By Wendy Richards <email@example.com> and Kaethel <Kaethel@wanadoo.fr>
Rated PG 13
Submitted December 2004
Summary: What would have happened if Clark had declared his love to Lois before dying in TOGOM (the episode "That Old Gang of Mine")?
It all started with an IRC conversation; one of those conversations that start about one particular premise and go on with idle "what ifs". That night, we were all talking about That Old Gang of Mine, and Kathy Brown suddenly wondered aloud what would have happened, had Clark revealed his feelings to Lois right as he "died". Needless to say, we both jumped on the premise and, thanks to Kathy's encouragement, we quickly got started.
We'd originally planned to make this another short collaboration, but it took on a life of its own. Suddenly we found ourselves with a much more complicated premise than we'd initially bargained for, and the story grew… and grew… and grew… into what it is now. Not that we can complain! It was a lot of fun writing it, and even more fun posting it to the boards and discovering our readers' reaction, part after part.
So we'd like to give our most heartfelt thanks to the readers on the boards for being so supportive and pointing to typos and glitches, as well as to Annette, Elena and Bethy, who, at various points in the story, gave us their opinion, their ideas, and their encouragement. :) And last but not least, thanks to Jeanne Pare for her very helpful GEing.
Thanks, you all!
Wendy and Kaethel :)
How had she got into this? Lois wondered in irritation. She'd been busy minding her own business, keeping an eye out for the supposedly resurrected gangsters, until that innocent-looking — hah! — old lady had stolen her bucket of nickels. And, of course, Capone and his associates had chosen just that moment to walk in.
And then, before she'd had a chance to ask any of the questions she'd come here to get answered, that sleaze Dillinger had put the moves on her. She sighed. She didn't particularly want to get his back up — not if she and Clark were to get what they'd come for. On the other hand, the guy was getting persistent. He was starting to paw her now.
And suddenly, Clark was between her and Dillinger, telling the guy to back off.
Protective as always, and it was sweet of him… but not very sensible in the circumstances, she thought in faint exasperation. She'd have to talk to him about that later.
But what was…? A glint of metal caught her gaze. That was… Clyde Barrow, wasn't it? And he was holding…
Oh, god, he was holding a gun!
He was only threatening to shoot, wasn't he? Trying to frighten Clark into backing off? After all, her partner was looking pretty intimidating with his fist raised towards Dillinger.
Wait… He'd taken the safety off…
He wasn't going to shoot! He wouldn't… he couldn't!
The explosion of gunfire shook her to the core. Appalled, terrified, she turned to Clark. Surely the bullet wouldn't hit him? Clyde wouldn't possibly have shot to injure or even kill, would he?
She grabbed at Clark's arm even as she saw him clutch his chest. A look of pure shock was on his face. And he staggered.
Clark had been shot! Her partner, her best friend, had been shot.
She fell to the ground beside him, catching at his hand, his chest. He was okay, wasn't he? He had to be okay. He couldn't be…
He couldn't be dead. No. It wasn't possible.
He couldn't be dead.
Suddenly, his hand covered hers, and she felt a rush of sweet relief flood her. He was okay! He was alive! He'd be fine.
"Lois." His voice was thready. Tears streaming down her cheeks, she bent closer, bringing her face to his.
"Clark! Clark, you're okay, aren't you? Tell me you're okay! Please… Clark, you can't die on me!"
His voice came as a whisper. "Lois, I love you."
And then there was silence. His head fell to one side. And his hand slid away from hers.
There was no heartbeat. Nothing but silence.
Clark was dead.
He couldn't be dead. There had to be something she could do, something to revive him. Her hands fumbled against his chest. No pulse. No pulse! Her face close to his, she could feel no breath against her lips. Nothing. Oh god, he needed help. She needed help! She screamed, but the crowd around her took a collective step backwards. Cowards! Load of cowards!
<Clark, come back to me!>
Her hands framed his face and slid down to his throat, looking for his pulse, his warmth, a sign that he was still here with her, that he hadn't abandoned her…
"You moron! What did you do that for? Let's get out of here. And take the stiff. I can't afford to be linked to a murder."
She rose to her knees to look at Capone through blurry eyes. He wasn't paying attention to her. He was gesturing towards Clark and already Barrow was leaning down to grab her partner by the ankles. What were they doing? Her grip on Clark tightened. They would not take him away from her! Not when there was a chance he might be saved, somehow. There had to be a way. There had always been a way. They'd been in near-death situations countless times, and luck had always been on their side. Tonight wouldn't be different. Tonight had no reason to be different.
Barrow ignored her protests and kept tugging Clark's body until she had to let go. Let go. Give up on the one man who had ever… She couldn't even face the truth.
She collapsed to the dirty floor of the club and watched the gangsters drag Clark away from her and out of her sight.
Out of her life.
The only man who had ever really loved her was…
Clark tried to remain as still as possible as Capone and his goons carried him outside. Inside he was boiling, torn between his wish to go back to Lois and his need to protect a secret that had suddenly become too heavy to carry.
He was dead. Clark was dead. And because no-one knew the truth about him — *could* know the truth — his life had just been ruined entirely.
He'd had no choice but to ‰die'.
And the realisation was slowly sinking in. He could never go back. The Daily Planet, his life in Metropolis, Lois… his life as Clark Kent *anywhere*, for that matter — were all lost to him. Forever.
He would have to move on, as he'd done a dozen times before. Only this time it would be different: he would have to change his name, his identity, and ensure that nothing remained to connect him with the man he'd once been.
And he had to leave Lois behind.
Lois, the woman he loved. Lois, the only woman he'd ever loved. Lois, the only woman he would ever love. Now, he could never have her.
He remembered her frantic sobs, her pleas to him to be okay. She really cared about him. But then, he'd known that. They were best friends. Had been best friends for at least a year now, despite a few hiccups along the way. Hiccups he'd long ago forgiven her for, just as she'd forgiven him for those he'd caused.
And Lois now thought that her best friend was dead. That was why he'd said it — told her, once more, that he loved her. Knowing that he would have to pretend to be dead, that Clark Kent could never again be anywhere near Lois Lane, he hadn't wanted his last words to her to be anything else.
Honesty, then, at the last second, as his parting gift to her. Whether or not she wanted to hear it, whether or not she returned his feelings, he loved her and he wanted her to know the truth.
Pretending to die, after that, had been the hardest thing he'd ever done. Especially as he'd seen her tears, had even felt the moisture splash onto his face. But he'd had no choice: no human could have survived being shot at that range, and allowing himself to be exposed as Superman was simply not an option.
Clark allowed himself a silent sigh, taking great care again to make no movement at all. He listened in to the conversation at the front of the car. Capone and Barrow were arguing; Bonnie was losing patience with both of them. He carefully opened an eye; Dillinger was there, too. Okay, so no-one had stayed at the club. With a bit of luck, the police would be there any minute, and Lois would be all right.
The car screeched to a halt and his body moved forward, violently hitting the front seats. He felt a rush of cold air, a pair of hands seizing his arms, and then the hard ground beneath him. The sound of tyres announced the departure of the car. Silence again.
He opened his eyes at last, making sure he was alone before he got to his feet and brushed down his suit. Well, at least they hadn't thrown him into Hobb's Bay or tried to cut him down to pieces. That was something. He reached down inside the hole in his shirt to retrieve the bullet that had hit him. At least the good thing was that his clothes had prevented it from bouncing off and maybe hurting someone else. Maybe hurting Lois…
Oh god. Lois. No matter how much he told himself that the truly dangerous crowd had left with him, he'd still left her in an illegal gambling club, surrounded by people who were barely worthier of her trust than Capone and his gang.
Spinning into the suit, he took off full speed towards the South side. Finding the club was easy — it was surrounded by police cars. Lois… Where was Lois? Handcuffed members were being led away. He scanned the crowd of bystanders: people in their pyjamas, probably from the buildings around. Lois! He wanted to call her name. The club was empty, bar a forensic officer who was examining the floor where a body had so briefly lain.
Standing next to that scene was a woman in red, wrapped in a blanket and in Henderson's arms.
Without thinking, he walked into the club. He heard an officer call to him, but ignored it. Lois was there. Lois needed him.
She looked up at him as he approached. Her cheeks were tear- stained. Her eyes were bright. Her lips were trembling. "What are you doing here?"
Her voice was cold. Colder than he'd ever heard. Colder than he'd even imagined. He froze.
"You're too late, Superman. Too late!" She pushed herself out of Henderson's embrace, letting the blanket fall to the floor. "He was the *only* man who ever mattered to me, and he's *dead*! Dead! Do you understand that? Dead! Clark's dead! And you didn't save him! You saved me countless times, but when it truly mattered, you weren't there!"
Her fist connected with his chest, then he felt her pummel him repeatedly. She'd lowered her head so he couldn't see her face, but he could hear her sobs as she kept on hitting him. He grabbed her hands and pulled her against him, trying to give her comfort in an embrace that was obviously not welcome. She struggled out. He let her go.
"You weren't there!"
"Lois, even Superman can't be everywhere at once." The dry tones, laced for once with sympathy, of Inspector Henderson drew Clark's attention.
"So what was more important than saving Clark's life?" Lois demanded, her voice shaking.
"I… uh…" Clark stopped abruptly, realising that he was behaving in a distinctly un-Supermanlike manner in front of Lois. But then, she was behaving in a way she never before had to the Man of Steel. She'd never before treated him with anything other than respect verging on awe — along with, of course, liking and even flirtatiousness. She'd never questioned him. She'd never challenged his priorities. She'd never accused him of putting anything before saving a life.
But then, she'd never seen her best friend shot dead in front of her before.
"Lois, I'm sorry," he said softly, catching and holding her gaze. Fresh tears were falling from wet brown eyes; her lashes were damp as she stared back at him.
"Sorry isn't going to bring Clark back!"
"I know," he acknowledged. "Lois, if I could change anything about what happened here tonight, don't you know that I would?"
She continued to stare belligerently at him, but after a few moments she bit her lip and her gaze fell. "You… He was your friend too, wasn't he?"
Feeling like a hypocrite, Clark just nodded.
Behind Lois, Henderson shifted slightly, and Clark seized on the opportunity. "Inspector, is there anything I can help with?"
The policeman shook his head. "As you can see, it's all over. The suspects had left the scene long before we got here. There's an APB out on them and officers are scouring the city. Oh, and they took Kent's body with them. So obviously we want to recover that too. Chances are they'll have dumped it."
"Him!" Lois exclaimed. As both Clark and Henderson turned to look at her, she added, "Clark may be dead, but he still deserves respect. Don't call him ‰it'!"
"I'm sorry, Lois." Henderson's tone was soft, his manner completely unlike anything Clark had witnessed previously from the laconic, hard-bitten detective. It was a mark, Clark thought, of the genuine respect and liking he had for Lois. And probably for himself too.
"I could help with the search," Clark offered. He should have thought of that anyway — Barrow and the others needed to be apprehended before they caused any further damage or injury. They were all very dangerous criminals and, while Capone hadn't been at all happy with Barrow for killing someone, it was clearly the fact that the murder had been committed on premises owned by Capone which had angered him. A murder which couldn't be traced back to any of the gangsters wouldn't trouble him at all.
He'd expected Henderson to agree that Superman's help would be very welcome. But instead the detective glanced discreetly, but somewhat pointedly, at Lois. And Clark realised that he wanted him to stay with her.
There was nothing he wanted more, of course. Lois was upset and grieving, and he'd considered it his prerogative over the past year to comfort her when she needed it. But that was as Clark, not as Superman. Clark could never comfort her any more. Wasn't it time he started getting used to that? And anyway, regardless of his own inclinations, what was the best use of Superman right now?
There were other people Lois could call on. There were other people she'd prefer to be with, no doubt. He touched her arm, and she glanced up at him again. "Lois, can I take you somewhere? Or call someone for you?"
She shook her head and took a step backwards, bumping into Henderson. "Superman will take you home, Lois," the detective said. "Make sure you drop by tomorrow morning, but tonight I think you've had enough questions and it's time you got some rest."
Clark extended his hand towards her. She ignored it. She watched Henderson leave the room, then she lowered her head, and he watched the tears trail down her cheeks. He wanted to close the distance between them and take her in his arms. He wanted to take the pain away, tell her everything would be okay.
Nothing would be okay. Nothing would be okay again. He was dead. Clark was dead. There was nothing he could do to bring him back, nothing to comfort his best friend and partner. The truth? Could he really tell her the truth when Clark was well and truly gone, when there was no way to bring him back? Maybe he owed her the truth… Maybe -
"Let's get this over with." She was standing in front of him, determination on her face, coldness in her eyes. "Take me home."
Wordlessly, he wrapped her in his arms and took off.
Lois had never thought she wouldn't enjoy a flight with Superman, but tonight there was nothing she wished more than for it to be over. She wanted to push him away; his closeness was unbearable. She wanted to yell at him, insult him, tell him about the pain scorching her heart because of him… he'd let her down when it counted most. He'd let Clark die. He might just as well have killed him.
Her muscles were hurting from the tension she felt, and she was aware of the worried glances he gave her now and then. He cared, didn't he? He cared about *her*. He didn't care about Clark. He had never cared about Clark. He had claimed to be a friend to both, and he had saved her too many times to count. But the one time Clark had needed him, he hadn't been anywhere in sight. He had let the man die…
<He had let Lex die, too.>
A shudder ran down her spine. No matter how much she had hated Lex, no matter how glad she was that he was dead, part of her had always wondered where Superman had been while Lex had jumped off the LexCorp building. She'd always ignored that nagging question, especially during the campaign led against her superhero, but tonight…
Tonight, in reflection of Clark's death and Superman's conspicuous absence, she couldn't help but wonder why Metropolis's Man of Steel hadn't been there to save either man.
She didn't care about Lex. He could rot in hell for all she cared. But Clark… Clark had meant everything to her. He had been her partner. He had been her best friend. He had been… She didn't know if he had been more than that. She hadn't had enough time to find out.
Superman pushed her window open and let her slide to her feet. She didn't linger in his embrace. Pushing him away and murmuring a ‰thank you' she didn't mean, she started towards the bedroom, only to feel a steel grip around her arm. She froze.
Not that voice. Please, not that voice. Sometimes he reminded her of Clark. But if she turned around, her best friend wouldn't be standing there. Instead would be the man who had let him get shot. Instead would be the man responsible for his death.
The grip on her arm softened, and she realised she was shaking.
<Lois, I love you>
That voice. Clark's voice. Clark's last words.
Clark had loved her.
How dare Superman speak to her in anything like Clark's voice?
"Lois, you shouldn't be alone."
That was more like it. It was Superman's voice. She turned her head, knowing that she would see the man in the Spandex. But the expression on his face…
She had never before seen Superman look like that.
Bleak. His face was drawn, pale — almost grey, even. And his eyes…
He looked like a man who had just lost his best friend.
How could she have thought that Superman didn't care? He obviously cared. He was hurting a great deal. And, she realised, it was probably far worse for him because he could have saved Clark, but he hadn't. He hadn't been there.
He was blaming himself. Just as she was blaming herself for having dragged Clark there to the club in the first place. And for having attracted Dillinger's attention to herself, leading to Clyde pulling the gun.
"Superman." Her voice was shaky, but it was the best she could do.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have blamed you. It wasn't your fault either."
He blinked. "Either?"
"I… I've been blaming myself…"
"You?" He looked appalled. "How could it have been your fault? Lois, you can't —"
"Can't blame myself? You mean I shouldn't wish that I'd never insisted we go to that club? I shouldn't wish I hadn't —"
The hand on her arm slid up, and then he was cupping her shoulder. With a gulping sob, Lois threw herself into the willing, waiting arms. They closed around her and she cried, bitter, heartwrenching tears for the loss of her friend.
The man who had loved her. The man… she had loved.
"That's right, Lois. Cry," Superman encouraged gently. His head lowered until she could feel his cheek resting against her hair. And she cried until there were no tears left.
A long time later, she drew back, looking up at Superman through eyes blurry with tears. "He loved me, Superman. Clark. He loved me."
"I know." Again, the hero's voice shook. "I know, Lois."
"He told me," she said jerkily. "That was the last thing he said to me. He… he was lying there… he had to have been in pain… he was dying. He knew he was dying. He… he held my hand and he told me… he loved me."
"Clark always loved you, Lois." He released her and stepped back, though still remaining close — close enough to touch.
Superman sounded so very sure. And Lois supposed that he would know — because, no matter what crazy ideas had been occurring to her earlier, the two men had been friends. No doubt they'd talked about her.
And, yes, Clark had loved her. She'd always known that, somehow. Even though he'd taken back his declaration of love last summer — and that had hurt — she'd been aware that he still had deep feelings for her. She was the one who had been unsure…
Not unsure. Afraid.
"I wasted the best chance I ever had, Superman," she said miserably.
"What do you mean?"
"Clark. I… I did love him too, Superman. But I was too scared to tell him. And I thought we'd have all the time in the world… I thought I'd never lose him. And now… now he's dead and I'll never know what it's like to be loved by him."
"Oh, Lois…" A groan escaped Superman, and he gathered her close to him again.
Held tightly in his arms, Lois gazed up at him. There was such tenderness in his eyes as he looked down at her; such care and consideration. They were both grieving, of that she had no doubt. And, despite her insistence earlier that she didn't want Superman anywhere near her, now she knew that there was no-one else she would rather be with right now.
The distance between them was narrowing; she had no idea whether it was her doing or his. But, suddenly, it seemed the most natural thing in the world to raise her lips to his. And for him to dip his head to meet her.
And then they were kissing. Deeply, madly, passionately, as their tears mingled and they shared their grief for the loss of their friend.
If Lois still felt any of the bitterness she had displayed for him earlier, it didn't show in the way she kissed him, in the way her body pushed into his, in the way she leaned onto him until he knelt on the floor, taking her with him as he lay on his back. Her lips never leaving his, she levered herself on her hands to settle fully onto him.
Trembling hands reached down to unfasten the belt at his waist while his fingers clumsily tugged at the straps of her dress. Time. They'd wasted enough time. There was no time. No time to think. No time to get undressed. He needed her. Now. He needed to feel the love she claimed to have for him, to feel the comfort of the woman who meant the world to him.
He needed her to remind him that he was still alive. He needed to wipe the tears from her face and give her everything he owned. Everything he was. Everything he used to be.
Everything he still was.
He buried his face in her neck, stroking her skin with his lips and tongue, seeking oblivion. He found it in her kiss and moans of pleasure.
Her movements were getting more and more desperate against him, and he rolled them over until he was pushing her onto the soft carpet of her living-room floor.
There was no hesitation as they kissed and stroked and reached beyond all the boundaries that had kept them apart until that night.
Breathless and covered in sweat, Lois sat up to straighten her dress and cover her half-naked body. The hand of her lover, warm and comforting, reached up to her shoulder. She felt a shiver run down her spine. Self-consciousness and horror assailed her, and she shrugged away from his touch. She knew he was looking at her. She knew her rejection must hurt him…
She'd made love to Superman. No… no, there had been no love involved. She'd had sex with Superman. Nothing more to it. Their coupling had been fast, without much in the way of foreplay or finesse. Neither had wanted to linger. Neither had wanted to wait. But they hadn't made love. There was only one man she could ever make love with, and that man was gone. Gone forever. Dead.
Superman tugged her back to lie against him, and she didn't find the strength to resist. Her energy spent, her hope gone, she laid her head against his shoulder and tried to get her breathing under control.
Thoughts and emotions cascaded in her mind. She had fantasised about this moment for so long. Ever since she had met Superman, she had believed that he was the one man she had always waited for, that if he ever felt about her the way she felt about him, she would touch happiness, grab it with both hands and never let it go.
She'd had what she wanted, hadn't she? She'd had exactly what she had always dreamt of. But none of her expectations had found an answer in his lovemaking. Oh, it had been passionate all right. Passionate, but frantic and mingling with the regrets, grief and sorrow they both felt tonight.
She had made love to Superman, but she couldn't shake Clark out of her mind. Every kiss, every touch had reminded her that she should have been with the man she truly loved. With the man she would always love. With the man she could never have.
Tears rolled down her cheeks, and Superman hugged her tighter against him. He was so perceptive, so attuned to her needs… That was one thing he had in common with Clark. Clark had always known when she needed comfort; he had always known when to offer a hug or a mug or coffee, or when to stay away because she needed her space. He had known her better than anyone else. He had been her best friend.
He could have been so much more.
Making love with Clark would have been… different. Oh yes, so very different. He would have told her how much he loved her. He would have kissed her, his hands framing her face and caressing her. He would have driven her wild with desire and the magic of being with the man you love. He would have been the one.
Clark had loved her. Quietly. Unselfishly. He had put her needs before his, going as far as taking back his declaration of love when he felt his feelings weren't welcome. He had salvaged their friendship even if it meant he had to suffer from her indifference. And when death had come to claim him, his last thought had been for her and the love he felt for her. His feelings had been pure and unselfish, exactly like him.
There couldn't be two men like Clark Kent. He was one of a kind. He was a man she had learned to trust and rely on. She hadn't been afraid of being dependent on him, because she had known that he would never take advantage of her.
And she loved him. She loved him so very much. It had taken his death for her to realise how deep her feelings for him were. She had buried them for too long. She had waited until it was too late to admit to herself that she felt a lot more than friendship for Clark.
Now that she couldn't have him any more, she loved him without restraint and without fear.
And she'd just betrayed his memory by giving herself to Superman…
Why had she done it?
It was her own fault. She couldn't blame Superman — he was a man, after all, like any other, as he'd told her once upon a time. She'd handed herself to him on a plate. She'd done that once before, and he'd rejected her. This time, he hadn't — but then, as she'd recognised, he'd been grieving too.
She was the one who'd initiated the kiss. She had pushed him for more. She had given him no choice but to slide to the floor and take her with him.
She had wanted him.
No; she had wanted Clark. But Clark hadn't been there. Wasn't there. Would never be there any more.
And in that moment, for some reason, Superman had seemed like the closest thing she could have to the man she loved. The next best thing. Even his voice sounded like Clark's sometimes.
And so she'd grasped at something which, even in a little way, reminded her of Clark. And, in doing so, she'd made a huge mistake. She'd had sex with Superman, and now she felt…
Empty. Ashamed. And even more grief-stricken than she'd been before.
She loved Clark. And even having Superman could never make up for what she'd lost.
She pulled away from her lover's embrace and got to her feet, wrapping her arms around herself. And, as she did so, she realised that the embrace was a mockery, a memory of the way Clark used to hold her when she cried. The way Clark would never hold her again.
Lois was aware of Superman sitting up and straightening his own clothing, of his gaze on her. But she didn't turn around. All she wanted now was for him to go. She needed to be alone.
Clark stood, securing the remaining fastenings on his Suit as he did so. The Suit — a reminder, if he needed any, that he was here with Lois as Superman. Not as Clark.
He would never be with her as Clark again.
And that was something he needed to remember. Starting now.
Making love with her, wonderful as it had been, had been a terrible mistake. He'd taken advantage of a distressed woman, clearly out of her mind with grief. It was no excuse to say that she'd started it, she'd reached for him first, that she'd been the one to start tugging at his clothing. He could have stopped her. He hadn't had to cooperate. But he had, and now he had to deal with the consequences.
Including Lois — who was now looking as if the last place she wanted to be was here, with him.
Oh well. As much as he'd dreamed so often of making love with Lois, and in his dreams it had always been amazing, the best experience of his life, there'd been times when, in his dreams, she'd laughed at his inexperience or just awkwardly told him that he had a lot to learn before he could give her the sort of pleasure that she expected — needed — from lovemaking. And perhaps that was what she was thinking; perhaps it really hadn't been that wonderful for her.
Perhaps making love with him had done nothing to take away the pain, after all.
Her pain. Because she thought Clark was dead, and because — as she'd told him — she loved him. Loved Clark.
The thought came to him suddenly, causing joy to course through him. He could tell her. Let her know that Clark wasn't dead at all. That he was here, with her, and he loved her too.
But, as abruptly as it had come, the impulse vanished. What could he offer her? Clark *had* to be dead. He'd been gunned down in front of witnesses, at point-blank range. The most Clark Kent could now offer Lois was a relationship behind closed doors, or a new life away from everything she loved and held dear, even her own identity and profession.
He couldn't do that to her.
And the alternative — a relationship with her as Superman — was impossible to contemplate. Assuming, of course, that she would even consider it. It would put her at too much risk. And anyway, how could he possibly be that close to her and not tell her the truth? Or let something slip?
The kindest thing to do was to let her continue to believe that Clark was dead.
He crossed to her, laying a hand gently on her shoulder. "Lois?"
There was a lengthy pause before she finally said, "Yes, Superman?"
"I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I never should have allowed that to happen. I… feel I took advantage of you."
She didn't turn around. "You didn't take advantage of me. You could just as easily say I took advantage of you."
The lack of emotion in her voice worried him. She wasn't okay. He knew that. And yet she wasn't letting him see how she really was.
"I feel responsible, Lois," he persisted, unable to allow her to absolve him of blame.
"Nobody's responsible," she said immediately. "If you want to blame somebody, blame Clyde Barrow. And, by the way, Superman," she added tightly, "if you really want to help me, you'd help the police find those gangsters. I want Clark's murderer behind bars. It won't bring him back, but at least I'll know that the bastard can't hurt anyone else!"
She was right. That was something he definitely should be doing. But he still felt unsure about leaving her alone in her current state. He hesitated.
"Look, Superman." She swung abruptly around to face him. Her expression was shuttered, her eyes devoid of emotion. "It was a one-time thing, okay? From the way you sound, you regret it as much as I do. Don't worry — I don't want an affair with you. I'd rather we both just forgot all about this. I… I still consider you a friend. I still want to be your friend, but…"
"But nothing more," Clark finished, the lump of ice in his stomach swelling. "I understand, Lois. And you know you'll always be my friend. Okay, if you're sure I can't do anything else for you…"
"Just go, Superman," she said quietly, bleakly. "I… there are things I need to do anyway. Thank you for… for being there for me."
He longed to take her in his arms again — to hug her, hold her against him until the tears came again and he could kiss them away. He longed to tell her how much he loved her, and would always love her. Most of all, he longed to tell her the truth — that he was Clark.
But it was too late for the truth, and so all that he could do was follow her wishes. With a soft "Goodbye, Lois. Call me if you need me," he left.
Walking into the Daily Planet newsroom was a lot harder than Lois had bargained when she'd got ready for work that morning. Her daily routine had allowed her to keep her thoughts away from the previous evening… and the previous night. But as soon as she stepped off the elevator, Clark's death assailed her through the silence of her co-workers and the void at his desk.
His nameplate was still there… the picture of his parents… his notepad. From the moment he'd been hired here, Clark had brought personal stuff to work. She'd once made fun of the useless knick-knacks on his desk. She'd made fun of lots of things that made him the man he was. The man she'd come to love…
She resolutely turned her gaze away from his desk and sank onto her chair. She booted her computer and pulled up the notes that she and Clark had taken the previous day. Notes on their story. Notes on the story that had got her partner killed.
Her finger traced his neat handwriting and she smiled, remembering her annoyance at his interference when she'd been trying to concentrate on their investigation — who cared if robbery was spelled with one or two ‰b's? That kind of thing had been part of their partnership, something they were both used to; something that had become a game between them.
She looked up to see Perry approach her carefully. His expression betrayed his state of mind. He was grieving, too. Probably just as he would be grieving if she'd been shot. She should have been shot. She should have been Barrow's target. Clark had done nothing but protect her. He had died for her. He had -
"You didn't have to come in today."
"I couldn't stay home," she whispered through her tears. "I just kept thinking about Clark… lying there." And Superman… and herself… lying there, in the middle of her living-room, losing themselves in each other's arms and trampling on Clark's memory. "I feel like it's all my fault that he was killed."
"Oh, honey, you can't blame yourself. You had no way of knowing what was gonna happen."
"No. He died trying to protect me." She looked up at Perry's concerned face. "In one… lousy second, I lost my partner… and my best friend."
She'd lost him. Forever. Clark was dead, and he wouldn't come back. Oh god, he wouldn't come back! And… and she'd been too stupid, too *blind* to tell him how she really felt.
"He died without ever knowing… I never told him…"
Henderson stood across from her desk, looking ill-at-ease. She nodded to him, trying to reassure him that it was okay, that she was a professional, that she could handle this.
"You think you could give me a statement now?"
She nodded, and gestured to the detective to pull up a chair beside her desk. Slowly, haltingly, she went through the events again, and then another time while Henderson asked her questions to jog her memory and to ensure that she wasn't leaving anything out. Wanting it over with as quickly as possible, she then called Jimmy over to take Henderson to a computer he could use to type it up — amazingly, the detective made no objection to being expected to play the typist.
When he returned, she grabbed the printed sheet he was handing out to her and wrote her name with trembling fingers. She tried her hardest not to re-read what she'd said — she didn't need the reminder. The previous night was still too vivid in her mind, every second playing out over and over and screaming at her that she could have prevented it, that she could have saved Clark's life.
If only she'd listened to him when he'd warned her that it was dangerous!
If only she hadn't wasted time playing on a slot machine when they had entered the club to work!
If only she hadn't stayed rooted to the spot when Dillinger tried to make a pass at her. A few tae-kwon-do moves would have taken care of him in no time. Instead, she'd let Clark get involved. She'd let him protect her. And now he was dead.
And even though it was her fault, even though he had to know that he'd given his life for her, his last thoughts, his last words had been for her.
<I love you, Lois>
Those words, whispered as he was dying in her arms, would haunt her for the rest of her life.
"Henderson?" The voice of Steven, assistant-editor, broke through her thoughts. "There's a call for you on line two."
Henderson grabbed her phone and started jotting down notes on her day planner. He left almost immediately, having torn half a page and… and left a mark on the next one. She could make out the address he'd written.
Clark had spent the day flying around the city, saving more cats in trees than he had ever done in his Superman career. At least the activity had kept his mind off the previous evening. Mostly.
His thoughts kept returning to the hours he had spent with Lois. He had taken advantage of her. She had been grieving and vulnerable, and he had kissed her, caressed her… made love to her.
They'd made love.
It had been totally unlike he'd ever dreamt of — passionate, yes… but not loving and tender like he had always pictured it in his fantasies. He'd been starving for her, so much that her needs had come second to his. He'd been selfish. Incredibly selfish.
Lois had wanted — needed — comfort from him. And that was what he should have given her. That was *all* he should have given her.
What on earth had made him think that she'd wanted sex, of all things?
<Maybe the fact that she was practically ripping your clothes off> his cynical inner voice suggested.
But that wasn't fair. He'd known — who better? — that she wasn't her usual self. She'd been torn apart by grief and guilt. She hadn't known what she was doing. And he'd been too blinded by his own needs to *think* about what he was doing.
He hadn't thought. Even now, those few minutes — seconds, even — before they'd ended up on the floor were a hazy blur.
He perched on top of a skyscraper and sighed. There was no point in going over and over what had happened. It should never have happened. Oh, sure, it had been one of the best experiences of his life — but in the worst possible circumstances.
Lois was right. They should both try to pretend that it had never happened. Certainly, they would never speak of it again.
It was time to put it behind him and move on. But that led to another problem — exactly what was ‰moving on'?
Clark Kent was dead and gone. Only Superman remained of the life he'd made for himself in Metropolis. The trouble with that, though, was that he'd always been far more than just Superman. He'd long known that the hero in the Spandex would drive him crazy if he didn't have another life besides that one. There was only so much rescuing people he could do, after all.
Well, that wasn't strictly true. He was pretty sure that, if he really did become Superman full time, he could find enough work to keep him busy — it was a large and dangerous world, after all. But it was no life for him. He needed something more than that. He needed interaction with people who knew him — *him*, the man, not the superhero — and whom he cared about. Otherwise he might as well be the robot, the automaton without feelings, that some of the media portrayed him as.
So… he needed a life. But it couldn't be as Clark Kent. And it couldn't be anywhere he was known, or might be recognised. So he couldn't go back to Smallville, except for very discreet visits — he'd already spoken to his parents and explained the situation to them, and they'd been shocked but understanding. He hadn't told them about what had happened with Lois, of course… but then, he couldn't imagine telling anyone about that.
Where to go, then? London? Paris? Prague? Lagos? Moscow? Beijing? Tokyo? He spoke the native languages of each city fluently, so that wouldn't be a problem. More difficult would be re- establishing himself as a journalist, since he couldn't use Clark Kent's resume. He could just try to be a writer — a freelance columnist, a travel writer, a novelist, even.
But he couldn't seem to summon up enthusiasm for any of those places, any of those roles.
The trouble was that he wanted his own life back. And he couldn't have it.
What he could do, he realised suddenly, was what Lois had asked him to do. Catch Barrow and the others.
And then a trivial detail from his research on the gangsters' past returned to him… Dillinger was a movie buff. It was a long shot, but still…
Half an hour later, he'd covered all the cinemas and multiplexes in the city and he'd hit pay dirt. Sitting cross-legged in the air above a city-centre cinema, he waited patiently for the feature to end. Ten minutes after it did, he'd terrified John Dillinger so much that the man had given him the address of the gangsters' hideout.
He deposited Dillinger into Henderson's custody, giving the detective the address on Old North Road; he'd decided to leave it to the police to raid the hideout. Given his current feelings about Clyde Barrow, his ‰murderer', Clark didn't trust himself anywhere near the gangster. Henderson already had the address, though, and he'd had a team keeping watch on the place since mid- morning. It was only a matter of time before the rest of the gangsters were captured, a fact which gave Clark considerable pleasure.
He was just beginning to think that he should go to Smallville and spend some time with his parents, discussing what options were open to him, when a faint cry pierced his super-sensitive hearing.
A familiar voice. A *very* familiar voice… calling for him!
Clark shot into hyper-speed, shooting across the city sky as fast as he was capable, all the time wondering just what danger Lois had got herself into this time.
A vat of liquid cement! And it was already up to her chin. Horrified, he darted down and pulled her out, along with a man whom he quickly realised was Emil Hamilton, the scientist responsible for resurrecting the gangsters in the first place. Hamilton quickly brushed off the cement and scurried off, leaving Clark alone with Lois.
"Are you okay?" he asked her, a lot less calmly than he felt.
Her voice was shaky, telling him a lot about how shook up she'd been. "A lot better than I was ten seconds ago. Thanks, Superman."
"Any time," he said automatically. "Who did this to you?"
"Al Capone," she said briefly. At his quizzical expression, she added, "I found their hideout."
"And they found you?" he questioned. Typical Lois — rushing into danger with both feet as always. And getting caught.
How could he possibly leave Metropolis? If he moved somewhere else, spent most of his time somewhere else, who would be around to protect Lois from the consequences of her actions? Who would save her when she cried for help?
"Yes, they found me," she said dryly. "Nice detective work, Columbo."
Clark winced at the sarcasm. No, Lois hadn't forgotten last night yet either, and it looked like, no matter how convincing she had tried to sound when she'd claimed that nobody was responsible for it, she was blaming him.
"Anyway, I'm fine now."
The message was loud and clear. That was his cue to leave. He wasn't needed any more. She didn't want to see him, let alone talk to him. He nodded at her, then took flight again.
He would keep an eye on her from the air and make sure she got home — or back to the Planet — okay.
Lois made her way into her apartment with a sigh of relief. So much for getting rid of Superman… he'd followed her to the Planet, of course. He must have guessed her intentions, or figured out something was up, or… whatever it was that alerted him she might be in trouble. And, all right, she could have ended up in trouble. All right, Capone had ordered his goons to fire at the whole Planet staff gathered for the paper's sixtieth anniversary. All right, she could have been killed.
He'd been there. He'd flown through the window and caught every single bullet at super speed. Every single one of them. No-one had been hit.
Why hadn't he caught the bullet that had taken Clark away from her? She sunk onto the couch with a strangled sob. Why hadn't he saved Clark? Why? *Why*?
The phone rang, startling her. She grabbed it with the firm intention of lashing out in anger at whoever was disturbing her now, when Martha Kent's soft tones greeted her.
Clark's mother. A mother who had probably spent the previous night crying over the death of her only child, while…
She turned away from the floor by the window, where she'd dealt with her grief with Superman less than twenty-four hours before.
What could you say to a grieving mother? What could you say when you were the one responsible for her son's death? She probably knew. The police must have told her about the circumstances of Clark's death. Martha knew that she was the one to blame for her son's murder. Oh god…
"I called to ask how you were," Martha said, taking her by surprise. "The police officer who called us last night mentioned you were there when it happened, and —"
"Martha, I'm so sorry! About… about everything. It was my fault, all my fault. Clark tried to convince me that it was a bad idea, but as usual I didn't listen to him and —"
"Lois, you're not blaming yourself over what happened, are you?"
The breath she exhaled was probably enough of answer, for Martha went on.
"Oh, honey, you can't torture yourself! Nobody could have had any idea that this would happen. Not even Clark."
"I dragged him into that club, Martha. He wouldn't have gone if it wasn't for me. And he tried to protect me. That's why he died."
"Just like you would have died protecting him if your roles had been reversed."
How could Martha be so calm? How could she find the words to comfort her when she should be the one in grief? When she should be the one blaming her for the death of her son?
"Martha…" She paused, unsure of her next words. No matter how steady Martha's voice sounded over the phone, she was probably more grief-stricken than she was letting on. Now was not the time to burden her with more. And yet… she wanted Clark's mother to know what his last words had been. She wanted to share them with her, also to make sure she hadn't dreamt them, maybe to get confirmation that Clark had really felt that way about her. More than anything, though, she wanted Martha to know how she had felt about Clark. How she still felt about him.
"Martha, Clark said…" But would have Clark wanted his mother to know? And did Clark's mother want to know about that kind of thing? How would she react? She seemed to like her, true, but maybe not as someone her son had been in love with. Maybe -
"Clark said he loved me," she blurted out at last. "Before… before he… died. He said he loved me."
"Oh, honey," Martha said gently. "Clark's always loved you. More than anything, you were what tied him to Metropolis."
Lois felt tears welling up again. He'd always loved her? And she hadn't known? Or, more honestly, hadn't been willing to admit that she knew.
And… "You mean… if it hadn't been for me, he might not have been here? He might still be alive?" she demanded, choking out the words.
"Lois, you know you can't think like that! Just remember that Clark had never been so happy as he was working with you at the Planet. He loved working with you and spending time with you."
Martha was right. Lois knew it — she'd always known that Clark loved being with her. He'd always shown real pleasure whenever she'd suggested spending time together socially, and he'd gone out of his way to ensure that she enjoyed whatever they did together. If only she'd let him see how much she enjoyed spending time in his company too…
"I'll always miss him, Martha," she said after a pause.
"We know you will, honey. And any time you want to call us, or come and see us, you just pick up the phone, you hear?"
"I will. And… thanks, Martha. Oh, this feels so wrong!" Lois exclaimed.
"You comforting me — it should be the other way around!"
"Talking with you is a comfort to us. Believe me," Martha assured her.
"Why did you say that to her?" Clark exclaimed in frustration.
"That she could come and visit any time!"
"Clark, the poor girl's torn apart with grief. What did you expect? That we'd just ignore her?"
"Mom! Lois can't come here!"
"Why? Because you're hiding out here?" his mom retorted.
"Of course!" he exclaimed; it was obvious, wasn't it?
"Clark, son, you can't hide here for ever, and you know it," his father interjected. "We've already had a couple of close calls — as it is, Patty Banks only just missed seeing you when she dropped by earlier. Besides, it's no life for you — being Superman most of the time, and only being yourself behind closed doors with us."
"I know you and Mom want me to go back to Metropolis," Clark said wearily; they'd been around this discussion several times already that day. "But I can't — dozens of people saw Clark Kent shot dead at point-blank range. And Lois was one of them. There's no way I can just reappear." He shook his head. "I know I have to decide what to do — and the only idea that's occurring to me is to change my identity and start again on the other side of the world."
"You can't be serious, Clark -"
"I was thinking maybe Indonesia…"
"Clark Jerome Kent!"
Clark looked in resignation at his mother. He'd known that his parents wouldn't be happy, but what choice did he have? He began to say so, but he was interrupted again.
"Clark, your father and I really think that you should consider telling Lois the truth."
He froze. It wasn't as if the thought of confessing everything to Lois hadn't occurred to him at least a hundred times since that split-second decision to play dead. But there'd been a time for that, and that time had been before he'd made love to her.
How could he possibly tell her now that Superman was Clark Kent? That the man she'd cried painful tears of grief over was alive after all — and had stood there and watched her sob her heart out over him? That he'd held her while she'd cried, and had kissed her, and then had…
Had explored her body, touched her intimately, made love to her. All on the floor of her living-room while she'd still been weeping over his death.
If he told her the truth now, she'd tear him limb from limb. Never mind that he was invulnerable — Lois would murder him. And she'd have every right.
He'd been very touched to hear Lois's reaction to his 'deathbed' declaration of love. It seemed as if it had really meant something to her. But how would she react, how would she feel about that, if she discovered that he'd been lying to her all along? That he'd pretended to be dead and let her believe it despite her grief? That he'd stood there and watched her cry over him? That he'd even listened to her obvious emotion over the fact that he'd told her that he loved her, and yet hadn't told her the truth?
That he, while claiming to love her, had taken advantage of her grief in an unforgivable way?
She would never forgive him. And she would be fully entitled not to — he didn't deserve forgiveness.
Realising that his parents were still waiting for an answer, he shook his head. "I can't, Mom. I just can't tell her now — not after standing by and just watching her last night and saying nothing. But anyway," he added, before they could object, "what good would it do? I'd still have to pretend to be dead."
"She is your partner, Clark," his father pointed out. "And she's won… how many Kerths?"
"Three," he supplied. "But I won one this year."
"The point is, she's a great investigative reporter. And you two are a team. Together, you're the best there is. And if anyone's going to be able to work out a way to explain how Clark Kent can be apparently shot dead and yet still be alive, that's you and Lois. That's why we think you should tell her."
One look at his parents' faces was enough to tell that arguing would be useless. They were obviously convinced that his only way out was through talking to Lois and telling her the whole truth. And he probably would have agreed if it weren't for the previous night.
"I'll think about it," he said, to avoid further discussion. His parents were not fooled by his lukewarm reaction to their idea, but at least they didn't push the matter. "Anyway, I'd better get back."
"You take care, honey," his mother said, giving him a hug. "And let us know what you decide to do."
There were so many places Lois Lane wished to be, but the set of abandoned warehouses on Hobb's Bay was certainly not one of them. She'd followed the same lead all day long, checking out with sources that she was on the right track and preparing tonight's search.
The police still hadn't found Clark's body, and she knew that she would get no rest until someone found it. Until *she* found it. Barrow and the rest of the gang had been arrested; that should make her feel better, she knew. But Clark was still missing.
Clark was still missing. And until he was found, Lois knew that she would never be able to find closure. She would never be able to say goodbye.
Martha had mentioned a memorial service being held at some point in the future, though when asked, she'd been very non-committal on when that would be.
A memorial… that was all they could give him. He was the best man she'd ever met, and he wouldn't even get a proper place to rest in peace.
Who knew where his body was now? Under the murky waters of Hobb's Bay? In one of those dark alleys that you found all over the South Side? Or… or maybe in one of these warehouses she was exploring. She could stumble onto his body any minute. That flashlight wasn't much help when it was pitch dark outside and the city council hadn't bothered replacing the broken bulbs in the few lampposts around here. She dreaded finding him. Yet, if anyone had to find Clark, then better herself than someone who would take him for an anonymous corpse.
So far though, she had explored three of those large empty buildings and found nothing. Nothing at all.
She heard a muted sound behind her back. Reflexes made her switch off her flashlight and duck behind a crate. There were footsteps, then a voice whispering words too low for her to hear. Another voice answered just as quietly.
Lois stayed in her improvised hideout and held her breath. Whoever had entered the warehouse after her, there was a big chance they were up to no good. What else could bring someone to lurk around such a deserted place at this time of the night?
So much for thinking that she could lead her own search in peace. She didn't feel like having another investigation on her hands. Not right now. She should be appalled that a job that had always been her escape when she felt down suddenly didn't appeal to her, but she didn't care. Her job was so closely linked to Clark that it was not an escape any more. She started every time the elevator chimed in the newsroom. She kept looking towards what had been his desk, half-expecting him to smile back at her. There was no corner of the newsroom that didn't remind her of him.
Tears pricked her eyes; pride made her swallow them back. She had spent enough time crying over Clark's death. The one thing she could do was keep working at what had always mattered to them. Clark had wanted to make the world a better place; he had believed, probably naively, that even mere reporters like the two of them could make a difference by putting criminals behind bars.
She hadn't been much use in putting Capone and his gang in jail; all she'd managed to do was get herself in trouble and have Superman rescue her once more.
A man she was eternally indebted to. A man who had failed to save her best friend. A man she had once loved…
She shook her head and focused her attention back to the men who had interrupted her quest. She would prove that she still had what it took to be a great reporter. She had been the best before Clark came along. True, their partnership had been the best year of her life and had made her feel stronger, but she wasn't finished just because he wasn't by her side any more.
She would prove to him — and herself — that she was still the best.
She rose to her knees and peered over the crate concealing her from the men's sight. Damn it! Their faces were hidden in shadows, and their voices were still too muffled for her to hear what they were talking about. She could make out the shape of something that looked like a thick envelope. Frustration made her shift. The muted sound of her toes connecting to the crate in front of her was enough to silence the two men she'd been observing. She held back a yelp of pain and crouched back into the darkness. Too late. Their steps were getting closer now. They would find her…
Home at last. Or what was left of it, Clark thought as the lights of Metropolis appeared on the horizon. He increased his speed, eager to get back to his apartment and get some sleep. He hadn't taken the time to rest in over two days. Not that he could have found any sleep if he'd tried. Every time he closed his eyes, the image of Lois's body lying beneath his was haunting his mind and filling him with remorse. The sound of her heartbeat racing against his chest made his head spin. Her heartbeat…
Oh god, he wasn't imagining it. Her heartbeat was resounding in his ears, fast and furious. She was scared. She was in danger. Lois!
He dove towards the South Side and the dark waters of Hobb's Bay. What in the world was she doing there in the middle of the night? It took only seconds for him to spot her shivering form hiding behind a crate. Two suspicious-looking men were tiptoeing towards her. They'd find her in no time, and who knew what they would do to her then. One quick X-ray of the goons' pockets revealed guns tucked into their belts.
Without thinking, he burst through the wall of the warehouse and zipped around the room at superspeed. Less than a second later, the two men were tied and gagged, and Lois was out of danger.
She rose to her feet and… and glared at him.
"What do you think you're doing?"
He blinked, his gaze switching back and forth between the men he had just neutralised and the woman he had just saved. She was… angry? She was *angry*?
He kept his voice as low as possible. "Keeping you from getting yourself killed."
"I was doing perfectly fine without you. I didn't need your help!" She gestured towards the now impotent men lying on the floor a few feet away. "They wouldn't have found me. And I could have got an interesting lead."
His earlier panic gave way to irritation. Giving one last look behind him to make sure that the rope was solidly tied around the two men's wrists and ankles and that they were in no position to make a run for freedom, he grabbed Lois and flew them outside.
"My job is not to ensure you get interesting leads!" he said before she could protest. "What I do is put criminals behind bars and prevent innocent people from getting hurt in the process!"
"I would have been *fine*!"
"Don't you see you're not immortal? That those guys had guns and could have used them? They could have shot you! You could have *died*."
The words were barely out of his mouth when he realised he'd gone too far. Tears filled up her eyes. She wiped them away. "What do I care if I die? What does it matter?"
He walked up to her and seized her hands. "*I* care," he said in a hoarse whisper. "Lois, if anything happened to you… I don't think I could ever forgive myself."
He was standing close. So close that he could feel her breath on his lips. So close that it would be only too easy to lean in and steal a kiss. A kiss that, he knew, would quickly turn passionate. He wanted her so fiercely that it hurt.
"Don't." The word, softly spoken, jolted him out of his fantasy. Lois took a step back and raised her hands in warning. "Just because we… gave in the other night doesn't give you the right to control my life. You can't spend your time looking after me, Superman. You can't prevent me from doing my job."
No, he couldn't. She was right. There were so many things he couldn't do now. He couldn't work with her; couldn't spend time with her; couldn't protect her by being beside her as they worked together; couldn't spend evenings watching movies and laughing at silly TV shows with her.
And he couldn't have her. Couldn't be with her. Couldn't… love her.
He shook his head, whether in denial of her words or in regret at everything he'd lost he didn't know.
"Let me take you home, Lois." The words emerged more brusquely than he intended.
But she shook her head. "My car's parked just a couple of blocks away."
"Then let me take you there. It's not safe here, Lois. What were you doing here anyway?"
She glared at him. "Working. It's what I do, remember? What pays the bills? Though I guess you wouldn't know about that."
He flinched at her sarcasm, wishing he understood just why she seemed to hate him so much now. Was it all because of what he'd done the other night? But he refused to take all of the blame for that. It had been mutual. And she'd made the first move.
Deciding the best course of action was to ignore her comment, he said, "You have two choices. Either I take you to your car now, or you call the police to come and pick up those two and I wait with you until they come. Yes, I'm playing the macho super-hero here, but you might consider that I don't really want to lose two people that I care about in the same week."
Low blow, Clark, he told himself. But he had to get the message across to her somehow that she had to take better care of herself now that she didn't have Clark to help her do it.
And, as he'd expected, she blanched. She turned away from him, and when she spoke her voice was shaky. "You can take me to my car if you insist. But then I want you to leave me alone."
Clark nodded, then scooped her up without speaking. Putting up with her anger, even her hatred, was better than seeing her hurt.
When Lois finally pulled up outside her apartment building, she realised that her hands were shaking. What was worse was that she could remember nothing of her drive home.
All she could think of was Superman leaning in as if to kiss her, and his harsh reminder that Clark had been killed. No, worse: he'd been talking about her carelessness, her risk-taking; and it was because of her carelessness that Clark was dead.
Her actions had got Clark killed. And what had she done? Slept with the man she knew he'd been jealous of. He'd hated to hear her hero-worshipping Superman. He'd got better at hiding it, but she'd known it anyway. And it was hardly surprising, now that she knew he'd been in love with her.
And Superman… oh, he was a hero, but he had feet of clay. He hadn't been there to save Clark. He'd slept with her knowing that she was grieving and in no fit state to make that kind of decision. He'd arrogantly decided that he could tell her what to do. And he'd assumed, tonight, that she'd be willing to kiss him again, and maybe more.
Her conscience pointed out that, as Superman had reminded her, Clark had been his friend too. He had been upset — she'd seen the grief, and the guilt that he hadn't been there to save their friend. The expression in his eyes… she would never have imagined Superman looking like that. Not ever.
No. The real reason she didn't want to be anywhere around Superman wasn't any of the things she'd been pretending. It wasn't anything he'd done, or not done. It was, she admitted to herself at last, because Superman reminded her of what she'd lost. And of how she'd behaved on the night when she'd lost the best thing she'd ever had.
He reminded her that, on the night her very best friend, the man she'd been stupid enough not to realise that she loved, had died, she'd had sex on her living-room floor with another man. A man she wasn't in love with. A man she had no intention of building a relationship with.
A man who wasn't Clark.
He was going to have to do something about his apartment, Clark thought as he padded into his bedroom. It would look very odd if anyone noticed that someone was apparently living in a dead person's apartment. He'd have some difficult explanations to make if the police were called. Besides, he wouldn't have a salary coming in any more, so he couldn't keep up the rent payments.
He'd have to ask his parents to come and clear the place out. But that was no bad thing; it would force him to make the decision he'd been putting off and which the confrontation with his parents had made him think about again. He had to decide where he would go; where he would live; what he would do.
Ghana. Or Nigeria. Or Uganda. Maybe Rwanda, even. He'd almost decided on somewhere in Africa during the flight back from Smallville. It was far away from anyone who had ever known him as Clark Kent. And, while he would stand out as a white man, an ethnic minority, white people and Americans weren't so unusual that he would attract undue attention. And they were all countries where a little discreet Super help would be useful. More than useful, in the case of Rwanda. In fact, he'd thought, he could sign up as a volunteer aid worker.
But that had been before Lois had landed herself in trouble once again.
She could have been killed tonight. That was the thought which wouldn't leave Clark's mind. She could have been killed. If he'd been just two seconds later on the scene — or if he hadn't heard her heartbeat at all — she would have been killed. He would have arrived to find her cold, lifeless body. Or he would have heard the news report tomorrow.
If he'd been in Rwanda, he would never have known that she was in danger. Never have known that she needed him.
How could he possibly leave Metropolis?
It was out of the question. He couldn't go — not now. It had never really been an option. If he left, he'd be abandoning Lois to whatever fate might happen to her. He knew what she was like — headstrong, unafraid of danger, always jumping in feet first. And then there was her attitude to the danger she'd been in tonight.
She'd scared him rigid with her words. Those few words which showed him that, now, she placed no value at all on her own life. Who would care if she died? She'd asked him that. And he'd told her: he would. He did.
But if he left…
That was stupid, he told himself angrily. Lots of people would care. And Lois knew that. She'd remember it, too, when she was less upset. Perry. Jimmy. Her sister, Lucy. Her parents. *His* parents, come to that. And, he was sure, lots of other people.
Surely Lois wasn't so lacking in self-worth that she thought no- one would care?
No, not lacking in self-worth, he told himself, and wondered why he didn't feel more pleasure at the knowledge of what was really behind Lois's depression. She missed him. Clark. And that, he felt sure, was why she'd reacted the way she had.
The irony was painful. When he'd been around her every day, she'd barely noticed he was there, or later just seen him as her best friend. And now, now that he was officially dead, when it was too late to matter, she realised that he'd meant more to her.
Life was full of ironies, he told himself, trying to swallow the bitterness in his throat. What mattered now was making sure that Lois stayed alive. And the only way he was going to be able to do that was by staying in, or at least very close to, Metropolis. And, in order to do that, he was going to have to be Superman full-time.
Okay. So now he had to work out where he could stay. There had to be somewhere private, away from prying eyes, that he could use as a base.
Lois had never feared a summons to Perry's office. Usually her boss's request meant that a hot story was going to fall right on her lap and he wanted her to handle it for the Daily Planet. That was always a good sign.
She watched him close the door behind her, excitement bubbling in her mind. The gesture probably meant that at last he had stopped treating her as if she were a grieving widow. At last she was going to get back to what had always saved her before. Her job. Her life.
Or what was left of it.
She quashed the depressing thought. She would not let herself be brought down by another fit of tears over Clark's death. Not now. Not here. Here in the Daily Planet newsroom, she was back to her old self, barking at anyone approaching or — god forbid — requesting something from her. In the Daily Planet newsroom, she was Mad Dog Lane. She knew the old nickname had reappeared over the last couple of days. She didn't care. Now that Clark was gone, she had no reason to fight against a reputation that actually protected her pretty well. At least it ensured that no man ever dared approach her again… that no man could hurt or abandon her again.
She sat in the chair across from Perry's desk and waited, a well- practiced smile on her lips.
"Lois, I know things've been rough for you over the past week," Perry started awkwardly, "but you seem to be better now… Maybe I'm wrong. If you're not ready just let me know and we can sort that out later, but —"
"Perry, I'm all right! Really, I am," she added when he didn't look entirely convinced. "Yes, Clark's death hit me badly. But he and I knew that our job is dangerous and that we're always taking risks. We'd accepted that part of the deal."
Even as she spoke those words with strength she was crumbling inside. She had always known that she was flirting with death. She had never truly minded. Somehow she had thought that there would always be a way out of the mess she got herself into. What she had never imagined was that she would put someone else's life at risk — worse, the life of a man she loved. Clark's life.
Accepting that part of the deal. Ha! What a joke of a deal that was! Clark had never wanted to put his life at risk. No, that was wrong. Clark had never wanted to put *her* life at risk. He had proved it yet again in Georgie Hairdo's gambling club, when he'd stepped in front of her to meet a certain death… to protect her.
She bit her lip to keep her stubbornly proud and expressionless facade intact. "I'll be fine," she said once again.
"All right, then," Perry said, still not looking convinced. "I need you to get down to the harbour and find out what's going on."
"Chief, three teenage girls mugged on their way out of a seedy nightclub is Metropolis's daily diet. It's sad but it's no biggie."
"Three teenage girls mugged, raped and strangled, Lois. And all three of them in the space of one week. So I want you to go down there undercover, find that guy and bring him down. Take Rogers with you."
Perry raised his hand in warning, pre-empting her protest. "Don't ‰Perry' me, Lois. This is too dangerous for you to handle alone."
"I've always handled that kind of thing alone."
"No." His voice lowered and his face got sombre. "You handled them with Clark."
Lois squirmed in her seat and lowered her head. She really didn't need the reminder that she'd spent the past year and a half doing her job with Clark as a partner. "I don't want another partner," she said stubbornly.
"It will just be temporary."
"I know what temporary is to you, chief. You said that for Clark as well."
"And you didn't mind."
"But it was *Clark*!" She abruptly rose from her seat and started pacing the room. "I don't want anyone else. I don't want you to try to replace him." She wiped at the tears that were freely falling down her cheeks. "You're getting on with it like nothing happened. You had Jimmy clear off his desk and soon enough someone else is gonna be sitting there, using his computer and everything! And then… then it's gonna be what, ‰Lane and Rogers, the hottest team in town'? I think not."
"Lois, I don't want to replace Clark," Perry said calmly. "No- one's trying to do that. He'll always be remembered fondly and —"
"His body hasn't even been found and you're already moving on!"
Perry got up and walked around the desk to stand before her. He put his hands on her shoulders to stop her mad pacing. "Sweetheart, you know what Henderson said."
"That they may never find a body? What do you want me to do if they don't? Just assume that Clark's dead and get on with my life? I won't even have anywhere to go if I want to talk to him. God, I'm starting to talk like a silly old woman who's just lost her husband. Clark and I weren't even —"
"He would be just as devastated if he'd lost you. That boy was… well, I don't know if I should tell you this, but —"
"I know, Perry. He told me. Before he died. His last words." She shook her head. "Oh, god, I can't believe I was so blind!"
Perry drew her into a hug, and she let his arms envelop her as she fought the tears that kept spilling from her eyes. She refused to sob in front of him. He was her editor in chief. He respected her. He thought highly of her — or so she hoped. The only man in front of whom she'd ever let herself cry freely was dead. Gone forever. She would be strong. She would not let anyone else see how weak she was. She would not let anyone else under her skin.
Clark looked about the room with a critical eye. Well, this was about as good as he would get: a small cabin hidden in the woods covering the hills to the north of Metropolis. Close enough to fly down in an emergency. Close enough to hear… her… if she needed him.
And far enough to be sure that no-one would follow him up here.
He could see why the place had been abandoned. A large chunk of the rocks on which the forest grew had collapsed, and the old path had become impassable. It was just what he had been looking for. And now that he'd repaired the roof and brought furniture from his parents' farm, it would be okay as a refuge.
A fortress of solitude.
He sighed and sunk onto the battered couch facing the old stone fireplace. He was certainly not going to feel stifled or crowded up here. When he had first moved to Metropolis, he had told his father that the only stars one could see were travelling in limousines. Well, at least here the night sky resembled much more what he had known in Smallville. No city lights or noise would be troubling his sleep… or his long, lonely evenings.
He looked out through the small window. The rosy and orange shades of dusk were colouring the sky over the trees surrounding the cabin. The single naked bulb wouldn't provide much light once the sun set, but it would do. It couldn't be worse than his first accommodation in Metropolis — if you could call the Apollo Hotel accommodation.
And he had books. Lots of books he had been meaning to read for months but hadn't found the time to. Juggling two jobs had left him too little free time. On the other hand, he'd already spent most of the day flying around and doing minor rescues around the city, so maybe he wouldn't spend much more than a few hours here. At least his life as Superman was useful to the city, and now that Clark was dead, he could patrol a lot more and make sure Metropolis's crime rate decreased substantially.
His hearing picked the sound of a high-pitched scream. He jumped to his feet and less than a second later, a sonic boom could be heard over the northern hills.
So much for agreeing to Perry's idea to let Tyler Rogers tag along, Lois thought as she bolted her apartment door with a weary sigh.
The guy had been walking on eggshells at first, which had been just fine with her. He had agreed to pretty much everything she suggested: taking a cab to the harbour instead of her car, eating an egg-salad sandwich from a street vendor, then wandering the piers on the lookout for anything suspicious. She could have been on her own for all the difference having Rogers along had made, but she didn't mind that in the least.
It was only after the restaurants and pubs had closed that Tyler had started to be a major pain in the… neck. Somehow he'd become more confident, and before she could protest, he was sharing — no, make that *imposing* his ideas on her: they had to melt in with the night crowd, hang out in one of the nightclubs, and worse! He had suggested they played the part of a couple.
At that point she'd thought she would kill him. She'd had to take a deep breath and slowly — *very* slowly — count to ten. All in all, his idea wasn't that bad. And in fact it would have been exactly what she'd have done if Clark had been with her. But then, pretending to be a couple had become a routine for them. She had never feared that Clark would read more into it than a simple way to protect a cover. And okay, maybe, deep down, very deep and very down, a teeny tiny part of her had wanted to believe that there was more to it than pretence. Even back then.
Lois kicked off her shoes and padded barefoot to the kitchen to pour herself a glass of milk.
She wasn't any closer to finding anything about those murders than when Perry had assigned this story to her. In fact, the night had been a complete waste of her time. And Tyler was a complete waste of space.
She would have to convince Perry that she had to go on her own and play the part of a potential victim. And if he insisted that she needed Tyler with her, well, she'd find a way to lose that annoying bug in the crowd.
After all, losing irritating co-workers was something she was skilled at. She'd had plenty of practice over the years. It had even worked with Clark at first, before he'd started to grow on her.
Lois slumped onto her sofa and buried her head in her hands.
She would give anything to have Clark back with her. Anything — her Kerth awards, her job, even her partnership with him. If the devil himself appeared in front of her now and offered to let her trade her soul for Clark's life, she wouldn't hesitate. Not if it meant that she could see him walking through that door, a sunny smile on his face and words of love for her on his lips.
"Clark, I love you," she whispered soundlessly as the tears began to fall again.
Superman scanned the harbour area for the source of the scream. It had come from… yes, somewhere over there. He dropped down swiftly, then came to an abrupt halt, almost falling to the ground.
A young woman lay on the ground, face-down. Her clothes were disarranged in a way which suggested that she'd been raped.
She had shoulder-length dark hair, styled in a bob. She was slightly taller than medium height, and of slim build. Her shoes… oh, god, her shoes…
Lois's shoes. He recognised that pair of black heels, he was sure of it.
His heart in his mouth, Clark crouched beside the body — she was dead, he'd already seen that. Her head lay at too unnatural an angle for anything else.
Was it Lois? Oh, god, please don't let it be Lois…
Gently, he raised her head… and all of his breath rushed back into his lungs. It wasn't Lois.
It was a woman a few years younger than Lois, judging by her appearance. Someone who'd been out for a night on the town and had ended up getting raped and murdered.
The bitter taste of bile filled Clark's throat. Okay, it hadn't been Lois. This time. But it so easily could have been.
He straightened, then concentrated hard. The scream hadn't come all that long ago, and the woman's body was still warm. That meant that her killer was probably still in the area…
Seconds later, he was gripping a man by the back of his collar and flying him to the nearest police station. "Here," he said roughly as he dumped the man in front of the desk sergeant. "If you run tests on his clothing and the blood and skin under his fingernails, not to mention other DNA tests, you'll probably discover that he's the lowlife who's been raping and killing young women by the harbour. And, by the way, you should send an ambulance to Thirtieth and Whittier — there's another victim there."
The officer, whose jaw was still slack, nodded and made a note of the address. "Dead?" he enquired.
"Unfortunately, yes." Clark, feeling that he'd done enough, turned on his heel and walked out.
It hadn't been Lois. Not this time. But it could have been.
And maybe one day it would be.
His eyes burning with tears which he refused to shed, Clark took off in a vertical motion. Not even pausing to consider where he was going, he found himself hovering outside Lois's apartment window.
He had to see her. Had to know that she was all right. Had to see for himself that she was alive and well.
And she was there. Sitting on her sofa, alive and well…
…and crying. Sobbing her heart out.
With an inarticulate cry, he pushed her window open and rushed into the room, reaching for her and tugging her into his arms. She came, slumping against him and laying her head against his chest. Her tears soaked the front of his Suit, even as his own eyes filled with the moisture he'd been fighting back for so long. For too long.
She was safe. And, as long as she was safe, he could endure anything. Because he loved her, and always would.
Lois didn't know how long it was before the tears stopped and she raised her head. All she knew was that she'd been held in warm, strong, comforting arms. Arms which didn't belong to the man she wanted more than anything else in the world — but which would suffice for now.
She didn't even know when Superman had come in. All she'd known was that she'd been desolate, unable to stop crying, and suddenly he'd been there, pulling her into his arms, holding her.
She was grateful. But, at the same time, all the reasons why she didn't want to be around him remained. Being close to him was too painful a reminder of the night Clark had died… the night when she'd desecrated his memory by having sex with Superman on the floor.
So she pulled back, escaping Superman's hold, intending to thank him for his concern but insist that she was okay. And then she noticed the glistening in his eyes, and the words dried up on her tongue.
He'd been *crying*? *Superman* had been crying?
Hesitantly, awkwardly, she reached up and touched him just beneath one eye. Her finger came away moist.
"What is it?" she whispered.
He caught her hand, holding it tightly in his. "Can… do you mind if we talk?"
Unable to refuse — the dark, haunted expression in his eyes reminded her too much of her own emotional state at the moment — she nodded and gestured towards the sofa.
"I — heard a cry for help tonight," he began jerkily, once they were seated and she'd looked at him enquiringly. "Sure, I hear those all the time, but… When I got there, Lois, I found a dead woman. She'd been raped and strangled. And she… she looked just like you."
"What?" She gasped and stared at him. "She looked like me?"
"From behind, yes. She was lying face-down on the ground. But her height and build, her hair… even her shoes were like yours. Lois, for a moment — the longest moment of my entire life! — I thought you'd been killed!" He shuddered.
Lois could only stare at him. It wasn't the fact that the dead woman resembled her which shocked her. It was Superman's reaction to it. She'd never seen him so distressed; not even on the night Clark had been killed.
<You might consider that I don't really want to lose two people that I care about in the same week>
His harsh words from a couple of nights ago came back to her, and she blanched. He really did care about her. And believing that she was dead had clearly affected him just as much as Clark's death had affected her.
Superman cared deeply about her. And she'd been treating him like something the cat had dragged in.
So what if she was angry with herself for what she'd done the night Clark had been killed? That was no excuse for using Superman as a scapegoat.
Lois reached out for Superman's hand, squeezing it comfortingly; he responded by gripping hers tightly in return. "I'm not dead," she said softly. "I'm here. I'm alive and well."
"I know," he whispered. "I can see that. I just can't help being afraid that… Lois, you take risks. And you told me the other day that you didn't care whether you stayed alive or not -"
*She* had made him so terrified for her safety? "Superman, I'm sorry! You caught me at a low moment, okay? I didn't mean you to think that!"
His gaze didn't leave her face; his hand tightened around hers. "I'm glad, Lois. I can't lose you too…"
Involuntarily, her hand reached up to stroke his face. "You're not going to lose me, Superman."
"I… oh, god, Lois…" And he leaned closer to her until his lips covered hers.
The strangled cry never made it past her mouth. In his kiss, she could feel the despair, the fear, and her initial desire to push him away quickly died away. She remained passive in his arms, letting his tongue trace the outline of her lips, granting him entry into her mouth, offering no resistance as he pushed her against the back of the sofa. She closed her eyes.
Her senses heightened, she could feel his hands caress the back of her shoulders and slide down her ribcage to rest at her waist. She could hear his breathing, coming in short puffs between his maddeningly sweet kisses. Her heart was hammering against her chest. Her fingertips tingled where she reached for him for support.
She felt the tight control she exerted on her self-control slip away; no matter how much she wanted to keep a clear head, Superman's kisses were driving her to the brink of insanity. She had wanted him for so long. She had dreamt about his arms holding her close and his mouth trailing fire on her skin. She had fantasised about passionate nights of lovemaking…
It was all within her reach now. Superman was hers. He'd been hers a few nights ago, and he was giving himself to her once more. The gate was open; she'd taken a step in already. Was it too late to go back? Did she even want to go back?
His lips left hers for a moment, and she felt their moisture on the side of her throat. His hand supported her neck, and she shifted to lie fully on the couch until her head rested against the armrest. Superman was lavishing her skin with kisses, seemingly unaware of her restrained response.
Her head fell back in surrender to the whisper of her name. She gave him full access, acknowledging that he would burst through the physical gate she was opening for him. Like every other man in her past, he would take more than she gave. Like a starving man, he would rush through those first moments of lovemaking to get what he wanted. He hadn't spent a great deal of time on foreplay the other night — not that she had cared. She had been just as eager as he to get on with it and just get the whole thing over with.
"Lois, I —"
Her kiss silenced him. She didn't want to hear his voice. Somehow it reminded her of Clark, and she wanted to remember at all times that she wasn't with the man she loved. She wanted to be strong and push him away; pull away from him and tell him they didn't have a future together.
He knew they had no future together. He had incessantly rejected her before Clark had died. He had told her there were things about him she would never know, and which made any relationship impossible. They might be physically intimate, but he didn't know her any more than she knew him.
She would not give in to the pull of her attraction to him. He might have been the man she had most wanted a few weeks ago, but her feelings had changed. She would not let him know how much his ministrations enticed her. He was not Clark. Clark was who she wanted. She would not surrender to her mad desire for him. She would not… would… not…
"— need you…" he gasped before kissing her again.
Her whimper of protest dissolved in his kiss. She could feel his fear, his despair, and she wanted to soothe his distress away. He needed her. The words, blurted out so fast she'd barely heard them, resonated in her mind. He needed her, just like she needed him.
Her arms hooked around his waist, pressing his body to hers. She felt one of his hands sneak between them and tug at her shirt. She heard the buttons snap, then a fresh breeze caressed her skin, making her shiver and press closer to him. Gathering her in his arms, Superman rose to his feet. She saw the room move about them, and then she was lying on her bed, the dark shadow of her lover looming over her.
Her lover. Superman was her lover. She had to come to terms with what it meant and the consequences on her life. Their life. She had thought of their first night as a one-time thing. Something they both regretted and would never happen again. Now, though…
He was being tender with her, taking his time as he worshipped her body and whispered sweet nonsense into her ear. And she wanted to believe him. She wanted to give in to feelings she'd suppressed since Clark's death. She couldn't love Superman. She couldn't be in love with a man who had failed to save her best friend. She couldn't be in love with a man… and cry days and nights for another. She couldn't be in love with two men at once. Every touch, every kiss felt like a betrayal of Clark. Every touch made it harder to pull away and deny her body the love it craved.
The love she craved…
But this wasn't it. This wasn't what she wanted… wasn't *who* she wanted…
Superman's lips met hers again, as his fingers trailed a fiery path over her body and towards where she most needed his touch. It would be so easy to shut her eyes, to give in again to the sensations, to let him take her to ecstasy… to allow him to possess her body once more.
To pretend that she loved him.
Yes, it would be easy… but in the morning she would regret it once more. And she would hate herself much more than before, because this time she knew what she was doing. This time her mind wasn't clouded by grief and anger. This time, she was fully conscious of where she was and who she was with. Of who it was who was kissing her and touching her and… and making love to her…
"No!" The cry escaped from her almost without volition. But it was the right thing to do, and she knew it.
Her lover's head jerked up; his brown eyes, so like Clark's, met hers in passion-dazed confusion. "No?"
She dragged herself away from him; he let her go, rolling over and away from her without taking his gaze from hers. "Lois, what's wrong?" he asked, his voice low.
"Oh, so I can't say no without there being a problem?" she snapped at him.
"Of course not!" he exclaimed, sounding stung. "You should know that I wouldn't… Look, it's just that you look so… I don't know… as if you were appalled. Did I do something wrong?"
No, she had… but then, she reminded herself, hardening her heart, he had too. Simply by being there. By being alive. By not being Clark.
"*This* is wrong," she said flatly. "This. Us. You."
He was sitting on the bed now, his Suit in perfect order — when had he pulled it all back into place? — and with a sombre expression on his face. "I'm sorry, Lois. I thought you wanted…?"
"Not with you," she said abruptly, uncaring that he flinched at her words. "I love Clark. How can I be with you, Superman, when you're not him?
He wasn't Clark. She thought he wasn't Clark.
Even as he got to his feet, even as the mask he was taking care to keep on his face to prevent her from seeing his feelings threatened to crack, a tiny, flickering light of hope dawned.
She loved Clark. Loved *him*. And that was why she'd just pushed him away. Because she thought he wasn't Clark.
But he was! And all he had to do was tell her!
He rehearsed the words in his mind, vocalising them silently as if he needed to remember how to pronounce the name. As if it had been so long since he'd introduced himself as Clark Kent that he had actually forgotten.
<Lois, I am Clark>
<Lois, you *can* be with me — I'm Clark!>
<I'm Clark, Lois, and I love you too…>
And then, even as he opened his mouth to voice the words, painful reality struck him.
He couldn't tell her. What purpose would it serve? If she found out now that he was Clark… well, apart from unleashing all the fury of Lois Lane at her worst upon him, and she'd be justified, what good would it do? Clark Kent was still dead.
There was no way that he could change that reality, no matter how much he wanted to. Dozens of people had seen him shot at point- blank range. Despite his body not having been found, he'd been declared dead by everyone who mattered — the police, the media… Lois.
So what good would telling her the truth do?
He felt his shoulders slump as he accepted that there was nothing he could do. At last, Lois loved him — but she loved the wrong him. It was ironic — for so long he'd wanted her to love Clark and not Superman. He'd been jealous of her feelings for his alter ego — so much so that he'd even occasionally made spiteful remarks about her interest in Superman.
And now, when he wanted her to love the only part of him which remained, she was only interested in Clark.
So he presented the mask to Lois and inclined his head. "As you wish, Lois. I'll get out of your way. Goodnight."
And he turned and walked towards her bedroom door, wishing that his pride wouldn't insist that he move at normal human speed. That he could just fly out of there and be away from her in under a second, away and on his way to somewhere remote and lonely where he could weep in private for all that he'd lost.
Including Lois — for after this how could he ever see her again?
He was leaving. Walking out the door. In another couple of seconds, he'd have reached the window, and then he'd fly off into the night.
But wasn't that what she wanted?
Lois stared at Superman's retreating back, wondering why it was that, ever since Clark had died, she seemed to have no idea at all what she wanted.
But what she didn't want, she was very sure right at this moment, was to lose the one friend she seemed to have left. And Superman was her friend. Once she pushed aside the memory of them sprawled on her bed, kissing frantically as he tugged at the buttons on her shirt and lavished caresses all over her heated skin, she remembered those moments in her living-room. When she'd been crying, and at exactly the right time he'd come to her and held her, and soothed away her tears.
When he'd shown her that he cared whether she lived or died.
When he'd shown her that she meant something to him… that he needed her.
And she'd just told him that she could never care about him, because he wasn't Clark…
The look in his eyes as he'd told her goodnight would haunt her.
She closed her eyes, unable to bear the memory of the way he'd looked at her; and yet the pain, the hurt in his brown eyes, eyes so like Clark's, stared back at her from inside her closed lids. And his voice reverberated inside her skull…
<I'll get out of your way. Goodnight>
She'd told him that she didn't want him. That he was in the way.
Suddenly appalled, horrified at the realisation of what she'd done, Lois scrambled to her feet and ran, slipping in her stockinged feet as she did so, out of her bedroom and into the living-room.
It was empty, the curtains swishing lightly in silent reproach to her. Superman had just left, probably mere seconds before.
How could she let him go like that? How could she let him believe that she hated him?
She leaned out the window. "Superman! Please, come back! I'm sorry!"
Silence greeted her call of his name.
She waited, hoping to see a streak of red and blue fly back to her window. Nothing. If he heard her, Superman was choosing to ignore her apology.
Her fists tightened on the windowsill, and she leaned down, looking at the street below. There was no trace of him, of course. Damn that superspeed! She had no chance of catching up with him, even if she ran down the stairs and searched the whole neighbourhood. He'd flown god knew where to nurse his wounds. Wounds she'd inflicted upon him. She'd hurt him. He was Superman; he was invulnerable; and she'd hurt him. He'd been there for her while she mourned for the loss of her best friend — *their* best friend — and now she was pushing him away, rejecting him so callously that he hadn't been able to hide his pain as he flew away.
With a despondent sigh, she padded back to the bedroom and reached for the phone. Her finger started to dial a number she knew by heart and… and she jerked away just as quickly. Her eyes stayed fixed on the keys she'd pounded.
A number she'd dialled so many times before.
When she needed comfort…
When she wanted to share something…
When she felt like hearing his voice…
She curled up on the bed, hugging a pillow to her chest. Unbidden, tears rolled down her cheeks. She didn't fight them. Loneliness was taking its toll on her. There was no-one left she could turn to. Nobody to hold her while tears racked her body.
Her voice tore at his heart. She was calling him. She needed him. No, he amended quickly. She didn't need him. She didn't want him.
"Please, come back!"
How could he come back? How could he face her after… after he'd practically made love to her again? After she'd rejected him. After she'd told him that she loved another man. Not another man. Him. Him, before he died. A shadow of what he was now. He couldn't face her now. He couldn't comfort her.
He couldn't bear to hear the pain in her voice as she pleaded with him to come back. But facing her would be even harder. Clark was dead, but his love for her was stronger than ever, and every breath he took felt like a betrayal to the woman he loved.
Conscience battled with him again. He should go back and tell her the whole truth. He should reveal himself to her as what he once had been, and was no more. He should…
And what? Destroy whatever love she had left for him by revealing that the man she was in love with was no more than a liar? That he'd never really died? That he'd put her through the grief of losing her partner when he'd never been in any real danger?
He put on another burst of speed towards the north, over the mountains and to the small cabin he'd turned into a home.
He hadn't had a choice. He'd had to get away. Lois wanted something — someone he couldn't give her. She wanted Clark. For all the times she'd rejected his human self, making him feel like the lowest form of life and never worth the time of her day… his death had made her realise that Clark meant more to her than she'd thought. She was in love with a dead man. A man who'd been shot at point-blank range and had no hope of coming back to life without revealing his biggest secret.
His hands fisted. His teeth gritted. Anger flared within his gut, but he kept it in tight check. He would not let his emotions get the better of him this time. He couldn't tell her. Lois's love for Clark was what kept him going. He couldn't take the risk of losing it now. Without her love, he was lost. Left in a world that had nothing more to offer but disaster, crime and pain on a daily basis.
He had known that life as Superman wouldn't be easy. He had been aware of the burden that came with taking on his superhero job full-time. And true, tonight, Lois had been there for Superman, soothing his fears and nursing his pain as he told her about the woman he'd been too late to rescue. Tonight, more than ever, he'd realised how hard it would be to learn to live without the extra perspective that Clark's life had given him until now. He couldn't pretend that he was a normal guy leading a normal life.
He couldn't pretend that he could give Lois the man she now wanted. Clark was dead. He wouldn't come back. Telling her that he'd once been her best friend and partner might relieve his conscience, but what good would it do for her? For them?
He couldn't give up on her either, though. The one night they'd spent together, as short as it had been, had haunted him every minute of his life since. Grief and passion had mingled as they let their desire overtake reason, but his love for her had never been as strong as it had been then.
He didn't want to let her go.
His hearing tuned into the noises of the city far below, searching for a sound that never failed to reassure him. There it was. The strong beating of her heart. The…
She was crying.
Less than a second later, he was airborne and flying back towards the West Side. Towards Lois.
The window to the sitting room was still open, and he silently made his way inside the darkened apartment. He could hear her soft whimpers now, and every one of them felt like a knife twisting in his gut.
He floated to the bedroom, careful to pause at the door and give her time to make out his shape before he sat on the bed. Wide eyes, bright with tears, looked up at him, but she didn't flinch.
His hand reached down to touch her shoulder. He expected rejection. She didn't move. There was no sign of reaction on her face.
He wanted to lie next to her and hold her close. He wanted to offer her comfort, take her pain away. Fear kept him at arms' length. Lois had made her feelings clear earlier. He could be her friend, but she was not looking for intimacy with him, and after tonight, she was bound to take any gesture of affection for another attempt at seducing her. He didn't want her to be scared of him. He wanted her to trust him.
She held out a shaky hand towards him. Her eyes pleaded with him to take it. And, with an inarticulate murmur, he sank down on the bed beside her and pulled her into his arms, holding her against his chest. She snuggled against him, her head resting in the crook of his shoulder, and for several moments all he could hear were soft sobs.
He stroked her hair, not trusting himself to say anything. What could he say? She was crying because Clark was dead, and what could he say about that? He'd already had that argument with himself, several times over. It was best that she continued to believe he was dead.
Then the sobs ceased and he heard her say quietly, "I'm sorry, Superman."
"There's nothing to be sorry for," he murmured in response.
"Yes, there is," she insisted. "I was cruel to you. Just because Clark's… d- dead, that's no reason to be horrible to you. You were his friend too. And it's…" She broke off to sniff again. "… it's not as if you killed him."
<Didn't I?> Clark asked himself brutally. He'd made the decision that Clark should play dead. And he'd made the decision to stay dead, too. But he couldn't tell Lois that. Instead, he said quietly, "I know that you loved him. I understand that. And that… I'm not him."
"Yes, but — oh, Superman, it's much more complicated than that!" Lois exclaimed. She wriggled to a sitting position, and he released his hold on her, thinking that she wanted to be free. But she tugged at his arm, sliding closer to him at the same time. He took the hint and floated himself so that he was sitting up, then put his arm around her shoulders and drew her against him again.
"That's better," she said approvingly. "Anyway," she continued, now sounding sad and regretful again, "what you don't know is that I never *told* Clark that I love him! I… I think I've known I love him for a long time. But I was horrible to him, Superman! I… Did you know that he had feelings for me last summer? When I almost married Lex Luthor? And I rejected him. And in the very same moment I pretty much told him that you were the only person who could make me change my mind about marrying Lex Luthor. I don't know how he ever forgave me for that." She sniffed then, dropping her head to his shoulder.
So she did realise just what she'd done to him then, Clark thought, and an old injury, which he'd wrapped up and hidden away for months, swearing that it really didn't hurt any more, began to heal.
"I think Clark forgave you because he loved you," he ventured after a short silence. It was the truth, and if it would help Lois now, he wanted her to know it. After all, he *had* forgiven her long ago, and her apology now, even if she didn't know she was making it to the right person, did help.
"Yeah, I know. That's what makes it all so much worse!" she exclaimed, then sobbed again. "See, Superman, Clark did love me. And I… He was right under my nose, Superman, and I never saw him! I never looked at him, not really. And he was the best thing ever to happen to me, and all I could do was date other guys — men not fit to tie his bootstraps — instead of him. Or — and this is worse — keep comparing him unfavourably to you!"
"Lois, there's no point torturing yourself about the past," Clark said, hugging her gently. "It's over. You can't change it now. Just remember that Clark loved you, and he'd want you to be happy. He'd be glad to know that you love him, but he'd want you to find someone else who'll love you just as much as he did."
Lois shifted, then shifted again; Clark knew from experience that she was working up to asking him something he wasn't sure that he'd like. But he waited, knowing that she'd get to it in her own good time.
And she did. "Superman," she began, her tone careful.
"Do you believe it's possible to love two people at once?"
"What?" He'd had no idea what to expect from her, but it certainly hadn't been that.
"I mean," she explained, "I love Clark. You know that. And I wish I'd known it sooner, because… well, you know about that. But what if I told you that I love… someone else too?"
A white-hot arrow made of Kryptonite had pierced his heart. Clark was sure of it. How else could he feel so much pain?
Lois loved someone else? Already? But he'd only been dead a week! How could she move on so soon? How could she forget him so easily?
But he couldn't let those feelings show. Staring rigidly straight ahead, he forced himself to say, "You… do?"
"Yes," she whispered. "I.. realised it earlier. That's why I stopped you, Superman — I was having a really hard time dealing with it."
She'd realised that she loved someone else while *he* was making love to her? Boy, this woman really knew how to make a man feel good. Everything in him wanted to pull away from her, to walk out, for good this time. How could he possibly want to be with a woman who could treat him like this?
"You're not saying anything… I guess that means you think I'm… shallow?" she ventured. "I… I don't understand it either. I mean, how can I love Clark, but be in love with you too, Superman?"
He leaned back against the headboard, feeling like a huge weight had been lifted from his chest… to be replaced with an equally heavy weight.
She loved Superman. She loved Clark, but she also loved Superman. A week earlier, he would have considered this his dream come true, but now… he had only Superman to offer to her.
Lois sat up and turned towards him. She brushed the hair away from her face and held it in a ponytail for a few seconds before releasing it with a sigh. "I know it's probably not what you wanted to hear, that you probably think that what we've got going is nothing more than… well, mindless sex and —"
"It's never been mindless to me, Lois."
He reached for her hand and held it tightly. "I'm in love with you, too. I have been in love with you for such a long time."
She closed her eyes. Opened them again. She didn't talk, nor smile. She sat there, staring at him. Her hand felt warm in his, and reminded him that he wanted to pull her into a hug. He didn't dare. Her reaction was not what he'd expected. After her declaration of love, he'd thought that she would jump into his arms as soon as he told her the feeling was mutual, but…
"Superman," she said, interrupting his musings. "Last year, I dreamt of hearing you say those words, but so much happened… I mean, there was, well, my wedding, and —"
"And I'm sorry! I'm so sorry about what I told you then. I never meant to… well, okay, I did mean to hurt you." He lowered his head and sighed. "You'd hurt me."
"How could I have hurt you? All I said was that I was in love with you!"
He blushed. Of course she hadn't hurt *Superman*. She'd hurt Clark. She'd rejected Clark, then thrown herself at Superman and pretended she loved the real person in him, not the superhero. Not to mention… "You made it sound like blackmail. If I didn't respond to your feelings you were going to throw yourself at Lex."
She blanched. He watched her body stiffen. Her fingers tightened around his, and he could feel her nails dig into his palms.
"Lois, I don't think it's a good idea to talk about this."
"No! No… We never actually talked about this. *I* never talked about this. With anybody. Not even with Clark. And yes, it's a part of my life I'd rather forget, but I realise I hurt you, and I'm sorry. I hurt Clark, too. I wish… I wish I'd had time to tell him…"
He squeezed her hand. "He knows. I mean, he forgave you a long time ago," he added when she blinked at him.
"How do you… Oh! I guess he talked to you."
Clark nodded and relaxed against the headboard. He wished she would change the subject. He hated lying to Lois, and even though the truth was pointless now, he didn't like having to pretend that Clark Kent had been somebody else.
He felt her arms sneak around his waist. Her head rested against his chest. His hand brushed through her hair. It felt so good to hold her like this, to know that she really wanted to be in his arms and had initiated their embrace. For the first time since Clark's death, she was showing genuine affection towards him, the same way she had for Clark.
"What did he tell you?"
"What do you mean?"
"What did he tell you about me?"
Why did she want to know? She was hurting herself again and, judging from the way Superman was looking at her now, eyes full of concern and something akin to… was it embarrassment? — she was hurting him, too. Of course she was. He was holding her, the woman who had just told him she was in love with him, in his arms, and all she could do was think and talk about the other man she had very strong feelings for.
She sighed and lowered her head, unable to sustain his puzzled gaze any longer. "I'm sorry, Superman. I won't talk about Clark again. I know it's insensitive towards you, and I never meant to make you think that he matters more to me than you do. I mean he does matter to me. Very much so. And I can't lie to you about the strong feelings I have for him. Even though he's… dead, there's still one part of me that won't let him go."
"You really loved him."
It wasn't a question. It didn't sound like a reproach either. She felt Superman's embrace tighten a little before he spoke again.
"I can't be Clark Kent, Lois. I can't bring him back either, although I dearly wish I could. But I do love you. And, okay, a relationship with me is far from being simple. I can't be a boyfriend who takes you out and treats you to dinner. I won't be able to hold your hand or kiss you or even show the tiniest of affection towards you in public. It'd be too dangerous. It's already dangerous enough that I'm here. If anybody found out…"
"Villains have always used me to get at you," Lois pointed out.
"But they would do it even more if they knew how much you mean to me. I told you, Lois. I can't bear the thought of losing you. If you died…"
"I'm alive. And I guess it's time I admitted to myself that I need you, too."
Just like he needed her, she added silently. His expression as he'd found her at the gambling club still haunted her thoughts; he'd looked haggard and lost, as if his entire world had just crumbled. She'd been so busy crying over her own loss that she hadn't spent much time dwelling on Superman's feelings, but he was hurting, too. Clark and he had obviously been close friends.
He bent down to kiss her. It was sweet. Shy. Almost chaste. Quite unlike their earlier passion. It was the way she'd always thought Clark would kiss her.
He was so like Clark in lots of ways, she thought, wrapping her arms around Superman's neck to pull him down beside her. Of course, he was very different too — not just because of the powers, but because of the air of confidence, of authority, he projected to the world. Clark had never been like that; he could be confident, but he could also be diffident and would frequently defer to others out of politeness. He had lacked Superman's air of command.
Yet she was now seeing a side of Superman that she had never imagined existed. Vulnerability, for one. The strongest man in the world, the man who was utterly impervious to anything except Kryptonite, had shown her over the past couple of weeks that he had feelings and that he could be hurt. *She* had hurt him.
And losing Clark had hurt him deeply too, she acknowledged again. She wasn't the only one who had lost a very dear friend. And, it occurred to her, friends weren't something that Superman seemed to have a lot of. He'd as good as told her that when he'd said he didn't want to lose her too — when he'd been so distressed at the thought that she might have been killed.
He loved her. And he also needed her.
He *needed* her. When had anyone ever needed Lois Lane before? Even Clark, though he'd loved her, hadn't really needed her, had he? No; Clark had always seemed happy with his life and, although she'd known that he enjoyed her company, he'd had plenty of friends. In fact, she thought with a shock, she'd probably needed Clark more than he needed her.
Unlike Superman. She turned onto her side to look at the man lying next to her on the bed, his arms lightly around her. He was watching her, his brown eyes a little wary. Was he thinking that she might change her mind again and ask him to leave a second time?
She raised her hand and stroked his cheek; he caught her hand with his and held it there.
"I love you, Superman," she murmured, holding his gaze with hers.
"And I love you, Lois," he whispered. "But… you have to know what you're getting yourself into here."
"I know," she assured him. "You told me — and anyway, I guess I knew it anyway. I went a little crazy last year, didn't I? I mean, I had visions of being on your arm in public, as your girlfriend. I even imagined walking up the aisle to you. I can't believe that I was so naive!"
He shook his head. "Not naive. Those are perfectly reasonable expectations when you're in love. But I can't offer you any of that. And I'd understand it if you can't bring yourself to settle for what I can offer," he added quietly.
"Do you love me?" she demanded.
"You know I do."
"Then even if all you can offer is a few nights like this, Superman, I'll take it," she said immediately. "I'll take *you*." Lois bit her lip. "I never took what I could have had with one man I loved, and I'll regret that for the rest of my life. I can't risk losing out on love a second time."
"Then, if you're sure…" He trailed off, watching her. She nodded, reassuring him once more. And he gathered her closer, kissing her deeply and letting her know through his caresses, his soft whispers and his tender kisses, how much he wanted her.
And this time, when they made love, she had no regrets at all.
Clark lay on Lois's bed, staring up at the ceiling as the woman he loved slept in his arms.
He should be feeling as if all of his dreams had come true. Lois loved him. Him, Clark. And him, Superman. She'd made love to him as if he were the most precious thing in her life. She'd matched him touch for touch, kiss for kiss, caress for caress… and echoed all his words of love. She was his.
But he couldn't be hers. Not the way he longed to be. Not the way she needed him to be. Now, he could only give her a tiny part of himself, the part which wasn't real — the part which could only be her secret lover and never her boyfriend. Never her husband.
He wanted to be in her life in every way. Working beside her at the Planet. Going out on dates with her. Spending evenings with her snuggled up on his sofa eating pizza and watching videos. Telling the whole world that he was in love with Lois Lane and she with him. Declaring that love in front of the people they cared about by becoming her husband in a marriage ceremony, which would be the best day of their lives. Yes, he wanted it all. And, because of a gangster's bullet, he couldn't have any of it.
If he could only go back, relieve those few seconds in the club all over again, he would… he would…
No, he admitted after several minutes' frustration. He would do none of it differently. If he could relive that evening and they again got to the point where Dillinger started pawing Lois, he would do exactly the same thing again. He would protect her, even knowing what he would be giving up in order to do so.
Okay. So Clark Kent was gone, and instead of wallowing in self- pity over the death of his alter ego it was time that he got on with living the half-life he had left to him. So he was Superman full-time; well, in some ways that would make things much easier. After all, there would be no more need for barely-plausible excuses, no more need to live a lie in front of the people he cared about.
Except the lie that he'd never been anyone other than Superman… but that was a past he needed to bury if he were going to be able to move on.
Lois's voice, thick with sleep, came at just the right moment. Yes, he was Superman now.
He turned his head towards her, noting that her eyes remained closed and she was still pressed against him under the covers. "Yes, sweetheart?"
"What's your name?" Her eyes flickered open briefly.
The name almost escaped his lips, but he stopped himself just in time. Hadn't he just agreed that he wasn't Clark any more? Clark was dead. Long live Superman.
"What do you mean, Lois?" he asked instead.
"Well, I know your name's not Superman," she said, sounding more awake now, and her hand began to trace paths over his chest. "I christened you that, remember? So you must have another name."
Of course he did. "Kal-El," he told her. "I'm Kal-El, son of Jor- El and Lara of Krypton."
"Kal…el," she repeated slowly. "Can I call you Kal? Is El some sort of last name?"
Was it? Clark didn't know. But then he remembered what his father had actually said in the hologram. "El is our house, so I guess it is kind of like a last name. So, yes, I'd like it if you called me Kal."
And there was his new identity, now that Clark was gone forever. To the woman he loved, he could be Kal of Krypton. It was far from being everything he wanted, but it was something.
"Love me," she whispered, pressing herself close to him again.
The request was a soft murmur against his throat. He pressed his hand to her cheek, amazed with the adoration in her eyes as she looked up at him. She'd always looked at Superman with awe, but this was different. This was real. She truly loved him, the real person. There were no more doubts to have. No more questions about Lois preferring the man in the Suit to her work partner. The work partner was no more. The real man always wore the Suit now.
"Your wish is my command," he promised her, and kissed her deeply.
He was not Clark any more. He was finished pretending that his human identity prevailed. He was finished faking the need for another job. What did it matter that Superman was the real person anyway? He was a real person, and right now he was nothing more than Superman. Clark was not part of this relationship. He had been, briefly, on that very first night when Lois had been looking for comfort and he had desperately needed her to love him and reassure him that he was still alive. She had made love to Clark that night, even if she had been with Superman. In any case, it was *Clark* who had made love to her.
He deliberately pushed Clark aside. Tonight, and for the rest of their lives, Superman — *Kal* would be the man holding her in his arms. Kal would be the one she whispered sweet words of love to. Kal would not hide his abilities from her…
He floated with her several feet off the bed and revelled in her gasp of surprise. She wasn't scared. Lois had never been afraid of what he could do; she'd always taken his powers as something positive.
She kissed him again; it was all the encouragement he needed, and he proceeded to show her how a super-powered man could make love.
There was nothing but warmth around her. Nothing but love. There was no sense of loneliness, of insecurity. Just the knowledge that she was loved by one of the most wonderful men she'd ever met. She hadn't felt this good in… years.
She was alive.
She was happy.
Stirring into wakefulness, Lois propped herself onto her elbow and reached for K…
He was gone!
Within a second, she was on her feet and fighting to wrap the sheet around her naked body while running to the living-room to turn on the TV. She had to know what had happened. She had to know what had dragged him out of her bed. Why he'd left her. Whether it had been an emergency, or… Or if he'd just changed his mind. If he'd decided he didn't want her after all.
She had to know if he was okay.
LNN's live footage was showing a fire raging on the East Side; the commentator was mentioning Superman's presence on site and the hard work he'd accomplished over the past hour, getting people out of the furnace and fighting the flames alongside the Metropolis fire department.
He hadn't run out on her.
Chastising herself for her lack of faith in Kal's love, Lois quashed the unwelcome thought and sank onto the couch, her eyes not wavering from the screen.
Kal was zipping in and out of focus. Most of the time he was just a blur, slowing down only to bring the building's inhabitants back to safe ground. Despite her knowledge that he was invulnerable, she winced every time she saw him run through the flames. Here was the man she loved, fighting a raging fire with, she was sure, only one thing on his mind: to save as many people as possible.
He was the most unselfish person she knew.
Her thoughts immediately returned to Clark. Clark would have been just the same as Superman. Maybe not on the same scale, but he had always put others before himself, sometimes at the risk of his own safety.
Like on the night he'd died.
He had been killed protecting her, and she was pretty sure that, if given a second chance, he would do just the same. He hadn't known, though, that by saving her life he would also kill a part of her, that he would break her heart…
If only he'd known how much he meant to her, maybe he wouldn't have taken so many risks and -
She took a deep breath and bravely swallowed back her tears. She would not cry again. Most of all, she didn't want Kal to find her crying over Clark again. It was already embarrassing enough that he knew so much about her feelings for her dead partner. Clark haunted her thoughts constantly, but it was unfair to let Kal see that any more. After last night, talking about Clark as anything more than a friend was off-limits. She wouldn't put their relationship at risk. She loved Kal too much to lose him.
He was being interviewed now. Lois turned up the sound and listened to the firmness of his voice. She admired the self- confidence he displayed in front of cameras. After seeing him cry for the woman he hadn't saved the previous night, she knew that he was a lot more insecure and vulnerable than he appeared to the public eye. He'd let her see that secret part of him. He'd shown her that he had weaknesses, too. And she loved him all the more for his imperfections.
And yet being in love with Kal felt like a betrayal of Clark. She couldn't forget Clark. She couldn't put out of her mind the way he'd smiled at her every morning when she walked down the ramp and into the bullpen, the way he'd brought her coffee without her having to even say she needed her caffeine fix…
She growled and threw her head back against the cushions. She had spent the entire night making shameless, passionate love to an amazing, super-powered man. Superman — *Kal* — was her lover now. Not just a man she felt uncontrollable desire for, not just a man who filled her daydreams and midnight fantasies, not just an unreachable idea of perfection. He was real. He was there.
And he was hers.
She still had to share him with the world. There would be many mornings when she'd wake up to an empty spot beside her, with only the faint scent of his hair on the pillow to confirm it wasn't all a dream. But it was about time she let go of her little girl's fantasies. She had to share Kal with the world. After all, he had warned her that he could not be a normal boyfriend to her. He hadn't mentioned the rescues, but she had known that he could run out at any moment's notice.
And since he could come back just as quickly, it was about time she did something productive. She rose to her feet and looked down at the sheet barely covering her. For the first time in her life, she wished she could wear her lover's shirt. She'd always considered that a useless mark of possession from men to the woman in their life, but now…
She walked back to her bedroom and the chest of drawers at the back. She reached down to retrieve the piece of light blue clothing… a shirt.
He'd been clumsy at times, and coffee stains became a problem if not washed immediately. And so she'd insisted on washing his shirt, and then forgotten to give it back to him once it was dry and ironed. It was still there. Her hands brushed over the soft material, and she had to fight the desire to put it on. Her lover's shirt.
Clark wasn't her lover.
He'd never been, and he would never be. Not now.
And yet it was his shirt she wanted to wear.
It was large and loose on her, enveloping her in its warmth and comfort. She could almost imagine that she had his arms around her, holding her close, instead of just being wrapped in his shirt.
Clark. Always Clark. Why couldn't she get him out of her mind? Why couldn't she accept that he was dead and move on? She had a wonderful man in her life now. And, even though she knew that Kal had loved Clark too, she didn't want to hurt him by letting him see that she couldn't forget her partner. Kal was vulnerable, and he needed her. She couldn't let him think that he came second in her heart, a poor substitute for the man she'd really loved.
It was time she took a shower anyway. Walking into the bathroom, Lois let the shirt slide to the floor and she stepped into the cubicle, turning the jets up to full and hot. It was what she needed to wake herself up properly and make herself focus on what was important.
Moving on. Working out with Kal exactly what kind of a relationship they could have. And putting Clark away where he belonged: in a mental drawer labelled ‰precious memories'.
The past was gone, she told herself. And — though she despised the clichE even as she silently uttered it — today was the first day of the rest of her life.
The fire had been long and brutal. He'd heard the alarms a little late, having had his first decent night's sleep since being shot, and so by the time he'd arrived on the scene the flames had engulfed the building. Firefighters had been working hard to try to control the blaze, and the order had just gone out to vacate the roof — he'd plucked to safety a couple of smoke-eaters who'd been slow to obey instructions.
Finally, working together, they'd managed to extinguish the inferno, and he'd stayed for a few minutes to help check the building's interior — always a distressing task as it involved looking for people who hadn't managed to escape. Bodies.
This time, there hadn't been anyone trapped inside, for which Clark was very relieved. But he was tired, and he reeked of smoke. And he longed for companionship.
He longed for Lois. After the emotion of the late night and early morning, he was anxious to see if she still felt the same way. If she was prepared to put up with a relationship with a man who was half what he'd once been — a man she could never have openly as her boyfriend.
Kal. He was Kal. Not Clark.
He knew that he should go back to his Fortress, the cabin in the woods. But, regardless, he headed for Lois's apartment. It felt far more like home than his new accommodation ever could.
The window was standing open, even though it was a cold November day. Kal flew inside and looked around for Lois. She was in her bedroom, he could see using his vision abilities, sitting at the dressing-table styling her hair.
She'd heard him; she was getting to her feet and hurrying out of the bedroom. "Kal?"
"I'm here, Lois."
"Was everything okay? No-one hurt?"
She knew where he'd been? His surprise must have shown, for she added, "When I realised you were gone, I turned on the TV. LNN had the story."
Unaccountably pleased, Kal smiled. "It was fine. No-one hurt, thankfully. It was a pretty dangerous fire, all the same."
"I guess people could've been hurt if you hadn't been there," she suggested, a hint of shyness in her tone.
"Maybe. I'm just glad I can help."
She came towards him, reaching up to hold him by the shoulders and tug him down to her for a kiss. He came willingly, claiming her lips as if he'd been starved for her. Perhaps, he thought, he had been.
As she began to stroke her hands over his Suit, however, sanity returned. He was stinking, and she had to be tired after last night. They'd made love in more ways than he'd ever thought possible, after all.
He disengaged gently, taking her hands in his to show her that he wasn't rejecting her. "I need a shower, Lois. I'm all smoky and I must be covered in ash and dust. Do you mind if I use your bathroom?"
"Oh, sure!" she exclaimed. "Go right ahead — you know where it is."
He dropped a kiss on the top of her head. "Thanks. And after… we'll talk? I want to be sure that you know what you're getting into here."
"Kal." Lois stood in front of him, blocking his path. "I know that I love you. And I want to be with you. I never thought I'd get a second chance at love and I don't want to waste this one, okay?" she told him softly.
Feeling a lump come to his throat, Kal nodded. Then he moved past her and went on into the bathroom.
The shower was hot; just what he needed. He stood under the jets, face raised to the water, and let it stream down his body until he felt clean. It took a long time; smoke, he'd discovered, permeated every pore and every scrap of fabric.
His Suit would need to be washed too. Which was a problem — he didn't have a change of clothes with him. And putting back on a stained, stinking Suit really didn't appeal. He wondered idly, as he turned off the water, whether Lois had a robe he could borrow.
Stepping out of the shower, he reached for a towel and began to rub himself vigorously. As he did so, his gaze fell on some blue cotton fabric lying on the floor. Picking it up, he realised that it was a shirt. Without stopping to think, he pulled it on, doing up the buttons quickly. Anything was better than that Suit he'd arrived in…
Although he needed some underwear. He wrapped the towel around his waist, wondering whether he should just fly back to his cabin and get a change of clothes. Did he dare wear something other than a Suit? Although Superman was now his life, he longed for the feel of fabric other than Spandex.
Not wanting to leave without telling Lois, he stuck his head around the bathroom door, intending to call to her and tell her that he'd be back in a couple of minutes.
She was in the bedroom, which he hadn't expected. The door opening attracted her attention, and she turned around.
Then her face went white.
"Clark!" she whispered.
He paused at the door. Looked down at himself. Back at her.
Her breath caught in her throat. She felt bile rise in her gut. Her vision clouded. Her ears buzzed loudly. Her knees buckled. She sank onto the bed and tightly gripped the edges of the mattress.
Her thoughts were too jumbled to be processed. She knew where she was. She was aware of the tension in her muscles and of the loud beating of her heart. That was all.
The door to the bathroom closed again.
She looked up.
She'd imagined it, she reasoned. She was going crazy. She was missing Clark so much that she was seeing him everywhere. She was feeling so guilty over her feelings for Clark that she was starting to see him in Kal. It was ridiculous.
She rose from the bed. She walked to the bathroom, uncertain that her legs could support her. She was trembling. She had to be sure.
She opened the door slowly.
Kal was standing there, leaning against the wall, his face buried in his hands, breathing loudly.
He was wearing Clark's shirt, the same shirt she'd worn earlier and left in the bathroom when she'd had her shower. His hair was still wet, and a stubborn lock was falling over his forehead. She glanced at his face. He was looking at her. She recognised the tightness of his jaw, the strength of his chin, the shape of his lips… and his eyes, devoid of any emotion, of any of the compassion and gentleness she'd noticed about Clark's eyes. But it was unmistakable. He wasn't wearing his glasses, but the resemblance was too obvious for it to be just a coincidence.
Clark Kent was standing in front of her.
She felt sick, but she wouldn't give him the pleasure of showing him how much his betrayal affected her. She opened her mouth to speak. Closed it again. She couldn't talk to him. She had nothing to say to him.
Turning on her heels, she stormed back to the bedroom. She needed some fresh air. She had to get out of here.
She grabbed her shoes.
"Lois, we have to talk."
With trembling hands, she started to tie them, wishing she could already be out of the apartment. Out of his sight. Far from him. Far from the memory of his body so close to her, holding her tight, making sweet love to her, telling her that he loved her…
He was standing in front of her. Her head still lowered, she could only see the towel wrapped around his waist and the hem of the shirt that had revealed the truth to her.
She felt his hand on her shoulder and jerked away. "Don't touch me!" The words were out of her mouth before she could control her anger. Strangely, even though her eyes were burning, no tears threatened to spill down her cheeks. The knots in her throat made it hard to breathe, but at least she wasn't taking the risk of crying in front of him.
"Lois, I'm so —"
"Don't!" she cut him off, finally looking up at him. "Don't tell me you're sorry! Don't even try to explain!"
"But you have to understand!"
She jumped to her feet and pushed past him to the living-room. "Understand what? That you're a liar of the worst kind? That you used me? That you manipulated my feelings to get me into bed? Was I worth it at least? Was I good enough for you? Did you have fun with your little deceptive game? How much pleasure did you actually get from seeing me cry over your dead body?"
She should get out of here, but her feet wouldn't carry her out the door. She fussed about the kitchen, tidying the bowl of fruit she'd acquired in her latest health kick the previous day, moving the mug tree to the other side of the counter even though it was perfectly fine where it was, putting the kettle on without pouring any water into it…
"I never meant to hurt you," he said hoarsely.
She swivelled towards him. He was looking at her with pleading eyes. Deceptive eyes. She'd fallen for that once. Not any more.
"You're a jerk of the worst kind," she spat. "Sure took you long enough to make me fall for you. Over a year to have me at your mercy."
"No! Don't even try to say you love me. You never loved me. You never loved anyone but yourself. Heck, Claude probably cared for me more than you do. At least he didn't pretend he loved me for more than a night. He didn't make me promises. And he had the decency to leave once he'd got what he wanted. But it wasn't enough for you, was it? Tell me, how long would it have taken for you to get tired of me?"
He lowered his head. No reply.
"How much time did it take for you to cook up that line about loving me? Did you plan it all from the start? Did you pay Barrow to pull that trigger on you?"
"You know that's not true!"
She could see his face again. He looked shell-shocked; probably amazed at how easily she was figuring him out now. It had taken her long enough, but the deception was over. He could keep pretending, but she didn't have to believe him any more. There was nothing more to believe.
"How would I know? You've been lying to me from day one! I've given you everything I am," she whispered, sustaining his gaze to see if there was the tiniest sign of remorse in his eyes. "I've given you my body. My heart. Every fibre of my being was yours. I actually *loved* you! The two sides of you. And what did you give me? Nothing but lies. Nothing but deceit."
"I never lied when I said I loved you."
"Oh yes, you did." She shook her head. "You let me talk about Clark and my feelings for him. You let me cry over him. And you let me make love to a complete stranger."
She snorted. "No, you're not. The Clark Kent I knew wouldn't have done that. But then Clark never really existed, did he? He was just pretence, like everything you are! Tell me, how many human identities did you invent? Are you also Joe Black from the New York Post? Michael Wiesman from the Daily Star? Do you have partners in those papers, too? Did you fake your death with them, too? How did they take it? Did I cry more than they did? Was it easier to get them into your bed?"
"Don't be unfair!"
"Unfair? Unfair?! Who's being unfair? You were manipulative. Deceptive. I never lied to you about my feelings. I never pretended to feel something I didn't feel. I was very honest with you, right from the start. And you… you just waited for me to… oh god, I don't even know why I'm talking to you!" She sighed and turned back to the counter. "Go. Just go."
"I can't leave you like this." He took a step forward, and she winced. If he touched her now…
"You think you haven't destroyed me enough? You need more tears? You had me at your feet. Congratulations! You're actually the first man I really fell in love with. The first man I truly believed when he said he loved me! Yes, you can be proud of yourself. Lois Lane, award-winning reporter, was utterly fooled by a so-called Kansas hick. Oh, no, don't tell me. The Midwestern accent faked, too. Where were you born? Illinois? Minnesota? California? Oh! What was I thinking? Of course not. You come from Krypton." She rolled her eyes. "You're the alien from outer space, the guy who flies and fights for truth and justice. Or so he says."
"Lois, please… Don't do this…" He was ghostly-white.
Not that she cared.
"Just get out of here. Just leave. I don't want to know where you're going. I don't want you to call me or check on me. Heck, if I get in trouble, I don't want you to fly in to the rescue. I don't want to see you again."
"Don't plead with me. Don't be pathetic. It's over. You can do whatever you want. I don't give a damn now. And you know what? You could have really died the other night and I wouldn't care right now."
He blanched. "You don't mean that."
"You bet I do. Unlike you, my feelings are real. I don't pretend. I meant it when I said I loved you, and right now I mean it when I say I hate you." She pursed her lips and glared at him for a moment. He stayed silent. He didn't move. "I despise you. I want you out of my life."
Reflex made her point to the door. He could leave through the window as well for all she cared. All that mattered was that he was out of her sight as soon as possible. Facing him was unbearable. She closed her eyes.
When she opened them again, he was gone. She walked to the window on auto-pilot and closed it. He was gone. She released a shaky breath. Gone. Out of her life. And this time he wouldn't come back.
It was raining when he reached the cabin; a steady, relentless downpour which was churning the ground to mud and making the trees sodden and gloomy. The weather suited his mood.
Kal — Clark — went inside and let the soaked towel and shirt fall to the floor. Opening a closet, he pulled out an old pair of jeans and a faded sweatshirt, clothing from his Smallville days rather than his time in Metropolis. And, careless of the weather, he headed back outside and started walking.
He wanted to walk for hours. For as long as he could stay standing — which, for him, was likely to be a very long time, he accepted miserably. If only he were really the human male he'd claimed for so long to be — then a few hours of walking really would wear him out. He could drop from exhaustion and succumb to a few blissful hours' oblivion.
If only there was some way to stop thinking. To wipe away the memories. To forget that it had ever happened. To forget the hours spent touching her, caressing her, kissing her… loving her. To forget her face when she'd talked about Clark and how she loved him. To forget the way she'd looked at him when she'd turned and seen him in that shirt.
To forget the hatred in her voice when she'd told him to get out of her life forever.
Not that he didn't deserve it, he told himself bleakly as he tramped through endless acres of wet, dank forest. How could he have been so careless? He'd known that was his shirt. Hadn't he? He must have. It clearly hadn't been Lois's. Why hadn't he recognised it? He'd just picked it up and put it on… and then gone in search of Lois.
What the *hell* had he been thinking?
He hadn't. That was the problem.
Or… had he for some reason subconsciously wanted Lois to know the truth — that her lover, Kal, and her lost love, Clark, were one and the same?
If he had, it had been a *bloody* stupid way to go about it!
He'd always known — had to have known — that if Lois ever found out the truth about him she'd be mad. After all, no matter how loose her own relationship with the truth might be on occasion, she hated being lied to. That was something he'd worked out about her very early in their relationship. She didn't give her trust easily and, once given, she had high standards for those she trusted. Once she'd discovered that he'd been hiding a secret of this magnitude from her, she would naturally hit the roof: he'd always known that.
But that hadn't really worried him too much; he'd always felt that he had legitimate reasons for not telling her. It was a dangerous secret. He had to protect his parents. He had to protect *her*. And, for a long time, he hadn't been sure that he could trust her with the knowledge. All good reasons; all reasons he'd felt confident about putting to her once the appropriate time came.
But he'd always assumed that *he* would be able to choose the time and circumstances in which to confess. And his ideal circumstances had never included being considered dead, much less being in an intimate relationship with Lois as his alter ego.
How could he ever expect Lois to forgive him when he'd made her mourn his loss while all the time he'd been there, spending time with her, comforting her under false pretences as she cried for him? When he'd taken her body while she'd been helpless with grief?
She'd accused him of taking advantage of her, of using the fact that she believed he was dead to seduce his way into her bed. He hadn't, but he could hardly blame her for thinking that way. Could he?
Didn't she understand what being shot had done to him? That he'd had no choice but to play dead? That he'd been devastated at having his life, the life he loved, ripped away from him, leaving him only a part of the man he'd once been, and having lost just about everything which meant anything to him?
Didn't she *care* that he couldn't be Clark Kent any more?
Of course, Lois being Lois, she wouldn't even have listened to his explanations anyway. That was why he'd barely tried, wasn't it? Oh, he'd made a few token attempts to get a word in edgeways, but Tornado Lois had been blowing a hurricane and had ridden roughshod over anything he'd wanted to say in his defence. As usual.
He didn't even know why he'd bothered. Why he cared even now. She didn't love him — had never loved him. Had she? If she really did love him, she would have listened. She wouldn't have condemned him unheard. She would never have believed that kind of… of cr… of *garbage* about him in the first place.
Friends didn't do that to each other. Friends trusted each other. Friends didn't refuse to give other friends a chance to explain. Friends didn't…
…didn't lie to each other, didn't deceive each other, didn't let each other think they were dead, didn't make love to each other in disguise… didn't let each other find out painful truths in the most horrible way imaginable…
Oh, he was the lowest form of existence imaginable.
Clark halted, uncaring that he was getting drenched by the downpour, uncaring that the autumn leaves beneath his feet were soaked and turning to mulch. Leaning against a tree, he slid down until he was in a crouched position, buried his face in his hands, and sobbed.
She'd cried until there were no more tears. Finally, Lois dragged herself off the sofa, where she'd collapsed after Cl — Kal — *he* had left, and tried to dredge up the enthusiasm to get on with her life.
What life? What was there left when all her dreams had been torn apart? When the men — the man — she'd trusted most in the whole world had betrayed her so completely?
"*Damn* you, Clark Kent!" she muttered aloud. "As if you didn't make me suffer enough when I had to watch you die — you then had to destroy me a second time!"
No! She was not going to let that happen. She wouldn't let him tear her apart. She'd allowed that to happen once. Lois Lane was not going to shed any more tears over Clark Superman Kent. Not ever.
From now on, she'd had it with friends. Or lovers. She'd been right, after Claude, when she'd made the decision never to trust a man again — especially not a man she worked with. Her big mistake had been forgetting that and letting Kent get underneath her guard. That would never happen again. Never again would she allow any man to get close enough to hurt her.
From now on, the only thing that mattered to her was her career. Being the best reporter Metropolis — no, the entire country — had ever known. Winning that Pulitzer, and sooner rather than later. She deserved it, and finding a Pulitzer-winning story was going to be her entire focus now.
A Pulitzer-winning story…
But didn't she have one right within her grasp?
"SUPERMAN EXPOSED! THE SECRET LIFE OF CLARK KENT"
But, even as the thought hit her, Lois knew that she couldn't do it. Getting back at Kent was one thing, but revealing his secret would affect more than just him. She knew from personal experience how criminals and others used anyone they thought was close to Superman to try to control him. The thought of Martha and Jonathan Kent at the mercy of anyone wanting to get at Superman sent chills through her.
Besides, she conceded reluctantly as she padded into the bathroom to repair some of the damage from her crying jag, whatever her personal feelings about Kent, Superman did an invaluable job. *Some* people still needed him. Even if she didn't. Even if she never would ever again.
No; she wouldn't expose him. What she would do, however, was behave as she should have done long ago where he and his exploits were concerned. No more hero-worship. She would report him properly. Critically. Questioningly. The only thing which would escape her probing would be his secret identity; everything else about him would be subject to the same harsh scrutiny that she gave to anyone else she wrote about.
This was the new Lois Lane, she reminded herself grimly. One who cared about nothing and nobody but herself and her career. One who had learned from bitter experience that that was the only way to survive.
Three days since she'd last seen him.
Three days… and three nights.
Lois rubbed at her eyes and tried again to focus on her computer screen. Sleep was a distant concept these days. Truth be told, since she'd thrown Kal out she hadn't done much more than toss and turn, doze off and wake again, seethe and cry. She'd done her work on autopilot, barked to anyone who approached, and refused to talk to Perry when he'd summoned her into his office for a father-daughter chat. Even if she had wanted to talk to him, she couldn't have explained what was on her mind, at least not without compromising Clark's secret, and she'd already decided she wasn't going to do that.
She briefly wondered how Superman was feeling… then promptly dismissed the thought of concern. She didn't care how he felt. She'd told him she didn't want to see him again, and she meant it. She was through with him.
Clark was no better than any of the men in her life; he'd betrayed her just like Paul, Claude and Lex. He'd trampled on her feelings. He didn't deserve the tears she'd cried over him when she had thought him dead. He might as well be dead now. Clark Kent *was* dead… if he'd ever existed at all. All she was grieving for was the image of a sweet, caring and wonderful man that had probably never been real.
Superman's haunted look as he'd flown her home that night came back to her, and she bit her lip, guilt assailing her. She was being unfair…
Determination made her quash remorse. She wasn't going to let feelings cloud her judgment. It had all been part of an act. He'd have done anything to lure her into bed, and…
But then, how could he have orchestrated his death? And nothing had been planned. It couldn't have been — how could he possibly have known that Capone and his gang would arrive? Or that Barrow would get trigger-happy? What else could he have done but play dead? He obviously didn't want his secret revealed, and Clyde had shot him at point blank range, right in front of a crowd that couldn't possibly have believed he'd survived.
A nagging image flicked into her mind, and she frowned. There had been no blood. How could she have missed that? How could anybody have missed that Clark hadn't been covered in blood when Capone's goons had dragged him away? She'd been too stricken with grief to notice at the time, but how could she have been so careless as to let something this important slip past her consciousness?
Movement on her side turned her attention away from her thoughts. Jimmy walked past her — or rather, rushed past her; the boy had obviously got the point after her rant to him the previous day. She couldn't even remember what about him had pulled her chain, but she'd never seen him blanch so fast. She wasn't going to feel guilty over it, though. She was over making amends to anyone.
The man behind Jimmy was strolling at a more leisurely pace, and she turned in her chair to watch him. He was tall, slender and muscular. His face was clean-shaven and framed by neatly cut blond hair. His blue eyes were obviously appraising the newsroom, and if she went by the small smile on his lips, he was enjoying the tour.
Lois frowned when Jimmy and his guest stopped by Clark's desk. What the…
She watched, mouth agape, as the blond guy sat down in Clark's chair and stroked the desktop in a possessive way. Her gaze met Jimmy's, but her young colleague quickly bid the newcomer goodbye and practically ran out of sight.
She was going to give that fink a piece of her mind when she caught him. Him and Perry. Him and Perry and the guy sitting at Clark's desk, who was now… watching her. Staring at her. Smiling at her.
"What are you looking at?" she barked. "Don't you have work to do?"
Her unfriendliness wiped the smile off his face. Satisfied, Lois returned her attention to her computer screen and set about typing on her keyboard, until she realised that her hands were trembling.
She had to do something. She couldn't sit here and watch a newbie take Clark's place and…
… and what?
Clark was gone for good. It was only fair that Perry replaced him. It was none of her business. She didn't care. Right? She really didn't care.
Less than three minutes later, she was summoned into her boss's office.
"If you want to talk about Blondie," she said before he'd even closed the door behind her, "I don't care. There was a job opening after Clark died." She sounded incredibly calm. Inside, she was boiling.
Perry frowned, obviously surprised by her reaction.
"I can't spend my whole life crying over him," she explained. "He was just my partner. Reporters die on duty pretty much everywhere in the world. Clark was just unlucky."
"I want to move on, Perry. I don't want people to keep walking on eggshells around me and act as if I'd lost my best friend. Clark and I were colleagues. That was it."
Even as she spoke, she could feel the memories of the nights she'd spent with Superman, the sweetness of the moments they'd shared, and her voice caught in her throat. She swallowed, hoping Perry hadn't noticed.
She did as he asked.
"Lois, whatever happened between you and Clark — and this is really none of my business — he was a decent man who lost his life protecting you. You may not like what I'm saying," he added when she winced, "but I'm saying it anyway. I know you're upset and hurt, and I know it's not just Clark's… death. I hope you know that if you need you can always talk to me, and that whatever you tell me won't get out of this room."
"I…" Perry's stern look cut off her protest. She sighed. "Thanks, Chief."
"If that partner of yours was in front of me right now, I'd tan his hide for not thinking of what could happen when you two went in there without any of the appropriate protection."
"Perry, that's what we always did! We never thought something like that would happen."
"If he'd just worn a bullet-proof vest, he'd still be here right now!" Perry's eyes bore into hers. "He'd still be alive. Anyway," he said before she could get a word in edgeways, "that's not the reason why I wanted to see you. I need to know how your harbour investigation is going. I haven't had any reports from you about that since your story about the guy Superman arrested."
The rapist he'd caught the night he'd thought Lois had been killed… the night which would be engraved on her memory forever. The night she'd allowed herself to let down her guard completely. The night she'd fallen more in love than she'd ever been in her life before… only to find that she'd fallen in love with a man who didn't exist. And in his place she'd discovered a liar.
That rapist had turned out to be a copycat. The DNA tests had shown no match at all with the man responsible for the other murders. And so Lois was supposed to be on the track of the story — how the other murderer was operating and why the police hadn't caught him yet. She was, but she just hadn't told Perry anything about what she was up to — she'd known that he wouldn't be happy about her plans.
"You can't afford to spend all your time working on that if nothing happens soon," Perry continued. "Leave it to the op-ed people to write editorials about police effectiveness."
"Don't give me the management version, Perry. You and I both know that catching a serial killer is no piece of cake. The suits upstairs have been watching too many episodes of NYPD Blue. It might be time to remind them that we're not living in a TV show."
"Whatever I think is irrelevant, Lois. You know I agree with you. But we've had that argument before."
"Well, I do have a lead," she conceded reluctantly. "I don't know if it's serious yet, but one of my sources called earlier and said that Hartley's Bar seems to be the key. It's possible that the murderer might hang out there."
"It's a start," Perry conceded.
"I'm going down there tonight."
Perry frowned. "That sounds dangerous. Leave it to the police, Lois. You know the routine — give them the lead and be there to get the story."
"What? And just get whatever crumbs the cops decide to give me? No way! I'm going there myself."
Perry still wasn't happy. He tapped his pencil on the desk a few times, but when he finally looked up she knew she'd won. "Take Rogers with you."
Perry's eyebrows disappeared into his hairline. "No?"
"I don't want a partner, Chief. Let alone a useless one. I work alone."
"Lois." Perry's growl was one rarely heard around the newsroom, but one which held the clear message that, if the recipient didn't instantly obey the editor-in-chief's instruction, he or she could expect to be walking through the newsroom doors for the very last time any second. "Either you take Rogers or you don't go. That's my final word."
Still, Lois was sorely tempted to argue. She did *not* want to work with anyone else. Didn't Perry know that? Didn't he understand that, after Clark… after Kent's betrayal, she never wanted to work with any other reporter *ever* again?
This was all *his* fault, she thought, furious again. He'd exposed her to this kind of thing by his stupid pretence! Once, Perry had had no problem with accepting that she worked alone. But then, along had come Mr Greenjeans from Smallville — or Mr Superliar from Krypton, more like — and suddenly, before she'd known what was happening, Lois had become half of a partnership. A team.
And now that Kent had done his disappearing act, she was easy prey. It was open season on Lois Lane. This week, it was work with Rogers. Next week it'd be Friaz. And then Blondie over there, sitting at *his* desk. Before she knew it, she'd be partnered with Ralph.
And all this time he hadn't been dead. He'd been — what? Flying around laughing at her? Enjoying the spectacle of her grief over him?
She pushed those thoughts away. She'd vowed that she was *finished* with thinking about him!
But still, it was all his fault that she was being put under pressure to work with other people, something she absolutely hated. When he was alive all along, when he could simply walk back into the Planet at any moment and resume his rightful position as the only partner she'd ever wanted to work -
*No*! She did *not* want to work with him any more! He was a cheating, lying, deceiving, manipulative…
…the only reporter she'd ever been able to stand working with. Who understood her, complemented her style and brought out the best in her skills.
*Damn* the lying fink anyway! How hard was it for him to say, ‰Hey, guys, I didn't die after all!' and come back?
"Lois?" Perry's voice was lower, quieter, and that was an even clearer warning sign.
She blinked. "Sorry, Chief. I was…" <thinking too much, again…>
"What?" he questioned impatiently.
"Nothing. It doesn't matter." She sighed. "Okay. Rogers it is. Not that I'm happy about it, Chief."
"I don't pay you to be happy," Perry retorted. "I pay you to get the stories. Okay?"
She nodded. "Okay."
Returning to her desk, she still found herself brooding. It couldn't be that hard. Could it? He was *alive*, the jerk. And he'd abandoned her to this. He couldn't just admit…
No. She slumped into her chair, her breath leaving her in a whoosh. No, he couldn't just admit.
He'd been *shot*. In plain sight. In full view of god knew how many people — at least thirty, maybe more. They'd all seen Barrow pull the gun. They'd all heard it go off. They'd all seen him stagger back. They'd all seen his head slump to the side. They'd all seen him dragged out. *They'd all seen him be killed*.
The fool! Lois buried her head in her hands. Why hadn't he just pretended to be injured? Or that the bullet had missed him? Hadn't he realised what he was doing by pretending to die?
<Maybe he hadn't>
A painful breath caught in her throat, and Lois got to her feet and headed for the ladies' room. She needed to splash her face with cold water. She needed to get her mind back on her *job*.
<Maybe he hadn't…>
No! She wasn't going to make excuses for him.
And yet, unbidden, a memory flashed into her mind. The first week she'd known Clark. The Prometheus investigation. Antoinette Baines and EPRAD. She'd taken Jimmy and sneaked into the complex to look for the shell of the Messenger — and been caught by Baines. Clark had come crashing through the door, looking for her, and had promptly been caught as well.
She'd asked what he'd thought he was doing barging in like some sort of macho idiot. And he'd been flustered, unable to answer.
With the benefit of her new knowledge, now she knew exactly what he'd done. He'd acted on impulse. Knowing his powers, knowing his invulnerability, he'd come rushing in to save her… without thinking about what he'd do if he got caught. Without working out how to save her and protect his secret.
Just as he'd done that night in the club.
Her face dripping, her hands shaking, Lois stared at her reflection in the mirror.
Clark hadn't thought. Hadn't considered what consequences his actions could have. Had only thought of *her* — her safety. He'd leaped in front of her to stop Dillinger pestering her, and then had wound up facing the business end of a revolver.
What choice had he had? To play dead, or expose his secret to the world.
Suddenly needing to lean against the counter for support, Lois fought against the tears which threatened anew. He'd had no choice. He'd had to die.
"You *did* have a choice about telling me the truth!" she wanted to scream, instead muttering it and then glancing around hurriedly to check that no-one else was around.
She swallowed. Nothing had changed. He'd still slept with her without telling her the truth. He'd listened to her declarations of love — to him as both of his guises — and had said nothing.
That was what she couldn't forgive.
<Can't you?> a traitorous little voice asked. <You love him. Doesn't that mean you should forgive him?>
"He claimed to love me!" she muttered back to her inner traitor. "Didn't that mean he should have told me?"
She closed her eyes as the burning tears began to fall, then regretted it as she was assailed once more with memories.
Clark moving in front of her at the club.
The *crack* of the bullet.
Clark falling… she grabbing at him… on her knees beside him.
Clark whispering that he loved her.
Ripping off Superman's — *Clarks'* — suit on her living-room floor.
Superman telling her that he didn't want to lose another friend.
<Liar!> she protested angrily. It didn't matter. The memories still flooded onwards.
Making love with Kal… no, Superman. Kent. Making *love.* Their bodies entwined. His fingers linked with hers. Their lips touching in sweet, drugging, *loving* kisses.
<I love you so much, Lois>
<How can I be in love with two of you>
<I love you>
Feeling ready to crumple, Lois managed to drag herself upright and, with shaking hands, repaired some of the damage to her appearance. Then she headed back to the newsroom and informed Perry that she was sick and was taking the rest of the day off.
He gave her a concerned look. "Lois, honey, you know I'm worried about you. If you need some time… You know I can get you some compassionate leave —"
She shook her head immediately. "No. I just — just have a headache, okay? Tell Rogers I'll see him at Hartley's tonight at nine. He'd better not be late." And she turned and walked out of the office.
Clark was pacing up and down his one-room cabin, wishing his super-hearing would turn in and inform him of a cat that needed rescuing or a tree that needed trimming… anything to keep his mind off what had happened with Lois.
He hadn't been able to fight the need to check on her a couple of times over the past three days. Seeing her was as essential to him as breathing, even if he couldn't approach her. At times he felt like a stalker, and he ached to land in front of her and force her to talk to him. Fear of rejection kept him out of her sight. He couldn't bear to hear her harsh words a second time.
She seemed to be getting on with her life, too; she was going to work every morning and, even though there was the faint trace of sleeplessness under her eyes, her make-up was applied skilfully enough for it to be barely noticeable. Lois Lane. Ever the professional.
In the meantime, he was a mess. Physically, he was fine. Unfortunately, his metabolism made it impossible for him to find some peace in sleep. Emotionally, though, he was a wreck. Lois had just about killed him a second time when she'd told him to get out of her life.
But could he blame her? He'd purposely pretended to be two men, and the fact that he'd never meant to hurt her was irrelevant. She hadn't wanted to know why he hadn't told her he once was Clark anyway. She hadn't cared. All that had mattered to her was that her superhero had feet of clay, and she couldn't bear an imperfect man.
He sank onto the old, battered sofa with a sigh. Lois had known Superman wasn't perfect. She had seemed to accept his vulnerabilities. She had let him cry in her arms. She had offered him comfort… and love. She had loved him. He was certain that her feelings had been sincere three nights ago.
But, again, did that really matter? She had obviously moved on. She hadn't made any attempt to get in touch with him. He had hovered over her neighbourhood over the past three nights, hoping she would open the window and call him, but the window had stayed stubbornly closed, and no sound had filtered from the apartment — he had fought the urge to break through her privacy, too scared to find out how much he'd hurt her. Seeing her cry tore at his heart; knowing that he was the cause of her sorrow was too much to bear.
He needed her. More than ever, he ached to feel her slender body cuddle up to him, her arms wrap around his shoulders, her lips close to his cheek, her words of reassurance. He needed her. She completed him in every way; she soothed his fears and dried his tears.
He wished he'd never made love to her. What was he saying? Of course he didn't regret those moments. They would be memories to cherish for the rest of his life.
In the meantime, he had to get out of here. Sitting in a squalid room was not helping, and he would not wallow in self-pity. Lois was dealing with their fight and moving on, and he would do the same. No. He knew he would never move on. He would never love another woman. He would never trust anybody else with his secret. But he could at least pretend that he was all right. He could fight. He could use his abilities to make the world a better, safer place. All the time he didn't spend as Clark could be optimised to fight criminals… and help… and maybe give a meaning to his one-sided existence.
He got to his feet and spun into the Suit, wondering idly why he even bothered dressing as Clark when he was in his lair. He would never be Clark Kent again, and it didn't really matter. There had to be people around the world who needed Superman. He could probably spread his feats outside Metropolis. If he spent his entire time as Superman, he had no reason to spend his entire time in New Troy. He could broaden his horizons and help fight crime in Chicago, New York and Seattle. Maybe the Los Angeles police department would welcome his help tonight; he could be back in Metropolis on time for an early morning patrol. If he felt like it. No reason why he had to come back, actually. Nothing tied him to Metropolis. In fact, it was about time he moved on and searched for another place to live, a place with no memories, with no Clark Kent and no Lois Lane.
Less than a second later, he was airborne and flying westwards, feeling his heart sink with each mile he put between himself and Lois.
"Can I buy you a drink?"
Jolted out of her careful scan of the crowd, Lois turned to the man settling beside her at the bar and took in his appearance: expensive business suit, neatly styled dark hair, blue eyes twinkling with wit and good humour. Temptation to send him away died on her lips as he ordered champagne for the two of them. This one was lucky she was undercover and intent on staying discreet, or else he'd be the first man travelling around Pluto without a ship. Just because he wasn't too bad-looking, that was no reason to impose himself on her.
He would ruin her plan, too. She'd spent enough time as it was studying the profile of the man's previous victims. The women had all been in their early or mid-twenties, alone and looking bored. They'd all worn black outfits that left little to the imagination, quite like the bodice that hugged her curves, the skirt reaching only halfway down her thighs, and the silk covering her legs. She was the ideal prey.
Or she would have been, if she hadn't been disturbed by the man now pushing a glass of champagne towards her. She took a sip and smiled sweetly. Once he figured out she had no conversation whatsoever, he would leave, and she'd be free to wait for her would-be rapist.
She gave a quick glance towards the other end of the bar. Either her wig of long, black hair and heavy make-up was really effective, or else Rogers was even more stupid than she'd thought. He was walking through the crowd, obviously looking for her. Damn Perry for forcing her to work with him! If she had to have a partner, at least let it be one who wouldn't blow her cover within a minute.
Clark would have… no. Clark wouldn't have been any better than Rogers anyway. He'd have said that her plan was entirely too dangerous, and he'd have been overprotective. And she'd have secretly loved it.
She pushed the unwelcome thought away. She was here to work. Tonight, Kent was out of the picture. Not just tonight, actually. Kent was out of her life, and it was much better this way. She didn't need him in order to be happy. She didn't need him, full stop.
Her gaze returned to her pathetic new partner, and she shook her head. Well, she would not make herself noticeable to him. He was even more likely to ruin things than the guy hitting on her.
As if hearing her thoughts, Rogers looked up towards her, and she ducked her head, feigning sudden interest in the man sitting next to her.
"You come here often?"
"Now and then," she lied.
"It's my first time here," he said, obviously unaware that she didn't care. Or maybe he chose not to bother taking her opinion into account, just as with the drink he'd ordered for her.
"Yeah?" she responded, her tone bored. Then, seeing out of the corner of her eye that Rogers was heading in her direction, she summoned a wide smile and turned it on her companion. "I'm Lola," she informed him.
"Jay," he responded, raising his glass as if to toast her. "Nice to meet you."
She nodded, pretending to return his interest while at the same time attempting to scan the bar for any sign of the man she was looking for.
"I know you think I'm hitting on you," Jay continued. "I swear, I'm not. I'm from out of town — been here a couple of days on business. And — " He looked sad suddenly, and extended his left hand towards her. "I'm married," he announced. Sure enough, she could see a gold band. "I just miss my wife," he added quietly. "And you look kind of like her. I just wanted someone to talk…" Getting to his feet, he gave a resigned shrug. "I understand. You're not interested."
Jeez. What did he think she was? His own personal hotline to Delilah?
Then she sighed. Oh, what could it hurt? It didn't look as if her man was going to show up anyway, so why shouldn't she have a drink with this guy? It was better than going home to an empty apartment where she'd only end up brooding yet again over… *him*.
So she smiled at Jay again. "Oh, sit down!"
"Are you sure? I don't want to make a nuisance of myself…"
She rolled her eyes at him. "Quit bleating and get me another drink, then you can tell me what you're doing in Metropolis."
Jay was actually an amusing companion, Lois realised after a while. He kept her entertained with amusing anecdotes about life as a travelling representative for an academic publishing company — even if, as jobs went, that one appealed to her about as much as working at a McBurger joint. He also didn't seem to require much input from her, so she was able to glance around from time to time to see if there was any sign of her target.
Nothing. It was looking as if her tip-off was a bust.
At least Rogers was leaving her alone; she spotted him at one point propping up the bar next to a stacked blonde. Typical, she thought. Just like a man. She had no need to ask where he kept his brains!
She turned back to Jay, ready to decline the offer of another drink. "Uh-huh?"
"Look, you're going to think I'm an idiot…" he began.
She rolled her eyes. God, why had she ever taken pity on the guy? "What?"
"I need to get back to my hotel — I promised my wife I'd call before eleven and it's almost that now. But — see, I am an idiot — I know my hotel's in walking distance, but I can't remember which way. Would you mind just walking out with me and showing me?"
Lois shrugged. She should get home herself — it was very clear now that the serial killer wasn't going to show. "Sure."
Outside, she asked Jay what hotel he was staying at.
She frowned. That was more than just a few blocks away. "That's… oh, wait, I suppose it is in walking distance if you don't mind half an hour's walk." Hesitating for a moment, she pondered the best route. "Okay, I guess if we walk around the side of this place I can point you in the right direction."
He gave her a grateful smile. "Thanks, Lola. You're a doll."
A doll. She rolled her eyes as they set off. If anyone in the newsroom heard that, she'd never hear the last of it. At least she was never going to see this guy again once she'd sent him on his way…
The scream escaped her as she felt the scrape of a knife against her throat. "Shut up!" Jay's voice hissed, harsh now, containing no hint of the light, friendly tone he'd used for the past hour while they'd chatted.
With a sinking heart, she realised her mistake. Why had it never occurred to her that the rapist could be smooth, charming, well- dressed and attractive?
<Stay cool, Lois. You know how to handle this>
Taking deep, steady breaths, she drew on her inner reserves of calm. Then, striking out at her captor with her elbow, she twisted her body at the same time. In the very next moment, she hooked her ankle around his leg.
But he didn't let her go. This guy knew martial arts. He caught her and, within seconds, his grip on her was even stronger, one arm like a steel band around her chest and arms, and the other hand holding the knife straight across her throat. "That wasn't so clever, was it, Lola?" He laughed. "Just for that, I'm going to cut you into little pieces before I kill you."
She was going to die. She just knew it. Whatever she did, it didn't matter any more. She was going to die…
"Help! Superman, help!"
The cry escaped her before she even remembered that she'd told him she didn't want him to save her ever again. Oh, how stupid had that been! Of course she wanted him to save her!
"Shut up!" Jay yelled, and his knee crashed into her lower back, making her grunt in pain. The knife against her throat sliced against her; she felt a warm, sticky trail running down her neck.
He was going to kill her… he wasn't even going to bother raping her first.
<Oh, Clark, please come! Please… I forgive you everything, just please come!>
Tears choking her, she frantically searched the sky as much as she could without turning her head. But there was no sign of a red-caped Superhero racing to her rescue.
He'd taken her at her word. He wasn't coming.
Clark hadn't got to LA. He hadn't even got as far as Ohio.
He'd just suddenly started to wonder what the heck he was doing. Going to LA? He really couldn't see himself — even as Superman — setting up in LaLaLand. Or anywhere else in California, for that matter.
And anyway, if he left Metropolis he really would be giving up all hope that Lois would ever forgive him. Which was something he just wasn't ready to do. Not yet.
Maybe not ever…
He knew Lois, after all. And, okay, he deserved her anger and her contempt. And she was known for holding grudges longer than Methuselah had lived. But still… while there was any possibility that she might one day be ready to listen to him, he wanted to be near her.
He was finished with running away. He would convince Lois to listen to him. He would apologise to her and explain to her why he hadn't told her his secret before. She might not want to have a romantic relationship with him again, but maybe she could at least agree to give him a chance to rebuild their friendship.
He hovered outside her apartment. The windows were closed, as they had been over the past three nights. No light was filtering through the curtains. A quick scan showed that Lois not home. She was probably still at the Planet, burying herself in her work to avoid thinking about how much he'd hurt her. His heart sinking, he realised that he didn't have that kind of escape any more. The disaster of his relationship with Lois had been on his mind constantly since she'd thrown him out of her life. What few Superman rescues he had performed hadn't been enough to stop him obsessing.
Lois at least looked like she was handling things better than he was, he mused as he flew towards the Daily Planet. She was probably moving on, pushing him out of her memories… Her determination to stick to her resolve made him pessimistic. She wasn't showing any sign of wanting to get in touch with him; even yesterday when he'd spent some time fixing a gas leak in a building three blocks away from the Planet, she hadn't shown up when members of the press had rushed in to ask him for a couple of quotes.
He landed on the Planet roof and sighed in resignation. Maybe what he was doing was pointless. Maybe she really didn't want to listen to him. Maybe she didn't care any more. He was sure that he now ranked as bad as Claude in her list of federal disasters, and he couldn't really blame her.
A quick check of the building was enough to determine that Lois was not here either. He'd flown over the road she took to drive home, so he was sure he hadn't missed her. Where was she? Perry would know.
Making his way into the newsroom was not as easy as he'd hoped. He had always made it a rule not to walk in the Daily Planet premises as Superman; the connection to Clark might have been too easily made. It didn't matter any more now, but the event was rare enough for his former colleagues to raise their heads from their computers and gape.
There was one part of his role as Superman that he'd never enjoy; while the suit had been very effective to protect his identity, it made him stick out in a crowd. The weight of his lie was even worse now that he knew how much he'd hurt Lois by not telling her the truth. Those people had learned about his death. He'd had a good working relationship with them as Clark; they'd probably been affected by what had happened to him. But he was still alive and well, at least physically.
He hurried inside Perry's office and closed the door behind him.
"Superman!" His former editor rose from his chair and shook his hand warmly. "What a surprise to see you here! Please, have a seat. Can I get anything for you?"
"Mr White, I need to see Ms Lane."
"Lois? She took the afternoon off."
"She's not home."
"Of course she's not. I'd have her head if she was. She had a lead about the harbour rapist and she went down there to check it out."
"And do something reckless!"
Perry blinked at the force of his voice. "She's a reporter," he countered defensively. "A good one, at that. Granted, she sometimes takes things a bit too far, but she was taking care of herself long before Clark and you came along."
"Mr White, she can't take that risk! She can't get killed."
"And she won't. Rogers is with her. I refused to let her go by herself, much as she hates the thought of working with anybody else after… well, after Clark."
"Where is she?"
"Hartley's bar, at the intersection of Kennedy and Wilson. There was a tip-off our man would try to strike there tonight."
Clark was there immediately, scanning the area while trying to quash the bad feeling in the pit of his stomach. Whatever Perry said, Lois was not the kind to take all the necessary precautions when she was on a stakeout or even undercover. Even she admitted that she was the kind not to think things through before she jumped into trouble.
<If I get in trouble, I don't want you to fly to the rescue>
The weight on his stomach got heavier. The beating of his heart was loud enough to cover the noise of the streets below, and…
It wasn't *his* heart.
It took him under a second to locate her. She was lying prone on the hard ground of a dark alley, a shadow holding her wrists behind her back and straddling her legs to keep her from struggling. Her cheek was pressed to the concrete; her hair had been pushed back, and a small ray of light coming from a distant streetlamp caught the reflection of the sharp blade resting against her neck…
Blood was trickling down her skin.
He grasped the man holding her and pulled him to his feet. It took all his strength not to send him flying to the other end of the alley. Within a few seconds, the guy had the nearest lamppost wrapped around his body — Superman would have to apologise to City Hall later — and he could return to Lois.
She hadn't moved.
She wasn't… she couldn't be. She couldn't have died!
He could still hear the racing beating of her heart. She was alive. He knelt to her side and reached for her.
"Lois? Lois, it's me."
Her shoulder felt tiny and fragile under his hand. The cut on her throat looked serious, but a small burst of heat vision sealed the worst of it. A thorough X-ray of her body showed him that her back and legs were bruised, probably from her struggle to get free, but her clothes hadn't been torn; the rapist hadn't had time to do his brutal business.
Where was her damn partner, anyway? That idiot Rogers should have been with her. He should have been looking after her. What the hell was he being paid for if he couldn't even take care of his partner…
His partner. Bile boiled up in his throat. Lois was *his* partner. If anyone should have been looking out for her, it should have been him. If she'd insisted on going to this club tonight, he should have been with her. *Would* have been with her, if only Barrow hadn't pulled that blasted gun on him… Or, if only he'd told Lois the truth himself before she'd found it out for herself, she would have told him where she was going and he'd have been able to keep an eye out for her. Perhaps even accompany her in disguise.
Instead, she'd had to rely on an incompetent no-hoper like Rogers.
He stroked her hair gently, then her face. Her skin was cold. He detached his cape and laid it over her. She didn't react.
"Please talk to me. Please, tell me you're all right. Lois…"
At last she looked at him. Eyes that had once shown nothing but determination were now brimming with tears and pent-up terror.
"Oh god, Clark, you came…" Her voice was rusty, hoarse. And she winced as she spoke, as if talking was painful.
"Lois, of course I came! I'm just sorry I took so long…" Then the implication of her words struck him. Had she thought he wouldn't come? Could she really have thought that of him? She had to know, surely, that he would *never* fail to be there if she needed him?
"He… he… I thought… just… nice guy…"
"Shh. Please, don't talk," he urged. Gently pulling her into his arms, he tried to make sense of her words. The rapist had been chatting her up, had he? Had Lois been… interested? The thought cut through him with the intensity of a Kryptonite blade.
That didn't matter now! he told himself. He had to get Lois to a hospital. And ensure that someone remove that piece of garbage from the street. He hesitated. Despite his frantic worry over her, Lois wasn't badly hurt. And the last thing he wanted was for the rapist to escape. So he took off, flying first for the precinct where Inspector Henderson worked, hoping that the man was on duty. Of course, he could deal with anyone else, but he trusted Henderson to ensure that things were handled properly.
The inspector was alarmed to see Superman's burden, and even more concerned, Clark noted, that Lois was just lying still in his arms, silent and unmoving. Clark, however, wasn't interested in putting anyone else's fears to rest; in a couple of staccato sentences, he informed Henderson where the rapist could be found and said that he was taking Lois to the emergency room.
Back in the air, he studied her, worried. "Lois? Are you okay?"
<Talk to me. Tell me you forgive me. Tell me you miss me Tell me you love me>
She nodded. "Just… hurts to… talk."
"Don't talk, then," he said gently. "Just rest. I'm getting you to help."
Half-disappointed, half-relieved, he accepted that any conversation was going to have to wait until she was feeling better. Seconds later, he walked into the ER at Metropolis General and instantly drew the attention of several nurses. It was some shred of comfort to him that, when Lois was placed in a wheelchair ready to be taken through to a treatment room, she gripped his hand and refused to let go.
It shouldn't comfort him too much, he knew. She was overwrought. She'd almost been violated and murdered. Once she got over that — and, knowing his Lois, it wouldn't take long — she'd be back to normal. And back to being furious with him.
He stayed with her throughout her treatment, which didn't take long: an X-ray to confirm what he had already told the medical staff, that she had no broken bones. The cut at her neck didn't need stitches, but it was cleaned and disinfected and she was given an anti-tetanus shot before being released.
And then he flew her home.
She seemed to be feeling better by then, he'd noticed; she'd talked to the hospital staff when necessary and without any sign of pain. Perhaps she'd be ready to talk to him?
Or… perhaps she'd never be ready.
Again, after agreeing with him that she should wait until she'd rested before going down to the precinct to make her statement, she was silent on the flight home. That convinced him that, while she was relieved that he'd saved her, she didn't want to talk to him. But, once he set her down in her living-room, she looked up at him. His heart in his mouth, he looked back.
"Clark… don't go."
She'd so nearly died. Okay, it wasn't as if that was anything new for her. But this time had been different. She'd almost died without resolving things with the man who'd once been her best friend.
As she'd lain there on the ground, waiting for Jay… the serial killer to rape her and murder her, all she'd been able to think of was Clark. And not just praying for him to come and save her, either.
Clark. In her life. Talking with her. Laughing with her. Working beside her. Taking care of her. Protecting her. Going places with her. Spending time with her. Holding her. Kissing her. Making love with her.
And how empty her life felt without him.
They had to talk. She had to find a way to get past everything that had happened. She'd come to that decision while she was being treated at the hospital and he'd stayed with her, holding her hand, reassuring her with his gaze the whole time that he was there and he cared.
Now, she knew that, whatever else he'd done wrong, he had never lied about one thing: that he loved her.
And she loved him. Surely nothing else mattered besides that?
So, her heart in her mouth, she asked him to stay.
He nodded slowly. "If you want. I… guess after what you've just been through you might not feel safe."
She shook her head. "It's not that. I… Clark, we should talk…"
"…About what happened tonight?" he finished, guessing her intentions wrongly.
But, nervous suddenly, she couldn't bring herself to correct him. "I… guess so."
"Lois, what were you *doing*?" he demanded suddenly, agony vivid in his voice. And in that second he sounded so like Clark, even though he'd never looked more like Superman. In his fear for her, his obvious wish that she'd be more careful for her safety, he was every inch her partner.
"Getting a story," she retorted defensively. "And, hey, I got it!"
"You almost got yourself killed!" he shouted.
About to reply angrily, she checked herself. He was absolutely right. And if it hadn't been for him she would have been killed. The agony in his expression, in the way he looked at her — and the way he'd looked and sounded when he'd found her — also gave her pause. She remembered, too, the other time when he'd thought he'd stumbled upon her dead body.
"Yes, I know," she said softly. "Clark, I'm so sorry that I scared you again."
His expression softened; then he grimaced. "I guess now I'm experiencing exactly what you felt."
She nodded. "Thinking you were dead was… the worst thing that ever happened to me."
"So finding out that I was alive should have been the best thing," he replied, self-disgust in his tone. "But the way I deceived you made it even worse." As if he could barely look her in the eye, he turned away.
That was true. She couldn't deny it. The way he'd lied to her and pretended with her still hurt like hell. But, on the other hand, he'd just saved her life. Didn't that count for something? Didn't it count for a lot?
She'd been through utter torment in the last few days. The worst of that torment had been knowing that, not only had she lost her best friend, she'd also lost the one person who'd been able to offer her any comfort at all. Oh, she'd told herself that the worst of it was that everything she'd known in the past year and a half had been a lie. That everything about *Clark* had been a lie.
But that wasn't true; she knew that now. The worst thing about it had been knowing that he was alive, but he wasn't in her life.
And he wasn't in her life because *she* had told him to go. She'd said that she never wanted to see him again. She'd said that she hated him. That even if she were dying she didn't want him to save her.
But, loyal as ever, he'd still been there for her. She'd rejected him, but she knew now that he would never reject her. He did love her. And she'd been so wrong — she did need him.
And she didn't want to lose him again. So wasn't that worth swallowing a bit of pride?
She stretched out a hand to him. "Clark… let's forget all about that, okay? I… after tonight I don't think I want to lose you again."
He turned to meet her gaze again, looking as if he could hardly bear to hope. "Lois, I… I never wanted to lose you. But does that mean you forgive me for what I did?"
Did she? Her gaze dropped. No. As she'd just acknowledged to herself, what he'd done — pretending to be dead, making love to her in one of his guises without telling her the truth, hearing her declaration of love for both of his personas without telling her that he was Clark — still hurt more than she could put into words.
But that hurt warred with the need to hold onto the friend she'd thought was lost forever. Okay, so he wasn't the person she'd thought he was. He wasn't perfect — in fact, he was so far from perfect. But he did love her. And she still loved him, even if she could never trust him again.
And he'd saved her life.
"It doesn't matter, Clark," she said quickly. "Let's just agree to forget about it, okay?"
It was a very generous offer. Clark was very well aware of that. He'd done the unforgivable, and she was offering to forget it?
To forget it. Not to forgive.
He whirled away. "No, Lois. I can't forget about it. And I can't let you, either."
"What?" She sounded disbelieving.
"Much as I'd love to accept your offer, I can't. Lois, you can't wipe out the past just because I saved your life tonight," he said wearily, running a hand roughly through his hair and turning to face her. "Tonight's one thing. You're still in shock over what nearly happened. You almost died. But that'll pass. And if we… carry on, say we're friends again — or maybe more — then one day you're going to remember what I did to you and it's going to come between us. It's going to make you hate me again." He shook his head. "Unless you can forgive me for what I've done, we're never going to be able to get past it."
She met his gaze and, after a long moment, nodded. "You're right. I… I'm not ready to forgive you yet."
"I know. But I'll wait," he promised. "I'll wait as long as you need, Lois. All I need to know is that… you want me in your life."
"I do, Clark," she said, and he knew she meant it. "I… miss you so much."
"I'm not going anywhere," he promised.
"I miss you at work too," she whispered. "Nothing's the same without you, Clark!"
That was a positive sign. It warmed his heart, making him think that perhaps there was hope after all.
"Yeah, I noticed that you have a complete moron as a partner," he said dryly. "What the heck was he doing tonight while you were being attacked?"
Lois rolled her eyes, and he couldn't help grinning at the sight. "He's useless," she said dismissively. "Anyway, he's not my partner. I don't *have* a partner any more. Perry wanted to assign me someone new, but I… refused."
Clark felt warm inside again, but then was assailed with guilt. This was something else his actions had done to her. He'd left her alone and unprotected — and unwilling to trust anyone else again.
He wasn't sure whether he should offer to leave now or not. He wanted to stay, but what excuse did he have? Then it came to him. A slow smile curved over his face. "You have a story to write, don't you, partner?"
Quick on the uptake as ever, Lois grinned at him. "You offering to help, *partner*?"
"If you'd like me to."
She took a step towards him and reached out to touch his hand, very gently. "I'd like *Clark* to help me."
Her meaning dawned. And the ice surrounding his heart melted just a little more. Stepping back from her, he spun, coming to a halt seconds later wearing clothes and glasses he hadn't worn for weeks now — looking like the person he'd thought he could never be again.
Writing the story wasn't as easy as Lois had expected. Five minutes after sitting down at the table with her laptop, she was already restless and unable to concentrate. Clark had made her coffee, and he was sitting next to her, just like old times. It was as if the previous few weeks had only ever happened in her imagination.
But it had really happened. Clark had really been shot, and then he'd pretended to be dead even as she gave him everything she was. She'd opened up to him in ways she'd never had to anyone before. She'd trusted him. She'd loved him.
Still loved him.
The story. She had to focus on the story. Jay… Jay and his smooth-talking. Jay and the glass of champagne he'd made her drink. Jay and his life-story to soften her up. How could she have been so blind? He'd lied to her about who he really was.
He'd pretended to be someone he wasn't.
She still loved him…
No, not Jay; that was someone else… wasn't it?
The screen was blurry. She blinked. It came into focus again. Her memory was a bit fuzzier about what had happened after she'd left the club. Jay had told her he was staying at the Monarch, and she'd been debating whether to suggest that he might be better off taking a cab when… well, that was the part she couldn't remember fully. She'd suddenly found herself pressed to the ground, and the nice guy who'd chatted her up at the bar had turned into a monster keeping her captive, sliding the blade of his knife against her neck, and breathing heavily over her… He was there, and she couldn't move. None of her martial arts skills could throw him off her. He was there, and he would rape her, and he would kill her, and Clark was nowhere to be seen. Clark wouldn't come. She'd sent him away. She'd told him she didn't need his help.
Clark's voice jolted her back to reality. She opened her eyes. She was home. She was safe.
She was trembling. Her breathing was laboured. Something was pressing on her chest, making her suffocate. She needed some air. She needed to go out. Getting to her feet, she stumbled to the window and opened it wide. The air outside was cold, but the darkness was too oppressive. She shut the window again and pulled the curtains.
She felt Clark's hand on her shoulder. "Are you okay?"
She was okay. She was fine. She was home and perfectly safe. She'd spent enough time at the hospital, and the only resistance she'd offered was when a shrink had tried to poke around her mind. She was perfectly well. But, while she'd got rid of her torn tights, she was still wearing her short skirt and black bustier.
"I need to get out of these clothes," she muttered, more to herself than to Clark. She had to get past this if she wanted to write the story and put it all behind her. Jay was a story. Nothing more. And, once she was out of clothes that reminded her of the night's events, she would feel a whole lot better. A new woman. "I'll be right back," she said, heading to her bedroom.
She expected Clark to argue or fuss, but he didn't. "I'll run the bath for you," he replied instead.
<And then we'll talk>
He didn't say the words, but the meaning was there. She wasn't sure she wanted to talk about what had happened — *almost* happened. After all, it hadn't happened. Besides, it wasn't her first encounter with death. Clark had commented often enough on her tendency to take too many risks.
A few minutes later, she was soaking in warm water and surrounded by foam. At last her muscles were starting to relax. The ache in her limbs was easing up, and her fingertips were warming up. The soft light of the bathroom was soothing her earlier disquiet, the familiar surroundings putting the evening behind her.
She could hear Clark moving about the living-room, washing mugs and tidying up.
And everything was fine in her world. Or so it seemed to be. She'd wanted to pretend everything was all right tonight. She'd been eager to work on the story, as if tonight had been just another stakeout. Years ago, she had accepted the idea that her own death was something that could easily happen. After Superman had appeared on the scene, though, she'd become sloppy with the precautions she normally took when investigating a dangerous case.
Perry had been right today; she had needed a partner. However, Tyler Rogers was about as useless as Ralph. The only partner who could have helped her was Clark. Without him, it had been very dangerous to play the prey to a serial rapist and killer. It was a wonder she was still alive.
And again, that was all thanks to Superman. How many times had he saved her life over the past year and a half? And because he was always there for her, she assumed that he would always be. To save her and… and to cherish her. To love her.
Just as she'd wanted to ignore what she'd gone through tonight, she'd also been determined to forget that Clark had ever been shot, that he'd ever lied to her, that he was Superman. She'd believed, albeit briefly, that putting it all behind them would erase it from her memory.
But, as Clark had gently reminded her, it had happened. He'd been shot, and he'd deliberately kept her in the dark. That he hadn't lied about his feelings was one thing; it still felt as if he had played with her. And he was right: she wasn't ready to forgive him yet.
And, at the same time, she needed him. She loved him. She couldn't deny her feelings for him, nor did she want to. And he was walking on eggshells around her. If she hadn't asked him to stay, he would have gone back god knew where to nurse his wounds all by himself. He wouldn't have realised how much she wanted him to stay with her.
She heard him knock. "Lois, are you okay in there?" he asked through the door.
Clark. He was being his typical self, worrying about her and making sure she was okay.
"Yes, hang on." She got out of the tub and wrapped a fluffy robe around her body. "Come in."
His head peered through the door. His hair was slightly dishevelled, and he wasn't wearing his glasses, but he was still her Clark. She felt his heated gaze travel down her body, and she wrapped her arms around her protectively. This was Clark, her partner, her best friend… the man who'd made love to her and knew every tiniest inch of her body.
It was so hard to reconcile the image of her sweet, gentle partner with her passionate lover.
Especially when he blushed. "I'm sorry, Lois," he murmured, backing away. "I… didn't realise you weren't dressed."
"I'm more covered in this robe than I was in what I was wearing half an hour ago," she pointed out.
"Yeah, but…" She heard him sigh faintly. "You looked uncomfortable when I looked in — as if it bothered you to let me see you like this…"
That was just stupid, wasn't it? They both knew that he'd seen her with far fewer clothes on than that bathrobe. But he was definitely treading very carefully around her, so unsure of his welcome. And, really, that was as it should be. He understood the magnitude of what he'd done, how much a betrayal of their friendship, their love, it was… And, of course, she knew Clark well enough to understand how his deep, passionate sense of ethics would make him feel about this.
He *was* sorry. He deeply regretted what he'd done.
And, while she was the injured party, she was also the only one who could make the first move here. Swallow her pride? Easy, considering the alternatives.
"Clark." She crossed the bathroom, walking towards him.
He turned back, still looking as if he would bolt any second.
"I said I missed you, remember?"
"Yeah." His expression spoke volumes about his regret. For everything.
"You know what I missed most of all?" She stood a mere couple of feet from him now.
"Being hugged by you," she said softly, and waited.
"Oh, Lois…" Her name emerged as something between a groan and a plea. And then his arms came around her, holding her close the way he'd done so many times in the past. She clung to him, and the fear she'd felt that night, the horror of almost being raped, melted away. She was safe. She was with her best friend.
"I love you." The words escaped without any forethought on her part. She hadn't meant to say them. And yet, once said, she knew she didn't want to take them back. It was the truth.
He hugged her tighter, and she felt his lips brush her hair. "I love you, too, Lois. But it doesn't make it better, does it? It doesn't… undo what I did."
It didn't. But that didn't mean that it wasn't something to build on.
And, suddenly, she knew exactly how they could start. "Clark, if you could do it all over again, tell me what you'd do differently."
What he would do differently? A bitter laugh escaped him. "I'd never have pretended to be dead in the first place."
He felt Lois stir in his arms, and she drew back to look up at him. "Yeah, and I'd never have demanded that you take me to that club in the first place. But… it happened."
He nodded. She wanted to know whether, with the benefit of hindsight, he'd have been honest with her. And the answer to that was a no-brainer.
"Come on," he murmured. "If we're going to have this conversation, we should do it somewhere more comfortable." Releasing her from his arms, he turned her gently and guided her out of the bathroom, intending to head for the living-room and her sofa.
She resisted, and he paused, giving her a questioning look.
"You said comfortable, and you're heading out there?" A teasing light was dancing in her eyes, and he had to smile in response. Oh, he'd missed this so much… just being with her, laughing and joking and being easy together.
"True," he acknowledged, smiling in return. "When are you going to get rid of those things and get something you can actually enjoy sitting on?"
"But if I did that you'd have nothing to complain about," she deadpanned, before taking his arm and tugging him with her. "Come on. The bed's much more comfortable, and I can sit with your arm around me while we talk."
The bed. Where they'd lain only a few nights earlier and made delicious love… He swallowed, trying to banish the erotic images which came to him at the thought. Lois must've had the same flashback, he thought, noticing the flush which crept over her face.
He was about to suggest that the couch, uncomfortable as it was, would be a better option, but she gave him a determined look. "We've been lovers, Clark. We can't pretend it didn't happen. And… if I'm honest, I'm not sure that I want to anyway."
A rush of relief swept him at her admission, as well as her open acknowledgement of what had passed between them. Maybe, just maybe, things would be all right after all…
His hand slid down her arm and caught her hand, holding it and linking their fingers. "So it won't help if I say that's one of the things I'd do differently?" he teased.
She blushed again, but raised an eyebrow challengingly at him. "You can't say you didn't want it."
"No. I'd never say that." Serious now, he faced her with a direct gaze. "But one thing I definitely would change is what happened out there — " He nodded towards her living-room. " — the night I was shot."
Her expression sober, she nodded. "Me too."
He didn't wait for her to elaborate. "I took advantage of you, Lois. I still can't believe that I did it. It was… you know, one second I was holding you, near to tears myself seeing you cry, knowing my whole life had just fallen apart and not having a clue what I was going to do. And the next… we were on the floor and I'd… I'd ravished you. I just didn't know what to say to you — how to apologise, or how to make up for it. It did cross my mind then to tell you that I was Clark, but I thought that would probably only make things worse. When you told me to leave… I was a coward. I took the easy way out."
Her fingers tightened around his. "There were two of us on that floor," she whispered. "And I started it. I don't know what made me do it. Like you, I can hardly remember how it happened… I just… I was devastated, I'd just lost the person who meant most to me in the world, and you were holding me and I knew that nothing could comfort me… I just wanted to forget. And… you know, now I wonder if I half-suspected all along?"
Puzzled, he asked, "Suspected what?"
"That it was you. Clark. I know I wasn't thinking straight," she elaborated. "But I do remember thinking in the middle of it all that he — Superman — even sounded like you. And I think maybe I was closing my eyes and imagining that it was you, not him, I was doing those things to."
Clark grimaced. "I don't have that excuse. It was wrong of me, Lois. The first betrayal, I guess."
She dropped his hand abruptly, then shocked him by pushing roughly at his chest with both hands. "No! Stop that, Clark!"
He caught at her hands, confused.
"We'll never get past this if you keep talking like that. You know, you're worse than I am!"
"But… Lois, what I did was wrong. Cruel. I know that —"
"Yeah, and you know what?" She gave him a belligerent stare.
"I'm thinking that maybe I'm not the one whose forgiveness you really need. You can't forgive yourself — and that's the biggest thing stopping us getting past this."
He was about to deny it, but the words froze on his lips. She was right. But still…
"Yeah," he admitted. "You're right. But you have to be able to forgive me too."
"So do what I asked you, Kent, okay? Sit down and tell me what you'd do differently."
As Clark finally stretched his legs on the comforter and rested his head against the pillows, she could see that he was still feeling uncomfortable about sitting here with her. She snuggled up to him in invitation for him to put his arm around her and tug her close. Touching him felt so good. Oh, not just because she had missed her lover over the past three days. The man lying next to her now was the partner and best friend she had thought dead. She'd had three days to come to terms with the fact he was still alive and well, but she hadn't truly realised it until he'd hugged her a few minutes ago.
Clark was alive.
And she wanted to forgive him. Wasn't that a start? But she had a feeling that her ability to forgive and forget what had happened would hinge on whatever he said in the next few minutes.
"I know I should have told you right away," he said at last. "After I flew you home, I had every opportunity to come out and say it. I even thought about it."
"Then why didn't you?" She was doing her best not to sound reproachful, but it still hurt that he hadn't trusted her with his secret even then. "I mean, I can see why you didn't tell me about Superman before, although over the past few months I'd come to think we were sharing everything."
"I know. And I had started to think about telling you, even back then."
He had? Well, that was something — or it would have been if he'd actually done it. "We can talk about that later. Right now I just want to understand how you could let me think you were dead. I think that's what hurts the most."
His hold on her tightened. "It seemed like the only solution at the time. I wasn't thinking straight that night."
"Clark, I'd lost my best friend!"
"And I'd lost myself. Lois, I'm not Superman! Okay, I wear the Suit," he added when she pulled a face. "But he's not me. He's just a character I invented so I could be *Clark*. Clark is who I am. I've always been Clark. Superman appeared a year and a half ago, and I'm still coming to terms with what it means and how I deal with that persona, or with the powers, for that matter."
"The powers mean you're still alive, though. If you'd been an ordinary man, we wouldn't be having this conversation, because there's no way you could have survived Barrow's shot."
"That's my point. Clark *is* dead as far as everybody's concerned. And so I thought it would be best if…"
"If you pretended to be dead, even to yourself?" she supplied for him when he hesitated.
He nodded. "I spent hours obsessing about the Suit and whether I could be recognisable. I thought up explanations for my sudden disappearances, tried not to time my coming back with Superman flying off from whatever scene he was needed at, avoided writing Superman interviews in the Planet for fear somebody would notice I was having privileged contact with Superman — and you know Trask did figure that out anyway."
"But you never thought that somebody could kill Clark."
"No. And it's stupid! I should have known it could have happened. For all the times I saw you dangle over the jaws of death, it never occurred to me that Clark was running the same kind of risk, and that being invulnerable didn't keep me safe from that kind of thing."
She understood his frustration. He'd probably never envisaged the possibility of getting shot in a situation that made it impossible for him to do anything but act as if he was dead. Knowing Clark, he'd certainly been obsessing about his carelessness. She reached for his hand and squeezed it. "You couldn't have known."
"Anyway, I was obsessing —"
"So what's new?" She grinned at his shocked expression, then laughed as he relaxed into a laugh.
"And then when I saw you at the club," he continued, growing serious again, "I didn't know what to do. You seemed to blame Superman for what had happened, and I can't say I didn't agree with you. I was cursing Superman that night."
"Oh, Clark, I'm sorry! I had no clue…"
"You have nothing to apologise for. You couldn't have known that Superman really was guilty for Clark's death."
"You're doing it again."
"Blaming yourself. Clark, Clyde Barrow was responsible for what happened. If you start blaming yourself, why not blame me for dragging you into that club in the first place?"
He lowered his head. "I know. And I guess, if I have to regret one thing, it's not having told you after I got you home."
"Did you think about it?"
"Yes. Even that night, I knew it would probably be simpler if I did tell you."
"Then why didn't you?" she insisted. She could see that she was pressuring him, but the need to understand was stronger.
"I was scared of losing you. Be honest, Lois. What would you have said that night if I'd told you I was Clark?"
"I would have helped!"
He shook his head. "Be honest."
"All right. I would have been mad first. But after a while, I would have come to terms with the situation. I would have accepted that you lied to me…" She bit her lip as her conscience attacked her. Sometimes he really did know her better than she knew herself. "No, okay, maybe not."
"I couldn't bear to lose you that night." His hand stroked her hair as he talked; she suspected that he wasn't even aware that he was doing it. And she liked it too much to draw his attention to it. Yet one more reminder of how much she'd missed him. "Especially after what I'd told you. It just came out… it felt like it was my last chance to tell you I loved you, and the words were out of my mouth before I could think of the consequences."
"Do you know how long those words haunted me?" Lois knew that the remembered pain was audible in her words, but she couldn't help herself. She felt his other hand, the one holding her hand on his lap, clench around her fingers. "The night you… died, when you and I made love, all I could hear, all I could think about were those three little words. They were words you'd spoken to me once before, and I'd ignored them because I'd been too much of a coward to acknowledge how much you meant to me, even then."
She glanced at him; saw him biting his lip, his expression sad. "See, I didn't think you felt the same way about me, and by then I was embarrassed by what I'd said. If I'd come to you as Clark that night, I would have had to deal with the consequences of those words. And that scared me."
"But why?" That was what she couldn't understand. He'd seen the way she'd been in the club, the way she'd crumpled beside him, crying over him, the way she'd pleaded with him not to die… the way she'd raged at Superman, blaming him for her partner's death. How devastated she'd been… "You must have known how much you meant to me!"
He squeezed her hand again in what she read as mute apology. "I always knew you cared. We were best friends. But you'd made it pretty clear that you didn't feel any more than that for me. And after we almost lost our friendship last year because I told you my feelings for you, I was terrified of risking that again because yet again I wasn't strong enough to keep my feelings to myself."
He'd been afraid that she would reject him. About to protest that he had to have known she'd never have done that, she halted abruptly. How could he have known? She'd been pretty emphatic back in the summer, she remembered.
<I'm sorry, Clark. I just don't feel that way about you>
He'd been deeply hurt. So hurt that, much later when the nightmare was over, he'd denied his own feelings so that they could be friends again. Of course, he'd had no idea that she'd been about to tell him that she had feelings for him too — and she'd just let it go, deciding that it was probably best not to take the risk of destroying their newly-rebuilt friendship.
<See, he's not the only one afraid of admitting his feelings>
That was really food for thought, she mused, stroking the back of his hand with her free one. Clark loved her. Loved her so much that the thought of losing her had terrified him.
Suddenly, his lie no longer seemed like a thoughtless deception. It had been a survival strategy by man so afraid of losing her from his life that he'd hidden the truth from her for fear of the consequences.
Quietly, she said, "Pretend we're back there, Clark. It's two weeks ago. The night you were shot. You're taking me home as Superman. Tell me what you're going to do."
His breath was soft against her hair. Then, equally quietly, he told her. "I'll take you inside. Put you down. Say that I have something very important to tell you. And then I'll spin out of my Spandex and show you that I'm Clark. And that I'm not dead. And then I'll tell you again that I love you."
She caught her breath. "And… if I'm mad? If I refuse to listen?"
His hand stroked her hair again. "Then I'll be patient with you. I can be very patient, Lois; did you know that? I'll tell you that you have every right to be angry, but that I had very good reasons for not telling you before. That I still have very good reasons for not telling you, but not letting you believe I was dead is more important than anything else."
"And… if I ask you why you never told me?"
"Then I'll explain." Softly, he continued, "It's a huge secret. You know that. It's also a dangerous one. I have to protect my parents. I have to protect *myself*. And, sure, it's been a long time since I ever imagined you'd want to print this, but I had to be sure that you wouldn't ever let it slip accidentally. There's another reason, too," he added, sounding a little uncertain again.
"And what's that?"
"This is what you won't like — and I know you'll get mad again. But I have to tell you anyway. In the last couple of months, what most stopped me telling you was your feelings for Superman."
Lois flushed. Her Superman crush. That made complete sense. No doubt Clark had wondered whether, if he told her the truth, she'd announce that she loved him. And, of course, she'd had no idea that she'd loved him anyway, just as he was — just as the ordinary man called Clark Kent.
An ordinary man…
She bit her lip as those words, said in another context, came back to her. And she'd thought she had the right to be angry with him?
"How could you have forgiven me?" she blurted out suddenly.
"What?" His hand left her hair, and she longed to ask him to put it back.
"What I did to you! Telling you that I'd love you if you were an ordinary man?"
"Oh." That he remembered that conversation too was written all over his face. He shrugged. "It's over and done with. Yeah, I forgave you, but I guess I hadn't really forgotten it — I mean, that's probably why I was so afraid that if I told you the truth you'd fall all over me once you knew I was Superman."
"I'm sorry, Clark," she said, aching for the pain she'd caused him.
"Hey, you don't need to apologise. Really — I'm over that now. Hearing you say that you loved me — Clark — after I was shot made up for it several times over."
Lois fell silent, letting that sink in. Yes, knowing that your friend felt differently now and would never make the same mistake again really did wipe out the hurt.
She shifted into a kneeling position beside him so that she could look him straight in the eye. "I forgive you, Clark. And I love you. Can we start again?"
She meant it. Her words, the way she was looking at him, made his breath catch. She forgave him. And her forgiveness gave him permission to forgive himself. The nightmare was over.
"Thank you, Lois," he said huskily, and reached for her. Framing her face with his palms, he covered her lips with his in a kiss of gratitude, apology… and love.
He'd hoped that she would kiss him back, but the strength of her response took him by surprise. "Oh, Lois," he groaned against her mouth, gathering her against him. She crawled onto his lap, never breaking the kiss, and wrapped her arms around him.
For the first time in two nightmarish weeks, he felt at peace. He had a home again. He was someone again.
He was Clark Kent.
Except… he wasn't.
Breaking the kiss, he drew back from Lois and gazed at her soberly.
"Clark, what are you doing?" she demanded, reaching for him again.
But he held her back. "We still have to talk," he pointed out quietly.
"What's so important that it can't wait?" Again, she leaned towards him, trying to resume kissing him.
"Lois, we might have sorted things out between us, but there's still one little problem we haven't considered. I can't be with you."
"What?" Eyes dazed, she stared at him, her expression confused. "What do you mean, you can't be with me? I've just got through telling you that I forgive you! I need you, Clark. you're not going to walk away from me now!"
"I don't want to," he said heavily. "But I have no choice. Lois, I can't make you Superman's girlfriend. I know I had some crazy idea of doing that a few days ago, but it's far too dangerous. If anyone were to find out, you'd be a target for every criminal in town."
She shook her head. "Silly. I'll be *your* girlfriend. Clark Kent's."
"But that's just it! You can't," he protested. "Lois, Clark is dead."
"No, he's not," she scoffed. "Clark, you're right here with me."
"Yeah, but everyone thinks I'm dead," he pointed out softly. "So I can't be with you as Clark."
"Yeah, but you're not dead," she pointed out logically. "See? You're right here. Large as life — and just as lunkheaded," she added, pulling a face at him.
"Lois, I know I'm alive — but no-one else can know that! I was shot at point-blank range, remember?"
"I know that," she said, waving away his objection as if it were nothing. "But the fact remains that you're not really dead. So what's the point in carrying on pretending that you are? I mean, you don't really want to be just Superman for the rest of your life, do you?"
"Of course I don't!" he protested. "But what choice do I have?"
"*We* have the choice of telling the truth. Letting people know that you're alive," she said, giving him a shake.
"You mean tell everyone that I'm Superman?" He stared at her, horrified. "Lois, I can't do that!"
"I know that. But you are alive. And, Clark, no body was ever found. So who's to say you ever died?"
"Oh, yeah?" Hurt, he gave her a cynical look. "And how do you say we manage that? Where am I supposed to have been for the last ten days? Deliberately hiding, pretending to be dead while all my friends and family mourned me?"
Instantly, he regretted his angry words. That, after all, was almost exactly what he had done — as Lois was sure to remind him.
But she didn't. Instead, she patted his hand. "Come on, Clark. We *are* the best investigative reporters in town, after all. We'll think of something. I'm damned if I'm going to let you walk away from me again, after all — and I'm sick of Perry trying to team me up with useless idiots like Tyler Rogers."
He kissed her again. Hard. And then realised how difficult it would be to hold his word of putting a stop to their romance. He was addicted to her kisses, to her touch, to the sweetness that had got into their banter since they'd both admitted their feelings. He didn't want to let that go. He had to. Reluctantly, he pulled away.
"You won't have to work with him again," he said, trying to ignore the effect of the kiss on him. "He's a waste of space, and Perry will not argue with that after tonight. He'll have to explain why he wasn't with you."
"You mean why he didn't prevent me from following that guy out?" Lois snorted. "Come on. Perry's no idiot. He'll know that I wouldn't have let Rogers get in my way."
"That's beside the point. Rogers wasn't actually doing any investigating when I saw him. He was… otherwise engaged."
"With that ditzy blonde? Yeah, I noticed."
"You two would never have made a good team."
Lois broke into a smile and swatted him playfully. "Mr Kent! Are you jealous?"
"I might be." He was. He couldn't bear the thought of anyone else working with Lois. His possessiveness took him aback, and he was about to apologise when she pre-empted his words.
"You know, I kind of like that." She wrapped her hands around his neck and pulled him down for another kiss.
He wished she wouldn't stop kissing him and touching him. He didn't want to leave. He didn't want to ever have to leave. "I love you," he whispered against her lips.
"Then fight. Fight to get your old life back! Don't stand back and accept what happened as if you couldn't do anything about it."
He shook his head sadly. While he admired Lois's determination, he had been trying to find a solution for too many days now, and no believable explanation had come to mind. He couldn't reappear as Clark Kent and pretend everything was all right. Too many people could testify that he'd been shot. Besides how could he explain his disappearance? It couldn't work.
"Trust me," Lois said, as if reading his thoughts.
"You have an idea?"
She grinned. "Who do you think you're talking to?"
MIRACLE RETURN OF PLANET REPORTER By Craig Allen
A few weeks ago, the Daily Planet lost one of its finest reporters: Clark Kent was shot while undercover, and his body went missing. Yesterday, our colleague unexpectedly turned up in the newsroom, alive and perfectly well.
Almost two weeks ago, he was gunned down by the cloned Clyde Barrow in front of at least 30 people — including his Planet partner, Lois Lane — in a replica of a 1920s speakeasy. Yesterday, Clark Kent walked into this paper's newsroom, large as life and with a story worthy of a Hollywood screenwriter.
Only, in this case, it's even more amazing because it's true.
In the first of a series of life-saving coincidences, Kent had his pager in his breast pocket. Although he was felled by the impact of the bullet, it never penetrated his body. He has a souvenir of the event in the shape of a very mis-shapen pager with a .22 calibre bullet embedded in it.
Stunned by the impact, Kent was unaware of being dragged out of the speakeasy, or being pushed out of the gangsters' car and left for dead, though he believes that he hit his head when he hit the ground. He woke later to find himself in Suicide Slum, cold, aching all over, with no money or ID in his pockets and no memory of anything at all — not even his own identity.
He could have died from hypothermia. Or concussion as a result of the blow to his head. But a street person, suffering, Kent now believes, from senility, thought our reporter was his long-lost cousin. He took Kent to a winter shelter used by many homeless people in the Slum area. One other resident was a former nurse made homeless through alcoholism, who told this reporter how he had taken care of the new resident. Thanks to him, Kent recovered from the injuries he'd suffered, but he still had no idea who he was.
Until yesterday. Someone brought in a stack of old newspapers to use for warmth. Among that stack was a copy of the Daily Planet from November 13th — and the photograph on the front page was like looking in a mirror for the John Doe in the shelter. Remembering everything in that instant, Clark Kent rushed back home to call his parents and give them the best news they've had in weeks.
So that's the amazing story of how a dead man walked back into our newsroom yesterday. We're all very glad to have him back — especially Lois Lane, his partner.
In a statement, Perry White, editor of this newspaper, said, "Clark Kent is a much-valued reporter and much-loved friend of all the staff on this paper. Writing his obituary was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Finding out that the rumours of his death were exaggerated made yesterday one of the happiest days of my — and this paper's — life."
The Daily Planet's Christmas appeal for 1994, as always supported by the paper's owners and staff, and you, the readers, will be in aid of Metropolis's homeless.
"You're a genius."
Lois grinned. Clark touched her face and drew her into a kiss. He seemed to be using every opportunity to be close to her. Not that she complained. For all the times she'd claimed not to need a man in her life, for all her growls of annoyance with lovey-dovey displays of affection, it hadn't taken her a lot of time to get used to Clark's caresses and kisses.
"I love you," he whispered against her lips. "I'd still have to play dead without you."
"You'd have found a way, sooner or later."
"Not as brilliant as yours!" He linked his arms behind her back, holding her close and rocking their body in a slow dance.
Lois grinned again. "It was one of my more inspirational moments, wasn't it? And, of course, getting Boris to back it up was even better."
"Yeah, how did you do that?"
"Simple. He owes me a few favours anyway. He used to be an occasional source, and I brought him food and old clothes sometimes. The last two winters, I twisted some arms and got him into a proper shelter. And I just promised him to do the same this year if he'd back up our story about you. Most reporters are pretty lazy — once one person is prepared to speak to the press, they won't bother looking for someone else to talk to."
"You're brilliant," he said again, leaning forward to kiss her once more.
She kissed him back happily. Right now, she thought that she'd never get tired of kissing Clark.
Several minutes later, he broke the kiss, still hugging her close, and returned to their conversation. "I'm not sure Perry bought it fully, though."
"I think…" She stopped to kiss the tip of his nose. "… that Perry knows a lot more than he's letting on."
Clark blinked. "You mean you think he knows?"
"I have reasons to be suspicious. Oh, don't worry! I don't think he'd ever reveal your secret. Or even tell you that he knows. But what he said today about the whole thing being such an incredible story that even a man who flies sounded believable next to it makes it pretty obvious that he's figured something out."
Clark squirmed, and she held him tighter to convey her reassurance. She knew how he felt. He trusted Perry as much as she did, but knowing that two new people were on the secret was bound to make him uncomfortable.
He pulled away from her. "What if other people figure it out?"
"Nobody else will." She framed his face between her hands and forced him to look at her. "Nobody else has any reason to be suspicious about you. I might have put two and two together eventually because being partners makes it hard not to notice you're hiding something from me. But no-one else is as close to you as I am. As for Perry, I'm convinced that he only worked it out yesterday, after you came back."
She shook her head. "I doubt it. I mean, if he'd guessed before, I think he'd have been pretty furious with you for pretending to be dead."
"True. Especially when he saw what it was doing to you," Clark agreed.
Relaxing against him, Lois murmured, "It's great to have you back, partner."
"It's great to be back."
She had her partner back. She had her best friend back. And, best of all, the man she loved was hers, in every way. No more secrets, no more unexplained disappearances, no more hiding their feelings from each other.
He was hers, and she was his, and she was happier than she'd ever been in her life before.