By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted May 2000
Summary: Distraught and guilt-stricken over her best friend's death, Lois rushes to Smallville to see Clark's parents. She arrives to discover that Martha and Jonathan Kent aren't the only ones she must confront.
- Author's note -
Some people have asked me whether I'm ever going to have enough of rewriting TOGOM or inventing post-TOGOM scenarios. All I can say each time is that at the moment I have no plans to write any more stories based around that episode. But, as with certain politicians who have used that 'no plans at present' line, things change, events overtake us and before we know it we're doing what we thought we'd never do again.
This is how it was with this story. I was busy on at least two other stories, but suffering from a mild outbreak of writers' block — mainly as a result of having spent over a year on my longest story yet. So when the germ of an idea for this story came into my head, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to aim for a *short* story for a change.
Some notes of thanks here: to Yvonne Connell and Helene, who sent me detailed comments on every section of this and gave me lots of good ideas to follow up; to the readers on Zoom's message boards who write such wonderful — and helpful — feedback (and some changes have been made to this story as a result of your comments, guys!) and to Kathy Brown, who indirectly gave me the inspiration for this story while I was reading a section of the (brilliant!) forthcoming Kathy-and-Demi epic.
All rights in the characters in this story belong to Warner Bros and/or DC Comics; I'm only borrowing the characters for my enjoyment.
Comments, if anyone wishes, would be most welcome at email@example.com or w.m.Richards@hrm.keele.ac.uk
It wasn't a very good idea to embark on a long drive when you kept bursting into tears, Lois reflected as she once again had to take her hand off the steering wheel to brush tears away from her eyes. If she wasn't careful, instead of getting to Smallville she was going to end up in the nearest hospital — or even morgue.
Just like Clark.
Or… it would be just like Clark, assuming the police ever managed to find his body. At that thought a fresh bout of tears sprang to her eyes, and she was forced to pull over, grabbing a handful of Kleenex from the box she'd had the forethought to buy at Wichita Airport to keep on the passenger seat of the rental car. She had never cried so much in her life before as she'd done in the last ten hours; not when her parents split up, or when Claude abandoned her, or even when her wedding plans to Lex Luthor turned to disaster. This was the worst thing ever to have happened to her.
And yet less than twenty-four hours ago her life had been proceeding perfectly normally: she'd been at work, with Clark; they'd been engaging in their usual bantering as they went about their work, investigating the strange phenomenon of the apparently-resurrected 1920s gangsters. She and Clark had visited a lookalike agency together, running into a Superman impersonator while there. The guy had barely looked like Superman, and certainly hadn't behaved at all convincingly.
Clark… less than twelve hours later he'd been dead. Shot, at point-blank range, while trying to protect her. Her partner, her best friend, had laid down his life for her.
And every time she closed her eyes she saw the vivid picture of his dead body lying sprawled on the floor of Georgie Hairdo's gambling club. She saw the ragged hole in his suit where the bullet had entered his body, saw him stagger backwards in shock, saw him fall, over and over again. She saw herself falling to her knees beside him, grabbing at him, saying his name over and over, heard herself scream. Then she saw Capone order his bully boys to get rid of Clark because he didn't want 'no stiffs' littering up the club.
That was the last time she'd seen him, being dragged out of the gambling club by the feet. Her partner, her best friend, the man she…
She blinked again, pressing the balled-up tissues to her eyes. How could she still have tears left to cry?
Calling Perry from the police station had been a horrible experience: she'd barely been able to choke the words out to tell her boss that her partner had been shot dead while they'd been undercover. Perry had naturally been shaken, but he had come down to the precinct immediately to support her. He had also taken from her the very painful task of calling Clark's parents to tell them the awful truth, that their only son was dead. He'd said that Martha and Jonathan Kent had been very shocked and distressed, but had wanted Lois to know that they felt for her very much and were just glad that she was safe. They would come to town in a couple of days' time, once they were able to make arrangements for looking after the farm.
Going back to the Planet to write up the story had been hard, but it had kept Lois busy; it had been something she'd needed to do. But then Perry had sent her home; well, he'd offered her a bed for the night at his home, but she'd refused. Perry and Alice were very well-meaning, but she couldn't bear to be around them. She'd needed to be on her own.
But she hadn't been able to sleep, and had spent most of the night reliving the tragedy over and over in her mind, the tears flowing in fits and starts as the reality of what she'd lost sank in. Not just someone she worked with. Not just an amusing, friendly guy who was fun to be with; but someone who, almost without her realising it, had come to be incredibly special to her. Clark had, quietly, imperceptibly, subtly, become essential to her well-being.
It had been Clark she'd turned to over the past six months or more whenever she'd needed a friend, someone to confide in or seek comfort from. Leaving out the fiasco of her engagement to Lex Luthor, their friendship had been solid for almost a year. Clark had saved her life and her sanity on several occasions — and had most probably saved her life again the previous night, but this time at the cost of his own.
She would never again come into the newsroom in the mornings to be greeted by his warm smile, a cup of coffee just the way she liked it and her favourite doughnut from the office selection. She would never have a partner who understood her and teased her the way Clark did — if she ever agreed to work with anyone else ever again. She would never be able to catch his eye during a meeting in the conference room and share his amusement at Perry's attempts at playing the tough boss, or at Ralph trying to wriggle out of an assignment he didn't want. She could never call him late at night again when she needed someone to talk to or just felt like sharing something amusing. She'd never be able to turn up on his doorstep with a box of pizza and some videos just because she felt like curling up with him on his couch.
Clark was gone forever. Dead. And she missed him incredibly.
Even worse, as she'd realised the previous night at the Planet, he'd died before she'd ever had a chance to tell him how she felt about him. Clark had not been just a friend to her. He'd been someone incredibly special, someone she cared about more than anyone she knew — except possibly Superman, though much as she cared for the Super-hero, it hadn't been Superman who'd been there for her during those terrible few weeks immediately after Lex Luthor's death, and nor was it Superman she looked for when she just needed to be with someone. No, Clark had filled that role in her life. And she would miss Clark's warmth and affection too; his generous hugs, the way he looked out for her, looked at her sometimes as if she was incredibly precious to him.
She was pretty sure that he loved her… correction, she thought savagely, *had* loved her. And she had loved him too, not that she'd ever told him. She just hadn't wanted to take the risk that their friendship might suffer should things go wrong… and where she was concerned, relationships always went wrong. It had been far better, she'd thought, to keep Clark as the special friend he was than to take the risk of losing him entirely.
But now she'd lost him anyway…
Forcing the tears back, Lois re-started the engine and accelerated forward. She hoped this journey wasn't a mistake, that she wouldn't be intruding on the Kents' grief; but she'd finally decided in the small hours of the morning that she really, desperately needed to talk to someone who would understand just how she felt about losing Clark. The only people who fitted that bill were Clark's parents.
<Maybe I should have called first> she thought as she turned onto the interstate leading out of Wichita city towards Smallville. But on the other hand, if she'd called she probably wouldn't have been able to talk for tears, and she wouldn't have suggested coming to Smallville. If the Kents thought she was intruding, she could go away again, but she thought she knew Jonathan and Martha well enough to know that they wouldn't feel that. In any case, she'd reasoned, perhaps they would want to know exactly what had happened to their son, and she was after all the only person who could tell them.
Unless, of course — and this was a distinct possibility — they actually blamed her for Clark's death. And she couldn't really blame them if they did, she mused; after all, she blamed herself. If she hadn't insisted on going to the club, if she hadn't made herself noticeable, then Clark wouldn't have had to protect her from Dillinger. And he wouldn't have been shot as a result. If Martha and Jonathan wanted to blame her for that, she would accept it. It was their right, after all.
Part of her wondered whether in fact that wasn't her real purpose in going to Smallville: to expunge her guilt, or to take the blame openly for Clark's death. Perhaps she wanted to be accused; perhaps all the sympathy she'd been getting from Perry and Jimmy and her other colleagues at the Planet was unbearable precisely because she felt she didn't deserve it. What she deserved, instead, was to be blamed.
Almost three hours later she pulled into the laneway leading to the Kent farmhouse; slowing the rental car, she gazed up ahead at the farmhouse. The last time she'd been here had been more than a year ago, with Clark. They'd gone together to his home town to investigate a story about some pesticides, which had instead turned into an encounter with the madman Jason Trask. Trask had found a green meteorite, which she and Clark had later named Kryptonite, and had intended to kill Superman with it. Instead, he had almost killed Clark, and in the process had got himself shot dead by Sheriff Rachel Harris.
Lois swallowed hard as she remembered seeing Clark in the pond that day; he'd been climbing wearily out when she'd seen Trask aim his gun in her partner's direction. Had it not been for her cry and Rachel Harris's fast reactions he would have been killed then. She'd run to him, held him tightly, clung to him out of sheer relief that he was alive.
But this time no-one had stopped the bullet; no-one had come between Clark and death.
Where had Superman been? Lois wondered, not for the first time. The Man of Steel had saved her own life so many times; he was supposed to be Clark's friend. How could he not have been there to prevent it? Even if he'd been busy somewhere else, what had stopped him at least stopping by to say that he was sorry?
She thrust such thoughts out of her mind, though. Superman wasn't to blame for Clark's murder. The only people who were to blame were Dillinger, who'd fired the shot, and herself for being the cause of Clark being there in the first place. And Superman was no doubt out searching for Clark's body right at this moment, and trying to find his killer. She had no doubt whatsoever that Superman would do his best to bring Clark's murderer to justice.
She cut the engine, having drawn the car to a halt outside the farmhouse. This was the moment of truth — but it wasn't too late to turn around and go back to Wichita and a flight back to Metropolis, she told herself. She didn't need to do this… But she did, she told herself. She had to see Jonathan and Martha, to know whether they blamed her or not, to tell them how sorry she was that she'd got their son killed. She checked her reflection in the driving mirror: her face was pale, her eyes red and blotchy from too many tears. But there was nothing she could do about that now… With a deep breath, she flung the door open and got out of the car.
Less than a minute later she was knocking on the back door of the farmhouse. She heard Jonathan call out, "I'll get it," and Martha's voice asking who was there. Then the door was opening in front of her. This was it; she inhaled deeply again, trying to draw courage from deep within her.
The door opened to reveal the bluff face of Jonathan Kent, looking just like he had the last time Lois had seen him, a mere few weeks ago. That was strange; she'd expected him to be as visibly grief-stricken as she was, given that she knew how much the older man had loved his son. And yet Jonathan seemed perfectly normal… until he recognised Lois, that was. Then, his expression seemed to freeze and he stared at her.
Wondering a little anxiously who had been at the door, Martha re-entered the kitchen where the three Kents had been seated only moments earlier. Clark, not even pausing to X-ray the door, had grabbed her arm and brought her with him into the living room, giving her abrupt instructions that no-one must know he was there. Of course she'd known that; although his supposed death was not as yet common knowledge in Smallville, the news would spread very soon. The murder in cold blood of one of Metropolis's finest reporters, working for one of the best newspapers in the country, would certainly make national headlines soon, and the Kansas connection would be highlighted. Clark's shooting would certainly be on local TV by evening, she knew.
She noticed that the door was still open and that Jonathan appeared to be talking to whoever was there. Being polite, of course; Jonathan was unfailingly polite and good-humoured to their friends and neighbours — and anyway, they certainly didn't want to arouse anyone's curiosity at the moment. Except that… except that, given Clark's apparent death would soon become common knowledge, it wouldn't do to have one of their neighbours wondering later why Jonathan Kent had seemed so… *normal* that morning, when he should have been mourning his son's death.
So, it was perhaps time she helped their visitor on his or her way, Martha considered, moving towards the door. But as soon as she recognised the woman who stood just outside, she stopped dead. It wasn't just that it was Lois, and none of them had for one moment considered that Lois might make the journey to Smallville. It was the obvious emotional state of Clark's partner and best friend. Lois looked as if she'd been crying all night: her face was blotchy and her eyes red and swollen. Even as Martha watched, heard her stammer out something to Jonathan about needing to come, to say she was sorry, she saw tears again start to flow down Lois's cheeks.
Hurrying across and pulling the kitchen door open wider, she exclaimed, "Jonathan, what do you think you're doing, keeping Lois out on the doorstep like that? Come in, honey, please," she added, smiling warmly at the young woman and ignoring Jonathan's anxious glance at her. Clark was safely upstairs, and anyway he was well capable of using his enhanced hearing or vision to ascertain whether the unexpected visitor was still around.
Lois stepped inside, her gaze focused on Martha. "Martha, I'm so sorry… I hope I'm not intruding… I needed to…" The words seemed jerked out of her, the poise and quicksilver humour Martha was used to completely absent in this almost wraithlike, distraught Lois who stood in front of her. It struck Martha then that in all their agitated discussions none of the three Kents had considered the impact Clark's supposed death might have had on his friends.
She quickly reached to embrace Lois. "Of course you're not, honey. Come here." Catching Jonathan's eye over Lois's shoulder, she murmured, "Will you make some tea, please?"
Her husband moved to obey her after a quick, questioning glance at her; she jerked her eyebrows upwards, indicating to him that Clark had gone upstairs. She then led Lois over to the table, encouraging her to sit down.
"It's very good of you to come all this way, Lois," Martha told her.
But before she could continue, Lois interrupted. "I had to, Martha… I had to tell you and Jonathan — I was there, you know? When he got shot?"
Martha nodded. "Perry White told us. We're just glad you're okay, honey."
"You don't understand, Martha," Lois protested, a choke in her voice. "It's all my fault Clark's dead!"
"What?" Martha was stunned. How could Lois think that?
"It's my fault," the younger woman repeated. "I was the one… and he died because he was protecting me… I had to tell you I'm sorry…" Her voice trailed off as the tears began to flow faster still.
Martha could only stare at their guest, horrified. How could they possibly have forgotten to consider how this had affected Lois? Okay, Clark had been very agitated when he'd arrived late last night, desperate to find some way to 'resurrect' himself and reclaim his life as Clark Kent, and since then they'd all spent their waking moments trying to come up with ideas to help him. Clark himself was still so anguished by what had happened that he was barely thinking straight. But she'd known, from what he'd told her, that Lois had been with him in the gambling den. Why hadn't she thought to ask Clark about Lois, about how his best friend was likely to be reacting? All the time, Lois had been blaming herself, and she was clearly devastated.
Jonathan caught her gaze from behind Lois again; it was clear that he was just as disturbed by the situation as she was. But what could they do? It wasn't up to either of them to tell Lois the truth, that Clark wasn't actually dead. All Martha could hope for was that Clark had indeed been listening and knew what was going on, and that he'd do the right thing himself. If he didn't… well, he would have her to deal with!
Lois found a mug of tea being pushed into her hand; she scrubbed at her eyes again with her balled-up tissues and focused her blurry gaze on Martha and Jonathan, who had now also taken a seat at the table. How was it that Clark's parents were so calm? They had to be devastated!
The good thing was that they hadn't immediately ordered her out of their house, but as she watched Martha now, seeing the impact of her explanation about the circumstances of Clark's death sink in, she felt that perhaps things were about to change. It seemed that the Kents hadn't known the full circumstances of Clark's death. Struggling to regain some degree of composure, she took a deep breath and began to explain.
"Clark thought we shouldn't go there — to the club, I mean — but I wanted to. He thought it was too dangerous… And then once we were there I made myself too conspicuous. Dillinger saw me… he was making a pass at me, and Clark stepped in front of me to protect me, you see. That's when… when… he was… killed," she finished in a sobbing whisper.
Her free hand was seized by Martha. "Lois, you can't blame yourself!" the older woman insisted firmly. "It's not your fault! *You* didn't kill Clark!"
"I might as well have," Lois whispered. "He'd never have been there if it wasn't for me."
"Lois, you know Clark's more than capable of refusing to do something if he doesn't think it's right," Jonathan pointed out firmly, and oddly to Lois's ears. He was talking about Clark in the present tense… clearly the horror of their son's death hadn't fully sunk in yet.
But she couldn't allow his parents to let her off that lightly. Turning to stare at Jonathan, Lois protested, "But he would never have left me in danger — I insisted on going in there, so he had no choice but to go with me. That's why it's all my fault." She dabbed at her eyes again, but the tissues were now completely sodden. Blinking away the fresh tears, she grimaced and glanced at Martha. "Can I… I need to wash my face. Can I use your bathroom?"
"Sure," Martha agreed, and Lois noticed her exchanging glances with Jonathan; she suspected that the Kents were welcoming the opportunity to have a couple of minutes alone to discuss what she'd told them.
She hurried out of the kitchen and found the downstairs cloakroom, spending several minutes splashing cold water on her face and trying to stop thinking about Clark. That glance she'd sneaked at the photo of him standing in pride of place on the side-table in the living-room hadn't helped either, she thought; she'd have to avoid looking in that direction when she returned to the kitchen. By the time she'd finished bathing her eyes, the end result wasn't as good as she could have hoped: her eyes were still bloodshot and swollen, but at least the tears had stopped flowing. She grabbed some fresh tissues and exited the bathroom.
Rounding the corner which brought her past the stairs, she heard a footfall on the landing, and glanced upwards automatically. A tall, dark-haired man was just about to descend the stairs; a very familiar-looking man, with broad shoulders, a muscular torso which was enhanced by the charcoal-grey T-shirt he wore, and long legs encased in black jeans. The only thing missing was a pair of glasses.
"Clark!" Lois exclaimed in shuddering disbelief, and she reached out to grab the newel post as her legs gave way beneath her.
Clark flew down the stairs, his feet not touching the risers, when he saw Lois fall, catching her before she tumbled to the floor. His brain was awhirl; he had no idea what she was doing in his parents' house and he couldn't imagine how he was going to explain his own presence there to her. But he couldn't allow her to hurt herself, and anyway, the shocked, disbelieving look which had been on her face as she'd cried out his name had pierced him to the core. He couldn't just walk away.
When his father had gone to answer the knock at the door, Clark had assumed that it was one of their neighbours, perhaps Wayne Irig come to borrow some item of farm equipment. Knowing that his supposed death the previous night would soon be common knowledge, he had hurried upstairs and immediately launched himself into the sky via his bedroom window. On his return just now, he had immediately X-rayed down to the lower floor; on seeing the living-room empty and his parents on their own in the kitchen, he'd assumed that their visitor had left.
But it seemed he'd been wrong; from Lois's location, it looked as if she'd been in the downstairs bathroom. He grimaced; that was one room he *hadn't* thought to check for occupants, not that he would as a rule invade someone's privacy like that.
He swung Lois up into his arms and carried her across into the living-room, laying her down tenderly on the sofa and propping a couple of cushions behind her head. He gazed down at her, concerned; the sight of her ghostly-white face staring up at him from the foot of the stairs before she'd passed out had seriously shaken him. She was still very pale, though his sharp eyes noticed the swelling and redness around her eyes. Lois had been crying… over him? The realisation stabbed at him, a piercing pain in his heart.
A sudden rush of guilt flooded over him as he realised that he'd barely thought of Lois since being pushed out of the gangsters' car the night before. His only thoughts had been, initially, of protecting his secret, which had meant he'd had to play dead, and later, of brooding on all he'd lost. Clark Kent was dead, which meant that he'd lost everything: his life in Metropolis, the job he'd enjoyed so much, his friends… and Lois, whom he loved more than everything else he'd lost.
But yet he had left her behind in the gambling den, unprotected, at the mercy of Dillinger, Capone and their associates. He had also left her to break the news of his apparent death to Perry and the police, and he didn't even have the excuse of saying that he didn't realise how difficult that would be for her. After all, when he'd slumped to the ground, pretending to be dead, she had fallen to her knees beside him, clutching at his chest, caressing his face, and sobbing out his name. He'd even felt her tears fall onto his face.
But he hadn't spared her a thought since; he'd been too wrapped up in his own self-pity. And while he'd been pacing backwards and forwards in his parents' kitchen, trying to think of a way to get his life back, Lois had clearly been mourning her best friend's death.
How could he have been so selfish? How could he not even have spared her a single thought?
A movement from behind attracted his attention, and he turned to see his parents emerging from the kitchen; they saw Lois on the couch and cast him anxious glances, a question clear in their expressions.
"She's okay," he murmured quickly, one hand resting lightly on Lois's arm. "She saw me come down the stairs and passed out."
"We hadn't told her you were here, son," Jonathan murmured quietly. "We figured that was up to you — I was going to try to find you and tell you she was here, let you decide what to do."
The thought flashed quickly into his head that he could leave now, before Lois came around, and his parents could convince her that she had to have imagined his presence. Just as quickly he dismissed it again. He couldn't do that to her. No, he would stay, and he would tell her everything. It was probably time she knew, anyway, and it was the least he could do in compensation for letting her think he was dead. He nodded in response to his father's comment, then turned back to Lois.
Her eyelids flickered, and a moment later Lois's soft brown eyes, still bloodshot from her crying bouts, stared up into his own, shock in their dark depths.
"Cl-Clark, is it really you?" she choked out in a ragged whisper.
Blessed darkness… no more grief, just a softness into which she could sink and block out reality. Lying here with her eyes shut, she could pretend that she really had seen Clark, that it really had been her partner and best friend coming down the stairs of the Kents' house. It hadn't been him, of course; she'd just imagined it because she so wanted him to be alive, and being in his parents' house just made her expect to see him everywhere she looked. That was why she'd dreamed him up.
So as long as she didn't open her eyes she didn't have to face the reality that Clark really was dead, that he wasn't going to come back. She could simply lie here and pretend that it was his arms around her, that it was his voice she could hear murmuring in the background, his hand lying gently on her arm. She could visualise him so clearly, it was as if she really had seen him descending the stairs. She could see his firm jaw, that beautiful mouth, his dark hair flopping forward over his forehead, his brown eyes for once unobscured by glasses…
No glasses! But she'd never seen Clark without glasses, so why would the Clark in her imagination have been without glasses?
She forced her eyes open, and found herself gazing directly up into those so-familiar brown eyes, now staring down at her in concern. Her breath caught in her throat, and tears once again sprang to her eyes.
"Cl-Clark, is it really you?"
He grimaced, one hand raking through his hair. "Yeah, it's me, Lois. I'm sor — "
In one movement she was sitting up, a hand pushing hard against his broad chest. It was firm; this was no insubstantial ghost. Clark really was alive!
"You're not dead!" she exclaimed, overjoyed beyond belief, and threw her arms around him. He pulled her into his embrace, his arms closing tightly around her, drawing her head against his shoulder as he murmured barely-coherent apologies into her hair.
Wait a minute… apologies?
She pulled back, forcing him to release her. "What did you say?" she demanded.
His expression was contrite, his eyes conveying a silent plea for understanding. "I'm sorry I let you think… I just didn't think, Lois. I've just been so wrapped up in trying to figure out what to do…"
Then it hit her. This wasn't some miraculous resurrection. He had just never been dead in the first place; that bullet couldn't have been fatal after all. But while that was the best news she'd had in a long time, what was he doing *here,* in Smallville? Why hadn't he come to find her last night, to let her know he wasn't dead? Did he care so little about her that he hadn't been concerned about what she'd been going through?
There were too many questions in her mind; she focused on one. How was it possible that he was not only alive, but seemingly unhurt? In one swift movement, she grabbed at his T-shirt, freeing the hem from the waistband of his jeans, and jerked the fabric upwards. Her movement clearly took him by surprise, since he made no attempt to stop her.
His chest was unmarked.
So… what had happened to the bullet? Had it just not hit him, after all?
And, more important, why had he pretended to be dead?
She dragged her gaze away from his *undamaged* chest and glared at him. "I saw you! He shot you — at point-blank range! I saw the rips in your jacket! But there's not a mark on you… yet I saw them carry you out, you weren't breathing…"
She saw him close his eyes briefly before responding. "Lois, did you see any blood?" he asked softly.
No. There hadn't been any blood… why had there not been blood?
"Are you saying the bullet didn't hit you?" she demanded harshly. "Then why did you pretend…?"
"It hit me," he replied, leaving her even more confused. Suddenly he got to his feet, glancing behind him; for the first time, Lois saw Martha and Jonathan standing some distance away.
"Mom, Dad, you know what I have to do," Clark told them, his voice firm. Still not understanding what was going on, Lois saw his parents nod as if giving him permission.
"We'll be in the kitchen," Martha said, taking Jonathan's arm and tugging him after her. The door closed behind them.
"Clark, what's going on?" Lois demanded. "I don't understand any of this — how can you be alive? And why didn't you tell me?!"
"One thing at a time, please," he said quickly. "Lois, look at me."
She looked, and realised again that he wasn't wearing glasses. She had never seen Clark without glasses before today; for the first time, it struck her that that was quite surprising. Most people who wore glasses, no matter how short-sighted they were, took them off sometimes; and yet she had even called over to his apartment in the middle of the night, catching him in his sleepwear, and he'd still had them on.
Now, it occurred to her that without them, Clark reminded her of someone. But… who? She couldn't place the resemblance, but then that might have had something to do with a sleepless night and more tears than she'd ever shed in her life before, to say nothing of the shock of a dead partner suddenly coming back to life.
He was watching her, seemingly waiting for… something. She couldn't work out what he was expecting her to see, though. Then he spoke again, his voice gentle but insistent.
"Lois, think. I was shot at, and I wasn't hurt. How could that be? Look at me — what do you see?"
She stared, numerous puzzle pieces she'd never even known were there suddenly falling into place. It couldn't be… but what other explanation was there?
It all made sense now. Clark was Superman. *Superman* had been with her in the gambling den the night before, and had moved to stand in front of her, to protect her, when she'd been threatened. So he hadn't been killed after all — Superman was invulnerable, so he couldn't be hurt by bullets.
So Clark had been alive the whole time. There was never any possibility that he could have been killed. The realisation played itself over and over in her mind. Clark was Superman. Clark had never died. Clark had let her think he was dead… she'd cried herself sick over someone who didn't care enough about her to spare her pain.
She'd thought Superman was too honourable to lie to her. She'd thought Clark cared about her, that as her best friend he would never hurt her. Yet both of them, in the person of this stranger standing in front of her, had shown the most callous disregard of her feelings.
The betrayal was just too much to bear. In a sudden, jerky movement, she got to her feet and pushed past him, the tears this time for the end of a friendship which had never been what she'd thought it was. "Goodbye, Superman," she threw at him, her voice bitter, and she marched towards the kitchen, flinging open the door and walking swiftly past an astonished Martha and Jonathan on her way to the back door and escape.
He didn't know what to say to her. Her expression had told him everything she was feeling: hurt, betrayed, angry, and very distressed. And *he* was the cause of that. He cursed himself once again for having been so completely obsessed with his own situation that he hadn't even considered what Lois was going through. How could he have forgotten about her? How could he not have given a single thought to the fact that, as far as she was concerned, her best friend had been shot dead in front of her? She'd probably spent half the night dealing with the police, making witness statements, talking to Perry, presumably helping someone write the story up for the Planet. And even though he knew she didn't love him the way he loved her, he was well aware that she considered him to be a good friend. Of *course* she would have been upset and shocked.
She was never likely to believe he loved her now, no matter what he said. Once, she'd wanted Superman to love her, and it was now clear, from the degree of her distress, that she cared more for Clark than she'd pretended. *Had* cared, he told himself brutally.
He couldn't blame her for reacting as she had, for walking out on him just now. She'd already been in shock from discovering that he was alive after all, and he probably hadn't been very tactful in breaking the news that he was Superman. Oh, he'd been gentle, but he had practically forced her to recognise something which, however she'd found out, was going to make her feel stupid. After all, Lois was an award-winning investigative reporter. She was also known as one of the two reporters who knew Superman best — the other being himself — and she'd counted Superman as a friend. To find out that she didn't know the most important thing about Superman, and about her friend and partner, Clark, must have made her feel that her skills as an investigator were worthless. She'd worked beside Clark for well over a year, and yet had never recognised him when he'd stood in front of her dressed a little differently, never realised that he wasn't exactly like other people. No, he couldn't blame her for being hurt by that; and even more importantly, he couldn't blame her for feeling betrayed now. Not after his failure to consider her feelings last night and this morning.
But even if she wouldn't talk to him, he couldn't let her leave like that. Not when she had just received several of what had to be the biggest shocks of her life, on top of her existing emotional turmoil. He put on a burst of Super-speed and in under a second had exited the house and was standing by her car. She was already inside it, about to start the engine and drive off.
He tapped on the window; she ignored him.
He stood in front of the car; she hit the accelerator and moved forward. He wasn't afraid of being hurt, of course, but knowing this was a rental car, he didn't want to damage it. He side-stepped, and then reached out with one hand and lifted the front of the car a couple of feet off the ground, this preventing it from moving.
She lowered the side window and glared furiously at him, but what tore at his heartstrings were the tears which glimmered in her eyes.
"Let me go! You have no right to stop me!"
"I know," he said soberly. "Lois, please — all I want is for you to be safe. And if you leave now, like this, I'd be terrified that you'd have an accident." And he was; he knew that she wasn't in full control of herself, and the thought of her crashing the car, hurting herself, possibly getting killed, made his blood run cold. He couldn't allow her to leave.
"As if you'd care!" she muttered under her breath, but he heard her and his heart tore again.
"Lois, I can't tell you how much I'd care," he said quietly, his own voice catching now. "I can see that you were crying over me — well, if anything happened to you, I'd want to die too."
Something flashed briefly in her eyes, but it was gone in an instant and she was glowering at him again. "I can't believe a word you say any more, Superman."
"I'm *Clark,* Lois," he protested, but she ignored him.
"You've lied to me as long as I've known you. You pretended to love me as Clark and then told me you weren't interested as Superman. You must have had a great laugh at my expense watching me make a fool of myself over your alter ego in tights!"
"Lois, I never laughed at you," he insisted, his voice low but intense. "Never! There were times when I almost cried, but that was for myself, not for you."
She shook her head as if in denial of his words. "Let me go," she demanded, her tone weary.
He shook his own head, determined that he wasn't going to let her drive in this state. "Lois, please, listen to me. You're upset — distraught — you've had a shock. I don't want you doing a three-hour drive in this state. If you really want to go home, I'll fly you back to Metropolis instead."
She seemed to snap then; she wrenched the keys from the ignition and glared at him, her jaw clenched. "I've had a shock, have I? You don't want me driving when I'm upset? Too bad you weren't around last night or this morning, then! You may have forgotten, Kent, but I was pretty upset then! For all you care!!"
She was calling him Kent rather than Superman… was that a good sign? Clark wasn't sure. But she still believed he'd deliberately hurt her, and he *had* to convince her that wasn't true.
"Lois, of course I care!" he insisted, the words almost torn from him, his own emotions now very much on the surface. "I have *always* cared about you! I know you think I've been lying to you since we met, but I never lied about that! And I am so sorry about letting you think I was dead. If I could turn the clock back… if there was any way I could undo what I've done, I would."
She turned away, staring fixedly ahead, and didn't respond.
"Please, Lois, talk to me!" he pleaded with her, fighting the temptation to wrench the car door open and haul her bodily out. He knew that would be a bad idea, though… clenching and unclenching his fists, he gazed at her, trying to work out what his next move should be.
A hand touched his arm, and he glanced around to see his mother standing beside him, his father a few feet away. "Clark, go back inside," Martha instructed him. "Can't you see you're not doing any good here?"
He remained defiantly where he was, looking away from his mother and back at Lois, but she was still gazing rigidly ahead, ignoring him. Tentatively he reached out to touch her shoulder; she moved, and his hand slid away.
A muscle jerking in his jaw, Clark swung around and stalked moodily back into the house. If she wasn't going to listen to him when he tried to apologise, what else could he do? He'd practically grovelled out there; he'd told her how he felt about her, and she still refused to listen. Well, if she wanted him to leave her alone, that was what she would get.
As Clark moved away, Lois sighed in relief, allowing her head to slump over the steering wheel. He'd gone; that meant she could get on her way. She would be back in Metropolis by mid-afternoon, and could then decide what she wanted to do about the future. Though, if Clark Kent had any decency, he would use his apparent 'death' as a reason to stay away from Metropolis and… and just go somewhere else. Superman, too; she didn't want to see either of them again.
Her bitter musings were interrupted by Martha's firm voice. "Lois, come on, get out of the car."
She turned to glare at Clark's mother. "What?"
"Come on, Lois, Clark was right about that at least. You can't go on a three-hour drive right now. Come back inside," Martha urged, her tone gentler.
Lois grimaced; there was something about Martha Kent which made it impossible for anyone to be angry with her. Not for the first time, she found herself wishing that her own mother had been more like Clark's. But she wasn't going to accede that easily. "Not while *he's* in there."
"Oh, I'm not going to force you to talk to him if you don't want to, honey!" Martha laughed. "I'm sure he'll find something else to do."
Lois hesitated. She really didn't particularly feel like embarking on the long journey back to the airport; she knew she'd had a shock and that she needed time to get over it. Anyway, the drive out had been bad enough, choking back tears for most of the journey; she'd had a few near misses then and… well, the journey just wasn't an appealing prospect. Her mind made up, she threw the door open and followed Martha into the house.
Clark was in the kitchen, leaning against the door leading to the rest of the house; he averted his gaze as she entered, and turned instead to his mother. "I'm going out — I think it's time Superman did a patrol over Metropolis."
"You can do that later," Martha informed him. "First I want you to take Lois's car back to Wichita."
Both Lois and Clark spoke at the same time, but Martha ignored their objections. Holding her hand out towards Lois, she said, "Keys?"
With a bad-tempered grunt, Lois handed them over. Martha walked over to Clark, grabbed his hand and put the keys in his palm. "Drive it to Wichita. You can fly back afterwards."
"And just how am I going to get back to Wichita?" Lois demanded, before realising that perhaps Martha meant that Jonathan would drive her in the truck.
"Not Wichita, Metropolis," Martha informed her. "Later, when Clark gets back, he'll fly you home."
"No way!" Lois was determined that she wasn't going to have that.
"You don't have to talk to him," Martha pointed out with an amused smile. "Just ignore him for the fifteen minutes or so that it'll take him to fly you home."
"Thanks, Mom," Clark muttered, but he walked over to the back door.
Jonathan, who was standing in the doorway, clapped his son on the shoulder. "I'll come with you, son."
So that was Martha's plan, Lois realised. Separate the two of them, then Clark's father could talk to him, and Martha would talk to herself. She wasn't sure she wanted to be told why she should forgive Clark, and as the men busied themselves leaving she began mentally composing a list of all the reasons why she had no intention of forgiving him, *ever.*
The door closed behind the Kent men, and Martha poured Lois a mug of coffee. Taking a seat opposite her at the table, the older woman smiled then. "So, Lois, you're going to tell me that you can never forgive Clark for what he did, and you think I'm going to try to persuade you that you should forgive him, right?"
"Wrong, Lois," Martha replied, her mouth turned down at the corners. "Oh, you can give me as many reasons as you like for why you won't forgive him, but I have no intention of arguing with you."
Taken aback, Lois could only stare dumbly at Martha, who then laughed. "Oh, honey, I wouldn't dream of telling you what to do! I know you well enough to know that you'll do what's right with or without my intervention. I just thought you might like a chance to tell someone how badly Clark's behaved, and I'd really prefer that you didn't tell anyone who doesn't know he's Superman!"
"I wouldn't do that!" Lois protested. She realised, to her surprise, that it was true; angry as she was, she knew that Clark's secret identity had to be protected. She had no intention of telling anyone that he was Superman.
"I'm glad about that, Lois. It's not just Clark who would suffer if people knew who Superman really was — Jonathan and I could be in danger, you know."
She hadn't thought of that, but Martha was right. It was bad enough that villains had tried holding known associates of Superman — such as herself — hostage in the hope that they could persuade the Man of Steel to co-operate with them, but if it was known that he had family, the Kents would never be safe. But that led to another thought…
"So you and Jonathan aren't from Krypton, then?"
"Heavens, no!" Martha exclaimed in amused disbelief. "We found Clark as a baby. He was in some sort of capsule — we had absolutely no idea where it came from or who he was, whether he came from outer space or behind the Iron Curtain or some laboratory somewhere. As far as we were concerned, he was just a baby who needed a home and parents to love him — and we weren't able to have children of our own. So we adopted him, brought him up as our own. Until he was about ten or so, and started developing strange abilities."
Lois sat and listened in amazement as Martha described, in humorous and occasionally poignant terms, Clark's upbringing and the acquisition of his various powers. Despite her simmering anger and sense of betrayal, she couldn't help feeling sympathy for the boy who'd been unable to understand why he was different, why he had all these strange abilities, and who'd had to learn, at a very early age, that he could never trust anyone enough to confide in them. Martha didn't even have to explain that this was why Clark hadn't told her about Superman — but then, it wasn't not telling her he was Superman which was the issue. She could understand why he hadn't told her that, although it hurt to realise that her best friend hadn't really trusted her enough to be completely honest with her.
No, what really hurt was… no, there were a couple of things. Why had he played Superman off against Clark? Flirted with her as Superman, and become her friend as Clark… and, a few months earlier, told her he loved her as Clark while rejecting her as Superman?
No, maybe that last one wasn't so hard to understand, she acknowledged with a grimace. After all, she had told Superman that she'd love him if he was an ordinary man, while only a few hours before she'd rejected said ordinary man. Okay, maybe she could declare them even on that one.
The real problem was what he'd done to her last night. Everything else was pretty unimportant, or could be explained easily enough. Leaving her to grieve over the murder of someone who wasn't dead couldn't.
Staring down into her coffee-cup, she interrupted Martha's anecdote about Clark bringing back a meal from Bengal to prove to Jonathan that authentic Indian cuisine was a treat to be savoured.
"Martha, tell me — did Clark mention me at all when he came here after last night? Did any of you think about how I… Clark's friends might be feeling?" <Did he even think about me once? Did it occur to him that I might be hurt… or did I just not figure in his thoughts at all? Do I just not matter to him? Does Superman really barely know I exist?>
They had driven several miles in silence before Clark finally expelled one long breath and glanced at his father as he slowed at an intersection.
"Dad, I know it was incredibly thoughtless of me not to consider how Lois would feel about thinking I was dead. But I tried to apologise — you saw me! I don't know what more I can say!"
"Yeah, we saw," Jonathan agreed slowly. "I'm sure you tried, son. I don't doubt it. But… tell me, did you know she was here when you came downstairs earlier?"
Clark shook his head, explaining that he'd only just returned to the house and had thought the visitor had left. "I… well, that's not to say that if I'd known it was Lois…" He trailed off, grimacing. "Okay, I'm not sure what I'd have done if I'd known it was her."
"Ah, so you didn't hear what she said to us," Jonathan observed, then — to Clark's frustration — lapsed into silence again.
He'd always known his father was more of a thinker than a talker, Clark mused, but right now he needed his father to speak! "What did she say?" he asked at last, resisting the impulse to demand his answer *now.*
"She told us that it was her fault you'd been killed — she came to tell us she was sorry."
"What?!" Clark almost steered the car off the road in his shock. "But why… what on earth would make her think that?"
"You tell me, son," Jonathan invited.
Clark thought back to the events of the previous day, leading up to the evening. It had been Bobby Bigmouth who'd given them the lead to the illegal gambling den in the first place, and he remembered that even as they were on their way to try to get in — all dressed for the occasion, too — he had been playing his customary 'Mr Cautious' role. It had become something of a standard joke between them: Lois would want to do something dangerous; he would try to talk her out of it; she would insist on doing it anyway, and they both knew that he'd go along with it. He'd been doing just that as they approached the club.
But Clark was well aware that if he really hadn't wanted to go in there, it would have been simple to achieve that end. After all, they'd only got in because he'd used his Super-hearing to obtain the password. Had he really thought it was a bad idea, he wouldn't have done that, they wouldn't have had the password, and they'd have had to go home again.
But *Lois* didn't know that… so she could well have persuaded herself that it was her fault that they'd been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
And then she'd drawn attention to herself by chasing after an old lady who'd taken her winnings; Dillinger had noticed her, and had made a move on her. Clark, of course, hadn't been able to resist warning him off — being over-protective as usual, he told himself sourly. But on the other hand, what if Lois hadn't seen it that way, but had convinced herself that it had been her stupidity which had put him in a position where he'd had to protect her? He knew his partner; he knew that while she was capable of going to some enormous lengths of self-justification at times, she was also capable of experiencing huge depths of guilt, sometimes unnecessarily.
So, yes, it was entirely possible that, in the aftermath of seeing what she'd thought was the dead body of her best friend carted out of the casino to be dumped somewhere, Lois had decided that it was all her fault. Which would, of course, only have added to her grief. And then to discover that he was alive in the way she had… well, it was hardly surprising that she'd walked out. And, thinking back, he hadn't really given her any explanation for his actions; he'd just tried to tell her that she couldn't leave — forced her to stay around someone it was clear she'd no wish to be with in the circumstances.
He sighed again. "So I messed up big-time. But, Dad, what could I have done last night? Don't forget, as far as everyone else is concerned, Clark Kent is dead! And he stays that way unless I let everyone know I'm Superman — which is out of the question. So…" he exhaled sharply. "I'm not sure what else I could have done. I'm not even sure what I could have done about Lois — okay, it was insensitive of me not to even think about her, but what alternative did I have?"
"We always knew you had to be careful, to hide what you can do," Jonathan pointed out. "And once you invented Superman, you had to be even more careful as Clark."
"I know," Clark agreed, his expression resigned. "I couldn't do anything as Clark which would arouse suspicion, or make anyone associate Clark Kent with Superman. But last night… there just wasn't *time* for me to disappear and come back as Superman, and anyway it just wasn't possible to leave. And it all happened so quickly — Lois was in danger, and I had to protect her, and… I guess I never expected he'd actually pull a gun and use it."
Jonathan remained silent; Clark drove another few miles without speaking, then was unable to restrain himself. "What else was I supposed to do, Dad?!" Removing one hand from the steering wheel, he gestured emphatically. "I mean, I'm supposed to be *dead*! Clark Kent can't be seen alive — I'm not even sure I should be here!"
"Well, perhaps Superman could have gone to check up on Lois," Jonathan suggested slowly. "Then you'd have known how she was, and you could have…"
"Could have what, Dad?" Clark demanded, once it was clear that his father wasn't going to finish whatever he was suggesting. "Told her I was Superman? After everything we ever talked about?"
"Well, I don't know, son, but you didn't have a problem taking that decision yourself an hour ago," his father pointed out.
No, he hadn't, Clark reflected. Not that he'd had much choice… no, he corrected himself quickly. He *had* had a choice: he could have simply disappeared from sight and allowed Lois to conclude that she'd imagined his presence; his parents might not have liked the idea, but they would have gone along with it for his sake. Or he could have tried to invent some other reason for his being alive after all…
… or could he? That, after all, was the real problem: Clark Kent was presumed dead and unless he could come up with some convincing explanation for being alive after all — and one which didn't involve revealing himself as Superman — all of this agonising over whether Lois would ever forgive him was pretty much academic.
"Okay, yeah, I told her — and look where that got me!" he said wryly, his hurt and anger at Lois's rejection of his attempts at apologising now dissipated. She'd had good reason, after all, he knew.
"I don't need to ask how you'd have felt in her position," Jonathan commented after a moment or two, his voice dry.
"I guess not… but, Dad, there's a big difference. I *love* Lois! If I thought she was dead, I'd…" He shook his head slowly, denying the very possibility. "Anyway, it's different."
His father didn't reply, but the quality of his silence was such that Clark shot him a curious glance. Jonathan's expression was placid, but there was something about his father's posture which made him do a double-take.
No. Lois didn't love him. Not that way. She loved him as a friend; she'd told him that several times. She wasn't *in love* with him.
"She doesn't love me, Dad," he said quietly. "It's not the same."
"No," his father agreed, his tone mild.
"It's not," Clark insisted again.
"If you say so, son. After all, you know Lois best."
He did… and yet, sometimes, he felt that he didn't know her at all. But… she had been crying over him, weeping incessantly, judging by the way she'd looked when he'd seen her first. "Dad… was Lois crying when you and Mom talked to her?"
"I guess," Jonathan replied laconically.
If she'd been that upset… if she really only cared for him like a friend, a brother, would she have been *that* upset? Would he be that grief-stricken at the death of someone like Rachel, or Jimmy, or Perry? Or did it take the loss of someone much closer, someone… a loved one?
*Could* Lois actually love him?
If so… he quickly restrained his instinctive delight at the very possibility. If Lois loved him, then the injury he had caused her by allowing her to believe he was dead was that much greater. After all, he knew very well how he would have felt himself in the same circumstances. Devastated at what he'd thought was her death, then a deep, very painful sense of betrayal once he'd found out the truth. He could imagine feeling he could never trust her again, refusing to believe that her apologies were sincere, not wanting to be anywhere near her. His love for her would make it incredibly difficult for him to accept that there was any excuse for such behaviour.
And that was exactly what he had done to her… while telling himself that he loved her! How could he possibly treat the woman he loved so callously?
Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, Clark glanced again at his father, who was simply looking out at the countryside around him. "Guess I messed up pretty bad, huh, Dad?" he murmured.
Jonathan shrugged. "Maybe."
"So what do I do? How do I get Lois to listen to me? How can I explain to her?"
At that, Jonathan laughed. "Don't ask me, son! I have enough trouble knowing what to do when your mom thinks I've messed up. Thing is," he added more thoughtfully, "if Lois really does care about you, and if you really want to find a way through this, you'll figure out how to talk to her."
"Yeah," Clark answered, not entirely convinced. He increased the pressure on the accelerator, determined to get the rental car back to Wichita as soon as he could, so that he could fly his dad and himself back to the farm. He needed to persuade Lois to talk to him, and although he realised that his mother had very cleverly arranged it so that Lois had no means of leaving Smallville under her own steam, he still didn't entirely trust her not to have found some other means of escape in the meantime.
He tried not to dwell on the fact that, even if he did manage to resolve matters with Lois, it still wouldn't do him any good. Clark Kent was still officially dead, and so he couldn't return to Metropolis. There was never going to be a future for them, as friends or as a couple.
Martha didn't blink at Lois's question; she simply patted the younger woman's hand briskly and got to her feet to fetch the coffee-pot. "Honey, I really think that's a question you should ask Clark, isn't it?" she suggested as she poured some fresh coffee for the two of them. "Unless, of course, you still feel that you don't want to talk to him."
"I… don't know," Lois acknowledged. She played with her hair for a few moments, then raised her head and stared straight at Clark's mother. "Martha, I know he's your son and you're going to be loyal to him, but… please, I have to know, did he think about me at all?"
Martha smiled gently. "Lois, honey, you don't know Clark very well if you don't know that he frequently thinks about you!"
<He does?> thought Lois, unsure what to make of that knowledge. It didn't really seem to fit in with Clark's behaviour over the past twelve hours or so. But Martha was speaking again.
"Did Clark ever tell you about his life before he moved to Metropolis?"
Lois shrugged. "A little. I know he travelled a lot…"
"A lot," Martha agreed. "And he liked it, for the most part. You know that, apart from Smallville when he was growing up, this year and a bit he's spent in Metropolis is the longest he's stayed anywhere?"
"I didn't," Lois answered slowly, wondering why Martha was telling her this.
"Clark's the kind of person who always wants to help others," the older woman continued. "And, now that you know about him, you know that his… abilities make it easy for him to do certain kinds of things. But he's always had to be very careful about not letting anyone see what he can do — you can see that, I'm sure."
Of course… if anyone had figured out that Clark Kent could fly, or move at Super-speed, or was invulnerable, he'd be hunted down — a target for the media, scientists wanting to do research on him… and, she realised suddenly, crazy military types like Jason Trask who'd believe that he was part of some alien invasion. "Yeah, I can see that. And you know I won't say anything."
Martha simply nodded. Her reaction seemed to indicate that there was more to this, though Lois wasn't quite sure what, yet. So she asked another question instead. "Martha, why Metropolis? I mean, you said he moved on regularly before — yet he stayed there and he even created Superman!" Before Martha could answer, Lois partly answered her own question. "I guess Superman allowed him to help people without compromising his own position."
"Yes, that's true," Martha agreed. "You gave him the idea, you know."
"Yes — it was during his first week at the Planet. He saved the life of a workman who was trapped under ground. But his clothes got all messed up, and you told him he should bring a change of clothes to work in future. That's what made him think of a costume — a disguise."
She remembered that! The workman had actually pointed at Clark, had said that Clark had saved him. And she'd thought the guy was crazy! "Some investigative reporter I am!" she snorted, with an incredulous shake of the head. "I have Superman as my partner for over a year, for crying out loud, and I never figured it out."
"You weren't supposed to," Martha commented dryly. "And Clark's pretty fast, so it wouldn't even surprise me if there were times when you actually thought the two of them had been there at the same time."
Yes, that made sense. And it was a brilliant disguise: after all, who on earth would suspect that a mild-mannered, ordinary reporter was really the world's only Super-hero? Clark was pretty good at hiding who he really was, she reflected; it would never have occurred to her to suspect that he was anything other than what he seemed. And yet… and yet, it was *Clark* who had flown into space to stop the Nightfall asteroid, Clark who had saved her life and the lives of countless others time and time again… and Clark who had almost died from Kryptonite poisoning that day she'd dug the bullet out of his shoulder.
And of course he'd had to pretend to be dead last night. In order to protect his secret, Clark had been forced to react to the shooting in exactly the same way as a normal person — a *vulnerable* person — would have. Clark Kent, reporter, would have been killed last night. Superman, on the other hand, would not… but he'd been there as Clark.
"Oh, my God!" Lois exclaimed suddenly as the real implication of her thoughts struck her squarely between the eyes. And, for the first time, she could see why Clark might have been too preoccupied to think of her.
Martha looked at her quizzically.
"Clark really is dead, isn't he?" Lois stared at Martha as, for the first time, the realisation sank in. "I didn't think… I mean, I saw he was alive, and all I could think about was that he'd deceived me and put me through all that for nothing. But… he really is dead!" She jumped to her feet and began to pace about the kitchen. "I mean, everyone thinks he is, because dozens of people saw him shot and dragged out of there, and I told Perry and the police, and all the Planet staff, and it was on the front page of the Planet this morning… he knew that, didn't he? He knew he was dead, and that's why he stayed here instead of… He just didn't know what to do, did he?" She flung out her arm towards Martha in emphasis.
"Well, it does present a dilemma," Martha agreed. "And yes, we spent a lot of time trying to think of ways around it, but we didn't really get anywhere."
"I should have realised… okay, I was hurt, I *am* hurt that he didn't tell me, but his situation is far worse!" Lois threw herself back into her chair, remorse now mingling with her earlier resentment and hurt. "Martha, I was being selfish, wasn't I?"
Martha seemed surprised at that. "Lois, do you think I would answer that? And anyway, you had a point — you know that, and you know that Clark knew it too."
"I guess he was trying to apologise," she muttered. "And I wouldn't listen."
"No, you just weren't ready to hear it," Martha suggested. "Look, Clark and Jonathan will be back soon. Why don't you go and freshen up? Clark will take you back to Metropolis whenever you like, if you're ready to go."
Nodding, Lois got up from the table again. The Kents had a lot to discuss, and she was probably in the way; and anyway, maybe she had some thinking to do before… assuming that Clark wanted to talk to her now. Would he think there was any point? Was there even any possibility that she could keep in touch with Clark in the future, anyway? What was he going to do with his life? He'd clearly have to go somewhere where no-one knew him, and start again under a completely new identity.
So even though she'd found him alive after all, she was still going to lose him. Suddenly she felt like crying all over again.
Re-entering the kitchen some time afterwards, Lois heard a noise which sounded strangely familiar. She frowned, not instantly recognising it, but shortly after the door to the back yard was flung open and Jonathan strode in, followed by…
She halted, stopped dead in her tracks, simply staring as the cape billowed out behind him. He stopped abruptly too, clearly noticing her staring at him. His expression altered, became uncertain, and his hand came up and raked through his slicked-back hair in what was a very Clark-like gesture. Yes, this was Superman, but suddenly she could see that he was also Clark.
Although she'd known the truth for the past few hours, suddenly being confronted with this incontrovertible evidence that the two men she'd known were in reality one person made her catch her breath. In a shaky movement she grabbed at one of the kitchen chairs for support.
She glanced up in time to spot Jonathan making an abrupt gesture to Clark; she didn't understand what the older man meant, but suddenly Superman began to move. He spun around, the cape whirling behind him, until his outline was a complete blur; then after a few moments the blurry figure seemed to change colours. When he slowed down again, Clark Kent was standing in front of her, dressed as he had been earlier, still without his glasses. He was watching her, not saying a word, his expression wary but with some emotion shadowing his eyes… it looked like… longing.
"Lois?" Martha was trying to attract her attention, and she dragged her gaze away from her partner… ex-partner, she supposed, forcibly reminding herself of the reality of the situation. "Are you okay?" Clark's mother continued. "I guess Clark forgot you're not used to seeing him do that."
"Yeah, I'm fine," she said shakily. Any minute now Martha was going to suggest that Clark take her home, and once they got to Metropolis there would be no opportunity… he couldn't risk being seen there as Clark, and Superman wouldn't stay around her apartment for long. He never did… Before she could lose her nerve, she turned back to Clark. "Clark… could we talk? Maybe go for a walk…?"
He seemed surprised, but there was delight evident in his expression. "Lois, I'd really like that," he replied, in a low but sincere voice, crossing the room towards her. Then his face fell. "Sorry — I just remembered, I can't be seen anywhere around here. I'm supposed to be…" He trailed off, but she knew what he'd been going to say.
He wanted to talk too — that was good, surely? He'd been angry earlier, when Martha had sent him back into the house and then again when she'd made him return her rental car. Now, he seemed to be more concerned about her attitude to him. That meant that maybe they could talk this out — if nothing else, they could part as friends. She wanted that; no matter how much his deceit had hurt her, she didn't want her last memories of Clark to be painful. "Then take me somewhere no-one knows either of us," she surprised herself — and evidently him too — by suggesting.
Suddenly his face was transformed by a huge smile, which also lit up his eyes in a way which made her go weak at the knees and want to melt. "Sure! You want to fly?"
"I wouldn't think you'd need to ask that question," she told him with a shy smile. "You know I love flying with Su — you."
"Okay, just let me change clothes again," he agreed, and this time she was ready for the spinning movement. He looked like a whirling dervish, and she made a mental note to ask him just how he managed to do it without creating a mini-whirlwind in his mom's kitchen. She couldn't understand how it was that things weren't flying everywhere, let alone just where his clothes went when he did that.
But there was no time now: Superman was striding towards her, a warm but slightly hesitant smile on his face. "Can I offer you a ride, ma'am?" he enquired lightly.
She nodded, and found herself scooped off her feet and into his arms; there was barely time to nod to Martha and Jonathan before he'd marched out of the house. "Hang on tight," he warned her. "I have to take off pretty quickly from here, so that no-one notices Superman coming and going."
Moments later they were airborne, above the clouds and floating along at what seemed to Lois to be a leisurely pace, although she'd learned when flying with Superman that it was almost impossible for her to estimate his flying speed. Although she was enjoying the flight, as she always did, the entire experience felt new. No matter how many times she'd flown with Superman before, this felt very different; now she knew that this was *Clark* she was flying with, her partner and her friend. It was Clark whose arms were supporting her, Clark's hard, muscular chest she was leaning against, Clark's chin which brushed her hair as they flew.
She leaned her head back against his shoulder so that her mouth was close to his ear, and asked, "Where are we going?"
He turned his head in order to reply, and suddenly their mouths were brought into close proximity; Lois found herself seized with the desire to move her head that extra couple of inches which was all it would take for their lips to meet. She became aware of his gaze on her, his eyes focused on her lips, and the heat in that look told her very clearly that his thoughts were heading in the same direction as hers. So many things which she had never before understood fell into place for her at that moment. She'd always felt that Superman was attracted to her, but never understood why he wasn't willing to follow it up. There had been so many times when she'd caught him staring at her in a particular manner, but he'd always looked away or made an excuse to leave when he realised he'd been seen. But knowing the truth, that Superman was in reality Clark, she could understand exactly what had been going on. Superman *had* been attracted to her — was attracted to her — but since he was also Clark and she had never shown any sign of being attracted to Clark, it was perfectly understandable that he wouldn't have pursued it.
Although there had been that time when she'd almost told Clark that she thought she was falling in love with him. Yet he'd insisted on speaking first, and had told her he'd lied about being in love with her. She'd believed him then, and had been hurt; now she found herself wondering exactly which statement had been the lie. The way Clark was looking at her now — and also the way he'd pleaded with her earlier when she'd threatened to drive off — told her that he did have very strong feelings for her. So if he'd meant it when he told her he was in love with her… why had he lied later? And why had Superman rejected her when she'd told him she'd love him even if he was an ordinary man without any powers?
Stupid, Lois! she told herself instantly. Because it just wasn't true! Because that same ordinary man had told her that he loved her, and she'd rejected him! Okay, she'd had no idea that Clark was Superman, but that, from his point of view, probably wasn't the point. Oh, so much of what had puzzled her made sense now.
He was speaking, so she forced herself to concentrate. "There's a deserted island I know off the Pacific coast — we'll be completely alone there."
"Sounds great," she assured him. And it did; a deserted island where they could be entirely on their own sounded wonderfully romantic. Except that the purpose of their journey wasn't to be romantic, it was to sort out everything that had gone on in the last twenty-four hours. They needed to talk about the shooting and Clark's disappearance, and why he hadn't told her he was alive. No matter how hard she tried to understand how difficult it had all been for him, it still hurt to know that he hadn't considered how she would be feeling. Okay, he perhaps didn't know what she'd only come to realise herself — that she loved him — but he had to have realised that she considered him her best friend and that she'd be devastated at his 'death'.
She was prepared to forgive him — well, she admitted to herself that she probably already had forgiven him — but she needed him to explain, to apologise, before she could accept him as her friend again, and perhaps more.
Although what 'more' there could be, in the present circumstances, she just didn't know.
Clark began his descent onto the sandy beach which glistened white in the middle of the deep, shimmering blue of the ocean, rehearsing in his mind what he could possibly say to Lois to atone for his neglect of her since the previous evening. Okay, he'd had a lot on his mind, including the fact that he'd lost everything he'd worked so hard for, the life he'd built up for himself in Metropolis and which he would now give almost anything to regain, the woman he loved. But to allow her to continue grieving for him…
On the other hand, for the first time it crossed his mind to wonder whether, subconsciously, he hadn't *deliberately* left Lois in ignorance of his survival. After all, she was part of what he had lost; what point was there in telling her he was alive if he couldn't be with her? Couldn't work alongside her; couldn't spend evenings with her, just watching videos and fooling around and having fun; couldn't hang out with her at weekends?
He didn't know whether that had been part of his calculations or not. But as he lowered her to her feet and stepped back, he allowed his gaze to rest on her again. Lois; the woman he loved, the only woman he had ever loved.
"Is this okay?" he asked her.
She nodded. "It's beautiful. Sup… Clark?" she added, her expression becoming a little confused as she stumbled over the two names she knew him by.
"Sorry." He spun quickly, coming to a stop beside her dressed as Clark. "Is this better?"
"Yeah… I guess. I mean, I know you're… both of you, but it's kind of easier to talk to Clark." She glanced at him once, before continuing to gaze around her. Without looking at him, she added, "You don't need to wear glasses, then?" A hesitation, then, "That was a stupid question, I guess."
"No, I don't — at least, not for the reason most people wear them. My eyesight's fine," he explained. "I just discovered, years ago when I was developing my powers, that wearing glasses was a good way of reminding myself not to use my special vision. I mean, to prevent myself looking through things when I shouldn't, you know? And when I became Superman, the glasses helped to make the disguise work."
"Yeah, you do look very different without them," she muttered, giving him another quick glance as they walked.
Did that mean she preferred him wearing them? He actually had them with him, in a pocket, so he put them on; again, she did a double-take.
"Wow! I… you're right, I'd never think you were Superman now."
Clark decided it was time they both stopped skirting around the issues. "Lois, I am sorry. You know that, don't you?"
This time she stopped in her tracks, turning to look at him. "Sorry you didn't tell me you were Superman before now, or sorry you let me grieve over your death — over seeing you murdered in front of me?"
He winced at the words she chose. "Both, I guess. I hate what I did to you last night, Lois, but there was just no other option at the time. And, Lois, I couldn't tell you about Superman before — I've been keeping all this stuff, the things I can do, a secret all my life, and I know that if it got out, if the wrong people found out, it could cause all kinds of trouble."
"I know that," she threw back at him, but her expression was resigned, not angry. "I remember Trask as well as you do, and knowing that it was really you he was after gives me the shivers. Likewise, remembering that it was *you* Arianna Carlin shot…" She winced.
He took a step towards her; she didn't move away, so he put his hands lightly on her shoulders, allowing his hands to curve over the tops of her arms in a caressing movement. "Lois, you saved my life that day, and I've been very grateful ever since. So… in case you were wondering, it wasn't because I didn't trust you. I trusted you with my *life* that day, and you didn't let me down — and you also kept the Kryptonite secret. That meant a lot to me."
"So… you knew you could trust me, Clark," she pointed out, gazing up at him with a hurt expression which made his stomach twist. "Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you at least come to me last night and let me know you were alive?" She glanced away, ducking her head downwards. "Was it because I always rejected Clark and hero-worshipped Superman?"
He grimaced, knowing that her differing attitudes to him in his separate guises had been part of the reason he hadn't told her he was Superman. "Lois, that had nothing to do with last night, I swear!" he exclaimed. "As for why I didn't tell you about me before… well, it's like I said, I've had to keep the secret all my life. I've *never* told anyone about myself, Lois! Well, only Trask, but that was because I was forced to, in order to save my parents — I'll tell you about that another time," he added, seeing her amazed expression as her head shot up again. "And the more I got to know you, Lois, the more I knew I wanted to tell you, but it was so hard… I had to keep reminding myself of all the reasons why I shouldn't tell anyone."
"Like…?" she prompted.
"Like, anyone who knows the truth could be in danger, like not being sure whether you'd — without realising it — start treating me differently and give the game away, like just not knowing how to say it anyway! I mean, you knew me as two different people, and I'd behaved like two different people. You'd talked to me as Superman, said things to me I knew you'd never say to Clark. And you told Clark things about how you felt for Superman… and I knew you'd be embarrassed if you knew. So it was just so difficult," he finished.
"Okay, okay, I guess I can understand that, Clark, but last night…! Don't you know, didn't you realise how much that hurt, how devastated I was?" she threw at him, her eyes bright with unshed tears as she stared at him.
He sighed, then gazed at her, his expression serious. "Lois, I know — I could have torn my own heart out this morning when I realised what I'd put you through. I just wasn't thinking straight. I know it's no excuse, but it's the only explanation I've got." He paused, then began to walk on; Lois fell into step beside him.
"Can I tell you what it was like from my perspective?" he asked. She nodded, so he continued. "Okay, I was shot — and it *wasn't* your fault, Lois! It never occurred to me that you might think that! You know the way we work, the way I tease you — if I'd really thought we shouldn't be there, you know I could have talked you out of it."
"I guess," she muttered.
"Okay, Dillinger fired, and I knew I had to pretend — it was all a split-second decision, there was no time to think it through. He was too close for it not to be the kind of shot that'd kill a human. And anyway, how could I pretend just to be injured? What injuries? I wasn't even bleeding!" He threw out his arm to emphasise the point. "So I had to pretend to be dead, and let them get rid of my body." Pausing again, he glanced at Lois; she was walking beside him in silence, simply listening.
"Anyway, once they'd dumped me I wanted to make sure you were okay, so I changed into the Suit and flew over to the club. You weren't there any more — I flew around a bit and saw you in the Jeep, driving away. You weren't hurt, and you were out of their way, and that was all I cared about. I went to my folks' place then to think things through."
"So… you went back for me?" she asked, turning towards him. To his surprise, she looked… touched? Taken aback, he nodded.
"Lois, I wouldn't have left you there on your own! I couldn't have — I was scared silly about what they might do to you once I was gone! But once I knew you were okay," he continued, "then I had to figure out what to do about me. It was just sinking in then that I'd had to pretend that Clark Kent had been killed — that I couldn't just go home, and then walk into work the next day as if nothing had happened."
"No, you couldn't," she whispered. "You… I guess it took a while to work out what it all meant?"
"Yeah. We were up most of the night, mostly with me getting mad and frustrated or upset, trying to figure out where I went wrong, what I could have done instead… and then thinking about everything I'd lost."
"Your life in Metropolis," she agreed, nodding.
"Not just that, Lois — everything!" he said in an intense tone, hoping that she'd understand. "Lois, when I moved to Metropolis first, I thought I'd found everything I'd ever wanted. A place to belong, somewhere where I didn't need to hide, to be inconspicuous, didn't have to move on every few months or whenever someone came too close to making the connection between Clark Kent and some strange happenings. I loved the Planet, being a reporter in the big city, working with everyone there… and having you as my friend. My best friend… the best friend I'd ever had, Lois," he added quietly. "*That's* what I'd lost, most of all."
"And I lost my best friend too, Clark," she whispered, and he saw tears running down her cheeks again.
"Oh, Lois, no!" he exclaimed, the sight of her tears tearing his heart in two. He reached for her again, pulling her into his arms, wrapping his arms tightly around her in order to cradle her against him. "Please, don't. I never meant to make you cry over me, never… I'm sorry, I'm so sorry!"
He continued to hold her, rocking her slightly in his arms, moving one hand up her back so that he could stroke her hair with his hand. "Lois, it's okay, I'm okay, you haven't lost me."
"But I have!" She pulled back a little so that she could gaze at him. "Clark, we've still lost each other. I know you're alive, but no-one else does, and you can't come back unless…"
"Unless I tell everyone that I'm Superman," he finished for her. "Lois, you do understand why I can't do that, don't you?" He needed her to understand that; no matter how much he loved her and wanted to be with her, he just couldn't put everyone he loved at risk by exposing his secret to the world.
She nodded quickly. "Of course I do, Clark… but it's still hard to accept that I've found you again and we still can't be together."
Be together… Clark heard the words and wondered with a sense of awe whether she meant them the way he thought. Did she *want* to be with him, as a couple? Or did she just mean together as partners, or as friends? But as he continued to gaze down at her, saw the way she was looking up at him, he thought he saw his answer.
"Lois… I am sorry I let you think I was really dead. I was thoughtless, selfish," he murmured, dipping his head to touch his forehead to hers.
She tightened her arms around him. "It's okay, Clark. I was hurt when I found out the truth, but I do understand now. And I forgive you. And I'm sorry I tried to run off earlier — I was just focused on how I felt instead of realising what it all meant for you. I completely forgot that just because I knew you were alive didn't mean that nothing had happened for you."
"Lois…" This was it, he thought. Okay, there was no future for them, but suddenly he wanted her to know how he felt. "Lois, I love you. I've loved you since the day we met…"
"Oh, Clark!" she exclaimed, and reached up with one hand to caress his face. "I love you too! And I never realised it until last night. I was so obsessed with Superman, which was crazy in a way since I really didn't know him at all… but last night, when I thought I'd lost you, when I was thinking about what my life would be like without you in it, all those empty days and weeks and years without you, I realised that I'd never known what love really was. I love *you,* Clark."
"Oh, Lois…!" He freed one arm and caressed her face tenderly. For more than a year, the thing he'd wanted most in the world was for Lois to say those words to him. Finally, she had… but it was too late. They couldn't be together, because Clark Kent didn't exist any more.
He gazed down at the face of the woman he loved, and who loved him, and felt nothing but despair.
Lois stood in Clark's embrace, her fingers tracing his features as his hand caressed her face in return; all she could think about was him and how she felt about him. She'd thought she'd been in love before — with Claude, for instance, and with Superman — but nothing could have prepared her for these feelings. She wanted him to sweep her off her feet and show her with every word, gesture and touch exactly how much he loved her. She wanted to be with him for the rest of her life. She wanted to wake up beside him every morning, to make love with him every night, to have him as the most important part of her life. She wanted him to cherish her, as she would him.
She wanted the excitement and the passion of being in love; and she also wanted the low-key, mundane, day-to-day elements of a relationship. She wanted him as her best friend as well as her lover, her work partner as well as her life partner. She wanted Clark's humour, and his caring, and his quiet protectiveness and gentle strength, as well as his passion and sensitivity and… and, yes, his Super abilities.
His passion… as she stared up at him, she realised something. He hadn't… well, she wasn't going to wait for him to take the initiative! She curved her hand around the back of his head, pulling him down to her, and at the same time reached up until their lips met.
She heard him groan and murmur her name deep in his throat, and suddenly his mouth was caressing hers, his lips parted, as his arm tightened further around her, bringing their bodies closer together. Nothing she'd experienced in the past compared to this kiss. It was explosive, passionate, sensual, an expression of their deep need for each other, a silent communication of everything they'd lost and found again.
Then his mouth gentled, his tongue stroked the corner of her lips caressingly, and his hand slid into her hair in a soft movement. This was a new experience too, the kiss speaking eloquently of his love for her.
Finally they broke apart, Lois breathing heavily as she stepped back and gazed up at Clark. He was staring down at her, bemused, a stunned expression in his eyes.
"Lois… oh, God, that was…! I didn't hurt you, did I?"
He seemed concerned; she instantly reassured him. "No! No, never — it was wonderful, wasn't it?"
His expression was transformed, and a beatific smile spread across his face. "Lois, it was the most wonderful sensation I've ever felt — even better than flying."
"Really?" Flying with Clark was a breathtaking experience, and Lois was hoping to persuade him to take her on a long, leisurely flight very soon. But she was delighted to discover that he rated her kisses even higher.
"Yeah." His voice was soft, and his eyes tender as he continued to gaze at her. Then his expression changed, and he shook his head. "It's no good, Lois. You know we can't… this can't go anywhere."
Of course it couldn't; the realisation hit her like a thunderbolt. In all the excitement of the last few minutes, she'd forgotten the implications of last night: Clark was supposed to be dead! They *couldn't* be together — he didn't have a life he could share with her any more. It was all so unfair; she'd finally found the man she wanted to be with for the rest of her life, and circumstances had conspired against them to make it impossible.
Now, everything Martha had tried to get her to understand made so much more sense. She could see how Clark had tried so hard to establish a normal life for himself in Metropolis, despite being different; how he'd tried to separate the two parts of himself so that he could help people as Superman while still being accepted as an ordinary man. He'd done that, very successfully. She was well aware of how happy Clark had been living and working in Metropolis — and winning his Kerth award recently had just added to that. But now… now, he'd lost everything. His job, his friends, his life — even his name since, whatever he did with himself from now on, he couldn't call himself Clark Kent if Clark Kent was supposed to be dead.
But she *couldn't* lose him — not now! Not when they'd only just discovered what they meant to each other. There was no way that she was going to let him go.
He had turned away, and was staring out across the ocean; his body was tense, his hands shoved deep into the pockets of his jeans, his shoulders hunched. Everything about his posture screamed defeat, despair. Her heart wrenched at his obvious pain, and for her own feelings of loss. But…
She touched his arm and he turned to her, giving her a wry smile. "Clark, what are you going to do?"
His mouth twisted. "I have no idea, Lois. I've been asking myself the same question since late last night. I *want* last night not to have happened — I want to be able to go back to Metropolis and be Clark Kent again. But I can't." He sighed heavily, his gaze drifting back over the ocean. "I can go back as Superman — I can become Superman full-time, but that's not what I want, Lois. I want my *life* back — I want to work as a reporter, spend time with friends… be with you… and I can't even be with you as Superman. It'd be too dangerous for you."
"You've moved on before, Clark," she pointed out softly.
"Yeah, I have. And it was okay at the time, but I was sick of moving on every few months. And anyway, if I do try to make a new start somewhere else, I can't use Clark Kent's resume — not any more."
"But you're pretty resourceful, Clark. You'd manage," she prompted.
He turned to look at her again, and he grimaced. "Sure I can. But…"
"But it's not what you want," she finished softly. "Clark… what's the most important thing for you? I mean, if there was one thing above all that you'd miss, that you want back?"
He didn't hesitate: this time he turned his entire body towards her, his hands reaching for her, holding her lightly by the waist. "You. Only you." His gaze rested on her, his eyes deeply sincere.
"Then we can do it, Clark," she told him firmly. "Wherever you go, I go. We can be together. I'll quit the Planet today, and we can make a new start wherever you want." She meant it, she realised in some surprise: no matter how hard she'd worked to get where she was in her career, no matter how single-minded she'd always been, she would give it all up for Clark, if it meant she could be with him. She had never felt this way about a man before; she'd always thought that her career was the most important thing in her life. But it was dawning on her that if he asked her to, she would follow Clark anywhere in the world, as long as they could be together. Suddenly, she realised that this was what true love meant. And she'd never felt this strongly about anyone before; watching him, she knew he felt the same way about her, and any doubts she might have had about their future together fell away.
He stared, disbelieving; after a moment, he ran his hand awkwardly through his hair. "Lois… I couldn't ask you to do that!" His voice was incredulous.
But she shook her head at him. "Clark, you didn't ask me. I offered — and I mean it. I want to be with you too — I can't lose you now!"
"Yeah, but…" He shook his head again. "Lois, you can't leave Metropolis! Your whole life's there — your friends, your family, your career — I mean, you realise you'd have to practically cut off all contact with them? No-one from there can know I'm alive, so…" He trailed off, then touched his forehead to hers again. "Lois… I love you for offering, but you can't do it. I can't let you."
"Clark." Her voice was firm, and he responded by giving her his full attention. "First, you don't let me do anything, okay?" He nodded, his wry smile showing her that at least the bleak mood was lifting a little.
"Second, my life in Metropolis isn't worth anything if you're not part of it. I realised that last night when I thought you were dead," she insisted softly. "I never want to go through that again, Clark — thinking I've lost you, without ever having had you."
He closed his eyes briefly. "Lois… oh, Lois, I never want to put you through that again!"
"Then we go away together," she argued. "Clark, leaving my family and friends behind wouldn't bother me at all — far less than losing you would! You know, you have more friends in Metropolis than I do. I'd miss Perry and Jimmy, but that'd be about it. You know I don't really get along with my parents, and Lucy and I just seem to have drifted apart."
He didn't reply immediately, and she could sense his reluctance. After a few moments, he pulled her close, resting his chin on her head. "Lois… Lois, I really appreciate that you're willing to do that for me…" She felt him sigh. "I don't… I can't let you."
She leaned back so that she could see his face. "Clark, *you* don't want it for yourself either, right?"
He grimaced again. "Lois, I just want what I can't have, but I'll get over it. I'll be Superman most of the time, I can find somewhere to hang out, I guess, and if you want I can come to see you sometimes — but you really should forget me and find someone else." His voice was heavy, his eyes sad.
For a moment, Lois felt a well of depression settle over her; Clark was determined not to let her abandon her life, her career, to be with him, and his own plan seemed to be to give up the 'human,' ordinary guy side of himself — the side he'd tried so hard to be accepted for. And she certainly didn't want to settle for occasional visits from Superman — which, if she understood Clark, would be few and far between: he wouldn't want to put her at risk, which would happen if she was known to be Superman's girlfriend, and his comment about her finding someone else made it clear that he would ultimately distance himself from her.
No, that was unthinkable! She loved him too much to lose him like this, to see him throw away what they could have had.
There had to be a way around this, to allow them to be together — to allow Clark to return. She had to find a way for Clark Kent to come back to life: that was the only solution.
She eased herself out of his arms and began to pace about the beach; she always did her best thinking when pacing. Clark was eyeing her curiously, but he made no attempt to ask what she was up to; he simply followed her with his gaze.
There had to be a way… In her mind, she re-lived those dreadful seconds which had been all it had taken to — as she'd believed — end Clark's life. Dillinger's appearance, Clark's positioning of himself protectively in front of her, the sudden pulling of a gun, the harsh retort as it had fired, Clark staggering backwards, falling…
No blood. He'd pointed it out himself. There had been no blood…
She ran back to him, excited, barely coherent. "Clark… Clark, we can do this! It's okay, you're okay! There wasn't any blood…!"
He caught her arms, forcing her to stop, to listen to him. "Lois — I have no idea what you're talking about!"
She inhaled several times, calming herself. "Do you still have the suit you were wearing last night?"
He nodded. "Yeah, it's in my room at the farm."
She threw her arms around his neck. "Take me there! Now!"
Flying faster this time, Clark flew them back to Smallville. He had no idea what Lois was talking about, but from her behaviour it seemed — incredible as that sounded — as if she thought there was a way that he could 'resurrect' himself, or maybe present a plausible explanation of why he wasn't dead. He hadn't a clue how she intended to do it — but he had long ago learned to respect Lois for her intelligence and brilliance.
And if there was a way… he loved her so much, he wanted nothing more than for them to be together. If they could be together as friends and partners, as they'd always been, but also as *romantic* partners, he would be the happiest man in the universe. So he would trust her in this.
This time, he flew them in through the window of his old bedroom; lowering her to the floor and spinning back to his Clark clothes, he raised an eyebrow at her. "So… you wanted the suit, yeah?"
She nodded. "Can you put it on? The shirt and jacket, anyway." As he crossed to the wardrobe where he'd thrown it the night before, she then hesitated, blushing. "Should I leave…?"
That made him smile. Not long ago they'd been pressed tightly against each other; he'd felt every muscle and bone and curve of her body, and he knew she'd been able to feel his body in the same way. And now she was shy of him taking off his T-shirt in front of her? "It's okay, Lois — you know I can change in under a second anyway."
He matched the deed to the words, turning away and then turning back dressed in the shirt, the tie and the now-ragged jacket. Lois came over to him, her gaze focused on the shredded lapel of his jacket; she ran her fingers over the tears, then slipped her hand underneath. His breath caught in his throat as he felt the heat of her fingers through the thin fabric of his shirt, but she seemed to be focused on something else and didn't notice.
Finally she tilted her head to gaze up at him; her eyes were shining.
"Clark, everything's okay! You're not dead!"
"Huh?" He stared at her. "You knew that!"
"No, I mean *Clark's* not dead!" she exclaimed excitedly. "There was no blood!"
He stared at her, confused. "Lois… maybe I'm just being very slow on the uptake here, but… what are you talking about?"
"Clark!" She shook his arm. "There was no blood! That means the bullet didn't penetrate you!"
Again, he stared at her. "But, Lois, you know that! I told you that earlier, just before you figured out I'm Superman."
"Yeah, but Clark, you don't understand!" she almost shouted at him. "The bullet didn't penetrate *Clark*!"
Finally, he began to see where she was leading. "You mean… we could say that there was something in my pocket which stopped it…? And I was knocked off my feet with the force, and…" He paused, frowning. "We gotta explain the time-gap — why didn't I show up hours ago?"
She began to pace again, muttering to herself. Then she swung on her heel to face him. "I have it! You were knocked off your feet, yeah — well, you hit your head and were stunned, then they dragged you off — you said they dumped you, well, maybe you hit your head again and were knocked out?"
"That'd work," Clark agreed slowly, beginning to see how Lois's plan really could bring him back to life. "Yeah… they dumped me somewhere on the outskirts of town, a pretty deserted place, so I could've lain there all night. And then…"
"And then woken up this morning with a splitting headache and no knowledge of what had happened, maybe even lost your memory," Lois suggested.
Clark gave her a quick, dry smile. "I'm not sure how well amnesia'd go down a second time, but we could plead disorientation."
"Well, if it was Superman who found you, that'd be even better," Lois suggested; once again, he had to admire her resourcefulness. Who would doubt Superman's explanation? This was looking better all the time.
So what could have stopped the bullet? He thought for a moment, then came up with the perfect solution. In the lower pocket of his jacket he found his cellphone. With a quick grin in Lois's direction, he dropped it on the bed and shot over to the nightstand. Using a handkerchief, he picked up a small metal object which he'd put there the previous night when he'd taken off the suit.
"What's that?" she asked him curiously.
He grinned. "The bullet."
Her sharp intake of breath was audible. "The one Dillinger shot you with?"
"The same." He smiled again. "Watch this!" He put the bullet, still with the handkerchief to prevent it from picking up fingerprints, between his lips, looked downwards and blew sharply. As he'd intended, it flew at speed straight from his lips to the cellphone, embedding itself deeply in the keypad. He picked up the phone and showed it to Lois; her jaw dropped.
"Wow…!" Recovering quickly, she added, "Told you it'd work! You put that in your pocket now — I just hope the bullet's in line with the holes in your jacket."
He raised an eyebrow in her direction, unable to resist teasing her. "Lois — this is Superman you're talking to, remember? Of course it'll match up!"
She grinned at him, unable to hide her own excitement. "So… what now?"
Crossing to her side, he wrapped his arms loosely around her. "First, I thank you for saving my life…" As he allowed his voice to trail off, his lips were already finding their way to her mouth, nibbling gently at the corner of her lips in a prelude to a deeper, more satisfying kiss.
A long moment later, he raised his head. "Then we go downstairs and tell Mom and Dad everything, and then Superman better fly you back to Metropolis. And then — I guess Superman better find Clark and drop him off at the Planet or the precinct. Not a hospital," he added thoughtfully. "You know I can't risk any kind of medical investigation."
"You'd better be prepared for people falling over in shock," she warned him. "Your obit's on the front page of today's Planet."
He grimaced, realising at Lois's reminder that there were others who would have been upset at his supposed death. Still, they would discover the truth soon enough — or at least, that part of the truth it was safe for him to disclose.
And he and Lois could be together.
He touched her arm lightly. "Once all the fuss has died down… will you go out with me? On a date?"
Her beautiful face lit up with a delighted smile. "I hope you don't just mean one date, Kent."
"Not unless you want it to be our wedding date," he quipped back, but half-holding his breath in case his remark frightened her off. He knew she was skittish about relationships…
"You asking?" Her tone was teasing, but he could see the tension in her expression, could sense her quickened heart-rate.
Lightly, but with all his love for her showing in the heat of his gaze, he murmured, "You answering?"
Quietly, so softly he almost didn't hear her, she whispered, "Maybe."
He closed his eyes briefly and gathered her close to him again. "Maybe's good enough for now."
In time, he thought, he could turn that maybe into a yes; she loved him, and that was more than enough to build on. She knew his secret, and loved him for himself, wasn't put off by his alien origins. And she had loved him enough to give up her own life for him; if he hadn't already been convinced of her feelings for him, that would have shown him the depth of her love. As for him… he loved her more with every passing second, and he intended to spend the rest of his life showing her how much.
Smiling then, he turned her towards the bedroom door. "Come on, honey, it's time to go home."