By Daydreamer80 Cdfisler@aol.com
Rated PG 13
Submitted April 2000
Summary: After Lois and Clark go on an undercover assignment, they find themselves facing a change in their relationship and much speculation in the newsroom, as well as one unresolved issue.
Note: **text** indicates thoughts
As Lois Lane sat at her desk on a Monday morning, her partner, Clark Kent, as was customary, went over to the coffeepot and poured both of them cups. Then he walked over to Lois's desk to bring her up to date on his progress on their current investigation. Considering how eventful the last few weeks had been, this one seemed almost anti-climactic. Still…
"Wonder what's up, Clark," Lois commented, after gratefully sipping the hot coffee. "Perry closed the newsroom to the general public and even Daily Planet staff members not connected with the news division aren't around."
Clark looked around at the sparsely populated bullpen and shrugged. "Beats me, Lois. I actually had to sign in downstairs because it was after the start of the normal workday."
Lois knew Clark had gotten in late. When she'd arrived at 8 am, Perry White had asked her where her partner was. Lois had told him Clark was meeting with a source. **At least I'm getting good at making up excuses for him,** she mused.
At that moment, the right elevator at the top of the ramp opened, disgorging three very familiar Interpol agents.
One of them, a smiling Willard, spied Lois and Clark together at her desk and called out, "Ms. Lane, Mr. Kent, we got them. The whole cartel's been busted up and the ringleaders are all under arrest in their own countries. The evidence you two got while posing as honeymooners on the cruise ship made it all possible." Everyone in the newsroom turned to stare at the Daily Planet's star reporters. Lois had turned white Clark noted as his own stomach plunged.
Lois and Clark had been getting closer, and had even been out on a couple of almost dates, and one real dinner date. Lois smiled every time she thought about that wonderful four hour meal. They'd just talked, but somehow it felt right. "I had a really good time," she'd told him, "really, really good," before she slammed the door in his face. Fortunately, she'd regretted that action the next day and had apologized before Mayson Drake, who was attracted to her partner, could horn in on the relationship.
Mayson had subsequently moved on to a position in the DA's office at the state capital and was out of the picture, much to Lois's delight. Lois could never warm to a woman who was so antagonistic toward Superman. True, Lois had given up her fantasy of loving the superhero, but he was still a good friend, and the Assistant DA's attitude irritated her. **Maybe I should be grateful. Mayson blew any chance she might have had with Clark when she said, "I always knew he was a menace, and now he's proven it."**
Superman had just been tricked into stealing nuclear warheads for Intergang. **Lois,** her inner voice pointed out, **you were the one who, however unwittingly, tricked Superman.**
**Well it all turned out okay,** she retorted. **Superman recovered the warheads and captured Lucky Leon, the perpetrator of the whole mess, along with Leon's Intergang contact. Too bad — or maybe too good — that Mayson didn't understand that Clark's also a special friend of Superman.**
Clark, understanding Lois's deep-seated emotional wounds, had agreed to allow their relationship to progress only as fast as Lois wanted, and that was slow indeed. He also agreed to keep the bulk of the newsroom ignorant of any romantic involvement by the Daily Planet's star reporting team. Perry knew, of course; after all he didn't get to be editor because he could yodel, and Jimmy Olson, too; but both were close friends as well as coworkers and could be counted on to keep the couple's secret. The rest of the Daily Planet had no idea that the two reporters were more then working partners.
When the event-filled cruise investigation that Willard had just revealed took place, Lois and Clark hadn't even reached the kissing stage. At its wonderful culmination, Lois knew how much her partner loved her, and she understood the depth of her feelings for him. True, Clark had not yet told her whatever secret he'd intended to impart after the cruise ship sailed back into Metropolis harbor. But she'd vowed that she would trust him. **That,** she'd thought ironically, **was probably a good thing,** for that love had been tested many times during the succeeding two weeks.
Clark had taken her back to her apartment Sunday evening after they'd finished writing up the story of their investigation for the Daily Planet. The newspaper account, both partners were certain, was Kerth material and could conceivably garner a Pulitzer. **If, that is, it ever sees the light of day,** Lois thought. The partners passworded the story and LANed it to Perry, who was under orders to keep the story under wraps until Interpol contacted him to allow publication.
"We have to have that talk I promised you now," Clark had told her, but as they were about to enter Lois's apartment building, he said that he wouldn't be able to come up after all. This time, instead of getting angry, Lois really looked at her partner.
She could tell by his face that he was trying to think up an excuse for leaving. **He doesn't want to go,** she thought as sudden understanding burst on her like the return of the sun after a summer thunderstorm. **He wants to stay. He wants to talk to me, be with me, love me — but he can't. Why?** Warmed by that thought, even if she didn't understand the reason behind it, Lois kissed Clark, told him she'd see him the next day at work, and sent him on his way.
Armed with this new insight into Clark's odd behavior, Lois started covering for him at work. She kept the vow, in spite of having no idea what could be so pressing as to require his presence over the next couple of weeks, and even made what sounded to her own ears like ridiculous excuses for her absent partner. "He had to return a book to the library, Chief," she told a skeptical Perry White. "Really, really, overdue."
Fortunately after more than a year of excellent journalism by her coworker, no one, including Perry, questioned her partner's whereabouts any longer. **Clark may not know it, but they consider him one of the best reporters on the Daily Planet's staff, after me of course,** Lois thought smugly. The newspaper's readership eagerly looked for Clark Kent's byline, and that after all was the bottom line.
Lois and Clark had been working on separate stories on a Thursday morning three weeks earlier when they were summoned to a meeting in one of the smaller, more private Daily Planet conference rooms. Three additional men were already in the room.
**Must have come up the back way,** Clark thought. Perry introduced the visitors as agents Conners and Philipps of Interpol's London and Paris offices, and agent Willard of its Metropolis arm. Suspicious, Lois wanted to know what representatives of the international police were doing in a meeting with Lois and Clark and Perry White.
Perry explained that Interpol needed help from his pair of seasoned investigators with a sting operation intended to break up an international cartel. "The cartel deals in UN donated medicines intended for plague victims in Africa and South America," explained agent Willard. "The medicines are intercepted and resold on black markets in Europe and Asia."
"Why us?" Clark asked, more intrigued than wary.
"Simple," responded the Metropolis agent. "A number of clandestine, late night meetings are scheduled to take place on a cruise ship departing on Saturday afternoon from Metropolis, and returning the following Saturday morning. We need to know what's said at those meetings. The cabin next to the one where our sources tell us the meetings are to take place will contain surveillance equipment, and we need to have people we can trust in that cabin.
The operation is extremely well organized. We know they have moles in Interpol and probably your local police force as well. We need people, experienced people, able to pull off this sort of covert operation. But the undercover operatives have to be seen as local Metropolitans completely unconnected with law enforcement, and above all Interpol. If the cartel gets wind that the cabin is inhabited with our people, they'll become suspicious, call the whole thing off, and, at the very least, the operation will fail."
"But Clark and I are well known in Metropolis," Lois interrupted.
"Yes, but you won't be yourselves. You two will be provided with false identities and complete backgrounds."
Perry told them, "You'll pose as well-to-do newlyweds who secretly eloped against the wishes of their families, and are traveling incognito on an ordinary tourist ship. On a large ship like that no one will suspect honeymooners."
"Honeymooners! Oh no, Perry, absolutely not," Lois objected focusing on the unacceptable part.
Agent Conners stared at her, his surprise at her objection evident. After rejecting every possible combination of detective or investigator that the Metropolis PD or Interpol could suggest, Willard had told them he had the perfect couple. Lois Lane and Clark Kent were experienced undercover investigators who could be trusted to pull the operation off, they were morally above reproach, and, what's more, they looked the part. "They'll jump at the chance for an international scoop of this size for their paper," he'd said. When Conners saw the two, he thought, **Perfect. If those two aren't a couple they should be.**
"Lois honey, it's a natural. You two already posed as honeymooners once before at the Lexor hotel. This is no different," Perry added, smiling broadly. "The Daily Planet has been promised an exclusive after the gang leaders are rounded up and, Lois, this is Kerth material for sure, maybe even a Pulitzer," he said, dangling his most persuasive argument before the eyes of both his star reporters.
"Clark and I together, sharing a cabin, on a cruise ship, no way." Lois wasn't sold.
"Will you excuse us for a minute," Clark interjected, taking his partner by the hand and pulling her out of the room. Walking to the copier room — his super hearing told him it was unoccupied — Clark proceeded to try to sway his reluctant partner to take the assignment.
"Lois, what's the problem? We get the goods, stop a particularly nasty operation, and the planet gets the exclusive."
"Maybe even a Pulitzer."
Lois could see that her partner hungered for the journalism award every bit as much as she did. **Clark's a good reporter, worthy of all the accolades,** and he was her partner, and her best friend. "Only if you promise that you won't break my rule against getting involved romantically with anyone I work with during this cruise," she concluded, reminding Clark forcibly of his promise to allow their relationship to proceed at Lois's pace.
Now Clark understood Lois's problem. He didn't want to add to Lois's concern, so he decided to make light of the possibility. "Not unless you want me to," he said slyly.
"Okay, okay, I promise," he reassured his partner.
Clark had proved worthy of Lois's trust, and she knew he would never make her do something she wasn't ready for, so she agreed, grinning, "Then, let's go nail that Kerth."
Clark and Lois returned to the conference room where they were filled in on the specifics of the plan. "Interpol will pay for suitable clothes for Mr. Kent and Ms. Lane," they were told.
"You heard the man, Lois and Clark. The two of you have appointments for 3pm at 'Well-fitted Lord and Lady' this afternoon."
Lois whistled. "Wow, that place is expensive. I didn't know they rented."
"They don't. You two get to keep the clothes. Consider it 'payment' for your services," agent Conners told her. "Here are the other pieces for your disguises." He took out a plain paper bag and removed a small jewelry box that he handed to Lois. Inside was a wedding ring set with the largest diamonds Lois had ever seen. In addition, he handed Clark a pair of diamond cuff links and Lois a pair of diamond and sapphire earrings. Expensive watches for both of them and a matching diamond and sapphire necklace for Lois completed the accessories. "Wear them everywhere on the cruise ship. Verisimilitude is absolutely vital to the undercover operation."
"I don't suppose we get to keep these," Lois asked.
"No, those are rented. One of our operatives will collect them at the Daily Planet on the Monday after the cruise."
Lois and Clark went to the store and chose traveling suits, formal dinner and evening wear, and casual clothes. The wardrobes were altered to fit them perfectly. With the exception of Lois and Clark's choices for the day of embarking, everything had been packed into a set of matched luggage and sent directly to their cabin. On Friday, they each received detailed copies of the invoices. When Lois saw hers, she grabbed Clark and went into Perry's office closing the door behind them.
"Perry, what is this? I can see an evening gown and sport clothes, but a white lace teddy?"
"You're supposed to be on your honeymoon. What are you gonna wear, pajamas and a frumpy bathrobe?" Still he had the grace to look abashed. "Honey, the Interpol guys insisted that you two be dressed appropriately at all times, during the sting operation. And that includes in the cabin."
"Lois, remember when the maid came in unannounced at the Lexor Hotel?" Clark reminded her.
"Yeah," Lois responded. Perry's eyebrows rose, but since neither Lois nor Clark seemed willing to elaborate, he didn't pursue that topic.
"So what about the surveillance equipment, Chief?" Clark asked.
"Don't know, Clark, but Willard said it'd be disguised as one of the pieces of luggage. That's one of the reasons you two have to be in the cabin every evening from dinner on. A pair of honeymooners is the obvious solution. Lois, these aren't kids you're playing with, this is the big time. Wear the teddy, Lois."
"What did you get Clark," she asked sourly.
"Briefs, just briefs."
Suspiciously she asked, "What color briefs, Clark?"
"Black," he admitted flushing. "Great," Lois said. Then she dropped the whole subject, and told them, "I have to finish writing up the story I was working on," as she hastily left her editor's office.
"Sorry, Clark. She seems upset. Do the best you can son, this is important."
"Right, Chief." Leaving Perry's office, Clark assured his partner that what they wore wouldn't affect their actions. "This is strictly business, Lois."
**Ha. Good thing he doesn't know about the nightgown and peignoir set I chose as well. The teddy stays in the suitcase.** "I can be businesslike too," Lois promised, "and I can pretend as well as anyone else, when we're in public. Just watch it when we're alone, Kent." Clark had no idea that what had really bothered Lois, in Perry's office, was a vision she had of Clark clad only in a pair of black briefs, very brief briefs. She'd run out before he could see her blushing.
Saturday morning dawned bright and clear. Clark dressed carefully in his choice of outfit, then went to pick up Lois at her apartment. His knock was answered almost immediately as Lois came to the door, and opened it just enough to poke her head out.
"Hi," Clark said just a little shyly.
"Hi," was the response. Stepping aside, Lois signaled for him to come inside. When she stepped away from the door, Clark was hard pressed not to gasp. Dressed in a sleeveless burgundy A-line dress, with a low collar and a matching jacket, Lois was dazzling.
"You look fantastic," Clark breathed.
Lois's eyes too had gone wide at the sight of Clark. "That's a charcoal suit, isn't it?" was all she could manage.
"Yeah. I can change if you don't like it," Clark assured her, mistaking her intention.
"No, no. I like what you're wearing. I'll get my coat, and we can go."
A blue BMW sports car was waiting in Lois's parking spot, in place of her jeep. "Another present," Clark said grinning. "Do you think we'll get to keep this one?"
"I doubt it. They'll probably demand the keys back as soon as we disembark. Still, that suit is almost worth the whole sting operation. I-I mean it's a pretty expensive looking suit." Hastily she continued. "Well, we'd better be going. We don't want to miss the boat. That would really be bad. What kind of investigative reporters would we be if we didn't make the boat?"
Clark silenced her. "I'd better drive. I mean, that's probably the way it's done. Verisimilitude, you know." He was starting to babble himself, so he abruptly shut up.
"Right." Lois got into the passenger side of the BMW, and they were soon on their way to the docks. The car's top was down, and out of the corner of his eye, Clark could see the wind blowing Lois's salon dressed hair. **Concentrate on your driving,** he told himself firmly. **This is business.**
Lois too was having a rough time staying focused on the matter at hand. **He's really something at the wheel … in that suit … wow! That cabin had better be big.**
That however was not the case. Clark was expecting it. As soon as they got on the ship, the Captain himself greeted them. "Mr. and Mrs. Karl Jensen. It's a pleasure to have you on board," he said, as he invited them to dine at his table during the voyage. While Lois was engaged in looking around the ship, he took Clark aside and confided, "The cabin is small, a single bed, no couch. Late reservations and a crowded ship," he reluctantly informed his wealthy guest.
"It'll be all right. We're honeymooners," Clark assured him. **Yeah sure. Wait until Lois finds out.** The little voice inside his head actually sounded gleeful about the whole affair.
Lois took his arm, and pulled him along with her. "Come on, let's get settled, then we can go for a swim before dinner." After they were out of earshot, she continued, "Might as well enjoy ourselves while we can. So, where's our cabin?"
"Level C, in tourist class," he admitted.
"Tourist class?" Lois asked becoming suspicious. "What about verisimilitude? Karl and Lucy Jensen are supposed to be rich," she told him, carefully checking to make sure there was no one close enough to overhear.
"I guess they had no choice. It has to be one of the two cabins adjoining the one where the meetings will be held."
"Yeah, you're right. They showed me the floor plan of the meeting cabin, and it was a pretty good sized one."
Indeed as they walked down the corridor toward their cabin, the tourist facilities looked quite luxurious. The door to the meeting cabin was open, but no one was around. They glanced into a sitting room, with doors leading to separate rooms on either side. "According to the floor plan, one door leads to a large bedroom and the other to a full bath," a reassured Lois told her partner.
"Here's our cabin," she told Clark, as she flung the door open, and walked in. Her face fell. "It's so small," Lois said, in an equally small voice.
"The Captain said this was the one the agent insisted on. I guess the one on the other side was already booked."
"Clark there isn't even a separate couch for one of us to sleep on and the bath is tiny." Glancing at the bed, she was even more dismayed. "It's a twin bed," she complained.
"Well, no, not really. It's just somewhat smaller than most doubles, probably specially made to fit the smaller dimensions of this cabin."
"Ah ha, you admit it's small."
Lois was becoming angry, so Clark tried to soothe her. "Well yeah, Lois, but don't worry. It'll be okay. I don't need as much sleep as you do, so I'll just sleep in one of the deck chairs."
"No, that won't work. They told us that these guys are pros. Both of us have to be here when they have their meetings. If only one of us can verify the meeting tapes, their lawyers will have the evidence thrown out of court. Besides, we don't know when the meetings will take place, and I'd have no way of getting in touch with you if you're sleeping on deck."
**Lois, all you ever have to do is whisper and I'd be with you in a heartbeat. I wish I could tell you that.** But he only said, "All right, but I sleep on the floor."
"Don't you want to alternate, like we did in the Lexor hotel?"
They hadn't actually alternated, but Clark wasn't about to remind Lois of that fact. "No. That time we had a couch for the other to sleep on. This time we don't; no arguments, Lois. I've made up my mind."
They changed into casual clothes and went to explore the ship. Since they had their swimsuits with them, they decided to go for a dip first. Clark found he had to grab for a towel and spread it over his trunks, when the sight of Lois diving into the pool had an unexpected effect on him.
Except for that small problem, they spent a delightful afternoon, strolling around the deck and visiting the ship's stores. Lois even purchased an exquisite underwater castle for her fish tank, telling the clerk to send the bill to 'Karl Jensen' when they got back to shore.
"Lois," Clark groaned, when they were out of earshot, "there is no Karl Jensen."
"So, let Interpol pay for it," she told him. "Lighten up, Clark. I'm not gonna bankrupt the organization, but I think we are entitled to a few souvenirs from the trip."
The rest of the afternoon was spent trying out some shipboard games like shuffleboard and horse races, and even playing a few quiet board games in the lounges. Unbeknownst to Lois, Clark let her win whenever a competitive game involved just the two of them. He knew how much she liked to win, and he definitely did not want her upset on this trip. Besides using his super powers would have been cheating, and Lois was well able to beat an ordinary man.
At six, they changed back into the clothes they'd worn earlier in the day, and went to dinner. Lois couldn't help noticing the envious looks on the faces of so many of the ship's female passengers as they were escorted to the Captain's table. Glancing sideways at her partner, who was dressed again in the charcoal suit, she could understand their feelings; Clark certainly was a fine figure of a man.
Lois and Clark proved they could hold their own in conversation with the cream of Metropolis's society during dinner. Lois particularly shined. She was utterly charming, as she relaxed in the company of friendly, intelligent people, none of whom knew 'Mad Dog Lane.' After they left the table, Clark overheard compliments from people who had dined with them or at nearby tables about the excellent choice Karl Jensen had made in a bride.
The evening was spent in the ship's club, having drinks and enjoying the music of its band, and listening to its resident singer, who happened to also be the cruise director. Lois, in the burgundy dress, but not wearing its matching jacket, was a vision of loveliness. At one point, Clark walked up to the bandleader, and requested a particular song, then took Lois's hand to dance. The strains of 'I've got a crush on you' filled the air. "You sing it better," Clark whispered, as he drew Lois closer. Lois smiled remembering that early investigation. After all this time, she was ready to acknowledge her feelings of jealousy, when she'd seen the interest Toni Taylor had taken in Clark.
A midnight walk in the moonlight put the finishing touches on a near perfect day. Noticing several passengers watching them, Clark pulled Lois into his arms, and kissed her passionately. Feeling Lois stiffen, he whispered "Verisimilitude," and Lois relaxed, participating fully. **Just like in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor Hotel,** Clark told his aroused libido, although he wished, with his whole heart, that this time it could have been real.
"Come on, Kent," she whispered. "Time to retire to the cabin and get ready for bed. It's not likely that any of the meetings will take place tonight, but we will have to spend the bulk of the nights sleeping there, while we await some action on the part of the cartel. We might as well get used to it."
Back in the cabin, Clark was relieved when Lois told him, in her normal take-charge manner, "You get ready first, then I will. At least we have a private bathroom even if it's tiny, so we can get undressed separately."
A short while later, Clark came out of the tiny bathroom dressed in nothing but the pair of black briefs. They were cut high on his thighs and crossed in front well below his navel. He looked over at Lois, and shrugged as if to say, "What else could I do?"
Lois's eyes couldn't help following the small line of hair which started at that amazing part of his anatomy, and continued down to eventually disappear into the slightly rounded dip that made up the top edge of his briefs. Finding her eyes focused on the bulge between his upper legs, she pulled her gaze off Clark's lower body.
Without conscious consent, Lois's eyes traveled upwards to Clark's well-sculptured pecs, surrounding perfectly rounded nipples. There didn't seem to be much hair on that decidedly manly chest. Magnificently muscled arms and strong shoulders completed the vision of male pulchritude. He slouched slightly, she noted, but that was definitely not a defect.
"Lois," Clark's voice interrupted Lois's reverie.
"You… you didn't tell me how brief they were," she breathed, before she could stop herself. Blushing furiously, Lois determinedly turned her back on her partner, and went to remove the peignoir set from her own overnight bag. After searching through all the suitcases, she realized the nightgown and robe were not among the clothes that had been brought on to the ship. "Clark, you didn't take anything out of my bags, did you?" she asked, anxiously.
"Of course not. Is something wrong Lois?"
"No, no, nothing's wrong." Lois had no choice; she'd have to wear the teddy after all. She retired to the bathroom to shower, change and get ready for bed.
While Lois prepared, Clark tried to concentrate on getting acquainted with the surveillance equipment. Setting it up took quite a bit of time at a normal human pace and the equipment took up much of the cabin's free space. Packed away, fortunately a task that took only about a minute even without super powers, it looked like another piece of the Jensen's matched luggage, at least to the casual observer, and Clark wondered if the choice of a small cabin had been deliberate.
All the time, Clark found his eyes traveling toward the glass bathroom door. **Stop that Kent,** he told himself for what seemed like the hundredth time since the trip began. Despite his efforts, when Lois finally returned to the main cabin room, all coherent thought seemed to flee as Clark took in Lois clad in the white teddy he'd heard described previously in Perry's office.
**A black teddy is supposed to be sexy, but on Lois a white one is every bit as enticing,** Clark thought as his eyes traveled over Lois, seemingly of their own volition. His gaze started at her perfectly formed bare feet, and continued up her long, shapely legs to the slightly rounded hips, barely covered by the brief teddy. Following the garment upwards, he noticed the outward curve of those hips, contrasting with the inward dip at her small waist.
He stopped and stared for a moment at her full breasts, as they emerged from the sea of white, then went on to gaze at two creamy shoulders divided by a pulsating white throat. Finally he found himself arrested by the face of the woman he loved more than anyone else on Earth. Clark Kent, whose writing could bring a reader to tears or to chuckles depending on the effect he wanted, could only mummer breathlessly, "Oh, Lois."
Lois saw all that in his eyes and she too was filled with desire. She walked slowly across the room, placed her arms around his neck and gave Clark a kiss that soon set both of them on fire.
They continued like that for a time, each of them caught up in the moment, wanting at last to experience what both had dreamed of for so long. Then in the middle of another passionate kiss, Clark felt Lois's wet tears on his cheek. Using every ounce of super strength he had to pull out of the embrace, he sat both of them down on the edge of the bed and asked, "What is it Lois? What's wrong? Don't you want this?"
"Clark," Lois said as the tears coursed down her cheeks, "I want you more than I've ever wanted anyone. It's just that … I'm a-a little skittish about crossing the intimacy threshold with you of all people."
"Why, Lois? Because of your rule?"
"That's part of it, certainly. But it's more because I don't want to lose my partner and my best friend. I-I haven't had a lot of intimate relationships, but all the ones I have had turned out to be Federal disasters."
"This one won't be, Lois, I swear."
"I know you mean that but, Clark, I've seen what happens when men and women become lovers. That's the real reason for my rule. Sooner or later one of us will slip and pretty soon everyone at the Planet will know."
"Would that really be so bad? I mean we both want it so what's wrong with people at the Planet knowing?"
Lois sighed. "Clark, the one thing I've learned is that no matter how modern we are when two people become intimate and others learn of it, it's the woman who bears the brunt of the gossip. It's the old double standard — you know, it's okay for a guy to decide to have sex but a woman is still expected to resist, even if she doesn't want to."
"Oh," was all Clark could say.
"I just have much more to risk then you do, so no matter how much I want it that makes a part of me unwilling to do what my heart wants to," Lois concluded.
Clark wondered what he could do to make her understand that the risk was just as much on his side as hers. Peering at her tear-streaked face, he decided there was one thing he could say to her. He could let her know about, not his biggest secret, not yet, but about a smaller one he hoped would put her mind at ease.
"Lois, I'm gonna tell you something about me, something no other person knows, not even my folks." **Although they may suspect it,** he thought. "Lois, I'm a-a little skittish too," he assured her.
"That's hard to believe. After all you're not a teenager anymore, you've traveled the whole world and you're a handsome guy, Clark. Surely some of your sexual experiences were rewarding, not disasters like all of mine were, even if none of yours were of the lifetime commitment kind."
Clark was silent for a moment; this was much harder than he'd imagined and none of his super powers were of any help. Finally, visibly squaring his shoulders, he began. "You're right in part, Lois. I've had girlfriends; I *have* dated, but the intimacy threshold, the big threshold …" He paused and looked directly into Lois's eyes — she had to believe him, not think he was making this all up just to trick her. "I've never actually crossed it," he concluded in a rush.
Lois just stared at him, not knowing how to respond to this startling revelation.
Clark went on desperately trying to recover from what he was beginning to think was a big mistake. "I've stepped right up and taken a good look … " but all Lois could manage to squeak out was, "Oh, my God."
They sat silently for several minutes until Clark got up, grabbed the shorts and top he'd been wearing before dinner and walked to the door. Lois couldn't help contrasting his carefully folded items with her carelessly heaped pile of discarded clothing. **What's wrong with me thinking about piles of clothing at a time like this?** she chided herself as Clark's voice broke into her irrelevant thoughts.
"I-I won't bother you any more, Lois," he told her in a voice filled with despair. "I'll just go up on deck for a while, **and take a swim … in the waters off Antarctica. **I'll come back later when you're … composed and we can go on the way we intended to before tonight. I'll sleep in my clothes so …"
Unable to go on, Clark's hand grasped and turned the doorknob as he prepared to leave and Lois was brought abruptly out of her frozen state. "No, no, don't go. Please, Clark, come and sit here," she told him patting the bed beside her. He never could deny her anything, so he walked dejectedly back and sat down.
Her mind in a whirl, Lois thought about what Clark had confided. **It's not true!** Her suspicious inner voice screamed, but Lois had seen the sincerity in Clark's face and she knew that it was indeed the absolute truth. **So what does that mean? Why did Clark reveal something that neither he nor any other man would normally tell another living soul? What did telling me accomplish and why?**
It had, she realized, turned the whole intimacy thing upside down. No longer was it Lois who was at risk. Whether or not they decided to act on their mutual desires, Lois need only whisper the secret to a few select people at the Daily Planet and it would be Clark who would be the recipient of knowing looks and pitying shakes of the head. And that of course was exactly why he'd told her.
She looked over at her partner, the one person in the world who loved her enough to trust her with that kind of power, and her heart swelled with love. Yes, she loved him and she knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he loved her as well.
"Why, Clark?" she asked. She had to know the reason he'd waited. "You're a good looking guy. Surely there have been women you were attracted to." Suddenly she had an idea. "Clark, you aren't … you know."
"No, no," he assured her. "I just wanted to wait … until I-I was sure it was really love," he admitted miserably.
Lois's face broke out into a broad smile, confusing her unhappy partner. "Lois, I-I know it's a little different, I'm a little different," he tried, praying Lois could accept this little difference so later on when he told about the really big difference, she wouldn't turn away in disgust.
Taking his head in her hands, she lifted his chin so he would have to look at her and smiling she said softly, "My dearest Clark, we have all the time in the world. We're on a cruise alone together and I intend to spend as much time as either of us needs to ensure that when we do make love — and we will, my love, we will — it will be perfect for both of us," she promised.
Gratified by the relieved grin that suffused Clark's face at hearing her words, Lois sealed her vow with a kiss. Clark responded with all the pent-up emotion he'd been holding inside for close to two years and soon they were passionately engaged once more. While the night was still young, they discovered to their mutual delight that, while Clark paced his love making until he detected that Lois was completely ready, it was no trouble at all for either of them to cross the intimacy threshold. All that night and many more times during the rest of the cruise Lois and Clark enjoyed that most precious of human experiences, full and complete physical love.
The following morning Clark determined to tell Lois he was Superman. **A cruise is the perfect place,** he thought, but that was not to be.
The day was filled with shipboard activities that left almost no time for the two of them to be alone. After the later dinner, once more at the Captain's table, Karl Jensen took his wife's hand and excused them to retire to their cabin for the evening. That announcement was greeted with knowing smiles all around.
Locking the door behind them, Lois remarked sourly that it was a shame they were going to be stuck in the cabin from — she glanced at her expensive watch — 8 o'clock each evening when there were interesting things happening on deck. "We're working, Lois. As Conners pointed out, the whole reason for posing as honeymooners was so we could spend the entire evening in the cabin."
"The meetings aren't gonna take place until later tonight, so what's the point?"
"I don't know, but we're supposed to be dressed appropriately, so let's change."
Lois changed into the teddy and Clark got into the black silk briefs, then Clark showed Lois how to setup, use and then dismantle the surveillance equipment. "It's designed so it can be stowed safely away in under a minute," Clark pointed out.
"Sure. Like someone's gonna break in," a skeptical Lois retorted.
"Whatever, I guess we better get to work."
Clark was setting the equipment up again, when Lois walked up behind him and placed one bare leg on the top of the equipment's stowaway case. "Clarkie, what ya doin?" she purred reminding Clark of the time when she'd been sprayed with the pheromone compound a year ago.
"Setting up the equipment," he gulped. "It's … ah ready now. It'll turn on automatically when there's activity next door."
"There's no one in the cabin next door now," she pointed out leaning over him so he could get a good look at the white teddy.
The earlier time Clark had hesitated, fighting his natural inclination to let Lois have her way with him. She was, he knew, not herself. This time was different. The surveillance equipment would alert them when they were needed, so Clark picked up Lois, carried her over to the bed and happily repeated their lovemaking of the previous night with, if anything, more enthusiasm than before.
As they lay together enjoying the afterglow, Clark's super hearing picked up the sound of someone walking stealthily toward their cabin. "Lois, put the teddy on, hurry."
"What?" she started to ask, but Clark was already stowing the equipment. Whatever his reason, there was clearly no time to waste. As soon as he finished his task, Clark slipped his briefs on and, covering Lois with his body, pretended to be passionately involved in loving his wife.
Almost immediately the door opened and a man peeked in, scanned the room and the honeymooners on the bed, then shut the door as quietly as he had opened it.
"What?" Lois asked again, but Clark only silenced her again. After a minute, he said, "okay, you can talk now. He's probably far enough away by now." He couldn't tell her he knew exactly when their unwelcome visitor left their deck. "I'd guess the guy was checking us out to make sure we have no interest in the drug meetings next door," he explained.
"Pretty nervy to open the door and just peek in," Lois pointed out.
"Yeah, well we're supposed to be honeymooners. I guess they figured we'd be too preoccupied to notice unless we're spying in which case the jig would be up anyway. Lois, if they suspected anything, these guys would have shot us both and tossed our bodies overboard."
Lois paled for a moment, then her mouth firmed as she said, "Let's get 'em."
They'd barely gotten the equipment set up once more, when they overhead a conversation that verified Clark's suspicions.
"Well what about the couple next door?" a man who was obviously in charge asked.
"Honeymooners, just like we thought. They were so engrossed in one another when I checked, the ship could have sunk and they wouldn't have noticed. They ain't a problem, boss."
"Okay, let's get ready. Our guests should be arriving soon."
"I guess we won't have to worry about anyone else checking the cabin, Clark."
**Maybe not Lois, but I'm gonna keep an eye on it a bit longer,** Clark promised her speechlessly.
Clark's musings were interrupted by the sound of knocking next door and within a half-hour four more men arrived and the meeting was soon in full swing. To their intense satisfaction, Lois and Clark got details on points of shipment interception, routes after interception, and final destinations. They recorded the names of black market contacts, officials who accepted payoffs to turn the other way, and numerous other incriminating details over the next several nights.
As soon as the leader next door adjourned the first meeting, Lois said to her partner, "Clark, stow the surveillance equipment fast and put on your bathing suit."
"What for Lois?"
"We're gonna follow one of them each night back to his cabinet. We need to ID them for Interpol."
"What good would knowing their cabins do?" Realizing what his partner had in mind, he broke off abruptly. "Loooiss!!" he protested.
"Clark, we've been asked to help break up a particularly nasty black market operation. You may just want to babysit a lot of spy equipment but I intend to solve the case and make sure these guys don't get the chance to be the cause of any more kids dying because the medicines they need are diverted to more profitable uses."
"Lois, we could blow the whole operation if one of them sees us following him or her. And Interpol never said anything about this."
"Face it, Clark. They didn't need two of the top investigative reporters in Metropolis just to make sure the surveillance equipment operates correctly and be ready to testify to its authenticity if necessary. Conners and the others knew exactly who they were 'hiring' when they told us they needed experienced people capable of pulling off a covert operation." Lois knew Clark would never let her undertake something as dangerous as this without his help, so she grinned, "Come on. I'll tell you about the rest of my plan later."
"That's what I'm afraid of," Clark mumbled.
"Nothing," Clark told her sighing as he complied. **Damn, I hoped we'd have the chance to have that much needed talk.**
Lois and Clark were out of their cabin and watching as the first of the four men came out of the cabin next door. Before they set off to follow the evening's target, Clark used his freezing breath to seal the lock on their cabin door. Silently as only experienced investigative reporters can, they trailed the man up three decks to his cabin.
After their quarry closed the door to his cabin behind him, Lois led the way to the small pool on the uppermost level. No one was there at this hour, but if anyone showed up a moonlit swim by two romantically involved honeymooners would validate the unexpected appearance of Karl and Lucy Jensen on the upper deck.
During the swim, Clark's super hearing informed him of a second attempt to gain entrance into their cabin, but those efforts were thwarted by Superman's unique talent. There was no need for Clark to even mention the intrusion.
Not that a swim wasn't pleasant — well more than pleasant, especially when Lois discovered a small lounge next to the pool for the use of late night bathers. While no one was in attendance at this late hour, the tiny room came well supplied with hot and cold beverages and gourmet snacks for the ship's hungry passengers. After an enjoyable repast, Lois found out that the door could be locked from the inside to keep unwanted intruders from barging in. The opportunity was too good to miss, and with Lois, if anything, an even more enthusiastic lover than the first night, her eager partner just couldn't bring himself to spoil everything by telling her the secret he'd kept from her these past two years.
When Lois and Clark finally returned to their cabin, it was late indeed. A short burst of Clark's heat vision unfroze the lock just before he inserted the key and the cabin door swung open easily. After they got ready for bed, Clark reminded Lois of her promise to tell him about the rest of her plan, but a 'sleepy' Lois replied, "Not now Clark. I'm really, really tired." And she promptly fell asleep.
The next day, while the two honeymooners were on deck, the same intruder tried the key and it worked perfectly. But he'd known better than to let the leader know he hadn't gotten into the cabin the night before, so he merely glanced in and left. He reported that the honeymooners were safely 'locked' in their cabin at night and that "there ain't nothin' unusual in the cabin either."
Over the next several days, that pattern was repeated. Shipboard activities to verify their cover during the day, surveillance in the evening, trailing each meeting attendee to his cabin in turn, and finally a midnight swim followed by a drying off period in the small lounge that invariably culminated in a joyful session of lovemaking. The two reporters were kept so busy between their investigative work at night and shipboard activities all day and into the early evening — they had to be prominently seen together during the day — that their only free time was late at night. With Lois eager to repeat the joyful 'activities' of those first two nights, Clark just couldn't bring himself to spoil everything with his revelation. He would tell her, he promised himself, as soon as he could when they got back to shore.
By early Thursday, Clark was becoming concerned. They had the cabin numbers but not the names and countries of origin of the occupants. Without the rest of that information, the numbers were useless. Still Lois hadn't confided the rest of her plan and Clark had a sinking feeling that getting those names was going to involve some highly illegal maneuvers. What was worse, every time Clark brought the subject up, his partner suddenly had to rush off to take care of something she'd forgotten about. **Her excuses are as pathetic as mine are,** Clark thought ruefully. **But given my own recent behavior, I can hardly call her out on them.** He'd just have to wait.
Thursday proved to be a highlight of the cruise. Free from surveillance duties — the last meeting was Wednesday — the 'honeymooners' spent the evening in the ship's nightclub, listening to music and dancing cheek to cheek. Afterward, a long, slow walk around deck in the moonlight put the topper on the romantic evening. Clark knew this was the perfect opportunity to tell Lois his secret, but he couldn't bring himself to admit he'd been lying to her for more than a year; he just couldn't bear to experience Lois's justifiable anger — not now — not on the cruise when things were going so well.
Friday night was the Captain's Ball and Lois spent a good part of the day, along with a large compliment of the ship's female passengers, in the shipboard beauty parlor, having her hair done up. Surprisingly she enjoyed engaging in small talk with the other women and couldn't resist playing along when they commented on the gorgeous hunk she married. The diamonds were lovely, she admitted, but Karl was the real treasure, she assured the envious females.
That evening, Lois told Clark, who had already donned his new black tux, that he should go to the ballroom ahead of her. "I need some more time to get ready," she explained with a wink. Lois had kept quiet about her choices in clothing for the cruise, with the notable exception of the white teddy, and so far they had proved perfect for her, showing off her beauty and intelligence to the nth degree. Clark knew too that she'd been particularly careful not to let him get a glimpse of the gown she'd chosen for this final night, so not wanting to spoil her surprise, he did as she asked.
Lois walked into the ballroom dressed not in burgundy, but in a floor-length gown of black lace over a blue silk underlining. The sleeveless dress was cut low in the back, setting off Lois's shipboard-acquired tan perfectly. The diamond and blue sapphire earrings hung prominently on either side of her swept up hair style and the matching necklace sparkled as it lay framed by the gown's low scooped neckline. Heads turned and Clark's jaw dropped as he contemplated the vision of loveliness he was supposedly married to. Smiling, Lois walked slowly across the room and into her partner's waiting arms. Clark stood frozen not sure how to react. Giggling, Lois told him, "it's a ball, Karl, I think we're supposed to dance."
"Right," her partner responded, pulling her into his arms and waltzing her out onto the dance floor. At least he hoped that was what the band was playing. He couldn't make out a single note around the rushing noise in his head. **The Nigerian princess who taught me ballroom dancing never warned me about this.**
Lois didn't care what the band was playing either so they finished out the set, swaying blissfully in each other's arms completely oblivious to the music and the approving faces of those around them. "It's nice to see a young couple so obviously in love," the older passengers commented, especially with so much cynicism about marriage these days.
About an hour into the ball, Lois took her partner aside and finally divulged the rest of her plan. Glancing around to be certain they were completely alone, she told him, "while everyone is engaged in the festivities, you and I are gonna leave to use the restrooms, but instead we'll meet on deck five."
"Deck five, that's where the ship's records room is located, isn't it? Lois, do you intend to break in and steal the passenger records for the four cabins we've identified?"
"Certainly not, Clark, we'll only borrow them long enough to photograph the names and countries of origin of the targeted passengers. That's not stealing."
"No, but it is breaking and entering."
"Nonsense, didn't the Captain tell us we should consider the ship out home away from home while we're on board? We'll just look around our 'home' a little bit."
"A trip to the rest room isn't gonna give us enough time to get those records," Clark brought up, grasping at that last straw in a valiant attempt to dissuade a determined Lois.
"That's why I'm gonna make it a point to tell everyone where I'm headed. Then when you leave quietly a few minutes later, everyone will think we're meeting in our cabin for a little R & R. Given our reputations on this cruise, we should be able to take all the time we need before returning to the ball."
"Lois, I don't like this."
"Clark, I can't pull this off alone. If you don't follow me out, someone will check up on me. Clark," she cajoled, "you're my partner. I need your help. This is no different than dozens of other investigations."
"Lois, those were in Metropolis. We're out at sea in international waters. You know — where the ship's captain has complete authority. We could wind up walking the plank," he finished sourly.
But Lois could tell that Clark wasn't serious so she kissed him and left to set her plan in motion. Clark sighed and followed her five minutes later to knowing looks and lifted eyebrows, fortunately accompanied by smiling faces.
When Lois arrived on deck five, there was no one around. Even the crew seemed caught up in the final night's festivities. The record room was dark and locked, but it took barely a minute for Lois to gain entrance. Finding the needed files took little additional time for the experienced investigative reporter.
She did however become concerned when she had everything she needed and Clark hadn't yet shown up. She was about to stuff the records in her bag and head for their cabin, when the door opened silently and Clark walked in.
"Sorry I'm late. I stopped by the cabin to get this." He handed her the smaller of the two surveillance cameras. "We can use it to photograph the records without moving them out of this room."
"I thought the camera was permanently attached to the tripod," Lois pointed out, happily snapping incriminating pictures.
"Nope," Clark told her. **Not anymore,** he thought. **I'll have to fuse the connector solid again before we return the equipment to Interpol.** He'd also spent time using his super senses to ensure no one was near enough to catch Lois and him in the act of getting the information they needed. "You are the best," Lois told him with a grin.
Soon finished, they returned the files to the proper drawers, then closed and locked the record room. Lois was headed toward the main staircase when Clark shook his head. He led her along a winding route of back stairways to their cabin, where they spent the rest of the hour consolidating their alibis before returning to the ball. That however proved unnecessary because nobody noticed the intrusion into the record room and even if they had, a large number of passengers were certain they knew how Karl and Lucy Jensen spent the hour when they vanished from the Captain's Ball.
Their surveillance duties completed, Lois and Clark spent the remainder of the cruise in pleasurable and relaxing shipboard pastimes. Needless to say, Interpol was both astonished and gratified by all the information Lois and Clark's surveillance work resulted in.
"Lois," Clark told her as the ship arrived back in port, "there's something I need to tell you." But all Saturday and most of Sunday, Superman's presence was required around the city. **Every time I take a few days off, every crook and petty criminal in the city comes out of the woodwork,** he thought as things finally quieted down late Sunday afternoon. He'd gone to the Daily Planet to meet Lois and file the story. **Right after we get done here,** he vowed, but on the way to Lois's apartment, he heard a police report of a five alarm fire in Suicide Slum. The dispatcher warned of explosive materials stored in one factory. Superman was needed. The subsequent two weeks continued every bit as busy for the by- now-desperate Superhero as they had been at the start, and the opportunity to have the long awaited talk just never materialized.
On the last night before the ship returned to port, Lois had confided her fears to her now lover Clark. "What if everyone finds out? I'll be a laughing stock all over again — everyone will say I can't keep my hands off a man I'm working with. Before we know it the partnership will be dissolved and who knows what will happen with the friendship. I like being your partner, Clark. I can't take the chance that our being lovers destroys that."
Soothingly, Clark assured her, "Lois, no one will find out. No one at the Planet except Perry, Jimmy and Cat knew about the undercover operation at the Lexor hotel and they kept it from becoming newsroom gossip. I don't want that to happen now, not when we're just starting to know one another. So, I'll make sure Perry doesn't reveal our whereabouts and the article we write won't mention the part Lois and Clark played in getting the goods on the cartel. As far as anyone at the Planet's gonna know we were away on separate assignments."
Agent Willard had, in three short sentences, completely ruined that plan and Clark turned nearly as pale as Lois had. Perry White came out of his office and rushed the three Interpol men, as well as Lois and Clark, into the conference room and shut the door. "What the hell do you think you're doing?" he asked an astonished Willard. "Our agreement was no one was supposed to know about my reporters being on the ship undercover."
"But, Mr. White, we thought that only meant until the cartel was destroyed," an embarrassed Willard responded.
"You idiot, my reporters are investigators. If everyone knows them, they won't be able to do their jobs, not to mention being in danger from every crook and petty criminal in Metropolis." There was no way to explain to these outsiders that his concern was really about Lois's emotional vulnerability to gossip and innuendo, not his team's exposure to physical danger.
"Mr. White, no one outside of the Daily Planet will learn the identity of Karl and Lucy Jensen. Interpol can keep secrets as well as you," Conners assured him. "Surely you can make certain the real story doesn't leak out of your newspaper building."
In spite of his soothing words, Conners was seething inside. That Willard was the newest Interpol agent in the group was no excuse; he should have known better. Immediately after the Daily Planet reporters had completed their assignment, Perry White insisted privately that subsequent contact with Lane and Kent be after advance notice to their boss.
Conners, the senior Interpol agent of the three and team leader had wanted to make use of the pair in future investigations, but that was no longer feasible even if White managed to confine the damage from Willard's ill-advised announcement. What was more, by the looks on their faces, he doubted the two reporters would be interested in future covert operations for Interpol. That was a shame, since Lane and Kent had performed way beyond satisfactorily. To Interpol's delight, the completeness of the evidence the two gathered ensured that the Cartel would not engage in smuggling of any kind for a long time to come.
The idiot (Conners concurred privately with White's assessment of agent Willard) apparently didn't even take notice of the steps White took to ensure the secrecy of the original meeting. **Couldn't he put two and two together without getting five?** he thought, disgusted. Willard had better learn proper discretion and fast or he'd be out on his ears in no time.
Sighing inwardly, Conners told the Daily Planet people, "We came by to give you the word that Interpol has agreed that the Planet's exclusive can be run."
Mollified and with the damage already done in the newsroom, Perry had no choice but to subside. After the Interpol agents were ushered out, Perry told his reporters, "Lois and Clark, we'll run the story in a special edition today. Honey, this one may well win you that Pulitzer. It's international news," he finished, trying to comfort his obviously distraught reporter.
"Sure, Chief. You do that," she told him before hurrying from the room.
"Take care of her, will you, son?" Perry knew Lois better than anyone, so he'd guessed what had taken place on the cruise. Lois had been acting much too mellow and, dare he say it, happy for the last two weeks. He'd been elated, but refused to comment about whether something was going on with his reporting team, knowing full well the effects newsroom gossip would have on the fragile ego of Lois Lane.
After thinking about the problem for a minute, Perry said, "Clark, I want you to take Lois and keep her out of the newsroom for the rest of the week, understand? I'll do what I can to put an end to any rumors emanating from the newsroom." Unfortunately, while most of the staff who had been present in the newsroom that morning were loyal to Perry White as well as friends of Lois and Clark, Steve Nicholson, the new intern was not one of them.
Perry White sent the two of them out to investigate increased teen gang violence on the South Side. Lois and Clark had to split up but they got some good interviews, not the least of which was with the mother of a young boy shot just before Lois and Clark arrived on the scene. The child had been hit by a stray bullet during a gang-related raid on a small grocery store in the area. Lois stayed with the little boy's mother, while Clark hurried off to contact Superman. The residents, including gang members, watched in awe as the Superhero arrived promptly and took the youngster to the nearest hospital, where, thanks to prompt medical attention, he was expected to make a full recovery.
Lois and Clark spent the next several hours talking to South Side residents, small business owners and gang members, all of whom for once appeared willing to work together to avert another near tragedy like this one. Prominent among those the pair spoke to was Mike Lane, Lois's uncle, whose restaurant was located in the South Side.
That same evening, a neighborhood meeting was held to which Lois and Clark were invited. Suggestions were solicited from all those present and everyone's idea was given proper consideration, none being rejected out of hand. By the end of the meeting, a number of important steps had been agreed upon and a three-person steering committee formed to implement the regeneration plan.
Mike Lane was elected to represent the area's small business community. The mother of the child who was in the hospital was offered the position of representative of the area residents, but she declined in favor of Bertha Gooding. Bertha was one of the South Side's oldest residents and, for years, her house had been a safe haven for area children. Even the gangs, by mutual consent, didn't attack anyone in her home. The head of the 'new' skins was unanimously chosen to represent the area's teens. He'd been a known force for peace after Intergang pulled its support from the gang, and had been particularly appalled at the result of the raid by a rival gang earlier in the day.
The South Side populace, residents and non-residents alike, knew that they couldn't solve the area's problems without a concentrated effort on the part of city officials. The area would need more police and firefighters allocated to it along with city funds to support rehabilitation of the area's aging buildings. Standing up, Lois's partner, Clark Kent, promised them that the Daily Planet's reporting team of Lane and Kent would do everything in their power to bring needed help to the area. Cheers greeted his statement and Clark sat down satisfied. He and Lois had their work cut out for them. But with the power of the Press, Lane and Kent could make a significant contribution to the community's efforts.
At the end of the busy meeting, Mike Lane got up to close. "The South Side must be made safe for all of us. After Baby Rage went to jail, things started to turn around right away, but over the last six months, the progress we made seems to have evaporated. Intergang is gone, but local gangs are getting out of hand and petty criminals are moving in again.
We made a beachhead," the ex-marine pointed out, "but then we let the 'enemy' back in. But not this time. This time we're gonna press on with our offensive. With all of us working together, the changes we implement will be permanent," Uncle Mike concluded addressing, not just the reporters but representatives of all three South Side groups.
Using the Daily Planet as a sounding board, Lane and Kent forced the City to acknowledge that a problem existed. As a consequence of the shooting incident and the series of articles about the South Side in the newspaper, city officials agreed to work closely with all parties to ensure a fair and equitable solution.
The subsequent four days of Lois and Clark's week were spent on that story, writing up the progress that was being made toward a resolution of the South Side problem in a continuing series that illuminated the plan and its implementation. During lunch Friday at his place, a satisfied Mike Lane filled reporter Lois Lane in on what had been done so far. The troubles of the South Side, of course, would take a long time to resolve but a beginning had been made with the help of his niece and her partner and the welcome presence of Superman in the aftermath of the shooting.
At her desk on Friday afternoon, Lois sighed. That is she spent the week on the plan to salvage the area. Her partner was called away numerous times for shorter or longer periods. After work, he disappeared completely.
Still when Clark managed to spend time with Lois, she found it well worth the wait. The hesitant, 30-year-old virgin that she'd made love to the first time on the cruise ship had been replaced by an eager, accomplished lover who seldom failed to bring her to fulfillment. "I read a lot," her partner smugly told a satisfied Lois Lane.
Unfortunately, in spite of Perry's efforts and in contrast to what he believed, the newsroom gossip about the cruise ship investigation continued. Steve Nicholson, for whom Kent had been something of a mentor since Steve had been hired, actually grilled Clark during one of the latter's rare appearances in the newsroom that week. Clark tried to laugh the speculation off.
Saturday after the drug cartel story appeared in the Daily Planet, Lois and Clark met at her apartment. "Clark, we have to talk. I caught Lily in accounting saying to her coworker Elizabeth that Steve Nicholson is telling everyone that 'his pal' Clark Kent surely made it with Lois Lane — with me. He's giving out details that he supposedly got from you, Clark."
"Lois, Steve doesn't know anything. He's just guessing."
"Pretty detailed guessing."
"I swear I never said anything to Steve Nicholson."
Lois sighed. "I believe you Clark. For one thing, you've been sticking like glue to me. Besides, guys like Steve get so caught up in their fantasies that eventually they believe them to be true. The problem is that Steve's guessing in this case is right on the mark."
"That doesn't give him the right to gossip. I don't care what any of them thinks. We'll just refuse to comment. Without corroboration, the rumors will die out."
"All right, but I guess we'd better be partners and friends, but not intimates for a while."
**Great, back on first base,** Clark thought sourly, but for Lois he'd do it.
Lois could tell what her partner was thinking, so she promised, "As soon as the rumors die down, we'll take this relationship forward."
Reluctantly, Clark nodded his agreement.
The following week, Lois noted that Superman seemed as busy around town and the world as she and Clark were, a fact that was evidenced by Clark's many Superman interviews. The TV news and wire service reports about Superman confirmed that he was occupied almost constantly over the next several days. Clark Kent chasing down Superman stories helped throw water on the gossip fires, so Lois made it a point to work visibly without her erstwhile partner. As the week wore on, something about that tugged at Lois's awareness, but she pushed that line of inquiry firmly back into her subconscious. Now was not the time for it. She had a more pressing problem to deal with.
The plan to disabuse everyone at the Daily Planet of the notion that Lois Lane and her writing partner Clark Kent had become lovers on the cruise ship had finally worked, alas, only too well. For the first three days of the week, the two of them projected a picture of a harmonious working pair who were close personal friends but definitely not sexually intimate. Lois thought ruefully, **it was easy for everyone to accept that based on the past perceptions of the relationship between Clark and me.**
A sense of relief seemed to permeate the newsroom at the new turn of events, perhaps one even hoped for by the female staffers. Lois was once again accorded the journalistic respect she had worked so hard for with no snide remarks about the long ago affair with Claude. It wasn't until Thursday that Lois realized her partner wasn't the recipient of similar approval.
She'd been in the Planet's library studying archival issues of the Daily Planet dating back to the time of the incorporation of the South Side into the borough of New Troy. She needed to put a few finishing touches on her and Clark's final piece on the previous week's series. Clark was out again, but he'd written his half up early that morning and told her where to find the copy on his machine before he left. She'd told him she would combine the two stories, then send the finished copy to Perry before deadline. Clark had asked her if she wanted him to edit her copy, but she declined, "I keep telling you, Kent. We don't have to edit them ourselves. That's why we have copy editors on the staff." Clark knew she was teasing him and just grinned.
A group of staff members came into the room, shutting the door behind them. Before Lois, who was hidden behind some shelves holding the older newspaper issues, could make her presence known to the newcomers, Sam from distribution piped up with "Doris in the steno pool told me none of them are any longer even remotely interested in Kent and his tight buns. She and I are kind of involved right now," he admitted sheepishly.
"Well," Nicholson told the group, "the guy had the chance of a lifetime to come on to Lane and apparently didn't act on it. Lois Lane is beautiful, vivacious, funny, smart, sexually experienced — what 'real man' wouldn't have at least tried to score."
At first, Lois seethed at Steve's remark about her. **Sexually experienced? I thought everyone had forgotten Claude by now.** Then she realized that a sleaze like Nicholson needed no confirmation, not even rumored ones. He was the kind of guy who assumed every woman slept around and she, Lois Lane, was a woman. Subsequent parts of the conversation she was overhearing soon brought Lois's attention back to the nasty things Steve was alluding to about her best friend.
"Hey, guys, I've known Clark a lot longer than most of you and I find that hard to believe. Maybe he just … respects Lois Lane too much to try anything," Eduardo Riaz interjected responding directly to Steve's nasty insinuations.
"Sure …" sneered Nicholson, "that's just what a woman wants from the man she shares a cabin with for seven days on a romantic cruise — respect. She was probably angry with him the whole time because he didn't try anything. We all know that when a woman says no, she means yes."
"Maybe he's gay," commented Jeff, another of the newer interns. "Maybe that's why he's the only guy who's ever been able to work with Lane. With no sexual urges to ignore, it would be easy to put up with Lois Lane's temper to get the kind of stories working with her produces."
"I don't believe that for a minute." Eduardo was defending Clark but he seemed to be in the minority.
Sounding puzzled, Jerry Rice from classifieds, who'd been with the Planet longer than anyone else in the room, including Lois, pointed out, "Lane never wanted a partner until Mr. White forced her into it. Maybe that's why she was so hard on him at first." He shrugged. "If she found out he had no sexual interest in her, maybe she …"
They were interrupted at that point by Perry White's bellow, "In the conference room, everyone. The budget meeting's about to start."
Everyone scrambled for their desks, grabbed paper and pens, and rushed into the conference room. Forced to wait until she was sure no one would see her exiting, Lois was almost the last to arrive. Perry greeted her with a sarcastic, "Nice of you to join us, Lois. And where's that partner of yours this time?"
"Ahh … he's … uhh … I don't know where he is, Chief," Lois admitted. Her mind just didn't seem to be functioning right then.
"I'm here Chief," Clark called out, taking his customary seat next to Lois. "Sorry, I'm late. I had to check with a source across the river this morning. Metropolis traffic was brutal during the bus ride across the tenth street bridge."
He saw the distracted look on his partner's face. "Lois, you all right?" he asked concern evident in his voice.
"F-fine. I-I'm fine," she assured everyone.
Perry gave his star reporter an intent look, but she was obviously not going to confide in him in this crowd. "Well, since everyone is here, let's get on with it. Mr. Stern has been concerned lately with some of the expense account items being sent across his desk lately."
"But, Chief, how are we gonna get the stories without having adequate expense accounts?" Lois retorted indignantly, back in comfortable territory once again.
"Lois, I wasn't referring to you and Clark. Mr. Stern was so pleased with the boost in circulation those articles on the South Side generated, he told me you two can go to Tahiti for a story and he'll approve it."
"Great, Chief, Clark and I happen to be working on a new story that may just involve a trip to the Islands of the Pacific," Lois responded.
Perry gulped. He hadn't been serious. What Mr. Stern had actually said was more like 'Hah. Great story. Too bad the only thing the Kerth people give out are those little statues. An expense account big enough to cover a trip to Tahiti, that'd be an incentive.' Then Lois winked at Perry and he knew she wasn't serious. **Good, maybe the idea can inspire some of those laggards to at least try to catch up with the hottest team in town. Not that that's possible, but it would keep the rest of them on their toes.** Lois and Clark, Perry knew, would never ask for unrealistic expense account reimbursements, especially with boy scout Clark Kent as Lois's partner.
Perry and Clark were both pleased to see a smile on Lois's face, but it proved to be short-lived. Lois paid scant attention to the rest of the budget meeting, her mind definitely elsewhere. After the meeting both Perry and Clark tried to draw Lois out, but she wasn't forthcoming.
Lois knew that most of the Daily Planet had dismissed Nicholson's innuendoes before — after all he'd made them about nearly every female on the staff — but after the Interpol incident, Steve seemed to have gathered willing listeners. She was particularly incensed at the intern because she knew it was Clark's recommendation that got him the job at the Planet in the first place. "He's a good writer, Lois. He shouldn't have to write for one of those sleazy rags you hate." **A sleazy rag is just where he belongs,** Lois thought angrily.
Now Nicholson was attacking Clark's sexual prowess or lack thereof and most of those in the meeting she overheard were clearly considering, even elaborating on Steve's crazy notion. All that afternoon while Clark worked diligently at his computer (**He really was out checking with a source this time.**) Lois tried to estimate how much damage the gossip had actually done. Keeping a close eye on Nicholson himself, Lois surreptitiously observed the rest of the staff as they interacted with her partner.
The news was not good. Steve continued his attack on Clark and what's more he found more eager listeners in the newsroom and other parts of the building. Even Mr. Stern's secretary, Elise Fairchild, found an excuse to come into the newsroom and interact with Clark Kent. Lois followed Elise to a nearby conference room where a group of female employees had gathered.
There she overheard similar comments about her partner's apparent lack of sexual propensity from the distaff side of the newspaper's employees. Crystal Carter's saccharin voice almost made Lois throw up when she intimated that just because a guy has the right equipment, it doesn't necessarily follow that he uses it. Bobbie Morton, whose reputation around the Planet was less for her secretarial skills and more for her easy morals, protested that it was more likely that Lois had sampled the goods and the 'ice maiden' had been the one unwilling to go further.
Blond Diane, airhead that she might be, at least tried to defend Lois's partner. Diane, who'd been partnered with Clark Kent during Lois's suspension over the apparent death of a source, did make one comment that Lois found enlightening. "Clark doesn't always understand how women react, so he says the wrong thing because he's trying to be 'fair.' And that's the last thing that any woman wants." But her arguments had been summarily dismissed by the rest.
**Why are people always ready to listen to gossip and accept false rumors and innuendo about others without verification,** Lois Lane, who always checked her facts, wondered. **Especially when it's none of their business,** she concluded angrily.
It was late afternoon when Lois said to her best friend, "Clark, can we talk? Some place where we can't be heard or seen."
"Sure, let's take the elevator up to where we store the older archives." He'd observed Lois looking at him and prowling around the Daily Planet that afternoon and he knew his partner well enough to know she had an agenda. **Maybe she'll tell me what's bothering her.**
As soon as they shut the door to the small microfilm library behind them, Lois told Clark what she'd learned that day. "Clark, we have to stop this before it goes any further."
Angry but not, Lois knew, at her, Clark said. "Lois, listen to me. Steve Nicholson's not ready to give up his suspicions about what happened in the cabin, but he can't shake either one of our denials. He's becoming desperate to focus the attention of the gossips away from his 'erroneous conclusion,' a conclusion I might add that he had no business making and particularly no right to spread around. The trouble is if we react to this latest allegation, it'll only backfire on you. Everyone will conclude that Steve's original supposition was correct."
Lois was clearly upset, and Clark couldn't help feeling that the whole mess was his fault. Sure, Willard had told the newsroom about the cruise, but Perry knew his newsroom staff and he should have been able to quash any incipient rumors. **And he could have if it hadn't been for Steve Nicholson's continuing whispers. Steve, the guy I suggested Perry hire in the first place is causing Lois distress. Lois was right as usual; the guy should be writing for a sleazy paper, not the Daily Planet,** Clark thought ruefully. Anxious to comfort Lois, Clark used his super hearing to ascertain that they were completely alone on the floor, then said tenderly, "Let it go, baby."
Lois understood her partner's motivation in using the appellation. After all, he'd allowed her to orchestrate their relationship up to now. And he'd never referred to her publicly or privately using any term of endearment before today — well except when they were making love on the cruise ship, but that was different. She knew Clark would never use an intimate expression in front of anyone else, not even close friends like Perry or Jimmy. So instead of slugging him like she would any other man who dared be familiar with Lois Lane, she just smiled and gave him a quick passionate kiss.
"Lois, I don't care what any of them think, I told you that," her partner said bringing the discussion back on track.
"But, Clark …"
"No buts about it," Clark said trying to be firm.
Lois's jaw tightened in response. Knowing logical arguments were not going to work this time, she used emotional blackmail. "Clark, do you trust me?" She looked him straight in the eye, leaving him with no option but to nod affirmatively.
"Implicitly, Lois," he groaned knowing full well he'd lost the battle. **I didn't even get the chance to put on my sparring gloves,** he thought wryly.
"Good!" Lois gave him one of her brilliant smiles and all thoughts of opposing her flew away faster than Superman could make it around the world. Lois put her arm around her partner's waist and told him about her plot. "I'm gonna go back to the newsroom and get ready to leave. I'll send our story to Perry and wait until he approves it. Then I'll clear off your desk and turn off your computer."
She'd been doing that for several months now, because he was often called away to do Superman things during the afternoon and didn't return to work until the next day. With all night to plan his cover story, he was able to think up plausible excuses for his absences and, since he often brought back exclusive Superman stories complete with quotes from the Superhero, Lois was amenable to her partner's unexplained disappearances.
That is, she had been until recently. As they became closer and spent more time together, Superman duties increasingly forced Clark to leave Lois's side practically in mid conversation. His spur of the moment excuses too had been much less believable, and she often became upset.
These last few weeks, however, he'd been pleased when she turned completely around, and let him go without asking where he was going or later where he'd been. She was even covering for him at the Planet. "You don't have to tell me unless you want to," she told him, "I trust you."
**I've got to tell her I'm Superman,** he thought, **but things were so hectic these past few weeks, there just never seemed to be a right place and time.**
**Right,** his conscience informed him. **So how come every time you're interrupted, you feel relieved at not having to 'talk?' Could it be because you're afraid to tell her, afraid of how she'll react when she learns you've been lying to her for almost two years, Mr. 'You can trust me, Lois?'** His conscience suddenly seemed to have developed a sarcastic streak.
Clark had been having this argument with himself for so long, it took barely a second to complete and he was able to agree promptly to Lois's further instructions. "Go down the back stairs to the lobby and wait until fifteen minutes have gone by, then take the elevator back up to the newsroom."
"Lois, we're on the 25th floor. It'll take me that long to walk downstairs."
"All the better. I want you to come and pick me up," she told him, "but not until it's close to deadline. Which is in twenty-five minutes. Your coming into the newsroom at that time is crucial to my plan."
"What happens next?"
"You'll see." She opened the door and checked to be certain they weren't being observed. Then she gave him a passionate kiss and left.
As soon as she reached the newsroom, Lois LANed her part of the series conclusion to Perry. Then she went over to Clark's desk and began clearing it off.
A note accompanying the story asked Perry to edit it immediately since she and Clark wanted to leave for the day as soon as it was approved. Perry read the stories, delight suffusing his face before he was half way through the copy. Lane and Kent had done it again. A Kerth if he ever saw one. Several pages later, his face fell. **What the hell?**
"Lois, Clark," he shouted as he came running out of his office. "Get over here."
"Clark's not here, Chief. I'm closing down his computer right now."
"Lois, the story's not finished. Where the heck is the rest? It must be on Kent's machine," he told her almost pushing her aside in his eagerness to get the story together before deadline.
"It's not there, Chief." It wasn't a lie. She'd moved it from Clark's machine and sent it to Perry as a disguised file.
Perry insisted on scanning Clark's computer, but as Lois had told him, the file wasn't there. "What the heck's going on here? Kent hasn't missed a deadline in months."
"Beats me, Chief," Lois said stalling. As she'd intended, everyone in the newsroom heard the exchange, stopped what they were doing and watched their editor and his star reporter.
Steve Nicholson had a cat that ate the canary look on his face. **Kent's gonna fry. Serves him right,** he thought not realizing how much he owed his current favor with Perry White to Clark's support. **Maybe he decided to bail out and go to work somewhere else already. I wonder if his job will be up for grabs. I'd make Lois Lane a better partner than he would, anyway, and I wouldn't let an opportunity like the one on the cruise pass me by.**
Just as the clock on the wall struck a quarter to 4, the elevator door opened and Clark Kent walked into the newsroom. "Clark, where the heck is the finish to the story you and Lois filed today?"
"It's on my computer, Chief." Clark sounded confused. "Lois, I thought you were gonna send it to Perry," he asked innocently.
"And I did. Perry, the ending's on your computer. The file is called
4.doc. Just attach it to the rest and you can send the whole thing on to layout. Clark wrote it up so it shouldn't need any editing."
"Lois, what's this all about?" her editor asked. Lois was up to something, he was sure.
Turning away from Perry to address all the onlookers at once, she told them, "If everyone will give me their attention, I'll explain."
Lois walked purposely up the ramp to stand next to her partner as every eye in the newsroom remained glued to her. "Four weeks ago, Clark and I spent a week together in a cabin on a cruise ship posing as honeymooners. The evidence that Clark and I obtained resulted in the exposure of an international ring engaged in the practice of intercepting UN-provided medicines and reselling them on the black market at grossly inflated prices. The story we wrote put an end to that practice and ensured that needed medicines would once again reach sick people in Africa and South America. Our part in that story ended with its publication in the Daily Planet but the repercussions of that night didn't."
"Lois, honey, what are you talking about?" Perry asked. The Daily Planet's Editor-in-Chief, along with Jimmy Olsen, had been kept carefully out of the rumor mill and consequently thought the whole mess had gradually faded away.
Her gaze traveling slowly around the newsroom, Lois told those watching, "Most of you know exactly what I'm talking about. Let me emphasize here and now that what Clark and I did or did not do in that cabin is nobody's business but our own." Looking directly at Steve Nicholson, she concluded angrily, "So stay out of my face, vulture boy." To the rest, she stated in a more mild tone of voice, "Many of you have had field days over the past few weeks gossiping about that cruise."
"Is that true?" Perry asked the assembled employees angrily. Noting that a good percentage of the staff present had the grace to look ashamed, he understood that the rumors, rather than stopping, instead had grown for almost two weeks. Fueled by the efforts of Steve Nicholson, they now permeated the entire newsroom. Consumed by white-hot anger, their Editor told everyone to cease their conjectures right now or he'd fire the whole lot of them. Steve looked positively sick, wondering if the Metropolis Star had any openings, while Perry vowed that he'd have the intern's resignation by the end of the day.
"That incident is over and done with," Lois announced loudly, regaining everyone's attention. "Neither Clark nor I will comment on it again. You see I trust Clark and I know he would never betray me. Now having said that and, since the South Side story is completed, Clark and I are gonna leave for the day. And just so no one has the wrong idea, Clark is and will remain my partner, my best friend and — yes — my lover."
She turned her back on the newsroom and gave Clark a long, passionate kiss that he returned enthusiastically, completely forgetting that they were standing at the top of the ramp overlooking a crowded Daily Planet newsroom. There was silence for a moment until Jimmy Olsen called out "Way to go, CK," and cheered. Others soon followed until the majority of those in the room had erupted into cheers and clapping, although the applause of some was less spirited. Perry and Jimmy both grinned happily.
As if to put an exclamation point on the event, a ping announced the arrival of the elevator. Lois pulled out of her partner's embrace and, grabbing him by the hand, pulled him into the car and sent it down to the lobby.
Once the door closed and they were alone, Clark pulled the stop button. "Lois, are you all right with this? No matter what we say or do now, everyone at the Planet's gonna be certain that we made love in that cabin, that Nicholson was right." He sighed. "You told them that."
"Clark, it doesn't matter anymore. I've thought about it and I no longer want to hide my feelings for you from anyone." She grinned. "I kinda like seeing the envious looks on the Planet's female staff."
Clark returned the grin. "Well, for some time now, I've enjoyed being the target of envy by the male staff who still can't quite believe that Lois Lane would consent to being partnered with a 'hack from Nowheresville.' I guess I can't deny you the same opportunity no matter how misguided those women are. I love you, Lois," he finished in a soft whisper.
"I love you, too. Come on, I've got big plans for tonight. We have a lot more to celebrate then just the finish of the South Side series."
"Uh, huh. First, you're taking me to Antonio's for dinner. I already made the reservations. Then maybe we'll walk in the park." Giving him a teasing smile, she asked, "Unless you'd rather see the new Mel Gibson film."
"Nah, dinner and that walk would be perfect, not too long of a walk though. I'd like to return to your apartment for that talk I promised you." Clark knew exactly what Lois had in mind, and it definitely wasn't a long walk in the park. **I have to tell her now, tonight, before our relationship goes any further. No more hedging, Kent.** So why did that thought result in a feeling of sheer terror. **It's only because I'm afraid of her reaction to being lied to for two years,** he reminded himself firmly.
But it hadn't worked out that way. They were driving to the restaurant when the car radio reported that a major earthquake had struck Mexico City. **Please, no,** Clark implored whoever might be listening.
Apparently no one was, because when they were inside the crowded restaurant waiting for their table to be cleared, someone turned on the TV over the bar. CNN was reporting a desperate appeal for Superman's help to clear the debris so those trapped could be freed and taken to area hospitals. Lives were at stake and Clark couldn't ignore that plea not even for Lois. He had to help.
"Lois," he told her, his eyes begging her to trust him, "I have to leave." He didn't even try to make an excuse — what explanation could he give her that she would believe — and telling her the truth was not possible either in so public a setting.
Lois could hardly believe her ears. He was running off again. She'd been willing to accept that recently, but today she'd bared her soul in front of the entire newsroom about their relationship. **Things are … different now,** she told him silently, waiting for an explanation. She was entitled to know the real reason he had to leave now that she'd proven she was ready to move their relationship forward. When Clark said nothing more, anger flared in Lois's eyes, then was immediately squashed. **It's all over,** Lois thought. **He doesn't want a commitment, just casual sex.**
She turned to the waiter and said, "Giovanni, we've changed our minds. Please give our reservations to someone else." Without a word to her partner, she headed for her jeep. "Do you want me to drop you off somewhere on the way back to my apartment?" she asked in a dead voice.
Clark only shook his head mutely. Before reaching the Jeep, Lois allowed Clark to see how badly he'd wounded her, turning hurt-filled eyes on her partner. **I thought you were a straight up, decent guy. I thought you were the last honest man. I thought you were … Clark Kent. *Who* are you?** her anguished mind asked.
Clark's heart was breaking as he suggested, "Maybe I could come over later … you know, after I get done …" His voice trailed off as Lois's face became closed off, remote.
"No, I'm kinda tired. I think I'll turn in early." She climbed into the jeep and drove off. Lois was a skillful driver with excellent reflexes — which was a good thing because she normally drove aggressively, often pushing the speed limit. No matter how urgent the need for Superman's help, Clark had to make certain Lois got home safely. He dashed into a nearby alley and spun into the Superman suit. Despite her obvious upset, Lois took off slowly and carefully as Clark anxiously watched from overhead and somehow that frightened him more than anything else had.
Superman headed for Mexico City at a speed no normal human being could tolerate. The damage to the Mexican capital was much more extensive than expected and he was kept busy until well into Friday afternoon.
Lois, meanwhile, headed for her bed not even pausing for a bite to eat, and cried herself to sleep. Her sleep was restless, plagued by strange dreams involving her partner and Superman, but she was unable to recall any details the next day.
In the morning, Lois Lane dressed especially carefully, put on slightly more makeup than she normally wore to cover up lingering traces of the night in her still red and puffy eyes, and headed for the Daily Planet. Clark was nowhere to be seen.
As she sat staring at her computer screen trying to project a cool, collected image instead of the misery she was feeling inside, Diane came over and greeted her cheerfully. "Hi, Lois. Where's that handsome partner of yours? You two must have had a wonderful time last night."
"Huh?" Lois tried to pull herself back to reality.
"You know, at the celebration. Sure wish I could leave at 4 and with a gorgeous … Well never mind. Where is Clark? Perry's been asking."
"Oh, he's …" At a loss, Lois eyes caught sight of the newsroom monitors reporting on Superman's continuing efforts at the site of the earthquake in Mexico City. "He took a red- eye special to Mexico City last night to-to follow Superman's progress there."
"Lois, that's wonderful. Perry will be thrilled. Mr. Stern's been telling him the Daily Planet needs more international coverage. I'll go tell him … unless you'd rather."
"No-no. That's fine. You tell him. I have some research to catch up on." **Now where did that come from?** Lois wondered as Diane walked off. **Of course Clark does seem to get more than his share of Superman exclusives. I wonder how he manages that.** She did have something to research — where Clark Kent runs off to. **Lois Lane, you're an investigative reporter, so investigate!**
Thoughtfully, she jotted down the dates and times when Clark had pulled one of his disappearing acts over the last few months. When she had a goodly number, she called out, "Jimmy. Take this list and cross reference it against Superman activities."
"Lois, I thought you and Clark …"
"Jimmy, Superman is still news even if I'm no longer infatuated with him." She couldn't help the blush that suffused her face though. "Just do it," she told him angrily.
"I'm on it." He was back in fifteen minutes. "Lois, are you psychic or something? Every one of those dates you gave me correlates to a major Superman activity."
Lois just stared dumbfounded for a moment.
"That must be some story you're working on, huh?" He was hoping she might ask him to help with it.
"No-no Jimmy, thanks. That's all I need," Lois finally managed. Realizing she'd better divert his attention, she scanned his list and then told him, "No, there's no story here. Clark gave me that list to do a retrospective on Superman, but it's not really panning out."
"Okay, but if you and Clark do decide to do a story, I'll be glad to do any research, take accompanying pictures — you know."
"Right, we'll let you know," she had to promise. **As if there's even gonna be a Lane and Kent byline after today.**
Gradually, as Lois mentally examined the clues that had been staring her in the face for so long, she accepted the incredible revelation. Clark Kent, her partner and best friend, was Superman.
Lois spent the succeeding hour wrestling with conflicting emotions. Anger played a part early on, anger at Clark for lying to her, for keeping a secret from her for so long. She experienced elation too at the incredible secret that, she was certain, she alone of all the people in world, except Jonathan and Martha Kent, was a party to.
Then there was embarrassment. She was Lois Lane, star investigative reporter for the greatest newspaper in the world. How could a farm boy from Kansas have misled her for so long — with nothing more than a pair of glasses? No, it was much more complicated than that. Clark's voice, his whole manner changed when he became Superman. Clark Kent was warm, friendly, someone you could share Chinese takeout with while working on a story. Superman was aloof, distant, yes alien; you might work with him on a disaster or a criminal investigation but afterward you'd expect him to fly off somewhere exotic, not enjoy a relaxing game of chess with you.
But most of all she felt hurt. **He lied to me!** He told her he was trustworthy, that she could trust him, and all along he'd been playing her for a fool. **What did you expect from an alien who probably doesn't even know what hurt and anger feel like, how they can twist you all up inside?** He hadn't trusted her enough to tell her the truth about himself. **Maybe he had good reasons for not telling you,** a more rational voice inside her head pointed out.
**Don't go there, Lane,** she told herself. **You're the one who was betrayed.** She had to get out of here. If she was still here when he returned, she was afraid her temper would get the better of her and she would betray his secret. **No — that would be disastrous,** she thought, **Superman's secret has to be kept. The world needs Superman.** Wryly, the thought intruded, **At least he had good reasons for all those times he ran off.**
She had to leave before Clark got back from Mexico City. Checking the monitors and seeing that he'd probably be tied up for a few more hours, she set her mind to the task of getting away from him. **How do you hide from a man with X-ray vision? You don't, but Superman is nothing if not ethical.** She knew that if she told him in no uncertain terms to leave her alone, he'd be compelled to do just that.
Lois spent the next half-hour on her computer, carefully composing a 'Dear John' letter to Clark. She told him that she knew his 'secret,' — she wasn't gloating she tried to tell herself. She was explicit in relating how much he'd hurt her and commanded that neither Clark nor Superman try to follow her. He, whether as Clark or the Man of Steel, was no longer welcome in Lois Lane's apartment and she no longer cared to hear anything that he had to say to her. In spite of the fact that she wanted her letter to indicate an end to her relationship with him, she had to assure him that she would never reveal his secret to another. **The world needs Superman,** she sighed. **That's all that last is about.**
So affected was she by her own words, that she had to brush moist tears from her eyes several times when no one was looking her way. She passworded the finished file, saved it to floppy disk, then placed the disk in a 'For Eyes-Only' envelope along with added cryptic instructions for retrieving the file. She placed the envelope in her partner's — **ex- partner's** she reminded herself — inbox.
**Only one more thing to do,** she thought, despair settling on her like an old, familiar blanket, as she went to talk to Perry White about taking the rest of the weekend off.
After closing the door so they couldn't be heard in the newsroom, Perry exploded. "Lois, what the Sam Hill is this all about? You and Clark left early yesterday, he's in Mexico City today, and you want to leave? Honey, in this business you're only as good as the next story. You know that! You and your partner …"
Lois interrupted him at that point with the stunning statement that "We're not partners anymore, Chief."
"What are you saying, Lois? I thought yesterday that you and he were — you know — a couple."
"Yeah, well things change, sometimes when we least expect it. Perry, I might as well tell you. I'm thinking about looking for another job, maybe in DC or on the West Coast, or even Europe."
"Is this because of those rumors about you and Clark? I meant it when I said I'd fire the whole lot of them if they persist. "
"No, this is different. Perry, I can't talk about it. Please, I want to go home." She sounded like a lost little girl and Perry vowed that no one, including Clark Kent, would drive her away from the Daily Planet.
"Sweetie, take all the time you need. Go home and think about what you'll be doing throwing away all those years of hard work it took to get where you are. Honey, I don't want to lose you," Perry told Lois taking her into his arms and patting her awkwardly on the back.
"Thanks, Perry." She said nothing more. There was no way she could really tell him what the problem was and Lois was angry at knowing Superman's true identity because it isolated her from her friends and coworkers.
Back at her apartment, Lois locked her front door and both living room windows as she had told Clark/Superman she would, then sat down to wait for the inevitable phone call. Surprisingly, it didn't come until almost quitting time at the Planet. She let the answering machine pick up.
"Hi, Lois, it's me, Clark," he began, his voice thick with sorrow. "I retrieved your file with the letter."
**Well that pretty much verifies everything,** Lois thought. She'd used the Superman password, she told him, the one she told to the leader of the men who held her, along with Clark, Perry, Jack, and Lex Luthor, captive in the Daily Planet offices one weekend so long ago. 'No one who was locked in the conference room on the other side of the newsroom could possibly have heard it, but I'm sure with your 'unique' hearing abilities you did,' she'd written. She remembered thinking it was too bad you couldn't actually type sarcastically.
"I wrote up the Superman story for Perry. He told me you were thinking about leaving. You don't have to do that Lois — I'll go." Then he lost it. "Lois, I'm so sorry I hurt you. I never meant to deceive you. It just seemed like the closer we got, the more complicated everything became. I only wanted … I wrote a letter of resignation and gave it to Perry. He didn't open it but I'm sure he knows what's in it." After a pause, he concluded. "Lois, I love you. I'll always love you," he said before he hung up.
All afternoon, Lois's mind churned with thoughts of Clark and Superman. Visions of Clark running off filled her senses and so many stupid excuses echoed in her brain. And they were stupid excuses, whether given hurriedly at the time or the next day at work, excuses so ineffective no accomplished liar would employ them. **So he's too honest to lie effectively,** that persistent voice inside commented. **This is a flaw?**
**All right, he's basically honest, but he still lied to me. He didn't trust me with his secret,** she countered.
**Do you really wonder why?** The annoying little voice prompted and Lois remembered all the mean things she'd said and done during the early months of their acquaintance. She hadn't been someone you could trust in those days, she admitted and, she blushed, she'd thrown herself at the Superhero while ignoring Clark Kent.
No wonder Superman told her she didn't really know him, that she might never know him. **Superman lives above us and when we try bring him down here, we just end up showing the worst sides of ourselves,** she thought. Eventually, Lois came to depend on Clark much more than the Superhero. Clark Kent became her writing partner at the Daily Planet and her best friend.
Gradually as the afternoon wore on and her anger dissipated, Lois found herself remembering warm moments she and her partner shared. Clark, not Superman, had been the man she turned to when Barbara Trevino wanted to get rid of Lois Lane. Even then, she and Perry had laughed at the attempts of the mild-mannered reporter to bodyguard her, but Lois had been grateful and allowed Clark to walk her home afterwards.
"I wouldn't let that happen," he'd assured her after Kyle Griffin broke into her phone call from Perry and threatened to kill her. Comforted she'd fallen asleep on Clark's couch. She smiled as she thought about the vial of Metamide 5 that Clark had taken — stolen really. Together they'd broken that case and rescued the Smart Kids who were being hooked on the dangerous mind-accelerating drug. That was the first of many times he'd gone along with her, skirting the limits of legality to get the evidence they needed for a story and to secure true justice.
Clark had always supported her, even when Ariana Carlin created the double of her and when she'd been suspended from her job at the Daily Planet because of the supposed death of a source. "We're partners," he'd told her when she stole Mayson Drake's pager and the Assistant DA threatened to call both of them up before a grand jury to uncover the 'identity' of their source as to the whereabouts of the DA's witness against Top Copy star and Intergang assassin, Diana Stride. "Whatever one of us does, the other takes responsibility for. That's what being partners is all about," he affirmed.
Lois groaned when Clark hung up the phone after leaving his message on her answering machine. "He says he loves me, but he still lied to me." **So, he's not perfect.** It was the troublesome voice again. **If you really wanted the perfect man, maybe you should have chosen Superman, not Clark.**
**But they're the same person. How can I live without Clark?** she wailed.
**Lois, Superman's an alien, probably the only one on Earth with his powers and that makes him a target. Remember Trask, he wanted to kill Clark just because he's not human. How many others, do you think, hate Superman and want him dead? How many like Trask are out there gunning for both Clark and Superman? Lois, you of all people should know what those people are capable of.**
Yes, she did. Superman had almost died from Kryptonite poisoning at the hands of Diana Stride. Lois had almost lost them both, she now knew. She'd found Superman on the floor of Clark's apartment. In the ambulance on the way to County General, Superman explained that Diana Stride had kissed him wearing Kryptonite-laced lipstick. He'd had to enter the nuclear radiation chamber at Metropolis Power and Light to burn out the Kryptonite that was in his bloodstream.
Later, Clark had somehow managed to hold a joint press conference with Superman to disprove Diana Stride's allegations concerning the secret identity of the Man of Steel. In spite of the conclusive evidence to the contrary, the female assassin, in prison for life, continued to assert that Superman was in reality Clark Kent of the Daily Planet. The former TV host hated Superman and that thought made Lois shudder. Lois, too, had been suspicious for a time after the incident, but finally decided she was mistaken. How could mild-mannered Clark Kent be Superman?
After the Superhero distanced himself from her, and she found herself falling in love with her writing partner, Lois had actually been relieved that she could put Superman back up on the pedestal where he belonged. She didn't want to be in love with a fantasy. She wanted an ordinary man, one she could enjoy that occasional game of chess with after hours at the Daily Planet. She wanted Clark.
**Oh right,** said the little voice inside. **Have you forgotten that Clark allowed you to become lovers while you still thought he and Superman were two separate individuals?**
**What do you mean allowed? That decision was a joint one, and it involved Clark. Superman has nothing to do with my relationship, intimate or otherwise, with Clark Kent. I stood by it in front of the entire Daily Planet and I'll stand by it in front of you, too,** Lois retorted.
**Oh, so now you're defending him,** the voice asked, a trifle sarcastically.
Lois realized she was indeed defending Clark, as the voice made a last ditch effort, **you said yourself knowing Clark's secret has put a barrier between you and everyone else. Are you strong enough to love an extra-terrestrial, to share his isolation, to share his responsibilities?** The voice had taken on a serious tone now.
**I tried to love Superman, but that was selfish 'cause he's not just here for me, he's here for all of us.**
**And who's here for him? Clark or Superman, who does he have? Who loves him?** The voice concluded posing, at last, the real challenge.
**I do!** Lois's mind screamed. **Oh, God. What have I done?**
Lois called Clark's apartment but there was no answer. Hanging up before his answering machine could pick up, she next tried the Daily Planet. "Mr. Kent left for the day." And later, "Mr. White? I'm sorry, Miss, but he's gone too." **Humph, he doesn't recognize my voice. Must be another new intern.** Frantic, Lois tried Perry's new bachelor apartment. He was there but he had no idea where Clark had gone.
She started to ask him if he'd seen anything on the news about Superman and stopped horrified. She'd almost given Perry a clue to Clark's secret. Instead, she asked, "Perry, you-you didn't open the envelope Clark gave you, did you?"
"No, Lois. I didn't."
"Don't. Perry neither one of us is gonna leave the Planet."
"Does that mean Lane and Kent will be back in business?"
"Absolutely," she assured him. "Clark and I will both be there Monday."
"Good, 'cause I've got a new assignment for you and that partner of yours. Is that all, honey."
"Yeah, and thanks Perry."
As soon as she hung up, Perry took the envelope out of his coat pocket and tore it into little pieces. "I'm not gonna need this," he said happily. "Way to go, honey."
There was still no answer at Clark's apartment, but the TV pinpointed his current whereabouts. The Bessolo Blvd Bridge had collapsed during rush hour. Superman had reached the scene in time to rescue people from cars that had been on the bridge when it collapsed and had ferried the most seriously injured to County General. It didn't appear there would be any loss of life, but the Superhero was still busy clearing the massive traffic tie up that resulted.
Lois decided to wait for Clark at his apartment, so she drove her jeep the back way avoiding the pileup. Superman had secured his residence against burglars, but he'd forgotten about the spare key to the patio door that he'd given Lois months ago. She easily got into the locked apartment.
Sadly, she noticed packing boxes scattered around the living room but the bulk of Clark's possessions were still in their usual places. Curiously, she looked for the globe, — the globe that, she now knew, belonged to Clark Kent — but it was nowhere to be seen. **And there's another example of you accusing him unjustly,** that inner voice pointed out.
**I thought you were on my side now that you have what you want,** Lois retorted and the little voice sulkily turned silent.
She was relieved at being unable to find a trigger to the secret compartment where Diana Stride had found his Superman suits, as he'd apparently secured that better from prying eyes. **Yes, he's being more circumspect these days,** she decided as she examined the rest of the dwelling and saw that he'd invested in privacy drapes as well as firmer inside locks on the doors and windows.
An hour later when Clark still hadn't returned, the emotional trauma of the day took its toll on Lois in the form of sudden, extreme fatigue. Unable to stay awake, she went into Clark's bedroom and lay down on his bed. She soon fell into the first sleep she'd had since the night before last that was undisturbed by troubling images of Clark and Superman.
Finished cleaning up the mess on Bessolo Blvd, Superman flew back to his apartment about an hour after Lois fell asleep. So caught up was he in his own misery, he didn't hear the sounds of her heartbeat or her quiet respiration coming from his bedroom. After that earlier message to Lois (he just couldn't leave without saying goodbye even if only to her answering machine), Clark had begun to pack but hadn't been able to keep his mind on the task at hand. Finally giving up, he sat on his couch and let the thoughts come.
In his letter of resignation, he told Perry White he'd been offered the job of a lifetime, head of his own journalistic team in Bonn, Germany. There was no job and Perry would know it, but for Lois's sake he'd accept the letter and pretend to believe the lie. **The last lie I'll ever tell Lois,** Clark thought.
Clark Kent, he'd decided, would be lost investigating a story about gun running in the Congo. He would keep his Superman persona so he could continue to help out, but Kent would be presumed dead. He'd build himself a fortress of solitude in the Arctic Circle to live in. **Strange, that's what I called my tree house as a kid,** the irrelevant thought intruded. Without a secret identity for criminals to uncover and use against Superman, his parents would be safe. And with Clark Kent finally and irrevocably dead, Lois Lane wouldn't run into him at news functions and would at last be free to pursue that Pulitzer minus the partner she no longer wanted and had never needed.
All his life, Clark Kent had dreamed of being normal, of doing the things that normal humans did, and most of all of having the kind of warm, loving relationship those normal humans enjoyed. He knew, of course, that he wasn't a 'normal human.' The Kents had told him he wasn't their natural son and related the story of how they found him as an infant.
Afraid that 'they' (Clark had no idea who 'they' were and Martha and Jonathan didn't elaborate) would someday come and take the child away, his parents impressed upon their little boy the need to hide those facts from others. Not old enough to understand what it all meant, Clark could only conclude there was something shameful about being him. As he grew and developed abilities unlike those of other children, his parents' cautions became increasingly more urgent until young Clark Kent prayed that, like the wooden puppet in the story that his mother used to read to him, somehow, someway he'd turn into an ordinary human boy.
That dream was shattered when he was 8 years old. Smallville's Eisenhower Elementary School was having tryouts for a juvenile football team. It was Clark's turn to kick and, filled with youthful enthusiasm, he took his best shot, as his dad had always told him to do. The football went high into the sky and disappeared at the end of the field. The coach assumed the ball had fallen to the ground behind some trees and was astonished at the child's prowess.
Clark had experienced instances in which his future powers manifested for short periods when he was excited and was able to follow the football's progress into outer space. Frightened, Clark started to cry and ran over to hide his eyes in his anxious mother's lap. Unable to locate the ball or understand the reason for the child's tears, the puzzled coach gently told the little boy's mother "perhaps he's not ready for team sports yet. Maybe in another year or so."
After that initial disaster, Clark avoided sports as well as any kind of physical contact including fighting all through elementary and high school, preferring to spend his time on pursuits in which he didn't stand out from the rest, like school debates and chess tournaments. When the school bullies hit on the little fellow for not joining any 'real men's' games, Pete Ross, a Smallville boy about a year older and already a tough fighter took Clark's part, making it known that anyone tormenting the younger boy would answer to him.
The two subsequently developed a close friendship, a friendship that didn't end even after they both left Smallville and went their separate ways, Clark to Metropolis, and Pete to Washington, DC. But Clark had realized that he would never be like other children when his dream of being normal died on an elementary school football field in Smallville, Kansas in 1974.
The second dream, the more important of the two, he'd kept until today. In contrast to Lois Lane, Clark Kent grew up in a secure home with parents who loved each other as well as their unusual child. If he had few close friends, those he did make during his childhood — including Pete Ross, Lana Lang and Rachel Harris — were sufficient. When he got older and had to hide more of himself, he also became better at concealing those differences, so, while his friendships still tended to be somewhat shallow, he did have them and was content with his life.
Content that was except in one area. Clark Kent yearned for someone to love and a marriage such as his parents enjoyed. He longed to find a companion with whom to share his life and his secret. For a while, Martha Kent hoped that Lana Lang would be that person, but somehow the spark wasn't there for Clark. Martha suspected that was because Lana didn't share Clark's great need to help those less fortunate. She was honest and kind enough but she wasn't dedicated to making the world a better place the way Martha's unusual son was.
Clark himself was beginning to doubt he would ever fall in love. Perhaps he just wasn't capable of the emotion. By the time Clark was twenty seven years old, he'd traveled all over the world and had used his powers in limited ways to rescue people in danger, moving on whenever he made one of his frequent 'mistakes' and witnesses would begin to look askance at him.
Then he went to Metropolis, interviewed with the Editor-in- Chief of the Daily Planet, and met Lois Lane. "Clark Kent, Lois Lane," Perry White introduced them offhandedly before telling Clark, "I have nothing for you, son."
"Pleased to meet you," Lois responded not even looking at him, but Clark looked at her and, for the first time in his life, was instantly captivated. He had to get that job and he did, by writing an unsolicited mood piece on the razing of an old theatre on 42nd Street. By the night of Lex Luthor's White Orchid Ball, Clark had fallen hard and fast for the beautiful reporter. Unfortunately, Lois fell equally hard and fast but not for Clark Kent — for Superman. "Oh, Clark, he is the most magnificent figure of a man," Lois told him.
"Should I be jealous?" he asked half in jest.
"Pul … lease …," she said as they left the newsroom to cover a drive-by shooting. But jealous he did become as Lois continued her infatuation with the Man of Steel and ignored Clark Kent.
Over the next year and a half, Clark experienced or had been the recipient of every known emotion a man in love could have. He hadn't, he knew, acted appropriately all the time, sulking, for example, after Lex Luthor had supposedly rescued Lois from the clutches of fight promoter and killer, Max Menken, ahead of Superman.
**Face it, Kent. You did horn in on her story when she went undercover at the Metro Club. Lex Luthor didn't blow Lola Dane's cover, you did.** He was mortified by the memory. **I was afraid of what Lex might do once he got control of Lois,** he thought trying unsuccessfully to justify those deeds.
**Let's not even go into my actions when I was in the Superman guise,** he told himself. Supposedly trying to make her appreciate Clark Kent, he'd been unable to hide Superman's feelings for the star reporter of the Daily Planet until after Lois Lane became known far and wide as 'Superman's girlfriend.' Finally aware of the danger Lois was in due to the Superhero's attentions, he suddenly stopped seeing her as Superman and pushed her toward Clark Kent. Lois was badly hurt by Superman's (**yours Kent,** said a self-satisfied voice intruding into his reflections) rejection of her love, though she didn't know then that it was Clark who was responsible.
**But I wanted her to love me, Clark Kent, not the Superhero.** Clark persevered and, in spite of all their problems, Lois finally turned to Clark. He sighed. The closer he and Lois became, the more he was forced to lie to cover his frequent and sudden absences for Superman duties. Lois was convinced he was afraid of commitment and tried to help him overcome that obstacle to their growing relationship. **When that very commitment is just what I've wanted all my life,** he thought.
He'd been afraid to tell her he was Superman, afraid she'd hate him for lying to her, but Lois had figured it out on her own and now he had his answer. She had no place in her life for someone who treated her that way.
**That's not it,** the voice inside his head told him. **And you know it! Lois would stay mad for a while about being lied to, but sooner or later she'd forgive you. No, the real reason — the reason you're certain she'll never want you back — is much worse because it's something you can never change. That's why you've been so afraid to tell her you're Superman.** Just then he heard desperate cries for help, a bridge collapsing, people screaming. As he flew out the hidden window at the back of his apartment, he heard the voice say smugly **and that just proved my point.**
The whole time he was performing his rescue operations at the Bessolo Blvd Bridge, his mind was dwelling on the implications of what the voice had told him. Yes, he finally admitted, he had known what the problem was; it was the simple, undeniable fact that he, Clark Kent, was Superman.
He was the only one on Earth with his powers, powers that could save lives, avert disasters, protect honest citizens from the criminal element and fight for 'truth, justice, and the American way.' If only he were — oh a very busy, very strong — doctor, there might have been a chance for a normal life, but in a world with a million doctors to share the physicians' burdens, there was only one Superman. If Superman didn't answer a call for help, no one else would or could.
That was why his personal life, his emotional needs, and — yes — Lois, had to take second place to the duties of the Man of Steel when they involved the possible loss of human life. He knew it and, now that she knew his secret, Lois would see it too. He couldn't blame her, he thought, glancing down at the Super suit he still had on.
Lois had the right to come first with the person she gave her heart to. Sam Lane had deserted his daughter for his work when she was a teenager. When he tried to come back into her life 15 years later, she'd told him in no uncertain terms how much he'd hurt her. How could Clark expect her to put up with that same kind of treatment from him? **But I'd never leave her for good, I'd always come back. I love her and I need her so much.**
**It's her decision and she's decided she doesn't want you,** the voice, for the first time sounding sympathetic, reminded him. **You have to respect that decision.**
It had happened just as he'd dreaded. Now that Lois knew his secret, he'd lost her; he'd lost everything. He looked around the room as if he were lost in some exotic wasteland. Both his dreams, all his hopes — now crushed beyond recovery — seemed to be strewn around that vast emptiness like the unfilled packing boxes in his apartment. He sank slowly to the floor, pulled his knees up to his chest, and wept hopelessly.
Lois was awakened by the sound of crying. Silently she got off the bed and followed the sound to Clark's living room. Clark — no Superman — was sitting on the carpet in front of the couch. His head was in his hands and he was crying brokenheartedly. "Clark," she called out softly.
He lifted his head, hastily brushed away the tears, and choked out, "Lois, what are you doing here?" Before she could respond, a frightened look crossed Clark's face as he swept the apartment with his X-ray vision.
"It's okay, Clark," she promised, "I'm here alone."
"Oh, that … that's good, Lois." Lois crossed the room and sat down next to Clark.
"So why are you here?" he asked miserably, "to … to say goodbye? You didn't have to come, you know."
"You were out a long time," she told him, not answering his question. "I saw the news report about the bridge collapse."
"Yeah, it was a mess, a lot of cars totaled, but no serious injuries. And the traffic jam was pretty bad too. It took a while to separate cars so everyone could move again." Clark went on talking about the one event that interested him. "One man was on the way across the bridge with his pregnant wife. She was in labor, but it was too late to make it to the hospital on time. An off-duty police officer from a few cars down the line and I — together we delivered a beautiful baby boy. Then I ferried the whole family to the hospital." He stared off into space, and a small smile appeared on his face as he said, "The man watched his wife and son being wheeled inside with such a look of contentment … " Clark's voice trailed off as he blushed and turned his face away.
Lois reached over and took his hand in hers and gently stroked his fingers for a moment. Then she whispered, "Clark, please don't leave. I don't want you to go."
"Lois, I have to go. I can't stay and just be partners and friends like we were before."
"Why Clark?" Lois asked her eyes filling with tears. "Be- because you hate me for the things I said in that letter I wrote. I'm sorry," she whispered.
"No-no. Lois I could never hate you. You had every right to be angry. I lied to you for over a year."
"Clark, I don't understand. You must have known I'd forgive you for that as soon as I had a chance to think about it. You-you do still love me, don't you?" she asked anxiously.
"More than anything or anyone else on Earth."
"But you're still gonna leave?"
He nodded mutely, unable even to say the words.
"Why Clark? What have I done? Please tell me. I'll change, I promise I will." Lois was panicked and the tears flowed freely down her cheeks.
Clark turned and pulled her into an embrace. "It's nothing you've done, sweetheart. It's my fault and I should tell you …" He stopped abruptly. When Lois was upset, she ranted and raged, but Clark was more likely to retreat into stony silence.
Lois could see that Clark was becoming dejected and moody and begged, "What is it, Clark? Please talk to me."
Clark sighed heavily. **What's the use of talking, it won't change anything. ** "Lois, I'm sorry. I can't change what I've done …"
"I said I forgive you," she interrupted.
"Shhh," he replied, placing his finger on her lips to silence her. Leaning forward, he lifted her chin and gave her a sweet, lingering kiss. He wanted to remember the feel of her warm lips on those cold nights in his arctic fortress. Finally, reluctantly, he pulled away. "I know. I can't change what I've done," he repeated, "and I can't change who I am."
"Clark, you're Superman."
"Yeah. That's exactly right." His tone conveyed irony.
"Clark, you're losing me here," Lois told him, her frustration evident.
"I can't stop being Superman, not even for you."
"People need Superman; I understand that."
"No, I don't think you do understand. Lois, let's say you and I get married." He blushed at his audacity, but Lois just smiled encouragingly.
On a roll, he continued grinning boldly. "Maybe, we even have a couple of kids."
"Yeah," Lois sighed.
"You've just won that Pulitzer and the Kents are celebrating by having family and friends over for a backyard barbecue. Perry's there, maybe even with Alice and Jimmy with a new girlfriend, our parents …" He trailed off, his expression dreamy, and Lois realized he was describing a treasured fantasy.
"Then suddenly a-a volcano erupts in Southern Italy, or there's an earthquake in the Ukraine. I have to rush off and you're left to make some stupid excuse that no one will accept or believe except my parents." His voice got husky and his face fell. "I'd go, don't you understand, no matter what we're doing — even if we're in the middle of making love — when someone needs Superman, I have to go. And the fact that you know why isn't gonna change that."
"So," she told him trying to lighten the somber mood, "I guess it's gonna be a lot like being married to a policeman or a firefighter."
"No!" he shouted. "It's not gonna be at all like being married to a policeman or a firefighter." He shook his head sadly. "They get time off 'from the job' for important events; there are others who can take over in the meantime. There's no one else who can do what Superman — what I can do."
"Yeah, oh," he concluded bitterly. "Lois, remember when you agreed to go out with me?"
She just nodded.
"I asked you how you felt about Superman then."
"I didn't want to answer but I figured you deserved one."
"You told me you'd always be Superman's friend but that you wanted an ordinary man."
"I said I wanted someone you could eat pizza and watch Lethal Weapon videos with until the wee hours of the morning," she added regretfully.
"Yeah and you told me you wanted 'the hack from Nowheresville,' not Superman." He almost laughed, then sobered. "You told me you'd given up the Superman fantasy, that you wanted to be with Clark Kent, your writing partner and best friend, a normal human being," he concluded choking out those last few words.
He turned his face away and it was several moments before he could continue. Finally, he said, "Lois, I know you want me to be just a farm boy from Kansas. If I could, believe me, I would, but I can't. Clark Kent is as much a fantasy as Superman. There's no Superman, no Clark Kent, there's just me — an alien from Krypton and above all not a normal human."
Lois could only sit and stare, stunned by the implications of what he'd said. **I chose Clark over Superman but Clark is Superman.**
After a time, Clark stood up and spun into Clark clothes. Lois's jaw dropped. She'd deduced that Clark was Superman and she supposed she understood that fact intellectually, but seeing its physical manifestation was staggering.
Clark reached for Lois's hand. "Come on, I'll drive you home."
Her thoughts in turmoil, Lois pulled away. "No," she retorted angrily.
Clark's heart broke in two. She understood how really different he was and clearly she was revolted. "Lois, please," he begged. "I just want to … to make sure you get home safely, then I won't bother you anymore, I promise."
"No!" she repeated almost shouting.
**It's all over,** Clark thought despairingly. Giving in he told her, "just don't go anywhere while you're still upset, okay? I'll go and … and you can leave anytime you want to."
As he suited his actions to his words, and headed toward the front door, Lois came out of her trance. "No, wait," she called out, as she jumped up and ran after him.
Clark stopped moving, still facing the steps leading up to the entrance. Lois grabbed him and turned him back toward her. Silent tears were coursing down Clark's cheeks. She pulled the unprotesting Clark toward the sofa, sat them both down, and held him in her arms while his tears continued to flow. When they finally stopped, she kissed his tear-streaked cheeks. "Oh, Clark," she sighed, "do you have any idea how much I love you?"
Clark's heart, intact again, pounded against his ribcage as hope sprang up once more, but he immediately crushed it. Knowing what being close to Superman entailed, he couldn't let her make the kind of sacrifice loving Superman would require. **I can't do that to Lois, she's been hurt enough already. I can't let her love me,** he told the now pitying voice that was frantically urging him to let Lois do just that.
"I love you too, Lois, but I just don't see any way out of this mess for us," he lamented. Determined to convince her to take the step that would break his own heart, he renewed his arguments. "Lois, I know so little about myself. I don't even know if I'll ever be able to … to give you children. And if we do have children, what kind of father would Superman be?
Kids need a father to watch them in school plays, to take them fishing, and to play ball with them. Do you know I can play a complete baseball game by myself, playing all the positions at once?" he said in what appeared to be a total non sequitur. "And use the paddle on both sides of a ping pong table almost simultaneously. What fun is that for a kid?" he finished bringing them back to his original point.
Lois heard the loneliness in that statement and she wondered how often Clark played by himself while he was growing up and how much of his time was spent alone even now.
Hating himself, Clark felt compelled to continue. "Lois, I'm not an ordinary man. I'm not the one you want. I'm not even human, I'm Kal-El, a Kryptonian with Superpowers on Earth, and I'm Superman, the person you don't want anymore," he admitted almost crying out in his anguish.
**I rejected Superman for Clark. That must have hurt as much as my initial rejection of Clark for Superman. This is so complicated,** Lois thought, understanding what she had inadvertently done while trying to fix the problem she had caused by her early infatuation with Superman.
Clark hurried on. He had to convince her before he lost control. "Lois, I may look human but my physiology is completely different. I couldn't for example donate blood." Both of them remembered the bloodmobile drive at the Daily Planet last year. Everyone was expected to participate but Clark couldn't so he conveniently got lost all day tracking down a lead. "I can kick a football into orbit, melt guns with my heat vision, fly around the world in minutes, and see through walls, but a small chunk of green rock that affects no one else on Earth renders me incapable of rescuing you," he concluded scornfully.
"Then I guess it's up to me to protect Superman from Kryptonite," Lois replied, grinning because she'd had to rescue Superman from a Kryptonite bullet and a Kryptonite- laced kiss.
"You don't get it, do you?" Clark's voice was angry. "I'm letting you go … to-to find someone else, to remake your life without me, to get that Pulitzer."
"It's a little late for that, Clark. Maybe a year ago, I could have done it, but not any more." She gave him a sweet kiss, then got up and walked across the room.
**A goodbye kiss,** Clark thought, his heart breaking all over again.
**This is what you wanted,** the commiserating inner voice told him.
**No, but it's what must be,** he told it firmly.
Standing on the bottom step leading to Clark's front door, Lois turned around and glared at him.
"Lois, do you mind if-if I watch out for you while you drive home?" he asked tentatively.
"I'm not going home!" Lois told him exasperated. "Clark, come over here," she ordered.
Sighing heavily, Clark got up from the sofa, reluctantly shuffled over to Lois, and stood in front of her, trying to hold back the tears that threatened once again. **I can't make her feel guilty,** he thought, **but I almost wish she hadn't come.**
"Clark, everything you've said is true and none of it matters, you know."
"It doesn't?" Clark asked, bewildered.
"No Clark, because I love you. Whoever you are, whatever you have to do, I love you."
It was Lois's turn to convince Clark, but his eyes were looking everywhere but at her. She lifted his chin and planted another gentle kiss on his mouth. Holding his face in her hands so he was forced to look at her and speaking softly, she began. "The whole time I was in the newsroom after I figured out you're Superman, I had to remind myself that I dare not slip and give the secret away. 'Clark is Superman,' I kept telling myself and 'the world needs Superman.'"
"Yeah," Clark affirmed. **She's just proved my point,** he thought wretchedly, but Lois wasn't through.
Looking directly into Clark's eyes, she asked, "Clark, if the world needs Superman, what does Superman need? What do you need? Won't you tell me, please?"
Clark wanted to turn away but Lois was holding his gaze with more than just her hands. He had to answer her. "I-I need … I need you, Lois," Clark admitted sadly.
Lois's face broke out in a huge smile, the exultation that his words gave her showing in that smile. "And you have me, my love," she told her astonished lover, "for now and forever. Clark, don't you see, you give everyone in the world so much, but you give me infinitely more, because you give me yourself. Nothing is more important than that simple fact, not who you are, not what you do, and certainly not the fact that you're Superman. Whoever you are, human or alien, I love you Clark Kent, Kal-El, Superman, I love you."
Her words removed the last doubts from Clark's mind, and he responded with a huge grin of his own. Dropping her hands, Lois threw her arms around Clark and gave him a third, passionate kiss. Convinced at last, Clark picked her up and spun her around joyously. "I love you too, Lois Lane. I love you, for now and forever," he told her, as he floated them up toward the ceiling and prepared to make love to her in a way that was definitely not found in any of the books that either of them had read.