The Long Road


Rated: PG

Submitted September 1999

Summary: Lois's attempt to rebuild her life after Clark's prolonged absence on New Krypton is unexpectedly thwarted when an old wound is reopened.

Author's note: I'll warn ya, this one is pretty WHAMy. You guys have to promise not to yell at me, kay?<G>. Incidentally, the title is from a song that reminded me of this story idea. The one line was "I can hear your voice in the wind/ Are you calling to me … down the long road/ Do you really think there's an end/ I have followed my dream..down the long road" (by Cliff Eberhardt on Windham Hill)… This story is dedicated to the memory of J.D. Carter. "Who you are doesn't have anything to do with how long you're here. It has to do with who you touch, and how." — Martha Kent 'Seconds'

Disclaimer: The characters portrayed herein are the property of D.C. Comics, Warner Bros., Dec. 3rd Productions, and anyone else I might have forgotten. The story is mine and copyright ME.<G>


Lois stood staring out the window above her kitchen sink. Once again she found herself looking toward the familiar patch of sky where Clark had once pointed out New Krypton. It had been almost three years now since that night. The night when he visited her apartment one last time before leaving.

'How many nights did I stare at the sky?' she thought to herself, wiping at the tear that slipped down her cheek. She was so wrapped up in her thoughts that she didn't hear the key turn in the lock, or the footsteps through her living room. As he stepped up behind her and kissed her lightly on the neck, she jumped, startled.

"Whoa," he said, wrapping his arms around her waist. "You're a little jumpy tonight."

"Yeah, I guess I am," she answered, her back still to him.

"You okay?" he asked, leaning his head over her shoulder.

"I'm fine." She tried to cover the waver in her voice.

Reaching around for her shoulder, he turned her toward him. He gently brushed her cheek, tracing the trail of the latest tear. "You're not fine," he said softly. "You've been thinking about the wedding, haven't you? And all that happened."

Lois's gaze dropped to the floor. "Eric, I … " she started, but stopped, not knowing what to say.

He lifted her chin to meet her eyes. "Lois, it's okay. I understand."

She searched his eyes, wondering how he could always be so good about this. As the tears threatened again, she looked away. Eric took her hand, leading her to the couch. He settled on one end, pulling her down next to him.

"Lois, look," he began, taking her hands, "I know how much you loved Clark. And I know how hard this is for you. You need to let yourself work through this. You can't keep pushing it away." He placed a hand on her shoulder. "I'm here to help. Anyway I can."

Lois reached out to stroke his face. "I know," she choked, "I know." He slid his arm around her shoulders as she leaned onto his chest. "Thank you," she whispered.

"Anytime," he answered, kissing her on the top of the head.

Eric gave Lois a brief kiss as he left, promising to stop by the next day. As she latched the door behind him, she sighed wearily. Even though it was late, Lois knew that she wouldn't sleep. She fixed herself a hot cup of tea; then, wrapping herself in a blanket, she stepped out onto the fire escape. Settling on the windowsill, she gazed up at the sky. She shook her head as she stared at the blank patch of sky. It had been almost a year since New Krypton had disappeared from the heavens.

"So, why do I keep looking for it?" she asked herself. Leaning her head back against the window, Lois thought about that week when his world had disappeared. And her world with it. Over the first two years that Clark had been gone, he had communicated telepathically with Lois. He would tell her how things were going, and that he loved her. Always that he loved her. And she had always wished that she could tell him, too. She hoped that he could feel her love. Then one night his tone changed. He told her that Nor was gaining ground, and that they were concerned that he was going to make a major strike on New Krypton. Lois had listened in horror, unable to express to him all the thoughts and feelings running through her mind. She had wanted to tell him to leave. To just come home. To get out of there. But she couldn't. All she could do was listen.

He had been on her mind all day that next day. Perry had finally sent her home early, realizing that something had her distracted. Lois had rushed home, climbing out onto the fire escape much as she had now. She sat for hours, waiting for the sun to set so that she could get a glimpse of New Krypton in the evening sky. She closed her eyes as the memory of that night's events flooded over her. She had been staring at the sky, staring at the star that was New Krypton when suddenly it had flared, then disappeared. At first, she didn't believe it. She had sat there staring, waiting for it to reappear. But it hadn't. Not that night or any night since. And Clark's messages had stopped. She hadn't heard from him since. Lois brushed at the tears that ran down her cheek. She had called Martha that night, frantically explaining what had happened. And every night for the next week she had stared at that same sky, waiting for a sign, or a message. Lois stood and stepped back into her apartment as the night air cut through the blanket. Wrapping it more tightly around her, she settled on the couch and fell asleep.

The next morning Eric appeared at her door as promised. Lois was just finishing her morning coffee, lounging in sweats when he arrived. "Now, is this anyway to spend a fine Spring day," he chided her. Reaching for her hand as they stepped into the living room, he pulled her back to him. "Feeling any better?" he asked, his tone serious.

She managed a small grin. "Yes," she answered, kissing him lightly. "I do."

"Good," he grinned. "Then, unless you object, we're going on a picnic. Go change into something… outdoorsy. "

"Outdoorsy," she laughed. "Is that a word?"

Turning her toward her bedroom, he leaned over her shoulder. "I could have said picnicy."

She shook her head, still laughing. "I'm not sure which is worse."

"Just go," he laughed, pushing her toward the room.


Lois sat on the blanket sipping at her wine, watching Eric as he launched the kite for the fourth time. Stretching out, she propped herself on one elbow. The wind blew his shoulder length wavy brown hair around his face as he held the kite in front of him. As his long legs propelled him forward, he released the kite, watching it soar into the air. He turned to her, grinning at his success as the kite crashed to the ground behind him. Lois laughed as he turned back, scooping up the kite again for another try. Running her hand through her hair, she thought about how he had first come into her life… Lois had met Eric Brandonly at the Planet. Perry had called her into his office early one morning to introduce her. She remembered thinking that he didn't look like a lawyer. He had been dressed in casual slacks, a polo shirt, and the biker jacket he loved so much. She had cocked an eyebrow at Perry as he suggested they all sit down. A story that Lois had written exposing the activities of one of Metropolis's newest crime bosses had apparently ruffled some feathers. But Lois was used to that; it was part of the job. She was even prepared for the lawsuit for libel that was filed two days after the story ran. What she hadn't been prepared for was the evidence disappearing from the Metropolis Police Department and her sources mysteriously disappearing from the country. And that was where Eric had come into the picture. He was an up-and-comer with the law firm that the Planet kept on retainer for just such circumstances. Perry had explained that Eric was being assigned to handle her case. And despite her initial misgivings, she quickly realized that he knew what he was doing. Eric and Lois had spent hours pouring over her notes and tapes trying to build her defense. He had been kind and charming from the beginning and they developed an easy friendship. When he invited her to dinner to celebrate winning the case, she had hesitated, but eventually accepted.

Apparently sensing her uneasiness, Eric had broached the subject of their "relationship". "Lois," he had started, pausing as he chose his words, "I… I want you to know that I enjoy your company very much. But I don't want you to feel uncomfortable with this. That ring on your finger means you are committed to someone else, and I respect that very much. I hope we can continue to spend time together as friends." It had broken the tension of the evening and they had sat talking until the restaurant closed. Several days later, Eric called to invite her to lunch, and eventually, they met several times a week. True to his word, Eric was always the gentleman, treating her as a friend.

She enjoyed their friendship. And when she was at her lowest point, it was Eric who pulled her back. When New Krypton disappeared and the messages from Clark stopped Lois just shut down. She had cut herself off from the world, locking herself up in her apartment. Her answering machine filled with messages. At first, Lois had just sat on the couch, staring, numb. Then, as the pain began to sink in, she had opened her first bottle of wine hoping to dull the pain for the moment. When Eric had climbed the fire escape and broken into her apartment 3 days later, he found her passed out on the couch, a row of empty wine bottles covering the coffee table. He had put her to bed that night, sleeping in a chair in her room. Over the next few days he had stayed with her, talking to her, listening to her, and holding her while she cried. She had told him about Clark. Well, she had told him the story they had concocted about Clark. And she had told him that she had reason to believe that Clark was… She had never actually been able to bring herself to say the words. That had been the beginning of their new relationship. Eric had been there for her then, and he continued to be there.

Eric's cursing as the kite hit the ground for the seventh time pulled Lois back to the present. Frustrated with the kite, he dropped onto the blanket next to her. His grin faded as he noticed the sadness in her eyes. He searched her eyes, deciding what to say.

But before he could act, Lois pushed herself up to her knees and reached for his hand. "Come on," she said, shaking off the memories. "Let's go for a walk." Standing, he slipped his arm around her waist as they headed down the hill.

That evening, they lounged on Lois's couch, listening to George Winston by candlelight. Eric stroked Lois's hair as she stretched out next to him. Turning her face toward him, he kissed her, lightly at first. As their kisses became deeper, Lois suddenly pulled away, getting up from the couch.

"I'm sorry," she said softly, standing with her arms wrapped tightly around her, her back to him.

Eric got up and went to stand behind her. Taking her shoulders, he turned her to face him. "Lois," Eric started, brushing her cheek, "I'm not trying to push."

"Eric, I just … "

"Shhh," he said, putting his finger to her lips. "Let me finish, okay?" She nodded, and he continued. "I just want you to think about something." He paused, choosing his words carefully. "Lois, Clark has been gone a long time now with no word. I just… I hate to see you putting your life on hold. I mean, what about you? Aren't you allowed to go on? Aren't you allowed to be happy? You and Clark shared a very special love. I think he would want you to be happy." He slipped a finger under her chin, raising her eyes to his. "Please don't misunderstand. This isn't just about us. Lois, I'll wait for you as long as you need." Lois tried to shake off the memory of having heard those words before. He paused, searching her eyes. "Maybe it's time you let him go. Maybe it's time you let yourself go on." Her gaze dropped as she blinked back tears. "Lois," he said slowly, "you know I'd never hurt you. And that's not what I'm trying to do now. Just think about it, okay." He lifted her chin again. "Okay?" She nodded, a tear slipping down her cheek. Eric clenched his jaw, reaching to brush away the tear. He hated seeing her cry, seeing her in pain, but he couldn't stop it. She had to make this choice on her own. "I'm gonna go now," he said, "but if you need anything, just call me, okay?"

"Okay," she answered, slipping her arms around his neck. They shared a long hug before he kissed her on the cheek and headed toward the door.

Lois walked around her apartment, Eric's words echoing in her head. Turning suddenly, she marched to the door and, grabbing her coat, she headed out. As Lois stepped out onto the street, she filled her lungs with the cool night air. She needed to walk, to think. Without really thinking about where she was going, Lois headed off. As she walked, Lois realized that everything in Metropolis reminded her of Clark. A cafe where they had shared lunch, an alley where they had met with a snitch, a store where they had done an interview. It seemed like everything she passed had some memory. Lois walked on and on, allowing the memories to come.

Several hours later, Lois rounded a turn in the gravel path she had been following and suddenly realized where she was. Looking up, she saw the fountain. She slowly approached the rim of the fountain. Kneeling down, she reached out, running her hand along the edge where Clark had sat her down, kneeling to propose marriage. And she remembered several weeks later when she had knelt here, asking him to marry her. Lois squeezed her eyes shut, clenching her jaw. She leaned back, staring up at the sky. "CLARK" she screamed in anguish, part of her hoping for a response, part of her knowing none would come. Tears coursing down her cheeks, she pulled her head forward, wrapping her arms tightly around her as she sobbed. Rocking back and forth, that last part of her let him go. Opening her eyes, Lois noticed that the sun was beginning to rise. Putting her hands out to steady herself, Lois was about to stand when she stopped, staring at her left hand. Taking a deep breath, her right hand shakily reached for her left ring finger. Easing the ring from her finger, she held it in the palm of her right hand, her fingers closed tightly around it. Standing, she slid the ring into the inside pocket of her jacket. As she wiped the tears from her cheeks, Lois turned and walked down the path away >from the fountain.

On her way home after the park, Lois stopped at a small stand for a cup of coffee. Wrapping her hands around the warm cup, she paused a moment to take a sip. Looking up, she noticed a jeweler's shop just opening. Reaching into her pocket, she stepped inside.

Lois fumbled in her pocket for the keys to her apartment as she approached the door. She stopped just outside the door, reaching for the chain, which hung from her neck. Closing her hand tightly around Clark's ring, she held it for a moment, then slowly slipped it into the collar of her shirt. Reaching for the doorknob, she was surprised to find it unlocked. Easing the door open, she peered cautiously into the room. She relaxed as she spotted Eric sitting on the couch.

Noticing her at the door, he jumped up, rushing toward her. "Lois," he sighed, wrapping his arms tightly around her. "I was so worried. I was afraid that after last night … " Reaching up, she gently stroked his face. Placing his hands over hers, his eyes widened as he felt her bare left ring finger. Taking her hand, he pulled it down to look at it, then looked back into her eyes. "Lois… ," he started slowly.

"Eric," she said, closing her hand around his, "it's okay. You were right. It was time."

"Are you sure?"

She reached up, stroking his curls, smiling softly. He watched as the smile slowly faded and her eyes filled with tears. "He's gone, Eric. He's gone," she whispered before breaking down into sobs. Gathering her up in his arms, Eric carried her to the couch. He eased onto the couch, still holding her. Her head on his shoulder, he gently stroked her hair, his arms wrapped tightly around her as if he could pull her pain into him. When she had exhausted herself, he picked her up and carried her into her bedroom. Laying her carefully on the bed, he started to pull back. Tightening her arms around his neck, she pleaded with him through half closed eyes. "No… please, stay with me." Stretching out next to her, he slid his arm under her shoulders as she curled up on his chest. Locking her fingers in his, Lois slowly drifted off.

"It's okay, Lois. I swear, it'll be okay," he whispered.


Over the next few months, Lois and Eric spent more and more time together. After a wonderful summer's day at the shore, they returned to her apartment for a quiet evening. Lois placed the tea kettle on the stove, then returned to the couch where they sat laughing over a story from earlier that day. A knock at the door interrupted their discussion.

"Wonder who that is?" Lois asked, still laughing as she rose to answer the door. Opening it, Lois's grin faded and her eyes grew wide as she found Martha Kent standing outside her door. "Martha… " Lois said, stunned.

"Lois," Martha said, pulling her into a loving hug. Over Lois's shoulder, Martha noticed Eric still sitting on the couch. As they separated, Martha saw that Lois wasn't meeting her eyes. Martha had known that this day would come. And she was prepared for it. But apparently Lois wasn't. "I just wanted to see how you were doing. I'm sorry to drop by unannounced," Martha explained.

"Martha, you're welcome anytime," Lois started, "I… I just… "

"Lois," Martha smiled, reaching for her hand, "it's okay." Martha watched as Lois struggled for words. "Lois, honey, it's okay," Martha repeated, trying to reassure her, "It's okay to go on. I want you to be happy."

Looking into Martha's eyes, Lois saw such love, and acceptance. She closed her eyes against the tears that welled up.

Martha reached out to brush the tears from Lois's cheek. "No more tears," she said, squeezing Lois's shoulder. "Now, introduce me to your guest."

Wiping at the last of her tears, Lois took Martha's hand and turned, stepping into the apartment. Eric stood as they approached the sofa. "Martha, this is Eric Brandonly," Lois began. "Eric, this is Martha Kent."

Eric smiled at Martha. "Mrs. Kent, I've heard a lot about you," he said.

As the kettle began to whistle, Lois jumped. "Uh oh, I, uh, I better get that," Lois stammered. Martha watched as Lois headed into the kitchen. She had seen Lois nervous before, Lois had always been a little high strung at times. But now, she seemed to be ready to jump out of her own skin.

"Mrs. Kent… " Eric's voice drew Martha's attention back.

"Please, call me Martha," she smiled.

"Martha," he began slowly, "I know this must be very difficult for you… "

"Eric," she interrupted, trying to save him from the awkwardness of the situation. "I am very glad that Lois has someone." Martha paused, looking into the kitchen. "Lois is like a daughter to me. And yes, part of me can't imagine her with anyone but Clark." Martha turned back to Eric. "But that isn't going to happen. Clark is gone. And I want so much for Lois to be happy. I've hated watching her lock herself away from the world. Lois is very special to me. And you seem to be very special to her." Martha grinned as he blushed.

"She's very special to me too," Eric said quietly.

"Well then," Martha continued, "that's all that matters."

Eric stood staring into the older woman's eyes, seeing that she meant every word. "I promise I'll be good to her. I'll take care of her. And I … "

Martha smiled, taking his hands. "Just love her." Their eyes locked in silent understanding.

"Martha, would you like some tea?" Lois called from the kitchen.

"No, thank you," Martha answered. "I need to be going."

Lois stepped back into the living room as Martha headed for the door. "Martha," Lois said, frantically, "you don't have to leave. I mean… we… I… "

"Lois, we'll talk soon. I promise," Martha assured her, reaching for the doorknob. Martha called to Eric. "It was very nice to meet you."

"It was my pleasure," he grinned.

Kissing Lois on the cheek, Martha opened the door. "Enjoy your evening," she grinned, then stepped out, closing the door behind her.

Lois stood, staring at the door, stunned … and a little lost. "Why did she leave like that? My god, what must she think?"

Eric stood and walked to Lois, pulling her to him. "She thinks that you deserve to be happy."

"But what does she think of us? I mean … "

He silenced her with a kiss. "She thinks that we're in love." He tilted her chin up to look into her eyes. "Is she wrong?" he asked quietly.

Taking a deep breath, Lois slipped her arms around his neck. "No," she answered, "she's not."


Lois sat at her desk working intently on a story. "Lois," Jimmy called to her.

"Hmmmm?" she answered, without looking up.

"Uh, Lois, you have a delivery."

"Just sign for it, Jimmy," she replied, a little perturbed. "I'm busy."

"Okay," he answered, signing the deliveryman's book. "Lois?"

"WHAT?" she said, spinning to face him. Her face softened as she stared at the objects Jimmy held. In one hand, he held a vase containing a dozen long stemmed red roses. In the other, a garment bag. Lois reached for the card as Jimmy sat the roses on her desk. 'I'll pick you up at 7. Love, Eric' Intrigued, Lois unzipped the garment bag, revealing a beautiful sequined wine colored gown.

"Wee-eeelll," Jimmy hooted. "Looks like SOMEBODY's gonna have a special night."

"Gimme that," Lois said, blushing as she snatched the garment bag away from him. Glancing at her watch, she noticed that it was 5 now. "Oh sh … ," she muttered, grabbing her purse from the desk. Heading up the steps to the elevator, she called over her shoulder to Jimmy. "Tell the Chief I had to leave, 'kay Jimmy."

"Will do," he grinned, as she stepped into the elevator.

As the doors closed, she raised an eyebrow at him. "And stop that," she yelled as the doors closed.

Lois was fussing with her hair as the knock came at the door. Glancing back at the mirror one last time, she turned and hurried to the door. Lois gasped at the sight that greeted her. She had become so used to Eric in his jeans and battered biker jacket that she could hardly believe her eyes. He wore a full tuxedo, studs and all.

Reaching for her hand, he smiled. "Ready?" he asked.

"Mm-hmm," she managed to answer. As they stepped into the hallway, Lois instinctively turned toward the stairs to the outside.

"Unh-uh," Eric grinned, leading her in the other direction.

Lois furrowed her brow. "Eric, wh … ," she started.

"Just come on." As they reached the door to the roof of her building, he stopped. "Close your eyes," he said, pulling her to stand in front of him. She opened her mouth to protest, and he silenced her with a kiss. Pushing the door open as they kissed, he shuffled her through the opening. Pulling back, he took her shoulders and turned her around.

Lois could hardly believe the sight before her. A small table, just right for two, sat in a circle of vases of pink roses and candles. Two beautiful crystal flute glasses glimmered in the candlelight, sitting above plates with silver covers. Eric moved behind her, and she heard soft jazz issue forth from hidden speakers. Turning, she just stared at him. He grinned charmingly. Lois grinned back at him lovingly. She had always loved his grin. Somehow it always sucked her into his plans.

Reaching for her hands, he pulled her to him. "I had considered hiring musicians. But I decided I wanted you all to myself," he explained before pulling her into a long, slow kiss.

As they pulled back she ran her hand along his jaw. "Eric, this is so beautiful."

"No … You are beautiful," he whispered. Taking her hand, he led her to the table.

Eric and Lois enjoyed a leisurely dinner. Eric's jacket wrapped around her shoulders, Lois closed her eyes as they danced. "So," he whispered, "Shall we take this downstairs? I still have one more surprise for you."

She looked up at him, raising her eyebrows. "Oh? What?"

He shook his head, "Now if I told you… " She laughed, following him as he led her back to the door and down the stairs. His back to her apartment door, he slowly turned the knob, sliding the door open.

Lois's eyes widened. "Eric, how… ?" Her apartment was now filled with roses and candles much as the roof of her building had been. She turned to look at him. That grin again. She reached up, tracing the muscles in his jaw with a fingertip. "You, Mr. Brandonly, are just full of surprises tonight."

"Mmm-hmmm," he said, leaning in for a quick kiss. "And the night ain't over yet."

Lois wondered at the gleam in his eye. Taking her hand, Eric led her into the apartment, motioning for her to sit on the couch. Lois held her breath as he dropped to one knee in front of her. Her jaw clenched, fighting the emotions sweeping over her. This could only mean one thing. And she wasn't sure how she felt. Part of her wasn't ready for this, wasn't ready for the memories that were threatening to crash through. Yet, part of her needed to go on, needed to be safe, secure.

"Lois," he began, taking her hand, "I know what you've been through. I know the pain you've faced, the pain you've overcome. I want to say this to you. I'm not trying to rush things, and you don't have to give me an answer tonight. I just … " He paused, searching for the right words. "Lois, I love you. And I want to be with you forever." She watched through tear filled eyes as he reached into his pocket, producing a ring box and slowly opening it. "Lois, would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

Lois stared at the ring, a tear slipping down her cheek. "I… " she choked.

"Wait," he interrupted, "I don't want an answer tonight. I know you have a lot to think about. I just wanted you to know how I feel. But I would like you to take the ring. Not as a promise of anything, no expectations. Just as a symbol of my love." Lois reached out, stroking the side of his face. He turned, placing a kiss in her palm. Taking a deep breath, she held her left hand out to him. She watched as, with trembling fingers, he pulled the ring from the box, and slowly slid it onto her finger. Lois stood, pulling him up with her. Eric brushed away her tears, then gently caressed her face. Sliding his hand through her hair, he pulled her to him. Closing her eyes as she relaxed into Eric's kiss, Lois didn't see the reflection in the window. The reflection of a figure hovering in the air just outside her window. A figure dressed all in black. A figure who closed his eyes against the scene taking place in front of him. Unclenching his fists, the figure slowly drifted away.

Several days later, after a quiet dinner at her apartment, Lois and Eric walked slowly along the gravel path of the park, arm in arm. Lois suddenly became aware of an overwhelming feeling of… of being watched. Glancing around, Lois noticed other people, but no one who seemed to be paying her and Eric any attention. She was about to shrug the feeling off when she noticed someone standing off to her right. A man, dressed all in black. He wore a long coat and a hat pulled down to hide his eyes. A full beard covered his face. Lois stared at him. He seemed somehow familiar. As the realization dawned on her, Lois froze, catching Eric off guard.

"What the… ," he said, turning to look at her. "Lois … " She turned for a second, then turned back. He was gone. She stood, stunned, wondering for a moment if she had imagined it. No, no she was sure. But where could he have gone? As the thought struck her, she turned back to Eric.

"Eric, I'm sorry, there's something I have to do," she explained, dashing off. Half running down the path, she paused for a moment, yelling back to him, "I'll call you later." Eric stood dumbfounded, staring after her as she disappeared.

Lois took a deep breath as she approached the familiar building. Pausing at the bottom of the steps, her gaze wandered slowly to the door, the windows. There were no lights on, no sign that anyone was there. Or that anyone had been there within the last few days. The Kents had kept Clark's apartment just as he left it. They had maintained the lease since he left. And when they came to Metropolis, they stayed here. It had been weeks since Martha's visit. Lois wondered for a moment if she had been wrong. What if it wasn't him? If it was him, why was he hiding? Why hadn't he contacted her? Lois knew that there were a million questions, and only he could answer them. Nothing to do but wait. Pulling her jacket closed around her, Lois settled in the small cove next to the steps, hidden in the darkness.

More than an hour had passed. Lois was beginning to get stiff from sitting on the cold cement. Shifting a little to try to get comfortable, Lois froze as she heard the familiar whoosh, followed by the sound of feet striking the pavement. Lois's heart threatened to burst from her chest as she turned toward the sound. Peering through the railing of the steps, she stared silently. It WAS him. Without realizing it, she whispered his name. "Clark."

He turned, as if in a slow motion dream. She rose, clutching the railing. They stared, at first unable to move. Then, in lover's sync, they stepped toward each other. With trembling hand, Lois reached out. Her fingertips grazed the dark beard that covered his face, then moved to his hair. She stroked it lightly at his temples, before reaching behind him to pull at the band which held it back in a ponytail. Her fingers trailed through his now shoulder length hair, before sliding across his shoulder to rest on his chest over his heart. Clark mirrored her exploration, first brushing at a tear that slipped down her cheek. Then, running his hand through her hair, gently caressing her ear. As his hand slid to the back of her neck, their eyes locked. Unconsciously, they leaned closer. Lois jumped as Clark's head snapped to one side. Her eyes widened as she noticed the look of horror that crossed his face.

"Clark, the baby. Something's wrong." Lois's breath caught in her chest as she heard the voice. Clark's hands still on her arms, she turned to the door of his apartment. Zara stood in the doorway. The implication of the words slammed through Lois's mind. The baby. Zara. Clark watched the reaction on Lois's face. She turned back to him, her eyes full of… pain and betrayal. Clark realized that he had never seen such hurt in Lois's eyes. Before he could stop her, she pulled free of his grasp and turned down the street, running.

Clark was about to chase after her when Zara's voice stopped him again. "Clark, please. Something is very wrong. PLEASE." He wanted to run after Lois. To catch her, to pull her into his arms, and kiss her, to touch her. When he had seen her at her apartment, accepting another man's ring, he had believed he had lost her. But she had come here. And the look in her eyes when she first saw him. He knew that she still loved him. Right now, he had to help the baby. Zara was frantic. Turning up the steps, he headed into the apartment. Lois would have to wait. But not long, he swore to himself. Not long.

Lois ran blindly. The words echoed in her mind over and over. The baby. The baby. Their baby. Clark and Zara's baby. Lois's lungs burned from the exertion, and finally, she stopped, leaning against a lamppost, gasping. Looking up, she realized that instinctively, she had headed home. The familiar silver jeep sat across the street. "I've gotta get out of here," she said to herself. Fishing in her jacket pocket, she found her car keys and ran across the street, slamming against the door of the jeep. Sliding inside, she tried to put the key into the ignition. Her hands were shaking fiercely, and she couldn't see through her tears. "NOOOOO," she screamed, throwing the keys down. "Noooo" she screamed again, slamming her fists into the dashboard over and over. Leaning her head against the steering wheel, Lois tried to regain control. "How could he?" she asked herself. "How could he be with her? How could he… ? The baby… " Lois's sobs shook her to her very core. When she thought that he was dead, she had believed that nothing could ever hurt worse than that. Until now… Lois had never felt a pain like this. The pain of knowing that he was in love with Zara. Of knowing that he had … that he had created a baby with Zara. Lois slammed her hand into the dash again, this time hitting the air vents. She felt the sharp pain as the plastic shattered, cutting into her hand. Staring dully at the blood, which flowed down the palm of her hand, Lois slumped back against the door. She knew that the gash in her hand should hurt, but she didn't feel it; she didn't feel anything except the incredible hurt and betrayal of Clark's new life. She didn't even react when the door of the jeep suddenly opened and she started to fall backward. Two strong arms caught her, standing her upright before turning her around. Lois suddenly found herself face to face with Clark once again.

"Lois," he whispered, reaching out for her bleeding hand.

"Don't," she said flatly, her voice a distant monotone as she jerked her hand away.

Clark searched her eyes. "Lois, please, let me explain."

"Explain what, Clark? Explain why you're living with Zara? Explain how you… " She stopped, unable to continue.

"Yes. I can explain," he said, reaching out to touch her face. Lois threw up her arm, knocking his hand away.

"Hey!" Eric shouted, running up the street to where Lois and Clark stood. As Clark reached out for Lois's arm again, Eric slammed into him. Catching Clark off guard, he caused him to stumble back, but only slightly. Eric moved between Lois and Clark. "Back off," he threatened Clark. Clark knew that Eric couldn't hurt him. He knew that he could flick him aside. And he wanted to, oh how he wanted to. Eric was standing between him and Lois. Lois also knew that Clark could go right through Eric. Afraid for Eric's well being, she placed a hand on his shoulder. Eric half turned. He didn't know what was going on here, but he didn't like it. Eric suddenly noticed Lois's bleeding hand, and enraged, started to turn back for Clark.

Lois grabbed his arm. "Eric! No," she said. Eric looked at her questioningly, but stopped his advance on Clark.

"Lois, please… " Clark pleaded.

"Clark," Lois interrupted, causing Eric's eyes to widen. "There's nothing more to say. We've BOTH gone on with our lives. It's over."

"NO," Clark insisted, moving toward her.

"YES," she said, defiantly. "It IS over." Lois took Eric's hand, and turned her back to Clark, heading toward the steps to her apartment. As she and Eric stepped through the door, Clark sank to his knees in the street.

"Lois," he whispered, his heart breaking.

Lois and Eric entered her apartment. Neither one had spoken a word since they had left the street. Eric was trying desperately to figure out what he had just witnessed. And Lois was… Lois was numb. Lois dropped onto the couch. Glancing at her, Eric noticed that her hand was still bleeding. Eric went into the bathroom, returning with alcohol, salve, and bandages. Pulling a garbage can over to the couch, he knelt down in front of her, taking her hand in his. Holding onto her wrist, Eric poured the alcohol across her hand. He expected her to pull back, or at least to flinch. But she didn't move. She just stared. Eric examined the gash in her hand, realizing that it was deep. "Lois," he said, "I should take you to the Emergency Room. This might need a few stitches."

"No," she answered dully, "it's fine."

"Lois … ," he began, stopping when he realized that there was no point. As he continued his ministrations, carefully bandaging her hand, Lois suddenly looked at him, her eyes clear.

"Eric?" He looked up at her. "Yes," she said, determined.

"Yes? You want to go to the hospital?" he asked, confused.

"No," she answered, a small grin playing on her lips. "Your other question."

Eric suddenly realized what she was saying. "Lois, I don't know what happened tonight. And it's none of my business. That's between you two. But I don't want you to do anything rash."

Lois shook her head. "What happened tonight was … ," she paused, searching for the words, "it was hard. But it needed to be done. It was what I needed to be able to close the issue. I know what I'm doing. And the answer is — Yes."

The next evening at Clark's apartment, Zara sat at the transceiver, as she did every night, waiting for some word from Ching. After the explosion, which destroyed New Krypton, the survivors had drifted for many months in the lifecraft. Many spent time in medical suspension, recovering from injuries they had received in the final bloody battle with Nor. Clark had been among the most severely injured, spending over six months in limited stasis. He had emerged, somewhat gaunt, but healed. When the last survivors finally emerged, the group decided that they would search for a new homeland. Ching had volunteered to lead a small party in the quest. Zara, nearing the end of her pregnancy at the time, had been heartbroken. She wanted Ching to be there for the birth of their child. She wanted him with her. But she also knew that as the future leader of the New Kryptonians, it was important that he do this. Both to the New Kryptonians, and to Ching.

It had also been agreed that Clark would take the remaining New Kryptonians back to Earth, where they could await word from Ching. Zara had delivered the baby shortly after Ching's departure. And, true to his last promise to Ching, Clark had assumed responsibility for Zara and the baby until Ching could return. Upon arrival on Earth, Clark had insisted that Zara and the baby would stay with him. The other New Kryptonians had scattered across the world, each assuming a new life for their stay. Clark had thrown himself into the task, making sure that each New Kryptonian was settled and happy before leaving them on their own. But all the while, a single thought rang through his mind … Lois. Shaking his head, Clark looked at Zara, sitting patiently in front of the transceiver. Clark found himself suddenly furious. He had had enough of this, all of it. The price had been too high, and it was threatening to rise. He had already lost Lois, and now, what if Ching didn't return? Clark wondered if Zara was destined to suffer the same pain he was experiencing. Rising, Clark walked out onto the balcony, lost in his thoughts.

Zara watched as Clark sat on the balcony, staring out into space. He had been sitting there for hours, holding the ring which still hung from a chain around his neck. She suspected that something had happened between him and Lois but he refused to discuss it. They had been on earth for weeks now. Zara had expected that by now, Lois and Clark would be caught up in wedding arrangements. But instead, he was sullen, despondent. And Lois was nowhere around. Zara knew, the night that Clark slipped out weeks ago, that he had gone to see Lois. When he had returned a short time later, Zara had been surprised. She thought that maybe he hadn't been able to find her. Lois's appearance at the apartment had raised Zara's hopes. She still didn't understand why Lois had run off so suddenly. Or why Clark had returned later looking as though someone had stolen his very soul. Zara replayed that night's events over and over in her mind. She remembered how they had looked at each other, standing there, staring into each other's eyes. She considered how Lois's look had changed in that moment before she ran off.

"But what … ?" Zara said aloud, to herself. Her face fell as the realization dawned on her, as she remembered her words. Zara silently cursed herself for being so stupid. She didn't understand all of the intricacies of Earthlings, but she knew of their love, of their passion, and of their jealousy. Zara needed to get to Lois and straighten this out. But somehow, she doubted that Lois would listen to her. Zara grinned as she thought of exactly the person to help her. She had watched Clark dial the number shortly after their return. Pacing nervously, she took a deep breath as a woman's voice answered on the other end of the phone. "Mrs. Kent, this is Zara. I need your help."

Martha Kent listened as Zara explained what had happened. She had spoken to Clark the night before. Martha had noticed that he sounded as though … well, as though he had lost his best friend. But he hadn't been willing to tell her what was wrong. Now she understood. He had lost his best friend. His best friend and so much more. And Martha could only imagine what Lois must be going through. Martha assured Zara that this could be resolved before hanging up. Reaching for the phone again, she dialed the number of the airport. "When is your next flight to Metropolis?"


Lois cocked an eye to the peephole. She was surprised to find Martha Kent standing outside her door. "Martha," Lois began, opening the door, "it's good to see… " Lois stopped as she noticed that Martha had company, and as she saw who that company was. Martha watched as Lois's jaw clenched.

"Lois, I, … we need to talk."

Lois turned, walking into the living room. "What is there to talk about? It's done," Lois said, as Martha and Zara followed her into the living room. Martha watched Lois, knowing that she was struggling to keep her control. When she and Zara had decided to come here, Martha had known that it wouldn't be easy. For them or for Lois. But it needed to be done. Lois needed to know.

"Lois," Martha began carefully, "you need to know the truth."

Lois shook her head. "I know more than I ever wanted to know," Lois said quietly.

Martha reached for her shoulder, slowly turning Lois to face her. Lois's arms were crossed tightly in front of her. Martha could see the hurt on her face, in her carriage. Placing a hand on Lois's arm, Martha tried to make her understand. "No, you need to know the truth."

"What truth?" Lois began quietly through clenched teeth. "The truth about Clark's new life. The truth about his wife … " Martha watched Lois struggle with the words. She hadn't seen Lois this hurt, in this much pain since the day Clark had left for New Krypton. "His child," Lois continued, "believe me, that's enough. That's more than enough." Lois fought against tears as she forced herself to say the words. Turning her back to Martha once again, she hugged her arms to her, fighting not to break down. She would not let this tear her apart again.

Zara watched Lois's pain. She knew that Lois didn't want to hear them, that what she believed was so hurtful that she didn't want to hear anymore. Zara couldn't bear watching Lois in so much pain anymore. Concentrating, Zara sent one thought to Lois's mind. "The baby is Lt. Ching's."

Lois's head snapped around as the thought struck. "What did you just … " Lois asked, looking at Zara. Martha looked to Zara, not realizing what had just happened.

"I said," Zara spoke, "the baby is not Clark's. Kane is my son, mine and Ching's." Lois froze, staring wide eyed, first at Zara, then at Martha. Martha nodded, confirming the revelation. They watched as Lois stared blankly across the room, the news sinking in.

"Oh my god," Lois whispered. "Oh my god. Clark." Lois turned to Martha, her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Martha," she choked, "I was so horrible to him. I should have known. I … Why didn't he tell me?" She paused as she remembered the night he had come after her. "Because I wouldn't let him," she answered herself, closing her eyes against the memory of the words she had spoken that night. "Oh, Martha… But why did he just give up? I..," Lois stopped, totally lost for words.

Martha took her arm, leading her to the couch. "Lois," Martha began carefully, "maybe he thought you wanted to be with Eric."

Lois looked at Martha, aghast. "Eric… Martha, I accepted his proposal. I said I'd marry him. Oh, Martha, what have I done? … " As Lois broke down, Martha pulled her into her arms, rocking her back and forth.

None of them had noticed that the door was still open a crack. Outside in the hallway, Eric stood leaning against the wall, his eyes closed. Pushing away from the wall, he looked at the bouquet in his hand. He had bought them to surprise Lois. He had thought that they could enjoy a quiet romantic day together. But after overhearing the conversation which had just taken place he knew … he knew that there would be no day together. Not today or ever again.

Eric returned home, wondering how to handle this. He knew that he had to let Lois go. He knew that the love she and Clark shared was that once in a lifetime love. And he wasn't going to stand in her way. After starting several projects, and finishing none, Eric finally stretched out on the couch, staring at the ceiling. He was surprised by a knock at the door. Answering it, he was even more surprised to find that it was Lois.

"You're not ready," she said, trying to be cheerful. Eric knew that she was covering. He had expected her to cancel their date tonight. But if she was willing, well, he would share this one last evening with her.

"Come on in. It'll just take me a sec," he said, heading toward the bedroom to change. Lois stepped into the living room to wait. She was surprised that he hadn't kissed her hello. But she was also glad. She had struggled all afternoon with how to handle this. Martha had stayed for several hours, talking with her, trying to help her sort it out. Lois had finally decided that she would keep the date this evening and, somehow, break the news to him at the end of the night. Now all she had to do was figure out how to apologize to Clark. She was lost in that thought when Eric emerged from the bedroom. He stood for a moment, staring at her. He could almost imagine what she was thinking. He had decided that he would tell her tonight. Somehow he would find a way to let her know that it was okay. 'If you love something, set it free,' he thought to himself. Wasn't that how the saying went. Only he knew that Lois wouldn't return.

"I didn't see you standing there," she said, noticing him.

"You ready?" he asked.

"Yeah," she said, heading for the door. Lois noticed that he sounded, well, odd. She wondered if he sensed that something was wrong.

"Let's go," he said, smiling softly as he reached for the door.

As Eric and Lois walked through the maze of stands and exhibits at the River Fest they were both strangely quiet. Somehow, without saying a word, they were both saying goodbye to the relationship they had shared. Finally, Eric decided that the time had come. Leading Lois to the bandstand where a WMET DJ was playing, Eric sat her down, excusing himself for a moment.

At Clark's apartment, Zara watched Clark as he struggled once more with his loss. He was sitting on the balcony again, listening to the soft rock of WMET. He sat, stone still, just staring. Zara could see the tension even as he sat. His frustration, his anger, his pain … they were all struggling to get out. She wished that Lois would hurry. Zara was lost in the thought when the transceiver sparked to life, making her jump. She listened to Ching's message intently then, wrapping Kane in a blanket, she rushed off to meet her returning lover.

Eric returned to Lois, reaching out for her hand. She looked at him, then stood. He led her out to the area where others were dancing. As they waited for the next song to begin, Eric reached out, brushing his fingertips along her cheek. Lois could see the muscles in his jaw clenching. As the song began, she understood. Lois's eyes filled with tears as strains of Billy Vera's "At This Moment" filled the air. Looking into Eric's eyes she saw that, somehow, he knew.

"What did you think

I would do at this moment

When you're standing before me

With tears in your eyes

Trying to tell me that you

Have found you another

And you just don't love me no more"

Clark listened to the words of the song. Clenching his fists, he pressed them to his head, trying to block the thoughts that were tormenting him. How could it be over? How could she love someone else? He closed his eyes, clenching his teeth as images of Lois and Eric together harassed him. "No," he growled.

"What did you think

I would say at this moment

When I'm faced with the knowledge

That you just don't love me

Did you think I would curse you

Or say things to hurt you

Cause you just don't love me no more"

Wrapping her arms around Eric's neck, Lois pulled him into one last hug. For a moment, they swayed slowly to the music. When he felt her tears on his neck, Eric pulled back. She wanted to tell him that she was sorry, that she had never meant to hurt him, that… Somehow, no words seemed like enough. As if reading her thoughts, he shook his head, then spoke to her in a choked whisper. "Go to him. It's where you belong." He brushed at her tears, then let his hand slip down to her collarbone. Gently lifting the chain, he slid it from beneath her shirt, letting it fall over her heart. Lois watched his movements. Despite her trembling hands, she slowly pulled Eric's ring from her left hand. Unhooking the chain, he slipped Clark's ring from it, holding it out in his hand to her. Lois took Clark's ring, leaving Eric's in it's place, before sliding Clark's ring back where it belonged on her hand. Pulling Eric to her, she kissed him on the cheek. Smiling painfully at her, he tipped his head, motioning for her to go on. Wiping at the last of her tears, she turned and disappeared into the night.

"Did you think I could hate you

Or raise my hands to you

Now come on, you know me too well

How could I hurt you

When darling, I love you

And you know

I'd never hurt you"

Clark stood, pacing the balcony. Despite all his super powers, despite everything he could do, he was helpless now. His mind raced, trying to think of some way to get to Lois. Some way to win her back. Without her he was incomplete, half of a whole. He needed her. But if she was happy with Eric … He couldn't interfere.

"What do you think

I would give at this moment

If you'd stay I'd subtract 20 years from my life

I'd fall down on my knees

Kiss the ground that you walk on

If I could just hold you again"

Finally, something in Clark snapped. Slamming his fist into the round deck table, he splintered it into a thousand pieces.

"I'd fall down on my knees

Kiss the ground that you walk on, baby

If I could just hold you… again"

Lois knocked on the door to Clark's apartment. Reaching for the knob, she found it open, and quietly slipped inside. Stepping into the living room, she heard the music coming from the balcony. Following the sound, she saw Clark through the glass, kneeling in the middle of the remains of the shattered table. Lois's heart leapt at seeing him, yet ached for his pain. As she stepped into the doorway to the balcony, he lifted his head… He heard the familiar heartbeat, he recognized her breathing. But was it real, or was he imagining it? He turned slowly, rising to his feet. Lois stepped toward him, her legs shaking so badly that she wasn't sure she would make it.

"Lois?" he whispered.

"Clark, I … " she began, pausing as her pounding heart rang in her ears. Taking a deep breath, she struggled to continue. "Clark, I was wrong. I was so wrong. When I saw Zara … I assumed… I should have trusted you. And when you came to… "

Reaching for her shoulders, Clark pulled her to him, silencing her with a kiss. Pulling back, he looked deep into her dark brown eyes. "Lois, we … we both made mistakes. There's only one thing that matters now. And that's us … together," he said slowly.

Lois leaned into him, reveling in the feel of him once more. "Hold me," she said, wrapping her arms tightly around him.

Clark pulled her to him, holding her as if he'd never let her go. Reaching up, he stroked her face, whispering, "I will never leave you again."

"Clark, I love you. I want to be with you, only you, forever." Running her hands up his shoulders to his neck, she pulled him into a long, soulful kiss. When they parted, he reached for the chain hanging around his neck, his eyes never leaving hers. Undoing the clasp, he slipped her wedding ring from the chain. Taking her hand in his, he slid it onto her finger.

"In my heart, I am your husband," he said, surely.

"And I am your wife," she replied, stroking his face. Staring into each others eyes, they silently agreed.

Lifting Lois into his arms, he whispered, "No more waiting?"

She looked at him through eyes filled with tears of joy. "No more waiting," she answered. Turning, he carried her back into the apartment.