Playing for Keeps

By Annie M <>

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: November 2003

Summary: The third story in the Playing series finds Lois and Clark back in Metropolis dealing with a shocking revelation, office gossip and Lois' fears. But Clark is determined to work through all their issues: this time they're not just playing, they're playing for keeps.


As the movie credits began to roll, Lois snuggled deeper into Clark's embrace. She sighed deeply, reaching for the remote and stopping the movie. The screen flipped back to LNN where the news anchors were discussing the same boring pieces they had been presenting before the movie.

"I guess there's not a lot going on in the world tonight," Clark said, rubbing her arms softly.

"Good," she said, rolling her head to one side, and smiling as Clark took the invitation to kiss her there. "If Perry calls us tonight, I'll kill him."

After spending most of the weekend unpacking, running errands and getting caught up around their respective apartments, tonight had been the perfect escape — dinner at her place then cuddling on her couch while they watched Sleepless in Seattle. It was a scene that had already begun to feel routine. Each night this weekend, no matter how busy they'd been during the day, going about their separate business, they had gravitated together in the evening, eating dinner and chatting, until eventually they wound up sprawled on a couch, abandoning any pretense of watching the movie they'd rented.

Clark chuckled as he continued to feather gentle kisses at the base of her neck and the top of her shoulder. Lois shivered and giggled at the feeling of Clark's laughter against her skin.

"If he calls, let's pretend we're not here and refuse to answer the phone," Clark said, brushing her hair aside and trailing kisses up to her ear.

"Are you going to find some other way to entertain me?" Lois teased, shifting in his arms until she was facing him.

"Yeah," Clark whispered, dipping his head until his lips were just millimeters from hers. Lois felt her heart speed up in anticipation, craving the feel of his lips on hers.

Suddenly Clark pulled back. "I was thinking we could watch another movie," he said, his eyes twinkling mischievously as he reached for the remote.

Lois froze for a second, then burst out laughing. "You are too much!" With that, she closed the distance between them, still grinning as their lips locked.

In moments, their joking demeanor vanished, replaced by a growing passion. Their hands began to roam each other's bodies, and they shifted their positions on the small, uncomfortable couch until Lois was halfway under Clark.

Lois tugged his T-shirt out of the waistband of his jeans and slid her hands underneath. She caressed his back and sides, smoothing her hands over the taut muscles. His lips pulled away from hers and began to feather soft kisses on her neck. Lois sighed contentedly, pulling one hand out from under his shirt to stroke his hair.

"That feels so good, Clark," she said, sighing again

"I love you, sweetheart," he said softly, his words vibrating against her sensitive skin.

As she played with his hair, she hooked one leg over his, pulling their bodies closer together. She still couldn't quite believe this was happening. After a week of pretending to be Clark's girlfriend, it now seemed almost impossible that life was really imitating art.

Lois' thoughts returned to the present, and she smiled as Clark snaked one hand under her shirt, his movements becoming bolder. She moaned quietly in encouragement, deepening their kiss. She loved this — being with him; touching him. He was unlike any other man she'd ever been with. Her pleasure was always foremost in his mind and he never pushed her for more than she was willing to give.

It made her feel safe and respected that Clark was willing to let her set the pace. In the hotel room their last night in D.C., it had been she who had put on the brakes. They'd spent the night kissing and cuddling, but she hadn't been ready to consummate their relationship. Even though he'd been eager to make love to her that first night, he had never pressured her to do anything. In fact, she had been the one to initiate much of their physical relationship.

Of course, it was possible that he was actually skittish himself. Last night he'd actually run away rather than cooling it off. It wasn't the first time that he'd suddenly remembered that he needed to return a video or sign for a package. But now Lois was beginning to wonder if his forgetfulness was a cover for his nerves. Or maybe he wasn't as sure about this relationship as he wanted her to believe. Maybe he had doubts. Maybe he didn't want things to go too far in case he decided to walk away.

Lois pushed all negative thoughts from her mind, allowing herself to enjoy the moment. His hands smoothed over her stomach, stroking gently, then moved higher.

Eventually he began to slow things down, removing his hand from her shirt and stroking her arm instead, lessening the intensity of his kisses. Lois whimpered in protest, bringing him in for another searching kiss, unwilling to let their evening together to end yet.

"Don't stop, Clark," she gasped, when they came up for air. "Don't leave me yet."

"I'm not going anywhere," he reassured her, pressing light kisses to her jaw and collarbone. Their kisses slowed and finally stopped as they lay cuddled in each other's arms. They whispered to each other, talking about everything and nothing until they were both drifting in and out of sleep.

Finally Clark forced himself to stand up and pulled Lois with him. She walked him to the door, and leaned against the doorjamb as he hesitated outside the door.

"Goodnight, sweetheart," Clark said, reaching out to stroke her cheek. "I'll see you tomorrow at work."

Lois nodded, leaning into the palm of his hand. His familiar caress always made her feel so secure.

"Dinner tomorrow night?" he asked.

"I can't," she said, genuinely disappointed. "Tomorrow's Monday. I have my Tae Kwon Do class."

He looked so disappointed that she couldn't resist stepping forward and giving him a quick kiss. "I could skip it," she said, pulling away slowly.

"No, don't." He rubbed her back gently, reluctant to release her. "Your class is important to you. I can go one night without seeing you. It won't kill me."

"It might kill me."

"Oh, Lois," he groaned her name softly, and pulled her back to him. Their lips met and fused. Finally Clark pulled away. He placed a sweet kiss on her forehead, said one last goodnight, and walked away.

Lois watched as he retreated down the hallway, then shut the door softly. She latched each of the locks, then padded to the bathroom to get ready for bed. It had been a wonderful night, but she was distinctly disappointed after Clark left. Not that she was less than thrilled with the time they had spent together — it was just that she was beginning to wish the night didn't have to end with a kiss at the door. For a week she'd slept next to him, listening to him breathe at night, falling asleep to the sound of his heartbeat. After a week of sleeping beside him, it was harder than she'd expected to get used to her lonely bed again. Since they'd come back from Washington, they'd spent every evening together talking, cuddling, kissing on the couch. But every night they went to their separate beds. She'd thought about asking him to stay a couple of times, just to hold her, but she'd felt strange about it.

It was stupid, she knew, to be nervous about asking him to stay. She had no doubt that he would stay if she asked, but somehow it just seemed strange. In the hotel, they'd had to sleep together even though they weren't making love. Now that they weren't being forced to share a bed, she felt awkward asking Clark to spend the night just to hold her.

She finished her nightly routine, reflecting on all the changes their relationship had gone through in the past few weeks, then slipped through the silent living room dressed for bed in a simple silky gown. She clicked off the small lamp on the side table, plunging the room into near darkness, the only light coming from the streetlights outside her window. She lingered for a minute, ready for bed, but not quite willing to go yet.

Her gaze fell on the telephone and her mind immediately flitted to the possibility of hearing Clark's smooth voice whisper good night one more time before turning in.

She hesitated for a minute, wondering if she was becoming too dependent, too clingy. She had always valued her independence, and had never been the sort of girlfriend who had to talk to her boyfriend every day, but.she really missed him. And what little time they'd spent together today, he'd seemed a little off. Not upset really, just stressed and worried. She'd questioned him about it, but he hadn't said much of anything.

She wavered, then reached for the phone. It rang four times, then Clark's voice came on the line, "Hi, you've reached Clark Kent. I'm not home right now, but if you leave a message, I'll get back to you as soon as possible."

Lois sighed and considered hanging up. But when she heard the mechanical beep, she couldn't bring herself to put down the receiver without saying anything.

"Hey, it's me," she said nervously. "I just… I was just calling to say good night. Good night, Clark."

She dropped the receiver into the cradle with a soft click, her eyes lingering on the phone for just another second before turning away. She started to walk to her bedroom when a movement outside her window caught her eye. She paused, unsure she had actually seen anything, then walked slowly to the window.

She had stopped leaving her window open after she had returned from DC. She hadn't thought much about it, telling herself that it was only natural due to the increasingly cool temperatures. But deep down she knew it was more than that. There had been a time when she would have left the window unlocked in the middle of a blizzard. She had always left the window open in silent invitation. But things were different now, and the invitation no longer stood.

She unfastened the lock and opened the window. "Hey," she said softly. "Come in."

Superman hovered outside for a second, hesitating, then floated over the sill and landed lightly in front of her.

A small gust of wind ruffled her sheer curtains. She shivered.

"Just let me grab a robe."

She froze. The words hung between them as they both remembered that last time she'd spoken them. He flinched, and when she met his eyes, she saw regret and self reproach.

"Go ahead," he said softly. "I'll wait."

She hurried to her room and slipped the robe on, knotting it securely around her waist. She was curious about Superman's sudden appearance, but the flutter in her stomach that once accompanied his unexpected appearances was noticeably absent.

When she walked back into the living room, she found Superman shifting nervously, looking at his feet.

"Hey," she said softly. "What's up?"

"I didn't mean to disturb you. I was just flying overhead and saw movement in the dark. I thought you might be in danger."

"Thanks," she said, grateful but not giddy that he was checking on her, the way she would have been once.

Suddenly she noticed that he looked a little tired.

"How are you? You look tired."

He smiled slightly. "It's been a long day."

Lois took in the tired look about his eyes and the weary tone of his voice. "We take advantage of you, you know," she said softly. "Go home…wherever that is. Get some rest. Let the world take care of itself for awhile."

He hesitated, and not for the first time, she wondered where his home was. Did he even have a home? He must go somewhere when he wasn't rescuing people, but somehow she just couldn't image him kicking back and watching TV after a long, hard day of diverting tornadoes and collaring pickpockets.

She used to wish that she could create that home for him. She had wanted to give him a port to pull into when the waters of the world proved too rough. He spent so much time caring for others, he needed someone to take care of him occasionally.

She still believed that. It just couldn't be her that gave him that.

"You do have somewhere to go, don't you?" she asked when he remained quiet.

"Yes. Lois, I …"

She could see the reluctance in his eyes, as if a part of him wanted to tell him more, but another part was stopping him.

She held up a hand to stop him. "No, you don't have to say anything more. I just wanted to make sure that you'd be okay."

"I'll be fine. Thanks for being concerned though."

He started to turn away, headed for the window.

"Superman." The urgency in her voice startled them both. He stopped and turned to face her. "I just wanted to say … you can always come here."


He froze, her words sending a dagger of icy fear through his heart. After all that they'd been through together, he had been so sure that she was really in love with him. The real him.

She rarely talked about Superman anymore, and when she did, it was as she would talk about any other friend, void of the blatant longing which has once filled her voice whenever she spoke of him.

Once they'd returned from DC, he'd been sure she was past her infatuation. In the past, her window had always been left open for Superman — a silent, but clear invitation — for the last three days, it had been closed and locked. Each time he'd flown by on his patrols, his heart had sung with joy — Lois had finally made her choice, and it was the real him! Yet now her words belied the truth of that silent symbol. The beautiful picture of their lives and their future together began to fade, replaced by a bleak snapshot of a life without her.

"You can always come here," she had said. The words, and their implications, still rung in his ears.

He said nothing, unable to form words while grappling with his crumbling dreams.

"You're still my friend," she continued, filling the silence. "I know I've told you…said things to you…in the past. Things that could make a friendship between us…awkward. But I realize now that you were right. I don't really know you. None of us do.

She paused for moment, raking her fingers through her hair. Then she smiled slightly. "I'm in love with Clark. We're together now. We haven't really made a big announcement or anything; it's still pretty new. He's…amazing…and I was so blind not to see that sooner. But that doesn't mean that you and I can't be friends. I still care about you, and honestly, I worry about you sometimes. And I know Clark cares about you, too. So, I just… I just want you to know that you ever need anything, even just some company after a hard day, you can come to us."

Slowly, her words began to sink in. She cared about Superman, but she loved Clark. She worried about Superman and wanted him to know that she and Clark were there for him. Us, she had said, solidifying their status as a committed couple.

Even as relief lifted his spirits, guilt began to pool in the pit of his stomach. He should have known. He should have trusted her.

She had made herself so vulnerable, had been so completely honest with him, and he hadn't trusted her. How long would it take for him to get over his paranoia that she was only attracted to his powers?

Only an hour ago, she'd been in his arms ready to give herself to him completely. He was nearly certain that they would have made love if he hadn't stopped them. Yet he'd still believed her capable of harboring a secret torch for Superman.

His stomach began to churn as he realized how hypocritical he'd been. He was so quick to leap to conclusions, so quick to condemn her. Yet it was he who had not been completely honest. She had forced herself to have a conversation that could not have been easy for her in an effort to get everything out in the open. But there was still one thing — one huge thing — not out in the open.

He'd had every intention of telling her as soon as they returned from DC. But he just never seemed to find a convenient chance. Finally he admitted that there was never going to be a convenient time. He needed to bite the bullet and tell her the truth. He couldn't stand lying to her any longer.

He had to tell her the truth.

"Lois," he started, his voice quivering from the strain.

He looked up, needing to see the love and encouragement in her gaze. Instead he was startled to see only distant concern. She wasn't looking at him, he realized suddenly. She was seeing only the mysterious superhero who was not quite a friend.

He couldn't do it this way. Not just because he was scared, but because she deserved to hear this from her boyfriend, not a near stranger.

"Thank you," he said finally, disappearing out the window before anything more could be said.


Clark shifted nervously, watching through the small window in the studio door as the students gathered their belongings. Meeting Lois after her class in order to walk her home had seemed like a great idea at the time, but now that he was actually there, he wasn't so sure anymore. He needed to tell her the truth though, and as much as a part of him wanted to postpone the inevitable, a much larger part of him knew he couldn't wait any longer. He had tried to tell himself that one day wouldn't matter much; he could just tell her the next night, when they were supposed to go out to dinner anyway. But as he'd sat in his living room earlier that evening, he'd been overwhelmed with an urge to get everything out in the open. Meeting her at her Tae Kwon Do studio and offering to walk her home had seemed like the perfect opportunity.

His eyes darted around the quiet hallway, not, he told himself, looking for an escape route. The door burst open before he could flee, and teenagers and adults wearing identical robes and brown belts spilled out into the hallway. Clark spotted Lois lingering behind the group, talking to the instructor. Just as he was about to thank his good luck and slip out, she looked up and spotted him. For a moment her features were masked in confusion, then a slow smile spread across her face. She said goodbye and made her way quickly to his side.

"Hey!" she said cheerfully, giving him a quick hug. "What are you doing here?"

"I just…wanted to see you," Clark said sheepishly. "I know we said we could go one night without seeing each other, but today was so crazy at the paper, I hardly saw you. And I was at home thinking about you, and I thought maybe you wouldn't mind too much if I showed up after your class and offered to walk you home."

"I definitely don't mind," Lois said with a grin. She slipped her hand into his, lacing their fingers together and tugging him toward the exit.

They walked silently for a few seconds, taking in the cool, crisp night. With only a little prodding, Lois began to tell Clark all about her class that evening. Clark tried to stay focused, but couldn't keep his mind from wandering to the conversation he knew they'd have to have once they reached her apartment.

"Are you okay? You seem nervous."

"I'm fine!" he said automatically.

Lois looked at him skeptically and squeezed his hand.

"I'm fine, really. I was just thinking about what will happen when we get back to your apartment."

"Oh really?" Lois asked, her eyebrows shooting up.

"No! I just meant I wanted to talk to you about something."

"Talk, huh? Okay…"


"Relax, Clark, I'm just teasing you. But, you know, you just seem to be walking really slowly. I'd have thought that you'd be eager to get back to my apartment so we could pick up where we left off last night." She let go of his hand and slid her hand under his leather jacket to stroke his back.

Clark felt his pulse skyrocket. All thoughts of conversation fled momentarily. "If you don't stop that, we're not going to make it back to the apartment. I'm going to ravish you right here."

"Well, what do you know, here we are," Lois said impishly, withdrawing her hand and starting up the steps to her building.

In moments they were up the stairs entering her apartment. Lois tossed her keys on the counter. "Give me just a second to go change into something more comfortable. I'll be right back."

Clark watched her slip into the bedroom and reminded himself why he was there. This was very important and he needed to focus. His eyes fell on a framed photo of the two of them at some unidentifiable Planet function. He picked up the picture and looked into Lois' eyes. "Lois, there's something I have to tell you," he started. He shook his head. "Lois, have you ever noticed that Superman and I look a lot alike?" No, all wrong. "Lois, I'm Superman." Too sudden. "Lois, I know I should have told you this ages ago, but…"

He set the photograph back down and shook his head. How was he ever going to get through this?


He turned and inhaled sharply when he saw her. Dressed in leggings and his Smallville Tigers sweatshirt, she was casual but incredibly sexy. He found himself momentarily speechless.

"Well, that was an even better reaction than I'd hoped for," Lois teased. She slid into his embrace, locking her arms around his neck and raising her face to his in obvious invitation. He responded automatically, covering her lips with his own. She parted her lips while her hand began to stroke the back of his neck. He groaned in appreciation and maneuvered them the few feet to her couch.

They lowered themselves gracelessly, his hand working its way under her shirt to stroke the soft skin of her side. For a moment, he was able to forget why he was there and just enjoy the moment, but slowly a nagging reminder that something was wrong began to assert itself into his consciousness. There were things he needed to tell her, parts of his life he needed to share with her. She deserved to know who he was, all of him. He owed her at least that much. And he couldn't wait another second to tell her. He couldn't lie to her any longer.

Clark pulled away. "Wait, Lois. We need to talk." Her brow furrowed as she took in his words and his serious tone. "There's something I need to tell you. Something I should have told you a long time ago. I wanted to. Really. I was just…couldn't. But I have to now. That's why I met you at your class tonight. I didn't want to go one more night without having this conversation."

"What are you talking about? You're scaring me."

"I'm sorry. I'm really sorry. I don't mean to scare you." He looked into her eyes for a moment before leaning forward and capturing her lips in a sweet kiss. "You're going to hate me for that in a minute," he said softly as he pulled away. "But I just wanted to kiss you one last time. Before I tell you this, just remember that I love you."

"Clark?" she asked, her eyes searching his face.

He closed his eyes and drew a deep breath, preparing himself. He let the breath out slowly, then opened his eyes to meet her troubled gaze.

"I'm going to start at the very beginning, because I don't know where else to start." His voice wavered, but Lois squeezed his hand, urging him to continue and he forced himself to keep talking. "Almost thirty years ago, my parents discovered they couldn't have children of their own. They immediately looked into adoption, but they were just simple farmers, and the possibilities didn't look promising. Then, one day, they were driving home in the twilight, when they saw something streak across the sky. They followed it to Shuster's field, and found a capsule of some sort. When they opened the capsule, they found an infant inside. They didn't know where the baby had come from, or how it got where it was, but they were sure they understood *why* it had landed where it did. This baby was meant for them." Clark's voice grew steadier as he related the story his parents had told him when he was old enough to understand where he came from.

"They took the baby home and told everyone that he was the child of a young cousin who was unable to raise him. But in reality, they didn't know who . or what . he was. They assumed that he was a project of the space program. After all, they had put a dog up into space, why not a baby?"

Lois reached for his hands, and Clark grasped them gently, thankful for her lifeline. "As the years passed, they noticed that their son was different than other children — he was stronger, faster, healthier than normal children — but they loved him and treated him the same as they would have treated a biological child. They taught him not to be ashamed of who he was, but they also taught him that it was imperative that he hide his differences; that he never allow others to know about his origins because they could use that information to hurt him. They told him that if the government found him, they may complete their testing on him, and any government that was cruel enough to send an infant into orbit was cruel enough to do other unspeakable things.." Clark trailed off, trying to figure out how he was going to tell her the rest of the story.

Lois tilted her head and studied him for a minute. She squeezed his hands, and shook her head, obviously confused. "I don't understand, Clark. Are you telling me that you're.some kind of science experiment?"

"I'm not a NASA experiment, Lois. I'm Kryptonian."

The words were out of his mouth before he knew they had formed. Lois' jaw dropped slightly, but she didn't move. She seemed stunned to silence.

"I know I should have told you earlier," he said, rushing to tell her the rest before he lost his nerve. "But at first I was protecting my secret. It wasn't just for me — it was for my parents. If anyone knew who I was — what I was — they would use my parents to get to me. If something happened to them because of me.I would never forgive myself. Then, when we became friends, when I got to know you and trust you.. I should have told you, but I just wanted.. I needed.. You didn't understand. You couldn't see that he was just a disguise. When you looked at me, I need you to see *me* — not him. I know that's selfish, but I didn't want to be different. I just wanted to be me, and I just wanted you to love me."

Clark ran out of steam and stopped, allowing the silence to fill the room. He had expected her to yell, to scream, to lash out at him. Instead, she sat with her hands still in his, unmoving, silent.

He thought that nothing could be worse than having her hate him, having her scream and accuse him of horrible things. But this — this silence — was much worse.


"I'm not a NASA experiment, Lois. I'm Kryptonian."

One sentence, two words, a million implications.

Kryptonian? How could he be Kryptonian? Superman was the only Kryptonian on earth. Unless. Perhaps what Clark was telling her was that Superman wasn't the only Kryptonian on Earth. That would explain how Clark always knew how to get a hold of Superman at a moment's notice. He knew more about Superman than anyone. It was possible, wasn't it, that they were even brothers?

Lois studied Clark's face as he began to speak again, forcing herself to accept the truth. Clark wasn't another Kryptonian. He wasn't Superman's brother. Clark was the only Kryptonian on Earth. Clark was Superman.

When she'd removed his glasses over the past few days, she'd noticed how different he'd looked, and she'd briefly wondered why she'd never seen him without them before. But she'd always been too caught up in the moment to give it more than a cursory thought. It seemed so obvious now. He didn't need glasses to see, he needed glasses to keep people from seeing the truth. They were nothing more than a disguise. How could she have been so blind? She'd told Clark earlier that she'd been blind not to see his love for her. There was so much more that she hadn't seen. She really was blind.

".and I just wanted you to love me," Clark finished.

Love him? She had loved Superman once. And now she loved Clark. Or she'd thought that she did. Now she wasn't so sure. She wasn't so sure about anything. She didn't even really know who he was. Clark? Superman? Some strange combination of the two men? Who was he really?

She wanted to be angry. She deserved to be angry. But she was just so confused. She still loved him, and hearing his plea for her love tugged at her heart, regardless of the anger she felt welling inside. "What did you think I would do?" she asked, jerking her hands from his as her anger began to catch up with her. "I was supposed to be your best friend. Did you really think you had to hide from me? Did you really think I would sell you out for a story? Do you think so little of me that you believe I would endanger you and your family, not to mention all the good you do as Superman by writing an expose that would sacrifice everything? Why did you have to hide the truth from me? What were you so afraid of?"

"I was afraid of losing you," he said, his voice barely more than a whisper. "You deserve to be angry. You deserve to hate me. I lied to you. I promised I would always be honest with you, and I wasn't. But you have to believe me when I tell you that it wasn't because I didn't trust you. I know you, Lois. I know what a good person you are. If I was really afraid that you would go to print with this story, I wouldn't have told you now. This has nothing to do with my not trusting you. You are my best friend. I love you more than anything in this world. And I knew that when I told you this, there was a good chance that I would lose you forever. And that kills me. That's why I didn't tell you."

"Then why tell me now? If you are so scared to lose me, and you're sure this is going to drive me away, why tell me now? You could have had me. I was willing to go to bed with you." Her voice cracked and she cursed herself for letting her emotions show.

"But it would have been a lie," he said. "I don't want just your body, Lois. I want all of you. I never pursued you as Superman because I knew it was a false choice for you. I didn't want to be with you unless you really wanted to be with me. And I realized last night that when you did finally choose me it was still a false choice because you still didn't know all of me. I want you to know and accept and love all of me, not just one part of me — either part of me."

"What if I don't accept both parts? What if you're right and this causes me to walk away?"

She watched as his eyes closed and his jaw tensed. When his eyes opened again she could see the anguish in them as he said, "Then I let you walk away."

Lois' heart clenched at his words. Would he really walk away that easily?

Clark took a deep breath and continued. "I'll fight for you. I'll tell you that you are the most important thing in my life and that I will do anything to make this up to you. I'll tell you that I've loved you from the moment I met you and that every day I love you more than the last. I'll tell you that my life is meaningless without you and that you are the only thing that keeps me going when things get rough. I'll beg you to stay with me and plead with you to love me. But if you still want to walk away, there's nothing I can do because it's your choice."

Lois' lip trembled as she listened to his impassioned speech. "Why me? You could have any woman in the world. How can I possibly mean so much to you?"

"Lois, you mean everything to me. I don't want anyone else. You are the only one I want. The only one I've ever wanted. The only one I will ever want. I love you."

Lois felt the last of her defenses begin to crumble. The tears pooled in her eyes, defying her attempts to blink them back. As they began to fall she heard Clark whisper her name, and saw him reach for her before stopping suddenly as if he expected her to rebuke him.

"Clark," she whispered, sobbing softly as he reached for her again, pulling her to him and cradling her against his chest.

"I'm so sorry," she heard him say as he began to stroke her hair. "I'm *so* sorry. I never wanted to make you cry. I hate myself for putting you through this. If only there was something I could do to make this easier for you, I'd do it — whatever it was."

She snuggled closer to him, sliding her arms around his neck. "I just want you to hold me. I'm so confused. I want to hate you. I want to be angry. But I still love you."

She felt as much as heard him let out a gasp. His arms tightened around her waist. "I'll hold you as long as you want me to," he whispered, his voice cracking.

"I'm sorry," she whispered finally, as her tears slowed.

"You're sorry?" Clark pulled away slightly, clearly baffled.

"I've been a horrible friend to you. I made you miserable. You loved me and I chased Superman. I couldn't see what you were trying to tell me. And all those times that you were upset because of things you handled as Superman. I was totally unsympathetic. I never cut you any slack. You know, I always wondered if he — you," Lois fumbled, trying to keep the pronouns straight. "I always wondered if Superman had somewhere to go. I worried that he would burn out. That he needed someone to take care of him. I should have known. I should have seen. I should have been there for you."

"Lois, no. You have no idea. You are the only thing that has kept me going. So many times I would have given up if it wasn't for you. You recharge me. Every time I felt like I couldn't do it anymore, you would encourage me."

Lois looked at him skeptically.

"I mean it. You'd say things about Superman to Clark. Or I'd be out on a rescue and you'd be there. Or someone in the newsroom would attack Superman and you'd turn into a pit bull. I never could have made it without you."

Lois smiled at the image of her as Superman's pit bull.

"That's why I was so scared."

Lois looked up at him, confusion etched across her face.

"You have no idea how much I need you, how much I depend on you. The thought of losing you is terrifying."

"You're not going to lose me, Clark."

His eyes closed briefly and Lois watched as he struggled to stay composed. "I want to believe that so bad that it hurts. But I also know that this is complicated and that there is a lot that you have to think about and take in. I'm scared that once you think this through, you aren't going to want to be with me."

"Can we just take this slow?" she asked softly.

"We can take it as slow as you want. If you're not ready for a relationship with me, I'll wait for you. I'll wait as long as you need."

"I love you, Clark. I'm just not sure I know what that means yet. I just need some time to get used to this. To get used to us."

"I'll give you all the time you need," he replied. "I love you."


Lois wadded up the remains of her sandwich in its wrapper and tossed it into the garbage can by her desk. Her gaze traveled automatically to her partner's empty work station. It had been a busy morning in Metropolis, and since she and Clark had been out of town all week and had no joint stories in the works, Perry had split them up to cover more ground. So Clark was off interviewing witnesses to a double homicide downtown, while she was stuck in the office making phone calls about a special recall election that was being proposed.

After last night's stunning revelation, she wished things at work were slower so that she could spend some more time with Clark. Clearly they couldn't talk about their relationship or his secret at work. Their secret, she thought with a smile. Although originally she'd definitely been upset with him for keeping her in the dark for so long, now that she knew, she really liked being on the inside. It made her feel closer to him, like she really knew him now. Ever since she found out, scenes from the past year of their life together had come back to her, suddenly taking on a whole new meaning. She wished she and Clark were somewhere eating lunch together and talking about all of her new realizations.

Or, even if they had work to do, working lunches were much more fun when her partner was involved, Lois thought. She loved the way they would banter as they ate. She just loved being with him period. She hadn't felt this giddy in years. In fact, she wasn't sure she'd ever felt quite this giddy.

Lois rolled her eyes at her line of thought and reached for her can of Diet Coke. Empty again. She really needed to cut back on those, she thought, already rising from her chair to make a vending machine run. As she approached the machine, the two other reporters, who had been talking, fell silent.

Her eyes narrowed suspiciously, but she forced the wary look from her face and said hello to the women. Their replies sounded uncomfortable, but Lois tried to ignore it. The women headed in the direction of their desks, around the corner from Lois', and Lois inserted her coins and pressed the button for Diet Coke.

As she retrieved the can from the slot and opened it, taking a quick gulp, her curiosity began to eat at her. What could they have been talking about that would have forced them to quit talking when she approached? It must have something to do with her, otherwise they would have just moved aside and continued their conversation. Clearly she wouldn't care about their inane gossip.

On the way back to her desk, her curiosity got the best of her and she placed the can on her desk and decided she needed to replenish her supply of reporter's notebooks. The fact that the supply closet lay close to the women's desks was purely a coincidence.

She made the trip in a matter of seconds, slipping into the closet while the women were engrossed in conversation. She quickly positioned herself so that she could listen in on their conversation without being detected.

"Well, that's what I told Kim," one was saying. "You'd have to be blind not to see that Clark's had a thing for her since he started — not that I can say I really understand that. I mean, she's pretty, I suppose, but he's so laid back, and she's so…"

"Intense?" the other finished.

Lois rolled her eyes at their description of her. Was being intense supposed to be a bad thing?

"Yeah, intense. Anyway, regardless of that, I've never heard any indication that they were together. So I told her that she was probably just reading them wrong. I'm mean, they're kinda weird — touchy feely and whatnot."

Touchy feely? She and Clark were not touchy feely, Lois thought. Sure they touched sometimes while they were working, but it's not like they were teenagers making out in front of their lockers at school.


"But Kim was like, 'Touchy feely? Yeah, that's one way of putting it.' Apparently they were ALL over each other on the dance floor one night. She was even sitting in his lap. And then he got into a fight in a bar over her."

"You're kidding me!"


Lois felt herself blush. Fantastic. She remembered Kim now. She was the copy editor from the San Diego Union Tribune. That made sense since the woman relating this story had moved to the Planet from San Diego recently. Stifling a groan, she wondered how many of her other colleagues had friends at other papers who would be sending them emails shortly.

"Well, you know, maybe it was just one of those vacation things. You know how it is at those conferences. Everyone spends half the time drunk and trying to find someone to hook up with."

"True. Man, if that's the case I bet it's going to be a bit awkward working together now."

"Yeah, no kidding. Oh! Or, maybe they've been doing this for awhile. You know, friends with benefits. Maybe no one's ever caught on because they don't flaunt it at work, but there's no reason really to hide it away from the office."

"Ooh, that makes sense. Mmm," the woman purred. "Can't say I blame her. I sure wouldn't turn down any benefits he wanted to offer to me."

Lois gritted her teeth and reminded herself that Clark would not be offering any "benefits" to either of these women. As the woman began laughing and detailing some of the benefits they'd like to receive, Lois dropped her head against the wall and tried not to listen. She shouldn't care, she told herself, trying to ignore the knot in her stomach. It was just gossip. Everyone gossips. And everyone is the subject of gossip at some point.

Somehow that did not make her feel any better.

Lois took a deep breath and grabbed a handful of notebooks. She strode purposefully out of the supply closet, smiling slightly at the horrified looks on the faces of her colleagues when they recognized her.

"Notebooks," she said, holding up the stack. "Don't want to run out of those."

The stuttering, stammering replies, as the pair of women avoided her eye contact made Lois feel slightly better. But just slightly.


Lois shifted uncomfortably on the sofa, wishing they'd decided to work at Clark's instead of her place. It wasn't just that his furniture was more comfortable than hers, although that was definitely a perk, but somehow his apartment just felt homier. It was cozy.

After a somewhat strained day at work, they'd spent the first half of the evening rehashing much of the stuff they'd talked about last night. Although Lois was still a little bit upset about the fact that he'd lied to her about being Superman, mostly she understood now why he had done it, and she was just glad he had told her when he did rather than waiting any longer.

She'd told him last night that she needed to take things slowly, but she'd realized today that all she needed was a little time to come to grips with her new knowledge. There was no doubt in her mind that she wanted to be with Clark.

Clark had started out the evening giving her plenty of space, but once she'd made it clear that he wasn't forbidden to touch her, they'd fallen back into their more normal habits. Now they were seated on her couch trying to catch up on some research, but Lois' mind refused to stay on work.

Letting out a frustrated sigh, Lois dropped the papers onto the floor, turned sideways and leaned against the arm of the sofa, bringing her legs up to settle in Clark's lap. She smiled as he automatically began rubbing them gently as he continued to read.

"You okay?" he asked, looking up from his papers.

"Yeah, I'm fine, just sick of reading. I need a little break." Lois settled deeper into her seat resting her head against the arm of the sofa in position that was semi-comfortable, and closing her eyes. The soft jazz Clark had selected earlier filled the silence, lulling her.

"Do you want me to stop too? Do you want to talk or something?"

The corners of Lois' mouth crept up into an impish grin as she thought about what the "or something" could be.

"That's not what I meant," Clark said, mock exasperated. "Though…now that you mention it…"

Lois opened her eyes to see Clark bending toward her. "I didn't mention anything. All I did was smile," she said impishly.

"That was plenty. I knew exactly what you were thinking," Clark whispered just before his lips met hers.

Lois stroked Clark's hair as she savored their kiss. Sometimes just a single kiss was enough to ignite their passion, but this kiss was softer and sweeter. Clark started to pull back, but acquiesced when Lois tugged him back for another moment.

"I love you," she whispered when she released finally.

"I love you, too," he said, stroking her cheek.

She turned her head slightly and pressed a kiss into his palm, then let her head fall back and her eyes close again. His hand moved back to her leg and she felt him settle in to read some more.

After a minute or so of relaxing under Clark's soft touch, she opened her eyes to watch him. He had taken off his glasses at some point, she realized suddenly. He was still wearing his work clothes, but he'd shed his jacket and loosened his tie, unbuttoning the top button of his shirt. He looked like a mix of Clark and Superman, and she realized that this was her Clark that she was seeing. The real Clark. Not the Clark Kent who most of his friends and colleagues knew — the Clark who had to hide his abilities, his heritage and his second job. And not Superman — the unselfish, perfect superhero who flew in when he was needed and then quietly disappeared until he was called for again. The real Clark; the Clark known only to his parents. And now to her.

His brow was furrowed with concentration as he focused all his energy on reading the document in his hand. As he turned the page and continued reading, a question began to form in her mind.


"Hmm?" he replied, not looking up.


"What, honey?" He looked up this time and Lois felt her stomach flutter. She still hadn't quite gotten used to his casual use of endearments. She smiled at him momentarily, then remembered why she had distracted him to begin with.

"Why do you do that?"

"Do what?"

"Read like that."

"Read like what? What are you talking about?"

Lois fumbled for the words to explain her question. "Why do you read at a normal speed like that even when we're alone? You can read a lot faster. I know you can. I've seen you read stacks of papers in under a second. But right now you're not reading any faster than I do."

Clark pondered the question. "I don't know, really. I'm just not in a hurry. If it was an emergency and I had to have all of this read immediately, I could. But it's not, and I don't. So I might as well take my time. Sometimes the real pleasure in something isn't in the completion, but in the process. That's how I feel about reading. Sure there are times I speed things along a little, but I'm just as likely to slow down and really savor a good book."

Lois smiled, satisfied yet intrigued by his answer. "What qualifies as an emergency?"


"You said you would hurry if it was an emergency. Obviously it's an emergency when a bomb is ticking and you are looking for the answer to disarm it. But what else qualifies? How about a final exam? Did you put off studying until the last minute and then speed read the whole book?"

Clark smiled at her teasing tone. "Is that wishful thinking, Ms. Lane?"

Lois laughed. "Well, I have to admit I would have liked to have that option for some of my science text books."

"Yeah, I did use it on text books a couple of times. I rarely used it in my other classes though — like history or English Lit. classes."


Clark blushed.

"Okay, spill. What great work of literature did you speed read?" When he didn't respond immediately, she laughed and pressed him again. "Come on, Clark. You can't deny it now."

Clark rolled his eyes and conceded. "Moby Dick."

"Why Moby Dick? It's not even that long."

"Have you read it? It's awful! I really don't see the appeal."

"It's symbolic. It's-"

"Boring? Tedious?" Clark finished for her. "The story itself wasn't so bad, but ugh, thirteen pages on fishing spears? Five pages on sail dimensions? Ten pages on navigational techniques? Good grief."

Lois laughed at Clark's impassioned rant. "And here I would have thought that was right up your alley, King of Useless Trivia."

"That's King of Useless but Interesting Trivia," he corrected with a smile. "And it looks like you don't know me as well as you thought you did," he teased.

"Yes, I'm beginning to see that."

Clark leaned toward her and Lois tensed in anticipation of his kiss, reaching for him automatically. Suddenly Clark went still, pausing halfway.

"What is it, Clark?"

"Oh, not now. Darn it," Clark muttered.

"Someone needs you," Lois said quietly. Even though she knew now that he was Superman, seeing him listen to the call for help made that more real somehow.

"I'm sorry, sweetheart. I have to go. It's a break in at a lab downtown. It could be important."

Lois lifted her legs from his lap and sat up again.

Clark stood, then bent down swiftly and kissed her hard and fast. When he pulled away, his gaze was intense. "You have no idea how good this feels — to tell you the truth — not to have to make up some stupid excuse about videos or meetings."

Lois smiled, touched by his words. "Go, Clark. They need you."

Clark took a step in the direction of the door, then stopped and glanced at the window. Lois' lips formed a question that remained unasked as Clark began to spin suddenly, becoming a blur of red and blue. When he stopped, he was Superman. Lois' jaw dropped and she wasn't sure which was more stunning — seeing Clark in the suit and knowing that it was him under the spandex, or witnessing the incredible way he'd changed into the suit.

"Wow." It was the only word she could formulate, yet somehow that seemed sufficient.

Clark smiled and leaned down for one more quick kiss. "I'll be back as soon as I can."

And then he was gone, out the window in a streak of red and blue, a familiar boom echoing a moment later.

Lois settled back onto the couch to read. After awhile she began to get antsy and decided to watch television, but she couldn't find anything interesting. She unearthed the romance novel she'd been reading before they'd left for Washington, but after a few pages she realized that wasn't going to hold her attention either.

Three hours later, Clark still wasn't back, and Lois had all but given up hope that he'd return that night. When she'd seen the local news at eleven o'clock report that a suspect had been apprehended breaking into Star Labs and was being questioned by police, Lois had worried that he'd just used the break in as a convenient reason to leave. But she'd quickly dismissed that thought. When Clark could come back, he would. Lois could only assume that he was either working with the police still or he had been called from there to another emergency.

In either case, she needed to go to bed, she conceded grudgingly. She got ready for bed quickly and slid under the covers, wishing Clark was with her. She closed her eyes and imagined Clark's arms encircling her, his voice soft as he murmured good night.

She whispered his name, then jolted when she heard a soft tapping at her bedroom window. A slow smile crept across her face as she climbed out of bed and pulled back the curtains to reveal her boyfriend, clad in spandex and floating three stories in the air. Wow, she thought again.

She started to open the window, then realized he couldn't get in through the small window and nodded to the living room. He nodded, and by the time she reached the living room, he was already standing inside the window.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to wake you up."

"It's okay. I wasn't asleep yet."

"I just wanted to apologize. I caught the guy pretty quickly, but then I had to talk to a bunch of different officers and help them make sure nothing was missing at the lab. Then, just as I finally thought I was free to go, the police chief decided that since we were both there already, now would be a good time to talk to me about the new Neighborhood Watch awareness campaign that I'm helping him with. I thought I was never going to get out of there."

"It's okay, really. I knew you'd come when you could."

Clark sighed. "Yeah, I just wish that could have been sooner."

"I know. Me too."

"All right, I should let you get back to sleep. I just wanted to say good night." He tugged her into his embrace and hugged her for a minute before pulling back enough to give her a kiss.

When the kiss ended, Lois rested her head on his chest, savoring the feeling of being in his arms again, his hand stroking her hair. She wrapped one arm around his waist and ran her other hand over his spandex-clad chest, stopping to trace the S.

"You have no idea how many times I wanted to fly in your window at night and hold you like this." Clark's soft voice cut through her musings. She smiled as she assimilated his voice with the feel of spandex beneath her cheek.

"Why didn't you?" she asked softly, hands still exploring slowly. "It wouldn't have been right. I didn't want…"

"You didn't want to come to me as Superman."


She pulled away and stretched up to kiss his cheek before settling her head back on his chest.

"Clark…" she started. She couldn't bear the thought of him leaving tonight. She wanted desperately for him to follow her into the bedroom and climb in bed with her, holding her until she fell asleep.


"Nothing," she said with a sigh. Back to their separate beds once again.

"Are you sure?"

"Yeah, it's nothing. I'm glad you came to say goodnight."

He pulled back and pressed a kiss to her forehead. "I should have let you sleep, but I couldn't stay away."

"Good," she said softly.

He pulled away finally and moved to the ledge. "Good night, Lois."

"Good night, Clark," she replied, and in the blink of an eye, he was gone.

Lois padded back to bed, her emotions warring. She was glad he had come, happy that she could see him one last time before bed. But it killed her to climb into her empty bed only moments after having been in his arms.


Clark landed on his balcony with a soft thump and slipped into his apartment. He spun out of the suit and into his pajamas and began getting ready for bed. He was frustrated that his evening with Lois had been interrupted, especially by something so mundane, but he couldn't help but feel elated at the same time.

This was the first time they had been interrupted by his Superman responsibilities since he'd told her the truth. Yet not only had she been totally understanding, she'd even seemed a bit…proud. Not pleased that he'd had to leave in the middle of their evening, but rather than being upset that he was leaving, she was supportive about why.

He hadn't been exaggerating when he'd told her how happy it made him to be able to tell her the truth finally. He felt so much better being able to talk to her about it. And he'd never have to see that wounded look in her eyes again. The look that said she didn't understand why he kept pulling away from her and lying to her about why he was leaving.

He replayed their goodnight in his head once again as he climbed into his bed. He closed his eyes and reached for her automatically, disappointed when he felt only the cool sheets. He missed sleeping with her.

The first night they'd shared a bed, he'd been so nervous and tense. He had been terrified that it was going to freak her out, but she'd taken the whole thing in stride. And as the week progressed, he no longer worried about accidentally touching her. By the end of the week, they'd spent each night entwined in each others arms, and as he thought back to that now, his arms ached to hold her again. He could almost imagine her here now, her soft breath on his pillow, her heartbeat lulling him to sleep. But his imagination was no match for reality.

The first couple of nights that they'd been back from the conference, they'd been so busy settling into their old routines that he hadn't even thought much about missing her at night. He'd done a couple of extra patrols, always detouring by her place on his way home so he could see her safely tucked in.

But now that things were getting back to normal — well, getting back to their new normal — he hated having to leave her each night. He missed holding her as he fell asleep and talking to her in bed. He missed waking up with her each morning and bantering as they got ready for their days.

Patience, he reminded himself. Lois had only known about his secret identity for one day, and though she seemed to be taking everything in stride, she'd told him that she needed some time, and he'd promised that he wouldn't push her. So he wouldn't. He wasn't going to push her to spend the night. He'd wait until she gave him some sort of indication of what she wanted.

He wondered suddenly if she was worried about asking him to stay because she thought he would expect something from her. True they had slept together all week without making love, but the circumstances had been different then. He had to admit that now that they were a couple and that they'd done more exploring of the physical side of their relationship, he fantasized a lot about being with her like that. More than he even had before, which he hadn't realized was possible, he thought with a self deprecating grin.

But even though he wanted very much to make love to her, he knew she wasn't ready for that yet and he would never dream of pressuring her into something so serious. He would wait as long as he needed. He could be patient. Very patient. She had no idea how patient he could be.


Lois watched impatiently as the timer on the microwave counted down. The soup she'd ordered for lunch had cooled as she fielded phone calls for the story she was working on, and finally she'd taken it to the break room to reheat it. Clark had slipped out a few minutes earlier, nodding in the direction of the television screens, which showed an apartment fire on the other side of town, and loosening his tie. A few seconds later, Superman had arrived on the scene to the cheers of the victims and fire fighters on the scene.

When Perry had arrived at her desk a few seconds later and asked where her partner was, Lois had gestured the screens and told Perry that Clark was covering the fire. She was getting pretty adept at covering for him, she thought with a smile.

The microwave beeped and she opened the door and transferred the steaming takeout bowl to the counter.

"Lois! Just the person I was hoping to run into. I've just been dying to talk to you."

Lois braced herself, cringing at the sickeningly sweet tone of the woman's voice. She turned to face Mariel Turner, the woman whose gossip column, "Around Town" had replaced "Cat's Corner" when Cat Grant had suddenly up and married a computer programmer and moved to Silicon Valley. Lois shook her head slightly; she still hadn't quite gotten her head around that one.

"What do you need?" Lois asked, not bothering to sound cordial. When Perry had hired the older woman, Lois had made the mistake of taking in her grandmotherly appearance and assuming she would be less obnoxious than Cat. Although Lois still thought there was no place for a gossip column in a paper as reputable at the Daily Planet, she held out hope that the new column would be more tastefully done. But she'd been far from correct. If anything, the older woman was even more salacious than Cat had been. And while she didn't trade barbs with Lois in the manner that Cat had, her ingratiatingly fake attempts at friendship wore on Lois' nerves just as much. She was far from naive when it came to this woman's wiles. She'd seen her sympathetic routine enough to know that any attempt at "friendly chatting" was just a way to accumulate gossip that could be used against the other person later.

"Well," Mariel said slowly, leaning up against the counter. "I've just been hearing the yummiest rumors about you and that gorgeous partner of yours and I'm dying to know how much is true."

"My relationship with Clark is none of your business," Lois said automatically. If this woman thought Lois was going to talk to her, she was out of her mind. Anything she said would be around the newsroom in a half hour. If it even took that long.

"Ooh, so it is true! Come on, tell! Oh, you are so lucky. Now, I admit that I've had my share of men in my day, but I can't say I've ever had one quite as delicious as Clark. He's just gorgeous. And such a sweetheart, so considerate. I bet he's a great lover."

"I am not going to discuss this with you," Lois said, grabbing her soup and trying to evade the woman and make it to the door. She had to get out of there. The last thing she wanted was to be tricked into saying something she'd regret. Mariel was famous for getting people to slip up and admit to things they'd never intended to tell.

"Oh, come on. You don't have to give me details then, just yes or no. He is a great lover, isn't he? How long has this been going on? I can't believe I didn't see it. But then again I always thought you two had something between you two, I just thought you weren't acting on it."

As the woman continued to pry, Lois was growing increasingly agitated. No matter how she protested, the woman wasn't giving up. Mariel's job description may include digging up dirt on prominent citizens of Metropolis, but her relationship with Clark was far from news. The woman was clearly just looking for information to fuel the office gossip mill.

"This is ridiculous!" Lois interrupted finally. "You may get paid to gossip, but that doesn't include butting into your coworkers personal lives. I am not some stupid Metropolis socialite who wants to see her name in the society column, so you can just get lost and go find someone else to bother. Isn't there someone with a personal tragedy you can go exploit?"

"Fine, Lois," the woman said with a laugh. "Have it your way. But you can't keep people from talking. That's what we do. It's human nature."

Lois shoved past the woman, cringing when a bit of her hot soup sloshed over the edge and scalded her hand. It was a small price to pay for escaping that woman's clutches.


Five hours later, Lois slammed the door to her apartment and threw her stuff on the table. Mariel Turner's ambush had been just the beginning of her troubles that day. Clark had been gone all day either at rescues or interviews, her story had fallen through at the last minute when a source refused to speak on the record, and she'd accidentally witnessed yet another conversation about her personal life when she'd gone to the restroom before leaving for home.

She'd been in one of the stalls already when the two women had come in and started gossiping. This conversation had been by far the worst, as no matter how hard she tried, Lois couldn't shake the uneasy feeling it had left her with.

"Well, I can't imagine they'll last long," the first woman had said.

"I don't know. I think it would be kinda cute if they made it, you know. I think they make a cute couple." Through the crack of the stall door, Lois recognized the second woman as the new girl on the metro desk. She made a mental note to be especially nice to her in the future.

"Cute, yes, but I just can't see it lasting. They're just so different."

"Yeah, I guess. We'll just have to wait and see."

"Yeah, and if you think it's entertaining to watch Lois in the midst of a heated relationship, wait until you see her in the midst of a heated break up."

"Julie! That's awful!"

"Hey, I'm just saying… You didn't see her the last time her relationship with a coworker melted down. Talk about psycho."


"Where do you think the nickname Mad Dog Lane comes from?"

"I always assumed it had to do with how she gets when she's pursuing a story."

"Well, that too. But that was sort of tied to the break up too. I mean, she was a good reporter before, but after she and Claude broke up she became obsessed. And any shred politeness she had was obliterated."

"Don't you think you're being a little melodramatic? I mean, she and I might not be friends, but she seems nice most of the time."

"Just wait. I give her and Clark one month. Then you can see for yourself."

With that, the women had finished tidying up their hair and makeup and left the restroom. Lois had been left seething, but also panicking slightly. What if they were right? What if her relationship with Clark was doomed? Then what? Julie might have phrased it differently that Lois would have, and certainly she didn't have all the facts straight, but the sentiment was right. After the incident with Claude, she had lost it. She'd sworn off men, cut herself off from most of the few friends she had left and thrown herself into work. Luckily she'd didn't have to work directly with Claude and he'd left the Planet soon after anyway.

But what if things went sour with Clark? She wouldn't be able to throw herself into her work again. It wasn't just that she had to work with him directly every day, though that would be a major complication. After finding friendship and companionship with Clark, she couldn't go back to the lonely life she'd led before. The idea of that solo existence was painful now that she knew what she'd be missing.

She tried to tell herself that their relationship wasn't doomed. So far everything had been perfect, and Clark wasn't Claude — he would never hurt her intentionally. But that did little to help her. Even her relationships with nice guys had seemed doomed. She'd yet to have a relationship that wasn't a fiasco. Every time she thought things were looking up, there was some sort of disaster.

Thinking about Claude was bringing back the memories of the gossip that had surrounded their break up, if you could call it that. Waking up to find that your lover had stolen your story notes and taken credit for the story himself definitely signified the end of a relationship, even if they hadn't had a classic break up scene.

The following weeks had been torture. When she'd tried to take credit for the research in the story, Claude had laughed at her and had started rumors that she was just upset because he'd broken it off with her and was trying to get back at him. Then, seemingly as punishment, he'd started a string of rumors about how unsatisfying she'd been in bed.

For weeks Lois had dealt with the public humiliation while still coming to terms with the fact that the pain had come to her at the hands of someone she'd thought was in love with her. She'd had to accept that everything he'd told her over the course of their courtship had been nothing but lies and manipulation. She'd been duped yet again. The pain and humiliation had been so great that she'd actually started looking for other jobs. But she'd worked hard to get where she was, and she wasn't going to let him steal that too, she'd decided finally.

Clark wasn't like that, she told herself again. But if they did break up, she thought, even if it was amicable, she'd have to deal with the gossip again. And all the stuff about Claude would be dredged up again. All of the new people who didn't know about the story, would hear about it in great detail, probably embellished even more with time. People would take bets on whether Clark had been just as dissatisfied as Claude had been.

Clark would do his best to lay to rest the rumors, but Lois knew from experience that he wouldn't be able to stop the bulk of the damage no matter how hard he tried.

She couldn't live through it again, she conceded. The first time, she'd hardened her heart enough to survive, but just barely. This time, she wouldn't be able to do it. Clark had worn down her defenses too much, and given another month or so, she'd be even weaker. If the break up didn't kill her, the resulting gossip would.

Forgetting about the gossip temporarily, Lois winced from the pain of the idea of losing Clark. He'd slipped into her heart somehow and become her whole world. He was everything to her. After another month or so, after they made love, the pain of losing him would be indescribable.

Lois curled up on the couch, not bothering to change out of her work clothes or even turn on the lights. Resting her head on her knees, she let the tears run down her face. She was just so frustrated — by the gossip, by her inability to do anything about it, and most of all by her own reaction to it. Why did this hurt her so much more than it seemed to hurt everyone else? How could everyone else just roll their eyes and chalk it up to "part of life" when it made her so miserable?

If only Clark was here, she thought. He would make her feel better.

And that was a big part of the problem, Lois realized. She'd come to rely on him so heavily already. Clark could fix anything. What was she going to do when he was what needed to be fixed? How was she going to survive their break up — which would undoubtedly be the hardest thing she'd ever have to do — without his support?

She tried once again to tell herself that they wouldn't necessarily break up. After all, Clark's parents had been married for thirty years. Maybe she and Clark would get married and live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, that was just so hard to picture. As much as she wanted to, she just couldn't believe it. As much faith as she put in their feelings for each other now, she knew that feelings could fade with time. Her parents, after all, had been madly in love when they married, and fifteen years later they were bitter enemies.

Oh God. What if she and Clark got married and then got divorced? After living with him for years, being his wife, divorce would kill her.

Lois took a few deep breaths and tried to calm down. She was getting way ahead of herself. She and Clark hadn't even been a couple for a full week yet and she already had them divorced. This was getting out of hand.

As she tried to pull herself together, a nagging voice in the back of her head kept suggesting the solution she'd been trying not to acknowledge: maybe the only way to save herself the pain and humiliation of their break up later was to break up now. It would be painful obviously, but it would be so much better to have it happen now than a month or even a year from now. And if they broke up now, if they did it amicably, they could even go back to being friends. It would be rocky at first, she knew, but she wouldn't lose him completely, the way she would if they had a messy break up in the future. Lois tried to push that thought away again. She couldn't do it.

Her tears subsided slowly and her breathing returned to normal as she remained curled up on the couch, drifting toward sleep.

Lois wasn't sure how much time had passed when she was jolted fully awake by the ringing phone. She jumped up and grabbed the phone on the second ring.


"Hi, honey."

His voice sent daggers of guilt into her stomach. How could she possibly think about breaking up with him?

"Hey," she said, her voice soft and wistful.

"Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine," she said, trying to force a note of cheerfulness into her voice. "What's going on?"

"Not much now. I just finally got home. What a day."

"Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm fine. Just tired. And I miss you."

"I miss you, too," she said, the words catching in her throat.

"What are you doing now? Do you want me to come over for a little bit?

Lois' heart clenched and she knew she wanted nothing else more than that, but if she was really considering breaking up with him, she needed to think it through, and there was no way she could do that with him sitting next to her. "I don't think so, sorry. I'm just really tired. I think I'm going to turn in early."

"Okay," Clark said, the disappointment in his voice evident. "I'll see you tomorrow then."

"Yeah, tomorrow. Good night, Clark."

"Good night."

"Clark," she said suddenly.


"Nothing, I just… I love you."

"I love you, too, sweetheart," he said, his disappointment replaced with affection. "Get some rest. I'll see you in morning."

The soft click of the phone disconnecting echoed in her ear, and Lois set the receiver back in the cradle. She hadn't meant to tell him that she loved him, not when she was sitting there thinking about breaking up with him. But he'd sounded so disappointed about not seeing her.

Lois sighed and shuffled into the bedroom. She changed quickly then grabbed a pad and a pen before climbing into bed. Maybe it would help to get it down on paper.


Twenty four hours later, Clark was once again pacing his living room floor as he dialed Lois' number. The phone rang four times and then he was greeted by a recording. He sighed and hung up. He'd called her once already tonight, but she hadn't returned his call. He hadn't had a chance to see her last night because she was tired, and then she'd acted a little strange at work all day. He was starting to think that she was avoiding him on purpose, but he couldn't figure out why.

A rapid knock on his front door interrupted his musing. Pushing his glasses down the bridge of his nose, Clark looked through the door then smiled. He jogged across the living room and flung open the front door.

"Hey! I was just thinking about you. Come on in."

Lois came in, but her face was serious and she shifted uncomfortably. "Clark, we need to talk."

His stomach twisted, more at the tone of her voice than her words. "Okay, come on in. Do you want something to drink?"

"No," she said, wringing her hands. "Let's just sit."

Clark helped her out of her coat and tossed in on a chair while Lois perched on the edge of the couch. Clark tried to remain calm and lowered himself to sit beside her. When she didn't speak immediately, he reached for her hands, covering them with his own. "Honey, what is it? Just talk to me. Whatever it is, it can't be so bad."

Lois took a deep breath and met his gaze for a moment before looking away again. "You're going to hate me."

"That sounds awfully familiar," Clark said softly. He reached up tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. "Do you remember what you told me when I said that? 'There's nothing you could say that would make me hate you.'"

Lois took a shaky breath. "I think we should break up."

Clark's body froze while his mind began to race. He must have heard her wrong, he told himself. Surely she couldn't have said that she wanted to break up with him.

"I'm sorry," she said softly. "I know that this seems kind of sudden."

"Sudden? Yes, definitely sudden. Lois, what happened?" he asked, panic beginning to set in.

"Nothing happened, I just…"

"Look, I know I've been really busy as Superman lately, and I'm sorry. And I know I told you that I would give you as much time as you need, and I haven't really done that. But please, you can't just end this. Things are too good. I'll give you as much time as you need to get used to me being Superman, I swear." "Clark, this has nothing — *nothing* — to do with you being Superman. I need you to know that. And I need you to know that whatever happens to us, I will never, ever tell anyone your secret. And I'll still help you. You can still come to me if you need to talk. And I'll cover for you at work."

Clark's head whirled as Lois began to babble. "Lois, what are you talking about? You're breaking up with me and then you're telling me that you'll be there for me when I need you and you'll cover for me at work? What am I missing here?"

"I want to be your friend, Clark. I still care about you…a lot. I just… I just think that it would be better if we just stayed friends."

Lois met his gaze for only a second before looking away again. Clark didn't know why she was doing this, but it was obvious to him that there was something going on below the surface. Her heart was racing and she was obviously uncomfortable. He'd bet anything that she was just as upset about the thought of them breaking up as he was. But if that was the case, why was she doing it?

"You think we should be just friends?" he asked calmly.

"Yes," she said. Her voice was steady, but she still refused to look at him.

Before he knew what he was doing he reached out and cupped her cheek in his palm, gently turning her face toward him. And then he was kissing her. A long, searching, sweet kiss. She responded immediately, automatically, and when he finally ended the kiss, just as suddenly as he'd started it, they were both breathless.

"Don't even try to tell me you didn't feel that," he said softly. "What's really going on?"

"I told you. I just want to be friends."

"And we just established that that's not entirely true," he retorted. "The real question is, why, if you want to be my friend and you are obviously attracted to me, do you want to break up with me? What am I missing? What happened yesterday that freaked you out? I wasn't even around all day. If you're not upset about Superman — and you've already sworn it has nothing to do with that — I'm at a loss."

There was silence for a minute, but Clark refused to give in. He wanted an answer. He needed an answer.

"You haven't been in the office much over the past two days," Lois said finally. Clark had no idea where she was going with that, but he was glad she was talking. It was a good start.

"No, I've been doing a lot of interviews outside the office, and I've had to be Superman a lot, of course."

Lois nodded, but didn't speak immediately. Finally she continued. "So you probably haven't realized that we're everyone's favorite topic of conversation."

Clark grimaced. He knew that couldn't be the whole reason she was breaking up with him, but for someone as sensitive to gossip as Lois, he knew it had to be painful. "We are? What are they saying? How did they find out?"

"People from the conference have mentioned it to their friends at the Planet, I guess. Then they pass it around. Now everyone is speculating about when we got together, how long we'll last, if we're really a couple at all or just 'friends with benefits.'"

Clark reached over and took her hands again. "I'm sorry. I know how much you hate being talked about like that."

"It's not just that," Lois said after another long pause. "This is reminding everyone of the whole Claude fiasco. It's been a couple of years, so some of the new people haven't even heard about him, but the people who were there then, are having a field day filling them in."

As Lois filled him in on the conversation she'd overheard in the restroom the previous day, Clark had to make a great effort to keep calm. How could people be so mean? She was obviously really hurting, not just about the gossip but about the memories it had dredged up, but there really wasn't much he could do to help her, at least not until he found out how that was involved in making her break up with him.

"Honey, I know this is upsetting for you. And I admit that I don't relish being gossiped about either. But I don't understand why that means we have to break up. After all, won't that just start a new round of rumors?"

Lois shifted uncomfortably. "It's not just the gossip. It's just that the gossip got me thinking. Especially about the whole Claude thing."

Clark tensed, feeling a bit defensive. "Lois, I'm not Claude. I love you. I would never hurt you like that."

"I know that," she said softly. "You would never do anything to hurt me, and that's why you could hurt me so much more than he ever did."

"I'm not following. Help me out here."

Lois sighed. "With Claude…I was hurt. I was humiliated. But I could throw myself into my work and get past it. It was easy to hate him, so I didn't really miss him. With you…when we break up, it'll be totally different. I know I won't be able to hate you. And I won't be able to throw myself into my work either because you'll be there. Even if you aren't physically there, I'll never be able to walk into the newsroom, sit at my desk or write a story without thinking about you. It would kill me. And you're still my best friend, Clark. So I'd be losing that too. The only person in the world who could possibly get me through something that painful…is you. And you'd be the one person in the world I couldn't go to."

Clark could hear the pain in her voice and knew it was genuine. A part of him wanted to reach for her and comfort her, but another part was growing more and more frustrated by the second. They hadn't even been dating for a week and she was already thinking about their break up. It was pretty clear that she had no faith in him and no faith in their relationship. Obviously she wasn't nearly as committed to this relationship as he'd thought she was.

"I just think," she continued, "that it would be better for both of us if we broke things off now — while we can still stay friends. Before it's too late."

"It's already too late." Clark said, jumping up from the couch. He ignored Lois' stricken look and continued. "Do you really think we can go back to the way things were after the last couple of weeks? Do you have any idea how torturous it would be for me to go back to pretending we were just friends after being with you like this?"

"It'll be hard for me too," Lois said. She looked at him from the couch, anguish in her eyes. After a moment she dropped her gaze from him to her lap, toying with her hands. "I'm sorry. I really am. I don't want to hurt you. That's the last thing I want to do. I'm doing this because it will save us both from worse pain later."

"No. You're doing this because you're a chicken. It's okay for you to jump headfirst into something dangerous without any regard for life or limb when it's a story on the line, but when it's our life together hanging in the balance, you're not willing to risk getting hurt."

Lois leapt to her feet. "That's not fair!"

They stood toe to toe, each clenching their hands at their sides. Clark's jaw ticked as he fought a losing battle to remain calm. "It's the truth! We haven't even been together for a week and you're already planning our break up! Did it ever occur to you to give me a chance? To give us a chance? I'm not going anywhere, Lois. I want this to work. I need this to work."

"I want this to work, too! You have no idea how much I wish this could last forever. I've been happier this week than I have been at any other point in my entire life. But, Clark, my track record speaks for itself. Something always goes wrong." Lois threw her hands up in the air in a show of helplessness and frustration, and turned her back on him, facing the couch.

"Maybe that's because, in the past, you've dated guys who were jerks. Do you really think it's fair to compare me to them? Do you have any idea how that makes me feel?"

Clark's soft pleas seemed to touch her in a way that his yelling hadn't. She turned to look at him again, and started to reach for him, stopping herself at the last minute. "I'm not comparing you to them, Clark. That's not the point. The point is that I love you too much to risk losing you forever."

"And you really think you can save our relationship by doing this?"

"I know it won't be easy. But it will be easier than trying to salvage it after a bad break up months from now."

"Okay, let's just say — for the sake of argument — that I go along with this. That I give up everything that makes me happy and go back to pretending I'm satisfied with being your friend." Lois had the good grace to look somewhat abashed, Clark noticed, and he allowed the impact of his words to sink in fully before he continued, his voice rising with each question. "How long can we keep that up? Are we just supposed to stay single for the rest of our lives? What happens when we start dating other people? Am I just supposed to sit back and watch as you start dating someone else, someone who can't make you as happy as I do? Am I supposed to be in your wedding? Play godfather to your children? Do you have any idea how sick that makes me feel? I don't want to be the best man, Lois! I want to be the groom!"

Lois was quiet for a moment as Clark began to pace. "Clark," she said finally. "I believe you mean that. I really do. You mean that now. But what about six months from now? How long until you get sick of me? How long before what you're feeling now fades away and suddenly it's not worth putting up with my weird quirks and insecurities? Then you won't even wind up be the best man, you'll just be an ex-boyfriend that I think back on and wonder whatever happened to him."

"I'm not going to get sick of you," Clark said loudly, punctuating each word. "How many times do I have to tell you that? Can't you even give me a chance to prove that? Not every relationship ends! Some people manage to live very happily their entire lives. Is it totally impossible for you to believe that we just might be one of those couples?"

"I'm just not like you, Clark! I don't have your faith in love. I didn't grow up in a house filled with love. I grew up in a house where everyone hated everyone else, and every relationship I've had as an adult has been a disaster! Yes, I love you. I love you so much it hurts. But this butterflies-in-the- stomach, hearts and flowers feeling isn't going to last."

"See, that's our problem! Because I'm not talking about hearts and flowers and romance!" he shouted. "I'm talking about two people who love each other enough to make a commitment to work things out. I'm talking about sticking together when things get hard; working through the bad times. Lois, I can't promise you that things will always be perfect. I can't promise you that we'll never fight, or that I'll never make you cry.

But I can promise you that no matter what happens, I won't walk away. No matter what goes wrong, I'd rather be with you than without you. I need you. You are the most important thing in my life, and I will never do anything to jeopardize that. Forever. That's what I'm talking about."

Clark ran his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath, trying to calm himself.

Lois sat down on the couch and dropped her head into her hand, crying quietly. Clark hesitated for just a second before dropping to his knees in front of her and gathering her into his arms. She came willingly, burying her head in the crook of his neck and wrapping her arms tightly around him. As silent sobs shook her body, Clark held her tightly, rubbing her back. As he held her, the remains of his anger slipped away.

"I just love you so much it scares me," she whispered against his neck, damp with her tears. "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."

"Shh, it's okay. I love you, too," he whispered, stroking her back. He wasn't sure yet that this meant she had abandoned her idea to break up with him, but the fact that she was clinging to him seemed like a good sign.

"Tell me again," she pleaded softly.

"I love you."

"No, tell me you'll never leave me. Tell me you won't get sick of me."

"Oh, Lois. Honey, I'm never, ever going to get sick of you. We'll have our differences, and I'm sure we'll butt heads plenty of times. But I'm not going anywhere. I love you so much. I'm not going to leave you."

He pulled back slightly, and she clung to him. "I'm not going anywhere, Lois," he said softly, moving up to sit beside her on the couch and pulling her back into his embrace. For a moment he held her silently, just being thankful that she was still there. Then he spoke again. "But I need you to make me that same promise. I can't live in constant fear that you're going to come home from work and break up with me because you're scared. You have to come to me. Talk to me. We can work it out together, if you'll just trust me."

Lois pulled back and wiped her eyes. Clark waited as she took a deep breath and met his gaze. "I promise."

Clark slid one hand behind her neck and tugged her toward him, resting his forehead against hers. He grasped for words to say to solidify this change in their relationship but failed to find anything meaningful enough. After a moment, Lois solved the problem for him by tilting her head to one side and capturing his lips in a sweet kiss. Clark sighed and brought one hand up to stroke her cheek. His other hand slid down her back, pulling her closer. Lois responded immediately, pressing forward until Clark lay sprawled on his back, Lois draped over him.

"I thought I'd never be able to do this again," Lois said, unbuttoning his shirt and layering kisses across his throat and shoulder.

"Oh, sweetheart, that feels so good," Clark groaned, stroking her hair. But as her kisses continued a growing sense of unease began to fill him. "Honey. Lois, wait. Just a second."

She pulled away and looked up at him questioningly.

"I just… I mean, tonight's been really emotional. Maybe we should just take this slow."

"I just want to be with you, Clark. I thought I was losing you. I feel like… I need to touch you. To know that you're really here."

"I'm here," he said, stroking her hair. "But maybe we can just …"

"You don't want me," she said hollowly, pulling back farther. "You're still mad and you don't want me to touch you."

"No!" Clark settled both hands at her waist, preventing her from running away. "No. I love when you touch me. Always. I'm just so confused right now. We've gone through so much in the last hour. I'm just…"

"What, Clark? You're just what?" Her voice was quiet and he knew that a lot was riding on his response.



He took a deep breath and eased Lois to the side, sitting up beside her. "You know what you were saying about wanting to break things off now because you know it would be so much harder in the future?" She nodded, but her face was etched in suspicious confusion. "Well, I know what you mean. Because although I have no intention of this ever ending, I know there is nothing I can do if you decide to end it. It's like I said after I told you about me being, you know, Superman. It's your decision. And that terrifies me. Because the thought of watching you walk away is so scary to me. But you're right about it only getting worse. And as petrified as I was tonight when you told me you wanted to break up, I know you're right that it would be even harder down the road."

"So you don't want to … be physical with me? Because you're scared?"

Clark laughed softly, then reached out and caressed her cheek. "Are you kidding? I want you more than I ever have. I want to touch you and hold you and tell myself that you'll never leave."

Lois furrowed her brow and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear nervously. "Then what's the problem? What am I missing?"

"There's no problem, really. I just… I just need a little time to get over the emotions I was feeling earlier. It's hard to shift gears so suddenly."

"I know. I'm sorry," she said, looking down at her lap to avoid making eye contact with him. "Do you want me to go?"

"No! I just… Let's just take this slow, okay?"

She nodded slightly, but didn't say anything. Clark reached and cupped her cheek, bringing her face up again. Then he leaned forward and kissed her lightly, his lips clinging to hers. His hand slipped around to the back of her neck, caressing and holding her to him as his kisses became more insistent. Lois whimpered and began to kiss him back, one hand dropping to his thigh to steady herself.

As they continued to trade sweet, gentle kisses, Clark could feel the fear in his heart being replaced by her love and tenderness. When she deepened the next kiss, he laid back gently, returning themselves to their earlier position.

As their kisses grew more heated, he shifted beneath her. Finally he placed his hands on her waist and levitated a few inches in the air, then flipped then so that she was beneath him on the couch.

"What? How did you? Wow," she said, a grin spreading across her face.

Clark returned the grin, then captured her lips again. Bracing one arm on the couch cushion to take some of his weight, he slowly brought the other from her waist up, skimming her stomach and then tracing higher. Lois inhaled sharply and arched up toward him. He trailed his hand back down her stomach until she whimpered incoherently against his mouth, one hand tangled in his hair, the other exploring his back. They remained locked this way, alternating deep, long kissing with lighter kisses peppered across each other's upper bodies. Finally, breathless, Lois placed her hands on his chest and pushed softly until he pulled back.

"Take me to bed, Clark."

Clark's heart clenched at her words and tightened further as he took in her rumpled hair and kiss bruised lips. He wanted desperately to follow her instructions, but he was afraid that if he did, he wouldn't be able to stop the way he had in the past. Though he'd told her earlier he wanted to take it slowly, he'd long since passed the point where that was a problem. Now all he could think about was being with her, totally and completely. And if she wasn't ready for that, sharing a bed tonight might not be the best idea. They'd either do something she'd regret, or he'd be tortured.

As if sensing the reason for his hesitation, Lois smiled at the conflicted look in his eyes. "I want you to make love to me."

His heart racing, he begged his body to calm down enough to allow him to think rationally. "Are you sure? This has been an emotional night, and I know how you feel. I want to be with you, too. But are you really sure you're ready to make love to me? I don't want you to regret the first time we make love."

"I'm not doing this because I'm upset and I need to be comforted, Clark. If that was the case, I'd ask you just to let me stay the night and hold me. I know you'd do it. I want to make love to you. I'm in love with you, and I've just finally come to the realization that I don't have to protect myself from you anymore. I don't want there to be anything left between us."

That was all Clark needed to hear. He stood and whisked her into his arms, kissing her deeply then striding to his bed as she continued to kiss his neck. He reached the bed quickly and laid her down gently.

"You are the most beautiful thing I've ever seen."

"I'm a mess. I've been crying."

"You're perfect."

She smiled up at him ironically. "I had this great romantic plan for our first time. I was planning this great seduction — dinner, wine, candles. The whole nine yards."

"That's sweet," he said, lowering himself to the bed until he was half over her, their bodies aligned, one of his legs resting between hers. "But I don't need any of that. I just need you."

Lois melted beneath him, welcoming him into her arms and into her heart. Things were finally as they should be.


Lois groaned and buried her head deeper into Clark's chest as the incessant beeping of the alarm clock pried her from her peaceful slumber. "Make it stop."

Clark laughed and reached over her to hit the snooze button. "Good morning to you, too."

Lois rolled to her side and smiled up at him. "God, I've missed this. Waking up in your arms."

"Me too," he said, reaching out and smoothing a lock of hair behind her ear. "I've slept in this bed every night this week wishing you were beside me. And I wasn't even thinking about making love to you."

Lois looked at him skeptically.

"Okay, I was thinking about it," Clark said with a laugh. "But I would have been happy just to have you here to sleep. I'd gotten pretty used to it at the hotel."

"We should call off sick and spend the next three days in bed," she said, stretching out beside her lover.

Clark raised his head to look at her, one eyebrow raised. "Are you suggesting we play hooky?"

"Who me? Never!" Lois said, mock offended, before laughing. Her laughter died quickly though, and she reached up to stroke Clark's cheek. "Seriously, it's not like we have anything really pressing going on. I just want to spend the rest of the day making love to you and lying in your arms. I can't bear the thought of going to work today and trying to act normal."

"Me either," he said, kissing her gently. "Perry should be getting to the office in a few minutes. We can call him then and tell him we're not coming in. We'll think of some excuse."

She snuggled against him again, sliding an arm over his chest and hugging him. She'd never known she could be so content and happy. It was a fulfillment that nothing she'd tried before — work, success, awards — had provided.

They lay quietly for a minute, and she drifted toward sleep in his arms. Then Clark's soft voice brought her back to reality.

"I'm going to ask you to marry me."

Lois was silent as she let his words sink in. He wasn't asking her to marry him. He was just telling her that he intended to do so — a pre-proposal of sorts. She had never pictured herself getting married. Not after all her disastrous relationships. But, somehow.with Clark.

"I'm going to say yes," she replied softly.