By Wendy Richards <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Submitted: November 2003
Summary: The day after unknowingly drinking a Kryptonite-laced glass of wine, a feverish Clark staggers into the Daily Planet. A disgruntled Lois takes him back to his apartment and ends up taking care of him…
I was stuck for a title for this story, and then found myself listening several times to Alice Cooper's Poison, and these lyrics kind of appealed to me:
*I wanna love you but I better not touch
I wanna hold you, but my senses tell me to stop
I wanna kiss you but I want it too much
I wanna taste you but your lips are venomous poison*
Well, that's not exactly what this story is about, but in a way it's close enough. ;) So Poison it is. <g>
Many thanks to my terrific beta-readers, Yvonne, Kaethel, Elena and Annette. My grateful thanks also to those who read and commented on the story on the Lois and Clark Fanfic Message Boards and in email, especially those who made helpful suggestions — in particular Irene and Roger, but many others too. I would also like to thank my Archive editor, Kathy MacFarlane, for a very thorough job — Kathy, it's been a pleasure to work with you!
All rights to the characters belong to DC Comics and Warner Bros; no infringement of copyright is intended by their use in this work of fiction from which no income is being derived!
~ Prologue ~
'And, in the end, Jason Trask's obsession caused him to search for a mystical rock he alone imbued with destructive powers, and to confuse one reporter with the target of his fixation, Superman. He came to see this strange visitor from another planet where he was not, and to see enemies where there were none. It was an obsession that for Jason Trask would prove fatal.'
Thoughtfully, Lex Luthor laid down his morning newspaper and took a sip of coffee. "Nigel?"
His aide and general factotum instantly glided to his side. "Yes, sir?"
"What do you know about Jason Trask?"
Lex was aware that he had no need to ask whether Nigel had read the story, or had any greater knowledge of Trask. His indispensable assistant was adept at anticipating his master's every need.
"The FBI, the army and the government have all disclaimed him, sir. They claim that he was a maverick, dangerously delusional." Nigel's voice was studiously expressionless.
"Yes, and do they not protest just a little over much?" Lex murmured, almost to himself.
"It is perhaps a trifle odd, yes," Nigel agreed. "However, as to whether his Bureau 39 remained officially, albeit covertly, sponsored by the government, I have no idea — at present. Should you wish to know, sir, I can certainly make enquiries."
Lex waved the offer aside; as he was sure Nigel already knew, his interest didn't lie in the existence or otherwise of a shady government unit dedicated to investigating extra- terrestrials. Whether or not there had been cover-ups at Roswell and elsewhere were immaterial to him.
"I want that rock," he announced.
"That assumes that it even exists, let alone that it does have the power to affect Superman," Nigel observed.
"Oh, I believe it exists." Lex opened his expensively-carved humidor, withdrawing a best Cuban. Smoothly, Nigel produced the clippers, snipping off the end of the cigar before snapping open the solid gold Cartier lighter and igniting it.
"I also believe that it may just be what we are looking for," he added before taking a deep puff of the cigar.
"Yes, sir?" Nigel stepped back, replacing the smoking accessories in their appointed place.
"I believe it for a couple of reasons," Lex continued. "First, Lois Lane *doesn't* believe it, which is a good indication that this Kryptonite may have the power to affect Superman. That woman may be attractive — perhaps even beautiful — but she is too besotted by that ape in a cape to see what lies under her nose."
He took another long draw on his cigar, pausing to exhale a perfect smoke ring before continuing. "Second, I firmly believe that nothing is indestructible. Nature has created her universe in such a way that every creature has its perfect, sometimes unique, predator. Therefore Superman must have his Achilles heel. We simply have yet to find it."
"But it is also the case, sir, that creatures transported out of their natural environment may find themselves free of their predators," Nigel pointed out. "That was true of rabbits in Australia."
"Indeed," Lex agreed, nodding. "But that was where science came in, Nigel. Myxomatosis, a naturally-occurring virus, was imported from Brazil to deal with the rabbit population explosion. Likewise, there must be something which is capable of destroying Superman. Nigel, for five months we have searched high and low for a means of weakening our Nemesis. We have subjected him to thorough testing. We have watched him survive situations which would eliminate even the strongest mortal. No ordinary weapon will destroy him. But perhaps something extraordinary can."
"A rock, sir?" Nigel mused questioningly.
"Assuming that it is indeed just a rock." Lex flicked at the newspaper again. "Apparently, it glows. Now, isn't it interesting that, while Ms Lane appears to go to pains to deny the very existence of this so-called Kryptonite, she is aware that it glows? And then, consider the name she has given it." Lex paused, a faint smile hovering around his lips. "Kryptonite. An invented name, but similar in etymology to… meteorite." The smile became more pronounced. "And… Krypton. The alien's home planet, I believe?"
"It is indeed, sir," Nigel confirmed.
"So, it seems that the late, apparently unlamented Colonel Trask may have stumbled upon a meteorite from Superman's home planet. A little piece of home, Nigel. Perhaps the very piece of home which will turn out to be Superman's Nemesis, don't you think?"
"A persuasive argument, sir," Nigel agreed.
"I want this Kryptonite," Lex announced crisply.
"Anticipating your request, sir, I set several agents to the task of acquiring some as soon as I read Ms Lane's article," Nigel replied smoothly. "More coffee, sir?"
~ Two months later ~
Lois waved the morning's edition of the Daily Planet in front of her partner. "Another great scoop! Did you see LNN's morning news programme? Lane and Kent are setting the agenda yet again!"
Clark grinned back at her. "Yeah, I saw it. Though they were playing up Lex Luthor's part in it too — I suppose they have to suck up to the boss."
"Well, he did use his contacts to help us get to Roarke, remember," Lois pointed out. "And, thanks to him, Superman was able to save a lot of lives yesterday."
"True," Clark agreed, wishing that he could tell Lois just how much he hated being indebted to Lex Luthor. One of these days, he thought, gazing past Lois and out of the newsroom's picture window. One of these days, Luthor's chickens would come home to roost, and the man would be exposed for the villain he was.
Lex Luthor refolded his morning newspaper, dropping it by his plate at the same moment Nigel re-entered the room.
"Ah, Nigel. You know what really troubles me about yesterday's little incident?"
Nigel waited, an expectant expression on his face.
"The degree of corruption which exists among the Metropolis business community. And even among our elected representatives," Lex explained, shaking his head. "To think that a man elected to noble office, such as Congressman Harrington, would stoop to allowing himself to be influenced by someone as unscrupulous as Thaddeus Roarke. Absolutely disgraceful."
"Indeed, sir," Nigel agreed.
"And if Roarke can have his pet Congressman, why can't I?" Lex added, taking a sip of coffee. "Or even a Senator, perhaps." Lex dabbed at his lips with his white Irish linen napkin, then allowed it to fall onto his plate, uncaring of the smears of preserve which remained.
"I have already compiled a list for your perusal, sir," Nigel replied. "However, for the moment, I have something which may be of more interest to you."
"Yes?" Lex glanced across at his aide in mild curiosity. Nigel was carrying a small metal casket, something which gave no clue whatsoever to its contents.
Approaching the table, Nigel laid the casket down, its plain dark appearance in stark contrast to the snowy white linen. He raised the lid, revealing a small laboratory vial.
Lex raised one eyebrow in enquiry.
"Some weeks ago, you requested that some Kryptonite be found, sir," Nigel explained.
Lex reached into the casket and picked up the vial. It appeared empty… until he looked more carefully and noticed what appeared to be several tiny sparkling crystals, some red, some green.
"This is barely more than dust," he commented dismissively.
"Unfortunately, sir, it was all our operatives were able to find. We still have people searching for more, but in the meantime the laboratory reports that these specks most definitely emit a radioactive frequency. We were somewhat concerned about the presence of the red fragments, since our information is that the meteorite Colonel Trask had was quite definitely green. However, the red material emits the same degree and quality of radioactivity as the green: harmless to humans, and both clearly from the same source."
"Interesting," Lex murmured. Was there any difference between the red and the green? Or was it pure accident that the meteorite came in different colours? Perhaps something to do with the effect of transit through time and space, he thought; perhaps an effect of heat, assuming that the material had had to travel at some considerable velocity.
"Despite their size, I thought that you might possibly have some use for them," Nigel was saying.
"Hmm." Lex examined the contents of the vial once more, thinking carefully. "They are too small to affect him in any way through external contact, I would guess. And one puff of air and they would blow away."
"Indeed, sir," Nigel agreed. "There may yet be other ways."
"Internal infection, yes," Lex agreed. "Now, the alien is invulnerable, so it is highly unlikely that he could be injected with a solution containing the fragments. On the other hand," he continued thoughtfully, "there is always the oral method."
"That would no doubt be the most efficacious, sir," Nigel agreed again. "Should I give an operative instructions to see that it happens?"
"I think not," Lex said, waving a hand dismissively. "I think I would rather enjoy performing this operation myself."
The phone on Lois's desk shrilled, and she waved Clark away with her hand. They could finish discussing their follow-up to Harrington's arrest later. "Lois Lane."
"Ah! Lois, my dear!"
"Lex?" Surprised, Lois leaned back in her chair.
"I was just calling to reassure myself that you'd suffered no after-effects from yesterday's near catastrophe," her caller said, concern in his voice.
"Oh! That's very kind of you, Lex." Lois smiled. "I'm fine, though. And Clark and I are busy working on the Roarke story. That's someone who's facing a long jail term."
"Indeed, and it's no more than he deserves." Lex's tone changed then. "Actually, speaking of your partner, Mr Kent, I was also wondering whether you or he are likely to encounter Superman in the near future."
"Superman? Possibly," Lois answered. At that moment, she became conscious that she was being watched, and she turned her head to see Clark looking in her direction, a suspicious expression on his face. Of course; he didn't like Lex. Though even Clark should recognise that Lex had helped a lot in getting to the bottom of the tsunami story, she thought in mild irritation, and looked away again.
"Clark seems to run into him more often than I do, but one of us should probably come into contact with him in the next week or so. Why?"
"I merely wanted to thank him," Lex replied casually. "He did help to expose the appalling actions of Mr Roarke, which has indirectly saved two of my companies a great deal of money and an enormous cost in reputation, had Project Shockwave gone ahead and then failed, as Roarke intended. Could you or Mr Kent pass a message along to him? Ask him if he would do me the honour of paying me a brief visit, so that I can thank him in person. I may also have some information which could be of interest to him."
That was thoughtful of Lex, Lois mused. "Sure, we'll pass that on, Lex. And now…"
"Yes, of course," he said smoothly. "You are a busy woman; I understand that. I won't take up any more of your time. Perhaps we could have dinner together again some time?"
"Perhaps," Lois answered non-committally. She really wasn't sure whether she wanted any involvement with Lex Luthor beyond the professional. "If you're saying that you're finally willing to give me that exclusive interview I want?" she challenged.
"Ah, you never give up, do you, Lois?" She could hear the amused smile in his voice. "Perhaps, one of these days. Goodbye for now, however."
Lois replaced the receiver, turning her head again to meet Clark's critical gaze. "Now what? It was just a courtesy call. He was asking how I was!"
"What was that about Superman?" he asked immediately.
Lois explained, adding, "See? He's showing some good manners — which, I might add, you weren't displaying much of when I was on the phone! I'd appreciate if it you didn't listen to my private conversations, Kent!"
Clark raised an eyebrow. "You listen to mine."
"That's dif-" Lois began, before breaking off, realising that this line of conversation was only going to land her in trouble. "Anyway, if you see Superman before me, just pass on the message, okay?"
So Lex Luthor wanted to see Superman. Ostensibly to thank him, though Clark was very sure that was far from being the real reason.
He should ignore the summons — it was clearly a summons, despite Luthor having expressed it to Lois as a request. Nothing good could ever come out of a meeting with Lex Luthor on his own territory.
And yet… If he didn't go, might it somehow hand Luthor the advantage? What if Luthor really did know something important, something which he might hold against him if Superman didn't turn up?
Clark could just hear it now.
"Well, I did try to warn Superman, but he ignored my request to come and see me…"
Although Clark did find it hard to believe that Luthor could really have any information which would be of use to Superman, and which he would willingly share with his arch-Nemesis. So surely he could be justified in simply ignoring Luthor's command?
On the other hand, Clark thought, maybe his real aim should be to show Luthor that he wasn't afraid of him. If he didn't go, then wasn't it just possible that Luthor might believe that he had the upper hand because Superman was afraid to meet him?
Maybe he should go. After all, it wasn't as if Luthor could do anything terrible to him. He was invulnerable, he reminded himself. And as long as he stayed close to the window, so that he could leave if the situation became difficult in any way…
He'd go that evening, after work.
At around seven that evening, Superman was hovering just above the LexCorp tower. Luthor was in the penthouse suite, playing chess with the man Clark knew as Nigel St John, the billionaire's butler or aide or some such factotum.
Clark had studied the game of chess during the time he'd spent in China and the Far East. Luthor, he could tell as he watched the two men make their moves, was a very good player; nowhere close to grandmaster level, of course, but extremely skilled. Of course, Luthor would never allow himself to be mediocre at anything, Clark thought cynically.
He drifted down to the balcony, standing just outside the large picture window. Raising his voice, he called, "Mr St John, if you move your king's knight to queen's pawn four, you can have checkmate in four moves."
The two men's focus on the game was instantly broken. Luthor got to his feet and strode over to the window, pressing a control which made it slide open. "Superman! Do come in. I'm honoured that you accepted my invitation."
Gritting his teeth, Clark stepped forward. He wanted to tell Luthor to drop the pretence, that both of them knew very well that there was neither honour nor courtesy in his presence in the other man's penthouse. But where Lex Luthor was concerned, it was never a good idea to reveal his true feelings. Keeping his guard up at all times was the most important rule.
"Luthor," he said calmly, inclining his head slightly. "I received a message that you wanted to see me."
"I wanted to thank you, Superman. You did me an enormous favour yesterday, and such an act of kindness cannot go unrewarded," Luthor said smoothly.
"Think nothing of it," Clark said, shrugging. "I was just doing my job."
"Nonetheless…" Luthor replied. "You'll take a glass of wine with me, at least, Superman? I've just taken delivery of a case of something really special: a 1966 Chateau Mouton Rothschild. Very difficult to obtain, and extremely expensive, but you'll see why just as soon as you taste it. It's a truly magnificent wine." Turning towards St John, Luthor added, "Nigel, bring in the Mouton you decanted earlier, please."
Clark had no desire whatsoever to have a drink with his arch-Nemesis. But leaving now would be rude in the extreme — not that he had a problem with being rude to Luthor, as such, but he was trying to stick by his resolve to be outwardly polite. He had to admit, too, that the prospect of sampling a rare vintage Bordeaux wasn't exactly unappealing.
Luthor indicated that Clark should move further into the room, which he did reluctantly. "You play chess, Superman?"
"Occasionally," Clark conceded.
"Would you care to take Nigel's place and finish the game? I'm intrigued to see whether I could defeat your strategy."
Clark didn't care to do so. But he supposed that it was one way of whiling away the time he'd now committed himself to spending in Luthor's company. And at least this way he wouldn't be expected to make conversation.
He spread his cape out carefully before taking the seat St John had previously occupied, and studied the board. His earlier reaction had been accurate: assuming Luthor didn't block the moves, he could achieve checkmate in four steps.
He moved his king's knight.
After a pause, Luthor moved his queen's bishop, taking the knight — exactly as Clark had been hoping he would.
Nigel appeared at his elbow then, placing a crystal glass of ruby-red wine on a small table beside him before moving to hand an identical glass to Luthor.
Luthor raised his glass in front of him. "Your good health, Superman."
Out of politeness, Clark returned the toast. "And yours." He took a sip of the wine. It was rich and mellow, and extremely good. He took another sip, before returning his concentration to the board. His next move was straightforward: a sideways move by a pawn, to take Luthor's bishop in a diversionary tactic. "Check."
Luthor took a slow sip of his wine before glancing back at the board. "So I see." He waved his free hand towards the glass at Clark's elbow in a leisurely movement. "What is your opinion of the wine? A fine vintage, hmm?"
"Indeed," Clark agreed. "I don't pretend to be a connoisseur, but it's very good." He took another sip.
Luthor turned his attention back to the chess- board, seeming lost in contemplation of his next move. Left to his own devices, Clark took another drink of his wine. Odd; it seemed curiously gritty this time. There was also something of an aftertaste; a little acidic. Though that wasn't very different from the aftertaste of some Chardonnays, and wine connoisseurs seemed to love that. He shrugged inwardly and ignored it.
"You know your game," Luthor observed. "But let's see what you do with this…" He slid a rook across to take Clark's pawn and, it seemed, block any further move.
The diversion seemed to have worked. Clark moved the piece he'd intended to all along: his bishop to within two spaces of Luthor's king.
"Hmm." Luthor drank from his glass again. "Interesting move, Superman." He gazed thoughtfully at the board again, before glancing at Clark. "Would you like Nigel to refill your glass?"
"Thank you, no. Delicious as it is, one glass is plenty." Clark took another sip. Yes, it was definitely gritty. Whoever had decanted it — Nigel, presumably? — clearly hadn't taken care to ensure the sediment didn't get mixed up with the wine. That was surprising. He couldn't imagine Lex Luthor putting up with that kind of service from his staff. However, he said nothing. He had no wish to get the man's butler into trouble.
Luthor moved another piece, then leaned back in his seat with an amused smile hovering around his lips. "Check."
Clark glanced at the board. "I see. However…" He moved his queen half-a-dozen spaces, capturing the rook with which his opponent had threatened his king. "Checkmate, I believe."
Luthor blinked, then stared at the board. "It is indeed." He raised his glass. "You are a worthy opponent, Superman." Bringing his glass to his lips, he drained it.
Clark did likewise. "Thank you. But Mr St John had already done most of the work."
"I'm not convinced that Nigel could have brought the game to the conclusion which you did, Superman," Luthor said with a smile. "But perhaps we should play again. From the beginning this time."
"Some other time, perhaps," Clark said, getting to his feet. To his surprise, he swayed slightly. The wine must have been stronger than he thought — yet he didn't normally feel in any way affected by alcohol.
"Of course, Superman. We mustn't keep you. Oh, but I should let you know that the government has halted all funding for Project Shockwave. It was, no doubt, a foregone conclusion after Thaddeus Roarke's regrettable actions were exposed, but I'm sure it will come as a relief all the same."
So this was what Luthor had wanted to tell him? Hardly startling news, but it was good news regardless. "I'm delighted to hear it. Thank you for the wine," he said, stepping over towards the balcony. A blast of night air hit him, and he felt oddly light-headed.
"Goodnight, Superman," Luthor said, smiling faintly.
"Goodnight," Clark echoed, taking flight. He felt himself wobble slightly as he propelled himself through the air; very strange. He should get home as soon as possible, he thought; maybe some strong black coffee would help.
Lex closed the window and turned to face Nigel, a triumphant expression on his face. "It worked like a dream. A shame to waste such a good vintage, of course… but worth it in such a cause."
"Certainly, sir. He gave no indication of even noticing the grains in his glass. And he drank every drop." Nigel picked up the empty glass.
"Perhaps we should put that on display in the museum," Lex said, amused. "The glass from which Superman took his last drink."
"I will have a cabinet prepared as soon as we hear the news of Superman's demise, sir," Nigel replied, smiling broadly.
Lex glanced back at the chess-board. Despite his pretence of good humour, he had been considerably dismayed to be beaten by the alien. Superman had, he thought, taken undue satisfaction in his utterance of 'Checkmate'.
He picked up his king, the defeated leader of his army, then set it back in its place on the board. "No, Superman," he murmured softly. "It's checkmate to me, I believe."
Clark reached out and thumped his alarm clock; its incessant ringing was giving him a headache. He turned over in bed, and immediately groaned in pain.
Wait a minute…
He blinked, and then realised that the light streaming in from the window hurt his eyes. Shielding them, he tried to sit up, but only managed to get as far as leaning against the headboard, gasping for breath.
But he was invulnerable! He couldn't possibly be in pain!
He took several deep, agonising breaths before making an attempt to think through the situation logically.
He was Superman. He was invulnerable. Therefore this… couldn't be happening, could it?
And yet… Hadn't he lain tossing and turning for some time last night because his gut had felt as if it was on fire? He hadn't imagined that, had he?
It didn't make sense, he thought dazedly. There was only one thing which could take away his invulnerability, and he hadn't encountered any of that since that time in Smallville. And Jason Trask was dead, and the Kryptonite was destroyed. Wasn't it?
And anyway, he'd only been in excruciating pain when he was in close proximity to the Kryptonite. Once he was away from it, the pain had gone; he'd just felt weak and, of course, been without his powers. So how could he possibly be like this now?
Unless… the Kryptonite was in his apartment.
He collapsed back onto the pillows. This couldn't be happening!
If it was in his apartment, how on earth was he going to deal with it? Even if he could find it, to begin with — which was a moot point, since at the moment he barely had the strength to sit up in bed, let alone get up — he couldn't possibly touch it.
Hadn't he been feeling a bit funny the previous evening? Yes, when he'd left Luthor's penthouse. He remembered now. It had been very strange — he'd even imagined that the wine must have gone to his head.
One glass of wine? With his invulnerable constitution? When even after the few frat parties he'd attended in college he'd always been stone-cold sober?
But he'd been with Luthor. A man he knew to be untrustworthy; a man who knew very well that Superman was his enemy. A man who had been strangely friendly the previous evening. Hadn't he?
Luthor… friendly. Inviting him in. Offering him wine. Playing chess with him. Offering him wine…
Offering him wine.
The sediment in the wine. The acid taste. A vintage Chateau Mouton Rothschild? If there had really been sediment in it, someone of Luthor's sophistication would have thrown it back in disgust.
There hadn't been any sediment at all. It had to have been Kryptonite.
He had swallowed Kryptonite.
He closed his eyes and groaned again. What was he going to do? Even now, it was probably eating away at his gut, doing irreparable damage to his innards.
Lying here feeling sorry for himself wasn't going to get him anywhere, he told himself roughly. Gritting his teeth, he leaned across to grab the phone from the nightstand, then dialled a familiar number.
"Mom?" His voice almost broke at the sound of the person dearest to him in the world on the other end of the phone.
"Clark? Is there something wrong?" As he'd known she would, his mom instantly moved into worried mode.
"Yeah… Mom, I think I've swallowed some Kryptonite," he explained, then leaned his head back against the headboard again, closing his eyes. He'd said the words aloud now, and they still sounded as… sickening as ever.
Kryptonite. That stuff which, he'd been convinced when he'd encountered it on both occasions in Smallville, could kill him. And he'd ingested it — he had some of it inside him.
"You've what? Oh, honey, how did that happen? When? How are you feeling? Do you need us to come to Metropolis? — Jonathan, get onto the airline -"
Interrupting his mother, her obvious anxiety making him want to ease her concern, even if he was every bit as worried as she was, Clark said quickly, "That's not necessary, Mom. I know you can't afford to leave the farm right now -"
"If you're sick, Clark, then of course we need to be there with you!"
"Mom," he said softly. "I'm feeling much better already, just from hearing your voice."
And it was true. Okay, his gut still felt as if it was on fire and he was still waiting for the room to stop spinning. And if his head would stop throbbing for even a moment, he might actually be able to work out what other parts of his body were aching. But, whereas he'd felt ready to fall into the pit of despair before calling home, now he felt ready to fight back.
He was still scared… but he was determined.
Just what he could do, he wasn't sure — but he was going to give it a darned good try.
"Tell me what happened," Martha said. "How did you swallow Kryptonite? Was it an accident, or… Did somebody try to hurt you, Clark?"
Clark explained, adding, "There can't have been very much of it. I only drank one glass of the wine, and I didn't even taste the grains until about the fourth sip — about half-way down the glass."
"And how do you feel now?" she asked, concerned.
He grimaced. "Like I've been run over by a Mack truck, Mom. Or like someone's run a red-hot poker through my stomach."
"But you can talk," she pointed out. "And, although you don't sound good, you're not fighting for breath — not like you were the first time you encountered that horrible stuff."
"No," he agreed. Then, trying to make the conversation a little more light-hearted, he added, "So you think I'll live?"
"You've got to get that stuff out of you," his mother said insistently.
"Oh, Clark! The obvious way!"
"Uh… not to me, it isn't, Mom!"
"The same way as you'd get anything unpleasant out of your system," she pointed out, amusement in her voice. "I don't think you'd want to throw up — and I'm not sure that would work anyway. Just drink plenty of water, Clark. Lots of it. And then let nature take its course."
Clark frowned. "Nat- Oh, never mind!" he added quickly as her meaning dawned. "Okay, Mom. I'll do that."
"Will you be able to get out of bed?" she asked, all amusement gone now as concern returned.
He tried sitting up again. The room still swam, but he was getting better able to control his reactions now. "Yeah, I'll manage. I'll be fine. It'll be just like before — I'll be okay, just not Super."
"Not Super, and with a bad dose of flu, by the sound of it," his mother said; he could hear the smile in her voice, just as he could also hear the worry.
"Well, I guess now I know how ordinary people feel when they get sick," he replied, in a weak attempt at humour. "Don't worry, Mom. I'll be fine. I really don't think there was enough there to kill me — if there had been, I'd be dead now."
"Clark, I know you're sick, but can you please stop making your mom even more worried than she is already?" his father's concerned voice instructed.
He pulled a face. "Sorry, Dad. Sorry, Mom. Look, I'm going to be fine, all right? I'm going to hang up and go and get a glass of water. Several glasses. Okay? And I'll call you later to let you know how I'm doing."
"You do that, son," his father answered. "And be careful, okay? If you go out at all today, just remember that you're not invulnerable any more."
"You should really call in sick," his mother advised.
"Maybe," he said, shrugging even though they couldn't see him. Swinging his legs over the side of the bed — and wincing at the jabs of pain in his stomach at the movement, plus the renewed dizziness — he added, "I'll see how I feel after I've showered. Okay?"
"Okay, son. You take care."
He hung up, then counted slowly to ten. On ten, he slowly, painfully, dragged himself to his feet. The room swam again, and he swayed, almost losing his balance. Grabbing onto the edge of his nightstand, he just about managed to regain his balance. This getting up thing wasn't going to be so easy after all…
Okay. Water. Kitchen.
He turned slowly and took a hesitant step forward, heading towards the kitchen. Every step was slow, and he almost lost his balance several times, grabbing onto items of furniture, the walls, the door jamb and anything within reach to keep himself on his feet. Finally, after what seemed like the longest walk of his life, he reached the sink, clutching at the edge of it gratefully.
The sink. Now, why was he at the sink?
Oh, yes. Water. Needed to drink some water.
Okay. Turn on the tap, he told himself. That wasn't too difficult a task.
He turned it on, then looked in puzzlement at the water running into the sink. How was he to drink -
Oh. Of course. A glass. He needed a glass. Okay.
And then came the next trial: reaching up to the overhead cupboard to get a glass. The mere act of looking up as he stretched made him dizzy again; while he got the cupboard open, in reaching inside, he knocked a glass off the shelf. It fell to the floor and shattered.
Oh, great. Now he'd have to watch his footing too in case his — now very vulnerable — foot trod on the broken glass.
"Okay," he said aloud, glad that there was no- one around to hear him talking to himself. "It's okay. It's fine. Calm down… it's only a glass. You can do it…" He reached up again, this time managing to grasp another glass and bring it down to the sink. By the time he'd filled it with water, he felt as if it was a major achievement.
Water. Drink plenty of water. That was what his mom had said. That was what he had to do.
Well, that was no problem, was it?
Clark leaned heavily against the sink and forced himself to down half a pint of water in a couple of swallows. It wasn't easy at first; his oesophagus muscles didn't seem to want to work, and he realised that, in addition to his other aches and pains, he also had a sore throat.
"Oh, wonderful," he muttered, refilling the glass. "This is going to be a *really* great day."
Lois glanced at her watch. Clark was late this morning, something which wasn't entirely unusual for him, but all the same she wasn't happy. They had a lot of work to do before the afternoon edition went to press, and even more to do before they were ready for the next day's edition. This wasn't the time for her partner to do one of his disappearing acts.
Just where was he?
Sighing in annoyed frustration, she picked up her phone, intending to call Clark's apartment. If he was still there, she'd…
The elevator dinged. Lois glanced up reflexively, and saw her partner stagger out of it.
But Clark never…
Was he drunk? Furious, she glared at him. So that was why he was late! He'd been out boozing last night, obviously, and was still three sheets to the wind this morning.
And as for his clothes… His jacket hung awkwardly on him, and she realised that the collar was half-up. His tie was askew. His shirt was unevenly buttoned, and it gaped in a couple of places. And — she allowed her gaze to trail down to his feet — he was wearing odd shoes! One black and one brown, she was sure of it.
As she watched him, he reached the ramp to the bullpen and had to grab on to the handrail to prevent himself falling over.
Yes, he was definitely drunk. So much for thinking that he was different from a typical man!
<It's not only men who get drunk, Lois> a tiny voice reminded her.
No, it wasn't. It was just a trait more men than women seemed to have in common, especially when combined with bars and sports games and showing up to work hung over.
"You look like you need to mainline caffeine," she said distastefully as her partner approached.
He looked across at her; his glazed, reddened eyes and unshaven appearance reinforced her original conclusion. "Huh?" he slurred.
"You're disgusting," she told him, curling her lip. "Did you have to come in looking like something repulsive the cat dragged in?"
He frowned, and the action seemed to Lois to be something of an effort for him. "Wha've I done?" he said, his words sounding thick, as if they'd had to fight their way out of a mouth filled with cotton wool.
Lois shook her head, grimacing. "You're not worth bothering with today, Clark Kent. Why don't you go and run your head under a cold tap for half an hour? You might just about be capable of coherent conversation after that — though I'd really prefer it if you shaved first," she added dryly.
He gave her a hurt look, the one which never failed to remind her of a lost puppy-dog afraid of being kicked. "Tap? Water? Yeah… need water…" he muttered, his words almost garbled.
Then he turned, as if to walk back towards the ramp, and slowly, inelegantly, tumbled to the floor.
Lois cursed under her breath. How could he have the nerve to come into work in that state…!
Then she noticed that heads were turning in her direction from all over the newsroom; people were craning their necks to stare at Clark Kent lying in a heap on the floor, and some were making their way over. Rubber-necking, of course; they weren't interested in helping him.
Or maybe some of them were — there was Darlene from sub-editing, whom Lois had suspected for weeks of having a crush on Clark. She'd be fawning all over him, asking if he was all right and fussing over him so that no-one else could get a look-in…
She didn't care what Darlene, or anyone else, thought, did she? Let them fuss over him. They'd soon realise that he was just drunk, and they'd be as disgusted as she was.
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Darlene make a move to stand up.
Sighing, Lois got to her feet and went over to Clark, bending down beside him. "Come on, get up — everyone's staring at you! How you could come into work like this…"
He blinked at her behind his glasses. "Lois… I… uh…" He trailed off, sounding oddly disoriented.
Funny, though… she couldn't smell alcohol. Impulse led her to lay the back of her hand against his forehead. Then she gasped.
"Clark, you're burning up! You're sick!"
"Uh… don't feel so good, Lois…"
"You don't look so good either." Lois bit her lip, knowing that she'd misjudged her partner very badly. All the time she'd been accusing him of being drunk, he'd been sick. Very sick, by the look of him; he was running a high fever.
He shouldn't even be at work. He should have called in sick.
And he probably hadn't because she'd ordered him to be in early because they had a lot of work to do.
It was all her fault. Really, Darlene was right: she treated Clark abominably.
"Come on, partner," she said softly, nudging his shoulder with her hand. "Can you manage to get up?"
He groaned, but responded to her urging, dragging himself upwards and reaching out for support as he did so. She slipped her arm around his waist and led him to the nearest chair; he subsided into it gratefully.
"Sorry, Lois… really don't feel too good," he muttered.
She patted his shoulder awkwardly. If there was one thing that Lois Lane had no idea how to deal with, it was illness. Whenever Lucy had been sick as a child, she'd left the nursing to her mom — assuming that Ellen Lane had been sober enough to cope with it. And if she hadn't, Lois had called Sam Lane; after all, what was the point in having a doctor for a father if she didn't make use of him occasionally?
"Just sit there for a minute, Clark, okay?" she said, retreating to her desk to grab her car- keys. "Jimmy!" she yelled.
"Yes, Lois? Hey, is CK okay?" Jimmy came bounding up, a concerned expression on his face.
"He's got a fever," she said. "Look, can you help me get him to the elevator? He's too heavy for me to manage alone."
"Sure." Jimmy glanced over at Clark again. "You taking him home? Or calling a cab?"
"I can't send him home alone in this state," she said, biting her lip again. Clark lived alone. She had visions of him lying collapsed on his doorstep, maybe even dying of pneumonia, if she put him in a taxi. No; her first instinct had been right. She needed to drive him home herself. And anyway, she owed it to him, after she'd accused him of being drunk when he was really sick.
"You need me to come down to the parking garage with you, then?"
Lois shook her head. "I'll manage. Thanks, though."
Between them, they managed to half-drag, half- carry Clark to the elevator. He tried to help, but it was clear that he wasn't capable of working out what was going on, much less of supporting his own weight. It was with relief that Lois allowed him to slump back against the elevator wall.
"You sure you'll be okay?"
"I'm sure. Now, go and tell Perry that I'll be back in an hour or so. And if he complains about his deadline, you can tell him what he can do with -"
"Not me, Lois!" Jimmy interrupted quickly. "You can do your own dirty work when you get back!"
Clark was having a really strange dream. First, he'd been falling somehow, gliding downwards, and yet he knew that he wasn't controlling his fall. So he couldn't have been flying. And then he had Lois's arm around his waist, with his own arm around her shoulders, and they were standing very, very close. Close enough that he could feel her heartbeat, could feel the softness of her feminine curves pressing against him.
"Come on, Clark, not much further now," she was saying to him.
She wanted him to go somewhere with her?
"Anywhere, Lois… 'll go anywhere with you," he tried to tell her, although the words sounded to his ears as if they were a foreign language.
"Just to…" He couldn't make out the rest of what she said, but he didn't care. All that mattered was that he was close to Lois. She was holding him, and there was a note in her voice which told him that she cared.
She cared. She cared about him!
And that was good. After all, he loved her, didn't he? And if she loved him back, then that was wonderful.
Life was wonderful.
Even if he did feel as if he'd done twenty rounds with one of Sam Lane's prizefighters, and even if his brain was being very slow and stupid today. Lois was with him and she cared about him. Nothing else mattered.
She'd managed to get him into the car. It had been a lot easier than she'd anticipated; although he'd leaned heavily on her, he hadn't been as much of a dead weight as he'd been when she and Jimmy had dragged him to the elevator. He'd wrapped his arm around her shoulders, dropping his head to turn his face into her hair, and when she'd urged him to move he'd said something very strange… that he would go anywhere with her.
And she thought, although she couldn't be sure, that he might actually have kissed the side of her head. Not that she could figure out why he might have done that, but she had definitely felt something like a kiss being pressed against her hair.
He was delirious, of course, which wasn't remotely surprising. He was still burning up.
Driving out of the parking garage, Lois wondered whether she ought to call Clark's doctor. Though that would be difficult, since she had no idea who his doctor was. He wasn't sick enough to go to the emergency room, but if he had the flu, then he might need medication. Mightn't he?
She could take him to her own doctor, but Dr Carey was always busy; even if she called first, there was slim to no chance that the doctor would have a free slot. No; better to take Clark home first, then find his doctor's number. It was bound to be stored in Clark's phone, or listed in his address-book. It wouldn't be that hard to find.
Clark was leaning back against the headrest now, his face turned to the road-side. He was breathing well, she noticed, although occasionally his breath turned shallow and he made a low sound, something like a groan. Aches and pains, she decided; they were flu symptoms, weren't they? At least, she thought so. It had been so long since she'd nursed her mother through the flu, and she herself was never sick. At least, never anything which meant she had to take time off work. That was what vitamins were for, wasn't it?
She made a mental note to tell Clark, once he was better, to go on a decent vitamin and mineral regime. Better still, she'd write out for him the names of the brands she took. She couldn't afford to have a partner who was prone to getting colds or flu.
Arriving outside 344 Clinton Street, she put the Jeep into park and then set her mind to working out just how she would get Clark out of the car and up the steps into his apartment. Persuasion had worked before, she remembered. Maybe if she just talked to him, got through to him, he'd do as she asked?
She got out and went around to the passenger door, opening it. Clark slid sideways as she did so — he'd clearly been using the door as support.
"Whoops!" she exclaimed, pushing at his shoulder to try to steady him. "Come on, Clark, you've got to help me out here."
He blinked slowly before turning to look at her, his gaze unfocused. "Anything… for you, Lois," he said after a moment, sounding as if he'd needed to search for the words. He was certainly being very compliant today — it was just a shame that it took him being sick to obey her every command, she thought ruefully.
"Come on." She took his arm. "Can you get down? Can you walk inside with me?"
He slid around carefully, giving her a confused look. "Walk…?"
"Yes, Clark. Just slide down to the ground… yes, like that," she said, adopting an approving tone, as he slithered inelegantly down from the Jeep, landing awkwardly on the ground. "Okay, can you put your arm around me again?"
He gave her a dopey smile. "Oh yeah…" And suddenly she was being held in a somewhat wobbly embrace.
"Oh, Clark!" Lois exclaimed, half-impatient, half-laughing. "This is not what I meant… Look, come on, we need to go inside, okay?"
"Okay," he echoed, but he allowed her to turn him in the direction of the steps up to his apartment, and when she began to walk he did too. They were making progress.
Now, all she had to do was get him inside and call his doctor. Then she could get back to the Planet, to the story which was waiting for her, and no doubt to face an irate Perry wanting to know why there was nothing on his desk yet.
With any luck, she'd be back at work within an hour.
Why did she insist on making him move, when all he wanted was to curl up somewhere and sleep? Sleep until the pain went away.
His head was throbbing. His legs felt wobbly, and his innards were still alternately aching and burning. And yet she was urging him to move, her arm around him forcing him forward, the ground beneath his feet strangely uneven — bumpy, even.
Oh yeah. They were steps. She was making him climb steps.
Why couldn't she just let him fall down, the way he wanted to? He wouldn't be a nuisance; he'd just close his eyes and sleep. Forget the pain, will it to go away.
"Come on, Clark." Her soft, concerned voice urged him onwards again, and he was torn.
Lois. He'd do anything for Lois, and she was trying so hard to get him to move for her. How could he let her down? Especially when she cared about him so much, and she was trying to help him, wasn't she? At least, he thought she was.
And yet it hurt, and he was so confused… he didn't know where he was, or why he was there, or why he hurt so much.
But Lois was there. That was good, wasn't it? And if she wanted him to walk for her, then he'd do it.
He took several shallow breaths, and stumbled onwards.
At last, she'd managed to get him into his apartment. He seemed worse now than he had at the Planet, and she was worried. Clark, who was never sick, was really ill. He was sweating, and was clearly in a lot of pain. He was also delirious — although he seemed to respond to things she'd said to him, even if it was only when she was asking him to do something, he wasn't really aware of what was going on, and he'd been very clingy.
Just now, when she'd got him into his bedroom, he hadn't wanted to let go of her. His arm had remained tight around her waist when she'd released him and tried to persuade him to lie down. She'd only got him to let go by promising him that she'd only be gone a minute or two. That she'd be back.
"Don' leave me, Lois…" he'd slurred, before finally tumbling back onto the bed at her push. She'd looked at him, sprawled inelegantly across the bed, fully dressed but with glasses askew, and had been torn. He couldn't possibly be comfortable. Should she do something… maybe take off his jacket and shoes, if she could manage it? Loosen his tie and belt? Remove his glasses? And try to position him rather better than he was at the moment?
No, calling his doctor was far more important, she decided, before hurrying out of her partner's bedroom and into the kitchen, where she knew he kept his phone book.
Ten minutes later, Lois was almost tearing at her hair in frustration. She'd searched through Clark's address-book from front to back and then in reverse. No doctor listed anywhere. She'd rifled through any visible drawer in search of appointment cards, even returning to Clark's bedroom to check the nightstands. And then she'd looked through the Doctors section in the Yellow Pages, to see whether any was marked or underlined in any way.
Nothing. Either Clark carried his doctor's number in his head — or a personal organiser — or he didn't have a doctor in Metropolis.
That was ridiculous! Everyone had a doctor. Even if they were as healthy as Clark, everyone was registered with a doctor. It was as much a part of twentieth-century life as having a driving licence.
But, assuming that Clark was registered with a doctor, she couldn't find out who it was.
She considered her options. Clark was really sick, and when she'd gone into his bedroom he'd been thrashing about on the bed, muttering incoherently to himself. He was definitely still burning up; she'd seen the sweat on his forehead. She had no idea what to do in this situation. She needed a doctor.
Why Clark had ever even tried to come into work this morning was beyond her, she thought as she glanced around the apartment, looking for inspiration. His bedroom was a mess, discarded clothes lying on the floor and closets standing open; her partner had obviously had trouble getting dressed. There was broken glass on the floor near the sink; the used glass standing on the drainer told her that he'd obviously broken the other one in his first attempt at getting a drink.
Clark's parents' number was in his book, and for a moment Lois toyed with the idea of calling Martha Kent. But then, what was the likelihood that Clark's mother would know his doctor's name? And did she really want to worry his parents, when it was probably just the flu and he'd be better in a couple of days anyway?
No, there was nothing for it, she accepted finally.
Picking up the phone, she tapped in a number she'd wanted to avoid using.
"Dr Sam Lane's office," a perky female voice answered.
"This is Lois Lane. I'd like to speak to my father, please," she said coolly; no doubt this woman was the latest in her father's series of 'companions', and Lois had no intention of allowing her to 'get to know' her lover's daughter.
After almost a full minute of irritating on- hold music, her father was finally on the line. "Lois? This is a surprise."
"I just need some advice," she said a little abruptly, reluctant to use the name 'Daddy' or even 'Dad' and so avoiding calling him anything.
"It's my partner. Clark. You met him. Anyway, he's sick, and I can't find a number for his doctor. I just want to know what to do, that's all."
"Sick? What are his symptoms?" Now Sam Lane was all professional doctor. Which, Lois thought, made the conversation much easier for her. The only thing she had to concentrate on was discussing Clark.
"I think it's flu. He's dizzy and sweating and moaning about aches — and he's been a bit delirious. I brought him home, but I don't think he actually realised where he was or what we were doing."
"Feverish? Does his skin feel hot and clammy to the touch?"
"Yeah. He was burning up," Lois said worriedly.
"Okay, that sounds like flu," her father agreed. "He doesn't need to see a doctor unless he shows no sign of improvement within a couple of days."
"So it's safe to leave him to sleep it off?"
"Well, you should get him to take some aspirin. And leave him plenty of water. He needs to sweat off the fever, too, so he needs to be warm. Other than that, there's not a lot you can do for someone with flu. He'll feel pretty miserable for a while — a bit of TLC wouldn't hurt, too. If you feel like offering it."
"Okay. That sounds easy enough. Thanks." Well, the TLC aside, it was easy.
Now that she had what she needed, Lois was eager to end the conversation. Although she was learning that she needed to let go of the anger and resentment she harboured against her father, it would be a long process. One day, she thought; one day she'd be able to have something approaching a normal relationship with Sam Lane, but that day wasn't yet.
"You're welcome. Uh, Lois…?" her father continued.
She hesitated, guessing what was coming. "Yes?"
"You wouldn't like to… get together for lunch some time soon?"
Lois sighed, a twinge of guilt warring with her instinctive wish to avoid a meeting. "I'm pretty busy at the moment. I don't know when I'll have any free time in my schedule."
"Okay. I just thought I'd ask. Anyway, if you think you can manage with your partner, I'd better get back to work."
Just as she'd thought: there'd been no need at all for her to feel remotely guilty at rejecting his overture. Her father's attention had already shifted from her concerns back to his work. As always.
"Yeah. And… thanks."
Lois hung up and thought through what her father had recommended. Okay. Aspirin and water. That didn't sound too difficult. And keeping Clark warm. And… TLC.
Well, she'd never been particularly good at that. She didn't know how to be sympathetic and caring, did she? So how on earth was she supposed to learn that all of a sudden now, just because Clark was sick?
No. She didn't need to do that. Aspirin and water.
She went to the sink; the crunching sound under her foot reminded her of the broken glass. Pulling a face, she bent, picked up the pieces and carefully disposed of them. She couldn't risk Clark walking barefoot into the kitchen and cutting his foot on it.
After filling a jug with water, she found a mug — plastic this time, so even if Clark did knock it over, he wouldn't hurt himself — and took them into the bedroom. Clark still lay where she'd left him, but he'd been very restless since, judging by the state of the bedclothes.
Leaving the water on the nightstand, she set herself to the task of finding some aspirin. A first-aid box? A medicine cabinet? A kitchen drawer? There was nothing in the bathroom, she realised after one very quick glance in the cabinet there — she couldn't even see any shaving gear, in fact. Nothing was immediately apparent in the kitchen either. She was just coming to the conclusion that she'd have to go out to the nearest Costmart when, finally, she discovered what looked like an unopened first- aid box at the back of a cupboard in the living area.
And Eureka! there was a packet of aspirin inside. Remembering to check the expiry date, Lois was surprised to find — given the unused look of the box — that it was still well in date.
She returned to the bedroom and poured Clark a cup of water. He blinked a couple of times as she stood next to the bed, and she was sure that he was aware of her.
"Okay, Clark, can you sit up and drink this?"
"Drink…" he mumbled. "Got to drink… Mom says…"
He tried to drag himself up, but it was with difficulty and Lois ended up helping him. With one arm around his shoulders, she held the cup to his lips. He took a couple of sips before she remembered the aspirin.
This was going to be difficult, she realised. He was hardly going to be able to take the tablets from her. So she lowered him back against the pillows and held the pills against his lips. "Come on, Clark — I just need you to swallow these, okay?"
He mumbled something, but opened his mouth obligingly, and she was able to get him to drink some more water afterwards.
Okay, so she'd done what her father recommended. But there was something else…
Yes, she needed to keep him warm. Well, he was wearing his suit — but that wasn't very comfortable. But then, she was hardly going to be able to undress him!
Okay. She could at least take off his shoes. And his tie. That wasn't difficult, was it?
Having done that, she studied her sick partner once more. No, those glasses had to go too. He could hurt himself if he kept thrashing about on the bed.
Carefully, she removed his glasses and put them on the nightstand. He looked oddly vulnerable without them, she thought, and actually… quite different from the Clark she knew. Younger, somehow. And maybe even less diffident. Of course, the fact that his hair was flopping loosely over his forehead added to that impression; in addition to not shaving that morning, he also hadn't styled his hair the way he normally did. Yes, with the untidy hair and without his glasses he definitely looked different.
But still sick.
She tugged at the quilt underneath him, managing to pull out enough of it to cover him. And then, giving him one last worried look, she headed for the door.
Clark would be fine — her father had said so. It was time to get back to work.
The comforting arm around his shoulders had gone. And that scent… that familiar scent he knew so well… he couldn't smell it any more. So what was…
Lois. She was… where was she?
She'd been there. He could swear to it. Hadn't she made him climb those steps? And hadn't he told her that he'd go anywhere with her?
But… she'd left him.
He tried to sit up, but fell back onto the pillow again. It was all too much of an effort, and besides, it hurt.
A moan of pain escaped him.
That was her voice, wasn't it? It sounded strange… as if she was worried. Panicky about something.
Oh, god — someone wasn't trying to hurt her, were they? Because he really didn't think he could help her at the moment. He really didn't think he had the strength…
"Lois?" he called feebly, anxiously. Was she okay?
"Oh, Clark!" Suddenly, she was beside him again, her hand holding his. "Oh, you really are sick, aren't you?" Her hand stroked his. "I need to get back to work… but… oh, I can't leave you like this, can I?"
"Lo's… Stay with me," he murmured, not understanding why she was hesitating; all he knew was that he loved her and he needed her. And she should be with him, shouldn't she? She cared about him too! He knew she did. He wasn't quite sure why he knew, but she did, and that was all that mattered.
"Okay, Clark," she said, her voice sounding gentle now, very soothing. He felt himself relax at the sound of it. "I'll stay."
Lois stretched and rotated her shoulders. Clark's window-seat looked like the perfect place to sit and work, but after sitting there for close to five hours on and off she was really feeling the lack of proper back support. Still, unless she'd wanted to go to the trouble of dragging in the kitchen table and a chair, it had been the best place from where she could keep an eye on her sick partner.
She'd called Perry, who hadn't been too pleased to find that he was losing both halves of his top reporting team for the day. He'd growled a bit at first, but once he'd asked her, a genuine note of concern in his voice, how Clark was doing she'd realised that he was okay with her being there. And he was happier still once she told him that she'd found Clark's laptop and would work on the article there; Jimmy could email her any information she needed, and she'd send the article to Perry by email when it was done. And, in fact, even though she was having to break off her work from time to time to see to Clark, she was getting more done in a shorter space of time than she would have in the newsroom — the advantages of being somewhere with far fewer distractions.
After Clark had called her name and asked her to stay with him, she couldn't possibly have done anything else but stick around. There was no way that she could have gone back to the newsroom once she'd heard him plead with her so plaintively to stay.
He needed her.
Clark needed her — and even though she was less than useless at a sick-bed, she'd had to stay.
Though she had managed to be of some help to him. Several times, she'd held cups of water to his lips so that he could sip, in response to his requests for water. She'd dabbed at the beads of sweat on his forehead with a damp cloth. She'd pulled the quilt up and over him again repeatedly after he'd thrown it off — though the last time she'd told him, gently but insistently, that he had to keep it over him, and he hadn't pushed it away since.
And twice she'd helped him walk to the bathroom, then waited for him to come out so that she could support him on his way back to bed.
She'd also undressed him. That was a task she hadn't anticipated, but within about half an hour she'd realised that it was essential. Apart from the fact that he couldn't possibly be comfortable in his suit trousers and a shirt with a stiff collar, his shirt had been damp with sweat and was sticking to him. It had had to come off.
That had been easier said than done. Okay, unbuttoning the shirt was no problem whatsoever. Pulling the hem loose from his trousers wasn't all that difficult. But persuading him to move his arms, and to sit up slightly, so that she could take it off had been much more difficult. Finally, the shirt — somewhat the worse for wear — had ended up on the floor, and Lois had sunk down on the bed, semi-exhausted.
And realised that she was sitting right next to her half-naked partner.
She had seen Clark's chest bared before, on one memorable occasion, and she'd had flashbacks about it ever since. Even sick, even flushed with fever, his torso was even more impressive than she'd remembered.
She'd swallowed and reminded herself that she still needed to get his trousers off.
Oh yeah. She'd gulped, then carefully undone his belt.
That was the easy bit; then had come the clip fastener at his waistband, and then… the zipper.
Delicately, holding her breath, she'd eased the fly fastening down, taking great care not to touch… anything… beyond the wool mix of Clark's trousers. He hadn't moved during the process, which had relieved her greatly.
And then had come the task of getting the trousers off him. That, of course, had involved lifting his hips and at the same time trying to get the fabric down. And he hadn't been unaware of what she was up to, either; he'd clutched at her arms, buried his face in her chest and moaned her name.
Had she been hurting him? She still wasn't sure, but of course if he was aching all over, as was more than likely the case, moving him around like that probably had hurt. But she hadn't been capable of worrying about that at the time. Having Clark's head pressed against her, his mouth against one fabric-covered breast, had been enough of a distraction. If he'd moved… if he'd parted his lips just one more bit… he could have been kissing her there.
And she'd been shocked to the core by how much the thought had thrilled her.
This was *Clark*! Her partner! Her friend! Not a prospective boyfriend or anything like that!
Now, if it had been Superman she was nursing — or perhaps Lex, although somehow she was having great difficulty envisaging Lex nuzzling against her in the way Clark had, or even herself wanting him to — she could have understood it. But Clark? How could Clark possibly make her want him to -
But of course she didn't — want to, that was. It was just… well, this whole situation was exceptional. Out of the ordinary. Clark was sick; for some unknown reason his pitiful state had aroused some dormant maternal or caring instinct within her, and that was all it was.
She had finally managed to get his trousers off, but had then made herself avert her eyes swiftly from the sight of his barely-clad form. He wore briefs — charcoal in colour, and definitely well-fitting. He'd rolled over onto his side just as she'd turned back to him to pull the quilt back over him, and she hadn't been able to help noticing just how well- defined his butt was under the thin layer of cotton. As for the front view… She'd swallowed quickly and jerkily thrown the quilt over him.
Now was *not* the time to get all hot and bothered over the fact that her partner had a terrific body!
She'd sponged off his face once more and run into the bathroom to splash cold water on herself. Only because undressing Clark had been a difficult job, she'd told herself. Only because he'd been little more than a dead weight, and it had required considerable exertion of strength to achieve her objective. That was the only reason why she was hot and bothered, she'd insisted.
Then she'd hurried back to her position on the window-seat, and to the safety of the article she was working on.
Clark had been barely aware of his surroundings for most of the day so far, but she knew that he was conscious of her presence. On the few occasions when she'd had to go into the kitchen for something — more water, a cup of coffee, to make a sandwich — she'd come back to find him restless and fretting. But, each time, once she spoke to him softly, or squeezed his hand, he settled down again.
On his bathroom trips, he'd seemed slightly more alert and aware; both times, he'd managed, with obvious difficulty and pain, to sit up in bed, and when she'd come over to him he'd muttered, "Bathroom." And, although he hadn't actually made any attempt at carrying on anything approaching conversation en route, he'd been sufficiently responsive to thank her.
About half an hour ago, the phone had rung. Lois had ignored it, but then the answering machine had kicked in and she'd heard Clark's mother's voice. Martha Kent clearly knew that Clark was sick and was worried about him. So Lois had picked up the phone, responding to Martha's surprise by explaining why she was there and reassuring the older woman that Clark seemed to getting better and that in any case it seemed to be nothing worse than a dose of the flu. She'd felt embarrassed at Martha's profuse thanks for taking care of her son; after all, she'd almost left several hours earlier.
It was a good thing that she'd stayed, she acknowledged now, glancing across the room again at the relatively-still form of her partner lying in his bed. Clark had needed taking care of. And she felt good about herself, knowing that she'd helped him.
Maybe it would just be a twenty-four-hour bug after all, she thought. She hoped so, anyway; she needed her partner back at work in good health, and the sooner the better!
It was dark when he became aware of his surroundings again. He felt incredibly tired, as if he'd been using his powers all night and hadn't yet been able to allow the sun to recharge him.
He felt drained of all energy; even the mere thought of getting out of bed exhausted him. It must have been one heck of a night, Clark thought.
But then memories started to return: disjointed, puzzling memories.
Pain. That was the abiding memory — he remembered pain. And nothing else.
He'd woken up in pain before, hadn't he? Horrible, agonising pain… All over his body, he thought. He seemed to remember that his stomach had hurt. And when he'd tried to move, to walk, hadn't that hurt too?
*He* had felt pain. And yet he was invulnerable; he was Superman. How was that possible?
Slowly, as if he was fumbling his way through a mist, his brain began to give him answers. Kryptonite. It had been Kryptonite.
But was the pain still there? How could he find out? Moving… that would do it, wouldn't it? Yeah… he could try that. But what to try first? He tried to focus, but his mind was still very fuzzy. He wasn't sure, but had his stomach hurt most?
Maybe he should try something else first — flex his arms and legs… would his muscles complain loudly?
Nothing. Nothing happened.
Okay. Something more daring this time: tensing his stomach muscles. Ouch. Well… not that bad. Definitely better than what little he remembered from earlier… however much earlier it had been.
The final experiment: he lifted his head slightly from the pillow. Still some dizziness, but none of the earlier sensation of being thrown about helplessly on some sadist's idea of a roller-coaster.
But he felt weak, so incredibly drained.
And also confused and disoriented. He was at home, in his apartment — in his bed. And yet he seemed to have vague memories of having got up, showered — well, sort of — tried to shave, and dressed for work. He'd left his apartment, hadn't he? And he'd walked to the subway station — at least, he thought he had. He couldn't remember an awful lot about that part of it.
However, he was fairly sure that he'd made it to the newsroom. He'd seen Lois, hadn't he? He did seem to have a pretty recent memory of her talking to him, being around him. Or at least he thought so.
And yet he was at home. In bed. And — he raised one arm from beneath the quilt — somewhat lacking in clothes. And he had no memory of getting himself home or undressing.
All the same, he seemed to have so many gaps in his memory today, so it was hardly surprising if he didn't remember that…
A faint tapping from the other side of the room attracted his attention. Turning his head carefully, without lifting it from the pillow, he identified the source of the sound.
Lois was sitting on his window-seat, a laptop on her knee, engrossed in typing.
Lois… in his apartment?
But what was she doing here? In his bedroom?
And why hadn't he known that she was here?
On the other hand… He did have all these strange, jumbled memories of her, didn't he?
Lois with her arm around him. Lois asking him to do something for her — him telling her that he'd do anything for her. Hadn't he? Lois promising that she wouldn't leave him. Lois sitting close to him, holding his hand, stroking his forehead, gently undoing his clothes.
Lois murmuring to him that she needed him to get well. Telling him that she couldn't manage without him.
So, naturally, her being here made a huge amount of sense, he realised suddenly. And maybe more, too. Like the fact… that he wasn't dressed?
Was it possible that Lois had undressed him?
He glanced down at himself, and then back at his partner. Funny; his brain really was working slowly at the moment, but he couldn't quite see… Then he frowned as something else came back to him — a memory or a dream? Lois tugging his shirt off, holding him close to her as she did it.
And she'd smelled nice, too…
There were other memories too, all jostling for space in his mind suddenly; he couldn't quite work out how they fitted with these ones, but he was very sure that they were real. They were far too vivid not to be real.
Lois and himself kissing.
Several times, in fact. He'd been holding her tightly, as she'd held him, their lips locked together in an incredible embrace. And he'd told her then that he loved her; he was pretty sure of that. Very sure, in fact. And it had been after he'd told her that that she'd kissed him. She'd kissed *him*.
And there was more. Another scene was in his mind: lying on a bed together, wrapped in each other's arms with him lying on top of her luscious, curvaceous body, kissing passionately. He'd smoothed back her beautiful hair, caressing her as he'd loved her. She'd clung to him. She'd moaned. She'd been lost in the kiss, just as he had been…
…until, he vaguely remembered, something had interrupted them. Funny; he couldn't seem to remember what had happened after that, but since they'd been together on a bed it was probably not too difficult to guess. It was just a pity that he couldn't seem to remember it. After all, he thought, it would have had to have been their first time, wouldn't it?
But there would be other times, he reminded himself with an inward smile. He loved Lois. And she loved him too, didn't she? Well, of course she did. She'd shown him that today, too, at least so far as his dim brain could remember. But then, there was plenty of evidence that she had. She was here, wasn't she? She'd come home with him. She'd put him to bed. She'd undressed him. And she hadn't been able to leave him — she'd stayed in his bedroom, working and watching over him.
Lois. His Lois. His wonderful, beautiful Lois.
He struggled to sit up just a little bit, and the movement must have alerted her. She turned her head and looked at him, and a smile curved across her beautiful features.
"Clark! You're awake!"
"Yeah," he said. He thought that his voice sounded a little strange, but wasn't sure.
"Hey, that's great!" she exclaimed, putting the laptop aside and getting up to walk towards him. "How are you feeling?"
"Uh… bit fuzzy still." And that was true; he was finding it very difficult to concentrate on anything. Except for Lois, anyway. She… now, he could look at her all day. Her eyes, her beautiful face… her smile. Especially the way she was smiling at him right now.
She came to his side and laid her hand against his forehead. "Hey, you are better! Your temperature's come right down!"
"That's good, huh?" he managed to say.
"Sure is!" She gave him another bright grin, smoothing his hair back off his forehead before removing her hand, and his heart turned over. His Lois.
She was so loving and gentle with him. Of course, she wasn't normally quite this tender, but then he was sick, after all. And she'd been taking care of him. His wonderful Lois! He'd always known that they were meant to be together, and the way things had changed between them lately just showed that he'd been right all along.
Not that he could remember *exactly* when things had changed, but they had, of course. That was obvious. After all, he remembered those soul-stirring kisses, and the way she'd been with him today. Touching. Caressing. Caring.
He reached out and caught her hand in his. Her look of surprise made him frown; why should a simple gesture like that be unexpected to her? She was used to that between the two of them now, surely.
"Hey," he murmured, and did his best impression of a smile.
She smiled in response, a brilliant, warm smile. "Hey back."
What had he been worried about? Of course she was used to their open affection! He'd been silly.
"I love you; you know that, don't you?" he said; the words sounded kind of slurred, but that didn't matter, did it? She would welcome the sentiment. Even if she did already know it.
"Aww," she said, and blushed. "That's really sweet of you, Clark."
Yes, it was, wasn't it? But that wasn't quite the response he'd been looking for. She knew that, surely? He frowned, wondering where he'd gone wrong. "Lois?" he prompted.
Again, she looked taken aback. But she gave him an embarrassed smile and squeezed his hand back when he exerted pressure on hers. "Oh, Clark, you know I love you too…" she began.
"Yeah," he said slowly, happily, as he let a blissful smile curve across his lips. He tugged at her hand. "Kiss me, Lois. Kiss me again."
What was he talking about?
She'd thought that Clark must be better when she'd seen him awake and alert — and when she'd discovered that the fever seemed to have gone, she was sure that he was well on the way to recovery.
But asking her to kiss him — to kiss him *again* — what was going on?
He'd just said that he loved her, too — that had been weird, but she'd assumed that he was just expressing gratitude for her taking care of him. But, together with the kissing thing, now she was beginning to wonder just what he'd meant…
…and what he'd thought she meant in return!
Okay. She was going to have to get Clark to let go of her hand, and then she needed to explain, very gently but very firmly, that he seemed to have got the wrong end of the stick. For some reason, it seemed as if he imagined they were dating or something. That he had the right to ask her to kiss him, and to expect to exchange declarations of love.
He was clearly still delirious, and he'd probably be mortified once he was better and realised what he'd done.
"Clark," she began awkwardly, not really knowing how to explain to her partner that he didn't know what he was doing.
"Lois." He gazed up at her, giving her a sloppy smile and an expectant look.
"Clark, I -"
He tugged at her hand again, and the unexpected movement caused her to overbalance. She tumbled onto the bed, half beside, half on top of him.
"Clark!" she exclaimed.
He laughed softly. "This is much better, Lois. Isn't it? Just like last time." And he released her hand, bringing his hand up to caress her face. She shivered as his fingers touched her skin.
What was this? She was getting turned on by *Clark*?
<Who are you trying to kid, Lois?> her inner voice observed. <Trying to pretend that you didn't enjoy kissing him the other night?>
That hadn't been a real kiss, she reminded herself immediately. Clark had only been keeping up their cover because the maid was on her way in.
But still… it had been one heck of a kiss…
It suddenly occurred to her that perhaps that was what he'd been talking about when he'd said "Kiss me again." Was he, in his delirious state, forgetting that their kisses then had been fake?
His fingers slid into her hair, and his palm caressed her cheek. "You're so beautiful, Lois," he murmured.
What he was doing to her was just so beautiful…
His face was very close to hers. His free arm was sliding around her shoulders, bringing her closer to him. And his lips were parting…
If she didn't want him to kiss her, she was going to have to stop this *right now*!
On the other hand, a tiny, tempting voice suggested, did she have to stop it? What if she didn't? What if she let him kiss her?
It wasn't as if he'd remember it when he was better, was it? He was sick. Delirious. Didn't know what he was doing.
But then, wasn't that taking advantage of him?
Taking advantage? Hardly! Lois's lip curled at the thought. He was a man. He was obviously attracted to her. And he hadn't seemed to find it any hardship at all to kiss her before. So it was hardly as if she was assaulting him or something, was it?
He moved closer. And she met him half-way.
They were kissing again. And it was even more wonderful than his memories of the other times.
Lois had come to him — he had a vague impression that he'd made the first move, that other time. But now, she'd slid across to him on the bed and touched her lips to his, almost tentatively, but as soon as he'd begun to kiss her back she'd slid one arm around him, using her other hand to stroke his hair.
He loved her so much, he thought as he took advantage of her slightly-parted lips to let his tongue glide towards her mouth. This — being with her, in love, kissing her and being intimate — was what he'd dreamed of ever since that first moment he'd set eyes on her.
And she loved him too.
Although he'd — sort of — begun to have doubts when she'd been so hesitant about responding to his invitation to kiss him. Her smile had dimmed, and she'd looked doubtful. He had even been afraid that she was going to pull away from him.
And he'd begun to worry that she might have changed her mind about him. Had second thoughts. Realised that she didn't love him after all. It wasn't as if he was the only man interested in her, was he? He did vaguely recall… there was Lex Luthor, wasn't there? How could he forget that man's interest in his Lois.
And there was Superman.
Superman… but *he* was Superman, he reminded himself, wrapping his arm more tightly around Lois as she deepened the kiss.
But she didn't know that…
Or did she? He couldn't remember telling her, or her guessing — but he wasn't wearing his glasses, was he? And Lois had undressed him. He had no idea whether he'd been wearing the Suit or not, but even if she'd seen him without his glasses she would have guessed. And if she hadn't already known, she'd have been mad… So she must already have known.
So he didn't have to worry about Superman as a rival, did he?
She'd probably just been worried because he was sick, he thought. Concerned that maybe he wasn't well enough yet to be making love.
Making love. Now, where had that thought come from?
But, of course, that was a natural progression of where they were. In love. Together. Kissing. And, after all, it wasn't as if this was just casual — he and Lois were meant to be together.
If he wanted it, and she wanted it too… then why not?
Lois had never known a kiss could be so tender, and yet so passionate. It was a revelation to her; she'd been kissed dozens of times, at least, but never like this. Not even on those occasions when she and Clark had kissed as a ruse. Even the harsh stubble which rasped across her face wasn't enough for her to want him to stop kissing her.
His lips had brushed across hers at first as if she was a precious object he was treating with reverence. And then he'd come back to kiss her again, but this time with desire and longing. If she'd had any doubt that, at least somewhere in his subconscious, Clark Kent was attracted to her, his kiss banished that thought completely.
So why had he told her, after that embarrassing pheromone incident, that he wasn't?
Though that really didn't matter right now…
It was just as well that Clark was sick, Lois decided after several dizzying kisses. She wasn't sure that she wanted him to remember how easily she'd given in to his persuasion… and how much she was enjoying this. That would be giving her partner too much information entirely!
But his arms wrapped more closely around her, and as he drew her nearer the quilt slipped; suddenly, she was being held against Clark's bare chest. She was lying on the bed, and he was beside her, half-leaning over her, and her hands were touching his bare skin.
He felt amazing… warm and smooth and muscular under her fingers. And she couldn't stop her hands from wandering, from tracing the smooth skin of his back, the line of his spine, and back up to his nape.
And he liked that… he moaned slightly against her mouth and tugged her closer. So close that she could feel the warmth of his chest against her silky blouse.
And, suddenly, she wanted to feel his skin against hers. Against her bare skin.
<What are you doing? He's your partner! Your *not boyfriend material* partner>
Yes. This was crazy. What was she *doing*?
Lois struggled with herself, making herself loosen her grip on Clark. She would just get up, off the bed, and put some distance between her and her partner. He was delirious, after all. And she… she was *not* romantically interested in Clark. This just shouldn't be happening!
And, if she got up and left now, with any luck Clark would fall asleep again and he'd never even remember that it had happened in the first place.
That they'd shared some of the most thrilling, the most passionate — the most arousing — kisses Lois had ever experienced.
She shivered. She had to tear herself away, while she still could…
…and then his arms tightened around her again, and his lips slid along her jaw so that he could nibble at her ear. And even the stubble against her cheek made her quiver instead of recoiling. "Lois…" he murmured, his voice sending another shiver along her spine.
Just another couple of minutes. Another kiss. Then she'd get up and leave. One more kiss wouldn't hurt, surely?
His lips found hers again. And his hand found its way to the front of her blouse, his fingers fanning out over her breast.
And she moaned in pleasure.
Lois was so lovely and warm and soft in his arms. Her kisses burned him like fire, and her arms around him, her hands tracing paths up and down his back, drove him to even greater heights of insanity.
His *bare* back.
And she was still dressed…
She was wearing far too many clothes. And he wanted to touch her. He *needed* to touch her!
Her breast brushed against his arm as they writhed on the bed. Distracted, he placed his hand on her chest, sliding it upwards.
She was so soft. So warm. So… inviting.
He slid his fingers higher. There was too much fabric in the way. He couldn't feel properly…
That was easily solved. Moving his hand, he easily disposed of the buttons on her blouse, then let his hand slide inside her blouse until he found what he was seeking. Again, his questing fingers were halted by fabric — this time the lacy material told him it was her bra — but it was no barrier. Pushing it aside, he was soon cupping warm flesh.
And she moaned.
"Oh, Lois," he sighed against her lips. His body throbbed for her. And she wanted him too; the way she was responding to him told him that. The way she was arching her back, making it easier for him to stroke and squeeze her. The way she was returning his kisses. The way she was stroking him.
The way she was saying his name, as he broke their kiss for just long enough to nibble along her throat again.
She was wearing too many clothes. Throwing aside the quilt which was still irritatingly in the way between them, he leaned up and over her, then pushed open the two sides of her blouse and slid one hand under her back to undo the clasp of her bra. That skirt would have to go too…
She was simply beautiful. More of her was bared to his gaze now, and he couldn't help it; he had to stop kissing her and just look at her. With reverent fingers, he touched her skin, wondering at its soft, silky feeling… and he wanted more. As he caressed her, Lois's hands clasped his head, tensed for a moment, then held him there.
And her breaths were coming faster, shallower.
"I love you, Lois," he murmured, then reached up to kiss her lips again.
This was getting out of control! In another minute, they'd be…
Suddenly this wasn't a game any more. It wasn't just a matter of enjoying being kissed by Clark, knowing that this was an almost unreal situation — that Clark was delirious and sick and probably wouldn't remember any of this, except probably as a dream, once he was better.
He wanted to make love to her. And she… She wanted to make love to him.
But that couldn't possibly be true, she reasoned with herself with what tiny portion of her brain was capable of any degree of sanity while Clark was kissing her breasts. Her, Lois Lane, wanting to make love to *Clark Kent*? Or, come to that, to anyone in this sort of situation. Hadn't she decided, after Claude, that she would never again get up close and personal with someone she worked with? That there was no way on earth that she'd allow a colleague — a rival — to get that close to her?
And yet… she was attracted to Clark. Always had been, if she was honest with herself.
So… what was she saying?
She couldn't possibly be contemplating…? Oh, no. No. She couldn't. No way.
Clark was sick. Well, okay, he didn't seem to have a fever any more, so he couldn't be all that sick, but he definitely wasn't himself. He was certainly delusional — he'd somehow managed to get the wrong end of the stick about their relationship, for one thing. And he was acting completely out of character. He was entirely uninhibited, which was not at all the Clark she knew.
He was *sick*! He didn't know what he was doing!
And, in similar circumstances only a couple of weeks earlier, he'd been incredibly noble and honourable and hadn't laid a finger on her, in spite of the way she'd thrown herself at him repeatedly.
Didn't she owe it to him not to take advantage of him now?
Though that, she reminded herself, was making a huge assumption: that she was seriously considering letting this go any further.
She'd always been attracted to Clark.
Secretly, she'd wondered for some time what it would be like to make love with him.
And here was her chance to find out. Safely. Secretly. Without fear of repercussions.
After all, if Clark was sick, and she knew he was, it was hardly likely that he'd remember this all that clearly once he was better. He'd fall asleep afterwards, no doubt, and if she left while he was asleep there was every chance that he'd think he'd dreamed it. And she would never tell him any different, would she?
So she'd be safe. No gossip in the newsroom. No knowing looks. No snarky comments. No pressure, silent or otherwise, for a repeat performance. No *comments* on her performance.
The only one of them who would remember would be her — and she could live with that. Of course she could! It would be a private memory, a good one, she hoped, one she could remember from time to time whenever those moments of doubt about whether she was actually any good in bed resurfaced to disturb her.
And she'd find out what Clark was like as a lover — and whether the passionate kisses they'd shared really did herald the promise of something wonderful. And she could do that without fear of what would come next. Without worrying that she was letting herself in for another doomed relationship, or leaving herself open for yet another betrayal by a man she thought she could trust. Or even worrying about what the heck she'd do if Clark wanted more than a one-nighter.
<But what if you want more than a one-nighter?>
She wouldn't. It was as simple as that. She didn't want a relationship with Clark. Or with anyone, really — well, except maybe Superman, but even despite his passionate kiss at the airfield that day she was positive that it would never happen. After all, if he'd really wanted to pursue a relationship with her then that would have been the perfect time to do something about it… but he hadn't. And that was the clearest sign of all that he wasn't going to.
So, other than with Superman, she didn't want a relationship. But neither was she the type of person to engage in casual sex, as if she had an itch which needed to be scratched. Nor did she want to be in the position of having to deal with the morning-after scenario of trying to get rid of her night's companion and make it clear that she didn't want to see him again.
This, therefore, was ideal. Wasn't it?
Even if she did run the risk of inconvenient memories surfacing whenever she looked at Clark; whenever she touched him or spoke to him. A moment of self-doubt hit her: could she really just return to business as usual? To working beside him every day as if nothing had ever happened? Once everything had changed, as it would have once she had sex with him?
Of course she could, she told herself immediately. This was no big deal. No problem.
His lips brushed her lobe, and she shivered. Of course she could forget it…
But, an annoying part of her objected, could she really do this?
<Clark didn't take advantage of you>
That was different, she told herself immediately. Clark hadn't known whether she was really attracted to him, or whether it was all the drug making her do something she would *never* have done otherwise. But she knew Clark was attracted to her. No matter what he'd said, she knew it. He wanted her. And anyway, if he wasn't likely to remember this as anything but a dream, where was the harm?
<How would you have felt if he'd done this to you? Taken you at your word and taken you to bed?>
But that was different, she reasoned. Clark knew that, in her right mind, she would never have done anything like that. While he… well, she *knew* he was attracted to her. He was making it very clear right now, whatever he'd said the other week. And of course he wanted to have sex with her. He *would* have had sex with her if the pheromone hadn't worn off by the morning after!
So he wasn't all that noble, after all, that time. And she knew he wanted her. He *loved* her, if his words said in the height of delirium were to be believed.
He loved her. He wouldn't have been taking advantage, just looking for a one-night stand.
As she was.
But… but it was *different*!
Men took sex very lightly anyway. They rarely saw it as something special, something to be entered into with care and caution — something which belonged with love. Well, okay, she had no idea where Clark stood on that, and of course she also knew women who were equally casual about sex — Cat Grant for one. But still — it seemed to be something in men's genetic makeup that sex, to them, wasn't the same as it was for women.
Even if Clark was telling her that he loved her. And he wanted her — the state of his body was testament to that.
Wasn't she doing him a favour by giving him what he wanted?
<Even if he was too sick to know about it?>
He might be sick, she told herself, but he wasn't incapable. And right now he was making it very clear what he wanted!
<Stop analysing things and just enjoy the ride!> another inner voice came from somewhere else and shouted.
But… if this wasn't right, if she wasn't being fair to Clark, should she really -
Clark moved up to claim her lips once more in a deep, open-mouthed kiss, and instinct took over. She wrapped her arms around him, pulling him down to her, and she did what she'd wanted to do almost since she'd met him: let one hand wander down his back to caress his firm buttocks. His lower body pressed into her.
And she was lost, passed beyond the point of no return.
She was so soft, so responsive… his body throbbed and burned… the way she was touching him was simultaneously setting him on fire and making him melt…
Her hands, all over his back, down to his butt, sneaking under his briefs… her body beneath his, soft and yielding and femininely curved…
…her breaths coming faster and with little sighs and moans…
Frustrating clothing still separating them… with a sudden movement, he ripped off her skirt, throwing it aside. A scrap of lace and satin remained.
…her hands joining his, tearing away the remaining barriers between them; her hands on him, around him, stroking…
…her voice, in whimpers and pleas… "Now, Clark — please, Clark, now!"
…moans and cries and gasps and new sensations and…
They had — before — hadn't they?
…new and wonderful and incredible and amazing and indescribable and…
Lois's breathing finally returned to normal, and she turned to look at her partner — her *lover* — who was lying beside her, sprawled out on the bed.
Oh god… That was…
…possibly the very best lovemaking she'd ever experienced in her life.
No, not possibly. Definitely.
She had *never* felt like that before. Never. No previous lover had ever…
None of her exes — not that there had been very many, she conceded, so she didn't have a lot of experience to compare this to — had ever been able to bring her to climax during lovemaking. She'd tried to tell them what she needed, but in the end it had been simpler to fake it.
This had been…
Clark hadn't needed any instruction, any guidance. He'd just… made love to her thoroughly, passionately and very satisfyingly. Okay, at first he'd just torn her clothes off — with her assistance, admittedly — but even that had sent tremors throughout her body. Later, he'd slowed down and used his hands and mouth, added to the rest of his body, to set her aflame.
And now, she felt exhausted and tingling all over.
And completely loved.
Made love to, she quickly corrected herself. It wasn't *love*. Of course it wasn't! Clark was her partner. Her friend. And, true, she was attracted to him — after this, how could she deny it to herself? — but that was all. If she was in love with anyone, surely it was Superman?
But Clark loved her…
Did he really? she asked herself sceptically. He wasn't himself. He was sick. Delirious. And somehow lacking in all his normal inhibitions. Okay, she didn't really think that he was the kind of guy to tell a woman he loved her just to get her into the sack — he was no Claude — but could she really believe his repeated declarations?
Just then, he turned over and draped an arm heavily over her. "I love you, Lois," he murmured again, burying his head in the curve of her shoulder and nuzzling her skin.
What had she done?
What had she let herself in for?
She'd slept with Clark, but she wasn't in love with him. Of course she wasn't. She'd known at the outset that, as far as she was concerned, this would be a once-only thing. Just sex. Just *good* sex.
And it had definitely been that. Now, she could give a metaphorical one-fingered salute to those ex-lovers who'd called her frigid. With the right man, she obviously wasn't.
Wait a minute… the right man?
<Get a grip, Lois!> she told herself. Just because she'd had the best sex of her life in the past hour, that didn't mean that Clark was the right man for her! It didn't mean anything other than that there was some raw chemistry between them. And so what? Chemistry meant nothing. It didn't mean that they were compatible in any other way. It didn't mean that Clark was boyfriend material. It didn't even mean that she had to *like* him.
Though of course she liked him! He was her friend!
Her friend. Which was the most important reason why this couldn't go anywhere. Why she had to get up *now* and leave Clark's apartment and hope that he never remembered that she'd been there.
He was her friend. In some ways, her rock — the solid support that she'd never really had from anyone before. The man she could talk to about almost anything, as she'd discovered when they'd shared the honeymoon suite for two nights. The man she called late at night when she couldn't sleep, or just wanted to chat. The man who made her laugh, who hugged her when she was feeling low, who could even edit her copy without making her mad at him.
The man she'd probably instinctively run to if she were ever scared or in need of help.
Maybe even the man she'd run to if she'd ever made the mistake of… of jumping thoughtlessly into bed with someone without considering the consequences, and when the possible consequences were almost too frightening to contemplate. Just as she'd done now. Not that she could run to Clark over this…
And there was no way she could risk losing that relationship — which was exactly what would happen if she allowed what had just happened ever to happen again.
She'd slept with her *best friend*.
And she'd done it knowing that he was sick and that if he hadn't been sick it would never have happened. It would probably never have occurred to him to want to make love to her if he hadn't been sick.
<Way to ruin a friendship, Lois!> she told herself bitterly.
For now, the best she could hope for was that Clark, whose even breathing told her he was asleep again, would wake with no memory of their lovemaking — or that, if he did vaguely remember it, he'd decide it had to be a dream. Anything else was too horrible to contemplate. Too dangerous — to her peace of mind and to their friendship.
She carefully edged out from beneath his arm and slid off the bed, then gathered her clothes and headed for the bathroom. To dress, and then to go home — alone.
And to try to put her own memories of their wonderful, *perfect* lovemaking behind her, locked away in the recesses of her mind where, if she was lucky, they could rest undisturbed.
"You rang, sir?"
Lex turned from his contemplation of the night- time panorama from his balcony. "Yes, Nigel. I rather thought that some champagne might be in order."
"I believe there is some Cristal on ice. Unless you'd prefer Bollinger to the Roederer?"
"The Cristal sounds just right." Lex smiled broadly. This was a moment of triumph, and it deserved the very best in celebration. "The Waterford crystal goblets, too. You'll share a glass with me, of course."
"Of course, sir. I will be just a few moments."
Nigel glided silently from the room, and Lex again faced his view over the city. *His* view. *His* city.
And no longer would this perfect scene be spoiled by the unwanted appearance of a man in blue with a silly cape.
Life was bliss.
He was very sure that the Kryptonian was gone. Earlier that evening, he'd had Nigel set up a little accident. Nothing major, just a little gas explosion with a few dozen lives at risk: just the sort of thing the cape-wearing do- gooder would have rushed headlong in to help with — had he been capable of doing so. Had he been alive.
There had been no sign at all of a Spandex-clad freak from outer space.
Lex smiled again as Nigel returned with the champagne, bearing it in on a silver salver. This was truly a perfect day.
Superman was dead; long live Lex Luthor.
"Help! Superman, help!"
Clark snapped awake instantly, the cry for help reverberating inside his head. In under a second, he was dressed in his Superman suit and flying off his balcony.
He found a woman whose car had crashed through the barrier on a bridge and was perched precariously half-over the Hobbs. It was the work of seconds to push the vehicle back onto the road and then straighten the crash-barrier. He welded the metal back into place and then tested it by pushing hard on it; he was fairly sure that it was back to its previous degree of strength, but he made a mental note to tell the city council to check it over all the same.
People — including the driver of the car — seemed to be giving him odd looks. Clark couldn't understand it, but he shrugged it off. Maybe they just didn't expect to see Superman fixing a bridge. The important thing was that he'd helped someone, and he didn't care what anyone thought of him beyond that.
It was as he was flying back to his apartment that realisation hit him. The previous day he'd been sick. Very sick. He'd swallowed Kryptonite!
He remembered the pain now, and the dizziness and the fear — the fear he'd tried to keep from his parents, but which had been very real all the same. What if he didn't recover from this? What if having swallowed Kryptonite was different to just being close to it? What if he got over the pain, but never got his powers back?
And yet, of course, he had his powers back. As far as he could tell, he was back to normal. He'd noticed no change or deterioration in his flying speed or ability to sustain himself in the air, or in his strength or vision powers.
It seemed that he'd managed to get the stuff out of his system.
That was thanks to his mother's good advice, of course. He'd called her, hadn't he? At least, he thought so. His memories were pretty hazy, but he seemed to remember drinking a *lot* the previous day. And making a number of bathroom trips. So he must have managed to wash it out. Though his swift recovery also suggested that there really hadn't been very much of it in the first place.
Well, Lex Luthor hadn't succeeded, he thought in angry relief. That was one part of the previous thirty-six hours he remembered very clearly: that this was all down to Lex Luthor. Luthor and his expensive vintage wine.
He had a score to settle with Luthor. Later.
Right now, Clark thought as he landed on his balcony and walked through to the bedroom, he'd better get ready for work. Given that he must have been absent yesterday, he had some time to make up for. He couldn't even remember having been coherent enough to call Perry and explain, which probably meant that he'd been AWOL.
He headed for the bathroom, shedding his Suit on the way to the shower. The warm water was refreshing, and he leaned back against the wall, just letting it cascade over him.
He'd lost an entire day. Beyond the memory he had of waking up in pain and figuring out what had happened to him, he couldn't seem to remember a thing about the previous day. But, as he continued to soap himself, he realised that he must have spent a lot of time sleeping. Because he'd certainly had some very vivid dreams!
In one of them — and his body became taut at the memory — he'd been kissing Lois. He couldn't remember who'd kissed who first; just that he'd told her that he loved her, and suddenly they'd been on his bed together, wrapped in each other's arms, and kissing passionately.
And… it hadn't stopped at kissing.
In his dreams, they had gone much further than that. In his dreams, she had undressed him. She had been naked too, and he'd been touching her, caressing her, getting to know every inch of her body. And she'd been touching him too, in every way he'd ever longed for.
And they'd made love.
That part of the dream had been incredibly vivid. The sensation of being with her, kissing her, *making love to* her had been amazing. It had been the most wonderful experience of his life.
And yet it had only been a dream.
Yet… It felt so *real*, it was hard to believe that it really was only a dream.
But it had to be. Lois hadn't even been here. And there was no way on earth that she would have made love with him! Hell would have frozen over first, he thought with a wry laugh.
No, there was no way that it could have happened in reality.
Shaking his head, as if to rid himself of the notion that his dreams could possibly have been real, he shut off the water and exited the shower, snagging a towel as he did so.
The phone rang suddenly, its shrill tone shattering the silence of the apartment. Clark wrapped the towel around him and headed quickly for the bedroom, suspecting that his caller was most likely Lois. In fact, he thought with a sigh, he really needed to check his answering machine. There were no doubt at least half a dozen messages from Lois, demanding to know where he'd been yesterday. As he remembered it, they'd had a lot of work to do.
She'd make him grovel, of course, even once he told her that he'd been sick…
"Clark! How are you feeling?"
Yes, he had called her yesterday. And she'd been — as always — sympathetic and full of practical advice.
"I'm fine," he added quickly. "Completely better. My powers are back, too. So I can't have swallowed that much of the stuff."
"I'm so glad to hear that, honey!" she exclaimed. "You were being so brave yesterday morning, but it was obvious that you were worried. And in pain. It was a relief when Lois told me that you seemed to be getting better."
"Yeah, I'm really fine — Wait a minute!" he said sharply, backtracking. "*Lois* told you?"
"Yes! She was there, honey — in your apartment. She answered the phone when I called to see how you were. She said that you'd gone into work but almost immediately collapsed, and she'd taken you home. You're very lucky to have her, Clark — it sounds like she took very good care of you."
"I guess," he murmured abstractedly. So Lois *had* been at his apartment? Did that — *could* that mean…?
"Your father and I were just a bit concerned… you know, that you hadn't done anything to give yourself away?"
"I don't think so. I mean, I was pretty much out of it for the entire day," he said. But he was no longer really focusing on the conversation. Lois had been here? She'd been looking after him?
And… what else had she been doing?
Could it possibly be…? His dreams. Maybe *not* dreams after all?
He had to know. But how? It wasn't as if he could just go up to Lois and ask her, after all. He could imagine the conversation…
"Hi, Lois. Thanks for taking care of me yesterday. Uhh… by any chance, did you happen to make love with me while you were there?"
"Are you completely crazy, Kent?"
Oh, yeah. That would work. Like heck it would!
His mom was speaking again, and Clark suddenly realised that he'd missed half of what she'd said. "Uh — sorry, Mom. I was… could you repeat that?"
"Are you sure you're better?" she asked, but he could hear the humour in her voice.
"I'm fine. Sorry — it's just that I sort of remembered something…"
"You didn't know Lois was there yesterday, did you?" his mother said, chuckling. "And now you're all worried in case she's put off by the way you look when you're sick!"
Clark winced. "No, it's not that, Mom! It's just… oh, heck. I have to go. I'm sorry. Can I call you back later?"
She laughed. "Sure you can, honey. Give Lois my love, won't you?"
Clark rolled his eyes. How did his mother always seem to know just what he wanted to do? "Goodbye, Mom," he said firmly, waiting for her to echo him before hanging up.
He *had* to see Lois. As soon as possible! He had to find out just what had happened between them yesterday. She'd been at his apartment, true, but was the rest a dream? Or had it really happened?
And if it had… *how* had it happened? He simply couldn't imagine Lois getting into bed with him — making love with him — willingly. She wasn't interested in him in that way, was she? Even in spite of what the pheromone had suggested, he was well aware that Lois had eyes for no-one but Superman. So why would she have slept with *Clark*?
Had he…? No, he couldn't have. Wouldn't have. Not even in a state of delirium could he possibly have…
He shrank from the thought.
But was it possible? Could he have been so lost to any idea of reality that he might have… persuaded… given her no choice about it?
He recoiled. No. No way. He could never… Surely he couldn't have!
Clark walked on shaky legs back to the bathroom, absently draping his towel over the rail. He needed to see Lois. He needed to see her *now*.
Clothes. He needed to put something on…
Spying his Suit on the floor, he pulled it on quickly, before hurrying to the balcony and taking off.
Lois studied her reflection in the bathroom mirror and sighed. Even despite the moisturiser she'd applied twice before going to bed last night, and her shower just now, her face still glowed and stung with a red rash. Why did stubble have to be so painful? And how was she going to show her face in the newsroom looking like this?
And, if Clark was better, how was she going to face him?
She was going to have a hard time doing that anyway, she admitted with a sigh. She'd made love with him. The best sex she'd ever had — probably was ever likely to have. And, if she was honest with herself, she didn't want it to be a one-time affair.
But how could she ever tell Clark what she'd done? That she'd taken advantage of him like that when he wasn't truly aware of what he was doing?
He'd be furious with her, and he'd have every right to be. Regardless of the obvious fact that he'd wanted it every bit as much as she had at the time, he'd been sick. She'd known that. He hadn't been capable of making a conscious, rational decision. Even if she was pretty sure that, in perfect health and clear mind, Clark would still have wanted to make love to her, she'd had no right to make that decision for him.
Despite his evident willingness, what she'd done was as much a sexual assault as Clark taking advantage of her and sleeping with her when she'd been under the influence of the pheromone would have been. And to claim otherwise, as she'd done yesterday in an attempt to rationalise her decision, was to follow the sort of double standard she continually complained about: one rule for women, another for men.
Men always wanted sex, therefore to sleep with Clark, even when he wasn't aware of what he was doing, was perfectly okay — he'd want it anyway.
Wouldn't he? At least, that was how she'd rationalised it to herself. Generalising about men, in the kind of way she hated to see men do about women. When she knew darned well that Clark wasn't any average guy — if there was even any such thing in reality.
Women were more cautious — and choosy — about whom they shared their bodies with, so Clark would have been completely in the wrong had he slept with her when she'd been begging and pleading with him to do so — he was well aware that she wouldn't have wanted to do it if she hadn't been drugged.
She knew exactly how she'd have felt if he had taken advantage of her when she'd thrown herself at him and begged him to make love to her. He'd resisted and resisted, knowing that she wasn't herself, knowing that when she was in her right mind and not under the influence of a drug she would never have behaved like that.
Yeah, she would probably have threatened him with a rape claim, and at the very least demanded that Perry transfer him to another department, if not division.
And yet, when Clark had been equally not himself, she'd…
Yep, a double standard. And, Lois thought with a grimace, it was far from the first time that she'd been guilty of making that kind of generalised judgement about men, something she wouldn't do about women. And something she'd raise hell about if she caught anyone else doing it about women.
No, she couldn't tell Clark what she'd done. It wasn't just that she couldn't bear the embarrassment; she couldn't take the risk that he might never speak to her again. That he might hate her. That he might even accuse her of assaulting him. No; she would just have to block it from her mind and make sure that no hint of what had happened ever slipped out.
And, if she couldn't tell him, could she possibly pretend for him that, if they ever did make love again, it was their first time?
Oh god… and what if she was pregnant?
Frantically, she did some mental arithmetic. Then, sighing with relief, she realised that she was highly unlikely to be pregnant.
And that was just as well. What she'd already done to Clark was bad enough. How could she possibly have told him, some weeks in the future, that he was going to be a father? And, okay, she could have simply *not* told him, but he was her friend! He'd want to know who the father was, for the simple reason that he'd hate to see her pregnant and abandoned.
That would have been a very difficult situation — simply horrible. And so totally unfair to Clark.
Lois swallowed. She really owed Clark a huge apology. If she could ever find the courage to tell him what she'd done…
A noise coming from the living-room startled her. Lois dragged on her robe and peered around the bathroom door, both puzzled and alarmed.
A flash of blue and red outside her window reassured her. Quickly, she crossed the room and waved at Superman. "It's open."
He pushed the window up and stepped inside. As he did so, Lois saw his face, and she stared at him.
He was unshaven. In fact, unless his beard grew Super fast, he hadn't shaved for a couple of days, at a guess. His eyes also looked very faintly bloodshot.
If she didn't know any better, she'd say that he'd caught Clark's flu.
"Superman?" she said, puzzled. "Are you okay?"
But he was staring at her, too. "Lois… your face…"
Her face…? She put one hand to her cheek, then remembered the rash. "It's nothing, Superman," she told him, trying to hide her embarrassment. "Just… got too close to something that irritated my skin."
"It's stubble rash. Isn't it?" he asked, and Lois could have sworn that he'd just got some sort of shock. He sounded stunned.
She blinked. "That's none of your business, Superman! Though while you're being nosy about me — why haven't you shaved today?"
But he didn't appear to have heard her. Instead, he shook his head, a disbelieving expression on his face. When he spoke, in a low, ragged voice, it seemed as if the words were dragged out of him. "I didn't dream it… it happened, didn't it? You… we made love… oh, god, tell me I didn't force you, Lois!"
Stunned, she could only gape at him. What was he talking about?
This was *Superman*. Not Clark. It was Clark she'd made love with…
It was Clark she'd made love with…
It was Clark.
Lois swallowed, then stared at Superman again. This time, she tried to visualise him with his hair loose and falling forward over his face — and she remembered her partner naked. He had a terrific body. Toned, muscular, powerful…
*Why* hadn't she seen it?
"Clark?" she exclaimed, half-accusation, half- question.
The man in the Spandex suit caught his breath, gulped, then ran for the window and jumped out. In a sonic boom, he was gone.
Fool! Idiot! *Lunkhead*!
If his mom knew what he'd just done, she'd rip him asunder, invulnerability or not.
She knew. Lois *knew*!
How was he supposed to handle that?
She *knew*. Knew he was Superman.
What on earth had possessed him to go flying over to her apartment in the Suit, anyway?
He must have been crazy. He hadn't been thinking straight. Still wasn't — she'd figured out his secret, and he'd just run away?
Clark paused in his flight, rubbing his forehead tiredly. He definitely wasn't himself still. Oh, physically he was fine, he knew that. But he wasn't thinking at all straight, and he was making stupid decisions. Acting without thinking. And that wasn't like him.
Okay. So Lois knew. And that meant he needed to talk to her…
…but he was forgetting something. The reason why he'd gone over in the first place.
He *had* made love to her. She hadn't actually confirmed it, as such, but he knew it was true. The stubble-rash on her face — and, of course, the fact that, as soon as he'd referred to what he thought had happened between them, she'd made the connection between Superman and Clark.
And he'd run out before he could get the answer to that question either: just how had it happened? Had she been willing? Or had he… taken advantage of her in some way?
But he wouldn't do that, he argued with himself. He'd never even tried to persuade a woman to change her mind when she'd said no to even moderate intimacy. There was no way that he'd go beyond persuasion to… compulsion.
Not when he was in his right mind. In full possession of his senses, a tiny voice pointed out.
<You were sick. You didn't know what you were doing. How do you know what you were or weren't capable of doing?>
He needed to talk to Lois. And as soon as possible.
But not as Superman. As Clark. And so he had to get home first — and shave! — and then find her. Always assuming that, after what had happened yesterday and after what she now knew, she was willing to talk to him.
And, knowing Lois, there was absolutely no guarantee of that. He'd just better start hoping that she hadn't managed to lay her hands on some of Luthor's Kryptonite!
Furious and still barely able to believe what she'd discovered, Lois stared at the window through which her visitor had departed.
How could he run out on her like that? *Now*? When she'd just realised who he was?
Superman was Clark. Clark was *Superman*. She'd made love with *Superman*!
And he'd run away. Flown off before she could confront him with how she felt, before she could ask why he'd deceived her.
<Didn't you do exactly the same?> a tiny voice pointed out to her. <Didn't you run out on *him* yesterday? Before he woke up and you had to talk to him about what had happened?>
That wasn't the same, Lois wanted to object. But then she realised that she was wrong. In many ways, it was very much the same. In that instant, her anger disappeared. How could she possibly be angry with him in the circumstances? Given what she'd done? *Everything* she'd done?
She'd wanted to leave before Clark woke up again and she wouldn't have been able to deny that they'd made love. She'd wanted him to think, assuming that he'd remembered it at all, that he'd dreamed everything.
He had remembered something. With a sudden shock, the way he'd phrased his question came back to her.
"I didn't dream it… it happened, didn't it? You… we made love… oh, god, tell me I didn't force you, Lois!"
He hadn't known whether to think it was a dream or not. And…
…oh god, he actually thought he might have…
"…tell me I didn't force you, Lois!"
…he thought he might have…
She shrank from using the word. And yet that was what he believed he might have done.
Clark was afraid that he might have raped her.
She took a sharp, painful intake of breath and crossed to the sofa, sitting down just as her legs threatened to give way beneath her. *Clark*, her gentle, caring partner, actually thought that he could have used force to have sex with her? But, even if she hadn't known all too well just how their lovemaking had happened, she was very well aware that using force of any kind — and especially on a woman — would be anathema to a man like Clark.
Clark simply couldn't hurt anyone. And he would never, *ever*, resort to anything approaching rape, even when not in his right mind. It just wasn't possible.
But he thought it was possible…
She took a shuddering breath. *Why* would he think it possible? Surely he knew he'd never be capable of that?
The answer came almost immediately. She'd always made it very clear that she wasn't interested in him; wasn't attracted to him. She'd warned him off in no uncertain terms. She'd made sure he knew, over and over, how attracted she was to Superman. She'd been in denial, to herself as much as to him, about how attracted she really was to *Clark* — although that made sense to her now, now that she knew that Clark was Superman.
So why on earth would he assume that she'd gone to bed with him willingly?
After all, she'd given him every reason to believe that such a thing couldn't even be remotely possible.
And so, because she'd never been honest with him, and because she'd sneaked out on him in such a cowardly way yesterday, Clark thought that he was a rapist.
And yet, if anyone was…
Well, she was the one who'd taken advantage of him, wasn't she? She'd known that he wasn't himself, that he was sick. And she'd taken advantage of his state and taken what she wanted.
A shiver ran through her again. There was no way she could let him go on thinking that he'd forced her into anything. She had to find him. She had to talk to him as soon as possible and tell him the truth.
She hurried into her bedroom, dragged clothes at random from her closets, and dressed rapidly before grabbing her car keys and leaving the apartment. All she hoped was that Clark would be easy to find. And that he'd let her undo the damage her actions had done — not just yesterday, but for as long as she'd known him.
Clark stood in front of his bathroom mirror, shooting darts of heat vision back to his face. And, as the two-day growth of stubble disappeared — it was no wonder people at the accident scene had been staring at him, he'd thought wryly once he'd looked properly at his reflection — he stared at the face which looked back at him.
The face of a sex fiend? Of a man who would take advantage of his best friend?
He couldn't have raped Lois. He was — well, probably eighty percent sure of that. But there was still that niggling twenty percent suggesting, whispering to him that he could be wrong… That it was just possible that all his ethics, all his values and instincts could have gone out of the window when he'd been under the influence of the Kryptonite.
Though that was something he still couldn't understand. He'd encountered Kryptonite before, and it had taken away his powers as well as leaving him in a lot of pain as long as he was close to it. It hadn't driven him to do crazy things, or act in a way completely unlike himself.
And yet this time he'd clearly acted completely out of character. He'd never made love before yesterday — that had been an intimacy he'd deliberately, with much soul-searching, decided to save until he'd met the woman with whom he could be completely honest about himself. Over the years, although he'd been tempted on several occasions, with women who'd been attractive and willing, he'd managed to keep a tight grip on his control. He'd always walked away with a kiss goodnight and a friendly hug. He'd never come even close to sharing his body with someone.
Yet he'd done just that yesterday. Without any hesitation, if the hazy memories he had of the event were reliable.
That didn't make any sense.
And nor did it make sense that he must have been the aggressor — because he well knew that he must have been. Lois would never have seduced him.
Clark sighed. None of this made sense, but right now that couldn't be his priority. The most important thing he had to do was talk to Lois. He needed to find out what really happened, and just how appallingly he'd behaved — and then establish whether there was any shred of a chance that she might forgive him.
Oh, and he also had to deal with the little matter of her knowing that he was Superman -
A sharp rap on his door disturbed his thoughts. Pulling a face, he checked his reflection once more — he looked mostly presentable now — and then headed out to the living area and up the steps to the door.
It was Lois.
Not knowing whether to be relieved or worried that she'd obviously come to the same conclusion as he had — that they needed to talk — he pulled the door wide open to allow her entry.
"Hi," he said awkwardly, letting her pass him.
"Hi." She stopped at the bottom of the steps leading down to his living area, took a deep breath, then turned to face him.
"Clark, you didn't take advantage of me! If anything, it was me who did that!" Her words came out in a tumbled rush, her tone agitated.
Clark stared at her. She wasn't accusing him? She wasn't even throwing accusations of betrayal at him?
"Lois, I…" He broke off, ran a hand through his hair, then took a deep breath before continuing. "I'm not sure I understand, Lois. You did… what?"
She took a hesitant step towards him, then stopped, clearly uncertain. "Clark, yesterday… I took advantage of you. I knew you were sick. I knew you didn't know what you were even saying, let alone doing. But I ignored all that and I just went after what I wanted. I -"
Lois broke off again, and Clark saw a shudder run through her. Then — because she was Lois and courageous almost to the point of stubbornness on occasion, he thought — she added quietly, "I was never going to tell you about it. I was going to pretend that it never happened. I thought I'd just let you believe that you'd dreamed it all, if you remembered anything. But then… Oh, god, Clark, I couldn't let you think that you'd raped me!"
So he hadn't…
Clark inhaled deeply as relief flooded him. He hadn't forced her. But still…
He still didn't understand any of it. Lois's explanation, although in one respect it was very reassuring, seemed to raise many more questions than answers. *She* had seduced *him*? Really? He'd been very sure that she could never — *would* never — have done that. So why…? What would have made her do that? She wasn't even interested in him that way, was she?
And another of those questions was: why had she planned never to tell him what had happened? And just how did he feel about that? The most wonderful experience of his life, and she'd planned to let him think it was a dream? His first time making love, and she'd intended that he should believe it had never happened?
Yes, he could have been very angry about that. And might be in time… But right now he was just relieved to know that his worst fears had been unfounded. And now, too, he needed to understand more than he needed to be upset with Lois. He needed his partner's help to figure out what was going on here.
"Thanks for telling me, Lois," he said. "I really, really appreciate it." Risking a wry smile, he added, "But this still doesn't make sense. I mean… you *wanted* it to happen? You, Lois? With *me*?"
He sensed immediately that his question embarrassed her. But he couldn't really find it in himself to regret asking it. He *wanted* to know the answer. He had a right to the answer, too, didn't he, in the circumstances? He needed to understand how the Lois Lane who'd spent the last six months holding him — holding Clark Kent — at a distance could suddenly do exactly the opposite, to the point of making love with him.
She avoided his gaze. Beginning to pace, a habit with which Clark was becoming very familiar, she almost snapped, "None of this makes sense, Clark! I mean, I just found out that you're Superman, right?"
"Right," he agreed. "And I'm -"
"So, if you're Superman, how can you be sick? How could you possibly have the flu? And yet I know you did. There's no way anyone could fake the symptoms I saw you have yesterday… but it's just not possible that Superman could be sick!"
"Isn't it, Lois?" he countered softly. "You know what can make Superman sick. You named it yourself."
She stilled. "Kryptonite? It really hurts you?"
He nodded. "Yeah. And I think it could kill me."
"The paper cut…" she said, and he could almost see the cogs of her brain whirring. "Your… allergies, I think your mom said? And Trask — he knew?"
"He knew because I told him," Clark explained. "I had to. He was going to kill my parents — as bait for Superman."
"Oh god…" Lois inhaled deeply. "But wasn't the rock — the Kryptonite — destroyed?"
"I thought so. But someone managed to get some fragments from somewhere, and that's what made me sick."
Clark dug his hands deep into his jeans pockets and took a step towards Lois. She didn't move; just watched him, a wary expression on her face.
"I swallowed some Kryptonite. It was in a glass of wine," he told her. "And, although I don't think there was enough to kill me, I was pretty sick. I'm really grateful to you for what you did. I'm sure I'd have been far worse if you hadn't been here looking after me yesterday."
She shrugged. "I couldn't just leave you…"
"I'm very glad you didn't. And grateful. But, Lois," he added carefully, "Can we talk about… the rest of it? What happened between us," he clarified, seeing her puzzled look.
"Clark, please!" she exclaimed. "I'm embarrassed enough about what I did — can't we just forget it?"
Forget it? Did she mean that she regretted what had happened? He supposed that he should hardly be surprised at that — and, of course, she'd never planned on telling him, which was a further indication that her preference was to pretend it had never happened.
But how could he possibly forget that it had happened? That he'd made love to Lois? That he… was no longer a virgin, even if his own memories of the momentous event were so hazy? Even if Lois wanted them to forget about it?
But he couldn't allow her to do that. His pride wouldn't allow him to agree meekly to what she wanted. How could he just ignore what she'd done? If what she was saying was true, she'd taken advantage of him in a terrible way. A way he'd come close to doing to her when she'd been affected by the pheromone, he was immediately reminded. But still… He'd done his best to resist. Why hadn't she?
Or had she? What sort of role had he played? Had he put pressure on her? If those vivid dreams he'd had were any guide, he had been the seducer, not Lois. What was the truth here?
And besides… Besides, there were other reasons why he needed her to talk to him about it.
He shook his head. "Forget that we made love, Lois? Do you really think I could do that? Even assuming that I wanted to? But that's not what I want to talk about — well, not right now." He paused, taking another deep breath. "Lois, I need to understand what happened. I really don't remember anything very much about it at all, but I think I… well, did I ask you to kiss me? And what else did I do? What did you do? I need to know," he repeated. "Something very strange happened to me yesterday — I don't think I was myself, and I don't understand why. It can't have been the Kryptonite — it didn't make me lose control of myself last time — but I can't think what else it could have been. *Was* I behaving normally, Lois?" he asked her helplessly.
"Oh, Clark, I…" She was fumbling for words, her face reddening further.
"Lois, please," he said, quietly pleading. "I know this is difficult. And I have a feeling that you're not the only one who's going to be embarrassed by it. I mean, I only have hazy memories of what happened, but I must have said or done some pretty embarrassing things, right? I mean, given we got to the point of making love…" Again, he took a deep breath. "The thing is, Lois, I need to understand what happened and why — and I need your help. I need my partner, Lois. I need your analytical mind and your leaps of logic. Can you help me?"
Could she help him?
Lois's own mind was full of questions; Clark's own, plus several of her own besides. If Clark wanted answers, then he wasn't the only one.
He'd said that he'd drunk Kryptonite, in a glass of wine. But how had it got in the wine? How come he hadn't noticed it? And, most of all, *who had given him the wine*? Had someone tried to kill Superman?
He had been *drugged* when he'd pleaded with her to kiss him? No wonder his understanding of their relationship had all been so weirdly out of place. And she'd taken advantage of a drugged man…
But she hadn't known that he was drugged!
Lois inhaled long and hard. "Okay, Clark. We need to talk if we're going to work out what happened. But first, I need coffee. Okay?"
He'd been watching her anxiously, but at her words his expression relaxed. "Coffee. Sure. I can do that. Um… have you had breakfast? Can I get you something to eat?"
Reminded of all the exotic and simply delicious pastries Clark had a habit of producing from time to time, Lois's interest was roused. "What have you got?"
"Nothing at the moment — but if you want, I can get us some croissants or maybe some kuchen by the time the coffee's ready," he offered — and the penny suddenly dropped. Clark didn't just happen to have a convenient bakery that he visited from time to time. He *flew* to France, Germany, Italy, China or anywhere else in the world to get what he wanted.
Her shock must have shown on her face. Clark grinned broadly. "Right — the coffee's filtering. I'll be back in a couple of minutes. Don't go away!"
And, before she could say a word, he became a whirligig of colour. Seconds later, Superman grinned at her before disappearing into Clark's bedroom, and a sonic boom was audible immediately afterwards.
Left alone in the kitchen, Lois sank into one of the chairs at Clark's small table.
She was almost glad to be deprived of his presence for a few minutes. Oh, she felt his absence and longed for his return already, but she really needed this time alone to… to try to recover even some of her equilibrium. This morning had been one shock after another, quite apart from her — richly deserved — guilt over what she'd done to him.
What was worse was the way she felt every time she looked at him. Or heard his voice. He evoked a burning need within her, a fierce hunger which she had never expected to feel.
She wanted him. Still. Craved his touch. Longed for his caresses. Ached for his kisses. Burned for even more than that — for everything they'd shared lately. Simply looking at him now made her tremble.
How could she ever have thought that she could put their lovemaking out of her mind? What degree of hubris had told her that she could possibly act as if it had never happened, could shrug Clark off as if he… as if he really was an itch that she'd scratched and never needed to be bothered with again?
Arrogance. Sheer arrogance — and complete stupidity.
What she felt for Clark went far beyond one roll in the sack. Her revulsion at the crudity of the expression which had come to her mind told her again how idiotic — moronic! — she'd been. Thinking that she could treat her best friend, the man who'd shown her nothing but kindness, consideration and real caring ever since she'd known him, as some sort of… of disposable toy fit only to be thrown away after one use!
She didn't deserve Clark's friendship, let alone anything more. She deserved to have him hate her.
And yet — so far — he didn't. Marvelling at that, she reminded herself that he didn't know the full story yet. She hadn't told him the whole sordid details of how appallingly she'd behaved — though he'd asked for them. She was going to have to tell him, and then watch his expression turn to disgust and hatred. She was going to have to watch him reject her.
Being rejected by Clark would be bad enough — but, of course, she now knew that she'd be rejected by Superman too.
Because Clark was Superman. Okay, she'd figured that out when he'd been in her apartment just a short time ago. And he'd made no secret of it in their conversation just now. But none of that had prepared her for the shock of actually *seeing* him become Superman, right in front of her eyes.
Her partner was Superman. She'd been working beside the man of her dreams for more than six months, and she'd never guessed, never even had the faintest inkling. And she called herself an investigative reporter!
She'd made love with Superman.
Yeah, she'd realised that back in her apartment, but it hadn't really sunk in. Yesterday, in this very apartment, in a bed only a few yards from where she was currently sitting… she'd made love with Superman.
Ever since the moment she'd first set eyes on the superhero, she'd dreamed about being with him — being intimate with him. Being the one woman he wanted to be with. And yesterday it had happened — she'd made love with Superman, and she hadn't even known it. Might never have known it, but for Clark's slip that morning — which she already realised he hadn't intended to make. He hadn't intended to tell her who he really was.
Something inside her rebelled suddenly. That wasn't right. She'd made love with *Clark*. Not Superman. It had been Clark she'd been with — and had made a conscious decision to make love with. And it had been the most wonderful experience of her life. It wasn't fair to Clark to dismiss his part in it and focus on his other identity — to decide that she'd been with Superman.
Clark hadn't said anything about how he'd come to be Superman, or about what part the superhero played in his life — but she felt sure, somehow, that although he had a double identity the part of him which was real was *Clark*. He'd even said that to her, hadn't he? In Smallville, when they'd been strolling together at the Corn Festival. "That's who I am. Clark."
Not Superman. Clark.
And, of course, that answered the question which had been in her mind ever since she'd found out, and which she hadn't yet had the opportunity to put to him: why hadn't he told her? Well, why would he, when all she'd ever done since Superman had put in an appearance was hero-worship him and behave as if Clark barely existed? Or take every opportunity to compare him with Superman and find him wanting?
If only she'd just opened her eyes. If only she'd, just once, tried to look beyond the external. If she'd even just listened to what her heart had often tried to tell her about Clark. Oh, sure, she'd accepted him as a friend — almost seeing him get killed by Trask in front of her had taught her a big lesson there. But she'd still kept him at arm's length. Still pretended that he didn't mean all that much to her. Still acted as if she wasn't remotely attracted to him.
While, all the time…
She'd been attracted to Clark, all right. She'd finally admitted it yesterday, but even then she'd planned to hide it from him. If Clark hadn't remembered and wanted to know if it had really happened, or if it had been just his imagination working overtime…
But he *had* remembered, and now it was out in the open between them. So maybe there was a chance…
<Something very strange happened to me yesterday — I don't think I was myself, and I don't understand why>
He hadn't been himself. He'd been acting strangely — out of character. She'd recognised that herself. He'd told her, shortly before he left, that he hadn't been acting normally.
What if… what if Clark regretted what they'd done? What if their making love was something he never would have done in his right mind? What if this attraction… She hesitated, then allowed herself to name those feelings inside her which were clamouring to be recognised. What if the love she was now pretty sure she felt for Clark was all on her side?
But he'd said that he loved her… And when she'd been affected by the pheromone, he'd given in eventually!
He'd told her that he loved her under the influence of… something. If not the Kryptonite, then something else — but definitely something which had taken away some measure of his control over himself. Taken away his inhibitions, maybe? Or, like the pheromone, highlighted feelings which were already there?
Was that a possibility? she wondered suddenly. Had the Kryptonite somehow made him less resistant to the pheromone now?
He hadn't been resistant in the first place, had he? Well, Superman hadn't. He'd kissed her passionately in full view of anyone at the airfield — including Lex Luthor. And he'd declared his love for her.
And yet… Clark hadn't been affected at all. So how could Superman have been affected — and attracted to her — and Clark not?
Unless it was the 100% solution which had done what the greatly diluted dose hadn't been able to: work on an invulnerable Clark Kent.
Was it possible that he'd somehow come into contact with the full-strength pheromone again, and that being affected by Kryptonite had made it worse? She'd have to ask him.
And, at the same time, hope that what they'd learned about the pheromone was true: that it did heighten feelings which were already there. Because suddenly she knew that she couldn't bear the thought of reverting to just friends with Clark.
They were lovers now, and she wanted them to stay that way.
But that was supposing that he'd even want to know her once he knew the whole truth…
He hadn't really needed to go and get breakfast, but Clark had badly wanted a few minutes to reflect — the morning had been one discovery after another, and he was feeling shell-shocked.
He and Lois had made love.
Finding out that he hadn't forced her in any way had been a huge relief. Okay, he'd felt pretty sure in the end that he could never have done that… but having her confirm it had taken a weight off his mind.
Even more stunning had been her confession that she'd wanted him.
Lois had wanted him. Clark. Badly enough to — as she'd put it — take advantage of him. And that meant… what, exactly? There was no way he was going to let her get away without explaining that!
The fact that she'd been planning to keep what they'd done secret from him did anger him, but her ashamed confession had mostly taken the sting away from that piece of news. Particularly since in the same breath she'd told him that she'd wanted him.
Lois had wanted him. Him, Clark Kent. And she'd made love with him, *deliberately*, by *choice*.
But she'd also planned for him never to find out…
…so what did that mean? That she'd just wanted one roll in the hay? A one-night stand?
It seemed to look that way. But one thing Clark knew very well about Lois was that she didn't go in for casual sex. So, given that, why had she slept with him? Was it possible that she might want what he wanted: a relationship? With him?
But she had told him, too, that she'd never planned on telling him, and she'd asked him if they could just forget it had happened. So that did suggest that she hadn't intended it to be anything more than… well, an itch she'd wanted to scratch. That *he* hadn't meant anything more to her than that.
And *that* hurt. Like hell.
Part of him wanted to yell at her for that. To tell her that she was no better than Cat Grant — words meant to wound. To tell her how disappointed he was in her — that she, who claimed to be his friend, could have behaved like that towards him. To order her out of his apartment and out of his life.
Yet that flew in the face of all he knew about Lois. She *didn't* have casual relationships. She wasn't a flirt. And office gossip — to which he tried not to listen, but he often had very little choice — pegged her as more Ice Queen than Party Girl. She certainly wasn't the swinging-from-the-chandeliers jungle woman that Cat Grant was.
So the idea that she had callously planned to use and discard him was not at all in character for her. The thought that she'd slept with him, with a man she wasn't even dating, wasn't at all in character for her either. So why…? What on earth could have motivated her to do it? Or *had* he somehow exercised stronger persuasion than she was telling him about?
And, again, what did she want now? What was her motive for wanting to forget it? Maybe it had been terrible for her, he thought gloomily — but then, he remembered, if his dreams, or vague memories as they seemed to be, were in any way accurate then he thought she had enjoyed their lovemaking. As he had.
But she wanted to forget it. That didn't suggest that she wanted any kind of a relationship with him… or did it?
On the other hand, Lois knew about Superman too now. She knew that the superhero she'd spent the last six months mooning over was actually her partner. Oh, sure, she'd be falling over herself to suggest that they start dating now!
No, that wasn't fair, he told himself immediately. She hadn't thrown herself into his arms, or sworn undying love, since finding out that he and her hero were one and the same. And she'd had the opportunity — when she'd confessed to making love with him willingly, she could have told him that she'd done it because she was crazily in love with him.
But she hadn't. And he still had no clue about her real feelings towards him. Other than that she'd confessed that she'd made love with him because she'd wanted to. She'd taken advantage of him, she'd told him — because she wanted him and she'd seen his state of mind as her opportunity.
That was another reason why he wanted to know *exactly* what had happened between them yesterday — because he wanted to know two things. One, whether her description of events was actually anywhere near the truth, because it really didn't sound like the Lois he'd known for six months. She simply wasn't the type to jump the bones of an insensible man just because she felt like it.
He could believe that of Cat Grant — but never Lois.
And the second reason was that he wanted — *needed* — to find out what Lois wanted now. Did she really want, as she'd claimed just a few minutes before, to pretend that it had never happened? To go back to being partners and friends, while developing a sort of conspiratorial amnesia about the past twenty- four hours?
Or… was it just possible that, somewhere within her, she did want more?
He hadn't missed the way she'd looked at him once or twice, in moments when the tight control she'd been keeping over herself for most of their conversation slipped. Her eyes had betrayed her. And he'd seen desire — and with it longing. But then, each time, she'd hidden it almost immediately.
How could he manage to find out what she really wanted? How would she react if he told her that he didn't want to forget what they'd done because he wanted to do it again? With both of them compos mentis this time?
But apart from that, he had to figure out what had made him behave as he had — because, if his hazy memories were anything to go by, he'd actually told Lois that he loved her and begged her to kiss him.
Which, under normal circumstances, he would never have dreamed of doing — not when he knew how Lois would react!
Or, at least, he'd thought he knew how she would react…
It seemed that he didn't know Lois as well as he'd imagined.
He and Lois really needed to talk. Urgently.
It had probably been a mistake, no matter how badly he'd felt he needed a few minutes to himself, to have left her alone in his apartment. He knew Lois well enough by now to be familiar with her habit of retreating from unintended confessions or uncomfortable discussions. And this, for Lois, had to be both. She'd confessed that she'd wanted to make love with him, and he was now insisting on being told everything that had happened between them.
He'd be lucky if Lois was still there when he got back!
Putting on a burst of speed, he landed just behind one of his favourite patisseries. Just before spinning back into T-shirt and jeans, he checked his 'currency' pocket and retrieved a handful of franc and centime coins. Then a quick visit to the patisserie gave him a selection of plain, almond and chocolate croissants.
They were still piping hot when he touched down on his balcony and hurried into the apartment. And the first thing he saw was Lois examining the coffee-pot. Relief coursed through him, and he said her name thankfully.
She turned, clearly startled, at his approach. "You… I didn't hear you come in…"
Immediately, she dropped her gaze from his, pretending intense interest in the pattern of the linoleum on the floor. Yes, he thought; embarrassment and awkwardness had definitely set in. And he'd bet anything that if he'd been another five or ten minutes he'd have come back to an empty apartment.
"Sorry. I'm just used to being quiet, I guess — never wanted any of the neighbours to hear me coming and going."
"I guess that makes sense," she agreed. "Uh… I think the coffee's ready."
She seemed grateful for the distraction, and Clark realised that he was too. In the couple of minutes it took for him to set out plates and put the croissants in a dish in the middle of the table, then pour coffee for both of them, he'd managed to persuade himself into a calmer frame of mind. More detached, he told himself.
Sitting down opposite Lois, he took a deep breath and began. "Okay. So I obviously wasn't… well, acting normally yesterday. I guess it was the Kryptonite making me sick, but — well, I just seem to remember saying and doing things I know I wouldn't normally. Is that — well, do you think that's accurate? Was I acting out of character?"
She played with her croissant for a long moment. Then, without raising her head, she said, clearly making a great effort to keep her voice steady, "Yeah. You weren't yourself. I thought… well, I just assumed that you were still delirious from the fever. I mean, the whole time I was taking you home you were saying things which… well, you just wouldn't normally. And then begging me not to leave you." Despite her efforts, her voice caught on the last words.
Clark felt himself flush. He'd really behaved so embarrassingly? He was dreading hearing the rest, if this was the start.
"Anyway," she continued jerkily, "once you were in bed you were pretty much okay. I mean, you were feverish and all that, but you mostly slept and when you weren't asleep you just asked for what you needed. It was later that…"
"What?" he prompted as she trailed off.
"Well, later. I noticed you were awake and I went over to see how you were. Anyway, your fever seemed to have gone and you were looking a lot better. I thought that maybe it was just a twenty-four hour bug and you were fine. But then…"
"Then… well, you said you loved me, and that's when I realised you couldn't possibly be better." Her words were little more than a mumble, and she stared fixedly down at the croissant on her plate, now somewhat the worse for wear.
"Huh?" Puzzled as to how that could have told her that he was still sick, Clark pushed aside his instinctive mortification at having revealed his feelings — feelings which he knew Lois neither welcomed nor reciprocated. "How could that have told you…?"
Lois shrugged, looking up finally to meet his gaze. Her eyes were troubled. "Well, I know you don't love me, so you had to be sick or delirious to say something like that… or, I was wondering, could it have been the pheromone? Did you come into contact with that again or something? Or-"
"Hang on, wait a minute!" Clark interrupted her speculation. "Wait… Lois, I -" He broke off, but then reminded himself of what he'd said to her earlier. If they were to work out what had happened, then they needed to be honest — both of them. And she, he knew, was already doing her best, although it was obviously painful for her.
He took a deep breath, then plunged on. "Lois, I do love you. I… obviously wasn't myself yesterday, or I'd never have actually *said* it — but it's true."
"You…" She seemed to make several attempts to speak, but gave up each time, and eventually just sat and stared at him.
He supposed that he might as well tell her everything, as she knew this much. "Lois, I've been in love with you since the day we met. I… knew you weren't interested, so I never said anything. There wasn't any point. But… I guess whatever made me crazy yesterday — well, it made me lose my inhibitions or something. And so I said something I'd always held back."
She chewed her lip, and Clark guessed that she was trying to work up the courage to tell him that she just didn't feel that way about him. It was just like the Lois he'd come to know over the past six months or so — the Lois he knew now, not the one he'd first met — not to want to hurt him.
But the silence was becoming tense, and he was feeling both embarrassed at having laid his cards — his heart — on the table, and afraid that Lois might just bolt. He was just about to tell her that he knew she wasn't in love with him and that he was okay with it, when she finally spoke.
"I've been such a fool, haven't I?" she said miserably, apparently apropos of nothing.
"Huh?" That was so far from what he'd expected her to say that part of him wondered whether they were having two parallel conversations here.
"The way I've treated you… and I've mooned over Superman and it never once occurred to me that you could possibly be…" She shook her head, grimacing self-critically. "Clark, I can understand that you won't believe me, but I… I was attracted to you all along. That's why… why I did what I did yesterday."
"I don't understand." Left floundering, he could only wait for an explanation.
He could almost see her gulp, and again there was a delay before she spoke. He held his breath. Just before she spoke, he could see tears shimmering in her eyes, and his heart constricted. He longed to reach out to her, but he had no idea how she would react.
"Making love to you. I… I've been denying my feelings about you for a long time, Clark. And especially since…"
"Since — the pheromone," she explained. "I was sprayed, and I… fell for you. Not Superman."
"Well, you didn't see Superman during the time you were affected," Clark felt obliged to point out.
"Yeah, but it was still you — Clark — I fell for."
That was true, but Clark still felt he had to point out one essential truth. "If you'd seen Superman then, you'd probably have fallen for him too. I — I think you realised subconsciously, while you were affected, that we're the same man. Remember telling me that I looked a lot like Superman?"
She nodded, and the tears still threatened. "What an idiot I was!"
"No," he contradicted her. "You were just showing exactly why this disguise works. Why would anyone think that Superman could possibly be just an ordinary guy, with an ordinary job? A geek in glasses?"
"You're not a geek!" she instantly retorted.
He smiled, touched and also glad to see some sign of the familiar Lane spirit, but continued. "Anyway, I… well, I sort of owe you an explanation about then. Remember I told you that the reason I didn't seem to fall in love with you then was that I just wasn't attracted to you?"
Something about her nod told her that his claim had hurt. He grimaced.
"Well, I lied," he confessed. "There has never been a time when I haven't been — attracted to you, I mean. I just wasn't affected by the pheromone."
"You weren't?" This seemed to surprise Lois. "But what about… oh, I guess that was because you'd swallowed the hundred-percent solution, yeah?"
Superman's behaviour at the airfield — of course. Clark sighed. "Oh, what a tangled web…" he murmured softly, then added in a more normal tone, "I lied then too. Well, pretended, I guess. I… it was an incredibly stupid thing to do, given that I wanted you to notice *Clark*, not Superman — but I just couldn't resist pretending to be affected and, for once, telling you the truth."
Her eyes wide, she stared at him. "The truth being… that you love me."
He nodded. "But I knew afterwards that it had been stupid — the last thing I needed was to encourage you to believe that you and *Superman* could have a relationship. I mean, apart from the danger to you if anyone thought you really were Superman's girlfriend, I was encouraging you to want to be with someone who didn't even exist!" He raked a hand through his hair, still frustrated at his own stupidity that day.
But Lois's brain had obviously been working on a different track. "So… if the pheromone doesn't affect you at all, then what did make you… well, completely uninhibited with me yesterday?"
He shook his head. "I still don't know. Uh… can you tell me more about what I did? I know it's not easy — heck, it's not easy for me to hear — but there might be some clue somewhere. There has to be!" he finished, almost desperate. *Something* had made him act completely out of character — without any inhibitions whatsoever, and that was dangerous. He'd been lucky this time: it had happened around Lois, and although they still had to deal with the fact that they'd made love, there didn't seem to be any irreparable damage. Sure, she now knew that he was Superman, but he trusted her with that information.
And she knew that he loved her.
That could have been bad too — she could have freaked out and decided that she couldn't even be his friend any more because knowing how he felt made her too uncomfortable. She could have laughed in his face. She could have told him that never in a million years would she love Clark Kent.
Or — even worse — she could have announced that she loved him too, and he would never have known if she'd only said it because she now knew that Clark Kent was also Superman.
She hadn't done any of that. Instead, she'd just looked shocked and very taken aback… as if her preconceived ideas had been turned upside down and she didn't know what to think. But she definitely hadn't looked horrified, or anxious to plead her own case with him in return. And she hadn't rushed to get out of his apartment, embarrassed to be around him. Just what that meant, he had no idea — but it didn't seem to be too bad.
It could all have been a lot worse. And he had to find out what had caused his behaviour, to ensure that it couldn't happen again.
So he sat silently and listened as Lois, appearing calmer now, explained the events of the previous day, starting with his arrival in the newsroom in an apparently drunken state, and ending with his request for her to kiss him.
And there she halted, looking acutely embarrassed.
"Lois?" he prompted. "What happened then? I do… sort of… remember asking you that — but the next thing I can remember is us — well, naked on the bed together. What did I do? How did that happen?"
And just how out of control had he been?
There was no way around it. But then, she'd already known that. She was going to have to tell Clark exactly what she'd done. She was going to have to confess the full details of how she'd taken advantage of him, knowing that he wasn't responsible for his actions. That she'd actually made love with him in the conscious knowledge that what she was doing was wrong.
Now that she knew he really did love her, she felt even more guilty than before. Clark loved her, and if he had, as she'd reasoned, finally given in to her a couple of weeks earlier just as the pheromone had worn off, at least his desire for her had been motivated by love. Not just by sex, as hers for him had.
No, it hadn't. Not even at the time. And there was no point trying to kid herself that it had been.
She had made love with Clark — she'd already admitted that to herself both last night and this morning. She'd made love with her best friend… because she was attracted to him, and because she had feelings for him.
No, not something as vague as 'feelings'. Because she loved him. She'd admitted that to herself earlier — was it so hard to accept that she was in love?
Sure, she'd told herself that she wouldn't ever fall in love again, that love only led to disaster and pain. Allowing herself to love someone only made her vulnerable, and that was a state she never intended to be in again. Ever.
Love meant surrendering control to someone else. It meant being weak; putting herself in a position where a man could hurt her. Again. She'd learned that lesson the hard way, and she'd vowed that never again would she leave herself open to getting hurt because she'd 'fallen in love'.
And yet now she loved Clark.
But Clark loved her too. Wasn't that different?
It had been a long time since a man had told her that he loved her — not since Claude had lied to get her into his bed. Clark, though, wasn't trying to sweet-talk her — he'd said he loved her yesterday, and he'd said it again today — just now. And he wasn't trying to talk her into bed now.
She tore her croissant to pieces, before picking up the shreds one by one and starting to chew them.
He loved her. So how did she feel about that?
Aware that Clark was waiting for her to answer his question, and the silence between them was becoming noticeable, she nonetheless stalled, needing to know the answer to *her* question.
She felt… cherished. Warm inside, secure in the knowledge that a man she valued very highly valued *her* in return. Not for their professional relationship, or even for what she might be persuaded to do for him personally. But because he loved her.
Somehow, too, the way Clark had confessed his feelings didn't seem to suggest that he was demanding, or even expecting, anything in return.
And yet… She loved him, but something was stopping her from telling him.
Maybe the fear that he wouldn't believe her? Maybe a nagging guilt that after how she'd behaved to him — both yesterday and ever since she'd met him — she didn't deserve to have his love.
Or maybe she was afraid that he'd think she was only saying it because she knew that he was Superman. And, after all, she'd had such an obvious crush on Superman for so long — why on earth should Clark believe her if she told him that she loved *him* now, and not just because she'd found out about his alter ego?
"Lois? Are you okay?" His softly-voiced question forced her to face him again.
She nodded. "I… was just thinking. How things have changed," she added in explanation. "I mean… you and me. We've… done things together which are pretty special. And… you told me you love me. And I guess I'm just working out how selfish I've been," she confessed.
"Selfish?" he prompted. "I don't think so."
She brushed aside his objection. "I made love with you because I was attracted to you. And because I thought you wouldn't remember a thing about it. I kissed you, after you asked me to, because I'd really enjoyed our kisses before, though wild horses would never have dragged it out of me. I didn't have the… the guts, or the decency, to be honest with you, Clark. Not before today."
She'd expected anger. Fury. She'd expected him to leap to his feet and order her out of his apartment. Or that he'd yell at her, tell her exactly what he thought of her and how he couldn't even bear to look at her. That he considered what she'd done to be assault.
She hadn't expected gentleness. Or the way he looked at her, his expression so typically that of the man who was her friend.
He reached across the table and, to her surprise, captured one of her hands in his. "So what's changed? Finding out that I'm Superman?"
There was no censure in his voice, just curiosity. And it was that which made it easier for her to answer him honestly. "That could have had something to do with it. But mostly it was you thinking that you'd… forced me. When it was so completely the opposite, Clark! I mean, you wanted it — that was obvious." She pulled a face before continuing. "But if I hadn't wanted to do it too, I could have got up and walked away any time I wanted. You weren't pinning me down. You weren't making me do anything I didn't want to do. I was the one taking advantage, because I was the one who knew what I was doing. You didn't. And I was already feeling guilty about that — you asking me if you'd forced me just poured more guilt on top of it all."
He heard the tiny catch in her voice just as she finished. "Don't feel guilty," he urged her immediately.
But she interrupted. "I do, Clark! Because, if anything, I was the one who raped you! You didn't know what you were doing. I *knew* you didn't know what you were doing, and yet I… did it anyway." The confession — putting her crime into words — made her feel even more ashamed of her actions; but she'd needed to say it.
He shook his head quickly. "No, Lois! Don't even *think* that! You said it yourself — I wanted what we did! And have you *any* idea of how good it feels to know that you wanted it — wanted *me* too?" He squeezed her hand more tightly, then added, "Yeah, it's true that I wasn't myself, and if I had been it probably wouldn't have happened — though you still have to tell me *how* it happened. I mean, which of us was… well, pushing for it more? And I'd have been really mad if you'd never told me about it, or left it longer before telling me. But you didn't do that. I don't think you could have, either."
She nodded jerkily. "I think I'd already realised that I couldn't go through with not telling you, Clark. Even if I didn't realise it before you came to see me dressed as Superman, I knew it once I got here and saw you — as you." Dressed as himself, she meant. Just seeing him had made her want him all over again — she wouldn't have had a snowball's chance in hell of keeping that secret, quite apart from the pangs her conscience had already been giving her.
"I'm glad." Giving her a quick smile, he added, "I wanted to make love with you, Lois. I remember that part *very* clearly. And I'm sure I made that clear to you. So there wasn't any forcing involved — not from my point of view. You didn't make me do anything I didn't want to do."
Lois shook her head — his words were comforting, but she couldn't allow herself to accept that comfort. "Clark, you know as well as I do that if you hadn't been sick — affected by Kryptonite," she amended, "none of it would have happened. And that's my fault for… well, for deliberately deciding that I knew what you would have wanted. And -" She gulped, but went on anyway. "And for practising the kind of double standard I'd be furious at anyone else for: assuming that because you're a man you'd want sex at any price and not care much about the circumstances."
Clark winced, and Lois braced herself for his fury. But he just gave her a wry grimace. "Lois, you know as well as I do that that's not fair — you can't generalise about men, any more than you'd let me generalise about women."
"No," she admitted. "I tried, though. Which makes me about as bad as Ralph, or anyone else I've told off for doing it." She inhaled sharply, then grimaced as another thought occurred to her. "Clark, it's not even as if you were just… well, sick. You were drugged, weren't you? I mean, by Kryptonite?"
He considered that for a moment. "I don't know. Maybe. The Kryptonite made me sick, sure, but I'm not sure what caused the rest. The… delirium, thinking things which weren't real, I mean," he continued. "And anyway, you didn't know I'd swallowed Kryptonite, did you? How could you have? But anyway, Lois, I'd have some reason to claim that you took advantage of me if you'd crawled into bed with me while I was still feverish and barely aware of what was going on, and you'd seduced me then — yeah, I might call that assault. But you didn't — I was the one who asked you to kiss me. I started it, didn't I?"
"Yeah, but I still should have known better," she objected. "I knew you weren't your usual self."
"No," he agreed, his gaze meeting hers directly. "I wasn't."
She nodded, swallowing a lump in her throat. "I'm sorry, Clark. Especially as I know exactly how you behaved when I was affected by the pheromone."
He grunted. "Come on — remember the next morning? When I all but said 'take me, I'm yours'? You have to know that if the pheromone hadn't worn off we'd have ended up in bed then!"
"Still," she objected. "You didn't take me up on the offer the first time I made it! And I did."
"You're still not going to talk me into calling it anything remotely like assault," he said, his hand tightening around hers once more. "And anyway, could you see anyone taking me seriously? The most beautiful reporter at the Planet obeys my plea for her to make love to me, and it's the most wonderful experience of my life so far as I can remember, and I complain?"
He grinned, and Lois couldn't help matching his smile. "Though that doesn't sound fair, Clark — you'd have a perfect right to make a complaint."
"All the same, I don't think I'll be calling Inspector Henderson any time soon." He continued to give her a crooked grin, and she relaxed, recognising his attempt to lighten the situation.
"Okay. And thanks, Clark." She managed to give him a smile.
"Seriously, though," he added, "I do wish I'd been… more aware of what was happening, that's all. I mean, if we're being completely honest here, making love with you is something I've dreamed about almost ever since I've met you, and it's… well, pretty tough that I can only remember bits of it. I want to be able to remember every single second," he added, laughing wryly.
"Why?" she asked impulsively. "I mean, there'll be other times…" Realising what she'd said suddenly, she bit her lip. Of course there wouldn't. Why would there? Why would he even want to, after what she'd done? Even if he was telling her that he didn't mind, how could he ever want anything approaching a relationship with a woman who'd betrayed his trust the way she had?
And yet the yearning in his gaze seemed to tell her that he did…
"Will there, Lois?" he enquired, dryly sceptical. "Come on — it's not as if we were dating, or we planned this to happen. And even if I'm in love with you — well, you don't feel the same way."
"But I do." The words came impetuously, before she had a chance to consider them and remind herself of all the reasons why she shouldn't say them. She inhaled sharply, covering her mouth with her hand, but the revealing words were already out there.
Clark's coffee-cup hit the table with a crash. His jaw dangling, he simply looked at her, a completely dumbfounded expression on his face. Finally, he managed a croak. "You… do?"
She *did* love him?
No, came the instant response from his brain: she loved Superman. Not Clark. She was in love with Superman. He knew that. And of course she could now tell him that she loved him, because he was Sup-
No. Just one second's reflection told him that wasn't true. If she was only saying that she loved him because of what she now knew about him, she'd have said it as soon as he'd confessed his love to her. Besides, one look at her face also told him that his initial reaction was wrong. Plus, the way she'd clapped her hand over her mouth immediately afterwards — worried, almost as if she was afraid of his response — told him that this wasn't an over- confident attempt to persuade him that Superman wasn't part of the equation here.
She was watching him, and her expression was definitely nervous. She was biting her lip, the croissant she'd been eating turning into shreds onto her plate as she crumbled it between her fingers. Her entire body language told him that she didn't expect him to believe her.
He did believe her.
His heart, his gut, his brain all told him that she was telling the truth. Lois loved him.
Unable to stifle a joyful laugh, he said her name. "Lois."
And afterwards he could never remember which of them had moved first. But he was standing and so was she, and she was in his arms, being crushed against him as he lowered his head and claimed her lips.
And he kissed her again. *They* kissed.
It was better than yesterday. Much better, because he had no questions in his mind — he knew that he loved her. Yesterday, hadn't he been having some doubts? Wondering whether she still felt the same way, whether she'd been having second thoughts… though once she'd started to return his kisses, he'd known. Of course she loved him.
Their lips met and parted, their tongues tangled, just like yesterday, even if they weren't on his bed and he wasn't parting her blouse with his fingers, probing the lace of her bra… Her body pressed eagerly against his, although this time too many clothes separated them. Unlike yesterday, when there'd only been Lois's thin blouse and undergarments…
Still, despite the greater barriers between them now, this kiss was still even better. His body knew hers now. He was familiar with every inch and curve of her, her unique scent and the tiny noises she made in her throat when she was aroused.
Like she'd been… yesterday…
Clark broke the kiss abruptly and stared at Lois, breathing heavily. She stared back at him, clearly wondering why he'd stopped kissing her. "Clark…?" she began, puzzled.
"I remember!" he exclaimed.
"I remember yesterday! Lois, I remember all of it! I asked you to kiss me, right? And I pulled you down onto the bed — and I touched you first." He tightened his hold on her waist. "Lois, I undressed you! You were never the aggressor. You didn't start it. It was me all the way. You just…"
"…went along with it," she completed for him. She bit her lip, then continued sadly, "Clark, it's great that you remember. But you were still sick. You didn't know what you were doing -"
"But I knew that I wanted it to happen," he pointed out. Altering his grip, he hugged her to him. "Lois, you can't blame yourself. You *can't*! You have to know that I wanted to make love to you, and I remember it all now — I *know* I wanted it. You weren't doing anything with me that I didn't want with every fibre of my being."
"I still could've got off the bed. I still could have stopped it," she mumbled against his shoulder.
He smiled, shaking his head and raising a hand to stroke her hair. "I'm glad you didn't. It tells me even more that you wanted it as much as I did — and that you couldn't help yourself. And that *really* makes me feel good. Anyway, Lois, if you had stopped, do you think we'd be having this conversation right now? Do you think you'd have told me that you loved me? We'd still be walking on eggshells around each other, pretending that we were only friends and nothing more — and I'd still be jealous as heck of your feelings for Superman."
She turned her head, nuzzling his jaw with her lips. Then, after a moment, she drew back and looked up at him, a soft smile curving around her lips. "I guess it's turned out well after all. Even if I am ashamed of what I did."
"Tell me one thing," he demanded, curious. "Were you… well, was it all conscious, for you? I mean, deciding to stay and… well, just letting it happen?"
Lois nodded. Then, after a moment, she frowned. "Actually… not really. I mean, I was thinking about it — trying to justify doing what I really wanted to do, when I knew I should stop it because you didn't know what you were doing. And… well, you kissed me again, and it was one hell of a kiss — I don't remember doing much thinking after that!" she finished, laughing ruefully. "Just… wanting."
"Good!" he said firmly. At her surprised look, he added, "You think I want to be told that my lovemaking is so boring that you're able to think through it?"
Their shared laughter echoed throughout the apartment, before Clark stopped it by kissing her again. And the magic was still there, but even stronger than before.
It was like yesterday all over again, only much, much better — this time she didn't have to feel any guilt at all over stealing kisses and embraces from a man who wasn't really conscious of what he was doing. This time, Clark was matching her kiss for kiss in full awareness of his actions.
She clung to him. He clung to her. His caresses were more assured, somehow, than yesterday, but every bit as loving — telling her, with every touch of his hands, that he loved her. That he forgave her for what she'd done. That he took his share of the blame willingly.
And it felt wonderful to be touching him again. To be in his arms, and to feel loved and wanted — and cherished.
He *wanted* to kiss her. He *wanted* to touch her, to stroke and caress her, and even more… He'd told her that he wanted to make love to her again. And again.
Clark loved her. And it wasn't just his fever talking.
She dragged her lips away from his. "Wait!"
"Huh?" He looked confused — did he think that she was rejecting him? she wondered, knowing in that instant how she would have felt in his position.
"Clark! Your fever! We still need to find out what caused it! And," she added, suddenly remembering, "You never told me who gave you the wine with the Kryptonite in it."
"Lex Luthor," he said grimly, and she gaped.
"You're kidding!" Then, immediately, she added, "No, you're not. I can tell — but *Lex Luthor*?"
Clark shoved his hands in his pockets again, stepping back from her. It felt as if he was distancing himself both mentally and physically. "I always told you I thought he wasn't what he seemed."
"I know you did. But I… Clark, it just doesn't seem possible that there wouldn't even be any rumours! I mean, I've got some of the best snitches around, and none of them so much as hinted…"
*And* she'd spent time with him. Altogether, quite a lot of time — she'd had dinner with him once or twice and had seen him on other occasions too, and he'd recently been hinting that he'd like to take her out some time. Okay, her motive had always been to get that exclusive, elusive Lex Luthor interview, but she'd found herself warming to him as a person. *Liking* him. Finding him challenging, intriguing, interesting and definitely someone to admire.
Lex was a major benefactor to the city. He'd been Man of the Year three times running, until Superman had inherited the title. And he'd saved her life!
How could she have been so wrong about someone? How could she have failed to see what was right under her nose?
Though she'd done that with Superman too. Some award-winning reporter she was!
"You don't talk about someone as powerful as Lex Luthor — not if you want to stay alive," Clark pointed out.
"I guess not…" Lois agreed. "Clark, I'm not saying I don't believe you! Of course I believe you! It's just… I *hate* being wrong, you know?"
That made him grin. "You don't say, Lois?"
"Okay, okay. Enough! So tell me how it happened! How did he get the Kryptonite? And how did he persuade you to drink it?"
Lois listened in aghast silence as Clark related the story. Then she exclaimed, "So that was why he wanted to see Superman! Oh god… I passed on the message! Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry!"
He shrugged. "Technically, you didn't pass on the message — you didn't speak to Superman, after all, just me. And even if you hadn't told me, I'd already heard."
At her puzzled look, he tapped his ear lightly. Super-hearing. Of course.
"And you tell me off for listening to your conversations," she grumbled good-naturedly. He just grinned.
"So tell me," she began, moving to the table again and sitting down. "What was it like when you were affected by Kryptonite before? And how was this different?"
He sat opposite her, one hand idly, and probably sub-consciously, pushing his glasses up off his nose. Watching him, Lois mentally kicked herself: she'd seen him without his glasses yesterday and had never made the connection, even though she'd thought that he looked somehow… different and yet familiar without them.
"Well, the biggest difference is that I didn't swallow it last time," he said. "When it was there — out of the lead box, I mean — the pain was agonising. I think it could have killed me. But once it was locked away the pain was gone. I just didn't have my powers."
"But this time it was inside you."
"Yeah. And that would explain the pain — right here," he said, laying the palm of one hand over his stomach. "I woke up with pain racking me there. And my head swam when I tried to sit up."
"You were running a fever," Lois told him. "When you first came into the newsroom — I feel terrible now, but I thought you were drunk. I mean, you were staggering about and slurring your words…"
"I can imagine," he said with a wry smile. "I guess it might have looked like that…"
"Except you don't drink. Not that I've noticed, anyway," she conceded. "I guess I should have known better. Anyway, as soon as I touched you I could feel that you were burning up."
"I can believe that swallowing Kryptonite might give me a fever," Clark said thoughtfully. "What doesn't make sense is the rest. I mean, why I seemed to lose my grip on reality. I mean, wasn't I thinking that things we did as part of the job — or something I pretended as Superman — were real? That we were really dating?"
"That's pretty much what I figured. You don't think the Kryptonite…?"
Clark shook his head decisively. "It didn't have that effect on me before."
"And it couldn't just be a side-effect of the fever? I mean, you were delirious."
"I don't think so," he replied. "I mean, I was delusional — and all my inhibitions just went out the window. I can't think that I'd have done that without some cause — but I can't think what it could've been."
Clark sighed then, and glanced at his watch. "But we don't have time to talk about this right now," he said resignedly. "We're already late for work."
Clark got to his feet and stretched; even though he'd been standing with Lois in his arms only minutes earlier, he felt as if he'd been sitting for hours.
They'd covered a lot of ground. And he was feeling an awful lot happier than he had a couple of hours earlier.
He no longer had any mixed feelings about making love with Lois the previous day; remembering everything had dismissed the last of his regrets. In a way, they'd put the cart before the horse — he would have much preferred to have been dating Lois and felt secure in their relationship before proceeding to the next stage of intimacy. But all the same… She loved him. And he loved her.
And… she was standing close to him, and looking gorgeous and sexy and thoroughly lovable.
And she was *his*. His lover. His… girlfriend?
Unable to resist, despite the knowledge that they both had to go and get ready for work, he crossed to her side and tugged her back into his arms. She came unresistingly, sliding her arms around his neck as he caught her by the waist.
As he gazed down at her, trying to decide whether he most wanted to kiss her lips or the very tempting line of her jaw, she looked up at him, her expression suggesting a woman who was very happy to be where she was — but yet not quite convinced that she deserved it.
"Lois?" he prompted, bringing one hand up to caress her face.
"You're sure you're not mad at me?" she asked.
"No!" he exclaimed. "Lois, if I was going to be mad at anyone, it'd be Luthor — he gave me the Kryptonite, after all! How could I be mad at you? You took care of me when I was sick! And I don't regret one second of what we did yesterday, I swear to you."
"Good." Now her smile was broad. "Nor do I."
And then she reached up to kiss him, and neither of them said anything else for quite some time. But eventually Clark had to draw back, reluctantly conscious that they were going to be even later for work.
"There's just one thing that worries me a little, I guess," he said, wrapping an arm around Lois to escort her to the door; she needed to go home and change into something more suitable for the newsroom.
"Well, I know I didn't use any… well, protection," he pointed out. "And I don't know how you'd feel about getting pregnant — I mean, I'd be there for you, I'd *want* to be there — but it's kind of soon for us to be thinking about a baby…" He trailed off awkwardly, not wanting to appear to be assuming anything in terms of a relationship. But that was what he wanted, and he was hoping that she wanted it too. Or at least that she'd be willing to consider it.
"Yeah, I know we didn't use anything," she agreed. "But it should be okay — it's a safe time for me." She reached up to touch his cheek. "I love it that you'd be there for me, though, Clark."
"Always," he promised. "You have to know that, Lois."
"Always?" she asked, a slight shake in her voice. He looked curiously at her, and saw uncertainty in her expression.
Did she need him to spell it out?
But he should have known that. He knew some of Lois's history with men, and suspected that she had problems believing that any man could be trustworthy — or that any man could want her for more than his own convenience.
Plus, he was well aware that he hadn't yet managed to chase away her feelings of guilt over what they'd done the previous day. Even despite the fact that he now remembered everything, including the fact that — in his opinion — he'd been the seducer. And he'd been over the moon, for more than one reason, to hear her say that she'd actually been too carried away by need in the end to think straight.
He halted, making her stop too, and removed his arm from around her waist; instead, he framed her face between his hands. She looked up at him, her gaze still uncertain — but hopeful.
"Lois, I told you that I love you. And for me that doesn't mean just for now, or even for a week or two until something better comes along. As far as I'm concerned, we're together now. Dating, anyway," he amended, not wanting to push her too hard.
She was silent for several heartbeats. Then, slowly, she said, "You want to date me?"
He actually wanted to court her, but he wasn't going to admit that right now. "Do you have a problem with that?" he asked her lightly, but inside he was practically holding his breath.
And then she gave him the first genuine smile he'd seen from her all day. It was a bright, sunny, joyful smile which completely lit up her face, chasing all shadows away from her eyes and revealing to him the Lois he was most familiar with: the one who knew who she was and what she wanted, and who never let anything get to her. Who had a terrific sense of humour when she allowed it to show, and who was the best friend he'd ever had.
"Clark, I would *love* that."
"It's a deal, then," he answered, then bent to kiss her again. It felt as if they were sealing a pact — a pact between lovers.
And, as Lois returned his kiss with intensity, pressing her body close to his, he reflected ironically that he could almost — *almost* — thank Lex Luthor.
She'd been very wrong about love, Lois thought as she drove back to her apartment to get changed for going to work. Love wasn't about surrendering control, or becoming dependent on another person. It wasn't about laying yourself open to getting hurt, as she'd decided a long time ago.
Love was wanting to be with another person so much that it hurt to be away from him. It was wanting his happiness before her own — even at the expense of her own. It was even giving him up, walking away from him, if she thought he'd be happier without her. And it was about knowing that he was what made her sun rise in the morning; her heart beat faster; that he made her feel cherished.
Oh, she could live without Clark. But it would be a mere existence, a life without light, without energy, without heat. And a life without the laughter and smiles and affection he'd brought to her, and which she'd become addicted to, over the past six months.
Falling in love with Clark had been a long, slow process — not helped by confusion over her feelings for Superman, of course. But now that she'd finally admitted her feelings to herself, and to him, Lois realised that she'd found the one thing she'd been searching for most of her life.
Somewhere to belong.
She still wasn't sure that she deserved to be this happy, but something told her that Clark intended to spend a lot of time and effort convincing her that she did — and that he loved her every bit as much as she loved him. And that they belonged together.
As she'd told Clark earlier, she'd been an utter fool. She even remembered telling him, a few months back, that there was no 'us'; there was a 'you', she'd said, and an 'I', but no 'us' and there never would be. He'd smiled crookedly then, as if he'd known something she didn't — or perhaps it had been more a wistful hope that she'd turn out to be wrong.
She'd never been more happy to be wrong in her life.
And he'd been right about something else too. If they hadn't made love yesterday, an experience which he argued had been entirely mutual, and she was beginning to see that he was right, then it could have taken years before they'd have got to this stage: openly in love and dating. She would have danced around her feelings for Clark, afraid to admit them even to herself, and would have denied feeling anything at all if challenged. She'd have carried on using Superman as a buffer between them, pretending that she wasn't in love with Clark.
And Clark would have carried on being afraid to rock the boat, reluctant to allow himself to cross the line between friendship and more. And, ultimately, one or both of them would have met someone else, and perhaps even decided to settle for a lesser relationship — simply because they believed that there was no future with each other.
Instead, they'd managed to get beyond all of their walls and defences and pretence. And she'd never been happier.
Now, although she'd be spending the day with Clark at work, she couldn't wait to get him to herself again tonight. She had big plans, and she had a sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't object in the least…
And, at work, she'd propose that they needed to start a new investigation — into Lex Luthor. They were going to nail him, and Lane and Kent were going to get at the very least a Kerth for it, if not a Pulitzer. It wasn't going to be easy, but they had a lot of advantages: first, thanks to Clark, they saw through Luthor in a way others didn't; second, Lois, at least, had a clear motive to want to see him put away. After what he'd done to Clark, the man didn't have any right to be walking the streets freely. And third… they had Superman's abilities on their side.
They'd get Luthor. She was determined on that.
And she swore, too, that she'd do her best never to let Clark regret falling in love with her.
She belonged to Clark now. And she'd never been so happy about anything in her life before.
~ Epilogue ~
He should be going to work, but Clark hadn't been able to resist making a little visit first. He had no idea whether Luthor already knew of Superman's activities a couple of hours earlier, but he didn't want to wait any longer, thus offering more of a chance that the billionaire criminal would find out about Superman's survival through other means.
He landed on the balcony of the LexCorp tower penthouse and, without waiting for an invitation, strolled inside.
Luthor sat at the enormous mahogany desk which, Clark was sure, had cost thousands of dollars and had seen the destruction of large swathes of the Brazilian rainforest. The man seemed engrossed in work and clearly hadn't noticed Superman's entrance — but then, Clark had been moving deliberately quietly.
He coughed gently. Luthor glanced up, looking irritated — and immediately dropped the expensive pen he'd been holding.
"Superman! This is a surprise!" he exclaimed.
"I'm sure it is," Clark said smoothly. "What did you think, Luthor? That you'd killed me?"
Luthor gave him a puzzled frown — well- practiced, Clark thought cynically. "I don't have the faintest idea of what you're talking about, Superman."
"Oh, I'm just talking about the Kryptonite that you happened to have your butler slip into my wine the other evening," Clark explained dryly. "Unfortunately, you seem to have been misled. The only thing it did to me was give me something of a hangover -" He frowned slightly, as if remembering something mildly unpleasant. "Not something I'm used to, of course. But a minor irritant only. The downside, of course," he added, "is that it makes me pretty mad — I must be an angry drunk rather than a depressed one. And, you know, Luthor, I somehow suspect that you wouldn't like me when I'm angry."
Clark wasn't sure, but he thought that Luthor almost blanched at that.
"You can't prove a thing, Superman," the billionaire blustered. "You're raving. Obviously you're still suffering delusions from your exposure to Miranda's chemical the other week -"
"Oh, I don't think so." Clark smiled. "But it's good to know that you were fooled. I'm sure that Lois will be pleased when I tell her."
"Lois?" Luthor looked distinctly taken aback. "What has she got to do with it?"
Clark shrugged lightly. "Oh, she was getting just a little tired of your… persistence. So she wanted to find a way to let you know that she wasn't interested. We knew that you were unlikely to be deterred by the thought of Clark Kent as a rival, but we thought that seeing her with me might do the trick." He smiled again.
Now he could hear Luthor gritting his teeth. Satisfied, Clark turned abruptly, enjoying the way his cape swished around his heels as he did so.
"Just a little warning, Luthor," he said crisply as he prepared to leave. "I'm watching you. I'm watching *everything* you do. I hope you know now that you can't harm me, and I'm giving you notice here and now that if you try to harm a hair on the head of any friend of mine I'll come after you… and you really, really won't like me when I'm angry."
With that, he marched straight out through the open French doors again, leaving Luthor sitting at his desk doing a very convincing imitation of a fish.
Of course Luthor was right. He couldn't prove anything — and anyway, there was no way that he would want to report the incident to the police. Sure, it had been a murder attempt, and one which might well have succeeded had there been more Kryptonite, or if Lois hadn't taken such good care of him. But by reporting it he would be confirming that Kryptonite did harm him, and that was something he really didn't want to do.
Far better to leave it like this, with Luthor thinking that what he'd heard about Kryptonite was wrong — and with Superman's warning ringing in his ears.
Instead of flying away, though, Clark floated up onto the roof of the building. There was still some information he wanted, and he somehow suspected that this might be his best opportunity to get it…
"Nigel!" Luthor's voice roared, and Clark smiled. Maybe he was going to get lucky…
"You called, sir?" The butler's smooth, English-accented tones were audible within seconds.
"That alien has just been here!" Luthor barked.
Unable to resist, Clark allowed his vision powers to peel away the layers of concrete, insulation, wiring and other substances which lay between him and the room below. He could see Nigel St John, standing in the centre of the room facing his boss and wearing a very puzzled expression. "Superman, sir?"
"Yes, *Superman*!" The word, in Luthor's voice, was laced with scorn. "And, according to him, he suffered nothing worse than a bad headache! I told you I had my doubts about that red stuff," Luthor added angrily. "You should never have used it."
"The readings indicated that it was radioactive in the same manner as the green," St John pointed out. "Our scientists were convinced that it was also Kryptonite — just a different colour."
"And it never occurred to you that a different colour might have a different effect on the alien?" Luthor rapped out.
Clearly it hadn't occurred to Luthor either, Clark thought. But his mind was only half on the conversation now.
Red. They'd used some Kryptonite which was red — not green.
Could that have been it? Could it be that red Kryptonite did affect him, but in a different way? Green caused him acute pain and robbed him of his powers. What if red robbed him of his inhibitions?
That was a possibility. It explained a lot, if his guess was right.
It would mean that he had been drugged, in a way — that there was a reason why he'd behaved so oddly, thinking that pretence was real and dragging Lois down on the bed so that he could kiss her. He hadn't been going mad — he'd been under the influence of a harmful substance.
It felt good to have an explanation. He'd tell Lois later, when they got some time alone.
Lois. He smiled at the thought of her name. He loved her, but he no longer had to hide his feelings for her. He no longer had to rely on his dreams for sustenance.
She loved him back. She was his — his girlfriend and, he hoped, so much more.
How much his world had changed in the space of about thirty-six hours!
Life was wonderful.
He glanced down again at the scene below him, taking great delight in the sight of an apoplectic Lex Luthor, who'd clearly lost all of his usual self-control, ranting and raving about caped aliens who didn't have the consideration to die when they should and insisting that the hapless St John find a way of disposing of Superman *now*.
Excellent, Clark thought. If the man was starting to lose his grip, then he'd start to make mistakes — that would make the task of exposing him easier. He smiled again; he was looking forward to working with Lois on that investigation.
And speaking of Lois… there was somewhere else he needed to be.
Clark lifted off into the clouds again, heading across the city, towards the Daily Planet and his day job — and towards the woman he loved.
(c) Wendy Richards 2003