Submitted: September 2004
Summary: Lois has lost her hero, her best friend, and the man she loved… only coming to that realization a little too late. Will she learn to live again despite her loneliness or will she find new direction and purpose in a city by the sea?
This story takes place at the end of S1. You'll understand completely and be able to follow. However, I took a huge liberty with the timeline. You'll see what I mean extremely early on. From there, everything unfolds easily.
Warning: this story contains rather explicit language. Not so much so that it's above the PG rating, but right up to that mark. Also, there are situations that place our couple with other people. So, if you don't like reading about Lois or Clark interacting with anyone besides the other, this might not be for you. However, the scenes are brief and mainly referred to in dialogue.
Some credits include whoever came up with the name for a movie with this same title. I liked it (the title) so much, that I created an entire story around it. While this was supposed to be a nice *little* relationship piece, it morphed into something much, much more. Words from various songs kept coming to mind, as well as several different scenarios. So, I combine them all into one story. Among those I wish to thank for their inspiration, and so proper credit is given where it's due, are Victoria Shaw, Garth Brooks, Milton Sledge, Taylor Dunn, Tom Shapiro, W. Wilson, J. Yeary, Joe Diffie, Buck Moore, Gary Duff, Tracey Lawrence, Jud Friedman, Allen Rich, James Newton-Howard, and Rod Stewart. They wrote and/or sang some of the most inspiring songs I've heard in a while, and I couldn't resist the images those lyrics presented me when writing this piece. A few phrases are quoted directly or indirectly. There was no intention of infringements of any kind. I just wanted to borrow a few beautiful words to play with for a bit.
Also, to my beta-readers. Jenni Debbage, without whom I'd be lost. Wanda Detroit, a new and refreshing change of pace in my life. And CC Aiken, who I never imagined would agree to help me with this when I wrote to compliment her on her own writing. One thing led to another and now I have a new friend! I'd like to say thank you to another new friend I know only as Simona. She's been responding privately to me for while now and because she said some things at a time I really needed to hear them, I gave her a preview before I posted. You guys are truly the best beta's anyone could ask for.
Now, for those that can handle a change of pace from my normal stuff, read on!
All other disclaimers apply. The characters are not mine, unfortunately. I borrowed them to play for a bit, but put them back the way I found them.
Looks were deceiving, Clark thought as he stared at himself in the mirror. To outward appearances, one would never know it took every once of strength he possessed to get up and get dressed today. It was early spring and the birds sang a happy melody. The wind blew softly and warmth from the sun made one glad to be alive. Everything was new again. Spring was a time for starting over; starting fresh.
But not today. Today was a time for endings. Today his world would end.
For days, he'd carried out the investigation of his life, but had come up disastrously short. He'd played every hand he knew to play and had still been forced to fold. Out of weapons in his arsenal, he prepared to surrender. Defeated and battered, he gathered up the last pieces of his shattered heart and left his apartment.
Twenty minutes later he stepped from the cab across from the hideously ominous building that represented total agony. He'd dressed in his suit and tie, prepared to admit that *he* was the better man. Yet, he just couldn't bring himself to go inside. So, he sat alone, on a bench across the street, and watched a tall, skinny chauffeur smoking cigarettes by a long, white limousine.
He imagined what was taking place inside. She was probably as beautiful as ever, dressed in a gown fit for a queen. He could see her there, smiling as the sunlight danced across her face. Would she have flowers in her hair? Definitely a twinkle in her eyes. She would be nervous, excited. A gorgeous smile would grace her lips as she stood at the alter.
And him… that man would stand in a place Clark had only ever dreamed of being, would be the one her smiles were directed at.
"Do you take this man…?" An age old question, asked over and over through time to every bride and groom in history. It would be asked of her. And did she? Did she really want that man?
Suddenly Clark didn't want to know the answer. However, in less time than it would take for his tears of grief to fall, bells rang out like thunder and the doors to the building flew open. His eyes were riveted to the couple as they made their way through the crowd of well wishers. She was laughing and looked like she might be crying as well. She stopped and tossed the bouquet. And when they climbed into that limo, Clark walked off the other way.
She'd made her choice, he told himself as he stepped up to the next curb and summoned a cab. He'd be damned if he'd stay around to watch as Lex Luthor destroyed the dynamic person Lois Lane had been. For weeks he'd wondered. He'd wondered how she could be so blind. He'd wondered why she wouldn't listen to the person who was supposed to be her best friend. He'd even wondered if she'd actually follow through with her wedding. Now he didn't have to wonder anymore.
As the metro cabbie drove away, the disheartened man inside felt himself going under. Until today there had been hope; there had been a chance. That had all changed just a short time ago.
Nearly two weeks had passed before Clark had read the headline on the front page of the Pershing Publisher. 'Lex Luthor Behind Bars— Billionaire Speaks Out'. He couldn't believe what the words said as he sank to a park bench and tried to make sense out of what he was reading. The noises of small town were shut out as he skimmed the article about the Fall of the House of Luthor. Perry, Jimmy, and Jack had done it. They'd really done it. The evidence had been discovered to nail Luthor to the wall.
A broad smile, the first one since that day, spread across Clark's face. The police had stormed Lex Towers while the man was still away on his honeymoon. At the same time, a raid was underway at his island hideaway in the South Pacific. They'd arrested Luthor in his suite as he rose to spend another day getting to know his new bride. Luthor had been hauled off to jail, and Lois left behind to sort out the mess.
Immediately Clark's thoughts turned to his former partner. She had probably been devastated. So sure Lex was someone she could spend her life with, she'd married the man. How must she have felt when the man she thought she knew was proven to be an illusion? Clark had tried to tell her what Luthor was, but as obstinate as ever, Lois had refused to listen to him. She'd been convinced that he was merely jealous. What must she think now?
Clark sighed heavily as he leaned back against the bench. His relationship with Lois had deteriorated severely over the weeks leading up to her wedding. She'd resented him for his interference in what she thought was the happiest time in her life. They'd argued countless times; Clark accused her of getting in bed with the devil. He'd even demanded she investigate Luthor, see for herself what kind of person the billionaire really was. He'd walked away from Lex Towers that day, and Metropolis later, because he'd been unable to take anymore. For so long he'd ached for a relationship with Lois Lane. Around every turn she'd refused to see him… really see him. Then she'd had the gall to tell him she would love him if he were just an ordinary guy.
But he wasn't ordinary. Her refusal to see him and his bruised ego kept him from telling her that he was Superman. Clark was tired though. He was tired of loving someone who would never return it. He was tired of just being a best friend when he wanted to be more. Most of all, he was tired of being drooled over one minute only to be ignored the next. So, he'd packed a bag, changed his clothes, and left the city. He wasn't sure where he was going or how long he'd be gone. All he knew was that he needed time alone. Time to think… without deadlines, Superman, or Lois Lane.
He cast another glance at the paper he held. Lois had refused to comment about her husband. Clark knew she was probably reeling from all that had happened. Part of him wanted to be there for her, but another part, a part he hadn't known existed until recently, just wanted more time to decide if he could ever live in the same city with Lois after everything that had happened. After all, Lois being a widow wouldn't miraculously change her feelings for him.
With little effort, he heaved his bag back onto his shoulder, dropped the copy of the paper in the trash and headed once again for the highway. Just outside the city limits another blackout occurred. There had been several periods of darkness over the last few days, as if something was completely blocking the sun. Officials insisted it was not eclipses, but had not elaborated further. Again, Clark wondered if he should be worried about the incidents. He'd thought about checking with officials as Superman, although he'd abandoned that thought immediately. He hadn't used his powers since he'd left the city. Mostly because he'd felt he needed time to think. He was being just an ordinary guy and had admitted more than once it was nice to pretend not to have a care in the world.
Sometimes it would take Clark a while to flag down a ride on the highway, hitchhiking being his chosen mode of transportation when he set out on his road to discovery— as he'd dubbed his journey. He didn't mind because walking at normal speed wasn't much of an effort at all. The only thing he didn't like was the time it gave him to think. Thinking meant pain because his mind seldom drifted far from Lois and everything he didn't have.
With a thumb stuck high the air, destination anywhere, Clark turned toward a particularly thick line of traffic. He'd just started walking again after having rested beneath an underpass, which had allowed his mind to drift off to sleep for a bit. He was bone weary and no closer to a decision about what to do when a car stopped way up ahead, breaking suddenly when it passed him. He hurried to keep whoever had been generous enough to stop from having to wait too long. He climbed inside and thanked the female driver for the ride.
"You're welcome," she replied with a smile.
Clark sank into the passenger's seat as the woman pulled the small, black Nissan back onto the interstate. They rode several miles in silence before she introduced herself.
Kathy was a beautiful lady with dark red hair, a college student on the way home to Texas. Very talkative, she barely took a breath for the next ten miles. Clark would nod, smile, and try to say anything to be polite. He laid back and closed his eyes when she pulled into a convenience store for something to drink. Thoughts of everything he'd learned earlier in the day about Luthor chased their way around inside his head.
"To repeat the top story… Eprad confirms that the recent blackouts are the result of a asteroid on a collision course with Earth. A rock of yet undetermined size, which scientists have named 'Nightfall', is believed to be just a very small portion of a much larger chunk that has already by-passed Earth. Though small in size, Nightfall is still large enough to cause havoc the likes of which is almost unimaginable. It will make contact with the Earth in three short days. Several experts warn that 'Doomsday' is around the corner…"
The call to Superman wasn't heard by the dark haired man that scrambled from the car he rode in because he'd already made it around the back of the store and was airborne. There was no question about using his powers anymore. The world would be destroyed if Clark chose to remain in the middle of nowhere.
A confused lady returned to find her rider gone. She waited for several minutes before shrugging and continuing on her way.
He'd had no choice. He was mankind's last hope for survival. Clark had flown straight to his folks' farm, apologized about his recent absence, and explained that he had to fly to Eprad and offer his services. Of course, Martha and Jonathan both knew he'd go, even if knowing couldn't stop them fearing for his safety. They made sure he knew they supported him, loved him, then wished him well. They would wait, with the rest of the world, and they alone would know the true meaning of sacrifice.
She was there, as he'd known she'd be, among the many reporters that surrounded the launching platform from which Superman would depart. Clark refused to look directly at her for fear that he'd betray his emotions. And to her credit, Lois held her head high with a professional air to rival the strongest competition.
There was a plan. He'd fly directly into the asteroid after gearing up to maximum speed. He was certain he'd hit it with enough force to destroy it. It was time for Superman's limits to be tested.
A small, state of the art air pack was strapped to his hip, a microphone and speaker hooked to the side of his head so he could communicate with officials at Eprad, and a final statement was made before he took a look back. A look back at her. Their eyes locked and for a moment he wanted to go to her, tell her how he felt, and beg her to love him. With such a monumental task ahead of him, he might never get another chance. But he refused to think about not succeeding or that he might not make it back. Instead, he turned his head and focused on the task before him. With a final deep breath, Superman launched himself into the air.
Lois watched with the rest of the media, and the world, as the blue streak left their field of vision. In less than an hour he'd collide with the massive structure threatening life on the planet. She gathered a few final quotes, then headed off downtown to the temporary offices of the Daily Planet.
Shouts of elation could be heard throughout the entire city as the population rejoiced in Superman's victory over the deadly Nightfall asteroid. He'd made contact and it had been confirmed that the largest piece had been deflected from its collision course with Earth, meaning that Nightfall no longer posed a threat to the planet. The world, thanks to the selfless acts of a super man, would live on.
All but one woman celebrated mankind's victory. She sat at her desk in the small makeshift newsroom of a rented building across from the Daily Planet. Construction crews had been hard at work to restore the majestic old building to its former glory. In the meantime, daily editions rolled off the presses set up in the temporary home. Lois stared out the window, unable to join with her fellow humans as they rejoiced in their continued survival. She didn't share their joy because of the piece of paper she held in her hand.
Lois had returned to the Planet from Eprad, after watching Superman's departure with the rest of the gathered news media, to find a letter on her desk. Inside was a note from Clark. After two weeks of worrying, calling everywhere looking for him, searching his apartment for clues to where he could be, and constant frustration, she'd finally heard from him.
I realize I'm probably the last person you might want to hear from, but I felt I owed you some kind of explanation. There's so much to tell and I fear there won't be enough time. So, where do I start?
I need to say that I'm sorry. I'm sorry for the way our relationship fell apart; I'm sorry for walking away without a word; I'm sorry about Lex and not being there for you; And I'm sorry for the pain I'm about to cause you. Things have changed, and they can never be the same again.
I was there, on your wedding day. I was dressed and prepared to swallow my pride to support you, but at the last minute I couldn't force my feet to step into the building. But I watched as you came out. I saw your smile… and your husband. You'd started a new life and it didn't include me. The pain was almost intolerable, so I fled. I packed a bag and just went. I wanted to get as far away from you as I could.
For over a year I've worked beside you. We've sure been through our share of laughter and regret. We've had our bad days and more than once we've disagreed. There were times I thought you just liked to fight. I still don't know why things happened like they did, but until that day, until Luthor, you'd always been a friend to me. Another time I might have remained your friend, able to support you and the decision you'd made. But you see, Lois, I didn't just work beside you. I loved you, longed for you. There was no way I could force myself to be happy for you and your new marriage. While I will always mourn the passing of the relationship we shared, I can't go back. I fear I might not survive the next heartbreak you'd deal. And you'd surely deal it because I could never be more than just your friend.
I hadn't read about Luthor's arrest until just yesterday. I know you must be devastated. A lesser man might say 'I told you so', but I'll simply say I'm sorry. I do wish you well and I pray that you find peace and happiness again some day.
For all we've shared I felt you should be introduced to Clark Kent. Not the man you thought you knew, but the real me. You see, life has blessed me with a biology unlike any other on this world. In fact, it wasn't even this world that afforded me these abilities. I'd plunged so far into despair following your wedding, I'd made the decision to stop using those gifts. That decision has recently been taken from my hands. Nightfall threatens us all, and I'm afraid I am the world's only hope. By the time you read this, I hope that I've managed to avert catastrophe.
I've struggled with the decision to tell you this for so long. I've also agonized over your feelings for a two- dimensional character I've created. Lois, dearest Lois, why couldn't you have seen me? Why couldn't you have meant those words you spoke that night in your apartment? My feelings remain unchanged, even after all that's happened. That's why I've chosen to stay away. For once, I've chosen self preservation over the needs of others.
However, the needs of billions are not worth me remaining hidden away in my guilt and agony. I have every faith that I will be successful. If, however, for some reason anything goes wrong, always remember that you have been truly loved. When tomorrow dawns clear and remains so, after Nightfall is destroyed, I will say good-bye publicly. And to you now, privately, I say good-bye. I have loved you from the beginning, but I cannot live day after day within reach of you and never be allowed to touch. I will also love you till the end.
Live well, Lois, and be happy.
She sat there in stunned silence for so long after she'd read his letter. Everything made sense. It all came together. The past year was explained even while tons of new questions sprang up. How had she been so blind? How had she not seen?
A silent tear was wiped away as she glanced at the crowd around her. The human population was happy to be alive and even happier to know they'd live to see another day. Superman had done it. He'd unselfishly flown out into space and destroyed the asteroid. The world would live. But for Lois, her small world was falling apart. Clark had been her best friend, the only person she had ever been able to work with. He'd accepted her for who she was, gently coaxing her from her shell. Time and again, he'd been the one to take her hand when she felt she'd lost her way. He'd given her a piece of his very soul. Yet, she'd never known him at all. Blinded by fantasies of a 'God in a cape', Lois had been unable to connect her friend to that mythical hero she worshipped. She'd admitted that Clark was a lot like Superman, even while she'd shielded the developing feelings within her heart. Now she might never again know the elation of absolute contentment she got from simply looking at his face.
Superman had offered himself up as hope for a dying world. Clark had flown out into the blackness of space and faced a frightening enemy, even though his heart and mind were heavily weighted down with unbearable pain.
In doing so, he might have paid the ultimate price. There had been no word from the super hero since he'd taken off from Eprad. He'd disappeared from radar just after his final transmission. Nothing but static remained on his radio. A short two hours later, the media was already beginning to speculate that facing Nightfall might have cost Superman his life. And if Superman was dead, that meant Clark was dead.
Lois sniffed again and rose to stand at the window.
<Why? Why hadn't I seen?> She'd grown up hearing 'tomorrow may be too late', but had never given it much thought. Now she understood! Yet another mistake she'd made in an ever growing list.
Miles away from Metropolis, a naked man sat up in a car sized crater. He'd ripped through the air in a blaze of fire to land with unforgiving force in the middle of a shipping yard. He searched his surroundings, only to find empty box cars flanking either side of the hole he was in. Dazed from his recent journey, he could only scratch his head absently.
"Hey, buddy, you okay?"
The man looked up at the concerned face of an older gentleman peering down at him. "I… I think so."
"What the hell happened?"
The naked man looked around for a minute before he answered. "I'm not sure. I woke up here, and my head hurts pretty bad."
"I'd say you were robbed," the older man answered as he extended a hand down to the stranger. "C'mon. I got some clothes that should fit ya' in my car."
With a slight blush, the confused young man allowed himself to be led in the direction of a nearby boxcar, gratefully covering himself with the clothes offered by the older man.
"Name's Pete," the old man told him. "What's yours?"
For a moment it seemed the younger man wasn't going to answer, as if he didn't know who he was at all. Finally a name came to him and he smiled in relief. "Charlie. My name's Charlie."
"Well, glad to meet you Charlie." They shook hands, then Pete managed to dig out a pair of shoes that would fit Charlie. "So, Charlie, if you can't remember how you got in that hole, can you at least remember where ya' from?"
"I'm a drifter. At least I have been for the last few years. I've been working on merchant ships mostly."
"You in luck then. The docks is just a mile over yonder." A frail hand pointed in the distance to indicate where he meant. "After we catch breakfast at the mission in the mornin', I'll walk ya' over an' see if we can't get ya' on another ship."
"Thanks, Pete. That sounds great!"
Pete didn't have much to offer in way of hospitality, but he shared his boxcar for the night with Charlie. The following day the men ate breakfast together just as the older man had said, then ventured to the docks. With a grateful handshake, Charlie told Pete good-bye.
The Captain of the Lydia Dalton was more than happy to take aboard another sailor with a strong back. Most merchant sailors preferred crewing the more affluent vessels, but Charlie seemed a perfect match for the smaller, privately owned ship.
Still a bit confused from his strange awakening the night before, Charlie stood on the deck of the small merchant ship gazing out to sea. He was sure with time all his confusion would be cleared up. Until then, he had a job and with it came a place to stay. What more could he need?
Lois adjusted her sunglasses as she drove along the coast in the beautiful late summer sun. It had been over two years since her wedding to the most evil creature alive, but still she hadn't recovered. It had taken her almost a year for her divorce to be finalized. Lex had adamantly refused to sever ties with Lois willingly. She'd written an expose about him, detailing his criminal behavior in detail, primarily because she'd had to see for herself that the evidence was all there. She'd needed to grasp what had happened and try to put it all into some sort of perspective so she would be able to go on with her life. That had angered Lex and he'd tried to have her killed from within his prison cell. That attempt, along with the many other crimes he'd been convicted of, was enough for a judge to grant Lois her divorce. Still, she'd had to live in his evil shadow. Constantly hounded by the media, she spent more time being the news rather than reporting on it. Even though it had calmed drastically from those first few months, there were still times she wished she'd listened when she'd been told to investigate Lex *before* she married him.
She often thought of the many things that had happened during the time leading up to her wedding to Lex. The Planet had been destroyed, Perry retired, then of course she'd lost her best friend. Clark Kent had managed to worm his way under her carefully constructed walls in the year they'd worked together. He'd become a respected colleague and eventually the best friend she'd ever had. She hadn't known just how special their relationship had been until it was gone.
Clark had never liked Lex. He saw through the philanthropist almost immediately and had warned her on more than one occasion that the businessman was not who he seemed to be. But she hadn't listened. She'd allowed herself to be dazzled by Lex's power, unable to fathom such psychotic tendencies underneath.
And to complicate matters, Clark had to go and confess he was in love with her just before her wedding. When she'd told him as gently as possible that she didn't feel the same way about him, he'd been hurt. Ultimately, both had been unable to deal with their pain and had allowed the other to slip from their lives. She'd said yes, married the biggest criminal in the country, and hadn't even known it. She'd said yes even though she'd thought of Clark as she made her way down the aisle toward her future husband, actually disappointed because he hadn't come to support her decision.
Afterwards, Lex had swept her away to a dream honeymoon. She'd felt extreme trepidation on her wedding night, but somehow she'd managed to survive. Three short days later, just as her nervousness had started to settle, Lex had been arrested. The following days were filled with confusion, nausea, guilt, and unbelievable reality. Clark had been right all along.
Why hadn't she listened to him?
He hadn't been there. Clark hadn't been there… at the wedding… and after, when she was alone and reeling from everything that had happened. Oh, how she'd wanted Clark— how she'd needed him. Hours of crying over her disastrous mistake had followed. Then she'd tried calling Clark. She'd needed to see him— needed to tell him how sorry she was and beg his forgiveness. She'd needed her best friend back.
But he hadn't been home. He hadn't been anywhere. Lois called for days with no luck. She'd called his parents, had even yelled for Superman without success. It seemed the caped hero had disappeared as well. Of course, Lois didn't really want to see Superman, not after having made a complete fool of herself when she'd confessed her love for him. He'd rejected her, of course. How could she have expected anything more? He belonged to the world, and she could only fantasize about him being with her. Superman hadn't come though.
Worry turned to horror for at least one of the men Lois sought when a Kryptonite infused cage had been discovered in the wine cellar of Lex Towers. There had been no one inside, but since Superman hadn't surfaced, Lois began to wonder if he'd met his demise. Luthor wasn't forthcoming with any explanation. However, the Man of Steel finally did surface when the Nightfall asteroid threatened to end life on the planet. He came forth to do what he could to keep that from happening, and he had done just that. He'd saved the world… and had broken Lois Lane's heart all over again.
In the form of a letter, Lois was introduced to the real Clark Kent, aka Superman. She'd received the letter after he'd taken off from Eprad to face Nightfall. His confession piled more confusion on top of the already overflowing load she carried each day. How had things gotten so out of control? A question she asked herself every single day, but had yet to find an answer.
The Planet had been rebuilt; she'd won another award for investigative journalism; had even made a few new friends. There had been a new beau, though it hadn't been very serious, a new apartment, and change of style. She wore more casual business suits, sported shorter hair, had taken an actual vacation or two. She used her days off to write and had recently published her first novel. There was a weekly phone call from surrogate parents in Kansas. She'd stood next to the Kents and said good-bye to a very dear friend when he hadn't been found. She was the reporter who had written up the official farewell to Superman. And she'd attended her own parents' second wedding ceremony. Time had marched on, whether Lois Lane had wanted it to or not.
Now here she was, driving along the coast of Connecticut, in search of a small out of the way town to spend the next few weeks writing another book. She planned to stay connected with her job at the Planet through a column she and Perry were experimenting with, so her income would still be intact. Why she'd chosen now to do this she wasn't sure. However, she had started to get excited about publishing another novel. Her first one had soared to the top of the best seller lists and was hugely popular among her peers. So, Lois was anxious to find a place that might stoke her imagination into producing another hit.
"Next stop," she said aloud as she lifted the road map, "Mystic, Connecticut." She shrugged her indifference. "Sounds good to me."
The sun had faded behind the tree line before he'd made it back to his cabin. Mrs. Nolan had sold all of his statues this week and he'd splurged at the market, so he could almost taste the steak he was going to cook for dinner. A happy yelp from the old dog that kept him company greeted him as he stepped up onto the porch.
"Hey there, boy." His large hand rubbed the shaggy dog, eliciting an excited thump of his tail as it beat a rhythm against the wood beneath. "Don't get up or anything," the man replied in soft tones. He laughed softly, shook his head as he passed the dog, and entered the cabin.
It wasn't much of a home, but the rugged wood structure served its purpose. There was a small living room separated from the kitchen by the stone fireplace. Off the far end of the tiny cooking area was a bathroom, not much bigger than a closet. And straight across from the front door was the opening to the bedroom. It wasn't ideal, but it allowed him to stay warm in the winter, offered shelter from the sun in summer, and kept him dry. Besides, he didn't really need much.
The furnishings of the small cabin were as bare as the construction. A large arm chair and a table with a lamp sat in front and off to the side of the fireplace in the living room. On the opposite side, in front of the large window, was a table covered in wood working tools and half finished wooden statues. A table with one chair sat against the wall in the kitchen while an icebox and stove completed its furnishings. In the bedroom there was a bed and side table that held a couple books. Clothes were stacked inside the tiny closet and a pair of boots sat under the window. There were no pictures, no mementoes of any kind that usually graced a home. The cabin was inhabited, but far from lived in.
Charlie King didn't need any of that. He was content with what he had. If he wanted something, he'd go out and get it. Only most things he wanted could be found around him. He liked the outdoors and took advantage of it. Carving beautiful statues from gathered wood kept him fed while an old Labrador retriever served as a friendly companion. He kept to himself a great deal at his little cabin, although there were a few people in town he enjoyed seeing.
Mrs. Nolan reminded him of his mother, or at least that's who he thought the woman he remembered fondly was. He could clearly picture an older woman with graying, blonde hair. Her gentle expression reminded him of other mothers he'd seen. So, Charlie had figured the woman he pictured had to be his mother.
There was Mr. Taylor at the hardware store who liked fishing. He liked fishing as well. There was a lot Charlie seemed to be confused about, but just as many things were recalled with absolute clarity.
He could remember growing up on a farm, although he couldn't remember where. He was sure he'd gone to college even if the name of the school eluded him. He'd discovered he could write extremely well. How? He wasn't sure. There were faces with no names in his memories. Places had been pictured, events recalled, yet Charlie hadn't been able to put it all together. He'd discovered that it was just as well. He was alone in the world; he'd recalled telling someone, an older couple, that his parents had been killed. No siblings to miss him that he could remember, and he was pretty sure he hadn't been married. No kids came to mind either. Charlie was happy to just keep his life moving forward without looking back.
Work on the small merchant ship had been traded for work on a fishing boat after three months. Much more exciting, catching fish kept his mind busy right along with his hands. He'd revisited the ship yard where a homeless man named Pete had clothed him one night, only too happy to return the favor. After that, there had been over nine months of fishing trips up and down the East coast of the United States before they'd docked in a small city by the sea. Charlie had been completely enchanted with the atmosphere of the whole place. He was reminded of a Norman Rockwell painting just walking down the street. Yearning for something he hadn't known was missing, Charlie traded in his fishing gear for a complete set of carving tools. He'd been convinced by a little old lady that the wood carvings he'd produced during his free time at sea could provide him with a nice income. His relationship with Mrs. Nolan had begun and Mystic had become his new home.
Early mornings in Mystic, just before the sun completely broke over the horizon, were one of Charlie's favorite times. Looking out across the sea, knowing all the wonder that could be found there, somehow reminded him of flying. Soaring above the clouds, free from the retraints of the world— how exhilarating that must be. There were times he could almost imagine being up there… the wind whipping around him, the scenery passing beneath him. It had to be a wonder to behold.
Charlie took a deep breath and continued his walk along the beach. The cool surf washed around his bare feet, threatening to soak his pants, which were rolled up almost to his knees. He smiled as he watched Joe setting up for the day. Joe was a retired veteran who came down to the beach most mornings to paint pictures for the tourists. As he continued to watch, the old man dabbed his brush to wet it and lovingly painted the deep blue of the ocean against the morning sky. The strokes he would add would bring to life the breaking waves as they danced upon the sand. Charlie had asked him if he only painted ocean scenes, and Joe told him that for twenty dollars he'd paint anything.
Further down the beach an elderly couple, the Langfords, were holding hands as they took their daily walk. Charlie smiled a little brighter as he exchanged greetings with the pair. Mrs. Langford never failed to kiss his cheeks when she saw him. And today was no exception. Charlie could only laugh softly as he walked away from them.
He reached a pier that stretched several hundred feet out into the surf and divided the beach from the small bay, creating a cove that had long since been procured as a marina for the multitude of fishing boats that frequented the sleepy little town. Charlie took the steps up to the boardwalk two at the time, then stopped to wash his feet at the hose provided for the many swimmers that would fill the beach as the day wore on. He slipped his loafers back on and headed toward town, his journey taking him past a popular pub called O'Malley's. The establishment was a favorite watering hole for the many sailors who docked most every Friday night. He often went in for a drink, and occasionally when the solitude of his life closed in around him, he sought out a friendly face. A large crowd could be found inside nearly every night of the week. Whether you were in the mood for billiards, wanted a strong drink, or just company for the night, O'Malley's seldom disappointed.
It was there that Charlie had met a young woman with brown hair and brown eyes on a rainy Saturday night.
Several boats had docked and O'Malley's was overflowing. All around him were the sounds of happy chatter punctuated by an occasional shout as Charlie sat against the back wall nursing a beer. He'd been awakened by another of those weird dreams that had started just days after he'd awakened in that hole in the ground so long ago. They'd come often in the beginning. He never understood them, but remembered them very clearly when he woke up.
His dreams seemed almost like memories, but he was sure there was no way that was true. In those dreams he'd seen a busy office of some sort. People hurried around, as if on a deadline to accomplish their work. None of the faces were clear enough for him to make out, which served to frustrate him.
He'd pictured a large, fancy room filled with people dressed to impress. There were couples dancing and a man, who he viewed as important, had made some kind of announcement. Then there had been scenes from a cozy little house; he'd assumed that was his childhood home because those pictures were always accompanied with those of fields, a barn, a tractor, and an older man working steadily. He'd come to see that man as his father. There were many more. Planes, soldiers, a bunch of kids at a warehouse, a festival in a small town, a nuclear plant that he associated with unbearable heat, a boxing match, and some guy named Murry. Always something different, always clear and unmistakable. Yet, he had no idea what it all meant.
But those dreams weren't the ones that kept him from his sleep. The ones that managed to unnerve him involved a woman. She had dark hair and a confident air that Charlie would be hard pressed not to recognize, even during a hazy dream. In his dreams, she was someone important to him. He knew her well, if the many images were an indication. Was she a singer he'd met during some of his travels? He could clearly picture her on stage, in a bar, singing. But there was more. He'd had dreams of her being in another place. Was it her apartment? It seemed to be a home of some sort. Or maybe she'd been his lover because the dream that had awakened him tonight was of him and her, in what he perceived to be a hotel room. He'd thrown her to the bed and devoured her lips in a passionate kiss. He'd broken away to stare down at her, both gasping for breath. Instead of being allowed to relive that adventure, he'd shot straight up in bed.
Shaken more than usual from one of his dreams, Charlie had gotten up. Restless and feeling closed in by the solitude of his little cabin, he'd dressed and made his way to O'Malley's.
"Hey, you look like you could use some company."
Charlie looked up at the smiling woman before him. She was beautiful. Long, brown hair lightly touched her shoulders as she waited patiently for him to acknowledge her presence. Allowing the smile tugging his lips to spread out, he gestured to the seat across from him. "Especially if you're it."
The woman glanced at the seat, then sat. She eyed Charlie, deciding quickly that he was easily the best looking man she'd ever seen. "So, why aren't you at home in bed with your wife?"
"Because I'm not married," he told her softly as he continued to take in her features. Her skin was tanned from obvious time spent on the beach. She carried her solid frame on a pair of long, slim legs. And confident shoulders left little to doubt that she was a woman who was sure of herself.
"Girlfriend?" she asked somewhat suspiciously, obviously wise to the sailors who claimed to be unattached, only to be married or have a girlfriend somewhere.
"Nope. No girlfriend." Charlie leaned up to hold his chin on his hand. "How about you? Married? Involved?"
"Not married. And give me a while to get to know you and I'm willing to bet I'll be involved." She smiled mischievously at him to drive home her point.
He hadn't missed her meaning at all. The twinkle in her eyes told him that this lady knew what she wanted and right now it was him. His smile faded and he lowered the hand under his chin so that he could run a finger lightly across the back of one of her hands. "Just how involved are you willing to bet on?" His voice had dropped an octave as his eyes stabbed into hers.
"Why don't you buy me a drink and tell me your name, and we'll lay odds?" she replied as she leaned closer, completely drawn in by his piercing eyes.
Charlie stared at her for several moments, deciding that she held just the right amount of appeal for him to take up her bet, before he drew back and rose to his feet. "Whatcha' having?"
"Club soda." When his brows rose, she explained, "I'm working tomorrow."
He nodded before he made his way over to the bar to order them another drink. Suddenly his mouth felt incredibly dry. This woman was so much like the one from his dreams. Maybe for tonight it would be all right if he pretended she was the woman he saw when he closed his eyes. It sure would be nice to put a distinctive face with those images. He smiled at the bartender, slapped down a few bills, then made his way back toward his companion.
She grinned at him seductively as he settled again. "Got a name, sailor?"
"Charlie… But I'm not a sailor," he told her when he'd swallowed a hefty amount of his beer.
"Nah… I was, but I got tired of always being on the move. I live here in Mystic. Well, outside of town. I rent a cabin from Mr. Nichols."
"At the hunting retreat?" Charlie nodded. "My brothers used to go up there a lot. I'm Melissa by the way." She extended her hand to him.
Charlie reached out for the offered hand, grasping it firmly with his much larger one. Her skin was delicate, soft. Her small hand was almost lost inside his and he found himself instantly aroused. He hadn't been with a woman since he'd arrived in Mystic. Or even before that. Hell, he couldn't remember when he *had* been with a woman. Oh sure, he'd had opportunities when he was working at sea, but he hadn't wanted to sleep with any of those women. That hadn't felt right at all.
He glanced up at Melissa and was glad to see she, too, seemed affected by his touch. Her eyes had glazed over and the smile had faded into a serious expression of wanting. He lowered their hands to the table, but continued to hold her captive. "So, Melissa, do you live here, too?"
"No. I live across the bay."
"Just outside." She relaxed, enjoying the feel of his hand wrapped around hers. "If you're not a sailor, how do you manage to feed yourself, Charlie?"
"I carve statues, mostly animals. Mrs. Nolan sells them for me at her shop in Center City."
Melissa's eyes widened. "Those detailed statues are your work?"
"You've seen some?"
"Sure. The eagle you carved for Jack Paine has been the talk of the town. He has it displayed in the lobby of his office. People can't get over the work that went into that thing."
"That one was special order. Jack brought me a sketch of an eagle with it wings spread and asked if I could replicate that. I never meant for the statue to be as large as I made it, but I was happy with the finished product." He added a smile and stroked her hand with his thumb, enjoying the closeness they shared.
She glanced at their hands briefly before focusing on his incredible eyes again. "Jack's definitely happy with it. He's placed it inside a glass case and takes every opportunity to praise your talents."
Charlie smiled, lifted his beer for another gulp, then refocused on Melissa. They sat in silence for a long time, just looking at one another. Finally, he cleared his throat and looked down at their hands. Reaching forward with his other hand, he stroked her forearm, reveling in the feel of her soft skin.
He looked up at her, seeing his rising desire reflected right back at him.
"Let's get out of here," she whispered, straining to suppress the raging fire he'd stoked by simply stroking her arm.
He nodded, rose from his seat, and followed her outside. In silent agreement, they hurried through the rain toward the little motel at the end of the docks. A room was rented, a key taken in hand, and a decision made. There was no mistaking their intention.
Charlie stared at her in the dim light of the room. Her hair was damp from their run through the downpour outside. He lifted his hand to brush a strand from her face, his eyes drinking in every detail. She wasn't the woman of his dreams, that he was sure. But she was beautiful, very desirable, and here with him. He pressed his lips to hers, gently at first, then more demandingly. Melissa didn't fight it; she opened up for him immediately. Their tongues danced together as their hands began to rid each other of their clothes.
They fell to the bed, exploring hidden areas of pleasure. But before they could get too carried away, Melissa interrupted them with her need to have protected sex. Understanding perfectly, Charlie resumed their explorations once prepared to take the next step.
He stared down at the woman beneath him. Her brown eyes, hidden by incredibly long lashes, peered out at him with urgent desire. Her kiss swollen lips evidence of their mutual consent to share their bodies with one another. Slowly he began to smooth his hands over her body, just as anxious as she was to take things to the next level.
However, at the last possible second, Charlie began to recall his past sexual experiences. There had been kisses in the hayloft of his father's barn. He could clearly remember the poor girl had been horrified when his lip had gotten caught in her braces. There had been an auburn haired girl— very pretty. She had allowed him a few bold touches as they'd made out in the back seat of her parents' sedan. And he could remember exactly how he'd felt the night he spent with that lovely blonde beauty after a Friday night football game. She hadn't allowed him to take things further than intimate touches and he'd gone home extremely frustrated.
Another girl, light colored wavy hair, was a good kisser, but that was as far as it went with her. He remembered doing homework with yet another girl, who liked to end those study sessions cuddling on his bed in his dorm room. Things had eventually gone way beyond touches and kissing, but she'd been adamant about not having intercourse until marriage. He could remember a princess who'd taught him to dance. She'd asked him to make love to her, but he'd refused. Oh, he'd wanted to… desperately. She was a very beautiful woman. He just wouldn't be the one to take her virginity or to ruin such a deep rooted tradition.
There were others sprinkled throughout his life. He'd become an acceptable kisser from hours of practice with women only too happy to experiment with him. Had even gone nearly as far as he was now. He'd spent time with a lady in London. She was traveling, like him. They'd shared many of the same interests and were incredibly attracted to one another. They'd spent nearly a month together when they'd found themselves naked in her bed. It had been so wonderful… until he froze. He'd completely lost his resolve. His embarrassment ruined the mood and ended their night much too soon. He'd left the following day without saying good-bye and couldn't remember why. And yes, even memories of his dream lady danced inside his mind. Yet, for all he could remember, there was just as much he couldn't. No names, just blurry images. No explanations, only hazy emotions. Why couldn't he recall? Why couldn't he put all his memories together? Why couldn't he recall who he was? His life?
But here, with Melissa, her body just as sexually excited as his, his resolve was as strong as it had ever been. He glanced down at his body and hers. Yet, he didn't move— couldn't move. He remained there, his arms trembling as he held himself in check.
As if sensing his internal struggle, Melissa gently pushed him backwards until he lay on his back. He was about to say something, but she placed a finger on his lips, smiled at him, then started kissing his body.
Charlie shut his eyes and allowed her this. Why hadn't he recalled one single moment where he'd actually gone all the way with a girl? He hadn't hesitated tonight when they'd come to this room. He'd reacted confidently, his body producing all the necessary results needed for sexual pleasure. He had enjoyed the kissing and the touching, had even looked forward to the final act of making love. So why had he frozen at the crucial moment?
He groaned appreciatively as Melissa continued to kiss and touch him. He briefly wondered how often she did this, but his mind was still preoccupied with the things he'd recalled. Or more accurately, what he hadn't recalled. Not remembering any women in the last couple of years was understandable. He hadn't encountered anyone remotely interesting enough to take to his bed. They'd tried. They'd flirted with him, kissed him, even come right out and told him they wanted him. But he just hadn't been inclined to go beyond mindless groping with any of them.
Melissa had looked so much like the woman in his dreams; he'd been unable to resist the overwhelming urges of his body. He wished desperately that he could figure out why *that* woman haunted his nights. Unlike any of the others he'd recalled, his dream lady kept coming back time and time again. Was she the reason he'd been unable to perform tonight? Did she mean something so special to him even his body recognized her when his mind failed to recall her?
A sharp intake of breath escaped him when Melissa hit a particularly sensitive spot. For a few blissful moments, his mind was completely blank. He heaved to catch his breath, lost in his pleasure.
The woman who'd brought him peace for a few seconds stretched out beside him. Slowly Charlie leaned up over her. His gaze locked with hers and moments later, she melted against him.
"I want you to know that picking up guys in bars and going to a room with them is not something I normally do," Melissa told him after a long while.
He gently cupped her cheek, knowing that she'd just told him the absolute truth. "I know," he said softly before touching his lips to hers. A strand of hair was tucked behind her ear when he leaned back. "I'm sorry I froze up on you back there."
"No need to be sorry." Her fingers allowed his long hair to slip through them just above his ear. Then she moved on to smooth the soft hair on his face.
He offered her a smile, allowing her the indulgence she sought by touching him. "I should go… use the restroom." He gestured toward the open door off to his left. She nodded and he climbed out of bed to disappear behind the bathroom door. Inside the small room, he stared at the man in the mirror.
"Who are you, Charlie King?" The man before him didn't answer, just looked back with unfamiliar eyes. The hair falling almost to his shoulders, the full beard, and haunted expression all came together to form an image he was familiar with, yet didn't know at all. His past had never bothered him before tonight. He'd always been so certain that whatever it was he couldn't remember was best left unknown. Now he wasn't so sure.
He remained in the bathroom for several long minutes before he ventured back into the bedroom. Melissa had fallen asleep. Her expression was peaceful; a small smile playing on her lips. So much like the woman he'd dreamt about, she had been exactly what Charlie needed tonight.
He smiled down at her, then turned to dress. He scribbled an apology on the notepad by the bed before he slipped from the room. Outside, he took a deep breath before heading out into the rain that continued to pour.
That night had been over six months ago, Charlie recalled as he turned the corner toward Mrs. Nolan's little shop. He'd seen Melissa a few times since. They'd even gone to dinner a couple of times, shared some heated kisses when they parted, and even spent one night giving and receiving mutual pleasure again. But they had still not fully consummated their sexual relationship. Each time, for reasons he still couldn't explain, something stopped Charlie. Though Melissa was more than willing to take that final step, she seemed to easily understand his hesitation. Charlie felt he'd found a friend in the nice young woman he'd met that night.
He had also been out with two other women, both he found very attractive. He'd enjoyed talking with them, had even kissed them. But, as with Melissa, he could not bring himself to have sex with either one. He blamed that on the mystery woman from his sleepless nights. For some reason his body instinctively knew when the woman he was with was not her. At least that's how he'd come to explain his actions. Now if only his mind could figure out why.
Mystic was perfect, Lois reflected, looking around her as she sat at a table of an outdoor cafe inside a shopping center called Center City. She'd been in the town for two days and had managed to produce more than fifty pages of her new novel. It was a first draft and she'd have rewrites to do, but her muse was flowing well and at this rate, she'd be done in no time. Smiling brightly, she gathered up the remains of her breakfast and rose to leave.
"Thanks, Mrs Nolan," Charlie called out as he left the little gift shop that sold his carvings. Another profitable week had provided him with enough money to buy a new pair of jeans. He'd asked Melissa to go to a movie on Saturday and wanted to look nice. They might not be 'couple' but she'd turned out to be a really good friend and he enjoyed their time together.
Busy scoping out a place to look for jeans, he failed to see the woman who was walking toward him with her head lowered to read a piece of paper in her hand, completely oblivious to her surroundings. They collided, knocking everything she held to the cement.
"Oh, I'm so sorry," a contrite male voice said at once, as he bent to help gather her papers before they flew off in the breeze.
Lois huffed her indignation as she reached out for some of her strewn papers. "It's okay. I wasn't looking where I was going."
"Yeah. Me either." The last of the mess was picked up, and he raised his head to see her. He offered her a smile as he held out the papers he'd recovered.
"Thanks," she told him as she took the offered items, sparing him only a polite glance.
"Are you okay?"
That got her attention. Lois lifted her gaze to see the man before her. Warm, friendly eyes stared back at her in concern. Large hands rested between his legs as he leaned on his bent knees, and for a moment she wondered if they were as rough as they looked. Smooth, black hair glistened in the sunlight. His smile was partially covered with a full, neatly trimmed beard. There were faint lines reaching out to touch the corners of his eyes, but it didn't take away from his overall beauty.
And he was beautiful. Well built, she was certain he was incredibly strong, yet he looked just as graceful. His thin, loud shirt hung open down the front allowing her to see a very sculpted torso underneath the tight tank top he wore. White cotton pants were rolled half way up his calves and he wore brown loafers without socks. For a brief moment Lois was reminded of her partner, only she had no idea why!
"Miss?" he asked again when she failed to answer his first question. "Are you all right?" His smile faded to concern as she continued to stare at him, a blank expression on her face.
His voice… It sounded a lot like her partner's. Another glance revealed compassionate, brown eyes.
<Clark had brown eyes.>
Again, her eyes skimmed the man's features. A strong jaw, silky black hair, and those eyes… It all reminded her so much of her partner. Was it possible this man was…?
<No way! He couldn't be… Could he?>
Lois looked closer, but struggled to make a connection with the man before her and her best friend. For the life of her, she suddenly couldn't recall what Clark had looked liked— the details. He was never far from her heart, but she'd long ago stopped dwelling on her memories of him because it was just too painful. And now she discovered that his features had blurred in her mind. How had she managed to retain the beauty and not the precision?
Surely she was just missing Clark today. That had to be why this man reminded her so much of him. She'd never seen her partner as relaxed as this man. The clothes, the hair, his very presence was so un-Clark like. Yet, her best friend was all she could think of as she stared at the stranger.
"Miss?" He sounded worried. "Did I hurt you?"
Seeing the concern on his face, Lois shook away her thoughts to answer him. "I'm fine."
"Are you sure?"
"Yeah. I just… you look like someone I once knew." She opted to tell him the truth, realizing there was something about him that automatically seemed to relax her.
He smiled again. "I'm glad you're okay. Let me help you up." He stood, his hand grasping her elbow, tugging her up with him.
"Thank you," Lois said, her eyes still glued to him and her arm was humming where he made contact. The warmth from his hand seemed to radiate throughout her body and the question of whether is touch was rough had been answered. His grasp had been firm, but very gentle, just like that of another she'd known once.
<Even his touch reminds me of Clark.> Lois might be having trouble recalling his features, but there was no way she could forget Clark's touch. He had been soft, gentle. The first time his hand had made contact with her skin it had shocked her beyond belief. Never before had anyone's touch affected her in such a way. As they'd gotten to know one another, she often found it hard to resist lying her hand on his chest or touching his arm. His nearness had always been comforting, even if she hadn't realized all that until it was way too late.
She had to stop doing that, she reprimanded herself silently. <Everyone you meet is not Clark.> She had to be missing him a lot, that's all.
Lois could sense that the man was as reluctant to walk away as she was, while her conscience was screaming at her not to let that happen. She didn't even know his name. "You should let me buy you a drink to repay you for your kindness. Not many people would have bothered to ask if I was okay after bumping into me," she said hurriedly.
He held her gaze for a long moment, almost as if he was focusing on her for the first time. His dark eyes held hers captive; she had the oddest feeling that he was branding her into his memory.
"I'd like that," he finally answered. Was it her imagination or did he sound as thrown off as she was? "But we should make it coffee at…" He looked down at his watch. "… 9 am."
She laughed softly, suddenly feeling very shy and off center. It was sheer craziness to be imaging a total stranger could possibly be her long gone friend. And even crazier to find yourself more attracted to that stranger than to anyone you'd ever met before. But that's exactly how Lois felt. She couldn't describe her feelings, but she knew with certainty that she did not want this man to just walk away. "Guess that would be a good idea."
"Yeah." They continued to stare at one another for a moment before he glanced up at a cafe. "This place has good coffee, but Corley's Corner, down on the boardwalk, serves coffee to die for."
She should have felt a little apprehension about being asked to follow a strange man around an unfamiliar city, but it never entered her mind to fear this man. His very presence seemed to radiate trust, something she might later question. Right now she wanted to find out more about this mysterious stranger. "Lead on."
Charlie offered her a wide smile and set out toward the boardwalk. They walked in companionable silence the short distance to the restaurant near the beach, each needing the time to collect their wayward thoughts.
Who was this mystery woman at his side? When he'd held her gaze for the first time, he'd immediately been reminded of his dream lady. She was easily the most beautiful woman he could remember ever seeing. Her dark eyes held his captive, as if branding him to memory. Long lashes, longer than any woman's he'd ever seen, gave her deep pools more allure than he'd thought possible of any woman. Her professionally styled hair was cut short, and it was pushed behind her ears on either side, making her too adorable for words. Very little make-up had been used to hide her natural beauty, which made her all the more attractive. So delicate, fragile, yet the firm set of her jaw told Charlie this woman was a force to be reckoned with. The dark hair, the dark eyes, the petite frame all reminded him of the woman from his dreams. But it was her sheer presence that intrigued him.
Lately, Charlie's dreams had grown in frequency, waking him almost nightly. Every one featured a beautiful woman he was sure he'd known well. There were even a few that felt more like memories. In one particular dream she was looking quite flustered and dirty, ranting about being bitten by mosquitoes. Apparently he'd sent her somewhere to find something that wasn't there. He'd set her up in retaliation to some misdemeanor of her own, and she'd told him she respected him for what he'd done. Whatever it was he'd done!
In another he'd argued with her over a decision she'd made. He'd wanted her to change her mind, but she'd refused. There were many dreams of them arguing. Almost as if that was something normal for them. Still another time revealed them sitting on the floor of her apartment, him hugging her close and telling her he wasn't going to leave her. So, whatever relationship he'd shared with this woman had to have been something very special.
Then there were those dreams that felt too surreal to have actually happened. In those, he kissed her with all the passion he could muster. He caressed her, made love to her slowly, repeatedly. She'd lie across his chest in their afterglow, her cheek pressed to his skin. His fingers stroked her hair and each would whisper endearments to one another in the dark. Something that good, that unbelievable, couldn't possibly be true.
Now, in the sunshine of Mystic, a woman that was eerily familiar, yet a total stranger as well, silently kept pace beside him, obviously lost in thoughts of her own.
They stopped at the walk-up window of the little cafe and placed their order.
"Here. Let me get this," Charlie said when the man inside told them how much money was needed.
"I'm buying and that's final," Lois told him as she handed over the bills.
Charlie surrendered with a shrug. A second later, they'd gotten their drinks.
"Should we sit?" Charlie asked his companion, automatically assuming they'd share their drink together.
"How about we walk on the beach?" Lois cast a glance at the crystal water and gleaming white sand. "I haven't actually made it onto the beach yet. I've been listening to the waves from my room, but it's just not the same."
"Sure. I think we have time for a peaceful walk before the place fills up for the day."
Lois noticed his smile, but he turned away too soon for her to get the full effect. They paused when they stepped off the boardwalk to remove their shoes before starting toward the north end of the white blanket stretched out before them.
"So, I have to admit this is the first time I've bought a man coffee and didn't even know his name," Lois started after a few steps.
Charlie grinned over at her. "Charlie. My name's Charlie."
"Well, Charlie, I'm Lois."
He looked at her closely, as if trying to decide if her name fit.
"Lois," he repeated with an unreadable expression on his face.
"You're right, Charlie. This is great coffee," Lois commented as she gazed down at the cup she held, needing something— anything— to say. She shifted the folder she held, and her shoes, to the other arm and looked out across the ocean. "Coupled with such beautiful scenery and one wonders how they could ask for more."
"I'll drink to that." He lifted his cup to take a full swallow.
Lois had to blink quickly to hide her surprise when he turned up his cup. Their coffee was still very hot, but he didn't flinch.
"Is it safe to assume that you're a visitor to our fair city?" Charlie asked Lois, bringing her from her contemplation.
"Ah, yes. I came to Mystic for inspiration for a new book." Why had she told him that so easily?
"You're a writer?"
"Yes." Again, she was reminded of Clark when she glanced over at Charlie. The more she looked at him, the more he reminded her of her friend. There was no way her overactive mind could be right though. Was she really missing her best friend so much that she'd think a good looking stranger could be him? This man was not…
"I'm also a reporter." That should have some kind of effect, she decided quickly. And her mind was off to the races.
They never had found a body. For all she knew Clark could have come back to Earth. He could have been hurt and only just recovered. He could have had amnesia, which would explain why he hadn't returned home. Of course, he could have simply chosen to stay away. His last note to her had told her that he wouldn't, couldn't be around her. He couldn't be near, loving her the way he did and not be allowed to touch. Not for the first time she'd thought about him simply staying away, refusing to come home. She'd dismissed those ideas on several occasions for one reason: his parents. Clark might have been devastated by her rejection of him, but he would have never willingly left his parents without a word for over two years. She had every argument imaginable with herself over Clark. It just wasn't logical that he was still alive. But her heart… sometimes her heart refused to give up.
Like now, walking along the beach with a stranger who looked like Clark's twin.
Charlie looked over at her. "A reporter?" Genuine surprise sounded in his voice.
"Yep." He'd paused. He hadn't expected her to say that. Did that mean something? "I work for the Daily Planet in Metropolis."
Charlie let out a low whistle. "Impressive. That's probably the largest paper in the world."
"And the best," Lois added with pride. He hadn't reacted at all when she'd told him she was a reporter, yet he still looked surprised. Maybe she'd been wrong. Maybe he just hadn't pictured her as a reporter and was truly impressed. Maybe, maybe, maybe…
Why did she have to allow her mind to stir up those memories today? She was on the beach, drinking coffee with a gorgeous man. For once in her life, she should just *stop* thinking and enjoy the moment.
"Is that a note of vanity I hear?" He grinned to soften his statement.
Lois blinked when he spoke. His question was exactly something Clark would have asked.
<Could it be possible?> Taking another look, she decided the only way to find out for sure was to keep him talking. "I like to call it confidence." She beamed brightly as they continued to stroll along the sand.
"And something tells me that you don't lack much of that at all."
She only shrugged. Her confidence had taken a horrible blow because of her failed marriage and all the events surrounding that mistake, but with support of good friends and a renewed relationship with her parents, she'd regained a little of her self-esteem. Admittedly, she might never be as self-assured as she once was, but crying over the past did no one any good.
<And neither does all this thinking!>
"So, what does a local do to pass the time around here?"
"Well, most of us work."
She smiled at his expression. "That would make sense."
"Just a little." He laughed softly, apparently enjoying his company.
"And what kind of work do you do, Charlie?"
"I make hand-carved statues."
Lois blinked a little, not expecting that answer. "Really?"
"Yeah. Did you notice the large animal statues in the window of that gift shop back at Center City?"
"The tiger and the bear with her cubs?" He nodded. "You made those?" she asked in awe.
"Yep. I started carving as a hobby a while back, but Mrs. Nolan, the lady who owns the store, convinced me that I could make money selling them. She was right. I sold one two months ago for almost a thousand dollars."
"Wow!" This time, Lois was the one impressed. "Must have been some statue?"
"It was a large eagle with outstretched wings. I cut out each feather separately, then glued them together. It's very detailed."
"I'd like to see it."
"It's in the lobby of Paine's Investment House on the East end of Main Street."
"I'll be sure to go take a look at it then." They walked on in silence for a few moments, Lois once again questioning who the man next to her really was. It was foolish to think he could possibly be Clark. She'd led an investigation into his disappearance, searching almost nonstop for a year before being forced to face the cold reality. If Clark had survived Nightfall, he would have been found. Still…
"So, Lois, tell me what your novel is about."
She looked over at him, struck once again by his resemblance to her partner. "It's about a woman growing up in rural Southern America and befriending a boy when it was considered a sin to be seen with a boy after dark without a chaperone."
"I'd have thought you would go for mystery and intrigue."
Her brows lifted in surprise of his insightfulness, but she figured he'd made that connection because of her revelation of being a reporter. "At one time, I would have definitely been driven by a story like that." Why had she told him that?
"And now? What happened to change that?"
"So many things changed my outlook on life," she told him as she stared down the beach. Lois had realized the hard way, after it was far too late, that there was nothing in the world more important than friendship and being true to yourself.
He remained silent, not commenting. Almost as if he was sensing her anguish. So like Clark…
Lois pushed her troubled memories to the back of her mind and stopped a few paces from an old man who was happily chatting with a couple of women as he painted on a large canvas.
"That's Joe," Charlie told her when he saw where she was looking. "He comes out most every day to paint for the tourists. He's a retired Vet and this is how he makes extra money."
"How long have you lived in Mystic?" she asked, suddenly curious to know more about Charlie.
"Over a year now, I guess. I was enchanted by the atmosphere the first time I saw this place."
"I can certainly agree with that," Lois told him. She, too, had been enchanted the moment she'd driven into this small town. The Lois of old might not have been so impressed, but the changed Lois took the time to appreciate the world… and people around her. "You know, I have a friend that would love a painting of the ocean."
Charlie shook his head with a smile as she set off toward Joe.
Lois waited patiently for the two women to collect their painting before addressing Joe. "Hi!"
"Hi, young lady," Joe greeted her. "Are you interested in a painting today?"
"I am. I have a friend that would love a painting of the ocean."
"I can do that." He smiled at her before he saw Charlie approaching. "Charlie! It's good to see you. Noticed you go by this morning. Been to see Mrs. Nolan?"
"Oh yeah. Had to see if I'd impressed anymore gullible tourists."
Joe grinned over at Lois. Obviously his young friend had impressed someone else and not with his carvings. "So, would you like to be in this picture?"
Lois looked at him for a moment, then shook her head. "I don't think so."
"Okay." Joe lifted his brush and set to work creating his next masterpiece.
Lois and Charlie chatted about the scenery and finished their coffee while Joe quickly brought a white canvas to brilliant life. Several moments later, his work was being admired.
"I would never have believed that would take only…" She glanced at her watch. "… ten minutes for you to paint."
"Ocean scenes are easy. I've been doing them for years. You know, Charlie, one of these days you're going to have to let me paint you something. I think everyone in town has an original but you."
"Then we'll have to change that. How about I trade you a carving of old Red over there for one of your ocean scenes?"
Joe looked back at the red dog that slept next to his bag. Red had been with him for many years now. "That sounds like a deal."
"I'll bring it by tomorrow," Charlie told him.
"And I'll have you something special."
"Great!" Charlie smiled at the older man as Lois pulled a bill from her pocket to pay for her art.
"That's too much, ma'am," Joe told her when she handed him the money. "I couldn't accept."
"How about you hang on to that and I'll come back and get you to paint me another one before I leave Mystic?"
Joe smiled at her before reluctantly accepting her payment. "Don't you disappoint me by not showing up."
"I won't." She exchanged a few more pleasantries, took her painting, then turned to go.
Charlie had tossed their coffee cups in a nearby bin, freeing up one of Lois' hands, but he quickly offered to help her with her burden. He held the painting by his side and they continued down the beach.
"How long do you plan to be in Mystic?" Charlie asked Lois after another period of silence.
"Oh, I don't know. Until my novel's done." She shrugged, her eyes fixated on the waves lapping the white sand. At one time, spending an undetermined amount of time away from the Planet and the newsroom would have been the furthest thing from her mind. Now she looked forward to peaceful days filled with memories of another time. So much had changed for Lois.
The couple continued their idle chatter for several more minutes before Lois stopped at a connecting bridgeway back onto the surface street. "This is my stop." She would have loved to stay and talk with Charlie all day, but suddenly her thoughts were overwhelming her. She needed to be alone, to think.
Charlie glanced up to see where they were. "Are you staying at Donovan's?"
Donovan's was a locally owned hotel on the beach front. A majestic old house, renovated into a modern oasis, attracted many tourists each year. When Lois had spotted it, she'd known right away that was where she wanted to stay.
"Yes. I liked its charm."
"Not to mention the incredible view from the ocean side rooms."
"Yeah," Lois added with a grin. "I'm on the top floor. I couldn't resist being up high enough to see the entire bay."
Charlie nodded and lifted her painting. "I hope your friend enjoys this painting."
"She will," Lois said as she took the painting, admiring yet again the skill of the artist.
"Thank you… for the coffee," he said, appearing reluctant to actually leave.
For an incredibly electrifying second, Lois felt as if a burst of ice cold air had slapped against her face. Those eyes, Charlie's eyes… dark, compassionate, all-consuming. They were *his* eyes. Lois saw Clark looking back at her from behind that beard and those amazing, familiar eyes.
"Clark?" she croaked, just barely above a whisper.
To Charlie, the name was as clear as a bell. Not for the first time he'd heard something very audible that he shouldn't have. Of course, that wasn't the only thing that was strange about him.
Strange, that was an understatement, Charlie thought. Strange was a man who liked to talk to himself in public. The weird things about him were downright unbelievable. No man he'd ever met could cause a fire with his eyes! Incredibly frustrated one morning after he'd broken his fifth razor, Charlie had gotten angry.
Why was his hair so coarse that it broke razors?! What was he? Some kind of freak?!
He'd glared at the mirror, at the man he didn't know, and was horrified when a light bounced back at him. He'd jumped in shock, his heart pounding against his chest. It was sometime later before he realized that beam had cinged the hairs of his beard. After calming down, and several pep talks, he concentrated his stare on the mirror again. Once more the light was produced and it seared his facial hair. With a little practice, Charlie had learned to trim his beard… with his eyes!
For days after that Charlie had walked around completely mystified. How was he able to do such a thing? Over and over he could produce the steady beam of heat when he concentrated. He'd wondered if all of his senses were unusual, so he'd decided to try doing the same thing with his hearing. That's how he found out some his fellow sailors were lovers. That had been quite embarrassing!
There was more. He'd learned that he could speed read, although about the only thing he read anymore was pointless dribble. He liked fiction novels and chose to stay as far away from the news as possible, though he had yet to discover the reason for his aversion. Then there was the speed in which he carved his statues. More than once he'd found his hands moving at impossible speeds. The masterpieces produced during that time were simply out of this world. He couldn't believe it himself. Yet, it was all true. He was some kind of walking, talking, breathing freak. Normal enough to outside appearances, no one would ever suspect him of being more than an ordinary guy.
But he wasn't ordinary. Ordinary guys couldn't do those things. Charlie had been plunged into a deep depression for a while as he tried to make sense of it all. He'd even read briefly of another who possessed some strange abilities like his. Superman, the flying hero who'd disappeared without explanation, had been just as unusual. Charlie had briefly wondered if there was a connection between him and the incredible caped man. He'd decided there was no possible way there was link, partly because there was no way he was going to see if he was bulletproof and partly because of his desire to just remain Charlie King, a simple sailor without a past.
Why did he feel that way?
And for reasons beyond him, he was hard pressed to stay so maudlin. It seemed his natural personality was good hearted and light. He enjoyed people and helping others. He respected the world around him and used it wisely. So, he decided that if the only way to trim his beard was to use his strange vision gizmo, that's what he'd do. He'd use his hearing to appreciate the sounds around him and his speed was put to good use carving him a living. He didn't know why he could do the things he could do and he'd stopped trying to figure it out. As long as he didn't grow two heads or fly away, he could handle the things he didn't know or understand and when he hadn't developed any more strange abilities, he figured he was all right.
Yet Lois had looked at him and whispered a name. The name of another man. Did she think he was that man? His brows furrowed as his mind rolled the name around. Clark. Who was he? Was he someone special to her? A husband maybe or perhaps a lover? For the briefest of moments he felt a swell of jealously for this Clark. Charlie was completely and utterly impressed with Lois, and for a second he wished *he* was Clark.
"Excuse me?" were the only words that left his mouth as he stared down at her.
He was confused, she could tell that, but the name had provoked a reaction deep within him. She tried to tell herself that it just wasn't possible. There was no way Charlie could be Clark! But her heart pleaded differently. "Would you like to have dinner with me?" The question rushed from her mouth before she even had a chance to realize the thought had entered her mind. She couldn't bear not seeing him again.
"Dinner?" he asked unsteadily and Lois could see a struggle behind his eyes. Had she been wrong about the mutual attraction? Or was there something else?
The silence continued and Lois was certain that he wasn't going to answer at all. But then he lifted his hand out toward her.
<<He's going to touch me!>> Anticipation swelled within her, but quickly died when he apparently thought better of his action and his hand dropped away.
With a thundering pulse and trembling legs, Lois took a half step toward Charlie. She had purposely not explained why she'd said another man's name, hoping it would trigger some kind of response. Logically she knew she was wrong. Wanting him to be wouldn't make it true, but he was dangerously alluring and she found herself unable to corral her growing attraction to him. "Yes, dinner. Maybe we can throw in a drink or two and some conversation for flare." She added a positively staggering little grin to fan the small flicker she saw behind Charlie's now smokey eyes.
Her grin could be compared to rushing wind as it glides across your body, cool and intimate, Clark thought as he continued to stare down at this incredibly tempting woman. Who was this Lois? So much like his dream girl… so alluring. He remembered how he'd immediately thought of his dreams the first time he'd seen Melissa, but she'd never made him feel the way he felt right now. His heart had started to race a moment ago and he actually felt dizzy. There was something about this woman. He wanted to know everything.
His blood thundered through his veins, every nerve ending now on high alert. Taking a half step forward as Lois had done, he smiled back at her. "Why do I get the feeling you think I'm somebody else?" he asked her softly, needing her to understand that he wouldn't be mistaken for another man— couldn't be a replacement— even as he wondered why it mattered so much.
"Who are you, Charlie?" Lois whispered, seeming to be lost in his very aura as he entered her personal space.
"And you? Who is this woman before me? Dark haired beauty with enough familiarity to have been in my dreams." The words had slipped out as he continued to stare deeply into Lois' eyes. She was so beautiful. He found himself unable to resist her pull. Charlie felt as if he was falling. Falling into an unknown abyss that he wasn't in a hurry to escape.
"Could you be…?" she whispered with a different sort of look in her eye, as if he had somehow fueled a fire in her thoughts.
Charlie lifted his free hand and gently stroked Lois' cheek with his finger tips. She was so incredibly beautiful, just like the woman in his dreams. Same delicate features; same creamy smooth skin; same deep mysterious eyes. The hair was the same color even if the length was different. And her presence… Even in his dreams, Charlie's lady had managed to captivate him with her nearness. Much as this woman was doing now. This Lois…
"I know a place with a breath taking view. We could watch the sunset," Charlie said softly. His hand had dropped back to his side, but his whole body hummed in an effort to keep from touching her again. What was it about this woman he found so irresistible?
"When?" she asked without hesitation.
"Tomorrow night. I'll meet you in the lobby of your hotel at five."
"And dinner?" Her eyes never left his as they exchanged the details of their interlude, almost as if her mind had ceased to function.
"Allow me." He moved again, brushed his hand against her arm before turning to walk away. He looked back, smiling. "Until tomorrow, Lois."
"Tomorrow," she agreed and watched as he strode quickly down the beach, left to try and understand just what had happened.
Charlie didn't slow his pace until he stood on the boardwalk again. Lois. Who was this Lois? This woman who had managed to unnerve him so completely? In the two years he could recall with clarity, there had been no one who had made him feel so off balance. He had the sudden urge to run, to get away as quickly as possible. At the same time, he wanted to run straight back to her. She was intoxicating. So much so there would have been no way he could have refused her a thing, had she asked. With thoughts of their impending date, Charlie forgot about Lois calling him another name. His focus was on how he'd survive an entire night in her presence.
The view from the fifth floor of the hotel called Donovan's was worth every cent of the price she'd paid to stay here. Lois sat, coffee mug between her hands, in the plush arm chair looking out of her huge picture window. Below her stretched the small bay several fishing boats called home. Others, those boats that only docked to refuel and pick up extra workers, came and went steadily at all hours of the day and night. A cliff created the back drop on the other side of the marina, covered with the lush green vegetation of summer. Just beyond that cliff was a neighboring city, more expansive than Mystic and certainly devoid of the drugging charm that had lured her to this place. The sun was just beginning to rise into the clear blue sky. Another beautiful day would dawn, creating a lazy atmosphere in which to lose yourself.
Since her fateful meeting with a stranger the day before, losing herself was exactly what Lois had done. She'd sat in the chair in her room, staring out the window, or sitting on the balcony allowing the breeze to flow over her skin. It was as if she was searching for answers that could only be found as they rode in on the waves. But with each crash against the land, she was brought back to harsh reality. There were questions, tons of them. And she simply didn't know the answers to any.
All ability to think clearly had left her when she'd taken her first good look at Charlie. He was tall, dark and handsome, just as every stranger you meet should be. The whole scenario reminded Lois of a romance novel, only she knew this fantasy couldn't be real.
Or could it? Was this Charlie really Clark? They looked almost exactly alike— she'd come back to her room and dug out the picture of herself and Clark she carried in her purse. A beard covered Charlie's face, but the eyes were the same. She'd looked at those eyes a million times without ever seeing the real man. In both of his guises she'd been the recipient of an incredible amount of warmth and compassion from those dark windows of his soul. Huh! How could she say that? You can see through windows, but she'd never seen… never realized. How could one person be so blind? When she'd looked deep into Charlie's eyes, she'd instantly seen Clark for the first time. Yet, her mind still labored over the truth. If Charlie really was Clark, why was he here and why hadn't he been home?
Every theory possible had come to mind. Maybe he'd been hurt and when he recovered he couldn't remember who he was. That explanation seemed to make the most sense. If Clark had consciously made the decision to stay away, there would have been some kind of recognition in his eyes when he'd first seen her. But there had been nothing. He hadn't recognized her at all. She'd argued with herself all night that if Clark saw her again, he'd know her and she'd know him. However, she had to admit that she didn't know him— had never known him.
They might have been friends and maybe in another time, if Lois had been a different person— as she was now— they might have been more. They'd worked together, spent free time together, talked, shared things, but she'd never truly seen Clark Kent. Not the Clark who donned a brightly colored suit to save the world with his awesome abilities. No, that's not the man she should have seen. She'd never seen the whole person Clark was.
Through his mother, and through her own memory when she'd finally taken off the blinders, she'd gotten to know Clark. And she'd grieved for so long because she'd only done that after the man was gone. Maybe, too, that went both ways. Maybe there had been no recognition because Clark had never seen her either. She reluctantly admitted that had been her fault. In keeping herself so emotionally closed off, she'd made it impossible for anyone, even Clark, to have possibly seen the real Lois Lane.
And who was that? Who was Lois Lane? Charlie had described her as 'so familiar she could have been in his dreams'. Did some subconscious part of his mind recognize her? He had certainly been drawn to her, just as her partner had been. Yet another reason to believe Charlie was Clark.
A striking resemblance, a mumbled question of vague recognition, and all the wishful thinking in the world didn't prove Charlie was Clark though. She'd have to learn more about him, be around him more to know for certain.
But what then? What if Charlie really *was* Clark? What did she do? Should she tell him who he was? It was likely he wouldn't believe her. She couldn't very well tell him that she'd known him and had ripped his heart out. If he'd been hurt and lost his memory, as she felt might be the case, it would be best to bring him around slowly, gently. Should she just spend time with him? Infuse bits of his past into their time together? She'd searched the web for insights into memory loss during the wee hours of the morning. All the experts said the same thing: surround them with the familiar and allow them to recall on their own.
How did she surround him with the familiar? If indeed Charlie was Clark? Mystic was nothing like Metropolis. His life now was nothing like that he'd lived once. She'd read an article that suggested sometimes those with memory loss failed to recover because they were repressing something painful. Was that true? Was Charlie, Clark repressing painful memories?
She could answer that question at once. He'd told her that he'd been outside the Lexor the day she married, described how much it hurt. There had been another declaration of love, the reason he could never come back. He'd said good-bye because he was in pain. Could that be the reason his subconscious kept him from remembering who he was? Could *she* be keeping Clark from coming home?
That thought caused her excruciating pain, comparable to that she felt right after her wedding when she realized what huge mistakes she'd made. Without ever knowing she'd done it, Lois had caused one of the best men she knew to suffer. She'd known that his feelings were bruised, but had never imagined the extent of his agony. Clark had loved her, truly loved her. Unaware of what the emotion really meant, she'd foolishly declared her love for his alter ego after pushing him away in his real guise. How awful it must have been for him to hear her tell him that she'd love him even if he was just an ordinary man. For so long her behaviour had consumed her with guilt. It was only when faced with his loss did Lois finally realize how deeply she did care for Clark Kent.
What now? If Charlie was Clark, what was she supposed to do?
And what about Clark's parents? Should she let them know what she suspected? Only, she didn't know for certain, and giving them hope again, when that hope might be false, would be too cruel.
Lois pushed up from the chair and walked to the window. The sun shone brightly now, bathing the sleepy little town in brilliance. It was a beautiful day in the city by the sea. Maybe she'd go out, walk on the beach. Or maybe she'd go look at some wood carvings in one of the gift shops.
Hands moved around the piece of wood, faster than humanly possible. When they stopped, a perfect replica of an old red dog lying on the sand stared up at him. Charlie smiled softly before starting the delicate process of sanding his creation. However, today was not a day to waste. Today was a day for burning off frustration. His hands became a blur again and this time when they stopped, the statue had been sanded and stained to perfection. He'd carry this down to the beach to old Joe.
Charlie pushed back from the table, sighing heavily. What was wrong with him? Why couldn't he remember his life? The previous day had been riddled with thoughts provoked by his meeting with a reporter named Lois. Memories seemed to flow heavily, but hadn't stopped long enough for him to piece them altogether. How could he remember so much and so little at the same time? And why did a stranger stir such powerful emotions within him?
He'd sat outside in the warm air the day before recalling the last two years of his life. The fact that he hadn't been able to recall much had never bothered him before. He'd been happy with his meager existence, content to work out his days and spend his nights in blissful slumber. Only his nights were hardly ever blissful. Those dreams woke him often. They'd grown in intensity, especially over the last few months. Her image roared through his mind over and over. Was she real? Had she been someone he knew? If so, why wasn't he with her now? Where was she?
As the darkness had ended the day, another voice had whispered his name. The soft, velvety tones echoed loudly in the quiet night air surrounding his cabin. The voice belonged to someone he didn't know, yet felt he'd known forever. Lois had filled the empty spaces between the thoughts of his past the entire day, and she was the one who greeted the night with him as he'd sulked alone on his porch.
Now, as he stared out the window, she was the only thing on his mind again. Who was she? Why did she affect him the way she had? His desire to get to know her better warred with his sexual desire as he continued to recall their meeting. Standing before her as she'd asked him to dinner, his body had been consumed with primal hunger. He'd felt almost predatory in nature as he'd willed himself not to reach out and grab her. That's why he'd walked away so suddenly. How could a woman have such incredible power over a man by simply looking at him?
<<What does it mean?>>
His chair scraped the floor as he stood abruptly. There was no way he'd make it through an entire evening with that woman. Yet, there was no way he'd miss it either. It was time to test the limits of his control.
Charlie fumbled around inside his refrigerator for a cool drink in an effort to calm his nerves. After downing half a cold beer, he drudged over to the easy chair and plopped down. He'd been content with his life. There was no need to worry himself about his missing memories; they'd come eventually. Of course, he'd often wondered if he really wanted to remember. Maybe his life hadn't been so great. Maybe he was a criminal or owed some bookie lots of money. Or maybe there was a woman he wanted to forget.
Was that it? Was his dream lady some woman he'd rather forget? Was she the reason he couldn't recall all of his past? And what did Lois have to do with any of it? He'd asked himself over and over if Lois could be the lady from his dreams. It was just plain silly though. If she'd known him, she would have certainly said something… Wouldn't she?
Of course she would. No. Lois wasn't the woman from his dreams, but she was damn close. She certainly got Charlie's blood boiling like nothing ever had. So, maybe for tonight he'd just pretend that she *was* his dream lady. After all, it seemed she wanted him to be someone else.
She could only stare. Lois was dumbfounded as she stood before the large carved eagle statue in the lobby of Paine's Investment House. It wasn't the quality of the work that had obviously gone into the piece, but the name that fascinated her. 'Charlie King'. The gold plaque held the name of Charlie King. Sure, it could simply be a huge coincidence that the Charlie she'd met— who looked a lot like her partner— would have the same name as an undercover identity used during the Metro Club investigation by the team of Lane and Kent. But somehow she knew it wasn't. She knew now that Charlie was really Clark.
What happened that day so long ago? Had he been hurt? The thought pained her horribly. He could have been out there somewhere hurt and alone. Had he lost his memory? It was pretty apparent from talking with him that he didn't know her at all. She'd seen those small flashes of recognition but nothing else.
How was it possible that Superman couldn't remember a thing? Was he so much like other humans that he could suppress memories because of pain he'd been caused? Or was there some other reason? Had he truly been injured and unable to remember? That couldn't be true though. He'd remembered enough to take on an identity he'd used once as Clark. So there had to be something else going on. Was it his Kryptonian biology that kept him here, away from his past… away from his life?
There had to be some small hope that she'd get her Clark back.
But was he really her Clark? Had he ever been? More to the point, did she want the relationship they'd once shared back again?
It only took a split second to answer that question. NO! She couldn't— they couldn't go back to how things were. Not now. Not after she'd come so painfully to the realization that she'd made some of the worst mistakes of her life.
And obviously Clark couldn't either. His scars ran far deeper than Lois had imagined if his mind refused to remember his agonizing past.
But had she expected any different? Clark had been devastated by her rejection, then by her marriage to Luthor.
<<That's funny. When did I start thinking of him as Luthor?>>
<<The day you finally realized who he was.>>
That had been the day she'd wised up and taken Clark's advice. She'd investigated. What she'd found had made her sick inside. It might have been Perry, Jimmy, Jack, and yes, even Clark, who had dug up the evidence to bury Luthor. But when she'd gone back over the entire mess, she had clearly seen all of her mistakes. The horrible truth jumped out at her, as if begging for her to see the man Lex Luthor had been. How had she ever called herself the best investigative reporter in the city if she'd been too blind to see through such a transparent act?
She hadn't wanted to see. Just like she hadn't wanted to admit that her partner had become so much more than just a colleague, just a friend. She'd wanted to hide away, safe inside the loveless relationship she'd known her marriage would be. 'If I don't love him', she'd told herself, 'then he can't hurt me.' How ironic that thought had been.
Luthor had hurt her in so many ways he never imagined. By choosing to marry him and turn Clark away, she'd lost something much more precious than she could have known. Love, true love comes but once in a lifetime. For Lois, it came and until today, she thought it had died right along with her partner.
Numbly she made her way out onto the sidewalk into the brilliant sunshine. She couldn't help but appreciate such a place as Mystic. Nestled close to the sea as it was, you could smell the salty air of the ocean nearly everywhere you went. Standing on Main Street, a full two miles from the water, was no different. Lois inhaled deeply before her tortured thoughts returned to the issue at hand.
What did she do now? Charlie was Clark; she had no doubt. But he was someone else entirely now. Or was he just himself for the first time in his life? Maybe an odd mixture because she was certain that even his super side was part of what shaped his character.
That had been an issue she'd rolled around in her head for so long the first time she learned who Clark really was. As Superman she'd placed him on a pedestal. Yet as Clark she'd refused to see what had been so blatantly clear. One didn't, couldn't, exist without the other. Even if Clark had wanted otherwise, he would not, could not, ever be himself without both sides. And for all her brilliance, all her investigative knowledge, it had taken losing him for Lois to finally realize that. To finally admit that. She had seen, yet refused to see what was right in front of her face.
And she'd thought it too late to change that. Ironically, in a way it still was. Clark wasn't the same person anymore. He was different, more. There was no way she could just walk up and say 'Hi, I'm the woman who broke your heart.' No. If she wanted to get any part of Clark back, she'd have to get to know the person he'd become. Which wouldn't be such a hardship because from what little she'd seen and spoke with him, Charlie King was someone she could very easily come to love. She already liked him and was definitely attracted to him physically. So, she would get to know him, all of him, the way she'd never done before. In doing so, she'd finally get to know Clark as she never took the time to do before. With any luck, maybe one day his memory would come back and they could work out all that had gone wrong before.
Until then, she had a date to get ready for. With a smile and slight lift in her step, Lois bounded across the street toward a small salon. A facial and a manicure were just what was called for.
Mystery and intrigue… and unexplained allure, he decided, as he watched her exit the elevator. That's how Charlie viewed Lois Lane. Her face was lit with a smile that made his heart skip a beat as she made her way toward him. She wore a knee length sundress made of thin, flowing material. The top hugged her gorgeous curves, making him glad to be a man. He could almost smell her perfume which served to further fan the flame that was starting to burn just below the surface.
"Hi," Lois told Charlie when she was within a few feet of him.
"Hi, yourself," he returned a bit breathlessly. She looked so good, better than yesterday and he would have sworn that wasn't possible.
"Is that for me?" she asked of the yellow rose he held in his hand.
He glanced down at the flower, but quickly lifted his eyes back to her. He was powerless to stop his gaze from roaming down to her ample bosom, much of which was displayed out the top of her dress. Had she worn that dress to purposely entice him? Before he could stop it, a groan escaped his lips and he forced himself to look back into her eyes. Glad to see that she hadn't been offended by his primal action, his temperature rose to almost massive overload when he saw her pupils darken. Obviously she appreciated his response.
Charlie had to mentally shake himself to keep from grabbing her right then and there. He couldn't stop the overwhelming rush of desire to hold this woman, kiss her, caress her…
Why did he feel that way about a woman he'd only met the day before? More precisely, why did he feel that way about *this* woman?
"Charlie?" Lois called sweetly. "Are you okay?"
With great effort, he managed to focus on her face. "I'm fine, just…" Again his gaze swept over her body appreciatively. "You look fantastic," he breathed at last. "This is for you," he told her as he held out the rose, completely oblivious that she'd asked him about the gift.
"Thank you." Lois smiled as she brought the rose to her nose and inhaled deeply.
Oh good grief, Charlie thought as he watched Lois in rapt attention. Why did she have to do *that*?! He was already having trouble convincing his raging libido that throwing her to the floor and ravishing her body in the lobby of the Donovan was not a good idea. The expression on her face as she took in the scent of the rose almost had him bolting for the door. Or the ice machine.
<Not now, Charlie! You don't even know this woman! Just this morning your attraction to her made you question if you'd known her in another place and time. Silly! Plain ridiculous!>
Then again… Could it be possible? Could he have known Lois before? In another place and time? Surely not. Surely if she knew him she'd have told him by now. Wouldn't she?
<Yes, Charlie, she'd have told you before now. Lois is just a pretty lady you met and now you have a date with her.>
Their date! He was finally wrenched from his thoughts and turned quickly to grab the picnic basket he'd set on a table behind him. "As much as I'd love to just stand here and stare at you, I'd like it even more to stare at you somewhere else." He flashed her a gorgeous smile, then extended his arm. "Shall we?"
Lois hesitated, as if uncertain that she wanted to go with him after all. But then she smiled and thrust her arm through his. "Lead on, James!"
Charlie chuckled softly. "Oh baby, by the end of this evening, James will be the last person on your mind let alone your lips," was what immediately came to his mind, and almost slipped from his mouth. But the intense feelings that were welling inside him made it impossible to speak. For a moment he'd been transported to another place: a sidewalk in a large city walking with a woman who had her arm through his exactly the way Lois did right now. The image felt so real. Could it be an actual memory? Or was it just wishful thinking?
He glanced down at her, temporarily mesmerized by how the sun made her beautiful dark hair glisten. Again he wondered just why this woman seemed so familiar, yet so totally unfamiliar. Maybe what he'd felt had been just wishful thinking— him wanting her to be his dream girl. No matter, he wasn't about to let it ruin his date. He'd just have to ponder those things later, alone, away from Lois.
Once on the sidewalk, Charlie led her in the direction of the boardwalk.
"We'll hail a cab on the other side of Center City. That's usually the only place to find one. I don't own a car." He shrugged apologetically, but simply smiled.
"We could take my car. Then we wouldn't have to worry about getting back," she offered.
Charlie smiled down at her a second before deciding that he'd definitely like to ride in her car. For some reason he wanted to surround himself with as much of this woman as he could.
"Are you sure you don't mind?"
Lois patted his bent arm with her other hand. "Wouldn't you rather be alone?" she almost breathed.
Damn! She was doing it again. She was purposely trying to torture him!
Charlie halted their progression and looked down into Lois' dark eyes. Her lashes were long, caressing her face ever so lightly when she blinked. The rich deep brown of her deep pools captivated him, pulled him inside.
"I'd most definitely like to be alone," he told her honestly. If she could play the seducer, why couldn't he play the seducee?
Lois inhaled deeply, as if trying to regain some form of control. "It's back at the parking area beside the hotel."
"Okay," he said softly, but refused to look away. She was so beautiful. If he hadn't been holding the basket of food, he would have reached out to touch her soft skin.
<Thank God for picnic baskets!>
She smiled and turned them in the direction of the hotel parking lot. Charlie reluctantly tore his gaze from her so they could make the short walk without tripping over something. He wasn't sure what was wrong with him, but he had to stop. She was just a woman. Decidedly a very beautiful, very mysterious, very sexy, very…
"Here we are," Lois announced as they made it to her car.
Charlie raised a curious brow at her choice of vehicles. A silver Jeep Cherokee, pristine in appearance, was not something he would have thought she'd drive, but it worked. Of what he knew about this lady so far, it seemed to fit her.
He stepped up to set the basket inside the hatch she'd opened before going around to the driver's side to hold her door open for her.
"Wow! Aren't we a gentleman?" she remarked as she eased down into her seat.
"Nah… just trying to impress you," he teased, offering her a bright smile.
"Well, it's working," she told him, an equally bright smile gracing her lips.
He chuckled softly, pushed the door closed, then jogged around to the passenger's side. Settled inside he immediately felt like Lois' entire essence surrounded him. It was hard to breathe, to concentrate. Every sensory nerve in his body seemed to be on high alert. And for a brief moment, he had an overwhelming sensation of familiarity.
His eyes darted around the interior of the car. Why did he feel as if he'd been in this car? In the car of woman he'd only met a little over twenty four hours earlier? Not for the first time he wondered again just who this Lois was. Could she be someone he once knew?
He glanced at her as she skillfully maneuvered the vehicle onto the road. Who was this woman? Her profile revealed even more strength than looking at her directly. He could tell she was confident in her actions and pursued what she wanted with fierce determination. Yes, he decided, she definitely looked like a Lois. But more importantly, who *was* Lois? Had he known her at some point in his previous life? Maybe his mind associated her with someone he had known. Could his subconscious make connections to another that his conscious mind couldn't? Again, he asked himself if the way he felt had anything to do with his dream lady. Was he so entranced with that mysterious figure that he was casting his thoughts onto another woman?
He mentally shook himself when she spoke. Above all else, there was no way he'd let Lois know how utterly confused he was. And he was certainly not about to ruin his date wondering about questions he didn't have the answers to.
"Are you okay? You seem a little distracted."
He smiled at her. "I'm fine. I was just… wondering how I'm going to survive this evening."
Lois screwed up her face in confusion. "What?"
"Honestly, I don't think I'll be able to stand being around you all evening." He offered her a heated gaze that left little to doubt what he meant.
"For what it's worth, I feel the same way about you," she confessed with a blush.
He exhaled a deep breath, tearing his gaze away from her to gain a little control over his raging libido. He'd been bold with other women before. Hell, he'd taken Melissa to a motel only a short while after meeting her. But he didn't think he'd ever felt the way he felt in Lois' presence. She was bliss and agony wrapped in one petite, gorgeously sexy package. And unlike when he'd met Melissa, he wanted to get to know Lois before he ever invited her near a room that contained a bed.
Torture never felt so good!
Lois could barely sit still as she drove toward the place Charlie had directed her to go. When she had first seen him back at the hotel, it had been all she could do to breathe. He wore a faded pair of blue jeans, that fit in all the right places, a shirt with a loud print that covered a black, tight fitting t-shirt underneath, and the same brown loafers he'd had on when she first met him yesterday. He looked fantastic. And if she thought it had been hard to breathe just looking at him, she'd nearly passed out when he smiled directly at her. There was no doubt at all now that Charlie was Clark Kent. She'd know that incredible smile anywhere.
She kept stealing glances at him, just making sure he was real. She couldn't imagine how in the world she was going to manage spending time with him and not revealing what she knew, but somehow she would do it. There was no way she'd mess this up a second time. Clark, Charlie, deserved for her to see the real person behind those heated gazes.
And those gazes… wow! Certainly Clark had looked at her like that before, but he'd always been careful not to let her notice. Here as Charlie, not knowing his former self, he was completely uninhibited. He could cast lustful stares her way without fear that she'd rebuke him for it. Truth told, those looks made her feel amazing, had always made her feel that way. She'd never admitted it before, not even to herself. That had been a different person. The Lois she'd become enjoyed the attentions of the good-looking man next to her. She eagerly awaited more as well.
"Turn here," Charlie interrupted her musings. "And you can park over there." He pointed to spot and she carefully brought the jeep to a stop.
Charlie had brought them to a cliff overlooking the ocean. As Lois climbed from the car she couldn't help but be awed by the sight before her.
"You were supposed to let me open the door," Charlie told her as he made it around to her side just as she stood erect.
Lois smiled at him. "I'm sorry. I'll remember next time." She watched as the look of admiration filled his eyes again. He reached out to take her hand.
"Come on." Charlie brought them to a stop closer to the edge of the cliff.
"This is beautiful," Lois remarked after a moment of soaking in the awesome display before her. The sun was still a good way from sinking into the horizon, but she could see for miles. The crystal blue of the water glistened brightly in the late afternoon sunshine. The cliff was on a point where the ocean cut inland to form an alcove, creating a private beach below.
"Not as beautiful as you."
Charlie's husky whisper cut into her thoughts once again and her eyes quickly found his. His irises had darkened and his whole body seemed to be held in check to keep from touching her. It was amazing the differences between this man and the man she'd once known. Maybe being around him without revealing what she knew wouldn't be so hard after all.
"Is that you trying to impress me again?" Lois asked with a quirk of her lips.
"Nope. That's you trying to make me embarrass myself." He squeezed her hand gently, groaned, then turned to look down at the beach. "I should have told you to bring a bathing suit. I'd forgotten about this beach."
How in the hell had she never noticed this man before? She might have fawned all over his alter-ego, but she'd be blind not to see the incredible person before her now.
"Then again, I don't know if I could have survived seeing you in a bathing suit," Charlie told her with a grin.
Lois could only smile brightly at him. His open admiration of her was very refreshing and incredibly heady. With any other man, she would have cut out their spleen by now. But this man was someone she was as comfortable with as she was with herself. She knew him almost intimately, yet she didn't know him at all. And she wanted to learn everything there was to know in the space of one evening. Charlie was sadly mistaken if he thought he was the only one who would have a hard time surviving this night.
Charlie had carefully laid out the contents of the picnic basket he'd brought along. A huge, plush blanket of deep blues and reds was spread before he set out the meal he'd carefully chosen. Fresh fruits and vegetables along with three different kinds of cheeses and ham were accompanied by a bottle of the best wine he could find. For desert there was a variety of chocolates, including melted chocolate to dip strawberries in.
He was sure she knew just what he was thinking as he kept casting sultry gazes her way. Watching Lois eat had to have been the worst and most delightful experience known to man. With every bite of her pearly white teeth and every lick of her luscious tongue, Charlie had wanted to throw her to the blanket and explore those areas personally. He'd had to close his eyes when she'd bitten into the first of the chocolates. Her expression was one of absolute bliss. She'd raved about all of his selections, especially the treats. But it had been all Charlie could do to force himself to keep the conversation going.
After dinner and a quick clean-up, Charlie moved the blanket closer to the edge of the cliff so they could watch the sunset. He'd been momentarily stunned to realize they'd talked for nearly three hours. He was completely intrigued by his date, even if he did have to keep reminding himself to keep his hands to himself.
"I don't think I've ever seen anything so amazing," Lois commented as they sat side by side watching the golden hues as the day faded away. Cast against a backdrop of blue, red, and purple it was truly breathtaking.
"I've seen some of the most beautiful sunsets known to man," Charlie commented, remembering many evenings watching as the sun faded into the ocean while on one fishing boat or another.
"I'll bet you have," she said, an expression on her face he didn't completely understand.
Again, he was reminded of the overwhelming familiarity of this woman. So much like the lady in his dreams, yet so very much more. Never had his mystery woman responded to him so openly as Lois did. She'd smiled at him. Friendly, caring smiles. Not the sultry flashes he'd seen tonight. Those held enough heat to start an inferno. An action that made him particularly uncomfortable.
He'd managed for the most part to be a perfect gentleman. But every look, every word seemed to get thicker with underlying desire. His body was certainly doing everything in its power to thrust him into a very awkward position. Charlie shifted uncomfortably, deliberately *not* looking at Lois.
"When you see the sunset out on the open ocean, with no one or nothing around, it has the power to render you speechless." He decided more idle chit chat might help to control parts of his body that had become too independent.
"I bet it's breathtaking from above. You know, flying over it and looking down. Or even flying into it almost."
Charlie looked at her with furrowed brows. Why would she have mentioned something like that? Then again, she did have a point. It was probably even better that way than out on the ocean. If he closed his eyes, he could almost envision what she was talking about.
His lids closed slowly as images flooded his mind. Crystal blue sky filled with puffs of white. Darker hues of blue and red, running together to create an unbelievable purple shade of perfection. The loom of golden fire provided the backdrop to an awesome display of nature.
Suddenly his eyes popped open; the images much too real to contemplate. Not here. Not now. The last thing he wanted was for Lois to think him crazy or something.
A warm, gentle hand reached out to touch his arm and he turned to see brown orbs staring at him with compassion and… understanding?
Nah. That couldn't be right. There was no way he'd just completely understood the expression on Lois' face. He didn't know her well enough to understand what she was thinking… Did he?
"Why is it you're so familiar to me?" he asked before his mind fully registered what his mouth had let slip.
"Maybe I've been in your dreams," she reminded him of what he'd said to her during their first meeting. A smile slowly graced her lips as he continued to stare at her.
He said nothing for several long moments. His mind was awhirl with thoughts. Could he really know this woman?
"Have we met, Lois? Do we know one another?" Lame; it sounded so impossibly lame. It was something he felt he had to ask, had to know.
"I don't know you, Charlie, but I'd love to," she told him softly as she smoothed her hand down his arm and into his hand.
He watched as her small fingers wrapped around his larger ones, intertwining them. An onslaught of emotions roared through his body from her touch. Her smooth skin was warm, encompassing, pulling him yet again into that deep ravine that he was powerless to escape. He gently squeezed the small hand in his, rubbing his thumb across the back in delicate circles.
His eyes slowly lifted back to hers and he almost gasped when he saw what was reflected back at him. Understanding, compassion, and… love? Absolutely not! That wasn't right!…Was it? Charlie looked closer. If what he saw in her dark eyes wasn't love, it was damn close. And there was also something else there. Longing, intense longing. Had this woman known the pain of loss? Was it that Clark she'd mentioned? What happened to him? Did he leave her? Or was Clark just a dream like his mystery lady?
And just how was he able to read everything she felt with a single glance? She became even more familiar in the span of just a couple of seconds and he realized that some of what he saw in her eyes, he felt himself.
Love? Did he feel love for this woman? Was love at first sight something real? Or did Lois resemble so much the images that haunted his sleepless nights that his mind had reflected what he felt for that lady onto this one?
Charlie leaned closer to Lois, brought his free hand up to cup her cheek. "I feel as if I already know you," he whispered.
He watched as she closed her eyes, struggled to take a deep breath. Slowly her hand came up to cover his on her face, then she opened her eyes to look him. Charlie had to fight the urge to pull her into his embrace when he saw that her eyes were shiny, but she smiled in an obvious attempt to lighten the moment.
"I feel as if I know you, too, Charlie. I don't think I've ever been so comfortable with a man before."
He didn't fight his urge any longer. He used the hand holding hers to pull her into his side, his other hand slid into her hair. He released her hand to wrap his arm around her shoulder and the hand in her hair held her head against his chest. "Look at it, Lois. Look at the sunset. That's pretty much how I feel at this moment." There was no other way to describe what he felt. Actually, it was impossible for him to understand it all himself.
He sighed contentedly as she slid her arms around him and snuggled closer into his side. He smoothed his hand down her neck, shoulder, and arm to grasp her hand as they sat in silence and watched the sun sink further into the ocean. No words were said; none needed to be said. Two ships had finally found one another after hopelessly sailing the endless seas.
Lois couldn't remember a time she'd ever felt so good. Her hand was securely tucked into Charlie's as they walked toward her hotel. They'd sat on that cliff overlooking the ocean, talking and holding hands, until nearly midnight. Finally, reluctantly, they'd trekked back toward town.
Charlie stopped them just outside the main entrance of the Donovan. "I'm going to say goodnight out here."
"You can walk me in," she said hopefully, not wanting the night to end just yet.
His fingers grazed her cheek and he smiled at her. "Lois, tonight was beautiful. I had a wonderful time. But if I walk you inside that building, I'm afraid I'll let my traitorous body lead me to do something I might regret later."
She had to smile back. She felt exactly the same way, but she also knew it was too soon for them to be contemplating what her body had screamed at her all night to do. "You're right. I'm just missing you already."
"It's nice to be missed," he said softly as he leaned to press his lips to her forehead.
My God! Why had she never noticed how good it felt to be admired by Clark Kent? He held his lips to her face for several moments before he drew away. Immediately she felt a loss, even more profound than she ever had.
"Tomorrow," he promised as both his hands grasped hers in front of them.
"Early?" She grinned widely as they continued to look at one another.
"Very early," he replied.
"I'll be watching for you."
"I'll be here." He held another beat, then groaned and released her hands.
Lois giggled as he walked backwards down the sidewalk. He finally threw up his hands before turning and hurrying away. She wrapped her arms around her body as she swiveled to stare out at the bay. Finally alone, she could allow her raging emotions to calm.
From the first smile to the last look, Lois had been in heaven. Following her horrible marriage catastrophe she had felt that she'd never recover. The first person she'd wanted to talk to had been Clark. He'd always been her outlet when the world closed in on her. When tragedy followed soon after, and she realized she'd never again have that solace, Lois was certain once more she'd remain in constant pain for the rest of her life. And even though it had dulled with time, there was always a constant ache buried deep inside her heart. Her elation when she realized she'd once again found her special friend had been turned onto its ear tonight.
Charlie was Clark. There was no mistaking it. Not after tonight. When his hand had come up to cup her cheek, she'd had to stifle the gasp that almost escaped her lips. No way to deny that touch. She'd felt it too many times. The tears had threatened to spill out from sheer happiness. But one look into his deep eyes reminded her that she'd never known her partner at all. And the rest of the night proved that fact beyond doubt.
Yes, she loved Clark. Had finally admitted that she'd always loved Clark. It had taken so much pain and heartache to do that, but it was true. However, she'd fallen in love with another man tonight. She had fallen in love with Charlie King.
As Charlie, Clark was allowed to be himself. He allowed his thoughts to be voiced. He acted upon his urges. Things Clark would have never done. Charlie's experiences were a bit different, but she'd heard the remnants of Clark's past weaved into the conversation as they'd talked into the night. This new man, this man she'd never known, was so much more complex than she'd ever imagined. And he was so much more simple than she'd have thought possible.
When she'd stood in front of that statue that morning, the decision made to get to know Charlie was an easy one. She'd been convinced that she could sew in threads of his past to stoke his memory, but now she wasn't so sure she wanted Clark back. At least not the Clark she'd once known. Of course, so much had happened. If Clark ever got his memory back, he might be different than he was before. Lois definitely liked this new man. His openness, his honesty was refreshing. His admiration was heady. Though clearly sexual in nature, he made her feel beautiful, desired, instead of uncomfortable and like an object to be conquered. It was just too easy to be as open with him.
She sighed heavily and turned to go inside. Standing on the boardwalk wouldn't make the night pass any quicker. She and Charlie had made a date to spend the next day together. She might be confused about a lot of things where he was concerned, but one thing that she wasn't confused about was the fact that she wanted to speed as much time with him as possible. Maybe if she went up and tried to sleep, the morning would come sooner.
Sleep had eluded Charlie much of the night. A very intense dream about his mystery lady had awoken him after only two hours. This time though, his lady had a face; she had a name.
Lois. Such a beautiful name. Such a beautiful woman. Not just in appearance either. He'd learned that she was incredibly intelligent. She was also strong willed, passionate, and maybe a tad possessive. She seemed to guard her emotions with others, yet with him she'd been as open as a book. And from the first touch she'd been shamelessly physical as well. They'd continued to touch throughout the night, which had done nothing to ease his powerful attraction to her.
That's why he'd left her outside her hotel. There was no way he could have gone inside without continuing up to her room and …
And that's why he paced the sidewalk outside the Donovan at five in the morning. His dreams had painfully awakened him shortly after three. Even after taking matters into his own hands, he'd been overwhelmed with thoughts of Lois. He could almost smell her perfume, the fruity scent of her shampoo. He could almost feel the soft touch of hands on his skin. Her body pressed against his…
Damn! He grumbled yet again as he made another turn at the end of the building. Why was this woman affecting him like this? He'd been in the company of beautiful women before, but none quite so captivating. He had been hesitant to leave her, reluctant to lose the feeling he got from just looking into her eyes. And what incredibly beautiful eyes they were. Large pools of rich chocolate that seemed to pull you inside. He could drown in those eyes.
He could also die from wanting her. He growled his frustration, threw up his hands, then headed in the direction of town.
He stopped dead in his tracks and looked back. There she was! Had he dreamed her up?
No. She was real. He could feel her presence, smell her shampoo. Dressed in tan shorts, a white blouse void of sleeves, and sandals, she looked as good today as she had the night before.
"Hi," he managed, embarrassed that he'd been caught outside her hotel at such an hour.
Instead of saying anything about his presence though, she smiled at him. "This is a wonderful surprise. Would you like to join me for breakfast?" she asked as she extended her hand to him.
Charlie glanced at her hand before reaching out and pulling her to him. "Lady, I'd like to join you any way I can." She hadn't missed his meaning at all. She gasped softly just before he closed the distance between them and pressed his lips to hers in an urgent kiss. He groaned when she immediately surrendered to him. His lips and tongue plundered hers in wild abandon for several long moments before he withdrew and placed his forehead against hers. Both were left gasping for air.
"God, what you do to me," Charlie breathed before wrapping his arms around her and pulling her to his chest. He held her closely, his face buried against her neck. He inhaled deeply, as if trying to burn her into his memory. His large body trembled; the connection so intense between them.
Glorious respite and torture all in one, Charlie thought as Lois' small hands held his back and she turned her face into his neck. Very reluctantly he smoothed his hands up and down her back, then withdrew to look at her. "It didn't work."
"What didn't work?" she asked, her brows furrowed in confusion.
"I thought that if I kissed you, held you just once, it would take the edge off." His hand came up to cup her cheek. "I've never been so thoroughly knocked off kilter by anything in my life."
"It's torture, isn't it?" she asked as she moved her hand around to rest against his chest.
Charlie closed his eyes as his mind was flooded with images. Another hand, another time, resting against his chest. Those damn images! Not now. Not here. If what he envisioned wasn't about this woman, he didn't want them invading their time together.
"Open your eyes, Charlie. Look at me."
He did. And almost gasped as the woman before him seemed to converge with the pictures in his mind. Was it possible?
Deciding that he'd explore those thoughts another time, when Lois wasn't with him, Charlie leaned forward to kiss her again. This time the touch was soft, gentle, offering more to come.
"You mentioned breakfast," he said when he drew back.
Lois smiled, tucked herself close to Charlie's side, and they made their way toward town.
Soft laughter wafted up on the air to be blown across the miles separating them from the past. But in this place the past was irrelevant. There was no Lois Lane, no Clark Kent. Here, it was just Lois and Charlie, two strangers who met and discovered they were incredibly attracted to one another. And rather than deny that attraction or approach it cautiously, they decided to storm it full speed. A decision that had been the right one.
Lois glanced over at Charlie as he bargained with one of the vendors at the large open air market they'd ventured to. After breakfast they'd walked along the beach talking. When that grew boring, they wondered up on the boardwalk to peruse the many shops there and eventually those at Center City. Lunch had been eaten at one of the many small cafes before Charlie had told Lois about the open air market a few miles away. They'd repacked the picnic basket with a few items, then trekked further up the coast to another small city by the sea.
The open air market, known fondly by locals as 'Heaven', was tucked a few blocks off the ocean and offered customers nearly everything their heart desired. A small pavilion offered kiddy rides for weary youngsters and the smell of cooking foods filled the air. It reminded Lois a lot of the farmer's market back in Metropolis, only with more than just produce. She'd found it too easy to indulge and Charlie had happily carried out several bags of loot to stash away in her jeep.
At the moment, the object of most of her day's musings was in negotiations with an older gentleman to procure their dinner. Fresh fish were iced in a large display for the choosing and Charlie had his eyes set on a large cod fish.
Funny, she thought as she watched him, he's so much different now. Or was it that she was finally getting to know the real man? Since their kiss that morning they'd shared many, many more soft pecks and sensuous touches throughout the day, but Charlie's entire demeanor differed from Clark's. Over breakfast they'd talked of their pasts. Charlie had related some stories from his many fishing trips, while Lois told of her beloved Daily Planet. And watching him now was the first time she'd even given thought to the fact that he'd once been Clark Kent at all.
She'd learned that Charlie liked the solitude of being on the open sea. Yet, he was just as happy to be seated at a large table with several of his buddies after a hard week of fishing. He liked hard work— relied on it to get him through his days. He rarely watched television, mainly because he didn't own one. He read almost constantly as long as it wasn't the news; he found it depressing. He liked fresh fish and seafood, swinging with the kids at the park, and sailing on the smaller vessels with a buddy or two. Kissing was definitely a plus and he'd love to dive off that cliff he'd taken her to the night before. He was an avid swimmer, ran in the mornings, and had a dog he called 'Ole Boy'. He lived in a small cabin tucked back in a thicket right outside Mystic, and it offered a view of the wetlands that drifted up into the cove. No car, no phone, no television, no expensive clothes. Nothing that would even remotely hint to the fact that he was who she knew him to be. However, it all seemed to fit this man so perfectly.
"He broke," Charlie declared as he turned to Lois.
"I see," she said as she eyed the bag in Charlie's hand. "Now, where do you suppose we cook that?"
"I thought we could go back to my place." He'd automatically thrown his arm over her shoulder, a gesture both were incredibly comfortable with.
"Are you trying to get me alone?" Lois playfully bumped her hip against his.
"Constantly." His dark eyes smoldered slightly as he looked down at her.
She was just about to say something when another voice cut into their exchange.
Lois looked up to see a woman grinning widely at him. For a moment, she thought he was going to pull away from her.
"Melissa. I'm glad I ran into you."
"Oh, me, too. Charlie, this is James." She indicated the man to her side before looking back at Charlie. "He's asked me to accompany him up to Augusta this weekend, so…"
"Great!" Charlie offered up a smile and squeezed Lois' shoulder. "Oh, this is Lois."
And for a brief second, time stood still. He looked directly into Lois' eyes and no one or nothing else seemed to exist. She felt that rapid rush of warmth flood her body again, just as it did every time he looked at her that way. But she forced herself to turn to the other woman and smile. "Nice to meet you."
"Yeah." It appeared Melissa was staring between them, but then shook her head and looked at Charlie. "So, I'll see you around."
"Yeah." Charlie nodded politely as Melissa went to catch up to her companion, who had already left the others.
Lois watched the scene unfold, wandering briefly if she should ask who the woman was.
"She doesn't warrant that kind of expression," Charlie said softly as he smiled down at her.
"Melissa. She's a friend."
"Charlie, that's your business." Lois had the grace to blush as she started them to walking again.
"And what if I asked about your past? Would you tell me?"
She halted and looked up at him with questioning eyes. Why had he asked such a question? She'd talked of her life all day. Yet, there was something in his expression… Worry? Concern?
Charlie pulled his arm from around her and lifted his hand to tuck her hair behind her ear. "A few times today when you talked about your life, I saw something… hidden behind those powerful eyes of yours. What is it, Lois? What's hurt you so badly that it brings that kind of pain to light?"
Leave it to Clark, she thought wryly. He was the only one who had ever been able to read her expressions. And even void of his memories, his worry for her took precedence. This one instance there was no way she could have *not* seen him in Charlie.
She thought briefly to deny what he'd said, but that would never work. He'd know she was lying. This man had nothing to lose by being completely forthcoming with her. There was no fear of being jilted and as a result, Charlie showed none of the inhibitions Clark had about their relationship. Charlie had presented himself as openly and honestly as he could. If Lois couldn't accept that, it was likely it wouldn't bother him the same way it had Clark. The least she could do was be as completely open and honest in return. Until now she had been. But he hadn't asked questions that came so close to the past, their past.
"Charlie," she whispered softly. She glanced down at their feet before lifting her eyes back to his. "You don't want to hear about my troubles."
"Lady, I want to hear all there is to know about you." His hand smoothed gently over her shoulder before he took her hand. "Tell you what. Let's take this fish and head back toward Mystic. I'll cook this up and feed you a wonderful dinner. Then I'll build a fire and we can watch the flames dance while I hold you. More than anything I think you could use a little of that."
Damn! Damn him! For a moment, Lois felt a wave of anger drill through her system. She'd needed that comfort two years ago! She'd needed him!
She glanced toward the parking lot in an effort to stifle the hot tears stinging her eyes. He was right though. Even after all this time, after the excruciating pain had dulled to an ache, after resigning herself to the fact that Clark was gone, after the dawning clarity of her mistakes had come to light, she still needed that comfort.
"Hey," he said, his voice full of concern. "I didn't mean to bring any painful memories to the surface." He stepped forward and wrapped his arm around her to hold her close.
Lois' arms circled his body as she buried her face against his chest. God, she missed this. She'd missed being able to go to Clark for comfort. And with Charlie offering, it was impossible to refuse. After all, he might not be the same man, but he was still pretty super.
She finally leaned back to smile up at him. "I think I'd like that."
"Good." He smiled brightly at her, pressed a soft kiss to her lips, then led the way to the jeep.
Tucked inside the vehicle, Lois took a deep breath. She'd had no intention of getting this close to Charlie so fast. But it was almost impossible not to. She'd admitted long ago how she really felt about Clark. That had been the primary reason she'd decided to just get to know him now without revealing what she knew about him. She'd wanted their time together to flow easily, freely… slowly. Only her heart and body had other plans.
Their date the night before had been magical, unlike any she'd ever had before. They'd talked aimlessly, touched constantly, then parted with promises of so much more to come. Those promises were what had kept her awake most of the night. Nearing five in the morning, pure excitement had brought her from her bed. She'd showered, dressed, and decided to just head over to a cafe for breakfast. At least there her thoughts couldn't turn so erotic in nature, as they'd done repeatedly in her room. Seeing Charlie on the sidewalk had been a nice surprise and when he'd kissed her, the small flame had raged out of control. He felt exactly as she did, so what was the use denying it any longer? She was drawn to Charlie with an unmistakable link that neither seemed to have the will to fight. Sexual energy seemed to dance frantically around them, leaving her to wonder how they'd manage normal conversation.
But the day had gone so well. Too well… Or not well enough. Lois couldn't get enough. This man, this Charlie King was so much like Clark, yet not. He was exciting and fresh. He had a sense of humor, bringing her to laughter over and over again. His nature was kind, pure, simple. Easy going, but complex, too. Sexy as hell and the best kisser she'd ever encountered, Charlie was every woman's dream. Add compassion and Lois had fallen in love all over again. Suddenly they couldn't get to Charlie's little cabin fast enough.
He was glad the drive didn't last long; he wasn't sure he could have remained calm much longer. Being able to concentrate on something besides Lois offered him sweet respite from his musings.
As much as he hated for her to see his simple home, Charlie had wanted for them to be alone. And he was positive the Donovan didn't offer guests a place to cook up fresh fish.
"Don't expect too much," Charlie told Lois as he retrieved his packages from the back of the jeep once they'd parked outside the rustic cabin. "It's just a place to sleep and work."
"It's quaint, simple. Just like this whole town," Lois remarked as she took in the little cabin.
"The inside's just as simple," he told her as he made his way up onto the porch. The old lab yelped happily but didn't offer to move. "Hey, Ole Boy." Clark smiled, but couldn't pat the dog because of his load.
"Oh, Charlie, he's adorable," Lois remarked as she kneeled down to offer the dog a scratch.
Charlie watched in amazement as the dog jumped to his feet and started to wag his tail happily, all the while barking and basking in Lois' attention. "I'll be damned."
"What?" Lois asked, a complete picture of innocence.
"That ole dog hasn't moved a muscle in as long as I can remember. At least not to greet me."
"Guess he just likes me better than you." She stuck her tongue out at Charlie before focusing on the dog again.
Holy hell! She *would* have to tempt him like that, Charlie thought as he pushed his door open. Suddenly there wasn't enough space outside for him and Lois both. Adding such a torturous thought to his wayward emotions was almost too much.
Charlie hadn't known if what he'd glimpsed in Lois' dark eyes was really there or not today. Several times he thought he'd seen masked pain in her expressions when she spoke of home and her past. She'd mentioned friends that were dear to her. One in particular seemed to make her especially sad. She'd said the friend was a work colleague, but hadn't elaborated very much other than this person was no longer around and was missed horribly. What unnerved Charlie was that she failed to mention if this friend was male or female. Judging from the way she seemed to draw in upon herself, it had been a man. He was fairly sure that particular expression could only be caused from the loss of a lover.
Again, he wondered back to the name she'd mentioned. Could she be missing that Clark person? Had he been her lover? For some reason the thought made him jealous. Imagining Lois in the arms of any man but himself was not something he wanted to do. Of course, they'd both had a life before meeting. And neither had been born on the day they'd met. It was likely that such a beautiful woman would have been involved, possibly even married. Could that be what was wrong? Could she have been married and her husband… left her? Or had he died?
He glanced toward the door, his compassion for Lois growing even stronger. He wanted to just gather her in his arms and hold her forever. Or at least until that pain was gone for good. Instead, he blushed when she appeared in the doorway and he turned back to unloading his purchases.
Lois was content to study his few belongings in the other room while he studied the ones before him. A fragranced hand soap, dish liquid, name brand toilet tissue instead of his usual choices. A package of simple, but pretty curtains for the kitchen window. Four window blinds for the remaining windows, a nice floor rug for the living room, and even an elegant place setting for the kitchen table— for two. Hell, he'd even bought matching placemats and a table cloth. And there was more. Shower gel; he usually used bar soap. A toothbrush and toothpaste— items he already had. Razors— definitely not something he needed. He'd bought the items in hopes that Lois might grow comfortable enough to stay over with him. Even if tonight wasn't the night, he'd have those items to offer her. That was also why he'd purchased new towels— large terry cloth in bright colors— and a new set of sheets for the bed. Was he rushing things by hoping she would want to stay with him? Of course, there was absolutely no way to deny that if she stayed, he'd want something to happen between them. He'd never invited a woman to his place before, had never wanted to. But with Lois he wanted her in his house, in his bed, and in his heart.
<Damn, Charlie! Why didn't you just come out and tell her you want to…>
"Charlie, are you okay?"
Lois' voice stopped his traitorous mind from venturing down a road that bordered on being a bit too kinky. He sighed in relief before he smiled over at her. "I'm fine."
"You sure? You seem distracted." She laid her hand on his shoulder, her brows furrowed in concern.
"I was just thinking about you… again," he said and waggled his brows as he continued to put away the supplies and the groceries he'd stopped off to buy at the market.
"I think I like that," she told him with a childish grin. "I like that you can't think of anything else."
He paused and flashed a heated gaze her way, then pressed a soft kiss to her lips. "I like it, too," he whispered before he continued with his tasks. "Now, would you like something to drink while I clean this fish?"
"Actually, I noticed the tide is out. Think we could dig a few clams to go with that?"
"We can dig as many as you want. I should have thought to do that myself." He moved over to a cabinet to find a bowl to place the fish in before he pulled out other supplies from under the sink. "Living near the ocean can be a wonderful thing," he told her with a smile. "Come on."
They stopped long enough to take off their shoes before heading down to the dunes several yards away from the cabin. Charlie made sure to position himself to get the best view of his companion while they dug clams. He could barely keep his eyes from her, much like his thoughts. The woman had managed to invade his very being, very much like his dream lady. Again, he wondered if there was a connection.
While Lois was almost as familiar as an old friend, she was also so completely unfamiliar. He'd relished learning every detail she'd been willing to share during the day and looked forward to more. He decided that if she was someone he'd known once, then he very much looked forward to renewing their acquaintance.
"Look at this one. It's huge!" Lois held up a large clam for Charlie to see. Her expression was one of complete awe, reminding him of a child who had accomplished an impossible task.
Charlie chuckled softly. How was it possible to feel so much for someone when you knew so little about yourself? Lois was a welcome rush into his otherwise slow existence. She made him smile; she made him laugh; and she made him feel. Beyond the satisfied meager life he'd lived the last couple of years, he found that because of Lois he wanted more. That was the reason he'd purchased those items for his cabin. He wanted her here with him. He wanted her to breathe life into his floundering world. His dream lady might have consumed much of his thoughts for the last two years, but now she had whispered a name. There was a face, with chocolate eyes and short hair. And there was someone to project all of his emotions on. Charlie had found who he saw when he closed his eyes and her name was Lois.
Perfect was the only way to describe their evening. Even though cleaning the clams and fish had been kind of gross, the dinner had tasted wonderful.
Throughout the meal they'd flirted shamelessly, talking about nothing in particular. Which was fine by her because she hadn't wanted him to focus on her apparent sadness again. That was too close to questions she simply didn't want to answer. She'd helped him clean up the dishes and now they were about to hang the curtains in the kitchen.
"I'm not sure why I asked you here," Charlie said as he lifted one side of the curtain rod. "I barely like being here myself."
Lois glanced around the cabin. "It's not so bad."
"Come on, Lois. It's bad," he said with lifted brows.
"No, it's not. You're here," she told him with a very bright smile. His breath caught as he looked at her. "What's wrong, Charlie? Do I upset you?" She deliberately batted her lids at him, almost in invitation. It was so incredibly easy to tease him, and it surprised her that it made her tension level rise… but in the best way she'd ever felt.
Charlie paused with his hands on the rod, blinked quickly, then rushed to complete his task. When he was done, he turned to face Lois fully. "Baby, if this is what if feels like to be upset, then I wish you would tick me off completely."
His voice dropped an octave and he licked his lips. Suddenly Lois' mouth was dry as a desert. She took a half step toward him, her eyes smoldering with unchecked desire. "I can just imagine you all flustered in anger." She lifted her hand to his chest, smoothing her fingers ever so lightly over his tight tank top. He'd long ago dispensed with his top shirt and it had been all she could do to keep from jumping him. "Sweat glistening on your bare skin." Her voice had grown slightly husky as she moved her eyes down to where her hand rested. "Your chest heaving to catch your breath," she finished in a whisper as her eyes lifted to his again.
Charlie groaned, then pulled her tightly against his body as he crushed his mouth to hers.
Lois was right there with him. Touch for touch, their lips battled for victory. As opponents would duel, swords brandishing one another, their tongues came together over and over. She pushed one of her hands up so that her fingers wound through his hair. The other arm was grasping his back, reveling in the feel of strong muscles as they flexed under his shirt. One of his hands held her head tightly against his while the other explored her side. She almost growled when his fingers brushed against the side of her breast. Taking that as encouragement, Charlie's hand trailed a searing path down to her hip, thigh and back to grasp her waist firmly.
So soft, was all she could think as her fingers sifted the silky black strands of his long hair. It felt so much better than it looked. Her hand ventured to the hair on his face and she was thrilled it was just as soft.
Charlie drew back to stare down at Lois. "Do you like that? The beard? If you don't…"
Lois silenced him with another kiss, then smiled seductively when she pulled back again. "I love it," she assured him before she kissed him again.
With every ounce of willpower in her body, she managed to accept Charlie's resistance when he drew away a moment later. His body absolutely hummed against hers and she'd be dead not to feel his arousal. "Something wrong?"
"Something's right," he told her softly. His large hand cupped her cheek as he gazed at her longingly. "I haven't felt this alive in so long…"
"Neither have I," she admitted as they stood there staring into one another's souls. They remained that way for a long moment before Charlie sighed and pulled her into a warm embrace.
"Maybe we should move to the living room. I can build that fire and we can talk… Or just hold each other."
"That sounds fantastic," she mumbled against his chest. He chuckled softly before he pulled away completely. Lois could only stand there in silence, a silly grin plastered all over her face, as he started their fire. It never occured to either of them that a fire in the middle of the summer might not be such a great idea.
Finally she managed to make it over to the blanket Charlie had spread for them to sit on. He smiled at her, waved his hand in invitation, then settled behind her after she sat. She was cradled between his legs, her back to his chest, as they stared in silence at the dancing flames. The Lois Lane of old would have never agreed to go to a man's place so soon after they'd met, let alone sit against his very male body while they were entranced by flames from a fire. She would never have put herself into such a romantically blatant situation. Men were not to be trusted as far as she was concerned. Yet, sitting with Charlie, all she could think about was how incredibly safe she felt. And how agonizingly aroused she was.
Such utter agony, she thought as her mind commanded her body to behave. Yes, she wanted Charlie so bad it hurt, but she didn't want to make love with him quite this soon.
<<And why not?>>
Her conscience asked a very loaded question. She paused as she considered the answer. Why didn't she want to make love to Charlie now? For all intents and purposes she knew this man, trusted him. He was probably the kindest, most gentle soul alive— even if he didn't realize that. He'd been very open with her about his attraction to her and still she knew he'd be the perfect gentleman. He'd no doubt be the most amazing lover she'd ever had. But at the same time, Charlie really was someone Lois didn't know.
A decision to share your body, your entire being, with someone should be made rationally. Two people should know each completely. Making love should be just that: sharing your love in the ultimate physical expression.
<<But you do love him!>>
That she couldn't deny. Whether love at first sight really existed or not, she loved this man already. And as she'd gotten to know him a little she'd fallen in love with him all over again. Was it possible to do that every time you looked at another person?
Lois glanced back at Charlie, who smiled and placed a gentle kiss on her lips. Yes, it was very possible. The amount of physical intimacy they'd already shared bordered on ridiculous if one were rational. But she wasn't rational. She was in love, possibly with her soul mate and definitely with the only man who'd ever made her feel the kind of passion she felt right now. For once, she would follow her heart. And her heart screamed that she knew Charlie, completely. If her body wanted to get to know him that same way, she wasn't so sure she'd stop it.
He wouldn't have thought it possible, but after he'd sat with Lois for a long while, his body seemed to calm. He'd been sure when she'd first settled between his legs, he would have wanted to pick up their heated exchange they'd shared in the kitchen earlier. But he'd been content to just hold her, offer up that comfort he'd mentioned earlier.
That comfort, or Lois' need of, had really bothered him. So much pain was tucked behind her dark eyes that it made his own heart ache horribly. What had happened in this lady's life to make her feel this way? Some of what she said had led him to believe that she was a defensive type of person; one who guarded their feelings closely with others. She'd been open with him, both emotionally and physically, but he could still sense something deep inside. He wanted her to talk to him; tell him what weighed so heavily on her mind. Yet, he didn't want to upset her either. Maybe in time she'd become comfortable enough to talk with him about anything.
He remembered something he hadn't thought of since he'd met Lois. She was only in Mystic for a short time— to write a novel. She'd be gone eventually and thinking of that saddened Charlie deeply. What would he do once she'd left his life? She'd stirred emotions and even thoughts that he didn't know existed. The thought of all that being taken away almost made him want to scream.
"Hey," she said, cutting through his musings. "You look sad. What's wrong?"
Charlie focused on her face, surprised that he felt the sting of hot tears behind his lids. "I just remembered that you're only in Mystic to write for a while."
"Oh." She glanced down, then lifted her hand to his cheek. "Let's concentrate on here and now. Not tomorrow. And right now, I'd like to thank you for a wonderful day. It's the best I've had in a very long time."
She was right; they should think about now. Tomorrow would take care of itself. He managed a small smile as he pulled her against his body. "You're welcome, but I think that goes both ways. It's been a long time since I've enjoyed myself the way I have today." He pressed a kiss to her temple before drawing back to study her expression. "Tell me, pretty lady, why haven't you had a nice day in so long?"
Lois glanced away from him, seemingly in deep thought, as she stared into the fire. She had been quiet so long, Charlie was convinced she wasn't going to respond. When she finally spoke, her voice was soft, giving him the impression of a lost child.
"I was married once. Over two years ago."
A brief flash of jealousy raced through Charlie's system, but he quickly stamped it down. This had to be about that guy Clark she'd mentioned. Though he didn't like hearing she'd had a past, it was just that. Here, now, she was with him.
"I was never in love with him. Still not sure why I married him. At the time I was convinced that he would save me from a whole lot of pain."
"And did he?"
"No. He caused me so much more than I'd ever thought possible."
She grew silent again and Charlie gently rubbed his hand up and down her back to offer silent strength.
"I'd been hurt before then. Many times. And I swore that I'd never again give my heart to anyone," she continued with a deep breath. "So, I thought if I didn't really love the man, he'd be safe. We had a huge, beautiful ceremony and flew to some islands for our honeymoon."
Charlie tensed slightly at the image her last word created. The thought of another man with Lois that way definitely didn't sit well. He didn't care if it was her past, suddenly he felt very possessive.
"Three days later I found out that he was a monster."
Lois nodded. "He was the leader of one of the most elaborate crime organizations in the United States. He controlled Metropolis' underworld. I was so blind," she whined and pushed to her feet.
He automatically released his hold on her so she could stand and pace, content to watch her and ready to hold her again when she needed it.
"He tried to tell me. But did I listen? Nooo. I was so stubborn. I insisted that he was jealous and that all the things he said were lies. They hadn't been lies. They were all true. And when I found out, it was too late. I'd already married the lunatic. Still I investigated, went back and took an objective look at everything. And you know what?" She turned to face Charlie.
"No. What?" She hadn't made complete sense with all she'd said, but he was sure she needed to do this. It was probably the first time she'd truly allowed herself to get all this out in the open.
"It was as clear as the nose on your face! I saw it all. I saw the lying, cheating, manipulative bastard for what he really was. Then I was sick. I'd married that creep. I'd… I'd… allowed him to…" She blinked quickly as tears fell to her cheeks. "It wasn't even that memorable," she whispered. "He was selfish and way too aggressive." Her eyes fell to the fingers she was worrying with. "I was just glad I'd had the presence of mind to start taking birth control before we were married. I'd have died if I'd conceived his child."
Charlie did want to die now. Lois had just told him that not only had she married, but had married a monster. A selfish, mean man who had taken his pleasure with her body. He'd presented himself as something he wasn't, probably in order to get her. The man had no doubt seen her as only a possession, a prize to be won.
He reached out his hand to grasp her fingers and pull her back down to him. This time he cradled her body against his as she sat on his lap. "I had no idea. I would have never been so open with my attraction to you."
Lois' eyes widened in shock as she stared at him. "Charlie, don't you dare change one thing about yourself. You're a beautiful person, unlike that monster. You're nothing alike. When you make sexual overtures, it makes me feel attractive and desirable. I love that you're so open with your feelings. Please don't stop doing that."
His hand splayed across her back as his eyes bore into hers. "You must be the strongest person I know." He gently kissed her lips before wrapping his arms around her body. "I'm glad my attention doesn't bother you because I *am* very attracted. And you *are* very desirable. Now, what happened? How did you find out about your… this man?" He refused to call the man her husband. Such a person didn't deserve that title.
"The police came to arrest him."
"Ouch!" He grimaced to show her he meant what he said.
"Tell me about it. The evidence was all there though, so he was taken into custody and is in prison serving five life sentences for his crimes."
"Double ouch." He squeezed Lois' body gently, offering her a simple hug before he pulled away to look her. "But that isn't why the pain's there. I see something else."
"You're right. There is something else. There was another man. He had been my partner at work and eventually became my best friend. He was the one who warned me against marriage… at least to someone else."
"What do you mean by that? Did he have feelings for you?"
"Yes. He was in love with me. And… and I loved him," she admitted with a bowed head, shame dripping from her words. "Only I refused to admit it because I felt that if I did, he'd have too much power over me. So, I walked down the aisle to marry one man while thinking of another. I cried silently every time I looked at my husband's face because it was not the face I wanted it to be. And a part of me died the night I gave myself to the wrong man."
He didn't think he'd ever felt this kind of pain before. Lois loved another man. If so, why was she here with him? On the rebound? Getting over that love because it wasn't returned?
"Why not…" Charlie's voice cracked as he reluctantly began to speak. "… tell him? Be with him?"
"Because I can't."
"You're still married?"
"No. My divorce has long since been final." Lois stared off into the fire again as tears rolled down her cheeks. "He's gone."
He dropped his head back, stared up at the ceiling to stave off his own tears. Why did she have to love another man? And why the hell did he feel compelled to ease her pain?
"Then you should look for him," Charlie forced out through almost gritted teeth.
"I can't, Charlie. He's gone." She waited until he looked directly at her. "Gone," she whispered as her bottom lip trembled.
"Oh, baby," Charlie breathed when realization hit. He gathered her close and held her while she cried. "Let it out," he whispered as his hand cradled the back of her head. He shouldn't be doing this. She wasn't over this other man. There was no way she could be serious about any kind of relationship with him.
Relationship? Didn't that imply deep feelings and commitment? Well, the feelings were not a problem. At least he didn't think they were. He was almost positive he'd fallen in love with Lois, but commitment? She wasn't from here. She'd be gone sooner or later… wouldn't she?
<Stop it, Charlie! Just stop it!>
There was no need to make this any more complicated right now. Lois was in pain and needed him. Dammit, he'd be exactly what she needed him to be. Thoughts beyond here and now could wait for another day. Maybe one several more days down the line.
"I'm sorry," Lois mumbled when she pulled back and wiped her face. "I didn't mean to break down like that."
"Don't you dare be sorry." He smoothed her hair back, then lifted her chin with a crooked finger. He needed to look into her eyes. See if those feelings were still there. What he saw made him want to scream. Not only were the feelings there, but there was also something else. An echo of love— their love. Whoever her partner was, it was clear he had meant a great deal to Lois.
"Charlie," Lois said as she looked at him. "He's been gone a long time. Yes, part of me will never stop loving him and I won't apologize for that. But I'm here, with you. And it's exactly where I want to be."
He remained silent for a long moment, just staring into her eyes. She'd told him the truth. Right there, mixed with the pain of lost love, were her feelings for him. They were strong and undeniable, just as his were for her.
"Lois, I don't know what it is that I feel, but I can tell you it's strong and passionate, and probably the best thing that's happened to me. I want you here. I want to be where you are. And I don't want you to ever apologize to me for what you feel."
In the span of a few simple sentences, Lois fell in love with Charlie again. Things like this just weren't possible. How had she gone from missing her best friend and aching over that loss, to loving this man so deeply? He'd presented himself as her comforter, one she hadn't known she was in need of. She'd been so lost right after her wedding disaster, only to find herself sick and disgusted for all the missed opportunities to follow. She hadn't intended for everything to spill out of her the way it had, but he'd been so generous and the anguish in his expression was one she couldn't help but break under. And she couldn't help but feel a little relief to finally talk with someone. She'd had her family, friends like Perry and Jimmy, and even the Kents, yet none seemed to *feel* her pain the way Charlie did. Opening up to him was as natural as breathing.
She pushed her arms up around his neck and hugged him tightly. "How is this possible, Charlie? How can I feel this way?"
"I know, baby. I know." His arms tightened, crushing her body to his. "I know," he repeated as his lips sought out hers.
Heaven. She'd died and gone to heaven. Charlie was the best kisser in the world and she could gladly stay this way all night. Or maybe not…
His lips had moved to place a series of kisses along her jaw and down to her neck. She groaned and tilted her head to give him better access. "Oh, yeah, right… hmmm… there." She sighed and gave into his questing mouth. Her hands combed through his hair as his lips sucked a wet path back up to her ear.
"I want you, Lois," he told her softly.
Her answer was a groan of pleasure just before his mouth covered hers again. She tried to swallow him whole as they attacked one another. Suddenly he pulled away. It took her a few moments before she could focus. Charlie was staring at her with wide eyes.
"It's okay, Charlie. I want you, too."
"I know." He leaned forward and kiss her lips softly, but briefly. "I just… would you mind if we wait?"
She wasn't sure what had brought all that on, but right now she'd grant him anything. She might leave frustrated as hell, but she would wait. "Of course I don't mind." She pushed a lock of his hair back off his head. "But you're not… still worried about my feelings, are you?"
"No, Lois," he said softly. "I'm worried about mine." He chuckled softly when she looked at him as if he was crazy. "This is just so powerful and came about so quickly. I think maybe I'd like to spend a few more days with you before I… before we… do that. And I can't believe I'm saying this."
"Oh, ho ho," Lois laughed softly as they hugged. "Believe me, I did think it kind of out of place. It's usually the woman stopping the sex."
"Don't I know it." He grinned as he continued to hold her, his hands roaming her back. "Guess I'm not your typical man."
Don't I know it, Lois thought as they continued to sit that way. Anything but typical. And worth every second she had to wait. After all, they'd waited this long. What was a few more days?
She reluctantly drew away and kissed him softly, passionately. Leaving him with a pained expression on his face, she rose to her feet. "And before I do something I shouldn't, I'm going to get out of here."
Charlie frowned but nodded his head. "Just give me a second."
Lois watched as he leaned forward and took a few deep breaths. She knew exactly how he felt. Her body absolutely screamed for attention and she needed to put distance between her and Charlie or she *would* mind them waiting. Finally he stood and took her hand. Silently he walked her out to her jeep.
"How about I bring you breakfast tomorrow?" she asked as he opened her door.
"That would be wonderful. Then I'm going to take you sailing."
"Oh, Charlie, I don't know," she said with a note of panic in her voice. "The last time I went sailing I was still a kid."
"Then we'll stick close to the coves." He pulled her into an embrace. "Don't worry, baby. I won't let anything happen to you."
And with that, she relaxed. She trusted this man with her life, and she'd trust him tomorrow. "Okay." Another soft kiss was exchanged before she pulled away and sank into her seat. "Goodnight, Charlie."
"Goodnight, Lois." He closed her door and watched as she drove away.
Back at her hotel, Lois busied herself with carrying in the purchases she'd made on their shopping excursion, hoping it would do something to calm her raging libido. Her thoughts certainly didn't help. Her mind was consumed with Charlie King. If she closed her eyes, she saw his face. If she looked at her hands, she felt his touch. Her lips still tingled from their kisses. And her body ached to have him. So intense was her desire, that she'd pushed her confession to him out of her mind. It was something that she'd trusted him to hear, and she'd told him. Right now though, her body trembled from unsatisfied need. Alone in her room, and lost in thoughts of Charlie, she'd spend another sleepless night.
How stupid could one man be? Charlie thought as he flopped to his back and stared at the ceiling. He should have never stopped his and Lois' encounter. It was bad enough that he'd still been slightly aroused when she left… Okay, he'd been outrageously aroused… But after waking from another erotic dream, his body ached to hold Lois.
Why had he stopped them? She wanted him just as badly as he wanted her. He'd be fool not to have seen it. Hell, his every nerve ending had known it!
And that was it. A refreshing slap to his face. What kept resounding loudly in Charlie's mind was that he couldn't possibly give himself to Lois if she didn't know just how different he was.
Funny how none of those thoughts had stopped him from taking Melissa to a motel room.
<Yeah, but they kept you from completing the act.>
He jerked to a sitting position as a conversation came to mind. Or had it been mere thoughts? Another time he'd said or thought something exactly like he had tonight. Lois should know him completely. Or rather *she* should. But Charlie had replaced his mysterious woman's nameless face with Lois'. Why not use Lois' name for confusion sake?
How did she know him completely if he didn't even know himself? A question he couldn't answer, wouldn't be able to until he remembered his life. So, where did that leave him and Lois? Did he wait on something that might never happen? His body screamed the answer loud and clear. No! He would just tell Lois tomorrow about his funny… quirks. And then he'd pray she wasn't turned off by them.
Until then he'd have to spend the rest of the night tortured by his thoughts.
Torture… was spelled L-o-i-s.
He'd been right about seeing Lois in a bathing suit. It was every bit as enjoyable and absolutely agonizing as he'd known it would be. Thankfully there had been the task of sailing their small boat to distract him.
Charlie and Lois had shared breakfast at his cabin. Her sitting on his lap while he fed her eggs and toast. That small element known as torture again. But he'd been unable to help himself. And selfishly used the excuse of having only one chair to get her onto his lap.
They'd both cleaned up, changed, and headed down to the bay to rent a boat for the day. Lois had been securely strapped into her life vest and they'd set out on their small vessel. It was just large enough to provide space for them to sit to share their lunch at noon. Now Lois was stretched out basking in the sun. And threatening to give poor Charlie a heart attack.
"Damn!" he mumbled as he dropped the rope he was holding.
"What's wrong?" Lois lifted her head and cracked open one eye.
"Nothing," he said with a touch of sarcasm.
"Charlie?" she questioned and opened both eyes.
He sighed, dropped the rope, and looked up at her. "It's just you're sitting there looking good enough to eat and my bathing suit is way too tight and I can't figure out how to tell you that I'm a strange cookie."
"What?" Lois sat up completely to look at him, an expression of curiosity on her face.
"Lois, I stopped us from making love last night because there's something about me I want you to know first."
"Okay." She eased forward so she was closer to him.
He dropped to sit beside her, shoved a hand through his hair, then took a deep breath. "I'm a little unusual."
"As in I can hear things normal men shouldn't. I trim my beard and hair with my eyes. I bounce beams of fire, literally, off a mirror. I have to do this because razors break on my hair! I can move my hands really quickly. Quickly enough to almost be invisible. And I don't remember anything past a couple of years ago." He glanced at her but hurried to continue before she could say anything. He felt that if he didn't get it all out at once, he might not. "I woke up one night, naked in some kind of crater, and barely remembered my name. Some homeless guy gave me clothes and the next day I got hired on a fishing boat at the marina. I think that was somewhere in Maine. I worked on a few different boats for a while before finding Mystic. What I said about liking it and staying was true. I've been here since. I have memories now and then, but I'm not sure what it all means."
She stared at him for a long moment before she leaned over and kissed him. "Charlie, I know we only met a few days ago, yet I feel more for you than I've ever felt for anyone. I don't care if you can fly. I just want to spend time with you, get to know you. And maybe even see what you look like without that suit on," she finished with a devilish grin.
It was true. She hadn't lied. He could see everything she felt in her eyes. Well, if she could live with his quirks, as he'd affectionately dubbed them, then surely he could… show off for her.
He returned her playful grin and rose to his feet. He stuck his thumbs in the waistband of his shorts, all the while holding her gaze with his own.
"Ah, what are you doing?" Lois asked as her eyes grew wide in surprise.
"I'm showing you what I look like without this suit on." He waggled his brows as the material slid down to reveal a line of untanned skin.
"Charlie," Lois whispered.
His heart began to thunder in his chest as her eyes shot below his waist in anticipation. He was about to push them the rest of the way down when he heard something. His hands stopped and he titled his head to the side.
"What? What do you hear?"
Huh? How did she know…?
"Splashing. A lot of splashing and screams. Lois, somebody's drowning." He jerked his shorts back into place, fired off the motor on their boat, and pointed the vessel toward a nearby cove. Beside him Lois searched the distance for whoever was in trouble. Just as they rounded the point, Charlie saw the commotion. Several swimmers stood on the beach while another swam toward the person splashing about in the water. But they were too far away. They'd never make it.
"Go!" Lois pushed him slightly.
"What? Lois, that's at least a hundred yards." Charlie was staring at her in disbelief.
"Charlie, jump in and swim really fast. You can make it." Her eyes shot to the drowning victim. "Hurry. He's just gone under!"
Panic shot through him and he felt as if he'd been struck by lightening. He'd never felt so desperate in his life. Without thinking, he did as Lois told him to do. Within a matter of seconds, Charlie rose to the surface with a small child braced in his arms. He wasn't sure how he made it to the shore, but he'd never known terror like he felt as he placed that child's body on the sand. A little boy, a vibrant little boy of maybe ten had already turned blue. But he had to try. He leaned forward to breathe into the boy's water logged lungs. One, two, three breaths.
"Come on, buddy, breathe!" Charlie leaned over to breathe for the boy again. Behind him the cries of the child's mother and siblings were a faint sound as he concentrated fully on clearing a small set of lungs of the dirty ocean water that threatened to shut down an entire machine. A human machine, full of life and with far too many years still yet to live.
Suddenly water shot from the boy's mouth and the little guy started coughing. Charlie helped him sit and remained with him until he was sure the child was breathing well on his own again. He silently backed away as mother and child were reunited. The father, who was the other swimmer that had attempted to get to the drowning boy, reached out to pump Charlie's hand in a fierce shake.
"Thank you, my friend. Thank you!"
"You're welcome," Charlie told him just before the mother stood and rushed to throw her arms around his neck.
"Thank you for giving my boy back," she sobbed into his shoulder. She drew back, patted Charlie's cheek, then went back to her son.
Charlie could only watch, strangely detached from the scene as it unfolded before him. He glanced out at the water, then back to the boy. How the hell had he made such a long swim in seconds like that? He'd felt like a spear slicing through the ocean water. The only thing on his mind had been saving that child from dying.
And he had. Suddenly images flooded his mind. Another child about to be crushed by a huge sign… that he caught. A man who had been trapped in a manhole… until he'd found him and lifted him to safety. An explosion, a fire, a bomb… that he… ate? A bus full of people, a man in a wheelchair with a gun, and another bomb. He'd sat on that one!
He shook his head vigorously. Those memories couldn't possibly be right. He hadn't done those things… Had he? He turned when Lois made it to his side.
"Oh, Charlie," she almost squealed. "You were awesome."
He caught her as she threw herself into his arms. She'd known… that he could save that boy. He grasped her arms and pushed her back to look at her. "How did you know I could do that?"
"All that stuff you told me. You said you were quick. I just assumed you could swim fast, too." Her voice had dropped almost to a whisper, and she kept eyeing the other people around them.
That was possible. She could have guessed. But…
But she'd known he'd heard something. She hadn't hesitated a second. Just asked what he heard. She couldn't have assumed that from their brief conversation.
Clark looked at Lois closely. Just one hint. One tiny speck of recognition. Was it too much to ask? Was it too much for a man to want to remember such an incredible woman?
He could hear voices behind them talking about his miraculous rescue and right now was not a good time for others to ask questions. Hell, he wanted to ask those questions. If only he could answer them…
"Come on. We should go." Again, Charlie was struck by Lois' understanding. She nodded, grasped his hand, and together they went back to their boat. A few moments later, they were easing out of the cove and into deeper water.
Lois couldn't begin to understand what Charlie must be going through. He had to be horribly confused by the day's events. From what he'd told her only parts of him had seeped into his new life. How awful it must be to remember part of youself and not the rest.
Since saving the little boy and sailing them back out into deeper water, Charlie had been unusually quiet. He kept staring off in the distance. A few times there had been an expression on his face that she wasn't quite able to discern. But she knew this had to be difficult for him. The only thing she'd thought to do when he'd mentioned the drowning boy was give him a gentle nudge to help. It had been apparent by the stricken look on his face that he was terrified for the child. *He* was the one who pointed the boat toward the danger and when Lois had seen the horror in Charlie's eyes, she'd automatically reacted.
Funny how easily she seemed to fit into that part of his life. She briefly wondered if she'd fair so well if he ever regained his memory and returned to being Superman. Could she rattle off excuses to readily explain his disappearances? Would she be able to support him in his need to help? Then comfort him when he'd seen too much tragedy?
She glanced at the man across from her. This man was different. He might never choose to be 'super' again. Would she be able to support that decision?
<<Listen to yourself, Lois. You sound as if you're planning a life with him.>>
Her eyes drifted out across the glimmering water. They'd sailed out a lot further than they'd been all day. The water was unusually calm and mesmerizing if you stared for more than a brief moment. It provided a calm for Lois' tortured thoughts.
Why couldn't she plan a life with this man? He was every woman's dream: gorgeous, compassionate, affectionate, passionate… The list could go on forever. True, he wasn't Clark Kent, might never be again. But he was Charlie King. A complete person in his own right and she'd fallen completely in love with him. Planning a life was a logical step…
Wasn't it? Was it too much to ask to share your life with the person you love? After all the pain in her life, Lois felt she deserved a little happiness. Having lost a very dear love that she hadn't realized she'd had until it was too late, Lois did not, could not, lose another. And it was obvious Charlie felt very strongly for her as well. He'd mentioned the night before that she would leave soon and he wasn't all that happy about it. It was fairly safe to assume that maybe his thoughts had drifted toward a future as well. If so, why not plan beyond today? Or at least think about it more.
Right now she needed to know what was going on with Charlie. She turned toward him and their eyes locked. He stared at her for several long moments before his face broke into the widest smile she'd seen yet. It was infectious and she returned it just as brightly.
He'd sat silently, reliving the last hour over and over in his mind. How had he done what he'd done? Okay, he could understand the swimming fast part. He'd seen his own hands move at lightening speed before. He was different that way. So, how about the CPR? When he'd gotten the little boy to the shore, he'd known automatically how to help him. It just seemed to come to him. Like so many other things he didn't understand about his past.
After it was over, and he'd had time to think about everything, Charlie had actually been a bit scared. For a brief second he'd also been angry with Lois. To think she might know something about him and not be telling him…
But that couldn't be. She couldn't be someone from his past. Surely he'd remember her… wouldn't he?
Once they'd put back out to sea, he'd begun to think rationally about everything he *did* know. He was different, that was a given. He clearly didn't recall his past beyond two years earlier. And he was completely taken with the lady on the boat with him. He couldn't change who he was or what he could do. He'd tried that when he'd first discovered his… uniqueness. Many nights had been spent pondering what he didn't remember and nothing had come to light. He'd finally accepted that the past was the past and probably best left there. Until now, until meeting Lois, he'd never actually wanted to remember. He'd figured it would come back if and when it did. Like a fine wine, one simply had to give the process time.
New thoughts had been raised earlier. What if Lois really was someone from his past? Could she really be his dream lady? Could she be the reason he'd wanted to forget in the first place? Could a woman that had undoubtedly caused him so much pain that his subconscious chose to forget his own past be the exact balm he needed to recall it again?
It made sense, perfect sense. What a person usually fears most is the thing they tend to need most. Maybe she was this person, this woman that haunted his dreams. He'd certainly used her face and her name to add an identity during his restlessness. It really didn't matter. Charlie *had* met Lois. And he'd fallen head over heels for her. No matter what, *that* was more important. If she helped him remember, and there were things he found painful about his past, maybe she'd also be the one to ease that pain. And if he never remembered, maybe she'd still be there to share his quirks with him.
Besides, a new emotion had risen within him. He'd saved a person's life today. A boy would walk and talk and play tomorrow because of him. And that felt… wonderful!
Suddenly his eyes locked with Lois' and he stared at her. Yeah, he decided, he'd climb onto the ship for the ride. The waters might get choppy, but with a skipper like Lois he was certain they'd be able to weather the storms.
Finally he allowed his smile to burst forth. It felt even better when she smiled right back at him.
"For a while there I was beginning to wonder if I'd ever see that smile again," she told him after a moment.
He blushed and held out his hand for her to come to him, which she did willingly. He settled her by his side before he lifted their joined hands to place a kiss on her skin. "Lois, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't confused earlier."
"Oh, Charlie, I'm sure you were."
"I'd also be lying if I said I didn't feel good about what I've done. I don't know how I did it, why I remembered the things I did to get it done, but I'm very glad I was able to help. It just felt so… "
"Right?" she helped him out, almost certain that his super tendencies were starting to seep into his new personality.
Amazing how she knew him so well. Did that mean something on a grander scale? Was this the woman he was meant to spend his life with?
<Whoa, boy! Where did that thought come from?!>
From the same place the thoughts about weathering storms together had, he supposed. Lois might just be *the* one. And would it be so bad if she was? Absolutely not, Charlie decided as he stared into her beautiful eyes. Yeah, it was probably way too soon to be thinking about anything long term, yet his heart didn't care. *This* was right.
"That's not the only thing that feels right," he told her huskily as he brought his hand up to cup her face. Her breath caught a second before he kissed her. Oh so right, was the only thing Charlie could think as he pulled Lois over to straddle his lap, giving him better access to her mouth and body. His desperate hands sought as much of her as he possibly could.
"Yes," Lois moaned as he nibbled on the skin of her neck and leaned back into his hands.
Charlie paused briefly to look at the woman before him. She'd gone limp in his hands, giving up control to him with absolute confidence that she was safe in his arms. Lying back the way she was made it almost impossible for him to refuse. He leaned forward and kissed her chest, causing her to tremble in excitement. Her body responded to his touch and he watched in fascination as she enjoyed the things he did to her.
"Lois," he gasped against her skin as she moved ever so slightly. With his heightened senses every touch seemed magnified. He lifted his head and looked at her briefly. Funny, he couldn't ever remember feeling so much when he was with Melissa. Sure, being with her had caused a reaction, a very male, a very primal reaction. But this… this was unlike anything he'd ever known.
Charlie moved his hands around to her sides and gently massaged her. Her eyes snapped open in… surprise. Or was that excitement? No matter, her brown pools were nearly black with desire and her hot hands were searing him everywhere. He moved his hands again, eliciting a loud moan from Lois. Wanting, no *needing* to see more, feel more, he removed her bikini top
"Damn!" he breathed as he stared down at her. "Baby, you are so beautiful."
"Oh, Charlie." Her hands ran through his dark hair.
He pulled back and she opened her eyes, almost growled at him, then captured his mouth in a hungry kiss.
Damn! I've died and gone to heaven, Charlie thought as Lois kissed him deeply. Then all hell broke loose. She started to move!
<Anything but that, baby!>
Neither could move. They simply held the other tightly, gasping for air as they recovered from their powerful encounter. How completely and utterly embarrassing, Lois thought as she held Charlie's body against her own, unable to give him up just yet.
<<What are you? A school girl?>>
It had been a while since she'd been with a man, and she had never felt desire like she did with Charlie. She wasn't sure she'd ever felt this strongly with Clark. And she'd definitely felt desire with him. She might have denied it, wished it hadn't been so, but she'd felt it just the same.
"Well, that was embarrassing as hell," Charlie mumbled against her skin.
His statement was enough to wash away her own feelings of inadequacy. Maybe their reaction was simply a testament to their powerful desire for one another. Besides, she realized, it had felt good. Really good. Still, if she responded this way with minimal touching and kissing, what would happen if they were completely naked?… In a bed?
Suddenly things didn't seem so bad. She laughed softly, placing kisses on Charlie's face.
"It's not funny," he whined. "I'm a grown man for Christ's sake. I shouldn't… lose control like that!" He tried to sound upset but failed miserably. A low chuckle escaped his mouth as Lois continued to kiss him.
She sat back to look him. "Come on, *baby*, you weren't the only one who lost control."
He finally smiled at her. "I wasn't, was I?"
"No. And if I can decide that this was just a natural, healthy reaction to two and half days of constant arousal, why can't you?"
He smoothed his hands up and down her back. "I knew you held a lot of power in this small body." He growled playfully at her, then nipped her lips with his own.
"And you, Mr. Innocent? I wasn't alone in my endeavors back there."
"All I was doing was sitting here minding my own business. Then you had to climb onto my lap and practically throw yourself into my face. What did you expect me to do?"
"Charlie King! I can't believe you said that!" She swatted at him playfully, causing him to laugh and hug her to him.
"God, you're so cute," he told her when he leaned back.
"So are you." She grasped either side of his head and kissed him softly. "And undoubtedly the best damn kisser in the world."
"Thank you." His hands smoothed up her back as they continued to sit staring at one another. "Did you say my whole name? I don't recall telling you," he said after a moment.
"I went to see that eagle at the investment house. I saw your name on the little plaque."
"Ah… It wasn't like I was keeping it from you deliberately or anything…"
"Charlie, I know." She kissed him again, completely content for the first time in years.
"So what's yours?"
"Your last name. You know mine. Don't you think we know each other well enough by now to exchange last names?" he asked with a pointed glance at their current state of undress.
"It's Lane," she told him softly.
"Lane? Lois Lane," he repeated slowly.
He cocked his head to the side to study her features and Lois wondered if he remembered something. He smiled and kissed her again.
"Yeah. You look like a Lois Lane," he announced. "And I feel like a…" He furrowed his brows for a moment before continuing. "I'm not sure what I feel like." Again he furrowed his brows in concentration. "Do you think I had this problem as a teenager?"
Lois blinked quickly, taking a moment to figure out why he'd ask such a question. Then she remembered their conversation earlier. He'd admitted that he couldn't remember his past. He was trusting her to help him regain his memories… or at least stand beside him as he laid a new path down the road to his future.
"If you were a normal, healthy teenager, I'm sure you did."
"I'm anything but normal," he said ruefully.
Lois held his head, forcing him to focus on her. "You listen to me, Charlie King. What you can do is very unique. I think your gifts are very special. And just because you can't remember your past doesn't mean you're any less a man. You are a very different kind of man. Normal is a relative term. My life proves that."
That seemed to appease the tension she saw in his dark eyes. Compassion replaced it and he pulled her just a tad closer. "Lady, I'm not sure where you've been the last two years, but I'm damn glad you found Mystic so irresistible."
"Mystic isn't the only thing I find irresistible." She waggled her brows at him, then planted a solid kiss on his lips.
Charlie chuckled softly. "You know, I bet you'd feel a whole lot better if we were… wet," he said after a moment.
She wrinkled her nose at him. "Maybe we could take a swim."
Charlie looked around them briefly. "Yeah. That might help."
Lois laughed again, then started fiddling with the front of her bikini top. Charlie groaned softly and she looked up at him.
"Do you have to put that back on?" he asked her, then seemed to have some kind of revelation. "On second thought, please do. We might not make it back to the bay if you don't."
She dissolved into laughter then, but finished hooking her top in place. Charlie shook his head, stood with her in his arms, then jumped overboard. For the next half hour they played in the ocean, laughing and teasing one another. It had been so long since Lois felt so good. Yes, she was glad she'd found Mystic irresistible, too.
"Are you sure you don't want to come up?" Lois asked Charlie as they stood outside her hotel.
He smoothed his hands up and down her arms as he smiled down at her. They'd stayed out on the ocean until well after dark. Once they'd recovered from their exertions and their swim, Lois had spotted a group of whales. They'd sat and watched the giants of the sea for over an hour. Charlie had held her against his body and told her some stories about times he'd seen whales while he was out to sea. He'd explained the habits of the creatures and their mating rituals. When they'd finally put up the sails again, they'd encountered a group of dolphins and they followed alongside as the beautiful animals sliced through the crystal water. They'd watched the sun set off a point just north of Mystic, a lighthouse in the distance. Charlie had related yet more stories before heading them back home.
They'd docked their boat before heading toward one of Charlie's favorite cafes for dinner. It was nearly midnight before they started in the direction of Lois' hotel.
"As much as I want to stay, I'd like to have something to look forward to," he told her as he tucked her hair off her head. "And I need to work for a bit tomorrow morning. I can't do that with you around."
She poked out her lip in a pout. "Gee, just tell me you don't want to see me," she told him with a frown.
"Come on, baby, you know that's not true." He reached out to pull her close, feeling horrible about what he'd said. While it was very true he needed to work, he certainly didn't want to hurt Lois' feelings. "Maybe you could work while I do. I know you need to write some…"
"Charlie, I was only teasing."
He looked down at her smiling face. "Did I tell you that you are so cute yet?"
"Yeah, you mentioned it."
"Well, you are." He smiled, then kissed her sweetly. Finally he drew back to look at her but didn't release his hold on her.
"I know you need to work, and yes, I need to write." She smoothed her hand over the material that now covered his bare chest. "I just miss you already."
"And I miss you," he whispered. "Listen, if you think you can't wait, come on out. Bring your laptop and whatever else you want. I'll force myself to concentrate."
"Careful, handsome. With an offer like that, I might just check out of my room and take up residence." She smiled at him playfully, but his expression grew serious.
"I'd liven up that dreary old cabin. I couldn't possibly have you living there like it is." Why was his heart thundering in his chest? Was he actually considering her moving in with him?
"I was just kidding again," she told him, the smile starting to fade from her face.
"I wasn't," he said softly. Why not consider it? He felt just like she did. He hated to have to be away from her.
But live together? He had never lived with anyone? At least no one he could remember. He didn't think three other smelly sailors counted. They'd never slept in his bed. He was fairly sure that's where she'd sleep… He hoped so anyway.
Holy hell! He really was considering this.
"Charlie." Lois just stared at him, as if seriously considering taking him up on his insane idea.
He finally managed to regain a little control. "Crazy, huh? We hardly know one another and I'm practically asking you to live with me."
"No crazier than me considering it," she told him honestly, this time all trace of a smile gone.
<<Oh, who gives a damn!>>
He leaned forward and kissed her softly. "You know where I live. There's plenty of room for you there."
Lois placed her hand on his chest over his heart. "How about here, Charlie? Is there plenty of room for me here?"
Bam! Couldn't get more straightforward than that! Power, power the likes of which he'd been unaware a woman could possess, wrapped up in a brilliant package. *That* was Lois Lane, Charlie decided quickly. She'd hit him with so much force that he was sure he'd never recover.
His large hand covered her small one on his chest. "There's plenty of room in there because you've managed to steal my heart." His voice was a husky whisper as he allowed himself to absorb all the warmth that seemed to permeate the air between them. He caught Lois' surprised gasp in his mouth as he kissed her again. Reluctantly he drew away and released her. His eyes continued to bore into hers as he slowly backed away.
"Sleep well, pretty lady."
"Is that possible without you in my arms?"
He stopped cold, stared at her for an intense moment, then rushed forward to gather her in his arms again. After a passionate kiss, he pushed her away. "Dammit, Lois, turn around and walk into that building!"
It took her a few moments, but she finally smiled at him. "Leave your door unlocked," she tossed at him before she turned and rushed inside.
Charlie shoved his hand roughly through his hair, then turned and jogged down the boardwalk. Out on the sailboat he'd been consumed with overwhelming desire for Lois. But here tonight a different kind of emotion had consumed him. Overwhelming love.
Outside town his jog turned into a full run. Within seconds he was standing on his front porch. He stared in stunned silence behind him. He'd covered the distance of a thirty minute walk in three seconds. How was that possible?
"What am I?" he whispered to himself. A hefty thump on the boards of the porch was his only answer. Charlie looked down to see his dog wagging his tail. "Hey, Ole Boy." He kneeled and scratched behind the dog's ear briefly. "Don't you find me just a tad… weird?" He chuckled when the dog didn't even lift his head. "Okay, maybe you don't." He glanced back out across the blackness that surrounded him. "It seems I've found a woman who doesn't either, boy."
To the contrary, Lois seemed to be captivated by his abilities. She'd asked him several times after the rescue of the drowning boy about the sounds he heard. He'd related the whales' songs to her without second thought. And he didn't realize it at the time, but he'd been able to clearly *see* what they were doing. It was as if he'd magnified them with his eyes.
Hell, why not? If he could shoot fire from his eyes, why not magnify things?
He stood again. Things were just so confusing. Developing abilities he didn't understand, lost memories to a past he didn't know if he wanted to remember, and a giddy feeling of love oozing from every pore. He was hopeless. Absolutely hopeless!
The dark interior of his depressing little cabin greeted him as he pushed the door open. This would never do to bring Lois to. Suddenly he didn't even want to think about whether or not he should be considering a woman he barely knew living with him. His heart knew her. His heart knew her completely, intimately. And there was no way she'd come home to this shabby little place.
Charlie flipped the lights on, shrugged from his Hawaiian print shirt, and headed straight for his work table. Within minutes he'd drawn up plans for some drastic changes to his abode. A smile spread across his lips as he thought about Lois' reaction. Making her happy made him happy. And he intended to make her very, very happy.
Even though she'd told Charlie she wouldn't be able to sleep without him in her arms, she'd slept quite well. It was just before dawn when she rose to visit the restroom. One sight of the rising sun over the bay and she decided to make a pot of coffee and write a bit. That had been over four hours ago, she reflected as she finally turned to gaze out at the mid- morning sky. The little bay had filled with boats. She rose from her chair to get a look out. The fisherman had docked for supplies; there was activity everywhere. She couldn't help but smile. She really adored Mystic.
And with thoughts of the sleepy little town came thoughts of a certain man. It was long past time to see him, so she quickly dressed, gathered up a bag with a change of clothes and her spare bathing suit, then headed out the door. Suddenly she was very excited.
She wasn't sure when it had happened, but Lois had stopped thinking about Charlie being Clark. He was so unlike her former partner that it was easy to do. Or was it that he was truly himself for once? She wasn't sure which was which and had stopped asking questions. Right here, right now was enough for her.
It had taken a bit longer to get to the cabin than she'd anticipated. Remembering what Charlie said about bringing out her laptop, she'd gone back to get it. Once there, she'd seen other things she wanted, but she'd finally made it to the small shack outside town. A smile spread across her lips as she pulled closer. Charlie was working outside, shirtless. That alone had been worth the trip.
"Hey," he greeted her with a smile when she stepped from the car.
"Hey, yourself." Her eyes travelled the space around him. There was wood everywhere and what looked like abandoned tools.
"I was beginning to think you'd decided not to come out today," he told her after he'd wiped his hands and started toward her.
"Now why would I do that?" Her hands automatically went out to take his when he reached for her.
He leaned over to kiss her briefly. "I won't get too close. I'm filthy."
"That's not a word I'd use to describe you," she told him as her eyes roamed over him. He wore only a pair of shorts and boots. To her, he looked fantastic.
He blushed slightly, something he hadn't done a lot of, then looked her over. "You look great, as usual."
"And you look like you've been busy." She released one of his hands and walked toward the cabin, pulling him along. "What's all this?"
"I decided that my place could use a little brightening up."
She reached out to scratch the dog, who'd come to greet Lois.
"I can't believe that lazy rascal gets up for you," Charlie commented as he watched Lois with the dog.
"Told you he likes me." She patted the dog again, then turned to face Charlie. "So, are you trying to impress me?"
"I'm just trying to make things more comfortable for you here. You know, in case you decide you might want to come out more often." He grinned helplessly at her.
"Well, let's see what you've done." Immediately she noticed a nice new rocker on the porch, large enough for two people. Beside it sat a small table. On the other end of the porch sat a new grill and cabinet she assumed was for storing needed cooking essentials. "When did you find time to buy that?" she asked, pointing toward the grill.
"I was up really early," he said before reaching out to open the new screen door. When she quirked an eyebrow at him, he shrugged. "I don't mind the bugs, but I'd hate that perfect skin marred in any way."
Good answer, she thought as she stepped inside. Her breath caught as she noticed all the changes there. Two new chairs were pushed under the refinished kitchen table. The cupboards had been stripped and repainted in bright colors. In the living room there was a handmade futon, devoid of a mattress. She figured he hadn't had time to purchase that yet. An end table graced either side of the new sofa, which faced the fireplace. Along the back wall there was a large bookshelf. The wall that contained the window now had two work tables, complete with their own chairs. The walls had been stripped and refinished to a polished shine, and so had the floor. Venturing further into the small home, she found that the simple frame that held the mattress in the bedroom now had a beautiful headboard attached to it. Matching bedside tables sat on either side while a gorgeous dresser sat along the wall at the foot. Above the window, as she'd noticed in the other room, was a handmade curtain rod. The rods had been designed to match the rest of the furniture in the room and were absolutely stunning. There was also a tall armoire to coordinate with the rest of the bedroom.
"Oh, Charlie, this is beautiful," she finally managed after a moment.
"There's also a new cabinet and shelf for spare towels in the bathroom. It's not finished though. I'd like to buy some throw rugs for the floors, cushions for the work chairs, a mattress for the futon, and books for the shelves in the living room. Maybe even add some little trinkets here and there. A few pictures on the walls…"
She stopped whatever he'd been about to say when her mouth covered his. She could have cared less if he was dirty as she wrapped her arms around his neck. They pulled apart a few breathless moments later so she could look into his eyes. "Thank you."
"No." His hand went up to smooth her hair back from her face. "Thank you. You inspired all of this." He kissed her again. "You make me want to be a better man."
Lois couldn't speak past the lump in his throat as he folded her in his embrace. Seeing everything Charlie had done in the span of less than twelve hours it was hard to deny who he really was. And with that thought and his declaration of wanting to be a better man, came the horrible guilt associated with her best friend. What she wouldn't give to go back and do things differently, just so she could hear those words spoken in another time and place, by someone else.
For the first time she wondered about her decision not to reveal what she knew about Charlie. Maybe it hadn't been a wise choice after all. What if he remembered now? Or in a few weeks when they'd grown even closer? Would he feel betrayed all over again? Would he want to run away again? She now understood a little of what he must have felt as Clark hiding his Superman persona from her.
This man, this beautiful, caring man trusted her with his heart and had changed his home for her. In the course of a day he'd rearranged his life to accommodate her. She hadn't thought a lot about it, but she already knew she'd do the same for him. But what happened later? So much of his past had already come back to him. It was only a matter of time before he remembered exactly who he was, and who she was. Would it be too late then? Would she have caused Clark even more pain and grief by then?
<You should just tell him, Lois.>
Tell him what? 'Hey, Charlie, you're really Clark Kent, a reporter for the Daily Planet. You're also my former partner and best friend who I rejected. I'm probably the reason you haven't had a clue who you are. Oh, and you're also Superman.'
Yeah, that would work really well. How could she explain all that? How could he believe her? With so much he didn't know, it probably wouldn't be hard to convince him. But would that make him want to be somebody he wasn't? Would he try to fit her version of Clark instead of being himself? That thought was even worse than the one of him being angry and hurt because she'd deceived him.
Ironic, she thought. He lied to me the whole time we worked together. Now I'm lying to him. Well, okay, it wasn't exactly lying. Neither had really done that, but certain facts were kept quiet.
She drew back to look up at the man before her. So much like her friend and partner, yet so much more. She lifted her hand to smooth a wayward lock of hair off his forehead. How could she hurt this man? How could she continue to do what she was doing now? And how could she stand to lose him?
"So, think you might like to hang around here a little more?" he asked her with a grin plastered all over his face.
"Are you asking me to move in here with you?" They'd been caught up in the heat of the moment the night before, and once she'd gotten to her room, Lois had realized that staying together might not be such a good idea. Besides not really knowing one another all that well, there was the fact that she was keeping a huge secret from Charlie. She wasn't sure she could stay with him constantly and not let something slip.
"I'm asking you to stay as much as you'd like. If you want it to be constant, I won't complain."
"Charlie…" she breathed and looked down.
"Lois, I know what you're going to say. No, we don't know one another that well. Living together *is* crazy. So is this overwhelming sense of belonging I get from being around you. I can't explain it and won't question it. There's so much I don't know. But what I do know is that I enjoy being with you and want to be with you all the time. Why do we have to question it or be logical? Why can't we just do something absolutely crazy and bask in the wonderful sensations afterward?"
Oh, God. How could she deny that plea? How could she deny that expression? "There are things you don't know about me."
"Right now, I know all I need to know. The rest we'll learn together." He smoothed his hands up and down her arms. "Hell, baby, there's things I don't know about *me*."
That's where you're wrong, she thought ruefully. She leaned forward to place her head on his chest. What should she do? If she said no, he'd be devastated. If she stayed, he might be devastated later.
Charlie leaned over to press a kiss to the top of her head while a hand came up to grasp her neck. "Walk with me, Lois. Hold my hand and walk with me. Help me create a new man, who has wonderful memories."
Too much! Way, way too much! She lifted her head to look at him. He was so lost, alone. How horrible it must be for him, how it must have been, not to know who he was. Could she help him though? She was possibly the reason he *didn't* know. Was the one he couldn't remember really the one to help him remember again?
"Why don't we take it one day at a time?" she asked softly. She smoothed her hands over his sweat soaked skin.
"I can do that," he said with a huge grin.
"Good." She smiled before leaning forward to kiss him softly. "Now, what else are you building out there?"
"I think I'm about done. Unless there's something you want." He looked to her with an anxious expression.
"Charlie, you're here. How could I possibly want anything?"
The smile slowly spread back onto his face. They shared a deep kiss before he pulled away and took her hand.
"I want to buy one of those electrical connections for your laptop, but unfortunately there's no phone lines out this far. If you need to use the internet, we'll have to take your computer into town and use the connection at the library."
"I only have to have it once a week. My editor and I are experimenting with a new column and I have to send that in. Speaking of which, I really need to get that finished."
"Absolutely. Did you bring your stuff?"
"Why don't you get set up on the other desk and do your work while I clean up outside?"
"Sounds like a plan." She grinned at him before bounding out the door.
Twenty minutes later, she paused with her fingers over the keyboard of her laptop to listen to Charlie working outside. She got up and walked over to stand at the screen door. While she watched, she saw why the tools were abandoned. He used his hands and eyes to cut the wood for another project. Nails were pushed in with his fingers and sanding was simply a matter of moving his palms across the wood very quickly. When he stopped, only minutes later, there was a brand new picnic table standing before him.
Lois stepped out onto the porch and sat down beside the dog on the steps. "That must be awesome to be able to do things like that."
He looked up at her, an expression she couldn't describe on his face. Was he ashamed of himself?
Charlie glanced at the table, then lifted his gaze back to hers. "I don't know why I can do what I can do. I shocked myself last night with how quickly I put together that first chair. After that I pushed myself to see how fast I could do the rest. I was done with everything by six this morning. I only came back out to make that rocker and cabinet on the porch." He looked around helplessly, again a mask of confusion covering his face.
"Charlie, does it bother you that you can do all those things?"
He considered that for a moment, staring around at all the wood on the ground. Finally he looked back at Lois. "I guess I'm just curious about it. Why can I do all of this? Is there more?" He walked over and sat down beside her. "Mostly, I'm worried that this will be too much for you."
She reached out to smooth her hand across his knee. "You don't have to worry about that. I think what you can do is wonderful. And to know you've done all of this for me, well, it's… very… heady. I had no idea your feelings ran so deep."
"Lady, I don't think I know yet just how deeply my feelings for you run. But I sure as hell want to find out."
They stared at one another for a long moment. This man needed her as much as she needed him. And she definitely needed him. Whether she saw glimpses of Clark when she looked at him or not, she'd lost her heart to this man and there was no turning back."
"If you'll clean up like a good boy and shower, I'll finish my work so we can go shopping. I'll help you pick out those rugs."
He grinned at her, then disappeared in a blur. Lois was left to feel the breeze he created while he worked. Though he was definitely the man she knew him to be, there was still so much more to the man she'd never known. With a final smile, she rose and went to finish her article. They would start that walk today.
Life couldn't get much sweeter, Charlie decided as he walked with his arm draped across Lois' shoulder. He glanced out at the ocean and would stop briefly now and then for Lois to inspect another shell she'd found. His new favorite pastime was gazing at Lois.
They'd spent two of the most amazing weeks of his life together. Shopping for decorations for his little cabin, playing on the beach, sailing, taking in a movie in New Haven, drinks and dancing at a club inland, digging clams, fishing, shrimping, cooking and sharing dinner, reading together on the porch, walking the old dog, in-line skating on the boardwalk, and yes, even working side by side. Charlie had started helping her write her column while Lois had given him new inspiration for his statues. The tourists as well as Mrs. Nolan absolutely raved about the carvings of a beautiful woman he'd started to bring her. He couldn't make them fast enough. He wasn't sure how they'd managed to stamp their powerful sexual desire for one another, but he and Lois had yet to make love. Of course, there had been a couple of heated sessions similar to the one on the boat. For some reason there just seemed to be an unspoken agreement for them to wait a bit before crossing that final threshold.
But Charlie wasn't about to complain. Lois spent most of her time at the cabin with him. Most of her things had found a space here or there. She rarely ever took her laptop back to her hotel anymore, confessing that she couldn't find inspiration without being seated next to him. Both had suggested more than once that she stay the night with him, to sleep, but the other would always confess that to be an impossibility. There were sweet kisses exchanged and something to look forward to the following day. Charlie was content to spend any time he could with his beautiful lady, and he wasn't about to mess it up in any way at all.
"Look at this one, honey," Lois said excitedly. "It's very unusual."
Charlie reached out to handle the colorful shell she'd discovered. "This one should definitely make the wall," he declared after a moment. When walking along the beach became routine, and they'd discovered some very unusual trinkets, they'd decided to create a collection to display them. Charlie had hung a fishing net on the outside wall of the cabin under the porch roof. The net covered most of the free space on one side of the door, even above the window. They'd taken their treasures home and affixed them within the net, creating a very unique memorabilia wall of artifacts. There were shells, sponges, shark's teeth, whale bones, and even materialistic debris from the human species woven together to make for an interesting creation.
Lois smiled and placed their latest find in her bucket before continuing down the beach. The old Lab ran back and forth between them and another dog he'd befriended. Funny, Charlie thought as he watched the scene unfold before him. That woman held power over all male species.
"Excuse me, mister."
Charlie stopped at the sound of the small voice beside him. He looked down to see the little boy he'd saved from drowning on Collier's Point. "Hey, there, big guy. How are you?" Charlie asked as he kneeled before the boy.
"I'm good, thanks to you. I just wanted to say thank you for saving my life. And for the extended vacation. Because I was saved Mom and Dad decided we should stay two weeks instead of one." He smiled up at Charlie brightly.
"Well, I'm glad I could help out." He ruffled the boy's hair and smiled brightly.
"We're leaving tomorrow, but I'll be sure to tell all my friends back in New York about you. Mom says your name is Charlie. She's bought several of your carvings. Says the ones of the woman are the best yet."
"Well, tell your mom to stop by Mrs. Nolan's tomorrow. I'm going to leave a little something special for her. My treat."
"Thanks, Charlie. You really are the best!" The boy waved and turned to run back toward his family, who all waved at Charlie.
"Hey, what's your name?" Charlie called out as he stood again.
"Donny. My name's Donny Sullivan, and I get to turn eleven next month because of you." Another wave and he was back to playing ball with his friends.
Pride swelled within Charlie's heart. It felt really good to know he'd helped to give that boy back to his family. He briefly wondered how it would feel to do that on a regular basis. Not for the first time he thought about his incredible abilities and using them to help others. But doing so would mean everyone would know about him. He wasn't sure how they'd receive him if they knew he was so much different. Being considered a freak didn't appeal to him at all. So, he remained in the shadows, helping where he could. With any luck he'd never feel such all consuming need to help as he had the day he saved little Donny Sullivan.
"Wasn't that the little boy you pulled from the ocean?" Lois' voice cut through his musings.
"Yep. Donny Sullivan from New York." Charlie smiled and took her hand. "He wanted to thank me. I told him I'd leave a little something special for his mom at Mrs. Nolan's tomorrow. I think he'd make a perfect model for another statue."
"That's a wonderful idea, Charlie!"
"I wish I'd thought to do it before now," he said with a frown.
"Well, until now you didn't know Donny or even if he was still here."
"True." He glanced across the sand to where Joe sat painting his pictures and talking to the tourists. The old man saw Charlie and waved.
"Hey, Charlie. Come on over here a minute," Joe yelled.
He and Lois approached and waited patiently until the people talking to Joe left.
"I've been waiting for you to come collect your other painting, Miss," Joe told Lois. "I took the liberty of painting a little something special." He pulled a large canvas from his bag and presented it to Lois.
"Oh, Joe, this is beautiful."
Joe had painted a happy couple, holding one another close, completely happy and very much in love, against the backdrop of the setting sun and the crashing waves. The couple was her and Charlie, and the old man had captured them perfectly.
Lois grinned up at Charlie. "Honey, did you ask him to do this?"
"No. I had no idea he'd done this." His fingers reached out to trace the images in acrylic.
"I've seen you two walking most every day and couldn't resist capturing what I saw," Joe told them with a grin. "Ain't seen two people so well fitted since me and my Liza. God rest her soul. But, Charlie, I ain't forgot about you. That statue looks great on the bookshelf at home. I just ain't decided what to put on the canvas for you."
"I'm sure it'll come to you," Charlie told him.
"And I'll let you know as soon as it does. Now you kids have a good 'un."
They thanked Joe and left to allow him to get back to work. Several tourists were lined up for paintings of their own.
Charlie looked down at the painting for a long time before he lowered it to his side. Lois had gone ahead to look at something the dog had found for her. As he watched her, he was reminded of all he'd lost. Joe had said they were a good fit, but how could he be a fit with anyone if he couldn't remember his past? How could he promise her a future without knowing what he'd left behind? He was certain there was no one special to welcome his return. Yet, there was something. He and Lois had talked about this topic several times, along with more about her past. She'd told him something just the night before…
"Charlie, your past experiences do help mold you into the person your are. Yours must have been something special because you're the best man I've ever known. And believe me, I've known an incredible man. But we can't go back. We can't change what we've done— our mistakes. Those help mold us as well. We can go forward. We are responsible for the next decision. If we're too busy looking back, regretting, what will we miss out on ahead of us?"
He hadn't noticed at the time, but it was almost as if she was speaking as much about herself as she was him. He knew her past had been painful to endure. She had made mistakes, had regrets. Did she need to stop regretting those things so she could enjoy the future — just like him?
How utterly perfectly they'd been paired. Charlie had never given thought to having a soul mate… until now. Could Lois be his? If not, she was sure close. No longer were there mysterious dreams about a lady he couldn't picture. There were only sweet images of he and Lois together. She was the lady in his head now.
He looked down at the painting again. They looked so good together. Maybe it was time for him to accept that he might never remember the life he'd once lived and just move on. Because he was positive he didn't want to miss a thing.
"Wait up, you two!" he called and jogged to catch up. Lois greeted him with a kiss before they continued on.
It had been so easy for her to stop reflecting on the past. Charlie was such an incredible man that it was impossible for her to do anything but focus on him. She'd thought it impossible to find happiness again, but she had. And a very selfish part of her had reared its ugly head, refusing to give that happiness up. So, she'd pushed away the moralities involved with her situation and had shamelessly enjoyed her time with Charlie.
She'd dropped him off at the docks earlier for him to help out one of his former captains. The fishing boat had docked and the captain was short handed unloading his unusually large catch. Charlie was only too happy to help out. Lois decided to take care of emailing her column to Perry for the week while he was busy and headed toward the hotel.
The email from the Kents caught her off guard. They'd scolded her for not keeping in touch. When she'd left, she'd promised to call at least once a week. It had been nearly two. But how could she possibly speak with them without revealing what she knew? She didn't want to tell them that Clark was alive until he remembered everything. She wasn't sure how she'd handle it if he never regained his memory though. As much as she hated lying to the Kents, there was no way she could give them hope that their son was alive. Charlie was not the man he'd once been and she wasn't sure the older couple could handle that right now. She finally decided to mail them to say she'd been extremely busy— which wasn't a total lie— that the novel was going well, and she'd call soon.
That done and her column safely on its way to Perry, Lois turned her attention on the room around her. She'd grown to hate coming here at night, wasn't even sure why she still did. The bed was too large and too cold, leaving her to ache for Charlie. Most of her belongings had been taken out to his cabin already, and she made a spur of the moment decision to take the rest. She packed before she could change her mind and hurried down to settle up her bill. As she handed over the key and signed the credit slip, she realized she felt good about her decision. With Charlie was where she really wanted to be.
"Thank you, Miss Lane." The manager smiled and gave her a receipt. "I hope you've enjoyed your stay in Mystic."
"I'll never be the same again," she said with a smile, then headed for the door.
Two hours later, Charlie found her sitting in the rocker on the porch wearing one of his shirts, very short shorts, and a smile.
"Hey, gorgeous. I was beginning to think you'd forgotten me," she said as he walked up on the porch.
He leaned against the post, arms crossed over his chest, and stared at her with unabashed desire. "I could never forget you," he managed in a husky voice. "That shirt looks fantastic."
"You just think so because it's on me." She batted her eyes at him, desire starting to heat her more than she was.
"So sue me for being biased." He swept his gaze over her body before he cleared his throat and pushed off the post. "I think I'm going to take a cold shower."
"Baby, you don't have to do that." Her smile left her lips and she uncrossed her legs.
Charlie groaned as he forced his feet to move. "Believe me. I need a shower. I smell like fish."
He didn't wait for her to say anything else. Lois chuckled softly as the door banged shut behind him. Yes, she was very glad she'd decided to stay. After two weeks, she wasn't sure she could sleep alone again without relief from the overwhelming sexual tension that had her coiled tighter than a spring.
"Please tell me I wasn't seeing things when I went to get clothes from the dresser," Charlie told her as he leaned over her from behind. His soft whisper caused her to shiver slightly and he went a step further by nibbling on her earlobe. He finally took mercy on her and settled in his chair beside her. She'd been typing furiously on her laptop when he came from the bathroom.
Lois admired his bare chest, licked her lips, then lifted her eyes to his. "Well, why don't you tell me what you saw?"
"I saw more of your things. And I've noticed others around the house. Does that mean you're going to stay here from now on?"
"Do you want me to?"
"Do you have to ask?" Clark reached out to pull her closer. "Lois, I don't feel complete without you here anymore." And he didn't. He might never know everything about the man he'd once been, but he certainly knew who he was now. He also knew he'd been incomplete without this woman.
"And will you have me completely, Charlie? What if I want to stay here forever? Would I be part of your life? Would I have a place in your house, your bed, your heart?" She reached out to take his hands. "And what if I asked you to go home with me? Would you do that if I asked you to?"
"Baby, look around. This is *our* home. The home we've made together." A completely different place from the dull, unlived in hole it had once been, the small cabin was now cozy. Trinkets were sprinkled throughout; things they'd chosen together. Lois had framed a photograph of them taken in one of those booths and had blown it up, and now it sat beside the bed. Another was perched on the bookshelves. Charlie had drawn a pencil portrait of Lois and it hung on the wall beside the door. He also noticed that the painting Joe had given her was displayed proudly above the fireplace, replacing an ocean scene that had been there. Her things lay alongside his throughout every room. Her clothes shared space with his in the dresser and armoire. Feminine toiletries and make-up could be found in the bathroom right beside his things. His place to sleep and work had been turned into a home.
"But we could live on a yurt for all I care, just as long as we're together," he continued. "There will always be a place for you in every aspect of my life. And I would follow you to the ends of the Earth."
That was the perfect opening for her to tell him who he was. He'd all but said he trusted her unconditionally; he would believe her. Then Charlie would be gone. He might not try to be someone else for her like she'd thought once, but he'd be changed none the less. Right now she wasn't sure she wanted to give him up. Not even for himself.
She moved across to straddle his lap, her arms resting loosely on his shoulders. "Charlie, I can't promise that I want to stay here forever. Tomorrow I might decide that I have to go back to Metropolis. I have family, friends. We're not as close as I'd like, but that doesn't mean I love them any less. Right now we're all dealing with our own demons and trying to tame them so we can live the rest of our lives. Someday, though, someday I'll want to see them again. Right now, I'm so happy to be here with you, I couldn't possibly leave. I checked out of the Donovan today."
He moved his hands over her sides briefly. "Welcome home," he whispered just before he kissed her.
They shared a warm embrace before she pulled back to look at him. "Don't tell me you didn't bring something home for dinner."
He chuckled softly. "I'm sorry, baby. I thought maybe I'd just make us a salad. It's too hot to cook."
"Maybe it's not the weather that's got you so heated up." She waggled her brows and moved in his lap to express her point.
Charlie growled and grasped her hips, stilling her actions. "I *know* why I'm so heated up. I've had constant distraction since we met, smarty pants."
She dropped her head back and laughed out loud. All doubt about her choice to get to know Charlie without revealing what she knew about him fled with his words. As much as she had loved Clark, he would have never been comfortable enough to talk to her so openly, so honestly, the way Charlie did. Charlie wasn't shy or awkward in the least around her. What came to his mind came out of his mouth. He'd told her on more than one occasion that he might die from his perpetual desire for her. And he wasn't shy about expressing how he'd like to quench that desire. Not that she had helped yet, at least not completely. They'd had some pretty amazing make out sessions though.
Charlie wasn't shy about telling her what he thought about her either. He'd taken her by the hand one morning when she'd arrived and led her into the bathroom and gently removed her make-up. When he was done, he told her she looked so much more tempting when she didn't cover her natural beauty. Of course, she wondered how he'd feel once he saw her in the morning when she first awoke. Or how repulsed he'd be before she brushed her teeth.
His style was so much different… and refreshing. One Lois had both embraced and had had to become accustomed to. He'd openly asked about the differences in feminine products in the middle of the grocery store when she'd had to purchase some, which in itself had been embarrassing enough. That situation had been both enlightening and extremely awkward. He'd apologized when he noticed others staring at them, but in private he'd asked again about the physical differences that made her a woman. That led to an emotional discussion about his differences and his insecurities concerning those differences.
No, this man was unlike anyone she'd ever known. There was no way she would have missed getting to know him the way she had.
Moans and soft sighs punctuated the air as bodies strained to touch one another. Charlie's body pressed Lois' into the mattress and not wanting to waste time to release the buttons of her shirt properly, he tore open the material to feast his eyes on the treasure therein that had tortured him throughout dinner. He'd somehow managed to clean the dishes and talk with her while they sat on the sofa after, but only briefly. At his breaking point, he'd looked down one too many times at her beautiful body. He'd come right and told her he was going to make love to her.
At least he hoped so, he thought as he continued to kiss her lips, her face, her neck. He'd been to this point before, only to freeze at the crucial moment. He had no problem responding, none with the inevitable pleasure. It was the actual consummation that he hadn't attained yet.
Lois ran her hands over his body, finding all the right sensitive areas. Charlie's head lifted from her neck and his breathing grew labored.
"Baby, that feels… sooo good," he breathed, then sucked in a breath when she nipped a particularly vulnerable spot just behind his ear. Her kisses and touches worked to bring him to new heights, those he'd never been to before.
Charlie shifted up onto one of his elbows so that he could look down at Lois as he smoothed his hand over her body. His senses were working overtime and he didn't want to miss a thing.
Holy hell! She was so incredibly beautiful in the throws of passion.
She opened dazed eyes to look at him when he failed to move after a moment. "What's wrong, honey?"
"Nothing. It was just too much. I don't want it to be over before it gets started." God, let it get started! He reached out to pull her remaining clothes from her body. He gasped softly when he saw her revealed for the first time. She was perfect! Absolutely perfect.
"Lois, baby, you take my breath away."
Instinct took over and there was no thought to his actions whatever. No hesitation, no images of a past he couldn't fully remember. There was only here and now with the woman he loved.
The realization of the moment hit him and he paused to look at the pleasure saturated woman beneath him. Her eyes were closed and a smile graced her lips. Charlie couldn't resist kissing her. She moaned and poured herself into the action. Their kisses grew uncontrollable and it was a long while later that either had the ability to speak.
"I never knew," Lois whispered against his chest.
Charlie had rolled them so that she sprawled atop his body. When she spoke, he looked down at her. "Never knew what, baby?"
"That it could be like that," she told him softly as she sat up.
"Neither did I," he admitted as he smiled up at her. "Do you think it can get better?"
Her eyes turned black and she grinned mischievously. It would be even longer this time before either spoke.
It was Charlie that reached up to pull Lois down to his chest, breathing heavily into her neck. "Oh, God, Lois, I love you."
She turned her head to kiss the side of his face, then whispered into his ear. "And I love you, Charlie King."
He rolled them until she lay beneath him. His hand gently cupped her face and he kissed her lips softly. "Say it again."
"I love you."
He smiled widely. "Again."
"I love you. I love you. I LOVE YOU!" she shouted into the room.
He laughed softly as he settled down beside her. "And I love you." Another kiss was pressed to her temple before he snuggled into her body, sighed deeply, then closed his eyes.
Lois closed her eyes moments later with an equally wide smile on her lips.
If this is torture, Charlie thought, then chain me to the wall.
A smile spread across Lois' lips as she stretched fully. She hadn't felt so good in years. Sex had never been as good as it had been the night before… and a few minutes earlier. Charlie had awaken her with the most gentle of kisses pressed to the back of her neck and shoulders. He'd massaged her tight muscles for a bit before starting another kind of massage. One a bit more sensual. Never had she imagined such pleasure from the physical act of sex.
But to her it wasn't sex. Not with Charlie. They'd made love. It didn't matter how, where, or to what extent. Hell, they didn't even have to fully consummate, as they'd done on the boat and a couple times since. Kissing, hugging, holding hands… with Charlie it was all making love.
She turned her head when she heard him yell.
"Come on, baby. The water's going to get cold," he called from the bathroom where he'd started them a shower.
She stretched again and hurried into her lover.
Her lover. What a strange… wonderful word. She hadn't had many in her life, but this one she definitely planned to keep.
Steam filled the bathroom as she crept in and drew back the curtain. Charlie's gorgeous backside greeted her as she stepped in.
"Mmm, glad to see you made it." Charlie pulled her hands up around his body, holding her there for a brief moment.
She kissed his back, then drew back to look at him. She had seen him in almost nothing several times, but this was the first time she'd seen him in nothing at all.
"Like what you see?" he asked as he turned and smiled down at her.
"Very, very much," she growled and reached forward to smooth her hands over his chest.
"Don't start what you can't finish," he warned, a look of pure excitement on his face.
"Oh, baby, I can finish it." And she proceeded to do just that.
Charlie's head dropped back as Lois began to kiss his neck and chest. He could allow her to do this all day. And it was such a relief to know that there was nothing wrong with him. More than once he'd feared that maybe there was when he'd been unable to make love to any other women.
<<None were this woman!>>
No, they sure weren't, he reminded himself as she continued to kiss him in all the right places.
Suddenly his eyes widened in shocked realization. He pushed Lois away and stared down at her, breathing heavily, but for a very different reason than before.
She looked confused and very disappointed. "If you didn't like it, you could have just said so," she bit out sarcastically.
"What? Lois, honey, I loved it."
"Then why the hell do you look at me like that?"
"Oh, baby, I'm sorry." He reached out to hold her arms so he could be sure she looked at him when he said what he had to. "I realized something when I looked at you just now."
"That we've made love without taking precautions. And I know you're not taking birth control."
Her eyes widened when she realized what he'd said. "You're right. I'm sorry. I never thought…"
"Lois, you have nothing to be sorry for. I should have taken responsibility…"
"No. I'm a grown woman." She pushed her hand through her hair and looked down. "I can't say we're protected. It's not like I've had a lot of experience in this area."
"Yeah. Me either." He released her arms and stepped back into the shower spray. They'd discussed his differences and he'd even voiced his ignorance as to whether he could father a child. He'd told her he was pretty sure he hadn't up to this point, but just didn't know for sure. She assured him that it wasn't a priority right now for them to know, which he'd agreed with. Now it seemed that they might learn for sure one way or another. Of course, he wasn't naive enough to think pregnancy might occur so quickly, but what if it did? What if he'd gotten Lois pregnant? Was she opposed to something like that? Would she want to keep the baby or… or…
That thought disturbed him too much to contemplate.
"Could you let me under?"
He opened his eyes to look her and immediately made room for her. "I'm sorry…"
"Me, too," she mumbled in a defeated tone.
Charlie's heart constricted in pain. He knew Lois loved him, could see it in her eyes and feel it in her touch, but obviously the thought that they might have conceived a child was one that didn't appeal to her.
"I'll be done in a second and you can have the shower to yourself."
Bam! He felt as if she'd slapped him. He wanted to discuss her feelings, his feelings. Yet, she seemed to be refusing. Maybe he should give her a few minutes, then try again. Deciding that to be the best course of action, he waited while she washed. When she was done, she left the tub without saying a word. Charlie was surprised to realize that irritated him just a bit. And the longer he thought about it, the more it rubbed him the wrong way.
He finished his shower, dressed, and went in search of Lois. She was going to speak with him and that was that!
She was typing on her laptop when he entered the living room. "Why did you leave like that? I wanted to talk."
"And we can't do that fully dressed?" she said without looking around at him.
"Of course. All you had to do was tell me you wanted to get dressed. You didn't have to be so cold." She stopped typing but still didn't look around. "Lois, tell me what's wrong. Are you angry with me?"
"No. I'm angry with myself," she said so softly he had to strain to hear her.
"Because I might have ruined the best relationship I've ever had."
"Huh? Lois, baby, I'm not following here."
She finally faced him and he gasped when he saw her tears. "Charlie, I didn't miss your message in there."
"What message? All I said was that we hadn't taken precautions during love making."
"And the look in your eyes leaves little to doubt that the consequences of that mistake are something you can't live with."
His brows furrowed in confusion as he tried to make sense out of what she said. "Can't live with…"
"Come on, Charlie, you've never been anything but completely honest with me. Just say it."
"Say what? I have no idea what you're talking about!"
"Just say you find the thought of me becoming pregnant with your baby too hard to comprehend."
"What? I never said that." He took a step closer to her.
"You didn't have to. What you didn't say was enough."
Damn! Damn! Damn! She'd taken his silence to mean that he found the idea of a possible pregnancy deplorable. "Lois, I didn't know what to say. Babies are not something I've ever thought about and we've certainly never talked about them. When I was silent, I was wondering if you'd balk at such a thing. Come on. How the hell would we handle that?!"
"*We* don't have to, Charlie. If I become pregnant, I won't bother you…"
"Bother me! Bother me?! Lois, you didn't to do this by yourself. I am involved here! Hell-O! If pregnancy does occur, it's just as much my responsibility as it is yours. Didn't you hear what I told you last night, woman? And this morning? I love you. All of you. If that happens to eventually encompass another person, there will just be more to love. I might not know who I am, but I do know what I feel. And what I feel for you won't stop any time soon. Pregnancy, you deciding to go back to Metropolis, or even my memory coming back can stop that. Do you hear me?"
She blinked out several tears but didn't speak. He rushed forward and pulled her up by her arms.
"I'm more scared that you won't like the idea of carrying my baby than I am of you becoming pregnant. To know you might hold part of me inside of your body actually moves me beyond belief. It's crazy, irrational, and about a million other things. I shouldn't find the thought of my baby growing inside your body appealing, not now. We've only just begun our relationship. There are too many unanswered questions about the future. But dammit, Lois, I can't and won't regret anything, *anything* we've done. If you're pregnant, I think I'd be thrilled. If you're not, then I hope you'll love me enough to allow me to keep trying to succeed." He stopped and stared at her for several moments before he released her. "I'm going for a run."
He didn't wait for her to answer, just left her in stunned silence. How could she have thought he wouldn't want her or a baby they'd created? That had to be the ultimate rush. To know you've come together with the woman you love and out of that love another life would grow… absolutely and utterly sensational.
How could he have misread her so completely? Was she that insecure about their relationship or was it just herself? Her ability to love? He'd glimpsed deep seated insecurities behind her dark eyes on more than one occasion when she'd talked of her past. Lois had admitted that love wasn't something she'd done successfully. She'd only gotten married to escape the pull of that emotion. He still didn't totally understand that reasoning, but he understood her fears. They were much the same as some of his.
And he supposed the whole pregnancy issue was just one more in an incredible heap that she'd carried around for so long. He slowed his pace to a walk and looked around at the clouding skies. It hadn't rained in so long he'd forgotten that the moisture was needed.
Maybe this bump in their road to… whatever they were headed for was needed as well. He'd declared to himself and to Lois that he wanted to know as much about her as he could. Well, didn't that include her opinions, thoughts, and feelings about different subjects? He turned back toward the cabin, ready to sit down and rationally discuss both his and Lois' wayward emotions.
Bring on the rain, he thought as the first drops hit his face. Right now he felt defeated, but tomorrow was another day. This was just one battle lost. With any luck, together they'd win the war.
Lois kept the rocker in motion with one foot while the other was firmly tucked under her, a blanket thrown across her lap to stave off the slight chill in the air. With the rain came a cold front, but the weather seemed to match her mood. So, she remained on the porch, putting as much distance as she dared between her and the emotions she felt when inside the cabin.
She hadn't thought it possible to feel the way she did. Her love for Charlie had grown to almost overpowering proportions. When she thought she'd seen indifference in his gaze when he'd first mentioned their lack of taking precautions, it had hurt worse than anything had in quite a while. His impassioned speech had more than made up for the pain though. Now she waited for him to get back so she could apologize and they could work this out.
His large frame finally came into view and she watched him walk the rest of the distance between them, soaked through from the heavy downpour. He stopped on the top step then glanced down at himself.
"Let me change and we'll talk. Okay?"
"Okay," she managed around the lump in her throat. A tear slipped from her eye as she waited for him to come back. Dressed in a dry tank top and shorts, Charlie lifted the blanket and settled on the rocker beside her. He pulled the leg Lois had out from under the material onto his lap and pulled her closer.
"I'm sorry," he began. "I shouldn't have gotten so upset."
"And I'm sorry." She lifted her hand to his face and stared into his eyes. "I jumped to conclusions instead of really looking at you and listening to you."
"Lois, I know we don't need a baby right now. Maybe we'll never reach that time, but it wouldn't be the end of the world. I would never abandon you. I don't have a whole lot to offer you or a baby except for myself and unconditional love. And I'd always make sure you were taken care of, somehow."
"You are all I want," she whispered. "I thought I knew what love was once. That was only a shadow of what I feel for you now." As she said that, she realized it was so true. Because she'd never taken the time to get to know Clark the way she should have, the love she felt for him hadn't had a chance to grow strong. It pained her to know that it would have only taken one good look to make her want to see more. She'd accomplished in a matter of two weeks what she'd been unable to do in over a year before.
"I feel the same way." He reached out to cup her cheek as he touched his forehead to hers.
"I guess I get scared sometimes that you'll leave me, too," she whispered after a long moment.
Charlie lifted his head to look at her, his expression full of compassion. "Tell me about him."
She wasn't sure that was such a good idea, but the words tumbled out of her mouth before she could stop them. "He was my partner at work. I didn't like him much when he first came to the Planet. I thought he was a hack from nowheresville." She glanced over to see Charlie's smile, causing her to shrug. "But he grew on me. Slowly, he became the best partner I'd ever had… and my best friend. A past bad experience with a previous work colleague had caused me to shy away from others personally. So while I was incredibly attracted and falling for him, I kept my distance. And I kept denying it to myself and certainly to him."
"Was that why you started dating the guy you married?"
"I guess. That proposal came completely out of nowhere. I'd only been seeing the guy for a few months, and I never thought it was serious. Anyway, when I told my partner, he freaked. Told me that I didn't really know the other man at all. Later, my partner told me he was in love with me."
"What did you do?"
"I told him I didn't feel the same way about him." She looked up at Charlie. "See, there was also another guy. But this other one was unique, special. And I thought I loved *him*. I even told him so. He pushed me away because of issues beyond his control. That hurt and it was only later I realized what I'd done to my partner, how badly he'd been hurt when I rejected him. By then it was too late. I married the wrong guy and forced the right one to run from his pain. I found out later that he was gone."
She finished on a whisper and stared off into the distance. Charlie's hand gently stroked her leg, allowing her all the time in the world she needed.
"Funny the things you wish for," she said after a moment. "Funny how they turn out to be something you hadn't expected and had never really needed."
"So, what happened to the third guy?"
Lois rolled her head so that she could look him in the eyes. "The third guy turned out to be the same partner and friend I'd never taken the time to get to know."
"What?" His expression conveyed his confusion and she couldn't help but smile.
"I know. It's so complicated. I had thought I was in love with Superman."
"The guy that could fly and do all kinds of unrealistic things?" Charlie asked. She nodded. "I've heard about him once or twice. They say he died saving the world."
"That's what they say," she agreed without taking her eyes from him, although she knew that to be completely untrue. How had he never put the things he could do together with what Superman could do? She'd seen first hand that he'd suppressed a great deal of his super side as well as forgotten his past. Was his alter ego somehow tied to the reason he refused to recall his life? That would make perfect sense. Clark had probably blamed a good bit of his inability to get the girl on his secret. Now he chose to suppress that side of himself in hopes of finding a way to move on.
"You said he was the same guy… your partner? The guy hid that from you?"
"Yep. For over a year I thought he was two different people. I'd seen them both countless times and never knew."
"I guess we all see what we want to see," Charlie told her softly.
"He saw me, the real me, while I only saw the flashy suit and ordinary old Joe. I was so blind. Then when I finally opened my eyes, it was too late. He was gone and I had never told him I had feelings for him, the real him."
Charlie sat in silence for a long moment, apparently deep in thought over what she'd said. Could any of it have sparked a memory? Just one sentence was all it would take to get him thinking and asking questions that would bring him back to her. Part of her wanted that so badly. That part was tired of playing games, walking on eggshells. She wanted her best friend back. Then another part couldn't imagine life without the man she'd come to know in Charlie. Would he change so much that he wouldn't be the same? Would the old reserved Clark return and shy from his feelings for her? After all they'd shared? Or would he lash out in hurt and betrayal? Without the certainty of knowing what he'd do for sure, Lois wasn't willing to take a chance.
"That all changed you, didn't it?" Charlie asked her after a while.
"It caused me to be more aware of my emotions. I've started seeing things more clearly, and I go after things I want now. Before, I'd have run from it."
"Or married someone you didn't love to get away from it," he finished for her.
"Yeah." She looked down at her hands as she again asked herself how she'd been so stupid.
It took a moment, but Charlie finally came to an apparent conclusion to all she'd said. "Now you have me and you love me as much as I love you. You don't have to run because I will never hurt you… at least not deliberately."
"I know, honey." Lois cupped his cheek again, smiling warmly at him.
He smiled, leaned over and kissed her softly, then patted her hip under the blanket. "Lois, how would you feel if you were to become pregnant?"
"Honestly, I think I'd be so excited I wouldn't be able to see straight. And I'd be scared and so much more. You're right. We don't need that now, but I wouldn't hate it either. Carrying your baby would mean a great deal to me, honey. Please believe that."
"So, what should we do? I wouldn't want you to start taking pills in case we've already hit the mark. I think we should take another route for now…"
"And we'll have to wait and see."
"I can do that," he told her with a smile.
"If I'm not, maybe I can go get a prescription for birth control then."
He pulled her onto his lap and held her while he rocked them gently. It was nearly half an hour later when he finally spoke again. "Lois, why has pregnancy been the only concern that's bothered us? We've known each other all of two and half weeks and you know I was a sailor, yet you weren't reluctant at all to have unprotected sex with me."
"Or you with me," she pointed out without lifting her head from his chest. "Charlie, in my heart, I know all I need to know about you. I put myself into your hands with complete trust that you'd never do anything to hurt me. While becoming pregnant might cause some rollercoaster emotions, it won't hurt me. I trusted you not to hurt me otherwise as well."
"Wow," he breathed as he tightened his grip on her. "That means the world, honey. But so you know, I wasn't one to fool around. I had chances, plenty of them. There was just never anyone who appealed that much to me. I did come close once. Remember the girl at the open air market?"
"Yeah. I met her at O'Malley's and took her to a motel. We were going at it pretty heavy there, but at the last second, I froze." She lifted her head to look at him. "I was right there, ready to get to work, and I couldn't force myself to even start."
"You mean you couldn't make love to her?"
"That wasn't making love, Lois. That was sex. I have seen her more than once. We've spent more time together physically, but I never could manage to fully consummate our relationship. And there were a few others I've kissed and petted pretty heavily. But I've never done with any of them what we've done. For some reason, making love to you felt as natural as breathing."
Another tear dropped onto her cheek. "I felt the same way. *Feel* the same way."
He smiled at her, then went on, "I can't tell you anything beyond two years ago, although I can say I can't remember a single time I've ever been completely intimate with a woman. I'm healthy as a horse, so I think you're very well protected."
Lois wanted to squeeze him until he begged her to stop. If her guess was right, Charlie had shared his first complete sexual experience with her. He'd given her the special gift of his virginity and she would hold that preciously in her heart. If she'd only done the same.
He must have sensed what she was thinking because he pulled her to his chest again. "Listen to me. What you've done, what you've experienced has made you who you are." He carefully reminded her of what she'd told him.
"I really could have done without that last experience," she told him ruefully. Her physical relationship with Luthor bothered her more than losing her virginity to a college boy she thought had cared for her.
"It's past, baby. Let it go." He lifted her chin so that he could look into her eyes. "Just keep holding my hand so neither of us gets lost."
"I love you, Charlie King," she told him softly.
"I love you, Lois Lane." He brushed a kiss across her lips, then settled back again with Lois safely tucked against his chest. They continued to rock and watch the falling rain, both happy to have their first disagreement behind them. One a day at a time had turned into one step at a time since they'd started their walk together. And there was nothing wrong with one step at the time.
She didn't realize until much later that she'd unconsciously started to compare Charlie more and more to Clark and what she knew of Superman. The tendencies and the mannerisms slipped through with absolute clarity, more so every day that passed. His innate goodness, his sense of right and wrong, and his staggering compassion were all things that couldn't be mistaken. They were also traits embedded so deeply that no amount of memory loss could take them away.
He often talked about missing something and he wasn't really sure what it was. Mentioning a sense of obligation to help others around him in some way became an almost daily occurence. Lois had even stood on the sidelines while he helped clean-up in the aftermath of a horrible storm that ripped up the East Coast. Several boats were overturned in the bay and oceanfront businesses sustained some damage. She watched in amazement as Charlie helped like only he could. No one else would have noticed his subtle use of strength here and there, but she had. And it was very clear that he used his super abilities subconsciously. She supposed he'd done it secretly for so long that hiding it came almost naturally. Yet another thing his mind processed without his memories.
With her, Charlie was the most amazing man in the world. He was gentle and patient and listened the way no one ever had. They talked openly about everything. And she supposed that's where her longing to have Clark back came from. She'd been with Charlie for nearly two months; time which afforded her the knowledge that she was with the true man. Life had changed paths for him and circumstances had shaped him differently than first intended. He wouldn't suddenly become shy and withdrawn, awkward if he regained his memories. This man, this Charlie King, was the real man. He was a combination of Clark Kent and Superman all rolled into one. He might have never been as open as he was now had he not became Charlie, but deep down he'd probably always harbored a desire to be. Charlie had simply been the outlet through which he'd discovered himself. Even if he didn't know it yet. And as great as he was, Lois began to long for her partner, her best friend, the one that knew her completely. They had a past together and though that past was riddled with painful debris, she wanted to finally hold her lover and know that he was once again whole.
The time she'd been away from Metropolis had begun to bother her as well. She missed the pace of the city, her family, and Perry. The column she and her editor had experimented with was a huge success so income had not been a problem. She was just ready to go home.
She also carried a fair amount of guilt around for the way she'd started to treat the Kents. In the aftermath of her wedding and Clark's disappearance, Martha and Jonathan had played an important role in her life. They'd been the ones she'd leaned on when she felt she would die of pain and loss. And they, too, had unburdened themselves to her. The trio were the only ones in the world that knew the true extent of one another's suffering. They had been the only ones to truly know Clark. Since Lois had been with Charlie, she'd emailed them weekly, but couldn't bring herself to call them. In the beginning she hadn't wanted to tell them that she'd met another man. Because that's who Charlie had been back then. As it became more apparent that he was still the mild mannered farmer's son he'd always be, Lois couldn't imagine talking to the Kents and not revealing that their son was still alive. Not telling them made her feel horrible because she'd been witness to their pain when he'd disappeared. Without realizing it, her love for Charlie and desire *not* to lose him again was quickly working to do just that.
Lois' changing attitude was not lost on Charlie. He'd noticed the subtle changes. She gave him wistful looks when she thought he wasn't looking. She sighed more when she sat alone on the porch. Her smile seemed forced at times and she often appeared as lost as a child away from its mother. His heart ached to help, but he wasn't sure how. She always assured him that with him was where she wanted to be. But more and more he became convinced that with him in Mystic was not the place.
And Charlie was dealing with his own demons. When they'd discovered that Lois hadn't become pregnant from their night of unprotected lovemaking, he realized that his sense of loss was more profound than he'd expected. He slowly realized that it wasn't all from them not creating a baby together. It ran deeper, much deeper. However, as much as he tried to reach into the depths of his mind, he couldn't figure out why that was.
His dreams began to include images of things he was unfamiliar with; people he didn't know. Slowly he also began to feel a call for change. Change to what he wasn't sure, but it called strongly. As much as he would have loved to remain tucked away in their little cabin alone, Charlie knew Lois would never survive there. And he began to realize that he wouldn't either. A force much stronger than him called out that he remember, that he make a change.
Maybe that call is what led him into town one afternoon alone. He found himself standing in the middle of Thompson's Bookstore in Center City. He scanned the titles until he found the one he'd come in to find. 'Shades of Gray' by Lois Lane. Why he'd never felt compelled to seek out and read her novel he'd never know. They'd been together for two months and he had never even asked the title. He quickly made his purchase and headed for a secluded table in the open cafe area.
'This book is dedicated to Clark Kent. He was my partner, my best friend, my soul mate.' Charlie read part of the dedication, but paused on the last words. Soul mate? Clark Kent had been her soul mate? She'd told him on more than one occasion that *he* was her soul mate. He wasn't sure of a lot of things, but he was fairly certain one didn't have many soul mates in a lifetime. Had she been lying to him all this time? His curiosity got the best of him and he read on.
'Love and loss are two emotions that are closely linked and when you think you have one, the other consumes you. For all the things I should have known, should have seen, and all I lost, I give back in prose. Forgive me, my dear Clark, and know that I truly loved you.'
No surprise there. She'd told him she loved Clark and he'd accepted that. Clark was her past, he was her future.
Charlie opened the book slowly and started to read. He read at normal human pace for a bit, then gradually began to read faster. Not wanting to attract too much attention, the pace was far from super, super speed, but he finished the book in less than twenty minutes. As he read, things began to fall into place. Slowly, painfully, each and every memory slipped back with resounding clarity. Lois had recreated her life with her partner, Lex Luthor, and even Superman. Of course, Superman was described as an unassuming celebrity who wasn't comfortable in the spotlight, choosing instead to use his power and influence to help others less fortunate. She depicted her time with Lex, describing every emotion and every thought along the way. She'd done the same with her partner. Every agonizing detail was there.
He closed the book with a smack, gasping for air as tears threatened to spill from his eyes. He was Clark Kent… and Superman. He'd left Metropolis when Lois rejected him for an evil, manipulating monster. And he'd been presumed dead by everyone he knew and loved.
His eyes searched frantically around him; for some reason he suddenly felt very different. No one seemed to notice his plight as they continued on with their day.
"Oh, God!" His chest rose and fell heavily as he dropped his head back and closed his eyes. He remembered! He had a life, a real life. He had friends and parents! His eyes snapped open as he thought about the pain those two people must have felt, must still be feeling. His folks weren't dead. They were alive and mourning the loss of their son.
Everything he hadn't known made perfect sense now. He knew why he could do amazing things— he was Superman. That's why he felt a sense of responsibility to help others. That's why he garnered so much pleasure from it. That's why he didn't own a television or radio. His subconscious had suppressed that part of himself so that he had time to heal from his wounds.
His wounds… Those wounds had been caused by the love of a certain woman. A woman that had spent the last two months with him the way he'd always dreamed she would.
Shooting to his feet, confusion and anger warred within him. He glanced down at her book angrily. She'd written that she'd loved him. She said that now. But was that true? How could she have ever loved him and treated him the way she had? And now? Wasn't it Charlie King she loved? Did she even realize who he really was?
She had to. Lois *had* to know he was Clark. There was too much evidence for her not to know. She'd known he could do super things, had encouraged him to do so. She'd comforted him when he spoke of his fears culminating from his abilities. As he thought about it, he could name incident after incident where she'd seemed way too comfortable with him to be a stranger. Heck, he'd wondered time and time again if she was someone from his past.
But why would she not tell him who he was?
<<Sure, Charlie, what would she say? 'Oh, hi. I'm Lois, from your past and you're really Clark Kent, aka Superman.'>> He would have thought her crazy.
There as so many things she could have done, so many things she could have said. She hadn't though. She'd pretended she didn't know him at all. Again, he glanced at the book in his hands. She hadn't known him, his conscience pointed out. As much was written throughout her novel. Was keeping what she knew from him her way of getting to know him?
Or was she simply trying to ease her guilty conscience?
No, he automatically countered. He'd be blind not to have seen that Lois was a very different person now. It really seemed she'd learned valuable lessons from her mistakes. But she'd made more. She'd been dishonest with him. She'd declared her love for him, made love to him countless times all while letting him believe he was someone he wasn't.
<<Funny how the shoe was on the other foot now, huh?>>
He dropped back to his seat and stared at the book in his hands. For over a year he'd worked with Lois, befriended her under false pretenses. Was what she'd done much different than what he'd done?
Of course! He hadn't even known who he was, but Lois had.
<<She's tried to guide you, show you.>>
He wished the annoying little voice in his head would just shut the hell up! He remembered now. Everything! He knew what had happened the last two months… And he knew perfectly well what Lois had done!
A rough hand was forced through his hair as his thoughts rolled around inside his head. He was more confused than he'd ever been. No memory was nothing compared to no answers and tons of questions. The only one he wanted answered for sure was if Lois really loved him? *Him*? Not Charlie King, not Clark Kent, not Superman, but all of him. Because now he was all three. Charlie King had given him the outlet to become his true self and he had to admit that he really liked that man. He liked speaking his mind, especially with Lois. He liked not being awkward and feeling inadequate about who he was. And he liked using his super powers.
<<I can fly!>>
He shot to his feet again and ran toward the cabin. Once he was deep inside the woods, he shot straight up so fast he was almost invisible. He didn't stop until he hovered just below the stars.
<<Just like riding a bike>>, he thought as he looked around in awe, as if witnessing such a spectacle for the very first time. This, he'd missed this almost as much as he'd missed Lois. Of course, he hadn't really known what it was he was missing until now.
Lois… he really was hopelessly and completely in love with her. And as much as he tried to counter otherwise, she was in love with him. Those kinds of feelings can't be faked. He could see her love for him in her eyes when she looked at him. He could feel it in her body when they made love. But why had she not told him who he was? Maybe he could understand her reluctance at first. After all, he'd hid a secret from her for a year. After, after they'd gotten to know one another. Last month, last week, yesterday; she could have told him then. Why would she remain quiet now? Was she hoping he'd remember on his own? Or did she prefer Charlie King to Clark Kent?
He looked down at her book again. She'd been through so much that he'd never known about. Even before the Luthor fiasco, Lois had suffered from feelings of inadequacy and loss. She'd been hurt by her parents, by her friends, past lovers. No wonder she'd been so well guarded of her feelings. Still…
Slowly he opened the pages and began to read the words again. He'd just stay hidden high above the clouds and try to make sense of all he'd learned today.
Charlie whistled softly as he walked up onto the porch of his and Lois' little cabin. He'd stopped thinking of it in terms of just his long ago. Lois turned from her computer when he stepped inside and offered him a beautiful smile.
<<Damn! She takes my breath away!>>
He couldn't fight it. There was no use telling himself that what she'd done was reason enough not to love her. No, he didn't understand everything she'd done. He didn't know why she kept his identity a secret. What he did know was that she was here with him and for once in his life, he felt like an ordinary man. Quirks and all, Charlie made him feel everything he'd always longed to feel. He'd made the decision while he'd hovered above the clouds that he'd just remain quiet for a bit longer about what he'd learned. Lois had started to act a little differently and if his guess was right, she was about to confess any day. When the shoe had switched feet, so had the socks, he thought ruefully. He'd wait for her to tell him *her* secret this time.
"Hey, baby," he told her with a broad grin. "I brought some shrimp and crab legs. I thought we'd have dinner, then maybe we could build a fire and talk for a while."
"Sounds good," Lois returned as she got up to greet him with a kiss.
"Mmm… maybe we could just do that for a while," he said playfully.
"Maybe." She kissed him again, then drew away. "Charlie?"
"Yeah?" He'd moved into the kitchen to unpack the bags in his hands and didn't stop what he was doing to look at her.
"I've finished my book."
He froze then. Was this where she told him she was going back to Metropolis? Alone? He slowly faced her, all signs of a smile gone from his face.
She paced back and forth in the small archway, wringing her hands, obviously distressed as well. Finally she stopped and faced him. "I need to go back."
He took a deep breath, glanced away, then pierced her with his gaze. "And us? What happens to us?"
"I'd like for you to come with me," she told him firmly. "We don't have to stay indefinitely. I can get my book squared away and the rest of my affairs and we can come back here."
He sighed heavily as he looked at her. She was willing to give up her life for him. Or was she taking a chance he'd remember his in Metropolis? "Lois, you wouldn't be happy here forever."
She couldn't deny that statement, just looked away. "I can't lose you… not again," she added in a whisper.
He didn't think she'd meant for him to hear that last bit, but he had. His heart swelled with love. She *really* did love him. What he'd seen in her so long ago was there. Compassion and trust and love. Clark had seen it very early on during those first days at the Planet. And he'd glimpsed it several times over the months they'd worked together. Even if she'd fought it, refused to believe it; it had been there, hiding in the depths just waiting to be released. And she had finally released it with him. Suddenly nothing else mattered but this woman and keeping her close to his heart.
Charlie stepped forward and grasped her arms so she faced him. "Marry me, Lois. Don't think about it or question it. Let's just do it. Then we'll go to Metropolis and begin an otherwalktogether.
"Charlie…" she breathed, more tears forming in her eyes.
"Look at me, baby. It's me. Just me. Don't let go of my hand."
She stared at him for a long moment before she whispered, "Yes."
Charlie grasped either side of her face before he kissed her slowly, passionately. When she moaned softly, he broke their kiss and lifted her in his arms. Without stopping, he carried her to their bed and gently placed her on the mattress. Clothes were removed in steely determination before they settled together. Gazing deeply into her eyes, Clark Kent finally made love to Lois Lane. Reverently, passionately, completely.
No thinking, Lois reminded herself as she finished dressing for her wedding. For once, she'd followed her heart instead of that annoying little voice in her head that always wanted to be rational. She and Charlie were going to be married on the beach, the private one they'd spent many hours on since that first date. Mrs. Nolan, Joe, Charlie's landlord, a couple of others both she and Charlie liked from town, and even Melissa were going to witness their union. She would wear a simple sundress made of thin material while Charlie had chosen to wear all white: cotton pants and a button down shirt, foregoing the tank top this time. Neither would bother with shoes. The weather had grown a bit chilly as summer had started to give way to fall, but they still chose to take their vows while standing on the white sand with the crystal ocean as a back drop.
Charlie had insisted that they couldn't see one another on the day of the wedding, so he'd gone into to town to spend the night at the Donovan. Lois had wanted to protest, remind him that they'd lived together for the past few weeks and a day wouldn't make a difference. Still he insisted and she'd been so overwhelmingly happy, she had given in.
The thoughts of what they would soon face were forced from her mind as she stepped out of the small cabin and started for the beach. She wouldn't think about how much things would change once they got back to Metropolis. She wouldn't allow the guilt over marrying Charlie without revealing who he was and that she knew it to interfere with this day. They would be married and everything else could be faced tomorrow. Right now, she was about to marry her best friend.
The small crowd gathered greeted her with happy smiles and warm hugs. She noticed a small cabana had been erected and was told Charlie was inside dressing. She nodded and chatted until they were all told it was time to begin. A local minister, and another man Charlie had befriended, had agreed to perform the ceremony. The man smiled as Lois was told to take her place. Very untraditional, she thought as *she* awaited her groom.
Then suddenly he was there. A gorgeous smile graced his lips as he covered the distance between them. The entire world faded into nothingness as he stepped up and gazed down into her eyes. She could do nothing but stare. Before her stood her future husband, her lover, her best friend, her partner… and her past. *Clark's* clean shaven face and his neatly trimmed hair graced the perfect features of the man she'd thought she'd never see again. Knowing she'd lived with him was one thing. Seeing it was another.
It was also too much. Tears filled her eyes just before she turned and fled.
He'd known she would do it. The emotional overload would be too much for her to handle and she'd bolt. Part of him had actually looked forward to that reaction. He'd been in so much pain when Lois and married Luthor that a small part of him wanted her to feel *something* because of it.
He hadn't expected the stricken expression. The hurt that welled in her dark pools. And he hadn't expected it to hurt him as much as it had. Offering apologies to his guests and assuring them they'd return, he went after Lois.
She hadn't stopped running until she stood on the cliff overlooking the alcove and the ocean. Clark stood a few feet behind her.
"How long have you had your memory back?" she asked without turning around. She faced the ocean, arms crossed over her chest.
"Since the day I asked you to marry me. I'd watched you start to change and I just couldn't take anymore. I wanted to help, but didn't know how. So, I ended up in town with a copy of your book. As I read it, everything came back."
"Did you plan to let me know?"
"I could ask the same question," he pointed out, his ego a little stung that she was trying to turn this all around on him.
She took a deep breath before she faced him. "I wanted to get to know you. The way I didn't before. I *needed* to do that… Clark."
"And I understand that, or at least part of it. But you've been here for months. You could have said something."
"Like what? 'I'm the woman who broke your heart and that's why you can't remember who you are'? That would have gone over really well."
"As well as this deception." He couldn't stop it. All the anger, the confusion, and the pain were starting to seep to the surface.
"Now look who's talking! I've kept a secret from you for two months. You kept one for a year."
"That's different and you know it. You never lost your memory. You knew exactly who you were even if you had no idea what you were doing."
"Is that it? Is that why you didn't tell me? To get back at me for marrying him?"
The him didn't have to be explained and that name had no business in their world now.
"No. I showed up looking more like me to do that!"
Her eyes widened and she gasped her surprise. "I never meant to hurt you the way I did."
"But you still knew it hurt me. Just like I knew part of you would be hurt today. Lois, when you chose that bastard over me, I was devastated. You didn't even have to make a romantic choice. You could have chosen our friendship and I wouldn't have been so utterly crushed. As always, you refused to listen to anyone. *You* knew all and I knew nothing. He was perfect, incapable of doing the things I said he'd done, and the hack didn't know what the hell he was talking about. Then you added salt to the wound by telling me that you loved me, would love me if I were an ordinary man. Only you'd metaphorically slapped that ordinary man in the face. So, yeah, I wanted you to feel just a tad of what I'd felt."
"Don't you think I've agonized over those mistakes since then?"
"I don't know what to think. You claim to love me without knowing me at all. And, yes, I know part of that was my fault because I never told you who I was. But you'd worked next to me long enough to know me, if you'd chosen to do so. Instead you marry a man you didn't really like instead of facing your true feelings. Damn. If you'd wanted to marry a stranger so badly, I should have accommodated you as Superman!"
She blinked quickly, surprised by his statement, but before she could say anything, he was at it again.
"Then you stumble across a man in a sleepy little town you hadn't expected to find. Tell me, Lois, have you always known who I was?"
Lois looked away from him, unable to keep eye contact as she answered. "I've known almost from the beginn ing.
"Then why? Why keep it secret from me? Why not relate to me the whole story so I could remember? I mean, damn!" He threw his hands up in frustration. "Do you have any idea how this feels?"
"Do you?" she spat. "I have emotions, too, you know. I was hurting when I found you. I'd looked for you the world over. It wasn't easy to remain quiet, but I thought it best to allow you to remember on your own."
"Did you? For all I know it was just some sick game to you. Look at all that happened before and tell me what I was supposed to think." He paced over closer to the cliff's edge before he faced her again. "Maybe it was an experiment. Test out all the models until you find the one you like best."
"That's not fair."
"Isn't it? Hell, you could have been comparing me to others the whole time. Tell me, Lois, was I better than Luthor?"
She stepped up and slapped his face as hard as she dared. "Don't you ever place yourself in the same category with him again! What I felt for him is *nothing* like the feelings I have for you!"
"How do I know that?!" All the pain had culminated into this moment. Rationally, he knew how she felt. The day he'd asked her to marry him and they'd made love, he'd never felt such intense emotion from her as he'd felt that day. And when she'd shouted his name, *his* name— Clark—, it had been the sweetest moment of his life. She'd hadn't even realized she'd done it, hadn't known what kind of gift she'd given him. Shouting another man's name during love making should have been the ultimate betrayal, but in that instance, it had been exactly what he'd needed.
However, all the pain needed to be released for good before they could move on. Clark had thought he would literally die when Lois had married Luthor and if they didn't drudge every single emotion to the surface, he feared they'd never move beyond this point.
"Because when I cried during sex with him it was because of the physical pain as well as the emotional pain. It was because I realized I'd sold my soul to devil. It was because I knew I'd lost something very special and dear to me. Were you better? There is no comparison. I'd never made love until I made it with you. And when I found you again, I didn't open my mouth because I didn't want to lose you. I'd never survive it a second time." The tears spilled unbidden from her eyes as she stared at him, daring him to challenge a word she'd said.
Clark swallowed the lump in his throat and glanced away for a moment. "Then prove it. Prove it's me you love. Come back down to that beach and marry me. Promise to spend the rest of your life with me. *Me*. Clark Kent, who isn't quite ordinary and who's changed from who you once knew him to be."
"I can only marry you as Clark. I can't marry Charlie because as much as love him, and I'd even selfishly thought he was the better choice, I can't live without my soul mate any longer."
He stepped forward and pulled some papers from his back pocket. It was the marriage license, baring the names of Lois Lane and Clark Kent. "When I asked you to marry me, I asked you to marry *me*." He lifted his hand to wipe the tears from her cheeks. "Don't let go of my hand, baby. I can't make this walk alone."
Lois reached up to grasp him around the neck and his arms automatically surrounded her. They held each while they allowed silent tears to fall. They cried for all the mistakes they'd made— the ones they couldn't change. They cried for the missed time, the lost love, and they cried for the found happiness, the renewed bliss.
Clark finally drew back and placed his forehead against hers. "I need you as much as I need air to breathe, lady. Together is the only way I can live now. You make me a stronger man."
"And you give me reason to live again," she told him softly. "I'd existed after you were gone, but I have never truly lived… until now."
Clark closed his eyes as he held her to his chest. Slowly, as fate had preordained, their hearts fell in sync with one another. Soul mates, destined to fall in love, despite the odds against them. Across an entire galaxy, they'd inevitably found their way together, across all obstacles thrown in their path, they were both finally home.
"You sure this is the spot?"
"I'm sure. Grandpa's told the story so many times I feel like I've been here before," said the young boy who stood gazing out across the ocean. He and his sister had ventured from their vacation home earlier to go in search of *the* cliff. Their grandparents had told them many times how a cliff overlooking the ocean had been the backdrop to two of the most important days of their lives.
Grandpa Kent, known to everyone else as Clark, and at one time Superman, loved telling his children and later his grandchildren, about his very first date with their grandmother. He'd told them about the cliff near the city by the sea where they'd shared dinner and gazed at the setting sun. It had been where he'd held her close as they'd fallen in love. A fairy tale romance, the fated lovers falling in love after only just meeting, or so they'd thought. But every story has twists and turns and theirs was no exception.
Clark Kent had also asked Lois Lane to marry him on that cliff, and she held his hand with a smile as they stepped back onto the beach in the alcove and said 'I do'. She hadn't released that hand in fifty years. That's why the entire Kent clan had ventured to Mystic, Connecticut. They were celebrating Lois and Clark's anniversary, and oldest son, Jon, thought it fitting to do so at their vacation getaway.
Neither Lois nor Clark had looked back after that day fifty years ago. They married and returned to Metropolis, reuniting the reporting team of Lane and Kent and returning a lost son home. The shock had worn off slowly and eventually Superman had even returned to the skies. Both had been forever changed, but the one thing that had always been unwavering was their intense feelings for one another. There had been many shouts in anger as they'd readjusted to life together. There were countless trials, like the time the New Kryptonians came to take Clark away. His love for Lois hadn't allowed him to go, though he'd offered as much assistance as he could to the race he felt he owed his life to. And there had been their battle with Lex Luthor, who'd escaped from prison during their fifth year of marriage. He'd kidnapped their son and demanded Lois return to him. The Fall of the House of Luthor came when Superman cornered the evil tyrant and he'd committed suicide. For his crimes against humanity, many of which had steadily surfaced throughout his incarceration, the government had thought it best to cremate Luthor's body and have his ashes personally delivered to the deep recesses of space by Superman. A task the Man of Steel was only too happy to undertake.
And there had been many, many nights, as well as days, spent making love. They'd made love to express their deep feelings for one another. They'd made love as physical relief from the many stresses of their lives. They'd done so as an outlet for anger, fear, and even pain. It was a private, special time spent together and for sharing their very souls. Through that physical expression of their deep love, they'd created five new lives. Years and a whole lot of love had been witness to the growth of those feelings.
Now, the Kent clan was gathered at the little cabin Clark had purchased as a gift for his bride for their tenth anniversary, when Jon had only been eight and Laney was five. The twins had been conceived during that first trip back to Mystic. It was to their great surprise that yet another Kent life would be conceived ten years later on their twentieth anniversary *and* a return visit to their little cabin. But some thirty years later, even the baby of the group had started his own family.
The two youngsters who'd ventured to the cliff finally headed back toward the cabin. The party would start soon; their grandparents would be arriving— via Grandpa's own special mode of transportation. Though he'd given over Superman duties to his daughter years ago, he was still far from over the hill. And since he and Grandma had retired, they often flew together.
Numerous members of an ever growing family were already milling about when the children returned to the cabin. Grandpa had put on room additions over the years so that family vacations could be spent there together. And everyone who had ever visited could easily see why the couple had loved it so much. The party spilled out onto the porch and into the yard as laughter filled the air. Josh Kent, son of the youngest twin— by two minutes, she insisted in pointing out—, Lara, ventured into the house for a glass of punch. Above the mantel hung the family portrait given to his grandparents the day they'd married. The story was that old Joe had deliberated over what to paint for 'Charlie' for months. He'd finally captured a happy family he'd pictured when he thought of the young couple who married that day. Josh had asked once how a man who'd never met any of the Kent children, because they hadn't even been born yet, could possibly paint them *before* his grandparents had even married. 'The same way he'd been able to paint Clark Kent', his grandfather had answered. Josh still wasn't sure what that answer meant as he stared at the painting, but he sure liked the portrait.
Shouts and clapping sent him rushing out the front door. His grandparents were being engulfed in hugs and smothered with kisses. "Grandpa! Grandma!" He saw them every day; they were his sitters after school. Yet, the sight of them always made his heart race in excitement.
Clark turned and caught his grandson as he launched himself at him. "Hey, there, kiddo!"
"I went to the cliff, Grandpa. It was just like you described it," he told him happily.
"You did? You know, Josh, I should have taken you there long ago." He ruffled the boy's hair before setting him back on his feet.
Josh was pulled into a hug by his grandmother, then he drifted to the edge of the crowd to watch the scene unfold. Silver touched his grandpa's hair now and lines referred to as laugh lines added distinction to his eyes. His grandmother's hair had also been visited by time, shining in the bright afternoon sunshine to reveal the gray throughout. Her laugh lines seemed to make her more beautiful than she had been in her youth. Life with Grandpa had kept her young, attributed to his super abilities and living within his aura. But what stood out most when he looked at his grandparents was the glow that surrounded them. Dad said that was their powerful love for one another. Well, Josh didn't care what it was, he just hoped his grandparents would see many, many more years together with them.
As the day progressed Josh vowed that he'd come here someday, to this city by the sea, with his own soul mate. And maybe they'd even have dinner on *that* cliff.
Thanks for indulging me by allowing me to share a truly enjoyable hobby with a wonderful group of people. FoLC's really are some of the best folks I've ever met. And they don't snicker because a grown woman finds it impossible to stay away from the computer!
In all things super,