By Kaethel <Kaethel@wanadoo.fr>
Submitted: November 2004
Summary: After Clark dies in TOGOM (the episode "That Old Gang of Mine"), Lois finds out that her love is more resilient than she ever suspected.
This story was written early this year as a birthday present to my fantastic friend Wendy. Since it was for her, it had to be based on That Old Gang of Mine (her favourite episode), and I wanted to use the title of a song which she and I sang to many, many, many times. Okay, even a year after we discovered My Immortal, we still frequently listen to it. ;)
It took me long months and lots of growls from a few FoLCs for me to finally send it to the archive, but here it is at last. :) I hope you like it!
Many thanks to El and LabRat, who BRd this and were extremely helpful and supportive as usual, and to Bethy, who was a sweetheart of a GE. :)
Comments very welcome as usual!
*You used to captivate me by your resonating mind,
Now I'm bound by the life you left behind.
Your face it haunts my once pleasant dreams
Your voice has chased away all the sanity in me.
These wounds won't seem to heal,
this pain is just too real,
there's just too much that time cannot erase.*
— My Immortal, by Evanescence
They had taken him away.
Her friend. Her best friend. Probably the only true friend she'd ever had, who had always been there for her, who would have dropped anything if she but blinked an eye and asked for his support. Yet all along she had ignored what an important part of her life he was, dismissing his qualities as a reporter and his boundless generosity as a friend. In fact, just like everything else, she had let it go without appreciating it to its full extent. His friendship had meant everything to her, and she'd never got to tell him.
And now he was gone. He hadn't just whizzed around the corner to return a video. He hadn't just dashed out for the sake of a sudden and totally unexpected craving for ice cream. He hadn't just run out on her for the umpteenth time.
This time he wouldn't be back.
This time there wouldn't be another chance.
The apartment seemed so big suddenly. So empty. She used to love the cosy feeling of her place, but tonight she couldn't find what it was that she had liked about it. It wasn't cosy. It wasn't warm. It was nothing without Clark.
Lois rose from her bed and padded to the kitchen, shivering as she passed by the open window. She couldn't be bothered closing it, even though she didn't fancy a visit tonight. Talking to Superman was the least of her wishes; she couldn't help but wonder if he was as stricken with grief as she felt, but part of her always returned to that same question: where had he been when Barrow had pulled the trigger? Why hadn't he burst into the club and caught the bullet before it hit Clark's chest? Why had her saved her countless times, but when time came to do the same for Clark, he hadn't been there?
So many questions, and only black pitch night outside her window to answer them.
Superman had been nowhere to be seen over the past few hours. She had checked every news station, hoping that he was tied somewhere on the other side of Earth, helping the victims of an earthquake in Turkey or a mudslide in Chile, wishing there was an explanation to his absence. Nothing.
She turned away from the window and walked aimlessly around her apartment, looking for reassurance that she knew she wouldn't find. There was nothing here to remind her that Clark had existed at all: no memorabilia, no pictures, no sweatshirt of his lying on the arm of the couch. It was as tidy as ever; as cold as ever. She suddenly wished she were at his place, where she knew she would find some warmth from his presence, where she could still pretend that he would walk through the door with a smile on his face. She would be surrounded with framed photographs of the people that mattered to him: his parents, a few friends from college…
She had mattered to Clark. She had always avoided the question of his feelings for her, especially after her almost-wedding to Lex. Regardless of her own fear of facing the truth, she had known, all along, that Clark had liked her a great deal more than he had let on.
Her heart suddenly hammered against her chest, and a shiver ran up her spine — the usual temptation to deny those feelings and bury them to the depths of her mind was there, but she refused to take the opportunity tonight. There was nothing to lose any more. There was nothing to win either. Because she had been too much of a coward to confront her own feelings and act upon them, she had lost everything tonight.
She had been attracted to Clark, probably just as much as he had been to her. She would never have called it love; her feelings weren't pure enough for that. Clark, on the other hand, hadn't hesitated to tell her that he was in love with her. Even if he had taken it back, she'd never been entirely sure that he meant his clumsy back-pedalling. In fact, she had known all along that he had been lying that day by the Planet, and she thought she could understand what had pushed him to take back his words. He had wanted to salvage their friendship, a friendship already damaged by his refusal to support her through her decision to marry Lex and her failure to understand what he was going through.
And so she had once again buried her dawning discovery to the back of her mind, pushing it away to be examined later. Later. Always later. But there would be no 'later' again, not when Clark had died and wouldn't be there to hear her say the dreaded words.
She wanted to feel his arms around her. She wanted to hear his voice whispering sweet endearments in her ear. She wanted him to kiss her and make her forget that she was putting their friendship at risk.
Fresh tears sprung to her eyes as she gave in to the surge of feelings she had always wanted to ignore. Oh yes, she had loved Clark, much more than she had ever wanted to. She still loved him. Would the pain of having lost something she'd never had always haunt her? Would she spend the rest of her life missing him? Wondering what it would have been like if she had paid more attention to him, if she had let herself love him?
Sinking into the cushions of her uncomfortable sofa, she curled up and closed her eyes, trying to recapture the memories already eluding her: her first encounter with him, in Perry's office, when he had risen from his chair and extended his hand in a friendly greeting she had purposefully ignored; their first story as partners, when a lead had panned out and she had launched herself at him, surprised at her own boldness and his warm reaction to her hug; their first kiss…
She grabbed one of the cushions and held it tightly to her chest. Thinking of the few kisses they'd shared, whether they had been real or meant for cover, scorched through her heart with renewed pain. The buzzing in her ears grew stronger. Her articulations ached for a stubborn desire to go back in time and step in front of Clark. She would take that bullet herself if it saved his life. She would die if it meant he would live.
And all of it had been her fault. If she hadn't insisted that they go to Georgie Hairdo's club, if she hadn't wasted so much time on a slot machine instead of doing what she'd come there for, if she hadn't worn that red dress attracting more attention than was reasonable… then Clark would still be alive. She would still have time to tell him everything she felt but had never dared express.
And then maybe there would have been hope for them. He would have told her that he felt the same, that he truly loved her, that he would never leave her, that everything would be all right. And then he would have kissed her. Kissed her until everything else faded to oblivion, until she lost all sense of reality, until their souls merged into the passion devouring them and could no longer be denied.
And then he would have held her close, caressing her hair and whispering soft endearments into her ear. She would have relaxed against him, secure in the strength of his embrace and the certainty of his love.
He would have trailed sweet kisses across her temples… her neck… her hands…
…and she would have drifted off into a peaceful sleep, content and cherished in the safety of his embrace.
She jolted to awareness with a start. Had she fallen asleep? How long had she slumbered? The reason for her sudden awakening was sitting on the edge of the sofa, his thigh too close to her hip for her peace of mind, his hand warmly clasping hers. She straightened and rubbed at her probably blotchy eyes in an attempt to conceal the traces of dried tears on her cheeks.
"What are you doing here?"
He looked taken aback by her lack of friendliness but didn't take it as his cue to stand up and leave as she had hoped he would. "I wanted to see you."
"Whatever for? Do you have any sort of explanation to give me? And don't make anything up. There was nothing in the world demanding so much attention that you couldn't save the life of a friend."
He looked down at their linked hands, seeming genuinely embarrassed. "I don't have such an explanation, Lois."
"Then don't try to offer comfort." She pulled her hand out of his and turned her head away. She focused on the back of the couch and refused to look at him. "There is nothing you could say or do that will bring him back."
"I didn't —"
"Superman," she choked around another sob, but bravely held it back. There was something very embarrassing about crying in front of him. The only man she'd ever let herself be comforted by was dead, lying somewhere in a filthy gutter of Metropolis' most run- down areas, or worse, drifting through Hobb's Bay and off into the ocean. She swallowed hard. "I think you'd better leave."
"You know I can't always save everyone, Lois. You told me so when I started out in Metropolis."
He sounded so calm. So matter-of-fact. She hated him with every fibre of her being.
Unable to contain her anger any longer, she slid to a sitting position and glared up at him. "You can't save everyone, but you saved me countless times. If I break the heel of my shoe and curse, within seconds you come around with a new pair of shoes! Why couldn't you be there when it truly mattered? Why couldn't you save a friend? Why couldn't you save Clark?"
The strong fingers clasping her fists stopped her pummelling of his chest. She felt colour rise to her cheeks, a mixture of embarrassment at hitting her former hero and fury she couldn't control.
"There were things… I just wasn't in the right place at the right time."
She snatched her hands away. She didn't want to be anywhere near him right now. She didn't want to feel the familiar connection that had made her fall in love with him. She shouldn't love him, not when he had abandoned the person that counted the most in her life to his fate. She should never have loved him at all.
"Sorry? You think that's good enough? *I* am sorry," she said, her voice quivering with barely pent-up fury. "Do you have any idea what a good man Clark was? How much he deserved to live?"
"He wasn't just anyone. He wasn't just another face in the crowd," she went on, deliberately ignoring his obvious embarrassment. "He was honest, and good, and caring. He would never think something around him didn't matter; if anyone looked distressed, he was the first one to walk up to them and offer his help. He was generous. He was trustworthy, and he thought he could trust people just the same."
She chuckled bitterly as she remembered how naive Clark had appeared to her on his first week in Metropolis.
"Sometimes," she said, "he was even too trustful. I told him it would lead him to trouble, and look where he is now. Because he trusted me. He was against the idea of going into that club, but would I listen? Of course not. And Clark, being Clark, would never have let me go on my own!"
"Lois, it wasn't your fault!"
"It was! If I hadn't been so stubborn for the sake of a potentially big story, we wouldn't have Clark's obit splashed across tomorrow's front page!"
She didn't resist when his arms went around her and pulled her to rest against his chest. She wanted to fight, to push him away and vent her anger to him. It would be so easy to blame him for what happened, so comfortable to convince herself that it was his fault and not hers.
But the truth was that she was entirely responsible for Clark's death. Clark had followed her into the club. He had sat with Bonnie Parker and tried to coax her into revealing important information to him. He had answered back to John Dillinger's insulting innuendoes about her. He had been ready to fight to defend her. He had been shot because the good, caring man in him couldn't help but defend her, regardless of danger.
Clark had always feared for her life and pleaded with her not to take so many risks, but when it came to protecting her, he had put his own life on the line. He had died for her.
And Superman hadn't so much as lifted his little finger when her partner got shot.
She shuddered and pushed him away, squirming out of his unwelcome embrace. Being in Superman's arms seemed like the ultimate betrayal to Clark, and tonight of all nights she wanted to be faithful to his memory. She wanted to be truthful with herself and give in to feelings she had been fighting for months. She wanted to tell Clark how much he meant to her. She wanted him to know that friendship wasn't enough, and that she was ready to put her heart at risk and be with him. Romantically.
There would be no romantic relationship between them. It was too late.
"I wish I'd managed to find a way to save him, Lois."
Superman sounded genuinely contrite, but his guilt only managed to strengthen her anger. "Wishes won't bring Clark back," she whispered through the painful sob tying her guts. "*Nothing* can bring him back."
Through a curtain of tears, she saw Superman stand up and take a few steps back. There was a whirlwind of bright colours; when he stood still in front of her again, the superhero had vanished, to be replaced with the familiar stance of a man she thought she'd never see again, and whose soft voice almost pleaded with her.
"Maybe *you* can."
It had been a split-second decision. He had intended to go over to Lois's apartment to check on her and make sure that she had made it home safely. He had hated leaving her alone in that club while Capone's gang dragged him out and into their car, but there had been no choice other than revealing his secret to the world.
Lois's tears over his apparently dead body had torn at his heart, though, and her sobs had haunted him ever since. He had known, right then, that he would have to see her and make sure she was all right. He had never expected to find her as stricken with grief as she seemed tonight. He had never expected her to reject Superman and blame him for tonight's events. He had underestimated Lois's friendship for him.
And now she knew. There was no turning back, no escape, no denial that would undo what he had just done. There were no regrets in his mind either. He only wished she wasn't sitting there, mouth agape and eyes wide with astonishment and dawning understanding.
A hand flew to her mouth. There was a gasp of his name, a few hurried steps across the room, and then she was in his arms, hugging him as if her life depended on it, touching every inch of his face, gasping his name among incoherent strings of words.
He enfolded her in his embrace, drawing as much comfort from her as she did from him. He responded to the feather-like caress of her hands on the skin of his neck. And then her lips found his for a kiss that made all rational thought desert him. Instinct took over, and he kissed her back. His fingers threaded in her hair, holding her to him, pulling her closer for fear the moment would end. He felt her hands slide up his chest, then her arms were around his neck. Her body was pressed against his, making him stagger backwards until he was leaning against the windowpane. The cold draught blowing through the open window did nothing to temper with the heat flooding between them. Gasps and soft sighs merged into one as he took the kiss deeper, passion unlatching like a tide over them both.
Lois drew back just as suddenly as she had launched herself at him. In her eyes, he had expected desire; instead, there was a flame of fury. "How much of your life is a lie, Superman?"
"I'm Clark," he insisted stubbornly, unable to hold back an uncomfortable squirm when she referred to him as his alter ego.
"Are you, really?" She stepped out of his embrace and walked to the other side of the room. She stood behind the sofa, her position and facial expression making it clear that she wanted to erect a wall between them. "You're a living lie. Was there anything you said or did that was the truth? Were you ever honest with anyone? With me?"
"I was always honest with you, Lois —"
"Oh please! 'I've got to return a video'? 'I forgot to switch off the drier'? 'I'm expecting my cheese of the month shipment'? Give me a break!"
"I didn't have a choice."
"You could have said the truth."
"The truth? To the best reporter in the country?"
"Flattery will get you nowhere tonight."
"You were going all goo-goo eyed over Superman and ignoring me. Do you really think I could tell you the truth under the circumstances?"
"You were pretending to be two different men. You were behaving in two different ways around me. Do you really think I could figure it out under the circumstances?"
"Superman isn't real. He has no life, no job, no money, no friends."
"You pretended to have all that."
He threw his hands up in exasperation. "It was *just* pretence!"
"To you, maybe. To me it was real. I believed you. You pretended to be someone you weren't, and this is what's so hard to deal with. I *trusted* you, and all along you were cheating."
"I only ever lied about one thing, Lois. *One* thing."
She walked back to the front of the couch and flopped down onto it. She crossed her arms, challenging him. "Fine. One thing. So why don't we talk about your attitude towards me as Superman, then? What about Superman telling me that he loved me? Or Clark telling me that he loved me? Or even Superman rejecting me after giving me mixed signals for months?"
She ignored his interruption. "Would you rather we talked about Clark offering me advice about my infatuation with Superman? Or about Superman pushing me towards Clark? Both of you told me that we were friends, that you trusted me and that I could trust you. Some trust you showed indeed."
"I trusted you with Kryptonite," he protested feebly.
"Which was about the extent of it. And how long did it take for you to really trust me with it anyway? There was Kryptonite in Smallville that first time, wasn't there?"
He couldn't do anything but nod awkwardly.
"I rest my case. Clark, you told me about Kryptonite because you didn't have a choice. Just like you told me tonight because you didn't have a choice either. You never really trusted me."
"I did have a choice tonight!" he protested. "I could have gone on as Superman and pretend Clark was truly dead."
"Which you did for a few hours. Do you have any idea how it felt to believe that my partner had been killed by trying to protect me?"
"I think…" He lowered his voice, barely able to voice the thought. "Well, I can imagine how I would have felt if it had been you." An icy shiver ran down his spine. "But it's different."
"Why? Why would it be different?"
"Because… because I love you, that's why!" he exclaimed at last. He winced as the words made it out of his mouth, but it was too late to hold them back.
He watched various emotions play across her face: surprise, embarrassment… a smile — could it be tenderness? — then her expression hardened again.
"If you really loved me, you wouldn't have spent all your time manipulating me."
Hearing Clark say that he loved her had made her heart swell with joy… for the few seconds she had forgotten what he had done to her. Truth had quickly reasserted itself in her mind; he had *lied*. Continually. If he truly loved her, then he would have told her his secret much sooner. He would have trusted her. He wouldn't have waited long hours after his faked death to reassure her that he was all right. He wouldn't have put her through such torture.
Deliberately or not, he *had* manipulated her. She couldn't count the number of times Clark had tried to turn her attention away from Superman. She also recalled Superman repeatedly hinting at Clark and her luck to have each other. He had wanted to choose what part of him she was to love. He had tried to stir her away from Superman and bring her back to him as Clark.
He looked horrified by her accusation, but there was the dawn of understanding and remorse in his eyes as he spoke again. "I never manipulated you."
"Maybe you didn't want to. But it does feel like you did."
"You know it wasn't like that!"
"How was it then? Tell me, how did it feel to hear me tell you things about yourself, confide in Clark about Superman and confide in Superman about Clark? How did it feel to watch me cry over your dead body when you were alive all along? How did it feel to have everything you wanted in order to manipulate me?"
"Do you really want to know?"
"I'm all ears."
Superman — Clark — sat beside her, oblivious to the discomfort she felt at his closeness. Her lips were still tingling from the kiss they had shared, her blood still boiling from the heat of the encounter. He, on the other hand, seemed unaffected by it all, and once again she found herself questioning the honesty of his declaration.
She had flung herself at him; the reaction had been primal, instinctive, born from raw emotions that had eaten up at her all night. His response had felt just as eager and passionate, but she didn't know what to believe any more. She wasn't sure she could trust him to be truthful to her. She wasn't sure she could trust him to love her.
She shifted to the far end of the sofa in an attempt to put some distance between them. A shadow passed over his face at her move, but she ignored the pang of guilt reminding her that she hated to hurt him. *He* hadn't hesitated to hurt her; in fact, he had been doing that on a daily basis for almost two years, by lying and pretending that he was someone he wasn't, by letting her put all her trust in him when he didn't deserve any of it, by letting her believe he was dead and waiting long hours until he told her he was all right.
It was so disconcerting to realise that the man sitting beside her, that man she had thought dead for the past few hours, was the same man she had fancied herself in love with ever since he had made it onto the scene in Metropolis. More destabilising still was the realisation — as well as the guilt accompanying it — that she had behaved appallingly with Clark when pursuing Superman. She couldn't have known, though! How could she be expected not to like one more than the other, when she'd had no reason to believe they were one and the same?
He had lied. Repeatedly. Constantly. Most of all tonight, when he had probably heard her anguished cry as Capone and his gang dragged his body out of the club. Yet he had not done anything to reassure her that he was all right. He had waited hours before he showed up at her window. Had he been hovering over her apartment, making sure that she looked grief-stricken enough to justify a visit? Had he always intended to tell her that he was all right at all, or had he just come in here to boast as Superman, maybe take advantage of her at a time when she was vulnerable?
She had considered Clark to be the last decent man. Despite her initial caution around men and her best judgment, she had trusted him. But tonight, with his secret out in the open, she couldn't help but wonder if that trust had been justified at all.
"How it felt, then?" he repeated her earlier question.
She nodded. He had her undivided attention.
"It felt like I didn't exist any more. It felt like Superman was the only part of me that mattered to anyone, and particularly to you." An accusatory finger was pointed at her.
"That's not —"
"You want to know why I didn't tell you I'm Superman," he went on, cutting her off before she could argue. "I didn't tell you because no matter what I did, you didn't see the man beneath the suit. You never wanted to see beyond the external, to find out who I truly was inside. Otherwise, you would have seen all along that I was the same person as the hero you worshipped."
Her fingers flexed and gripped the edge of the sofa. Her knuckles turned white. If he thought that was the way to convince her that he had never intended to hurt her… "Is that your subtle way of calling me shallow?"
"No!" He turned towards her, and suddenly the man sitting next to her was fully Clark — clever, vulnerable, caring, but obviously frustrated Clark. "I never thought you were shallow!"
She raised her eyebrows, challenging his instant denial.
"All right, maybe I did. When you… well, when you got engaged to Luthor. But I was angry and jealous," he hurried on. "I know you had reasons to believe he was a good man, but —"
"Shallow *and* stupid now."
"Lois, you know that's not what I mean! But I lost you to two men already. Superman was bad enough, but Luthor was my worst nightmare come true. Facing my life without you was unbearable, but there was nothing I could do to change your mind."
She could feel the anguish in his words, and her fury abated a little. It was hard to stay angry with him, especially in light of the unbearable pain she had faced when contemplating her own life without him.
She had thought she had lost him — not just to another woman… and yet there had never been any reason to worry, had there? He had been all right all along. He could never die from a regular bullet. What a fool she'd been!
"I didn't look beyond the external. Isn't that what you just said? I just saw the good looks and what else, the powers maybe? Do you think that's what attracted me to you?"
"Admit it, Lois; you didn't *want* to see beyond the flashy colours and the powers."
"Why would I look for something beyond them? Was there anything about you that was supposed to tip me off? Something to clue me in that things were not as straightforward as they looked? I assume that when you decided to put on the suit, you didn't intend to let anyone find out, right? And I've got to admit it was a pretty efficient disguise. I didn't see anything coming. Well done." She knew her congratulations were tainted with bitterness, but she didn't care.
"No, I didn't want you to find out. But I didn't want you to fall in love with a two-dimensional character that has never really existed either," he argued back. "Superman was never a real person. He was just me."
"You're not a real person then? When you wear the suit your Clark persona disappears and turns you into an empty shell?"
"Tell me then, what did you expect? That people would consider you as some kind of surreal man, someone out of this world, someone they couldn't reach?"
"Isn't that how most people see me?"
An image of her first encounter with Superman flashed through her mind. She had looked up at him in utter amazement. From what she remembered, she had barely been able to string two words together. But he had acted in a friendly and simple way that made it too easy to consider him a real friend. After a short while, she had started to look at him maybe not as an equal, but at least someone who valued her opinion. Someone she could truly love.
She shook her head. "Oh sure, many people did, but it was never the image you seemed to want to show to the world somehow. To me it always looked like you wanted to be close to the people you met, whether they were victims of a pile-up or fire-fighters you were working with. You did everything you could to rub out the distance between everyone else and you, to prevent people from looking at you as if you were some kind of god. You gave life to Superman, turned him into a real person. How did you expect anyone to believe otherwise?"
"I don't know." He shrugged helplessly. "To me, Superman has always been a role that I play when I'm wearing the suit, but he's not *me*. Clark is who I am. I never pretended to be anyone else when dressed as Clark. I'm only ever pretending when I'm Superman. And it drove me crazy that you wouldn't see the real man."
"I *was* seeing the real man!"
"You were seeing what you wanted to see."
"I was seeing what *you* wanted me to see."
"Lois, the friend you liked in Superman was so much closer to Clark than what I show to the rest of the world when wearing the suit! That's why it hurt so much when you rejected me last year."
She bit into her lower lip. "And then told Superman I'd love him just the same if he were an ordinary man…"
"I was that ordinary man."
"And I'd turned you down. Clark, I'm sorry about that. But you've got to see how it looked from my point of you."
"I know you feel like I played a part with you, but I didn't. I didn't lie constantly. I had to conceal some things from you, yes. I couldn't tell you the whole truth about myself. But to me, truth doesn't involve putting myself and those I love in danger. If anyone had known, then my parents, my friends, *you* would be in danger. It was already bad enough that you were close to Superman. It was public knowledge among thugs that they only had to kidnap you for me to fly to the rescue. If they had known just how close we were, that you were my partner at work, my best friend, my… well, they wouldn't have thought twice before locking you away as bait for me to do whatever they wanted me to do. And I would do anything they asked if your life depended on it. You have to know that."
There was naked terror on his face. Had he been haunted by the worst scenario all along? Had he always feared for her safety in case someone found out? For he was right; if the public knew just how close to Superman she was, their relationship, whichever way it could be defined, would become a danger for both of them.
"That doesn't explain why you didn't tell *me*."
"There were other issues," he said through gritted teeth. "You were so infatuated with Superman that you didn't want to see I was him."
"You didn't want me to find out either."
"At first, I didn't. Then as our friendship grew stronger I started wishing you would know. It would have made things a lot simpler. Particularly tonight. I'd still have had to play dead, but you would have known I was all right."
"It took you some time to decide you wanted to do something about it, though," she said scornfully. "You've been presumably dead for hours. Do you have any idea what I went through tonight, thinking I'd lost you for ever? That I'd never see you again? And worst of all, that it was all my fault for dragging you into that club in the first place?"
"I told you it wasn't your fault."
"Whose fault is it then? Who's to blame? I was trying my best to blame Superman for not saving you." She dropped her voice to a whisper and lowered her head. "I wanted to hate him. You."
"No-one's to blame for what happened tonight, Lois. Except my own stupidity. When I decided to create Superman, I never thought about the possibility that Clark might be murdered. You'd think that would have occurred to me with all the times we found ourselves in danger, but it didn't. I was too arrogant. I thought I could always find a way out."
"Is that why you're telling me now? Because you can't find a way out? Is that your only reason for finally trusting me?"
"No! Look, I know you're angry with me right now, but I want you to know that I never meant to hurt you. Never," he said fiercely. "And I know I did hurt you, and I'm sorry. I'm so sorry about that, Lois."
"I need you to tell me something. When you got here tonight, did you know you would tell me?"
"No. I'm not going to lie to you again. I came here because I had to see you. I knew you were upset, and I wanted to make sure you were okay. I had no idea you would be that upset."
"No idea? Clark, how do you think it feels to know you won't see your best friend ever again? That he left for ever before you could tell him… well, that he left for ever! Did you think I would go home and have a party to celebrate?"
"I didn't know what to expect. It's not like I've ever been shot dead before."
"That's not funny."
"When I saw you tonight, I couldn't keep it from you any longer. Not because I didn't have a choice any more, but because I wanted you to know. I need you, Lois, much more than I could ever say. I might not have the right way of showing you how much you mean to me, but I never meant to make you cry. I never meant to hurt you."
She sighed. It was hard not to believe him when he was looking at her like that, with so much tenderness she thought her heart would burst. "I understand why you didn't tell me when we first met," she whispered. "We didn't know each other at first, and I assume you don't go around telling strangers that you can fly. And then when we became friends, I was a bit… well, I was a bit intense with Superman."
He seemed to relax at her words. "Like you said, you couldn't have known he wasn't real."
"And I was pretty horrible to you for a while," she admitted with a blush. "But I thought you'd seen I got past that."
"I did. We were friends, right?"
"We are. I like you, Clark. I just wish I could understand why you didn't tell me when it became obvious I liked you a lot."
"For weeks now I have been trying to find a way to tell you."
"Why didn't you?
"I was scared. Terrified."
"That I would see Superman and nothing else?" She squirmed uncomfortably. In truth, she didn't know how she would have behaved if Clark had told her before she came to the full realisation that it was him she loved. "That I would ignore the Clark part of you and jump on the occasion of getting a relationship with Superman?"
He took a deep breath and rubbed his hands on his knees in a nervous gesture. "I was afraid you would reject Superman because he was just me."
"Clark, I would never… You've got to know how much you mean to me! How much *Clark* means to me. When I thought you were dead, all I could think about were the moments we had shared and how much I was going to miss you."
"I know you consider me a friend."
She raised her hand. "Let me finish. All I could think about was how stupid I had been, because I thought I had all the time in the world to get to know you. And you may be Superman, you may not have been truly shot tonight, but you're not immortal either. Tonight made me realise how fragile life can be, especially in our job. *Jobs*, as far as you're concerned."
"It's a moot point now anyway."
"Why? Why wouldn't it matter now?"
He looked up at her, eyes full of sorrow, and she ached to bridge the physical gap between them, wrap her arms around him and offer the comfort he had always given her when she was feeling down. She sat still.
"Because now Clark is officially dead. There's no bringing him back."
He had been mulling over the outcome of tonight's events for hours, but saying it out loud made it so much more final that another weight heaved upon his chest. It was the truth, though. There was no bringing Clark back. Telling Lois that he hadn't truly died had only served one purpose: reassuring her that she hadn't totally lost him. This wasn't entirely true either, though; unless they found a way to make Clark survive Barrow's shot at point-blank range, then there was no way anyone would believe that normal, human Clark was still alive and well.
And without Clark, there was no chance of a future for Lois and him, whether it involved friendship or more. Superman couldn't be publicly known as Lois Lane's friend. If word got out that he was even more than that, she would be in so much danger that he would have to stay with her twenty-four seven to ensure her protection.
"Of course there's a way to bring him back!"
"What, by saying that Clyde Barrow missed?"
She looked pensive for a moment. "Maybe… maybe you were wearing a bullet-proof vest?"
"I don't know. What if people ask why you weren't wearing one?"
"It wouldn't have looked good with my dress," she offered with a weak smile. Her feeble attempt at humour didn't lift the weight off his chest.
"I've been thinking about it all night, Lois. There's nothing I can do. I'm sorry."
"Clark, you've been lying at me ever since I've known you."
He rolled his eyes. "Please…"
"Listen to me," she snapped. "You're good at skirting around the truth when it truly matters, and tonight more than ever, it *does* matter. What happens if we don't find a way to resurrect Clark?"
"He stays dead."
"And you're ready to let Perry, Jimmy, the whole Planet staff, your friends, Henderson, everyone think that you're dead? You're ready to watch them grieve the loss of someone they liked, someone they admired, someone they respected?"
"I… I don't know." Seeing Lois in so much pain tonight had made it impossible for him to hide his secret from her any longer, but then he had been itching to tell her for weeks. Would it be the same with everyone else? He wasn't sure he could stand back and let them believe that he had been shot in the line of duty, when in fact he wasn't really dead.
"You can't do that, Clark. When I thought you were dead, that I would never see you again, the worst was knowing that the only person who could ever comfort me was you. The worst was hearing Perry ask me if I could provide a good picture of you for your obit in tomorrow's edition, and realising I had none. The worst was realising that I had never taken the time to be with you, and that it was too late to do that now."
His hand trembled but still reached for hers. He couldn't bear that she had suffered because of his thoughtlessness. He expected her to snatch her hand away again, but she curled her fingers around his, welcoming his support.
"Don't let them think you're dead, Clark. You haven't seen Perry tonight. He was as devastated as I was. I know he's already lost a reporter once; before my time, there was a drug-ring in Congo, and the guy he sent undercover never made it back. Eduardo said Perry was never the same afterwards. And after tonight… I'm not sure he will manage to cope with losing another reporter. I've never seen him like that before. He feels responsible for your death. And I can't even imagine how Jimmy will deal with it. Don't let them go through it."
"I'll tell them the truth. I'll tell them I'm Superman." And he would. He was ready to trust Jimmy and Perry with his secret if it spared them unnecessary sorrow.
"What about Henderson? And Bobby? And Emma from travel, Gillian at the reception desk, or Joe, who gives us our morning mocha? You can't tell the whole world."
He sighed and shook his head. He couldn't let people know he had been Clark — it would put his parents and his friends at risk; criminals would know where to strike when they wanted something from him.
"And there's something else. Can you deal with being Superman all the time?"
"I'll manage." He shrugged, trying to sound matter-of-fact, but Lois had a point. The Clark part of him had always been a relief from the horrors he had to deal with as Superman. If he couldn't slide back into normality now and again, how could he deal with the difficulties of his superhero life?
"You've been telling me all night that Superman is not who you are," Lois went on, supporting his inner mind's point. "Does it mean you're going to have to pretend to be someone you're not? All the time?"
"What choice do I have? Clark Kent is officially dead. Unless you find a miracle solution, I'll have to stick to being Superman and forget about the rest of my life."
"What about us? What about being partners? And friends? And…" Her gaze dropped to their joined hands. "What about us?"
Her heart thundered in her chest when she voiced the question that had been on the tip of her tongue all night. She knew how much she was putting at risk. She was putting trust in a man who had lied to her ever since he had known her. She was giving him her heart without any guaranty that he wouldn't break it. She was a fool. A fool in love with Clark Kent.
He had hurt her tonight, probably more than any man had ever hurt her. But it wasn't his lies that frightened her most. It wasn't the fear of being betrayed and manipulated, for she realised that Clark had never and would never purposefully hurt her. She was terrified with losing him another time, this time for good, petrified by fear of missing the second chance she was being given tonight.
"Us?" There was a quiver in his voice.
"Look… Clark, you hurt me pretty badly tonight. I'm going to need time to trust you fully again. But I do know that I don't want to waste more time skirting around my feelings for you."
"I don't —"
"I mean I love you."
There was utter shock on his face. His mouth was hanging open. She focused on the reassuring warmth of his hand still clasping hers. Relying entirely on what little courage she still felt, she closed the distance between them and pressed her lips to his, trying to elicit a response from him, aware that she might be setting herself for the worst humiliation if he didn't kiss her back.
He had kissed her passionately earlier.
He had trusted her tonight, if not ever since they had known each other.
He had said he loved her.
His lips were warm under hers. A soft moan escaped his mouth, and then he was returning the kiss with even more eagerness than she had hoped for. She let herself be pulled into his arms and swept into the moment, savouring each second as his lips caressed hers and coaxed her mouth open.
It was with extreme reluctance that she ended the encounter. Even when she pulled back, his arms stayed around her waist and held her to him.
"I don't care if we have to bamboozle everyone into believing tonight's events were an illusion," she whispered against his lips.
"Neither do I. I'm not letting you go now." He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against hers. "I love you, Lois. I know I hurt you very badly, but I never ever lied about my feelings for you. They're what made it so hard to be Superman around you, because I couldn't hide how much I wanted to be with you."
She believed him. No matter how much she wanted to stick to caution and let some time pass before she got into a relationship with him, she believed him. She didn't want to wait. She didn't want to miss the second chance that was given to her tonight. She didn't want to fight her feelings any more.
She kissed him again. Tenderly. Lovingly. "I love you, too," she sighed when the kiss ended. "You, Clark. I thought I'd lost you for ever."
"You'll never lose me," he vowed. "But we have to find a way to bring Clark back. I'm not sure either of us could cope with a secret relationship."
She nestled against his chest. "We'll find a way, Clark. We can make it believable enough that no-one questions it too much." There had to be a way. She couldn't lose him again. She couldn't give up on the new turn in their relationship. "Maybe… maybe Barrow's gun wasn't loaded and you just fainted from the shock."
"What if someone examines the gun and finds out it was loaded? I felt that bullet hit me."
"But the police doesn't have Barrow's gun yet. And Superman could get it before they do."
"And conceal evidence? I know that has never stopped you, Lois, but Superman —"
"Superman needs to find a way for his real identity to live," she cut him off abruptly. "So I don't care if you were wearing a bullet proof vest, or if you fainted, or if Barrow's gun wasn't loaded with real bullets and we have to steal that gun to prevent anyone from finding out the truth."
His arms tightened around her. "I don't want to give up on my life as Clark either, Lois."
"Then we'll both fight for it. We'll find a way."
He shook his head, but his face broke into a large grin. "How can you be so sure?"
She faked outrage. "You need to ask? I'm Lois Lane!"
"How could I forget? And once this is over," he murmured close to her ear, "will Lois Lane let me take her on a date?"
"A date? You mean an evening out where I dress up and you dress up and we go to a fancy restaurant, tell each other our life story, then you walk me home and fret about kissing me goodnight?"
His lips closed around her earlobe. "How about we skip to the kissing part now?"
She didn't object to his suggestion. Fate had brought Clark back to her and cleared up all secrets between them. Most of all, fate had given her what had always been missing in her life.
Fate had given her Clark Kent's love.
*When you cried I'd wipe away all of your tears
When you'd scream I'd fight away all of your fears
And I held your hand through all of these years
But you still have…
All of me*
— My Immortal, by Evanescence