By Wendy Richards <email@example.com> & Kaethel <Kaethel@wanadoo.fr>
Submitted: May 2003
Summary: Clark is living through his worst nightmare, but is the harsh reality he needs to face the complete truth? Or are tricky circumstances playing unashamedly with his feelings?
This is yet another birthday story from the infamous team <g>, this time dedicated to Pam Jernigan. :) Those of you who know of Pam's fanfic tastes might be surprised with the beginning of the story we wrote for her, but rest assured that we're not the kind to break our toys and not fix them before we're through, especially in a birthday story for Pam. :) See, we're not *that* evil. <g> In fact, we could easily stretch it into claiming complete innocence… could we not? <bg>
A special mention goes to the brand new Lois & Clark Fanfic Message Boards (http://www.lcficmbs.com), because our posting of this story coincided with their first opening. We'd like to express our appreciation to all the readers who gave us comments there.
Kaethel and Wendy would also like to thank our Archive editor, Karen, for her very helpful GEing. :)
Wendy and Kaethel :)
Clark sat up in bed, finally giving up any pretence of sleeping. He wasn't sure why he'd even bothered to go to bed tonight. Either he lay awake for hours on end, going over and over the scenarios in his head, wondering what he could have done differently, telling himself that he should have done *something*. Or he slept, but was plagued by nightmares in which he saw the awful events, which he had only been able to imagine, happen over and over again.
He threw back the covers and got out of bed, padding over to the window and gazing out into the dark night. If only he had his powers, he could be out there, soaring through the sky and trying to bury his bitter memories for at least a little while.
But his powers had gone, along with the one other thing that mattered in his life.
Lois was dead.
She was dead because he had failed to save her.
He had always dreaded the time when this would happen, when he would arrive one second too late. He had never really let his imagination wander down that path; somehow, even if he had feared it, chance had always seemed to be on Lois's side to keep her from fatal danger.
Not this time.
It was only after he'd got home from work yesterday that he'd dropped the professional facade and collapsed onto his couch. He hadn't cried; his throat was still tied in knots, but tears wouldn't come. Crying would be equivalent to accepting the finality of Lois's death, and he wasn't ready to do that. He would never be ready to do that.
He didn't remember much of the day after he'd learned the news. He had gone through the motions, responding to co- workers who sympathised and wanted to know if he was 'okay'. How could anyone expect him to be 'okay'?
How could you be 'okay' when the reason why you breathed was gone?
He swung his legs to the side of the bed and got to his feet. Immobility pushed him to an edge, let him wobble closer to sorrow he didn't want to give into.
He padded barefoot to the balcony and stood there, listening to the muffled sounds of the city at night. At this time last night, Lois had still been alive. Somewhere out there, enjoying what she liked the most in life: undercover investigations.
He had no idea what she had found down there on the South Side; what had brought her there in the middle of the night when she should by rights have been fast asleep in her own bed. Her attitude had become more and more subdued since the Planet had re-opened, and he couldn't blame her; the looks she still got from their co-workers hadn't encouraged her return to normality after her almost-wedding.
He hadn't done much to make her feel at ease either. Over the past few days, her mood swings and inexplicable behaviour had made him doubt her sanity. He wasn't fool enough to hope that Lois hadn't noticed. She had known he didn't fully support her this time; the sour look she had thrown at him before she was dragged to Dr Carlin's office was enough of a clue that she resented him deeply for encouraging her to talk with that shrink. Lois had never cared for psychology; spending over an hour with the Planet's new recruit and confessing the darkest secrets of her life could only leave her embarrassed and frustrated, even if she had said it had made her feel slightly better.
That he knew the kind of secrets she had shared with Dr Carlin wasn't helping either, Clark assumed. Their relationship had regressed back to the way it was during the first few weeks of their partnership, though. The previous day, she hadn't turned to him for whatever hunch had sent her to a certain death. And, he thought with a sigh, he only had himself to blame.
If he had taken the scary step and mended the bridges broken by her engagement to Luthor, she might have found it easier to spend time with him and trust him as her partner, if not as her friend.
He shook his head. Brooding over what he hadn't done was useless. It was too late to look back and wonder what difference he could have made. And yet… If he had been with her last night, she wouldn't have been stabbed by God knew who.
He needed to fly. Tonight more than ever, he needed to soar up there above the clouds and be alone in that place where time would feed him blissful lies. If he got there, Lois's death would be forgotten, if only for a moment. He could still believe.
He snorted bitterly. It was probably for the best that his powers hadn't returned; the situation couldn't be reversed, and locking himself in lies would only make the truth hit him harder.
Lois was dead.
And he had failed to save her.
Clark stepped out of the elevator into the newsroom, dreading what he knew he would see. Lois's empty desk, her belongings already packed up and put into storage until her family came to pick them up. Her favourite mug had been returned to the coffee area, and once her hard drive had been gone through for anything related to current investigations, her computer would be reassigned. And that was one of his tasks for the day: to copy to his own PC anything related to their ongoing work.
*His* ongoing work.
He no longer had a partner. The beautiful, vivacious woman who'd sat just across from him for over a year would never sit there again.
Copies of that morning's edition of the Planet lay scattered around the newsroom; although Clark had avoided glancing at newsstands on his way into work that morning, some masochistic impulse now led him to pick a copy up and look at it.
Lois's face — smiling, looking proud and happy as she had accepted her last Kerth award — looked out at him from the front page. It was just under the headline AWARD-WINNING PLANET REPORTER MURDERED.
Clark skimmed the report, which he hadn't seen before; Perry had assigned the story to Eduardo and a couple of others, ruling that Clark was too personally involved to write the story. Clark hadn't argued; while part of him had dearly wanted to perform that last act for his beloved partner and friend, another part of him had known that he wouldn't have been able to cope with the agony.
They'd first heard that something had happened in the late morning yesterday. A call had come into Perry's office from a police officer in a precinct down on the South Side, someone who had met Lois once or twice and had recognised the victim of yet another murder as a Daily Planet reporter.
Lois had been stabbed; twice, in the chest, and then had suffered head injuries as she fell. It would need an autopsy to determine which had actually killed her. Whoever was responsible for her murder had taken her purse. Clark shook his head yet again at the senselessness of it all. A purse, with perhaps a hundred dollars at most and a couple of credit cards, in exchange for a life.
Perry had called Clark into his office to break the news, his manner grim. The editor had seemed to age ten years in as many minutes, Clark had thought before his brain had managed to process what he was being told. And then he hadn't been capable of any thought at all.
<Lois… dead. *Lois is dead*. She can't be… Not Lois… Not dead…>
He'd sunk into the chair he'd refused only a few minutes earlier. Suddenly his mind had been full of questions: how? where? why? what happened?
Why hadn't someone saved her?
Why hadn't *he* saved her?
Why had Superman had to be out of commission right then?
If only he hadn't gone near that surgeon's office where the break-in had been reported; if only he'd flown away at warp-speed as soon as he'd felt the tell-tale twinges of Kryptonite. But he hadn't. He'd decided that he could handle it; that a few seconds of exposure wouldn't hurt him too much and he'd be able to deal with the perpetrators before it did him any real harm.
He'd been stupidly over-confident. And he'd lost his powers as a result. And Lois was dead because he hadn't regained them soon enough for him to know she was in trouble.
He'd cursed himself yesterday. Cursed Superman and everything the hero had stood for. What use was Superman when he couldn't even save the woman Clark had loved?
His powers were now gradually returning of course, and he hated them for not disappearing permanently. He didn't want to cope with abilities that had let him down when Lois needed him most. If not for Superman, he wouldn't have been vulnerable to Kryptonite. Maybe he would have spent more time with Lois. Maybe, in fact, she would not have developed a crush on someone inaccessible, and looked at him instead.
He tightened his fists. World wasn't made of maybes, and moping around on what could have been was useless. It wouldn't bring Lois back.
Nothing would ever bring her back.
Perry had been asked to go down to the morgue to identify her. Clark had insisted on going too. If he hadn't been able to save Lois, then at least he could do this much for her: ensure that someone who loved her was witness to the injury that had been done to her. Even though seeing her beautiful face battered and bruised, seeing the lifeless stare from her dulled eyes, almost tore him apart.
He had steeled himself for the sight that would greet him when the forensic officer removed the white sheet shielding her body from view, but nothing could have prepared him to… that. His job as Superman had made him face death too many times; it was never easy to accept the finality of a life he hadn't been able to save.
But this time couldn't be filed to the back of his mind like his previous visits to the morgue. This time, it hadn't been an anonymous face that had greeted him. Her skin had been paler than he had imagined. Someone had tied her hair back into an unfamiliar ponytail — probably to facilitate the forensic work.
Clark had shied away from the unbearable image of her inanimate body being prodded and poked for the sake of an investigation that wouldn't bring her back.
He didn't know how long he had stood in front of the cart carrying her lifeless body. It could have been a minute or an hour; it was only when he had felt the supportive squeeze of Perry's hand on his shoulder that he had got a hold on his surroundings again.
Staring down at his hand, he had realised then that he had been about to touch her face. His arm had fallen back to his side, as if he had been burnt. When Perry had stirred him to the door, he hadn't resisted. He'd had no reason to stay in the chilling atmosphere of this room any longer. There was no doubt. The body in the morgue had been Lois.
He and Perry had confirmed it, and then left. And, back at the Planet, Perry had had the awful job of calling Lois's parents to break the news to them.
Now, today, Clark had to begin the task of carrying on his life without Lois. And, so far, he was coming to the conclusion that it was going to be impossible.
It was late when Clark returned to his apartment that evening. Although he'd barely been able to do any work that day, beyond calling Henderson's staff every hour or so to find out if there was any progress in identifying Lois's murderer, he just hadn't wanted to go home to his empty apartment, where he'd spend yet more hours alone mourning his partner and best friend. And the only woman he'd ever love.
He was going to have another sleepless night, he knew. He should probably anticipate it and just head straight out as Superman; at least then he'd be able to do some good somewhere. Two days without a patrol was already longer than he felt comfortable with, and even if his hatred of the powers that had failed him hadn't disappeared, he knew that confronting his self-disgust would help him, if just to prove to himself that being Superman was useful.
Two minutes later, he was soaring through the sky again, but he couldn't manage to focus on looking out for any crime or emergency situations which might need his attention. Instead, he found himself hovering over Suicide Slum, over that same alley where her life had been callously snuffed out.
Where his life had ceased to have any meaning.
He realised after a few minutes that he was actually waiting to see if anyone would show themselves; if by some possibility Lois's murderer might return to the scene of the crime. It wasn't likely, of course, but still…
Clark forced himself to leave, flying back across the city without looking where he was going. When he finally made himself focus on his surroundings again, he realised that he was above Carter Avenue.
Specifically, he was above Lois's apartment building.
How many nights had he hovered above this exact spot, hoping for a sight of her? Some nights, he'd been trying to persuade himself that he wasn't going to visit her, but unable to resist all the same. She'd always welcomed him in his Superman guise — and more often recently, she'd welcomed him nearly as warmly as Clark.
She would never welcome him ever again. She was gone.
Slowly, he drifted downwards to her apartment window. He had no idea what he would find; for all he knew, her parents could already have started to clear out her belongings. But the living-room looked just the same as ever: the two love-seats opposite each other, her fish- tank, the large dresser against the back wall, the eating area, the door to her bedroom…
… from which someone was just emerging.
Clark stared. It was a female figure, young and dark- haired. For an instant, his heart skipped a beat; then he made himself calm. It was Lucy, of course; it had to be. Lois's sister — hadn't Lois mentioned a week or so ago that Lucy had been due to visit again? He could only imagine how Lucy was feeling at her sister's death.
He should probably talk to her. If she was alone, maybe she needed comforting…
But Superman had never talked to Lucy. She'd only met Clark Kent. And he'd be intruding — she had her parents for comfort, anyway.
He was about to turn and fly off when the woman turned, giving him a full-on view of her.
It wasn't Lucy.
It was… it looked like…
Faster than he'd ever flown in his life, Clark sped to the side of the building and landed on the sill of her window.
It was locked.
Lois had always left it open in case he flew by for a visit, but right now it was *locked*. Of course it was locked. It had no reason to be open any more, now that Lois was gone.
As fast as it had rushed, hope disappeared again. He had dreamt the vision of her slim figure emerging from the bedroom. He had imagined the sight of her pale skin as she turned her lost gaze upwards, as if sensing his presence above the roof.
Pale. She had looked almost as pale as on the cart at the morgue… Pale as a…
Oh god, it couldn't be!
He shook himself out of the ridiculous thought pushing its way into his mind. He had never believed in ghosts and wouldn't change his mind now. And yet… the woman he had seen a second ago was the Lois he had known and loved, the same one who was lying on a metal cart among other nameless bodies in a cold room of the morgue.
He had *seen* her body. He had done everything in his power to forget, but he had seen it anyway.
His hand inched to the window, but something held him back from knocking. The inside of her apartment was dark; had the lights been on when he had hovered over the building? No, he clearly remembered that he hadn't expected anyone to step into the living-room, and especially not Lois. It had been a figment of his imagination, he decided. Lois wasn't in her apartment, because…
Because she could not be.
Because she was dead.
For the first time since he had been told the dreadful news, Clark was facing reality in a rational way. The pain that stabbed his heart was more bearable than the hope for something that could not be.
Still. Despite the darkness inside her apartment, despite the apparent quietness, he focused his senses into a mad search for her. He knew he was fumbling in the dark; ever since he had learnt that she was dead, he had caught himself listening for her heartbeat. And again, he was reaching for a physical link that was broken, for a sound that had always managed to soothe him for the past year.
He was doomed to disappointment, he reasoned even as he closed his eyes and let his hearing scan the area. And once he confirmed that Lois wasn't here and alive, he would leave. He couldn't trust himself to use his X-ray vision a second time; his imagination was too active for him to rely on it.
There were all kinds of noises coming from the street below and the apartments around: a car driving by and another one honking angrily at an intersection; a television blaring the idiocies of a game; a shower running upstairs; the heartbeats of five thousand people living in the neighbourhood; the loud creak of a window being opened…
A very loud creak.
As if it was happening close, very close to him.
He opened his eyes.
Lois had known it was a very bad idea to come back so soon. She should have stayed put where she was for a few more days; hadn't her dad said she could use the cabin in remotest Colorado for as long as she wanted? And remote it was! She wondered what could still push her father to travel "go spend a few relaxing days" in Japan when he had that little hideaway hidden in the middle of the Rocky Mountains. But then, Sam Lane had never been above a contradiction or two.
She had to face the truth, though. Going there had seemed like a good idea at the time, but gazing at the scenery was only fun for a few minutes. No later than half an hour after her arrival at the cabin, she had become restless and increasingly frustrated at the absence of any sign of civilisation.
But she'd held on for three whole days before she drove back to the nearest airport and flew back home. That was some feat, wasn't it? Plus, her father had been right that quietness was best when you needed to think some things over. Of course, she had moped around more than anything, but at least she had reached a few decisions where her life was concerned.
And one of them was to talk to the man who was now standi… well, *hovering* in front of her.
What was Superman doing in front of her bedroom window, anyway? Moreover, what was Superman doing in front of her bedroom window and looking as pale as if he had just seen a ghost?
She gestured for him to come in, and frowned when he didn't immediately react. Could his attitude be related to the last time they had talked? She squirmed uncomfortably as the memory of her shameless declaration to him came back to her.
His incredulous whisper put her concerns to the back of her mind.
"Lois, is that really you?"
"I would hope so," she retorted, annoyed. "I live here, remember?"
It seemed to snap him out of his torpor. Less than a second later, a pair of strong arms was pulling her into a fierce embrace, and the man holding her cradled her head against his neck while whispering incoherent sounds into her ear.
She remained passive for a moment, then pulled away, confusion written on her face. She had planned to find a way to get Superman to stop avoiding her. She had decided she would tell him she was sorry, to ask him to forget the humiliation she had brought on herself by throwing herself at him the way she had. She had expected him to nod politely and leave as soon as she was done with her apology.
Instead, she had found him here before she even figured out a way to call him, and he had looked less than reluctant to be close to her.
"You're alive! Oh, Lois, you're alive!"
Alive? Of course she was alive! What was he talking about?
"Superman?" She took another step away from him, searching his expression for some sort of explanation of what was going on. Was he okay? She knew that he was invulnerable, but… well, was it possible that he'd flown too close to the sun or something? "What's going on? Of course I'm alive!"
He shook his head, looking very confused. Lois wondered if she should ask him to sit down — or maybe lie down. Perhaps he could use a glass of water? Maybe she could call a… but wait — did Superman even have a doctor?
"Lois… I don't know what's going on here," Superman said, sounding even more confused. "But you were killed! Two nights ago… yeah, Tuesday night. You were stabbed, over in the South Side!"
Tuesday… and it was now Thursday night, Lois thought, counting. Did that mean that Superman had been delusional for two days? Or… or was there something else going on?
A memory was nagging at her brain… a woman on TV everyone had said was her…
"Superman, I'm not dead," she repeated firmly, now starting to take him seriously. "I'm here. I've been away for a few days, though — I left on Monday evening. I did send Perry a note…"
Superman shook his head. "I'm not sure… no-one said anything about a note. I… uh, Clark didn't know you'd gone away…"
Clark! Her partner — her best friend! — did he think she was dead, too? And how come no-one had checked with Lucy?
"It's not important now. But I gave Lucy a letter to deliver to Perry. I just… well, I just needed to get away for a few days." Lois searched the living-area of her apartment with her gaze, wondering just where Lucy was. "Didn't anyone call my folks? Or Lucy? They'd have told you I was in Colorado…"
"Your mom didn't know," Superman said, sounding dazed. "She's… Clark said she's very upset. I think she's been trying to get hold of your father. I don't know where Lucy is."
But Lois had noticed something. Hurrying into the kitchen, she seized an envelope and held it aloft. "Typical! My flaky sister never even delivered it!" Some new writing on the envelope caught her attention, and she read it aloud.
"Lois — Adam called and invited me to go camping with him. Be back in a week. Lucy."
The letter had never been delivered. And, as a result, just about everyone Lois knew thought that she was dead. Perry. Jimmy. The Planet staff. Her mother.
And Clark. Her best friend, the man she'd leaned on more than anyone else over the past weeks, and the man she knew cared about her, perhaps more than anyone else in the world. *He* thought she was dead.
"Well, that explains that, then," Superman said dryly. "Lois, I can't tell you how glad I am that you're okay!"
"Thanks, Superman," Lois said, meaning it. Now that she knew he wasn't delusional, it was very touching to think that the Man of Steel had been so upset at her supposed death.
But that wasn't the most important thing right now. Something else mattered more…
"Superman, I really do want to figure out what happened here, and just who it is who's dead. And I'd appreciate your help, if you can. But right now there's something else I need to do. Would you mind flying me somewhere?"
She thought that Superman looked taken aback at her change of subject. "Uh… sure. Where do you want to go?"
"Clark's apartment, Superman. Or wherever he is. I need to find him. I have to talk to him — now, Superman, please!"
Clark! She wanted to talk to Clark! Right when "Clark" wasn't available. He debated the possibility of dropping her off at his apartment and zipping inside through the window to pretend he had been home all along, but he was reluctant to do that.
For the past few days, he had lived with the certainty that Lois was gone forever. And part of him had regretted the many things that had kept him from being completely honest with her. He had caught himself daydreaming about what would have happened if he hadn't turned her down so harshly as Superman.
Would she have gone through the relationship she claimed to want? Or would she have quickly realised that her fantasy was best left as nothing more than an unattainable wish, an ideal that couldn't be? Did it matter at all, when she was dead?
Except Lois wasn't dead any more. She had never been dead in the first place. And so he was offered a second chance to make things right. He didn't want to waste any more time, but was his pining for a romantic relationship with her worth the risk of always wondering if she loved him for who he truly was?
He looked at the woman gazing up at him with pleading eyes. She seemed frantic to see Clark, as if Superman suddenly didn't matter to her. She sounded panicked, in fact. How could he still not trust her to be honest about her feelings with him? If he told her, then she would be straight in her answer. She wouldn't pretend to care for Clark just because he was occasionally Superman. Not the Lois he knew and loved.
"Please, Superman. I know we haven't been on very friendly terms over the past few weeks, but that isn't about me. It's about Clark. He still thinks I'm dead, and I can't let him think… oh god, just imagining how I would feel if I thought he was dead makes me sick inside. I need to see him. I need to tell him I'm alive and safe!"
If he had still hesitated, the intensity of her words would have finished to convince him. She deserved to know. She *needed* to know. And so he would tell her everything. He wouldn't pass the second chance he was being given.
He reached for her hand and led her to the living-room, then motioned for her to sit. She complied, but he could see her eagerness hadn't disappeared. She looked rather reluctant to talk to him, in fact.
"Look, Lois, I know that you and I have… well, okay, we've handled things badly."
She sighed and lowered her head. "I know I have. And I apologise for what I said that night."
"I apologise, too. I reacted pretty badly to what you said, and I blew up at you instead of staying calm about it. I'm sorry."
"I suppose you had your reasons."
He nodded, then sat beside her. He took her hand in his again. "I did. Lois, there is a very good reason why I couldn't believe what you told me that night."
He could see that her eyes were rapidly filling with tears, and he ached to wrap his arms around her. He bravely resisted the urge. "I couldn't believe you could love me without my powers, because you had made it clear that very afternoon that you weren't romantically interested in the ordinary man that I am."
"I… *what*?" Lois demanded.
"Lois," Clark said quietly. "You're the most intelligent person I know. Think about it."
She was silent for several moments. Then she glanced up at him again, and he could still see the shimmer of the tears she seemed determined not to shed. "Superman, are you saying… what I think…?"
"Lois, you know what I'm saying," he told her softly. "I know you can figure it out."
Again, she was silent as she gazed down at the hand still held in his loose hold. Then she raised her head again. Now her tone was tentative. "Clark…?"
"Yes, it's me, Lois. I'm Clark."
Lois stared at the man dressed in Superman's suit, her mind in turmoil. He was *Clark*? Superman had been Clark all along?
It had been Superman she'd said she didn't love? And Clark who'd rejected her? She'd compared Superman unfavourably to himself?
Clark hadn't been attracted to her when the pheromone had struck everyone, and yet Superman had been affected enough to kiss her passionately in the middle of the airfield?
Though, she remembered, Superman had been exposed to a 100% solution then, which explained his reaction… and, of course, Clark's lack of reaction! Hugely relieved, Lois couldn't resist exclaiming, "So that explains it!"
"Explains what?" her partner's puzzled voice asked.
"Why you — Clark you — weren't attracted to me! The formula didn't affect you until it was at 100%!"
"Ah." Now Clark sounded embarrassed. "Well… uh… the truth is…"
"Yes?" she demanded.
"Uh… well… Lois, I've always been attracted to you," he said, and the words sounded like a confession. "I've been hiding it ever since you told me not to fall for you — and then you fell for Superman, so I knew that I had no chance. And… well, it just kind of felt good to be the one not responding to you for once." He sighed. "I guess that sounds kind of pathetic. But anyway, I couldn't have done what you wanted back then."
That didn't make sense. "Why not?"
"Think about it, Lois," Clark said quietly. "You were under the influence of a drug. How would you have felt the day after if I'd taken advantage of you when I knew you weren't in your right mind?"
He was right. And once more Lois was brought to the realisation of what a thoroughly decent guy her partner and best friend was. She had a very low opinion of men in general, she knew, but Clark had never fulfilled her expectations in that regard. He was kind, considerate, respectful of her wishes and very protective. He never took advantage of her, and she knew that he never would.
He was about as far from men like Claude and Lex Luthor as it was possible to get.
He was a super man… but not only when he was dressed in a blue and red suit.
"Clark…" she began hesitantly.
"You wouldn't take advantage of me then because I wasn't in my right mind," she reminded him.
"No — I couldn't."
"How about now?"
He frowned at her, puzzled. "How about now what?"
"I'm definitely in my right mind now. How about taking advantage of me?"
He blinked several times, and for a dreadful moment she thought he hadn't heard what she had said. Then he spoke. "Taking advantage of… me?"
His fingers were still curled around hers, and she squeezed his hand. "Of *me*, actually. But it can work both ways. That is… if you're okay with it."
*If* he was okay with it? Didn't she know he had dreamt of this moment since he had first met her? Didn't she know he had longed for her to say those words? And she was asking if he was okay with… taking advantage of her?
She was squeezing his hand, he noticed absently. And she'd leaned an inch towards him, though it might not have been noticeable if he hadn't focused his entire concentration on her over the past few seconds.
Still, he hesitated. He had pined for this moment for so long that fear was creeping up his spine. He knew they were reaching a peak in their relationship, and once they were on the other side, there would be no coming back. Not that there was a possibility of turning his heels right now, after he had confessed his biggest secret to her.
Lois knew he was Superman. And she wasn't angry. And she wanted him to take advantage of her.
He closed the distance between them.
The first touch of his lips on hers was shy, as if they were kissing for the first time. And in a way, they were, he realised as he moved his hand to her waist and pulled her closer. She responded eagerly to the caress of his lips, and her arms slid around his neck. He couldn't get enough of the intoxicating taste of her mouth, of the heavenly feeling of her fingers threading in his hair, of the realisation that Lois Lane, the woman he had secretly loved for over a year, was kissing him as passionately as he was kissing her.
He pulled away reluctantly, but when she moaned her protest, he was unable not to briefly claim her lips in a shorter kiss. Her sigh echoed his when he finally let her go.
"We need to talk," he said determinedly, though he knew he was as much trying to convince himself as her.
"It's never been easy to talk when you're wearing…" — she made a vague gesture towards his outfit — "…that."
"Oh." He rose from the couch and gave her a small smile before he started to spin. He knew this would elicit a gasp and possibly a 'wow' from her; honesty forced him to admit that he was rather proud of this kind of feat.
When he slowed down finally stopped twirling on his heels to stand before her, her eyebrows were raised, but she didn't seem to adopt the awestruck reaction he had expected.
It was a good sign, he decided. The less impressed she was with his abilities, the better chance there was that she could truly love Clark.
"And you think it's any easier now that you've done this?" she commented dryly. "Bet it's going to come in handy when you're debating on what you're going to wear on our first date."
"Our first date?"
"You didn't think you could get away with that kiss and stop right there, did you?"
He couldn't help it. He grinned wickedly at her. "I was sort of hoping you would ask."
"Just tell me when and where, farmboy, and give me enough time to figure out what outfit I want to wear. I can't spin-change like *some* people I know."
"It's a deal. First, though, I want to know who the person was I saw at the morgue, since it obviously wasn't you."
She frowned. "What did you see?"
"You!! I saw you. You were lying there, and they asked me to confirm it was you," he said, and his voice was heavy now, filled with the remembered pain of those endless minutes in the morgue. "Well, in fact Perry didn't want me to come along," he added. "But I needed to. I needed to see you one last time. I suppose I also needed to see you to face what my heart stubbornly refused to accept."
She snuggled up to him, and he wrapped his arms around her. The feel of her slender body pressed close to his soothed the fears that threatened to come back and haunt him. She was alive. She wasn't lying cold and lifeless in that freezing morgue. She hadn't been taken from him for ever.
She was alive. And she wanted to be his.
"I'm here, sweetheart," she whispered against the side of his neck. "And I'm not going anywhere. Not even to get myself stabbed," she added with a chuckle.
"Lois! Please, don't joke around with this," he said, unable to help himself. "You flirt with death on a weekly basis. We can safely assume that if it wasn't for Superman's invulnerability, I would have developed an ulcer long ago. And," he added slowly, not wanting to bring it up again, but knowing that she had to understand how he felt, "I *never* want to go through anything like these past few days ever again, Lois — I just couldn't bear it."
She stroked the side of his face. "I promise to be more careful in the future."
Comfortable silence settled between them for a few seconds, then Clark spoke again. "You don't mean that, do you?"
She raised her head to meet his gaze, and he saw the twinkle of teasing in her eyes. "Not one bit. But I thought it might make you feel better if I pretend I will."
Clark laughed. "Okay. I guess that's as good as I'm going to get from you!"
"Probably." She grinned at him.
Clark shook his head. "I love you, Lois Lane," he said, amusement and admiration in his tone.
Lois simply gazed at him for a long moment, and he basked in the obvious joy in her expression. Then she gave him a smile full of promise. "And I love you, Clark Kent. I never thought I'd say that to a man ever again… but I can't help myself."
"I'll never stop loving you. And that's a promise," Clark finished fiercely.
Clark squeezed Lois's hand as the morgue attendant pulled back the sheet. She was glad of the comfort of his touch as she gazed down at the body… which could have been her body.
The dead woman looked exactly like her. The hairstyle, the shape of her face, the colour of her eyes and the curve of her jaw… it was like looking in a mirror.
"You don't have a twin, do you?" the attendant asked.
"No, she doesn't," Clark said, in a tone which made it clear that the subject wasn't to be pursued. "Do you mind giving Ms Lane and me a few minutes alone here?"
The attendant shrugged. "Sure. I'll be just outside."
"Anything you noticed?" Clark asked her as soon as the man left.
She shook her head. "She just looks like… me."
Clark pulled down his glasses slightly; Lois did a slight mental adjustment and realised that he was using his vision powers. Then he turned sharply to face her.
"She's had plastic surgery! I don't know why the ME here didn't see it — the scars are all there, just above the hairline. That's not her natural hair-colour either, though the dye-job is recently done. Lois, she had herself surgically altered to look like you!"
"Or someone paid her to have it done," Lois said thoughtfully.
"What are you thinking, Lois?"
"Remember those weird goings-on a couple of days ago? You know, people claiming that I'd done things I knew I hadn't? That was the reason I took off, by the way," she added.
"A double?" Clark suggested, instinctively — as always — seeing where she was going.
"I think so. So… someone wanted to discredit me. But they ended up getting their stooge killed instead."
"Which means someone's probably not happy right about now."
"Yeah. But how do we find out who's behind it?" Lois said, frustrated.
"Yeah… Hey, wait a minute!" Clark exclaimed suddenly. "The night you — *she* was killed, Superman went to check out a break-in at a plastic surgeon's office. The doctor was killed, and there were files taken. What if…"
"…that was where the surgery was done?" Lois finished. "It's a start!"
"Sure is! Well, it looks like we have some investigating to do," Clark said. "Even if we can't find out who killed her, we need to figure out who she was and why she had surgery to look like you."
"Yep — Lane and Kent back on the job!" Lois linked her arm through Clark's.
"That's music to my ears," he told her as they crossed to the door. "Lane and Kent. I thought I'd never hear those three words again."
"Better get used to it, partner," Lois told him. "If you're lucky, you'll be hearing them for the rest of your life."
He smiled at her, a delighted, puppyish grin. "Oh, I'm hoping that I'll be *very* lucky."
"Me too." Lois paused, smiling up at her partner and best friend… and now boyfriend. They were still waiting for their first date, but she already knew that she wanted to be with him for more than just a casual relationship.
Clark gathered her into his arms, then bent his head and kissed her thoroughly and very satisfyingly, a kiss which made her melt into his arms. When he finally raised his head, he said softly, "Now I can live again, Lois."
With her. She understood his unspoken reference. "Together," she added in a whisper.