped her up and gathered her onto his lap, holding her body as close to his as her belly would allow. Lois welcomed this greater intimacy of contact, and responded by allowing her hands to slide down to Clark's shirt. One hand stroked his shoulder and back, while the fingers of the other traced the row of buttons down the front.
Gradually, Clark became aware of what Lois was doing, and he froze. Any moment now, she could be undoing his shirt, and finding something underneath which she didn't expect. And this precise moment wasn't exactly the right one to tell her about his very close relationship with Superman, he acknowledged. Hoping that she hadn't already realised that he wore something unusual under his shirt, he gently eased her from his lap and reluctantly drew the kiss to an end.
Lois stared at Clark through eyes still dazed with passion, a hurt expression on her face. "What is it? Did I do something wrong … misunderstand what you wanted … ?"
Clark was quick to reassure her. "No, Lois … I wanted this, believe me - I've wanted it for much longer than you can imagine. And … well, I hope I didn't imagine that you enjoyed it as much as I did?"
Seeing the unsure, half-shy expression on her partner's face, Lois suspected, not for the first time, that Clark was probably not very experienced sexually. She reached for his hand and squeezed it. "Yes, I enjoyed it … very much. I just want to know why you stopped?"
"Not because I wanted to, believe me!" Clark assured her. "It's just … well, neither of us expected this to happen tonight, Lois. And don't get me wrong … I'm not the least bit sorry it did. But it just seemed like … well, like things were getting pretty hot just there, and I thought it might be best to — to calm it down." He took a deep breath. "Lois, I don't just want a brief interlude with you. You mean a great deal to me, and if there's a possibility that you might feel the same way, I don't want to risk it going wrong because we take it too fast."
Lois met Clark's eyes, seeing there both sincerity and the assurance that she was very special to him. She raised her hand to his face, laying her palm flat against his cheek. "You're pretty special to me, too, Clark, but I guess you're right. We shouldn't rush into anything."
"So … ?" he enquired. There were things he needed to discuss with Lois, and things he hoped she would discuss with him. However, it was getting late and Lois was tired; he wasn't sure whether now was the best time. "Look, don't think I'm putting you off, but maybe we should leave this until tomorrow — we've both got the day off, and we can take as much time as we want to just … talk."
Lois nodded; it made sense. "Yeah, you're right. There are things I … need to talk to you about too. And it's a bit late to go into all of it now."
Clark stood, but forestalled Lois's attempt to get to her feet. "Stay where you are — you don't need to see me out." He reached down, curving his palm around her jawline again, and bent to kiss her lightly. As he straightened up, he allowed his hand to stroke her abdomen lightly. "Goodnight, little one," he murmured softly, then made his way to the door and let himself out.
Lois sat, unmoving, listening to the sound of Clark's footsteps disappearing down the hall and reviewing in her mind the unexpected events of the last half hour. How had it happened that she and Clark had ended up sharing that kiss? Not that she regretted one minute of it … but how had she never realised, even based on that kiss at the Lexor Hotel, that her partner could kiss so … so passionately, so expertly? Lois had been kissed many times, but could only remember one other time when a kiss had had the power to move her so deeply … when Superman had kissed her the night her baby had been conceived.
<But I don't want to think about that night!> Lois protested. <It's over … Superman is in my past. Clark is my future … He's what I want, and he'll be good for me. And the baby.>
Lois got to her feet, padded into the bedroom, and slowly prepared for bed. <Tomorrow> she thought. <Tomorrow, I'll tell Clark about the baby and ask him to get Superman to meet me. This has to be faced, once and for all … >
Clark walked home; he wanted to think, to allow his mind to absorb what had just happened, and he therefore wanted to take his time. He was still stunned by the kiss he and Lois had shared, by the unmistakable evidence that she had been as moved by it as he had. Could it be that at last he was going to achieve his heart's desire? To have Lois as his lover, his life partner … that was all he had wanted since not long after arriving in Metropolis. That, of course, and using his powers to make a difference in some way while still managing to live a normal life. He had managed the normal life part, he mused, although he still had the occasional close shave, especially when he had to explain a sudden disappearance to someone as sharp-witted as Lois.
It occurred to him seriously for the first time that he should now tell Lois about his identity as Superman. He had toyed with the idea before, but always dismissed it for a variety of reasons; mainly because he was unsure how she would react. But as he had recognised, he could trust Lois to keep his secret. The main question was whether she would be angry at his deceit; after all, she had until a few months before acted as if she was in love with Superman. And there were a number of occasions when she had thought she was confiding in Superman about Clark, and vice versa. As such, she might not be too pleased to realise that her confidences had been made to what might appear to be the wrong person.
But if he and Lois were on the cusp of a serious relationship — and one which would involve bringing up a baby together — it was only right that he should tell her.
Clark glanced at his watch, briefly considering flying to Smallville to talk with his parents, but rejected the idea. For one thing, it was late, and the requirements of farm labour meant that Martha and Jonathan usually went to bed earlier than what they termed 'city folk'; it would not be fair to disturb them. For another, it occurred to him that over the past few months he had begun to rely less on his parents for advice in decision-making. It wasn't difficult to work out the origin of this development: his parents' reservations about Clark's playing such a significant role in Lois's life. He was aware that they didn't in any way disapprove of Lois's pregnancy; it was just that, he recognised, they were concerned about Clark and his feelings should the father of Lois's baby reappear on the scene. He could understand their fears, but although Martha and Jonathan made no attempt to interfere in Clark's decisions, he had taken to consulting with them less frequently on personal issues. On reflection, he realised that Martha had perhaps been a little hurt at this sign of Clark's growing up and away from them, and he determined to visit his parents in the near future for a heart-to-heart.
Thinking over the possibility of letting Lois in on his secret, Clark remembered his many discussions with his parents about hiding his special abilities, particularly Jonathan's fears that he might be put 'in a laboratory and dissected like a frog' if anyone found out. Of course, Clark mused with an amused smile, whoever did that would need Kryptonite in order to be successful; he supposed it wasn't impossible, but on the other hand, he hadn't come across any Kryptonite since the chunk the Bureau 39 agent Trask had used had been destroyed by Jonathan.
But in any case, Lois would not be inclined to want to dissect him … though he hoped that she might want to do other things with him, along the lines of their passionate interlude in her apartment … His body felt warm at the memory, and then he also remembered how close Lois had come to finding out his secret on her own. If she had managed to undo even one button on his shirt …
Yes, he had to tell Lois he was Superman. Tomorrow was the perfect opportunity. He would tell her how much he loved her, and then confess.
Clark arrived at Lois's apartment shortly after 9am, this time bearing a still-warm box of doughnuts from her favourite patisserie. He found her already dressed and in the process of making coffee. Her hair, grown longer than had been her custom some months before, shone in the morning rays of sunlight which broke though the window, and she wore an oversized T-shirt with maternity jeans.
Lois, to her surprise, actually felt a little shyness as she admitted Clark; it was odd, she reflected, considering that he had been coming over every morning for months. Last night appeared to have altered their relationship dramatically. She didn't regret it, but she found herself searching Clark's face anxiously for any indication that he might have had second thoughts. She felt reassured by the warmth in his soft brown eyes, the way he smiled at her, and the appreciation in his expression as he took in her appearance.
He was looking pretty good himself, she mused; a black shirt and black jeans which only seemed to accentuate his tanned complexion and glossy dark hair. The jeans clung to the contours of his narrow hips and muscular thighs … Lois swallowed. <Don't go there!> she warned herself. <It's only morning … and we do need to talk.>
Clark was the first to break the silence which was becoming faintly awkward. "Good morning, Lois — did you sleep well?" he enquired in a tone which strove to seem normal, but came out somewhat husky.
Lois dipped her head, murmuring that she had, and Clark's body tensed at the sight of her hair brushing gently against her cheekbones. Almost without volition, his free hand stretched out to lift her hair away from her face, and the backs of his fingers stroked her face. There was a brief pause, then Lois moved closer to Clark and lifted her face to his. Reaching up, she brushed her lips against his in a sweet kiss, then stepped back.
"Hey, this isn't getting us any breakfast, Kent!"
His emotions turning over at the huskiness in Lois's voice, which matched his earlier, Clark was tempted to dump the doughnuts on the floor and sweep Lois into his arms. But he recognised that she was trying to lighten the atmosphere — and in any case, he had decided on his way over that it was probably better to tell her the truth about Superman before they got carried away by further passion. He was also wearing the Suit under his clothes again, which was yet another good reason to wait.
So he suppressed his more basic instincts and instead adopted a teasing tone. "So you made coffee this morning, Lois? Is it drinkable, do you think?"
The ferocious glint in Lois's eyes assured him that he had managed to steer the conversation onto less dangerous territory; although he didn't like the way her hand was wavering over a plate as if she was tempted to throw it at his head. Not that it could hurt him, of course … However, her mouth curved into the impish smile he loved as she retorted, "Of course it is, as long as you like decaffeinated."
Laughing, Clark made gagging noises. He didn't much care for decaffeinated coffee, although he had drunk it on several occasions recently when with Lois at one or other's apartment. They breakfasted in relatively companionable fashion, discussing the headlines in a few of that morning's newspapers, Clark also having picked up a couple of the Planet's rivals on his way across. Both, however, were aware of the simmering undertone of things so far left unsaid, and it was almost a relief to Lois when, Clark having drained his coffee-mug, she was able to get up and occupy herself clearing the debris away.
"We need to talk — "
"About last night — there're are things we need to discuss -"
Both began to speak simultaneously, then broke off. Lois continued, "Clark, last night was … great. But before we go any further, or even talk about where we might go from there, there are things I think we need to talk about." She had spent much of the night thinking about this, and had decided that she owed it to Clark to tell him about her baby's father as soon as possible; certainly before matters got confused by their discussing their feelings for one another. After all, once Clark became aware of Superman's role in the situation, he might feel less happy about being part of a triangle with the Man of Steel. Lois was well aware that Clark had been very jealous of her feelings for Superman, and once Superman knew about the baby, she was confident that he would want to be involved. Could Clark accept that? And would he be willing to help take responsibility for a Super-baby?
Clark was nodding. "There are things I want to discuss with you too — in particular, something important I need to tell you." This is it, he mused … cards on the table; would Lois accept him once she knew that he was not at all what he seemed?
Lois was thinking; suddenly, remembering last night, her apartment felt a little claustrophobic, and she wondered whether they would manage to get any talking done if they stayed there. Over breakfast she hadn't been able to stop her eyes straying to the movements of Clark's body as he ate; now, standing in her living-room, flashes of last night's kisses passed through her mind. She swallowed, then suggested, "How about we go for a walk? I could do with some fresh air."
Also fighting the desire to reach out and pull Lois into his arms, Clark could only agree. In public, he would have to restrain himself, so it was a good idea … as long as they were able to get sufficient privacy for their conversation. In addition, it occurred to him that, if Lois did react badly to his confession, it would be less easy for her to get angry and yell at him. At least, he hoped that was the case …
"Sure, Lois," he agreed. "The park?"
"That sounds good," she concurred, picking up her purse. "Ready to go?"
Clark paused. "It's a bit cold out — that T-shirt won't be warm enough. Let me get you a sweater," he offered.
She gave him a self-deprecating smile. "Nothing like that fits me any more, and I haven't got any maternity tops yet, just dresses and trousers."
Clark thought for a moment. "Hey, what about that sweatshirt I lent you ages ago? I know you still have it — I've seen you wear it since."
"Yeah, that would fit," Lois agreed. "It's in the bottom of the closet in the bedroom … " She trailed off as she remembered what else was in that closet, but Clark had already hurried into her bedroom. She followed quickly, but it was too late.
Clark turned to face Lois, holding up the cape of Superman's suit. "What's this doing here, Lois?"
She pulled a face; she had not meant that suit to be found. "Oh, you remember the night Superman stopped the asteroid? He came here — he was exhausted and freezing cold. He used my shower and I lent him some dry clothes. But he … left sometime during the night and left the suit behind. I would have returned it, but … you've heard him talk about that night. He doesn't remember anything. He forgot he'd ever been here, so I decided not to embarrass him by telling him." She looked away from Clark, hoping that he would not read between the lines and guess at what she had not said. She wanted to tell him in her own way without embarrassment, not to have him figure it out like this.
Clark continued to stare at the cape, letting the impact of Lois's words sink in. After a moment or two he let the material slip from his fingers, and he moved swiftly towards the bedroom door. "I — have to go, Lois. I'll be back, I promise."
"Clark, no, don't go, please!" Lois called. "I really wanted to talk to you - there was something I wanted to … ask you." The last two words were said to an empty apartment as the front door closed behind a departing Clark.
Lois sank onto the bed. Of all the times for Clark to find that suit. She should have told him long ago that Superman had been in her apartment that night. She could have done it before now without giving away the secret of the baby's parentage before she was ready to do so. Now Clark had found the suit, he was bound to think she hadn't said anything because she was still in love with Superman. <How am I going to tell him Superman's the father now?> Lois wondered despairingly. <He won't want to have anything to do with us … >
Clark had barely waited to ensure that no-one was around before launching himself into the sky, changing his clothes as he did so. His head was spinning. His missing suit had been at Lois's apartment all the time. *He* had been at her apartment that night. Pictures flashed through his mind: Lois wrapping him in a blanket, Lois urging him to get into the shower, waking up in Lois's bed, flying home naked and tumbling into his own bed …
More pictures, this time from his dream. Lois kissing him passionately. He wrapping his arms around her, holding her close. Touching her all over. Making love to her.
Was it a dream … or had it really happened?
Lois stood in her bedroom, holding the cape to her, hoping desperately that Clark would come back so that they could talk. A noise in the living-room attracted her attention, and she slowly padded through to see what had caused it.
Superman stood by the window, his face anxious and his eyes burning with some unfathomable emotion. "Lois, I need to talk to you," he bit out, as if the words hurt him.
"What is it, Superman? I'm kind of busy," Lois objected. She really didn't want to talk to him now. She had decided that she had to tell him about the baby; it was only fair, both to Superman and the child. But not now — not while things with Clark were uncertain, and while she was hoping Clark would return at any moment.
"Lois, please, I need to know — what happened the night I stopped the asteroid?" Superman demanded roughly. "I came here … ?"
Lois could only stare at him. How did he know? Had he remembered? And how coincidental that he should ask *now*, just after Clark had found the cape.
"Have you seen Clark? Is that how you know?" she demanded in return.
"Lois, this is important!" he insisted in a harsh, urgent voice. "Am I the father of your baby?"
Lois's sharp intake of breath gave him the answer he had been looking for. Not that he needed it; Clark had guessed it the instant he found the cape. *His* baby. Lois had been carrying his child all along. At once he felt elated and deeply despondent. The thought that her baby had been his child all along was … wonderful. It was what he had dreamt of. But he had made her pregnant, and then had not been there to support her. Oh, he'd been around as a friend, but not as the baby's father. He had allowed Lois to think that her baby's father wasn't interested in his child, had forgotten the events leading to the child's conception. And that, to Clark, was unforgivable.
Lois met Superman's eyes. "Yes, the baby's yours. We — made love — that night … "
"I remember — some of it at least," he told her. "But it only came back to me when I found — " He broke off, remembering that he had yet to tell Lois the truth about his identity.
He took a deep, shuddering breath, then spoke again. "Lois, I am so sorry. I would never have wanted to put you through this. If I had known, I would have been there for you … " He paused, then asked the question which had been of second-most importance to him. "Why didn't you tell me?" His voice almost broke with the force of his emotion.
"I — I -" Lois broke off, unsure of how to explain. She went to stand behind her sofa, leaning on the back, feeling the need for some reason to put some distance between herself and Superman. "You didn't remember being here at all, let alone us making love. When I found out I was pregnant — it was a couple of months later, and I hadn't said anything to you in the meantime about your being here that night; it seemed … I don't know. I wasn't sure you'd … " She broke off again, finding herself at a loss for words.
"You weren't sure I'd believe you, is that it?" Superman demanded roughly, in an emotional tone of voice Lois had never before heard from him. "How can you imagine I'd think that? You must know how I think of you. Of *course* I'd have believed you. You should have told me."
"I know," Lois replied miserably. "I kept telling myself I should, that you had a right to know. But it wasn't easy, Superman! What did you expect me to do, come up to you at a disaster scene or a press conference and say 'Guess what, you're going to be a father'?"
"Lois, you have always been able to get hold of me if you needed to talk to me," he pointed out in a strained voice.
"Yes, OK, you're right. I should have," she agreed. "But every time I saw you, you were so … distant, as if I was just an acquaintance. Not at all like you were that night, not as if we'd ever been … intimate. You seemed so unapproachable."
"So did you, Lois," he pointed out quietly. "You've been distant with me for some months now. I though you were hinting to me that you didn't want me coming to visit you any more, and I was just trying to show you that I'd got the message."
"What a mess!" Lois sighed, shaking her head.
"Yeah — but it doesn't have to be any more," Superman said decisively, moving towards her. "Now that I know, we can make plans, decide what we're going to do … "
"No, Superman," Lois said insistently, holding up her hands as if to ward him off. "It's not that simple." She paused, not wanting to hurt Superman, but knowing now what she wanted for herself and the baby. She turned away from him, her eyes focusing on the photograph of herself and Clark which stood on the bureau. It had been taken at the Kerth award ceremony a little over a month ago. She had been five months pregnant, but had managed to find an evening dress which almost disguised the bump. In the photo, she was holding Clark's arm and smiling happily up at him; he was looking at her and all the love he felt for her was transparent. Not just attraction; not just fondness — love. Why had she not seen that until now?
"Superman, I know you're my baby's father, but you and I can't have any sort of future together," she told him quietly, still not looking at him. "It just couldn't work. I need someone who's going to be here for me and the baby, not off saving the world. Someone we can be a family with - who'll take us shopping and to the park and on vacation … "
Her finger traced Clark's face on the photograph.
"Clark has been there for me all through this, ever since I found out I was pregnant. He's taken care of me when I was sick; he's stayed over here nights when I didn't want to be alone; he's gone with me to the hospital for check-ups, and he's listened to me and comforted me when I was feeling low. He's already said he'll be with me when the baby's born — I can hold his hand and yell at him and … " She broke off, close to tears.
"Clark's not my baby's natural father, but that doesn't make any difference to him. He'd make a great father … " She drew in a shuddering breath, then continued. "Clark loves me, I think. I know I … I used to be infatuated with you, Superman, and the night we spent together will always be special. But the last few months have taught me a lot about myself and about my feelings. Clark's a man in a billion. I am incredibly lucky to have him. I now know I love him. And I want to ask him to marry me and to bring up my child as his own. I know it won't be easy, especially if the baby inherits your super-powers, Superman. I'll never try to stop you spending time with him or her, and he or she will know all about your Kryptonian origins. But it will be Clark and me who'll -"
"Lois," Clark interrupted. "Lois — stop. Please."
She drew a long breath again, trying to blink back tears. "I really don't want to hurt you, Superman, but this is the way it has to be."
"No, Lois," he insisted. "There's something I *have* to tell you, now. Please, won't you turn around and look at me?"
Slowly, Lois turned to face him. But what she saw was … Clark, in the clothes he had been wearing when he'd left her apartment. Only he wasn't wearing his glasses, and his hair was slicked back.
"Lois — do you understand now?" he asked her, in Superman's voice.
"I — Clark — Superman … " Lois tried to form the words, but couldn't.
"Lois, I am Clark. I always have been. Superman's a disguise. I did it so I could have a normal life … help where I can, but not be constantly in the public eye, have some … privacy … " He shrugged helplessly, hoping she would understand.
"I was going to tell you everything this morning -" he continued.
"I was going to tell you today that Superman's the father," Lois interrupted, amazed that they had both been planning to tell each other their secrets that same day.
"I love you, Lois, and I'm so sorry I didn't remember, that you had to go through this alone," Clark said passionately.
"I love you too, and I wasn't alone. You were with me," Lois reminded him.
"Yeah, but … not the way I *wanted* to be," Clark protested. "I let you think that I wasn't interested in my child. I would *never* have behaved like that, Lois … "
"No, I know you wouldn't have — at least, I know now," Lois interrupted him. "For a while I didn't know what to think … " She trailed off as the magnitude of Clark's confession began to sink in, and she padded slowly to the sofa and sank into its cushions. Raising her head to stare at Clark, she spoke angrily, "You're Superman … and all this time you let me think you were two different people? Clark, I don't believe you did that … " She shook her head, unable to continue.
Clark sighed. It seemed that, even now, he couldn't do the right thing. "Lois, I'm sorry," he protested, becoming a little angry himself. "But what else was I to do? I couldn't use my powers as myself, you have to see that! And maybe I should have told you before, when we became close friends, but … I don't know, it never seemed the right time. But I guess if I had told you, this wouldn't have happened — "
Lois interrupted him, her brown eyes meeting his with a regretful look. "No, Clark, it's not fair of me to get angry with you — after all, you could easily say that if I had told Superman — you — about the baby months ago, things would have been different."
Clark came closer, squatting in front of Lois and taking her hands in his. His soft brown eyes fixed hers, revealing his love for her in their depths. "There's no point in both of us endlessly saying the other should have behaved differently. Each of us could have said something long ago, that's true, but it hasn't made any difference. We love each other, and we're going to raise our child together."
Lois lowered her head so that their foreheads touched briefly; then she squeezed Clark's hands and tugged lightly; taking her cue, he sat beside her, still holding her hands. She stared at him for a long moment, then freed one hand and reached into the top pocket of his shirt. Finding his glasses, she carefully placed them on his face and sat back to inspect the result. Seeing the man in front of her, who had looked like Superman dressed in street clothes, transformed into Clark Kent with slicked-back hair, she smiled wryly. "Fooled for over a year by a pair of glasses and hair gel! Some investigative reporter I am!"
Clark smiled, the action causing tiny creases to form around his eyes and mouth. "You and everyone else saw what I wanted you to see. And I am pretty fast, so it wouldn't have been that difficult to assume that Clark Kent and Superman were both present at the same incident."
"Like that arson attack?" Lois remembered.
"Yeah, like that," Clark agreed. "Although there I was a bit careless — I should never have let you see me run into the store dressed as myself." He paused, remembering, then couldn't resist adding, "Though I don't regret it - it was really nice to see you show such concern for my safety."
Lois thumped Clark's arm, then regretted it as evidence of his invulnerability manifested itself in a throbbing fist. With her other hand, she removed his glasses again, then lapsed into silence.
"Are you OK, Lois?" Clark was concerned.
Lois hesitated, then turned to face him again. She spoke slowly, clearly thinking aloud. "I was just thinking. You know, you said things have worked out right anyway, with us only finding out the truth about everything today? I'm not sure whether, if I had told Superman about the baby right at the beginning, we would be like this today."
"No?" Clark was incredulous. "You must realise that I would have — "
"Told me the truth about you and Superman and insisted that we move in together, or get married, or something like that?" Lois interrupted.
"Well, yeah, of course!"
"I thought so," Lois continued. "The problem is, I'm not sure whether I was ready six months ago to find out that you are Superman. No, let me explain," she added swiftly as Clark was about to interrupt her. "Don't misunderstand me, Clark. You were a great friend and someone I cared about very much. But you were no super-hero to me, and I would have found it very difficult reconciling what I thought I knew of you with what I thought I knew of Superman. You know I was infatuated with Superman — I was in love with him, I thought. But over the last few months I've realised that a lot of my feelings were directed towards what he is, not who he is. I now understand that we — most of us — have it all wrong. Superman is not just about the powers and never has been. You could take his powers and give them to almost anyone else in the world, and the result would not be the same. What makes him different is what makes you different: the values you have, the decency, caring, respect for other people, your desire to help, to preserve truth and a sense of what is right. That's what really makes Superman special."
She paused and glanced at Clark; he was silent, taking in her words. "While I thought that Superman was some perfect hero on a pedestal, I never understood that. Then … this happened, and I suddenly thought he wasn't so perfect after all. My idol had feet of clay, and for a while I turned against him. But then I admitted to myself that I had been unfair in putting him on that pedestal. After all, he is only a man, with the same failings as many men. Where he is different from other people, though, is those values I mentioned a minute ago. I eventually realised that, but by then it was so long after I realised I was pregnant that it just got more and more difficult to tell him — you — the truth."
Pausing again, Lois smiled almost shyly at Clark, reaching up her hand to stroke his cheek and hairline. "Now I do know that you're Superman … but I also know that I love Clark Kent far more than I ever thought I loved Superman. Six months ago that wouldn't have been true, and I might have wanted you to be something you're not. Now, I know that I would love you with or without whatever super-powers you have — " She broke off, laughing awkwardly. "One of these days you're going to have to tell me everything you can do … "
Clark reached for Lois, sliding his arms around her in the way he had wanted ever since he had arrived at her apartment that morning. "Even better — I'll show you," he promised. He lowered his lips to hers and kissed her lovingly, allowing the kiss to linger as his hands trailed tantalisingly over her body. Lois giggled as the lightness of his touch tickled, then gasped as she realised that she was no longer sitting on the sofa, but floating several inches above it.
"Hey — it's OK, trust me," Clark assured her, his lips trailing across her jawline and finding their way to her earlobe. "Mmmmm … this feels wonderful," he murmured, as at the same time he guided them, still floating, across the room and into Lois's bedroom.
"Clark … what are you doing?" Lois demanded as she felt herself being lowered onto the bed she had left less than two hours ago.
"Don't worry … nothing … our parents … wouldn't approve of," he murmured in amusement between kisses, as his lips explored the curves and indentations of Lois's left ear. "I just want to touch you … get used to being close to you … and touching our child inside your body … " He paused, and allowed his hand to trail gently over her swollen belly. "You have to admit, it is more comfortable here than on that hard sofa of yours. That's going to have to go, you know, Lois … "
"That's assuming I let you move in here, Clark Kent," Lois retorted, a wicked grin curving across her lips. Seeing Clark's surprised expression, she relented and added, "Maybe it'd be better if I moved into your apartment. If nothing else, I guess that balcony must provide good cover for Super take-offs and landings."
"Sure does," Clark agreed, grinning. "The hidden closet also comes in handy, of course … "
<Parents> The word suddenly registered itself in Lois's consciousness, and she sat upright abruptly. "Clark — your parents! What are they going to think?"
Clark drifted upwards to sit cross-legged just above the bed, facing Lois; she smothered a gasp at this further evidence of the hidden abilities she had never guessed her partner and best friend possessed. "Lois, my parents will be … over the moon … absolutely ecstatic … to discover that they are going to be grandparents. I promise you, if you thought your mother was being over-protective, you are never going to be able to get my mom off the phone!"
Only slightly reassured, Lois reached for Clark's hand and grasped it tightly. "Clark, I couldn't help noticing … Jonathan and Martha … well, they've been really nice to me, but I did get the impression that they weren't too happy about you spending so much time with me … I don't want you to fall out with your parents … "
"Lois, my parents don't make my decisions for me — I do," Clark replied emphatically. "I guess that's one thing I've learned in the past few months … to grow up, take more responsibility for my own actions … but apart from that, Mom and Dad were only concerned that some day, you might want to have your baby's father back in your life, and that I'd be … superfluous. He squeezed Lois's hands gently and smiled at her, sincerity in his eyes. "I know that Mom and Dad will be delighted, when we tell them the truth. And just to set the record straight, if I had taken you home and told them we were getting married, *regardless* of who the father had turned out to be, they would have been happy for us."
"Oh, Clark!" Lois's voice broke with the emotion she was feeling, and she fell into Clark's arms.
Some minutes later, Clark added wryly, "My parents are easy, Lois — the real problem is going to be your mother! How many times have you assured her that I'm not the father?"
"Oh God!" Lois exclaimed, half-laughing, and clapped her hand over her mouth. "How do we explain that? And it's not just Mother — it's Perry and lots of people … "
Clark considered. "Why don't we tell them as much of the truth as we can? That I was sick and spent the night at your apartment, and that we … slept together, without either of us intending it to happen, and that I just didn't remember anything about it afterwards — and that you didn't say anything because you sort of regretted it … and then when you realised you were pregnant, it was just too difficult to say anything to me … Does that sound too far-fetched?"
Lois ran her hands through her hair. "No — it just might work. Mother would believe it anyway — I don't know about Perry, but as I'm not going to tell him anything else he'll just have to live with it."
Kissing Lois's forehead, Clark insisted, "We'll sort it out, Lois — and anyway, no-one else really matters except us. And our child," he added, placing his hand possessively over Lois's abdomen.
"I've been worried about childcare, Clark," Lois interjected anxiously. "That's why I said I was thinking of working at home. I wasn't sure what kind of super-powers the baby would have, and I didn't want anyone finding out … "
Clark shook his head, taking her hands in his again. "I don't know … but I didn't start to do anything different until I was about ten or twelve. I certainly didn't fly until I was eighteen — so I think day-care should be safe enough. Later, we might want to consider other arrangements. And we don't know what powers, if any, a half-Kryptonian will have … " He bent to claim her lips again, then added between kisses, "We have plenty of time to work it all out."
Some time later, Lois came up for air and murmured reluctantly, "I guess we should really make a start on sorting out all this web of lies I've been spinning these last few months."
"OK," Clark agreed, getting to his feet in a movement so swift Lois's eyes couldn't keep up. "Like to go flying?"
"You *know* I always like to go flying!" Lois laughed, sticking her tongue out at him. "You know, this secret identity thing of yours was really a bit unfair — you know far too much about me as a result!"
Clark stepped back, spun around, and came to a stop dressed as Superman. Before Lois had time to catch her breath at this audacious display of showmanship, he scooped her up into his arms and marched out into the living room.
"Where are we going?" she demanded.
"Smallville — I thought you might like to pay my parents a surprise visit?" he suggested, laughter crinkling the corners of his eyes.
Lois pictured Martha and Jonathan's faces when they saw their son arrive as Superman, with Lois Lane in his arms. "They're going to get quite a shock, Clark!"
"They'll survive," he assured her. "Ready to go? I'd like to introduce our baby to its grandparents … "
"Oh, and by the way, Lois," Clark added as he drifted them upwards and out of the window, "the answer's Yes. And I won't make you go down on one knee."
"What are you talking about?" Lois demanded, puzzled. "The answer to what?"
"Well, you did say that you were going to ask me to marry you," Clark explained in a deadpan voice. "And since I've never felt the need to prove my masculinity, and I know how you like to be on top, I figured I'd let you do the proposing."
"Oh yeah?" The feisty Lois Lane Clark had first met all that time ago was back with a vengeance, he thought, his mouth curving in a delighted grin as he watched her response. At times over the past few months, that Lois had been much less obvious; thinking of the role he had played in events, leaving her facing single parenthood, saddened him. But he had to admit there was quite a lot of truth in what she had said about not being ready to hear the truth six months before. Now, all would be well. They would marry, and although bringing up a Super child with parents who both had very demanding jobs would not be easy, they would find a way. Clark had found all the things he had told his father many months ago he was searching for: a life of his own, a fascinating job, a way to help others without being exposed, a woman whom he loved more than anything he could ever have imagined … and a family on the way.
"Yeah. This is where you meet my parents, and you try to kiss me behind the dairy freeze on the way home … you know how it works, Lois," Clark grinned as he spoke the words close to her ear so that she could hear him above the noise of the air rushing past.
Lois recognised the words of the put-down she had given Clark when he had first started work, but realised from his tone that he had long ago forgiven her for them. She grinned, sharing his amusement, and shouted back, "That's OK, Flyboy … you can tease me all you want, but I'll get my revenge one day."
"I don't doubt it for one second, Lois!" Clark assured her, laughing.
Lois nestled her head into Clark's shoulder, reflecting happily on how things had worked out. Who would have thought it … she had found her Super guy, and he had been just outside her window after all.