By Wanda Detroit <email@example.com>
Submitted: January 2006
Summary: Lois Lane learns first-hand what it is like to be victimized. When targeted and assaulted by a serial rapist, an unlikely hero comes to her rescue. But where is Superman during her most difficult battle? And who will pick up the pieces of Lois' shattered trust? Will she ever feel safe again?
I must issue huge thanks to Stopquitdont, who helped and encouraged me throughout the writing of this story. Without her help and support and nagging, this story might never have seen an ending — much less the message boards or the archive! I also have to thank Julie Stars, who also added to the nagging, and allowed me to IM her bits of this story at all hours of the night when she probably should have been sleeping!
A hearty thanks is also due to my very understanding and helpful GE, Paul-Gabriel Wiener, who was not only an incredibly nitpicky editor (in a good way!), but he was also extremely understanding and caring during some challenging times in my life.
This story takes place during season 1. It comes with a major WHAM warning, and contains some serious content, which happens fairly quickly. I can assure you that it *does* get better if you hang in there with me!
Feedback is greatly appreciated! Thanks for reading.
The crisp November air made her wish she'd worn a coat. It wasn't as bad during the day, but here it was, pitch black at two in the morning, and she was missing her overcoat.
As a result, she welcomed the stagnant warmth that the subway station offered as she descended to the platform. The wee hours of Thursday morning were apparently not a busy time to take the train. She was the only person at the station, and was secretly glad. Suicide Slum was the worst neighborhood in Metropolis, and under normal circumstances, she would have been surrounded with suspicious-looking people. She knew better than to be there unaccompanied, at any time.
For that same reason, she had left her precious Jeep Cherokee safely in its garage. She had feared leaving her silver baby parked in this neighborhood would only result in finding it propped on cinder blocks with all four tires removed. So she'd opted for public transportation instead.
The night had been very productive, despite her misgivings about venturing — alone — into a less-than-safe part of town. With her partner on vacation for Thanksgiving, she hadn't had much of a choice. Two reluctant sources had come forward with information, confirming a lead she'd been chasing all along. They had been eluding her all week, so when they'd finally agreed to meet with her, she hadn't been about to say no.
Still, she'd been all too aware of the dangers involved in venturing into the area at this hour. There she'd been, a lovely, young, well-dressed woman wandering around in the middle of the night. She had propositioned twice during her brief two-block walk to the subway.
"Hey, Lady… How much?" She'd kept her eyes fixed straight ahead, ignored the insulting comment, and quickened her pace. Her high heels had pounded a fast rhythm into the pavement until she'd finally arrived at the station.
She shuddered, watching a sizable rat scurry across the train tracks. She could hear the hollow echo of water dripping somewhere, leaking from the street level to a puddle below. A fluorescent lightbulb was in the process of wearing out, and it flickered and hummed above her head, making her wait for the train all the more disconcerting.
Satisfied with the night's accomplishments, but exhausted beyond comprehension, she was relieved when she heard the shrill scream of the train coming her way. The thrill of getting the goods for her story was fading, leaving her anxious over being alone in the heart of Suicide Slum. She sighed thankfully when the train slowed to a stop. Strangely enough, fate was on her side because the car she stepped into was completely empty. She talked herself out of being nervous; it was silly to be scared. She was perfectly safe.
Her tired feet thanked her when she sat down. She smoothed her tweed skirt over her lap and peered into her bag. She withdrew a steno pad and reread her notes. As much as she hated to admit it, she was too sleepy to concentrate. Instead, she resorted to scribbling absentmindedly in the margin.
The train screeched to a halt at the Hyde Street platform, jerking her hand across the page. The hard line crossed over her notes. Frustrated, she put the pad away. She could not take the chance of destroying the evening's work.
She looked up briefly as a man entered her subway car, and averted her eyes again. Anxiously, she hugged her bag closer to her body. The man was still standing when the car jerked forward. Clumsily, he grappled for the nearest pole to steady himself, and then he took the nearest seat, which was right beside hers.
It was then that she lost track of time. There were vivid fragments. The rocking of the train on its tracks was lulling her to sleep. She felt something sharp prick her arm. She was numb. Things went in and out of focus. What came first? The man knelt down in front of her. He was trying to help her, wasn't he? *Wasn't he?* It was like she was instantaneously drunk. Things were spinning. She tried to focus on the stranger's eyes, his words. But she couldn't hear him! She was briefly terrified. What followed was more confusion.
She tried to move, but her limbs were like dead weights. She opened her mouth to try and speak, but no words came. The stranger had tried to help, hadn't he? Taking her by the shoulders he was able to lift her to an almost-standing position.
She was suddenly half-aware that she was lying on the floor. Colorful advertisements spun overhead. She couldn't read them, though she tried. She could not focus on a single one. The effect was even more dizzying. To bring herself relief, at last she shut her eyes.
The last thing she saw was the stranger's clear blue eyes hovering over her.
He was trying to help her, wasn't he?
Ian Johnson had collected enough spare change to ride the subway that night. He worked his dark, weathered hands together, warming them. It was a cold night to be sleeping out on the streets, and Ian knew how nice he would feel on a warm train.
Three in the morning. No one was ever around at this time. Especially not on a holiday. 'Happy Thanksgiving,' he thought to himself grimly.
The train slowed to a stop, and Ian started toward the nearest car. It was empty, or so he thought. Upon entering the car, he realized he was mistaken. There were two passengers.
Ian was friends with all sorts: gamblers, drug addicts, drunks, prostitutes, other homeless people. Not many things surprised him. This was one of those special cases.
There was a woman lying on the ground. She appeared to be unconscious. Her pantyhose and underwear were rolled down around her ankles. There was a man straddling her, trying to unbutton his pants.
"*Hey!*" Ian shouted, upon entering the car. The man jerked his head upward at the sudden interruption. He'd been caught! Before the subway doors could close again, he bolted out the door. Ian rushed to the victim's side.
"Hey lady," he said, shaking her shoulders. She was completely unresponsive, but Ian could tell that she was breathing. The blouse under her jacket was torn open, leaving her bare and exposed. Ian tucked the jacket across the woman's body. "Lady, wake up," he tried again. Nothing.
Ian instinctively grabbed the handbag that was lying nearby. He took out a cell phone and dialed 911.
"Yes. My name is Ian Johnson. I'm calling from the G train, just past the Hyde Street stop. I just got on this train and there was a man trying to rape a woman. The man got away but the woman's still on here unconscious… Her name? I don't know," Ian continued to search her bag, finally withdrawing her press pass. "Hold on, I found some I.D. Her name is Lois Lane. She works over at the Daily Planet."
Two days later, Lois finally opened her eyes. She was vaguely aware that she was now lying in a hospital bed. The first face she saw was Perry White's.
"Lois, darlin'," he said softly.
"I… what…?" she stammered, trying to get her bearings. Her head was pounding and the room was still spinning. An overwhelming urge came over her. "I think I'm gonna throw up."
Perry was quick to offer her a pink plastic basin that was nearby for just that purpose. He pressed the call button, alerting the nurses' station that Lois was conscious.
Lois retched, feeling like she had the hangover of the century. Recovering, she lay back against the pillows.
Her eyes met Perry's. He could read the fear in her face. "I'm… I'm sick, aren't I?"
"No, no, honey. No." He patted her hand with a fatherly sort of affection. Before Perry could explain, a nurse entered the room.
"Miss Lane," she said warmly. The nurse turned to Perry and gave him a nod.
Perry gave Lois' hand a final squeeze. "I'll be right in the visitor's lounge out there, darlin'."
"Thanks, Perry," Lois whispered. She turned her attention to the nurse, squinting to bring the woman's face into focus. She felt the gentle pressure of the nurse's fingers on her wrist, taking her pulse.
"I'm Julie, I'll be your nurse this afternoon," she said, then recorded Lois' pulse on her clipboard.
"Please, Julie…" Lois started, "what's going on with me?" Her brow was furrowed with a mixture of worry and confusion.
"Miss Lane—" Julie's pleasant expression turned serious. "Can you tell me the last thing you remember?"
Lois racked her brain. "I… I was riding on the subway. It was the middle of the night. I just wanted to go home. Then — it's like I closed my eyes there, and opened them up here. I can't explain it."
Julie gently lifted the short sleeve of Lois' hospital gown to reveal a small, reddish welt on her upper arm. "Do you remember how you got this?"
"Oh, God, what *is* that?" she stammered, wishing she could remember.
"It's an injection site, Miss Lane," the nurse explained. "Someone on the subway train used a syringe to inject you with a liquid form of gamma hydroxybutyrate — GHB. Do you know what that is?"
"GHB, sure. The date-rape drug?"
As clouded as Lois' mind still was, she was starting to realize the implications of what Julie had said. "You don't mean—"
"Miss Lane, someone sexually assaulted you while you were unconscious."
"No," she said, her voice barely a whisper. Lois suddenly looked a little green.
Julie was just in time with the pink plastic basin. She poured Lois a glass of ice water, offering it to her when she'd recovered from her latest bout of nausea.
"Here," Julie offered. Lois drank gratefully. "Vomiting is a side-effect of a GHB overdose," she explained. "Can you tell me how you're feeling, besides the nausea?"
"I feel like I was hit by a truck," Lois stated grimly. She was in disbelief over what the nurse had said. 'How could something like this have happened without my knowing it?' Lois wondered. Maybe being unconscious was a better alternative to being awake and knowing… She shuddered.
Pushing the thought out of her mind, she tried to focus on the nurse's question. "My body aches all over. And the room is still spinning — I feel like I have a royal hangover. Everything's out of focus."
"That should pass soon," Julie said gently. "As soon as you're up to it, we have plenty of counselors on hand to talk to you about this. Right now, we want you to focus on feeling better."
Lois took a deep breath. "I need to know. To what extent was I—"
"Miss Lane, I don't have all the details. This was very nearly a rape situation, but luckily somebody came to your aid before the criminal could go any further."
"No, from what I understand, your rescuer was a homeless man."
Julie could see the initial surprise on Lois' face.
Lois was quick to change the subject. "How long have I been asleep?" she asked.
"Almost two days." The nurse studied her patient, watching her brown eyes brim over with tears.
"Two days ago," Lois repeated softly. "My God, I can't even remember!" Tears rolled down her cheeks. "Who knows about all of this?"
"Your mother was here with you all day yesterday. Your friend Perry took her place this afternoon so she could bring you some of your belongings," Julie said, offering Lois some tissues.
"What about Clark?" Lois had a sudden urge to see him, yet at the same time she didn't want him to see her like this. Had he heard what happened? Where was he, anyway?
"Oh, Clark. He was the first person we called when you came in," Julie explained, looking down at Lois' medical records on her clipboard. "You have him listed as your emergency contact person. We dialed his extension at the Daily Planet, only to find that he was home in Smallville for Thanksgiving."
*Thanksgiving.* Right. She had almost forgotten about that. Lois wasn't feeling particularly thankful for *anything* right about now.
"Is he your boyfriend?" Julie asked.
"No, no. He's my partner. My best friend," Lois muttered. She realized now how much she needed his unconditional support. Clark always found a way to make her feel better, but this time she wasn't quite so sure there was anything he could do.
"The best thing for you to do now is to get some rest. Is there anything else I can do for you?"
"Please tell Perry he can come back in here," she said. Julie nodded. "Thanks. For everything."
The nurse turned and left the room. Alone finally with her thoughts, Lois tried to let the news seep in. She had been drugged. Worse than that, she'd nearly been violated. Helpless to defend herself. Humiliated, she squeezed her eyes shut, trying not to imagine what had happened.
There was a quiet hesitant knock on the door. "Lois, honey?" The voice was Perry's.
"Come in," Lois sighed.
Perry entered the room and opened his mouth to speak, but hesitated. At last he blurted out, "We're gonna catch whoever did this to you. I swear it, on the King's grave." He moved to Lois' side, and she was engulfed in a firm bear hug. "Honey, you're going to be all right. I promise."
'I'm not so sure,' Lois thought. She pulled back from Perry. "Can you please call Clark on his cell phone?"
"You sure, darlin'?"
Lois nodded. She rotated the yellow plastic hospital bracelet on her wrist. 'LANE, LOIS' it proclaimed in typewriter ink. "Please call Clark. I need him." Saying these words, she surprised even herself.
Clark Kent was helping his mother wash the dishes when his cell phone started to ring. He grasped a dishtowel to dry his hands quickly. The family was stuffed with the Thanksgiving leftovers they'd enjoyed for lunch, and they were currently laughing and cleaning up together, preparing for a Gin Rummy tournament.
Fumbling, Clark found the cell phone at the bottom of his briefcase. This was the first time it had rung the whole week. He wondered hopefully if it was Lois, chasing a lead on their latest story. Or maybe she just wanted to say Happy Thanksgiving. It had been five days since he'd last seen Lois, and he was already missing the sound of her voice.
"Clark, I'm glad I caught you." The voice was Perry White's.
"What's up, Chief?"
"Listen, I know you're not due to come back to Metropolis until Tuesday," he started awkwardly. "I just thought you might want to come back sooner—"
"Why, Perry? What's going on?" Clark didn't need super hearing to detect the strain in Perry's voice.
The Chief heaved a sigh. "Are you sitting down?"
Clark sank down into his parents' sofa. "Perry, tell me."
"It's Lois. She was assaulted on the subway Thursday morning—"
"*What?* Is she okay?!" Clark was on his feet again. Every muscle in his body was tense, and his blood ran cold.
"Clark, she's not injured. She was drugged. When she was unconscious, he…" Perry couldn't bring himself to say it right out. He swallowed. "He tried to take advantage of her. He didn't, but he came awfully close."
"No, Perry. Not Lois!" Clark stammered, his heart hammering in his chest.
"Clark, she just woke up. She's asking for you."
Clark's heart ached. "I'm going to catch the next plane, Perry. I'll be there as soon as I can."
"You're a good friend to her, Clark," Perry said gently. "Maybe I'll see you tonight. Metropolis General Hospital, room 415."
"Bye, Chief," Clark said numbly.
Clark hung up the phone and sank back into the sofa. He didn't realize it, but his parents were standing nearby, having heard the panic in their son's voice. They were quick to sit beside him.
"I should have been there," Clark whispered. When his eyes met his mother's, she could see tears welling up. "I could have prevented this." Clark wept.
Martha took her son in her arms while Jonathan put an arm around his shoulders. The family unit stayed that way for a long time, hugging tightly, tearfully.
Jonathan was the first to speak. "Is Lois… going to be okay?"
"Define 'okay,'" Clark snapped. He immediately regretted using such a hateful tone with his father. Taking a deep breath calmed him a little. "What I mean is, Perry didn't give too many details, but Lois was drugged. I — I just know if I had been there—"
"Clark, this is not your fault," Martha whispered.
"I could have stopped it. I could have — Mom, she was almost *raped.*" He blurted it out finally. Hatefully.
"Clark, honey, you can't be everywhere at once," Martha offered.
"But Mom, you know how I feel about Lois — I can't believe I let her—"
"Clark, son, you didn't *let* her anything. This is not your fault, Superman or not," Jonathan stated firmly. "You cannot blame yourself for this."
"What do I do now?"
"Be a friend. Be there for her," Martha said gently, rubbing her son's back.
Clark nodded. Part of him was warmed by Perry's words: 'She just woke up; she's asking for you.' Another part wanted to scream. How could someone have hurt Lois in this way? And how come he couldn't do anything about it? The guilt was consuming him, making him want to run away. But he couldn't… not when she needed him.
Clark waited two hours before flying off to Metropolis because he wanted Perry to think he'd traveled by airplane. It was the hardest two hours of his life. He was restlessly pacing around the house. He wasn't sure what to say to Lois when he saw her. 'Get well?' 'Feel better?' These sentiments seemed insignificant compared to the ordeal Lois had faced. The thought of someone abusing her in that way while she was asleep made Clark feel ill.
He tried to distract himself. He turned on the television and was greeted by newscasts announcing that another woman had been found on the subway. She had been raped and left on the platform. Clark turned the TV off, unable to listen to it anymore. His friend — the woman he had feelings for — and now another woman had been victimized.
'Some Superman *I* am,' Clark thought, deeply disappointed with himself.
He found a better distraction — packing and repacking his suitcase numbly. Martha prepared some Thanksgiving leftovers for Clark to take home, knowing that cooking would not be on the top of his priority list. The two long hours finally elapsed. He kissed his parents goodbye, thanking them for a wonderful Thanksgiving. "I'm sorry — I wish I could have stayed longer, but—"
"Don't be sorry, Clark," Martha said understandingly. She watched as her son disappeared into the dark sky.
Ellen Lane relieved Perry of his vigil at Lois' side. She carried a duffel bag full of more things than Lois could possibly need for her hospital stay. She set the duffel down in the corner of the room and gently took the black-and-white teddy bear she'd found on Lois' bed and tucked it beside her daughter.
She hovered over her sleeping child, barely able to contain the tears that had been almost constant since she'd heard the news. Gently, she placed a kiss on Lois' forehead. She'd missed the brief frame of time during which Lois was awake and alert. Now, she was told, Lois had fallen into a much-needed sleep. Sleep meant recovery, but that didn't stop Ellen from wanting desperately to talk to her daughter.
It was a long fifteen minutes later when Lois finally stirred and her eyes flashed open.
"Lois. Oh, honey." Ellen enveloped her daughter in her arms. Both women were weeping.
"Where's Lucy?" Lois questioned, between tears.
"Her stupid cell phone isn't working in the mountains," Ellen grumbled. "She's having Thanksgiving with that Alec guy. I've been trying to get her all day. She has no idea—"
"What did they tell you… about what happened?" Lois interrupted.
She felt her mother's muscles tense up. The very thought of the crime that had put Lois in the hospital made her shudder.
"Please, Mother. They're being so vague. I have to know."
"You really can't remember any of it, can you?"
Lois shook her head.
"Well, they're trying to piece all of the events together. It seems a man injected you with that GHB, an overdose. Because it went directly to your bloodstream, it took effect right away. Well, then this homeless man — Ian, I think his name was — walks into the train, and interrupts what would have definitely been rape. You are very lucky Ian came when he did. The overdose could have killed you, Lois. And to think — a few minutes more, and—"
"How close was he? To going… all the way?"
"Lois, sweetheart, don't think about that. You're safe now, and that's all that matters."
Bitter tears coursed down Lois' cheeks. "Tell me. Please."
Ellen's heart ached. "I don't know the details, I suppose only that Ian guy knows."
"Did he take off my clothes?"
"Honey, please, I can't understand why you want to know this. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise that you can't remember—"
"Mother." Lois' eyes were pleading, searching for any recognizable clue in her mother's face.
It hurt Ellen to tell Lois the truth. She rested a gentle hand on her daughter's shoulder and took a deep breath. "When you got to the hospital you had most of your clothes on, sweetheart. But on the subway, he had taken down your stockings and your underwear and lifted your skirt—"
Lois squeezed her eyes shut, wanting to stop the flow of her tears.
"Lois, I'm sorry, honey, I shouldn't have—"
"No," Lois whispered. "Knowing that much is better than not knowing anything."
A few minutes later, Lois realized her head was becoming clearer than it had been the past few times she'd awakened. Panic set in. "Mother — I have to take a shower. I'm… I feel dirty."
"Lois, I don't know if that's such a good idea. Are you still feeling dizzy?"
"No. I've got to. I swear I can feel that guy's hands all over me. It's disgusting." Lois shuddered.
Ellen understood. "All right, sweetheart." She helped her daughter stand up, and made sure she was steady on her feet. "Leave the door unlocked. I'll be right out here if you need anything."
Once in the privacy of the bathroom, Lois looked at herself in the mirror for the first time since the attack. She was surprised at her reflection. She looked pale and tired, as though sleeping through two whole days had done nothing at all. Her usually perfect hair was now messy with sleep. She turned the shower on, letting the hot water fill the room with steam. Hesitantly, she removed her hospital gown, and let it fall to the floor. Shakily, she looked at herself in the mirror.
For the first time in her life, she did not feel comfortable with her body. Initially, there was nothing different about the way she looked. Upon closer inspection, she could detect faint bruises. She ran nervous fingertips over her skin, taking inventory on the sore spots where her attacker had hit her. Or had he prodded? Or pushed, or kneaded? These were just a few of the many unknowns she would have to deal with.
She stepped into the steamy shower and let the hot water course over her. She stood motionless, breathing in the hot steam. The water was nearly hot enough to scald a person, but Lois imagined it killing off any residue of her attack. It felt wonderful! She unwrapped a bar of soap and worked it into a lather between her palms. Obsessively, she scrubbed every inch of her body until she was satisfied that she was thoroughly clean.
When she stepped out of the shower stall, her skin was rosy and glowing. She felt refreshed, and donned a soft cotton pair of pajamas her mother had brought to her. When she emerged from the bathroom, Ellen caught a glimpse of the first faint smile Lois had made since she'd awakened.
Determined to keep Lois' spirits up, her mother turned to some happier topics of discussion. "These sure are nice flowers," she said, indicating a vase and two baskets that covered the table in Lois' room. "The rose showed up while you were in the shower."
"Who is it from?" Lois questioned. She had received one basket from the Daily Planet staff, and a smaller one from just Perry. Now, a narrow vase holding a single red rose added to her collection.
Ellen took the card from the arrangement. "It says, 'I just heard what happened. I'm afraid this flower will make it to you before I do. I'm flying in tonight — I will see you soon. Clark.' Clark? Your partner?"
"Clark, yes." She said his name like it was sacred. "He's… coming tonight?"
"It looks that way from his note."
"He didn't have to do that. I probably ruined his Thanksgiving."
"Lois, don't be ridiculous. He's obviously coming because he wants to. Because he cares about you," Ellen reasoned.
"That's Clark for you. He's so… nice." Lois said it as if it were a negative thing.
"Nice? What's so bad about that?"
"Well, I guess the problem is that I don't deserve it. I've given him *such* a hard time, and here I am in trouble, and look." Lois indicated the flower and the card.
"Don't underestimate yourself, Lois. You've shown me already how important Clark is to you. I think you two are better friends than you think. If I didn't know any better, I'd think that you were more than *just* friends." Ellen smirked.
Lois blushed and changed the subject. "Mother, you look awfully tired. Have you slept since…?"
Ellen yawned as if on cue. "Not really, honey. I just didn't feel comfortable leaving you here all alone."
"You should go home and get some rest tonight. I'm awake now, and I feel bad I've kept you up all this time. Besides, I won't be alone when Clark gets here."
Ellen nodded. "I guess you're right. I'll stay with you until he shows up."
It didn't prove to be a long wait for Ellen. A nurse entered the room half an hour later.
"Miss Lane, are you taking visitors? There's a Clark Kent here to see you. He just dialed up."
"Yes, thank you. Send him up," Lois said.
"I'll get going, sweetheart," Ellen kissed her daughter on the cheek. "Call me any time if you need anything. I'll come by tomorrow afternoon."
"Bye, Mother. Thanks." Lois was alone at last. She ran her fingers through her hair, hoping she didn't look too terrible. Suddenly, her heart ached with a new emotion: she felt ashamed. These visits, these flowers… these apologies. 'I'm sorry about what happened to you.' Pity. Her friends pitied her. Lois felt her cheeks redden with sheer humiliation. 'Maybe if I hide under the sheets, Clark won't know I'm here.'
Another little voice said, 'Get a grip, Lois. He's coming because he's worried.'
Before she could resolve her inner struggle, there was a familiar figure standing in the doorway. He had on blue jeans and a windbreaker. His hair was tousled and his glasses were just a little bit askew; he looked like it had been a long day. His handsome face was reddened a bit by the cold outdoors, and there was a slight hint of nervousness in his expression. Lois felt sheer relief when she saw him. "Clark—" she started, pushing herself up into a sitting position.
Clark stepped into the room slowly. "Lois." He hadn't known what to expect. He'd prepared himself for the worst, thinking maybe she'd be badly beaten, or bandaged. Instead, she looked strangely pretty. She appeared tired, but her color was good, there were no visible injuries, and Clark could hear her strong heartbeat.
Still, he was nervous. He had read the books — abused women did not like to be touched; they were not trusting of men. But Clark could see something in her eyes that screamed 'hold me.'
He moved slowly, giving Lois plenty of time to stop him if she was uncomfortable. He set a vase of roses on the nightstand near her bed,leaned forward a little with anticipation. And then, without any abandon, Clark did what he'd desperately wanted to do since he heard the news. He gathered Lois in his arms, wrapping her in an embrace that communicated his friendship, support, and love to her without speaking a single word. He simply held her firmly, pressing his cheek to hers. He felt her lean into him, felt her hands grip his back as though she'd never let go. Clark took several deep breaths, enjoying the clean smell of her hair, and the way her body felt close to his. And then, the unthinkable—
Clark felt Lois' silent tears roll down her cheek, hot and wet against his. This only made him hold her closer. He raised a hand to cup the back of her head, stroking her hair with gentle fingertips. And now she was crying audibly; a tiny whimper had escalated into a full-grown sob. Clark's heart was breaking with her every wail. For the first time since he heard the news, the guilt that had consumed him did not seem as important as what was happening now.
He did not say "Shh," or "Don't cry," or "It's okay." They were meaningless sentiments, and right now it was apparent that Lois needed this kind of release more than anything. He felt her nestle her face into his shoulder. Clark rubbed her back with calm, soothing strokes, and felt her relax a little in his arms.
Lois started to regain her composure, enough to utter two words. Two words that meant the world to him. Two words that made him feel both elated and guilty all over again: "You came." Quiet tears flowed again, her only sound soft hiccups muffled against his shoulder.
"Of course I came, Lois," Clark replied, his voice soft and pained. He released her enough to pull back and look at her. Her eyes were red from crying, her cheeks damp with tears. Her lips trembled as she fought the instinct to cry again. There was a dull ache forming deep within Clark's chest. Here was Lois Lane, the strongest, bravest, smartest woman he knew, at her weakest moment. He wished, with every fiber of his being, that he could reverse the clock. He could have invited his partner to Smallville for Thanksgiving. He could have stayed in Metropolis and worked with her; she wouldn't have been alone that night. He could have zeroed in on her cry for help with his super hearing—
His guilty thoughts were interrupted. "You didn't have to come, Clark. I'm sorry." Lois wiped the tears from her cheek with the back of her hand. Clark offered her a tissue from the bedside table. His hand lingered on hers; her skin was soft and warm.
"Don't apologize," Clark responded firmly. "I wanted to be here. For you." His fingers instinctively interlaced with hers. Naturally, gently, he inclined his head and placed a soft kiss on her cheek. "I care about you. You know that?"
Lois nodded. "It means so much to me that you came. I can't explain it. I… woke up today and all I wanted to do was see you. You make me feel…" She very nearly said 'loved,' but was unable to finish her sentence. Instead her emotions got the best of her again and she covered her mouth with her hand to stifle another sob.
Clark immediately pulled her back into to his embrace. "Shh… I'm here. I'll always be here for you," he whispered, but nearly choked on the guilt threatening to close up his throat.
She leaned back again when she'd calmed. "Thanks. I don't know what I'd do without you."
Clark smiled tenderly, but another pang of guilt made him change the subject. "I… brought you some flowers. There are eleven of them here. Now you have a whole dozen." He granced from the single rose to the flowers that he had just brought.
His sweet sentiment made her smile. "Thank you, Clark. You shouldn't have—"
"But I wanted to," Clark's gentle expression took on a more serious look. "I feel like — for the first time, I don't know what to say to you. I don't want to say the wrong thing. I don't want to hurt you any more than you've already — Look at me, I'm already making things worse," he stammered, embarrassed.
"It's okay, Clark. Say what you want to say," she urged, giving his hand a little squeeze.
Clark took a deep breath, gathering his thoughts as best he could. "I came because I care about you. I don't even know exactly what happened, but I *do* know what *almost* happened. And when I heard, I can't explain it — it was as if I was… dying. I had to see you. I know I can't change what happened, but I wish to God I could! I guess what I'm trying to say is, I'm here for you. I don't know what I could possibly do to help you, but I'm here, and I'm… yours. If there's anything that you need or want, I'm your man."
Lois threw her arms around his neck and hugged him tightly. "Thank you, Clark. That means so much," she whispered into his ear. When they finally broke the embrace, Lois managed a smile.
"How are you feeling?" Clark inquired.
Lois leaned back against the pillows. "Groggy. I've had periods of time where things were really starting to make sense, then everything sort of faded out. I'm feeling a little dizzy right now, and my stomach feels awful. Things are going in and out of focus. It's something that happens with a GHB overdose, so they tell me. It's getting better, though."
"Good," Clark replied. "You look tired." He stood up and crossed the room, taking the single rose from its vase. He moved back to Lois' bedside to add it to the larger bouquet.
"I *feel* tired. I don't understand how that's possible after sleeping through two entire days." Lois sighed.
"You should get some rest," Clark urged. "I'll stay right here." Something in his tone convinced Lois not to argue with him.
Clark pulled up a chair beside Lois' bed. Before sitting down, he tucked her in gently. Lightly, he brushed a stray lock of hair away from her face with his fingertips. Clark stopped and admired his friend for a moment; her lovely brown eyes were fixed on his, and her expression was peaceful for the first time since his arrival. Her silky tresses were splayed across the pillow almost artfully. Lois didn't say a word, but Clark was certain there was an unspoken exchange going on between them. Her eyes communicated warmth and — could it be? — love to him. Acting on instinct alone, Clark leaned over the bed and planted a soft kiss on her forehead. The corners of her mouth turned up ever so slightly in a faint smile.
Lois felt a tiny flutter in her chest when Clark hovered over her. She knew she should not have been surprised when Clark had taken care of her with such compassion; he was that kind of person. Still, she had never felt more cared for in her life. She found she couldn't take her eyes off him. The simple touch of his fingers running through her hair sent an excited shiver up her spine. And then, Clark surprised her with a goodnight kiss. The fluttering sensation she'd experienced changed; now she felt warmth that coursed through her whole body, as though she were standing before a fireplace.
But it wasn't a fireplace. It was Clark. And Lois could not explain what was happening between them, but she was certainly tiring herself out trying to think about it. She drifted off into a sweet sleep soon afterwards, too drowsy to realize that she and Clark were hand-in-hand.
Clark awoke the next morning right in the armchair where he'd fallen asleep. Warm rays of sun were peeking through the window. He stood up and stretched, and was keenly aware of what a stiff neck he would have had he not have been the Man of Steel. His gaze fell upon the sleeping figure in the hospital bed. Lois looked relaxed and peaceful. He was glad she had gotten a good night's rest.
He didn't dare wake his friend. Instead he found a discarded magazine to leaf through. He had almost read Ladies Home Journal cover to cover when a soft voice made him look up.
"Hey," she said.
"Hey you." Clark smiled.
He studied his partner's expression. He would almost call it content. But suddenly something changed. She looked pale, and her eyes were pleading. "Oh, no, Clark; I'm gonna be sick—!" She clamped a hand over her mouth urgently.
As soon as the realization hit Clark, he scooped her up and had her in the bathroom in no time, thanks to a little super speed (he knew Lois wouldn't notice). He knelt with her in front of the toilet, holding back her hair as she lost what little was in her stomach.
Lois rested her forehead on crossed arms, hovering over the porcelain bowl. The violent spasms continued, even when there was nothing left to come up. Clark was still behind her, rubbing her back. "Thanks, Clark," she sighed, recovering at last. "That was above and beyond the call of duty."
"Don't worry about it," he replied honestly, supplying her with a glass of water.
When she was sure the nausea had passed, she flushed the toilet and leaned back, resting her head against Clark's chest. He simply held her. He wished he were holding her under different circumstances. Feeling selfish and guilty, he pushed that thought out of his mind. Carefully, he rested his hand on her belly, rubbing it in a soothing circular motion. "How do you feel now, Lois?"
"Better, I think. But dizzy," she managed weakly.
"Well, we can't stay here on the bathroom floor all day," Clark said gently. "Hang on." Before Lois knew what was happening, Clark scooped her up into his arms, carrying her out of the bathroom. He moved slowly, so as not to upset her stomach further. "Let's get you back to bed." Gently, he set her down on the bed and tucked the blankets over her. Just then, he noticed the teddy bear he'd won for her at the Smallville Corn Festival, hidden beneath the sheet. Grinning, he placed it next to her. Lois blushed.
That was the last bout of nausea that Lois would suffer from. Her health was steadily improving. The dizzy spells became few and far between, the worst effects of the GHB overdose had passed, and Lois' mind was clearer than ever. She was not sure if that was such a good thing. Now she had to face the very real facts of what had happened, and she found many new anxieties around every corner.
That morning, a doctor came and drew blood. They were going to test her for HIV and AIDS to make sure the criminal hadn't used a dirty needle. Lois blanched when the doctor informed her that she would be tested again in three months' time, to verify the results were accurate. 'So much for resting easy when the tests come back negative,' she thought grimly.
Clark was still in the dark about what had happened, and he was afraid to ask Lois before she was ready to talk about it. Like his mom had said, it was best to just be there and be a friend to Lois when she needed him most. What he knew came together in a sort of puzzle with missing pieces; he ran it all through his head. She had been on the subway, she had been drugged, had very nearly been raped. Somehow Lois had been rescued, although she'd lost two days time, unconscious.
Clark had so many questions to ask her. Questions which would undoubtedly upset her a great deal. He decided to wait. There would be a time to ask her.
The following afternoon, Lois was discharged from Metropolis General Hospital. The doctor was convinced that the effects of the GHB overdose had passed. Now came the difficult part: mentally healing.
Lois had put on a brave front these past two days. She did not want anyone to see her hurting. Most of all, she did not want anyone to feel sorry for her. The doctor stressed the importance of counseling during this time. Ashamed, Lois was not interested in talking to anyone about the situation… counselor or not.
'After all,' she thought, 'this is my own damn fault. I should never have been there in the first place.' Aside from all that, Lois had been very lucky. She had not been raped; she had been saved in the nick of time. 'Rape victims need counseling. I don't,' she mused.
Her mother brought her home. Lois simply insisted she wanted some time alone, and, try as she might, Ellen Lane found herself unable to change her daughter's mind.
Truth be told, Lois did not enjoy being alone. Not now, anyway. Tiny sounds made her jump a mile. Her thoughts were much more agitated when she was alone than when she had company. She considered picking up the phone and calling Clark. Maybe he'd want to have dinner with her…
'No,' Lois decided. 'Clark's done enough this weekend.' She felt sheer embarrassment at the thought of him having to deal with her in this state. He'd held her as she cried, protected her while she slept, and worse, taken care of her when she'd thrown up. He had definitely paid his dues, and he certainly didn't need to be bothered any more.
She set foot in her kitchen, which was just the way she'd left it before her attack. The sink still had a few dirty dishes in it. Grimacing, Lois picked up a bowl; the remains of oatmeal cemented a spoon to the bottom of the dish. Wearily, she pried the two apart and started them soaking in hot soapy water.
Unable to focus her energies on one activity, she strayed into her living room. She was afraid to look at another of the responsibilities she'd inadvertently neglected when she was hospitalized: her fish tank. She approached it hesitantly and flipped on the switch to light her small pets. Sure enough, two of the fish had died. 'Of course they died,' Lois thought sadly, scooping the small creatures from the tank with a net. 'They haven't eaten in almost a week.' Lois deposited them in the toilet and flushed.
When she returned to the living room, the other fish were staring at her hungrily. "Here you go, fish," Lois sighed, sprinkling a generous helping of fish food into the tank. She watched them eat ravenously for a few moments. Her mind wandered, and she began thinking about what had happened on the subway.
Now she was filled with anger. Why did it have to happen at all? And then, to be rescued by a homeless man? Where was *Superman* when it was happening? All along, she'd thought Superman was her friend. She wondered if he'd even heard what happened. Bitterly, she wondered if he even cared.
Lois felt the tears well up. She began pacing figure eights around her apartment, absentmindedly trying to wear off her extra energy. She clenched her fists, determined not to cry. She had done enough of that already. No, she didn't want to cry. She wanted to scream! The desire to throw her head back and yell became all-encompassing.
Lois flopped down on her bed, buried her face in her pillow and screamed, muffling her sounds as best she could. She had to admit, it felt good! She sat up a little and threw a punch at the pillow — then another one, and another one. Working out her anger in this way, she managed to calm herself down a bit.
When she had exhausted herself, she picked up the pillow and hugged it to her chest. "Sorry," she murmured. After all, the pillow hadn't done anything to deserve the abuse. Lois took a deep breath, and started to lose herself in thought.
A knock on the door startled her. "Who's there?" she called.
"It's me. Clark."
Lois had to smile. She got up and opened the door. There he was, bearing two grocery bags chock full of Tupperware containers.
"What's going on?" she asked.
"Well, I thought you might like some company. For dinner."
"You sure brought a lot of food!"
Clark smiled. "My mom sent me home with *lots* of Thanksgiving leftovers. I thought you'd enjoy it, since you didn't really have a Thanksgiving this year."
"Thanks, Clark! I don't know what I'd do without you," Lois replied, a little too eagerly. Quickly and awkwardly, she tagged on, "For dinner, I mean. I don't have any food in the house." She shut the door behind Clark as he set the bags of food on her table. She locked all of the deadbolts on her door carefully.
"How does it feel to be out of the hospital?" Clark asked as he removed the Tupperware containers from the bags.
Lois heaved a sigh. "Good," she replied. "I mean, I'm just glad to be feeling well enough to be home. I don't feel dizzy or sick anymore."
"That's good to hear." Clark popped a container of mashed potatoes into Lois' microwave. He could detect a hint of the jitters in his friend. She seemed to be evading the real problems at hand. He could tell she was paranoid about intruders because of the way her pulse rose when she bolted the door shut nervously. She seemed very relieved to have his company this evening.
Lois pulled out two plates and two settings of silverware from her cabinets. "I actually almost called you to see if you wanted to come over for dinner, but I figured you'd seen enough of me this weekend," she said, laying the plates on two placemats. Clark was surprised to hear her admit it.
"You should have called, Lois. It's okay," Clark answered. He watched her carefully setting the table. She seemed to enjoy being engrossed in some activity that kept her mind off the events of the week. Lois placed a vase full of flowers — his gift to her! — on the table as a centerpiece.
While Lois was busy, Clark cheated a little; he warmed some of the food in the microwave while warming the rest with his heat vision. He brought out turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, yams, and green beans to the table.
"Wow! This looks great!" Lois exclaimed. "I haven't had a *real* Thanksgiving in a long time."
"Really? This is what our Thanksgiving is always like," Clark explained. He pulled out the chair, inviting Lois to sit down. "My dad makes the turkey and the stuffing, and my mom makes most of the rest. Wait until dessert. Do you like pumpkin pie?"
Lois' eyes widened. "I *love* pumpkin pie!"
Clark's face lit up with a smile. "My mom makes it the best!" He sat beside her, and for the duration of the meal, he could tell Lois was feeling more and more like herself. For the first time since her attack, she was able to spend time *not* thinking about it. Lois was pleasant and chatty. Clark was happy that his idea to surprise Lois with dinner had gone over so well. She was definitely enjoying herself. He wondered if there was more to her enjoyment than simply having someone to eat dinner with. Could she *possibly* be interested in *him?*
Lois put on a pot of coffee when they had finished their dinner. "My God, that was phenomenal, Clark. Please tell your parents how much I enjoyed it! I'm stuffed. But I think I still have room for a piece of pumpkin pie!"
Clark was glad to see Lois acting more like herself. He wondered if she'd object if he asked her if they could watch a movie together. He had rented a video just in case, but he decided to wait until after dessert to ask if she was interested.
Lois emerged from the kitchen with a coffee mug in each hand. One, to Clark's surprise, was blue with the familiar red-and- yellow Superman 'S' on it. The other was white and pink and said LOIS on it, along with a paragraph about what her name means. "Wanna be 'Superman,' Clark?" Lois asked, about to hand him the blue mug.
"Ooh, can I be 'Lois' instead?" Clark asked, jokingly.
Lois shrugged. "Suit yourself." She laughed, taking the Superman mug for herself. "Lucy always gives me crazy coffee mugs. I think she's trying to tell me something about my caffeine addiction."
"Hm, this is very interesting, Lois." Clark was reading the mug. "It says here, 'Your name of Lois has created a practical, responsible, stable nature, and you desire to direct the efforts of others rather than to take orders or ask permission. You have a determined, self-reliant, capable personality and resent any interference, although in your desire to help, you are inclined to become involved in the lives and decisions of other people. You like to make your own decisions and to be the master of your domain. You feel a limitation in your own expression when it is necessary to reach another through tact and understanding.' That's pretty accurate. Wow."
Lois laughed. "Yeah, Lucy thought so, too. She said it was scary how accurate that mug was."
Clark turned the mug over to see that on the other side, it said, 'The name Lois means Battle Maiden.' "Battle Maiden, eh?" Clark chuckled. "I'd say that's pretty much on target. You're a fighter."
"Sometimes," Lois answered, the single word hanging in the air uncomfortably. "Um… what do you say we break into that pumpkin pie?"
Clark truly believed what he said. Lois *was* a fighter. But he still regretted bringing her thoughts back around to the one battle she'd lost. He was glad when she changed the subject. "Sure, Lois. That sounds good," he replied.
Clark peeled the plastic wrap off half of a perfect-looking pumpkin pie. He took a knife and sliced and plated two generous pieces. "Now," Clark announced, "this is the best pumpkin pie of all time. Mom makes it only *once* a year. You cannot waste a single crumb of it, so I hope you're hungry!" He scraped a fork over both sides of the knife, collecting the residual pumpkin filling. "Here, taste," he said quietly, extending the fork towards her mouth.
Her lips closed softly over the fork. "Oh. My. God. This is *incredible* pumpkin pie," Lois gushed. "You weren't kidding. Give my regards to Mrs. Kent."
"All right. I believe you're deserving of this piece." Clark laughed, offering her the bigger of the two pieces.
"You know," said Lois, digging into the pie with gusto, "I can honestly say that this is the best Thanksgiving I've ever had."
"Really?" Clark smiled warmly.
"Well, on top of all of this *amazing* food, I've got a lot to be thankful for. As horrible as this whole week has been, at least I'm still here, right?"
Clark was surprised to hear Lois address the incident directly for the first time since it had happened. "Yes, thank God," he replied.
"And one positive thing that came out of it is, I know who my real friends are." As Lois looked deeply into Clark's eyes, she felt incredibly safe and loved. She even stunned herself when she continued, "I'm not so sure I want this night to be over after dessert. Maybe you can stay the night." Embarrassed, she immediately drew her hand up to her mouth. "I, uh, didn't mean it like that, Clark — I—"
"It's okay, Lois, I know you didn't."
"I like spending time with you."
"So do I."
"And honestly, I know it's really stupid of me, but I've been feeling pretty scared when I'm by myself," she admitted. Ashamed, she broke eye contact with him and looked down at her plate, poking at what was left of her wedge of pie with her fork.
"Lois, it's understandable. Of course I'll stay."
She looked up at him, surprised. "Are you sure?"
"Absolutely. I even brought a movie in case you were in the mood to watch something," Clark replied.
"Wow, you sure came prepared. You must have been a Boy Scout when you were a kid." Lois smiled.
"I was. I'm an Eagle Scout," Clark said proudly.
"I should have known. Now I know who to call when I need a refresher course in tying knots." Lois grinned before taking a sip of her coffee. "So, what movie did you bring, anyhow?"
"Well, I thought you might like to see a classic. Have you ever seen 'Bringing Up Baby'?"
"With Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn? And the leopard? I *love* that movie! I haven't seen it in a while," Lois rambled excitedly. She scraped the last morsels of pie off of the plate, savoring them.
"Good. I was in the mood for a good old comedy."
"Hey, why don't you refill our mugs? The coffee's over on the stovetop. I'll get the VCR ready. Sound good?"
"Sounds great!" Clark took the plates and deposited them in the kitchen sink. He brought the coffee pot over and topped off their drinks, still amused by Lois' Superman mug. He heard the TV turn on in Lois' living room. Then he heard a light gasp escape from her lips.
"Oh. Oh, God," she murmured, her voice barely a whisper. She sank into the sofa without letting her eyes leave the TV screen. Clark entered the room quickly, mugs in hand. Just then, he saw what Lois was reacting to.
"…the third victim, Amanda Byers, is described as a well- dressed 41-year old African-American female," proclaimed the news anchor grimly. "She was found dead at four o'clock in the morning on the G train. The victim was given an overdose of GHB, a drug commonly used in date-rape situations. While unconscious, Byers was raped and left to die on the train."
Clark had set the mugs down and stood, motionless, behind the sofa. He rested his hands on Lois' shoulders gently.
The newsman continued, "The police have dubbed the attacker as the Hyde and SEEC rapist because he seems to strike between the Hyde Street stop and the State Environmental and Ecological College stop on the G train. The first victim was sexually assaulted last Thursday morning. Another passenger entered the train, preventing the criminal from committing the rape. The second victim was raped and found on Saturday morning around the same time. Both women survived. Because the victims were unconscious during the attack, it will be very difficult for police to identify the Hyde and SEEC rapist. If you have any information, or saw any suspicious behavior on or near the G train, please contact the Metropolis Police Department immediately."
'She died,' thought Clark. His chest felt hollow. 'Three victims… How could I make the same mistake more than once?!' He felt immense guilt as the news program showed a photograph of a pretty woman with long braided hair and caramel-colored skin. Her smile shone brightly from the photograph. Clark wanted to die.
Just then, Lois' sharp intake of breath stopped him from brooding; her shoulders shook beneath his palms as she heaved quiet sobs. Heartbroken for Lois and now Amanda Byers, Clark came up beside Lois and sat down, gathering her in his arms.
"I can't believe it," she muttered tearfully. "I thought maybe it was a one-time deal. But now, after *three*—" Lois stifled a sob. "Others are in danger, too!" Lois pulled back out of Clark's embrace to look into his eyes. "And where has *Superman* been during all of this?" she blurted out, bitterly.
The words cut Clark like a knife. "I… I don't know, Lois," he stammered. He wished he could get up and leave; he wanted to fly to the middle of nowhere and scream. On top of hurting Lois so deeply, his lack of action had cost a woman her life. But tortured as he was, he couldn't leave Lois. She was clinging to him again as her tears tapered off.
Sniffling, Lois continued. "I mean, I thought Superman was my friend. How could he let this happen? He's always been there…"
"I don't know what to say, Lois," Clark muttered. "I'm friends with Superman, too. I don't think there's any way he would intentionally ignore someone who needed help." It was getting difficult for Clark to keep his composure. How could he deal with Superman's pain and guilt about the situation, while, as Clark, offering unconditional support to Lois? Secret identities were complicated.
"I trusted him, Clark. I trusted him to keep me safe. I know that sounds stupid, but it's how I feel. And right now, I feel very betrayed by Superman." Lois spat the words like poison. Clark ached as if he'd been stabbed, and Lois kept pushing the knife deeper.
"But Superman can't be everywhere at once. Maybe he was out saving someone else," Clark suggested, in a vain attempt to bring Superman into a better light.
"But what could have been worse than this?" Lois was getting hysterical. "Wouldn't Superman have chosen to save me, his friend, from being drugged and… brutalized? From having my clothes ripped off, and almost—"
Clark couldn't take it anymore. "Lois. Stop." His voice was firm. "Calm down, and listen to me. Superman would never have *chosen* for this to happen to anyone, *especially* his friend. Besides, maybe he couldn't hear you. You were underground in the subway. You were unconscious; how could you have called for help?"
Lois was silent for a long time. She stared down at her hands in her lap, then finally raised her head, her eyes meeting his. Those eyes told him a thousand stories. She seemed to be searching for answers deep within him. At last she spoke. "Clark, you're right. I don't think I could have screamed. I don't think he could have heard me. I just assumed he knew these kinds of things — like when a friend is in trouble. I don't know. I am still having trouble trusting him again." Lois shook her head. "At least I have you, Clark," she murmured softly, nestling closer to him on the couch. "I feel like you're the only person in the world I can trust."
Clark Kent was elated to hear those words, but his Superman persona felt pain that only Kryptonite — and Lois Lane — could inflict. He was completely conflicted. Still, he embraced Lois. Wasn't this what he'd always wanted? For Lois to want him for who he was — Clark Kent — rather than the idealistic fantasy of Superman? Now that he had his wish, he wasn't so sure what to make of it.
"Of course you can trust me, Lois," Clark whispered. "I'll always be here. Always." He was determined to keep that promise.
Lois would have loved to stay in Clark's warm embrace. Instead, she yawned. "Turkey sure makes me tired." 'Stupid!' she thought immediately. 'Way to be romantic.'
"Well, if you'd like, we can save the movie for another night. You can get some rest. It would do you good."
Another night?! Did he mean he'd stay over more than one night? "Hm. I think I'd like that," Lois said, smiling. "Give me a minute, okay?" Lois disappeared into her bedroom.
Clark changed the channel until he found some "Leave it to Beaver" reruns. He settled on the couch, removing his sneakers and making himself comfortable.
When Lois emerged, she was wearing her pajamas: a baby pink tank top that left little to the imagination, and matching floral pants. Clark had to concentrate to keep his jaw from dropping. For the first time, he could appreciate her lovely figure. Sure, she was thin, but she was not lacking in soft, feminine curves or defined arm and shoulder muscles. She had a lazy smile on her face.
"I guess I was more tired than I realized," Lois mused. She brought him a stack of pillows and blankets. "Here you go, Clark. Are you sure you don't mind the couch?"
"Of course not. I'll be right here if you need me for anything." Clark grinned and wished her goodnight.
As tired as Lois was, sleep did not come easy. She tossed and turned in her bed, but could not get comfortable. As soon as she started to fall asleep, she'd hear something outside her window — people's voices, a siren, a train — and she'd be right back at square one, trying to fall asleep again. An hour and a half passed, and she was desperate for sleep. 'Maybe I'm just thirsty,' she decided. As quietly as she could, Lois tip-toed past Clark and into the kitchen for a glass of water.
She was not quiet enough for Clark. He was beside her in the darkened kitchen in no time. "Hey. You okay?" he asked in a hushed voice.
"I'm so tired, but I can't sleep," Lois whispered, disappointment in her voice.
Only the moonlight illuminated their faces. Lois studied Clark's face. He looked so handsome. She could see him working on a solution to her problems. "I'll take care of you, Lois."
"Hey, why are we whispering?"
Clark shrugged. "I don't know, it seems like the thing to do in the dark, in the middle of the night."
'I could think of other things,' Lois thought, thankful that she hadn't said that out loud.
Clark poured a glass of milk and set it in the microwave for a few seconds. "My mom used to do this for me when I couldn't sleep. I have no idea if it really works, but I think it sort of helps. Here; drink." Clark placed the glass in Lois' hands, letting his hands linger over Lois' for what seemed to be an unusually long time.
"Thanks, Clark." Lois took a long drink. When she'd finished, Clark escorted her back to her bedroom.
"Come on, lay down," he urged. "How do you feel?"
"Good." Clark tucked the sheets and blankets in all around Lois. He leaned over slowly and placed a soft good-night kiss on her forehead. "Goodnight, Lois."
Lois didn't reply; she had already fallen asleep.
Two hours later, Clark was awakened suddenly by what sounded like strangled cries. He rushed into Lois' bedroom to find her writhing violently in the throes of a nightmare. She shouted almost-phrases aloud in her sleep.
"No, no — *please!* I can't be—!" Her sheets were knotted around her. Her hands gripped the blanket in tight fists. "No — stop! That — *agh!* — hurts; stop—!" She was begging and thrashing as though she could fend off her imagined predator. Clark didn't have a doubt as to what the nightmare was about.
He immediately sat on the edge of the bed and slipped his arm under her back. He lifted her shaking body into a sitting position. "Wake up, Lois," he said gently. "Come on; wake up." He hugged her close, rocking her a little and rubbing her back. It took Lois a few moments to snap out of it, but at last, her tense body relaxed in his arms.
"Clark — It was horrible!" she gasped.
"I know. You had me scared for a while there." Clark ran his fingers through her hair softly.
Lois took a deep breath and tried to hurriedly regain composure. "I'm sorry. I feel really silly. This is… pretty embarrassing."
"Don't, Lois. You've had a really big trauma this week. Nightmares are a fairly common aftereffect." Clark looked Lois in the eye. He could see the tears welling up, but she was fighting them. "You've been dealing with this so well. You have nothing to be ashamed of. I'm… really proud of you."
"Well?! Well!? You think I'm dealing with this *well?*" Lois snapped. The tears finally coursed down her cheeks freely. "Don't be proud of *me,* Clark!" Lois was in full-blown rant mode, gesticulating wildly. "I can't *sleep* like a normal person anymore. I nearly jump out of my skin when I hear a siren, or footsteps, or some sound outside my window! I cannot deal with this, Clark! I still haven't talked to a single soul about what happened."
"I'm here to listen if you need to talk," Clark offered calmly.
"Well," Lois started, "can you imagine waking up in the hospital, having no recollection of how you got there? The last thing I could remember was being on the subway train. Some man sat down next to me, and the next thing I know I've collapsed. Then I wake up in the hospital feeling terrible, and they tell me two days have gone by! What would you think if that happened to you?!"
"Honestly? I… don't know," Clark responded honestly. He rested his hand on top of hers, encouraging her to continue.
"I was convinced I was dying of some terrible disease. I mean, why else would I have collapsed on the subway, right?"
Lois lowered her voice, as though the words would seem less harsh that way. "And then… And then, they tell me I was drugged. And sexually assaulted. Clark, I — he took most of my clothes off, and he tried to—" Choked up, Lois covered her mouth with her hand, fighting more tears. "I couldn't even fight back. I was completely unconscious. It's — It's not fair!"
"Lois, you're right. It's not fair," Clark murmured, holding her close.
"All I know about what happened was told to me by someone else. I feel like, maybe if I knew — maybe if I could remember, I could deal with it better." She cuddled closer to Clark's warm body. "My mother told me to be grateful that I couldn't remember. She seems to think I can pretend it never happened. But, Clark, I turn on the TV, and there it is. For God sake, I have to go for blood tests again in three months to make sure I don't have HIV or AIDS! It's on my mind every second of the day. Isn't that reminder enough?!"
Clark remained silent. What could he possibly say? He simply held Lois in his arms.
"I want to talk to Ian," Lois whispered finally.
"Ian? Who's Ian?"
"The homeless guy who found me. He — saw the Hyde and SEEC rapist."
Clark looked at Lois with disbelief. "You can't write this story, you know. You're entirely too… close to it—"
"Clark. This is not for a *story.* This is for *me.* For my peace of mind. Will you come with me?"
"Of course I will, Lois. I… hope this is what you want. It might be… hard for you to hear."
"That's why you're coming along." Lois' determined expression changed. "Clark, you agree with my mother, don't you?! You think I'd be better off wondering what happened, and pretending it didn't?"
"I didn't say that—!"
"Well — you implied it."
Lois had worn herself out arguing. She tried, unsuccessfully, to stifle a yawn.
"You need sleep, Lois." Clark rose from the bed, getting ready to return to the living room couch.
"Clark, I'm scared." She looked up at him, a pleading look in her eyes.
The nightmares. Right.
Clark sat down in a soft recliner in the corner of Lois' bedroom. "I'll sleep right here if you want," he offered. Lois did not look convinced. "Here," he extended a hand to her. "Come sit with me for a few minutes."
Lois rose uncertainly. She walked over to the chair, allowing Clark to take her hand. He guided her easily, sitting her across his lap. He wrapped his arms around her, feeding her the warmth and protection she so desired. Lois softened in his arms, resting her head back on his shoulder, nuzzling his neck slightly. Clark rocked the chair slowly with his foot.
The 'few minutes' of sitting together turned out to be a whole lot longer. Lois fell into a peaceful sleep, and Clark didn't have the heart to move her over to her own bed. Besides, it felt good to hold her close. Clark admired the woman in his arms. In the moonlight, she looked angelic. The cool light crossed her high cheekbones and down across her well-defined clavicles. She looked, he thought, like a modern version of a Renaissance painting: a perfectly-formed woman, beautiful, flawless, and ideal.
Clark had to fight the urge to kiss her sleeping lips. At the same time, he wanted nothing more than to help her through her ordeal. Toying with her emotions by getting romantically involved was a bad idea, Clark decided. He rested his cheek on the top of Lois' head, breathing in the sweet, clean scent of her hair. He thought fondly of the little Thanksgiving meal they'd shared. His pleasant thoughts lulled him to sleep soon afterward.
Groggily, Clark awakened at the faint sound of a cry for help. His instinct was to leap up, spin into his Superman suit, and fly off. Blinking, he remembered he was not in his apartment. He looked down at Lois, who was still curled up in his lap, sound asleep. 'No,' he thought. 'I can't leave her, can I?'
He argued with himself. 'She's safe now… but someone else is in trouble.'
Still, guilt consumed him. Clark felt he had left Lois once before; he was not about to do it again. He had made a promise. Suppose Lois woke up scared? Suppose she realized he had left her? She would never believe one of his lame excuses in the middle of the night. What would she possibly think if she found he had left her? He couldn't do that to her… could he?
Looking down at Lois, he decided she was sleeping fairly deeply. He was pretty sure he could pick her up and lay her in her bed without waking her up. Besides, the average call for help didn't take *too* long to answer. He could theoretically be back by Lois' side in minutes.
"Help! Police! Somebody!" A woman's voice yelled again. Clark tuned in his super hearing, trying to assess what was happening on the other side of Metropolis.
Lois stirred slightly in her sleep, snuggling closer to Clark's body. He looked down at her again. She was precious; a faint Mona Lisa smile played across her lips. She was getting some much- needed rest. 'I owe this to her,' Clark thought. 'I have to keep my promise. I said I'd never leave. Besides, as Superman, I've let her down enough.'
Still, someone needed his help. His heart ached. Clark recalled telling Lois just today that Superman would never ignore a person in trouble. Torn, Clark wasn't quite sure what to do.
He listened again. "He's got my purse! Stop him!"
A mugging. The thief took the handbag and ran; there were no weapons involved. It wasn't life-threatening after all. Clark heaved a great sigh of relief. The authorities could handle this one. From the sounds of it, they already were.
Clark stayed awake for a long time after the crisis had been averted; he wasn't sure if he'd done the right thing or not. Still, he knew he had not betrayed his friend. That thought, at the very least, was a comfort to him.
Also of comfort to him was a beautiful woman sleeping in his lap. A woman who trusted him with her safety. A woman whom he couldn't help dreaming about. Lois Lane. He was in love with her; there was no denying it. He had told himself time and time again, 'Don't get involved with her. Don't get emotionally attached.'
Clark knew how cynical Lois was about love. Still, she had shown him otherwise this past week. It was Clark she'd wanted to see, most of all, when she'd gained consciousness. It was Clark's shoulder she'd cried on, many times over. And finally, it was Clark to whom she had first opened up, directly discussing her feelings about the attack.
Maybe there *was* something special going on between them, after all.
Lois' eyes blinked open, squinting in the sunlight. She didn't dare move. She felt safe, warm, and loved. Clark's arms were wrapped around her, keeping her close. She inclined her head to look at him, and was surprised to find that he was still asleep. His features were even more handsome up close, if that was possible. As much as she hated to admit it, she'd found the 'Kansas farmboy' very attractive, from the first moment she actually paid enough attention to notice him.
'He looks different without his glasses,' Lois thought, admiring her sleeping partner. 'He looks like a little boy when he's asleep.' Lois leaned back slightly, nestling into the crook of his arm. She didn't want to wake him, but most of all, she didn't want this sweet moment to pass. It felt good to be in someone's arms; it felt even better because that 'someone' was Clark.
Lois regretted putting a damper on what could have been a romantic evening. She wished for once that she could easily forget her newfound problems and insecurities, and simply seize the day. At the same time, she felt some relief from having opened up to Clark. She was embarrassed she'd cried again, but Clark had been so understanding. After all of the nice things he'd done for her, she was most upset about forcing him to put up with her crazy rants.
Still, her overall impression of last night was overwhelmingly good. Lois was certain she'd felt chemistry with Clark. She was pretty sure he felt it, too. The Thanksgiving meal was incredible, and not just because of the food. It was mostly because of Clark. There was nothing she'd needed more than a pleasant diversion, and Clark was the perfect person to cheer her up. She hoped he had realized how much she had appreciated it.
She was lost in thought for over an hour when Clark finally opened his eyes. "Good morning, sunshine," he said smiling. Waking up holding Lois felt amazing. He wiped the sleep from his eyes with his hand, then, realizing he was 'undisguised,' quickly donned his glasses. He was pleased to see Lois looking more well- rested and bright-eyed than she had since before the attack.
"Good morning, Clark," Lois replied. Her sweet smile lit up the room. "Do you want me to make us some breakfast?"
"I'll put on some coffee." Clark had heard the rumors about Lois' cooking. Perhaps *he* should make the breakfast.
The phone interrupted their breakfast shortly after. Lois jumped a little at the sound of the ring. "I'll let the machine answer it," she murmured, munching on a piece of toast.
After the tone, Lois heard her sister's frantic voice. "Lois? Are you there?! I just got back to Metropolis. Mom left, like, fifty messages on my voicemail. I… heard — what happened. I know you're there, Lo; come on, just pick up the phone." Lucy would have kept on talking, but Lois decided she'd better answer it.
"Lucy… hey. I'm doing… okay, I guess. I *feel* fine. No, I'm not hurt or anything. It's… complicated. Lunch? Sure — I'll tell you about it in person. No, I haven't been alone. Clark's here." Lois lowered her voice. "*Yes,* overnight. *No,* not like *that.*" Lois was becoming aggravated. "Stop it, Luce. Will you just—" She rolled her eyes and released an exasperated sigh. "All right, twelve-thirty is fine. Yeah, we can do that, it might be fun. Sure. See you then. Bye." Lois hung up the phone.
"Leave it to Lucy to be more excited that I had a man spend the night…" Lois said, returning to her breakfast. She dragged her toast through the runny yolk of the fried eggs Clark had prepared.
"She's concerned about you, Lois. That's obvious," Clark replied.
"Oh, I know she is. She insisted on seeing me today for lunch," Lois said, taking her fork and knife into her hands.
"That will be nice for you." Clark watched, amused, as Lois elaborately cut up her eggs into equal-sized pieces.
"She says we'll get our nails done afterward, that it will help relax me." Lois' current tension levels were aroused as she struggled to pile her perfectly cut egg bits on an uncooperative and soggy piece of toast. Even the simple act of eating breakfast had become stressful.
"Maybe it will, Lois. I think it's a good idea."
"My sister is such a… girl sometimes."
"Nothing wrong with that," Clark said, giving a small shrug. "You're pretty girly yourself, sometimes."
"I am not," Lois protested, crossing her arms defiantly.
Clark grinned. "Look at your pajamas."
Her pink lace-edged tank top and feminine floral pajama pants spoke for themselves.
Clark left before Lucy showed up, promising he'd return for dinner. It would give him time to put in a few hours at the Daily Planet. Perry had been extremely understanding about Lois' situation, and he even insisted Clark stay with her for a few days. Still, Clark felt the need to get some work done. Afterward, he would pack an overnight bag and stay over at Lois' apartment if she wanted him to.
Lois took a shower while he was gone. She was in the mood to look halfway decent, and took care styling her hair just the way she liked it. She had been pretty lax about her looks since the incident. Even though she was a natural beauty, she enjoyed wearing makeup. After applying some earth-toned eye shadow, blush, and lipstick, she stood back and admired herself in the mirror, deciding she looked pretty good. Maybe Clark was right; maybe she was a girly-girl after all.
She donned a tan pair of corduroy pants, a brown sweater, and matching boots. Just as she was fastening the zipper on her boot, there was a knock on the door. "I'm coming," she called, hopping up to answer it.
Lucy Lane heard the sounds of three locks being unbolted before the door swung open. She said nothing, but threw her arms around her sister's neck.
"Hey, Lucy," Lois said, hugging her sister back.
Lucy released Lois from her embrace. "Lois, you look… wow."
"What did you expect?"
"I — I don't know," Lucy stammered. She certainly hadn't expected Lois to look *great.* But here she was, looking as if nothing was wrong. "I guess I thought—"
"You thought I'd be in bad shape," Lois stated defiantly. "Well, I'm not. Everything's fine now. Really."
"That's good to hear." Lucy did not sound convinced, but she played along. "You were very lucky. I wish I had been here when it happened. My stupid phone—"
"Don't worry about it," Lois said casually.
"Do you think you can identify the guy?" Lucy asked.
Lois frowned. "I was unconscious, Lucy. I don't remember any of it. I was drugged, remember?"
"Oh. Right. It was pretty hard to figure out what Mom was saying on the phone messages. She was hysterical."
Lois shuddered, despite trying to look unaffected by everything. "What do you want to do about lunch?" she asked, eager to change the subject.
The Lane sisters ended up at their all-time favorite diner. It was quite the greasy spoon, but it was worth the trip. Lucy found Lois to be pleasant and talkative when they weren't discussing her attack. It seemed she was eager to keep her mind off of what had happened. Lucy got a cold headache from drinking her strawberry milkshake too fast, and Lois was quick to make fun. 'She seems to be acting like herself,' Lucy noted. 'Maybe everything is all right, after all.'
Lucy insisted on paying for lunch, and Lois gulped down the last of her chocolate malt quickly. "Agh!" she cried, drawing a hand to her forehead. "Brain freeze!"
Lucy nearly fell out of her chair laughing. "Ha! And you had the nerve to make fun of *me!*"
The sisters left the diner in good spirits. "I love this nail salon; I go every week," Lucy announced as they approached the bustling salon.
"Wow, they sure do some good business here, for such a small place," Lois noted. She looked through all of the colors and selected a cranberry shade. Lucy was taking a long time choosing. Lois sat in the next available seat and the manicurist began filing her nails.
Lucy seated herself beside Lois as soon as she chose her polish. "Isn't it relaxing, Lois?"
The manicurist was starting an elaborate hand massage. "Mmm, yes. You were right, Luce. This is nice." She could imagine all of her stress and tension exiting through her palms.
The nail salon was filled with activity. Just then, three women entered the salon, chatting loudly as the manicurist started painting Lois' base coat.
"Did you hear," one of them asked, "about the woman that died on the subway?"
"Oh, God, yes. How terrible," her friend answered.
Lois' heart leapt, her chest tightening.
"What a horrible way to go. She didn't even know what hit her. And to be raped while you're drugged? Disgusting!"
"What a sick-o."
Lucy watched Lois intently. Her sister's hands were shaking now, and the manicurist struggled to steady them enough to start applying the red paint. "Lois," Lucy said softly.
Lois didn't hear her. Her eyes were fixed on the three women gossiping.
"The first victim survived, you know," one of the women announced.
"The second one, too."
"Imagine living through that. How awful. Knowing you were molested in your sleep like that."
"I don't know what I'd do."
"That poor woman."
Lois stood up abruptly, withdrawing her hand from the manicurist. "I… I have to go." She tossed a ten-dollar bill on the table and pushed past the three gossips, her fists clenched at her sides. Storms raged in her eyes, at no one in particular. She jogged to the car, unlocked it, and sat down in the driver's seat, fuming, glad to be alone with her thoughts.
Lucy was bewildered, as were the other patrons and manicurists in the salon. "I should go, too," Lucy said gently. She withdrew her hands from the warm water they'd been soaking in, and paid the manicurist. As she passed the three women, she looked over her shoulder. "How dare you talk about my sister like that." Three jaws dropped in synch. Lucy let the door slam in their faces before hurrying over to Lois' car and stepping in.
Lois' eyes were fixed straight ahead, and her hands, white- knuckled, were gripping the steering wheel. The car wasn't even turned on, although it was freezing cold inside. Lucy studied her older sister. Only half of her nails were painted, and the polish was smudged all over her hands, making them appear bloodied. She could see the silent rage furrowing Lois' brow and making her clench her teeth.
"Lois…" Lucy started softly.
"*Don't,* Lucy," Lois said through gritted teeth. She pushed the key into the ignition roughly and sped off to her apartment without saying another word. She didn't stop Lucy from following her up to her apartment when they arrived.
Lucy decided to try talking to Lois again. "Do you have any nail polish remover?" she asked weakly. "And cotton balls? I'll help you fix your nails."
"Yeah, under the bathroom sink," Lois muttered, finally looking at her hands. They were a mess. She sighed heavily and sank into a chair. Lucy reentered the room with the supplies. She sat beside Lois and gently took her sister's hand, scrubbing her nails clean with an acetone-soaked cotton ball. She worked silently and carefully. It was Lois who finally broke the silence.
"I'm sorry about… what happened in there," she said, as if admitting defeat.
Lucy looked her sister right in the eye. "Lois, have you gone to any counseling yet?"
"Well, you need to," Lucy said, firmly.
Lois became defensive. "I can't believe you! My own sister—!"
"Yeah," Lucy shouted back. "Your own sister, who cares enough to try to help you! Lois, don't you see? You are having *serious* problems with this! You cannot go around pretending everything is okay."
"I'll be fine in a few days," Lois grumbled.
"No you won't. If you keep trying to ignore this, it's only going to get worse. Please, Lois."
"Stop harassing me."
"I harass you because I love you. You're killing me here, Lois. My big sister, the one I always looked up to. And here you are, making a big mistake. You have to listen to me." Lucy managed a little grin. "For the first time, I'm right and you're wrong."
"I'm not so sure."
"You'll never know until you try going. Maybe there's a support group? Or you can go to a one-on-one counselor. I'll go with you if you're scared." Lucy gave her sister's hand a little squeeze. "You need to do this, Lois. I know you'll get through this. You just need a little help."
Lois studied Lucy's concerned expression for several seconds. "Fine. I'll go." She allowed Lucy to embrace her warmly. Finally, she added softly, "I love you, too, Luce."
Satisfied, Lucy changed the subject. "So," she began, "what about this *Clark* guy I keep hearing so much about?!"
Lois felt her cheeks redden.
When Clark arrived back at Lois' apartment, Lucy had already departed. Lois was in a much better mood, having been distracted once again from her problems. Lucy had demanded details on what was going on between Lois and Clark; Lois had simply answered, "Nothing." Later, she had admitted that she had feelings for him, but that he only saw her as a friend.
"Lois, you may be the smartest woman I know, but you really are a pinhead when it comes to love," Lucy had said. Lois had looked quizzical, so Lucy had been forced to state the obvious: "One dozen red roses. Thanksgiving dinner. Sleeping over. Holding you in his arms *all night long.* What more do you want him to do? Get down on bended knee and propose?!"
Lois blushed just thinking about it. And here he was. Clark Kent. She felt her heart flutter as he knocked on the door. "Hi, Clark," she said, smiling when she opened the door for him.
"Lois! You look… great," Clark stammered. He'd never really seen her dressed casually. The snug corduroys hugged her curves, as did the v-neck sweater.
"I brought a pizza."
"I see that."
Clark handed Lois the pizza box, and set his small overnight bag down on the couch. "Did you have fun with Lucy?"
"We did, actually. It was nice," Lois said as she busied herself setting the table.
"Hey, I thought you were getting a manicure," Clark said, observing her bare nails.
"Um, we… decided against it," Lois lied.
Clark asked no further questions. Instead, he enjoyed another pleasant dinner with Lois. She located a bottle of merlot and poured two glasses. She also lit two candles on her table, placing them on either side of her roses.
"Pizza and wine by candle light. What could be better?" Clark said, grinning.
"Don't forget the good company!" Lois raised her glass and clinked it against Clark's.
"I couldn't have better company anywhere else in the world." Clark found himself gazing into Lois' eyes. He longed to kiss her, then and there. He fought the urge; it was too soon after her attack, surely she wasn't interested. "I brought the movie again if you still want to watch it."
Lois refilled their wine glasses as they settled down to watch the movie. They cuddled together on the couch, laughing heartily at the zany antics of Katherine Hepburn and her pet leopard, Baby.
"I love Cary Grant," mused Lois. "He's even sexy in glasses." Her eyes flitted from the TV screen up to Clark. 'Speaking of looking sexy in glasses…' she thought. She forced herself to concentrate on the movie. By the end, she had fallen asleep with her head resting on Clark's shoulder. She awakened only when she felt him lift her up in his arms, starting to carry her towards the bedroom.
"Sorry. I didn't mean to wake you; I know you're having trouble sleeping." Clark set Lois down on her feet now that she was fully awake.
"It's okay, Clark. Just a second — I'll change into my pajamas."
After Lois shut the bedroom door, Clark quickly changed into his flannel pants and old t-shirt.
"Clark?" Minutes later, Lois' voice was softly calling him. He stepped into her bedroom gingerly. "Want to come sit in here for a few minutes?"
"Of course. Whatever you want." He made his way over to the bed and sat down beside her. He smoothed his hands over her shoulders and began to massage her back with his strong hands.
"Oh, my gosh. Where did you learn to do that?" Lois moaned sweetly.
"I don't know! I read a book on massage once," Clark replied, deepening the pressure his thumbs were applying.
"That feels… amazing."
Clark paused for a moment. "Why don't you lie down on your stomach? Your muscles are really tense."
Lois didn't have to be asked twice. She reclined, rolling over and laying her head on the soft pillow. Clark continued the massage, glad that Lois was enjoying it. She was silent for a while, save for a few ecstatic groans that she could not contain. At last she murmured, "Clark? You want to know why I didn't get my nails done today?"
Clark was confused by her out-of-the-blue remark. "Why?"
She sighed. "These women came in; they started talking about the Hyde and SEEC rapist. About how 'horrible' it is, and how they feel bad for that 'poor victim.' I… sort of… freaked out."
"Oh, Lois—" Clark started, trailing off when he found himself unsure of what to say next.
"I just ran out of there. Poor Lucy didn't know *what* to think." Lois took a deep breath, exhaling slowly. "She says I need to go to counseling."
"She's right, Lois. As great as I think you're doing, you're still not a hundred percent yourself," he admitted.
"I know. I promised her I'd go, even though I'm not looking forward to it."
"I want to go back to work soon. It's driving me crazy being all cooped up," Lois continued.
Clark's hands softened on her back. Instead of working out the knots, he smoothed his hands gently over her back. He changed positions, lying on his side next to her. "The Planet misses you, Lois."
Lois turned to face Clark. "I miss it, too." She sighed. "I'm sure I can set up a meeting with Ian once I'm back."
"Good idea. You better get some sleep, Lois." Clark started to sit up, but Lois placed a hand on his chest, stopping him.
"Why don't you just stay there?" Her question was purely innocent, but the sexual tension was so thick it could be cut with a knife.
Clark didn't answer verbally. He just draped an arm across Lois' waist, holding her closer. Their bodies were inches apart; both lay on their sides facing one another. Lois had shared her bed before, innocently with friends, and not-so-innocently with lovers. But *never* had she felt a more perfect fit before. Clark reached up and across Lois to turn off the lamp on her bedside table, then took off his glasses and set them down. He returned his hand to rest on the small of Lois' back.
Lois gazed across the pillow at Clark. Slowly, she slid her knee over to touch his. When he didn't protest, she nudged it between his knees, crossing her leg over his. Clark, touched by her small show of intimacy, drew her closer, pressing her to his chest. He continued to gaze into her eyes, enjoying the way the dark shadows made her look like a starlet from an old black-and-white movie. He raised his hand to brush a stray lock of her hair back into place.
Lois felt like electricity was surging through her body. Only it wasn't electricity; it was desire. 'Would it be out of line to kiss him?' she wondered. She wanted to so badly, her lips ached for it.
"Goodnight, Lois," Clark whispered. He kissed her forehead as he'd done each night before.
'A friend kiss,' Lois thought, disappointed. 'Nothing more.' She sighed audibly and closed her eyes. "'Night, Clark."
There she was again, on the floor of the G train. Lying on her back as the train rattled on its track. Funny, she knew she should feel the jerking of the train against her back, but she was numb to these sensations. She tried one at a time to lift her arms, legs, and head, to no avail; her body was like dead weight. She was vaguely aware of being completely naked.
There was a man on the train. He stood straddling her. She squinted at him, and although she could see most everything else, she could not bring the man's face into focus.
The man crouched down. He was talking to her, but she could not hear the words clearly. It was if she were listening to someone's voice underwater. She could tell he was laughing. Laughing at *her.*
She tried to struggle, again realizing that she was unable to move. She opened her mouth to scream, but nothing came out.
The man was taunting her. He was speaking, then laughing. He brought his hand close to her face, showed her his middle finger, then thrust it—
"Lois, honey, wake up. Come on, wake up!" It was Clark's gentle voice that saved Lois from her nightmare.
"Clark," she murmured, clinging to him tightly. She awakened in a cold sweat, her body still trembling.
"Are you all right?" he asked, concerned.
"I am now," she replied shakily.
"That was scary, Lois. You were screaming, and hitting me!"
"Oh, Clark, I'm sorry! I thought you were — I dreamed—"
"Shh, it's okay, you don't have to explain." Clark reached across the pillow and stroked Lois' hair.
"The worst part about all of this," Lois added bitterly, "is that ultimately it's all my fault."
"I was so stupid to go into Suicide Slum. By myself. In the middle of the night. I knew better," Lois stated, her pent-up rage showing itself quietly.
"No." Clark squeezed Lois close to him. "Don't say that," he murmured into her hair.
Her reply was muffled by his strong chest. "Why?! It's true!"
"There's only one person whose fault it is, Lois, and you're not that person," Clark said, a serious tone in his voice. "Nobody leaves the house thinking they're going to get attacked. You can't live like that. No one would ever leave their house if that was the case. How could you have known?"
"Clark, I tempt fate all the time." She pulled back enough to look him in the eye. "You know it, and I know it. I walk into every situation confident that nothing's going to happen to me. It's stupid. Now I've learned just how stupid it is."
"You made a mistake. That doesn't make it your fault."
"There you go again, always saying the right thing!" Lois rambled, pushing out of his embrace to sit up. "You! You have been nothing short of wonderful!" she shouted, pointing her finger violently in his direction as if 'wonderful' was a dirty word. "I can't take it, sometimes, when I think — When I think of how I've treated you since you came to Metropolis, to the Planet. And I've thought about it a lot. To be honest with you, if something like this had happened to you, I'm not so sure I would have done the same for you."
'Ah,' thought Clark, 'the truth comes out.' He felt hurt for a brief second, then laid his hand on her shoulder. "Lois, does it matter? Really?"
"Things are different, Clark," she said in an almost-whisper. "I'd do anything for you now, in a heartbeat."
Clark was taken aback by her words; he was even more surprised when her lips grazed across his. And it wasn't by accident, either. Seconds later, she locked her lips to his, kissing him feverishly as though his love could cure her. She wanted to show him she meant what she'd said. She wanted to prove to him she had changed. She was confused, but kissing Clark felt like the right thing to do at the time.
Once Clark had adjusted to the double shock of having Lois both on top of him and kissing him, he was able to relax and enjoy the moment. He kissed her back with such sweet passion, held her close, his lips never leaving hers. Suddenly, a single tear left Lois' cheek and landed on Clark's. He heard her sniffle a bit between kisses. He drew back, looking at her tenderly.
"I'm sorry," Lois murmured, wiping her eyes. "This is a mistake."
Clark felt disappointed, and it showed in his voice. "You're not feeling it? This is… another one of your 'distractions,' is that it?"
"No, Clark," Lois answered quickly. "I feel it. I feel it very much." After a brief hesitation, she touched his face almost reverently, and managed to smile.
"My God, Lois, do you know how happy that makes me?" he said, laughter in his voice. "All along, I thought my attraction to you was… well, one-sided."
Softly, he questioned her, "Why are you crying?" Clark tucked her hair behind her ear, letting his fingertips slowly trace her jaw. He looked into her soulful eyes, which were brimming over with tears.
"I don't know," she wept. "It shouldn't be like this. I'm… scared, and I'm confused — I feel like I'm in this for all of the wrong reasons."
"Lois, when you cry, it breaks my heart," he whispered, cupping her chin in his hand. He leaned close and kissed her cheek tenderly, wishing he could extinguish all of her inner turmoil and pain. "I will wait for you. You have a lot going on right now; there's a lot to sort through. I will be here for you; you know that. We can start something, but let's wait until you're ready."
She smiled. "Okay. I'd like that. Very much."
"They say 'love can wait.' I know, because I've been waiting," Clark whispered into her ear. It sent tingles up and down her spine. "And you, Lois, are worth the wait."
"Are you sure?"
"I've never been so sure of anything in my life."
Lois Lane awakened the next day full of optimism. Perhaps it was because, with the exception of her nightmare, she'd had a fairly restful night. Or maybe it was because she was finally feeling able to talk openly about her feelings relating to the attack. 'No,' Lois reasoned, 'it's because he's still here.'
He certainly *was* still there. Lois lay on her side with Clark spooning her from behind. His arm crossed her waist, his hand rested on her stomach, securely holding her close to him. His breath warmed the back of her neck. Lois found it felt both comforting and sensual. She thought of their conversation the night before.
'Love can wait. I know, because I've been waiting,' he'd said. Was Clark trying to say he loved her? She thought she'd been in love before, but now that she reflected upon it, none of her boyfriends had ever said those three little words that meant everything. She'd had lovers before, but none who treated her the way Clark did. Clark cherished her like she was the most precious creature on the planet.
Clark stirred a little in his sleep, wrapping Lois tighter in his arms. Lois, in turn, rested her hand on top of his, lacing her fingers between his. She noted how tiny her hand appeared when it was beside his. There were a lot of things about Clark Kent that she wished she had noticed before. Now she would make a point of it.
Lois yawned and stretched lazily like a lioness, rolling over so that she was now face to face with Clark. His Metropolis Tigers football t-shirt was threadbare and clinging tightly to his sculpted body, the sleeves barely accommodating his incredible biceps. She studied his peaceful expression. His hair fell across his forehead, messy with sleep. It made him even more alluring.
Clark's eyes fluttered open, and when he saw his partner staring at him, only inches from his face, he leaned over clumsily and grappled for his glasses. "Sorry, I… uh, wanted my first look at you today to be in focus," he said, giving Lois a lopsided grin once his glasses were in place. "There. That's *much* better."
Lois smiled warmly. "Morning, Clark."
"Morning, Lois." It wasn't fair of her, wearing that tiny little tank top — lying on her side to showcase her gorgeous cleavage— ! Clark had to stifle a groan. He averted his eyes so that he could look deeply into hers.
"Wanna go to work?" she inquired, surprising Clark.
'That wasn't exactly what was on my mind, but…' he thought. "Are you up to it, Lois?" Clark asked. "I mean, after what happened at the salon? People are bound to be talking about it. Even asking you questions about it." He had a mental picture of Lois going haywire on a concerned co-worker for asking the wrong question.
She rolled her eyes. "Clark, I'll be fine."
"Don't you think maybe you should go to counseling first?"
"Will you stop pushing me?" Lois snapped, sitting up. She slipped out of Clark's arms. "Everyone is being so pushy about this! I think you really need to just leave me alone, and let me deal with it. I just want to go back to my regular routine so I can move ahead with my life."
It upset Clark how quickly her moods shifted these days. Seconds ago, she had been laying peacefully in his arms; now she was ranting and raving! Softly, he attempted to back off. "Lois. You're right. I apologize. But I certainly don't want you to get hurt. And if you go in to work, and someone asks you—"
"I'll be fine," she interrupted.
He continued. "I don't want you to forget about the counseling, either. You promised—"
"I'll make an appointment when we get to the Planet. Does that make you happy?" she retorted sarcastically.
She was really starting to push his buttons, but Clark tried to be the diplomat. Calmly he spoke again. "Lois, it *does* make me happy. I want to help you through this, but there's only so much I can do—"
"I don't need help."
There. She'd said it. Now he knew for sure; as much as Lois pretended that things were all right, she'd been lying to herself all along. He knew she'd never go to counseling until she admitted to herself that she needed it. "Lois," he started.
"Don't!" she snapped.
"Don't you see? You are *not* yourself. The Lois I fell asleep with last night is completely different from the Lois I woke up with. You have no control over it; it is *not* your fault. You just need some help dealing with this!"
She was getting madder and madder. "Clark, how dare you talk about me like that!" she raged.
Clark tried to keep his cool. "Lois, I care about you. I am trying to help you. If you don't like it, tough. Don't ask me to stay the night again if you're going to treat me like this, because frankly, it's draining." He spoke before he thought, and quickly regretted it.
"Fine," she seethed. "Don't come back tonight. Last night was a mistake."
It was a slap to the face; Clark stood up. "I'm going to go. I can see I've outstayed my welcome." He gathered his belongings, as Lois stood, motionless.
"I'm still going to work," she said finally.
"Me, too," he answered.
Work was extremely awkward, and while everyone welcomed Lois back, they didn't broach the subject of her attack at all, mainly because they'd noticed that Lois was avoiding Clark like the plague.
Lois kept herself focused. 'How,' she wondered, 'do you get in touch with a homeless man?' Jimmy proved to be a big help to Lois; he'd contacted the police station at her request. Together they'd found out that Ian Johnson frequented the Saint Joseph's Soup Kitchen for lunch.
She compiled a list of questions to ask of Ian, called the soup kitchen to find out when Ian usually arrived, and made arrangements to meet with him in two days at one o'clock.
Clark attempted to break the ice with Lois. He passed her desk, and offered her a cinnamon donut. All he received in return was a cold, "Thanks."
As their day was winding down to a close, Clark approached Lois once more. "Lois, I will stay with you if you want me to."
Fine. That was all the answer he needed. He was going home.
Her apartment was silent. The only sound was the gentle bubbling of her aquarium's filter. Lois sighed, dropping her things on the sofa. She sprinkled food in the fish tank and made herself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
'I didn't do too badly,' she thought, reflecting on her day. 'Nobody asked me anything. I didn't freak out, and I got some work accomplished.'
Then, she wondered, why did she feel so terrible?
She thought of Clark.
There. That was the reason.
"What is my problem?" she said aloud. "I can sleep without him!"
She finished off her sandwich. Strangely, she felt like she was wired; she was unable to relax. She made her way into her kitchen once more, peeked into the freezer, and retrieved a tub of chocolate ice cream. Then, she opened her cabinet, and found an unopened bottle of merlot.
'Perfect,' she thought. 'One glass and I'll sleep like a baby.'
The trouble was, she did not stop at one glass. Or two. An hour and a half later, the untouched ice cream sat there melting, and the bottle of wine was almost gone.
Lois sat on her couch numbly. She'd seen two episodes of "I Love Lucy" back to back. Now, out of the blue, tears were filling her eyes. "Ricky," she wept, gesticulating wildly as she addressed the TV, "why can't you for *once* let Lucy be in the show?" She smeared her tears across her face sloppily with her palm, then refilled her wine glass with the remainder of the bottle. Before taking another drink, she spotted the phone. Acting on an impulse alone, she stood up, seized it, and began to dial. By some miracle, she'd managed to dial the right number.
"Hello, Clark? Is that you?"
"…please leave a message after the beep. Thanks!" said Clark's answering machine.
"Clark? Are you there? This is Lois," she slurred.
Clark picked up the phone immediately. He could barely recognize his partner's voice. "Lois, are you okay?"
"Clark, I've made a terrible mistake. I've been so, so mean to you, and I—" Lois stumbled a bit, fumbling and dropping her wine glass. Clark heard a shatter. He cringed.
"Lois, you're… very drunk. Stay put. I'm coming right over."
She was crying softly. "I think I just ruined my pants. They're all… wine-y."
"Please go sit down and don't move. I'm coming."
"Okay, Clark. Bye." Lois staggered over and sank into her couch.
Minutes later, Clark was knocking on her door vigorously. Lois stood, feeling completely topsy-turvy. Somehow she managed to make her way to the door and unlock all the bolts. When Clark pushed the door open she was standing, swaying slightly, and bracing herself against the wall with one hand.
"You came. That was so nice of you," she announced.
"I — Of course I came," Clark stammered, assessing the situation. She was still in her work clothes, but her blouse was untucked and rumpled. One leg of her gray pants was covered in wine from the knee down. He frowned, seeing the melted ice cream and the empty bottle on her coffee table. "Lois, this is not good."
"I know that, Clark. I ruined my pants." She looked down sadly at her wine-sodden pants.
Clark sighed heavily, putting his arm around Lois' shoulders and escorting her to the couch. Once she was seated, Clark started towards her bedroom. "Let's get you out of those pants. Maybe they're not ruined yet," he said gently. "I'll go get you another pair." He disappeared into her room and returned with a pair of her pajama pants. Having never felt the effects of alcohol, Clark could not understand its appeal, and he certainly could not understand how uninhibited it made people.
Uninhibited. Yes, that was the word for it. His partner stood before him, her pants bunched up in her hand, in just her shirt and underpants. This didn't seem to bother her too much. Clark stared in shock (and awe at those exquisite legs!) for a millisecond, before covering his eyes. He tossed the clean pants in her general direction. "Here, put these on. I'm going to make you some coffee."
Lois agreed readily.
In the kitchen, Clark found the mess she'd made; broken glass was all over the floor, along with spilled wine. Quickly, he cleaned it up. Once Lois was dressed, he took her stained pants and set them to soak in the sink. As the coffee heated, Clark sat next to Lois on the couch.
"Lois, you're bleeding!" He noticed she'd cut her bare foot on the broken glass.
"I am? I didn't even realize," she mumbled, looking down at the wound.
Clark disappeared again, this time into the bathroom. He emerged with a washcloth and a box of Band-Aids. "Let me see it, Lois," he said softly. He sat beside her, taking her foot into his lap. Gently, he wiped the blood off.
"Clark? Can I ask you a question?" Lois said.
"Sure," he said, still concentrating on taking care of her injured foot.
"Why are you being so nice to me, after I was so mean to you? I was mean to you all day."
She said it with the sincerity of a child. Clark couldn't help but be touched. He pressed the washcloth to her foot, stopping his careful work to look her in the eyes.
"I'll admit, you said some things that hurt my feelings. But I know that you have a lot going on right now, and many things may make you feel angry. It's understandable that you'll be mad. I'm just trying not to take it personally because you're my best friend, and I care very much about you," he explained.
"Oh, Clark," she said, teary-eyed. "You're the best, ever."
Clark resumed caring for her foot, finishing off by applying a Band-Aid. "There. All better!" He rose and poured two cups of coffee. "Here," he said, steadying the mug in Lois' hands. "Drink this. Maybe you'll feel a little better."
Lois took a sip. She looked up at him, bleary-eyed. She'd noticed vaguely that he had been staring at her for quite some time.
"Lois? Do you want to tell me why you did this?" Clark said at last.
"Drank that whole bottle," Clark answered, pointing to the empty bottle on the table.
"Oh. *That.*" Lois took another swallow of coffee before continuing. "I started because I couldn't get relaxed. I guess I didn't stop because it felt good to be numb for a while." She was not as far gone as she'd seemed initially. "I was mad at myself for being a jerk to you all day. The one person who gives a damn about me. You don't deserve it, especially after how nice you've been to me all along. I'm so stupid sometimes. Stupid for going into Suicide Slum that night, stupid for being horrible to you, stupid for—"
"Lois, don't." Clark slid his arm around her shoulder. "You've made some mistakes. We all have. Besides, I've already forgiven you about today."
"You have?" Lois looked up at him through tears.
"I have. I shouldn't have been so pushy about counseling. And if I'd come over sooner, this would never have happened."
"But I told you not to!"
"I shouldn't have listened to you."
After a pause, Lois continued. "Clark, I'm going to counseling. I promise this time."
"Really? What made you change your mind? I mean, I'm happy you've made that choice, but I'm curious—"
"That," Lois interrupted, indicating the empty bottle. Her dark, soulful eyes met Clark's; they couldn't hide the disappointment she felt about her own behavior. "My mother — that's how my mother dealt with her problems. Clark, I've never been one to lose control like that. This is not me. I could have lost you, my best friend, because of the way I treated you. And those dreams — they've got to stop. I — I just can't do it alone."
Clark gathered her into a tighter embrace, kissing her temple lightly. "I'm proud of you, Lois. You've made the right decision."
"I know. I just wish I didn't have to hit rock bottom to get there."
"You're going to be fine. I promise." He drew back enough to look into her eyes.
Suddenly, Lois took his face in her hands and kissed him fiercely on the lips. She kissed him hungrily, barely giving him a chance to react. As much as he loved her, he could not justify taking advantage of her in this state. He pulled back, leaving Lois bewildered. She attempted to lean closer to him again, but he stopped her.
"I can't… not when you're like this."
"But I *want* this," she protested.
"You're not in a position to make that decision, Lois."
"Don't you want this, too?"
"More than anything," Clark sighed heavily.
"Because this is a big thing. *We* are a big thing. And I don't want to start something for the wrong reasons. I certainly don't want to think we started dating because you got drunk."
Lois had to laugh at herself. "Yeah, well I guess that's a pretty good reason." She took another long drink of her coffee. "Are you going to stay the night?"
"If you'll have me, Ms. Lane."
"Please stay. Will you still… sleep in the bed with me?"
"If that's what you want."
"I do. I like that very much."
"On one condition: no hanky-panky."
Lois grinned. "I'll try my best to be good. I can't make you any promises." She winked, and gulped down the remainder of her coffee.
"How are you feeling?"
"Smashed. I've gotta go to the bathroom." Lois stood up, wobbling a little. "I'll be right back."
As soon as she'd closed the bathroom door, Clark flew off to his apartment, packed another overnight bag, and dashed back to Lois' place. He seated himself on the couch as if nothing had happened. He heard the toilet flush, then Lois emerged from the bathroom.
"More coffee, Lois?"
"No. I think I'm gonna go to bed. I'm beat. Wanna come?"
Clark considered it for a moment. "You know what, Lois? I think I'm going to watch TV for a while first. I'm not quite tired yet."
Lois smiled. "OK, Clark. Thank you for coming. I'm sorry I was a big jerk today. And that I got, you know, wasted."
"Just don't let it happen again." Clark watched as Lois entered her bedroom and closed the door. Boy, was she ever going to pay the price tomorrow morning.
Clark had been feeling guilty about neglecting his Superman duties. After all, Lois wasn't the only person in Metropolis who needed saving. His decision to 'stay up and watch TV' was just an excuse to do a quick patrol over the city before he turned in. He did watch about forty minutes of television, enough to make sure Lois was sound asleep. He peered through her door with his x-ray vision; she was definitely sleeping.
He spun into his suit with super speed and left out the window. He'd left the television on, to make sure Lois didn't hear him leave. It felt completely exhilarating to fly again! Since Lois' assault, he'd only flown short jaunts to get from here to there. Now, he was free to fly aimlessly. It was enjoyable, but also rewarding when he was able to stop a burglary before it had even begun. Moments later, he heard the cries of an elderly woman who had fallen down; he rushed to her apartment and brought her to a 24-hour clinic. He found a box of shivering abandoned kittens in an alley, and saw to it that they were personally delivered to a warm, no-kill shelter.
Clark felt good about being back in the swing of things. He realized that maybe it was possible, after all, to be Superman and Clark at the same time. Clark felt he was losing a part of himself when he'd stopped doing super jobs around the city, even temporarily. At the same time, Clark was not comfortable with leaving his best friend; Lois needed him, emotionally. He was content with his activities of the night, and continued to fly over Metropolis, enjoying the feeling of the wind in his hair and his billowing cape. He listened carefully for cries for help; he was ready and willing to come to the rescue. Things were pretty calm, until—
"Help me! Please. You've got to — got to *stop!*" It was a woman's voice. She was screaming and crying at the same time. "I can't take it anymore. Please, help!" It didn't take Clark long to recognize the voice — it was Lois'.
Fast as he could, he flew back to her apartment, hopping through the window. He barely remembered to spin back into his regular clothes before rushing into the bedroom. Her night terrors were back again.
"Lois?" he called, rushing into the bedroom. He was immediately consumed with guilt for having left her in the first place. By the moonlight, Clark could see her cheeks soaked with tears. He could hear her choking back sobs, and protesting her silent attacker. He scooped her up into his arms.
"Lois, honey, I'm here," he murmured, rocking her. His heart was breaking all over again. "Wake up, sweetheart."
"Clark," Lois managed through tears.
"Shh, don't cry, Lois. I'm here."
"It was worse that time. I could see his face."
Clark held her until her shaking subsided. "I'm sorry," he whispered into her hair. "I wish there was something I could do."
Lois wiped her eyes. "Don't worry, Clark. You're doing it."
Clark smiled softly. "Lay down, Lois. I'll be right in." He guided her head to her pillow gently before returning to her living room. There, he changed into pajamas and turned off the television. After that, he came back to the bedroom and slipped into bed beside Lois. He held her close and they both fell fast asleep.
Clark awakened early and felt restless. He was sure that Lois would be sleeping pretty late after all of the drinking she'd done. So, he got up and made himself some breakfast, did a bit of exercising, and logged on to Lois' computer. He replied to some e-mails that had been filling his dailyplanet.com inbox. He also searched for information on the Hyde and SEEC rapist. He didn't see any pattern in the women the rapist sought out. Women seemed to be chosen simply because they were alone on the subway. He was interrupted by the sounds of Lois getting sick in the bathroom.
"Lois…?" he called. "Are you all right in there?"
"If by 'all right' you mean incredibly sick and hung over, then yes," she replied, sputtering.
"I'll get you a glass of water," Clark replied, first making sure he closed out of the web browser where he'd been reading about the serial rapist. He poured her some water and put ice in it, then knocked on the bathroom door. "Are you decent?"
Ah. It was nice having the old Lois back.
Clark went in hesitantly. He offered Lois his hand, stood her up, and seated her on the closed lid of the toilet. "Here you go; drink up." He put the glass in her hands before looking in her medicine cabinet. He handed her two aspirin tablets.
"Thanks. My head is pounding," she said, swallowing the pills. "Remind me to never drink again. Ever."
"You got it, Lois!" Clark said, laughing a little. He took her hand and guided her to the couch. "Would you like some coffee? I just made some. You should drink a lot. You're probably dehydrated."
"Thank you, Dr. Kent." The sarcasm was evident in her voice. "But a cup of coffee *does* sound really good right about now…" she mused, her voice softening at his concern. "Can you also hand me my bag over there?"
Clark returned with a cup of coffee and Lois' handbag, and sat beside her. She began rooting through the bag, and eventually drew a business card out of it.
"What's that?" Clark asked.
Lois showed him the card. "They gave this to me at the hospital. She's a rape crisis counselor. Her name is Robyn. I thought I'd give her a call today."
'So she really is going to do it,' thought Clark gratefully. "I think that's a great idea, Lois. I really do."
That afternoon, Lois began feeling significantly better. She made an appointment to see the counselor. Lois had expressed a desire to have a session before she went to see Ian, so they were able to squeeze in an appointment for her that same day.
Clark dropped her off at the counselor's office, and promised to pick her up after the session was over. In the meantime, it gave Superman a solid hour to patrol the city, and for that he was grateful.
Lois was only a little nervous to go, now that she realized the pros of counseling outweighed the cons. She'd seen that she could act completely out of character, simply because she hadn't had any constructive way of dealing with her pain and anger. And worse, not only had she potentially harmed herself, she'd almost pushed away the one person who was her closest and dearest friend. She could not afford these losses. It was time to do something about it.
She entered the office; it was pleasant inside. Lois was only in the waiting room for a few minutes before a woman entered.
"Yes. That's me," Lois said, standing up.
"I'm Robyn. I'm so glad you called." Robyn shook Lois' hand. "Follow me right this way."
Lois liked Robyn immediately. There was nothing intimidating about her at all. She had expected to be interrogated with tons of questions. Instead, Robyn carefully guided Lois through talking about her feelings, as though the two of them were having a conversation. Lois confessed her feelings of shame over the incident, as well as her idea that the crime had been partially her fault for going someplace unsafe. She explained Clark's role in her recovery, and her fears of getting romantically involved while trying to sort through her issues. She admitted her denial about attending counseling at all. She told Robyn about how awful the last night had been, her cruelty to Clark had led her to finish off a whole bottle of wine herself.
Robyn, in turn, was not judgmental about anything. She listened carefully to Lois' confessions, and offered her alternate ways to deal with her emotions. Robyn also recommended some group counseling when Lois was ready to talk about her ordeal openly. Another option was to attend private sessions with a friend or family member, if she needed to.
The hour was over before Lois knew it, and she thanked Robyn and set up another appointment. She left the office feeling surprisingly better.
Clark was waiting in the parking lot when Lois finished. "How did it go?" He hardly had to ask. The relieved expression on her face said enough.
"Actually, it went really well," she answered with a smile. "Robyn is amazing, and I've set up another appointment with her already. Thanks for making me go."
"Lois, you made yourself go. I just drove you crazy until you made the right decision!"
Seeing her laugh was priceless.
The following day, Lois and Clark went to the Saint Joseph's Soup Kitchen, in hopes of meeting Ian Johnson. Lois gripped Clark's hand, unashamed, as they made their way up the stone steps in the back of the old church. They stood in the corner of the hall, which had been converted into a soup kitchen during the lunchtime hours. Clark looked at his partner as she scanned the room. She seemed to be gripping his hand even harder.
He gave her hand an encouraging squeeze and she let up a bit. "Lois? Are you sure you want to do this? We can wait another few days or so…" Clark whispered.
"No," Lois said firmly. "I need this."
They were there for a few minutes before a pastor spotted them. "Hello, you must be Lois Lane and Clark Kent. I'm Father Peter. Nice to meet you."
Lois let go of Clark's hand to shake Peter's. "It's nice to meet you, Father. Thank you for agreeing to let us meet Ian here."
"Yes, it's pretty unorthodox to let the press into the soup kitchen, as we like to keep everyone's identity anonymous. But under the circumstances, I thought it would be okay. Ian knows you're coming. I asked his permission first."
"We're not really investigating, per se," Clark noted.
"This is more for myself. To move on after what happened," Lois added.
"Of course, Ms. Lane," the pastor said gently. "May you find the peace you're looking for." He gave her an encouraging smile. "Here comes Ian now." Father Peter called out to Ian and beckoned him. "Ian Johnson, I'd like you to meet Clark Kent and Lois Lane."
Ian shook Clark's hand, then Lois'. He took a little extra time with Lois, giving her a careful once-over. "Miss Lois, I'm glad to see you're looking well," he said.
Lois smiled shyly. "Thank you for coming to talk to us today."
"We'd like to take you out to lunch, Mr. Johnson," Clark started. When Ian protested, Clark insisted. The trio walked to a nearby local restaurant. Lois was heartbroken when she noticed Ian's shoes; they were so worn out. He wore two flannel shirts, both too threadbare to keep out the wind. His large hands were weathered and cracked from the cold. She felt compelled to help him in some way. After all, he had helped her when she was at her worst.
Lois and Clark each ordered a large meal, mainly to encourage humble Ian to do the same. It worked, and it pleased Lois to see the gaunt man eating a thick sirloin steak. While they ate, they kept the conversation light. Lois wondered just how to steer the discussion to the matter at hand. After she finished, she excused herself to go to the ladies' room before breaching the delicate subject.
"That Miss Lois sure is somethin'," Ian said, once Lois was out of earshot. "She is a lovely woman. It is such a shame that this happened to her."
"Tell me about it," sighed Clark.
"Are you two…?"
"No. Not really. Not yet," Clark fumbled, trying to find the words. "We're partners at the Daily Planet, and best friends. And we've talked about becoming more than friends. But we won't take that step until she's ready."
"Understood. I only asked because you can tell. Chemistry, I guess." Ian chuckled. Then his expression turned serious. "How's she doing, since it happened?"
"She's getting better every day. It's hard for her, not knowing what happened. I'm sure she has a lot of questions for you…" Clark sighed, shaking his head. "That's Lois for you. Has to know everything. She says it will help her move on."
Ian nodded. "It probably will."
"I can't thank you enough for helping her—" Clark began.
"Hush, now. It was nothing. I was glad to be able to help," Ian interrupted. "I'm happy to see her now. Poor girl's been giving me nightmares. I tried to find out how she was doing at the hospital, but they wouldn't give any information, seeing as how I'm not friends or family. It was eating me alive, wondering if she even made it or not."
*If she even made it or not.* The words struck Clark hard. Until he heard Ian say it, he hadn't really thought of the possibility that Lois could have lost her life. After all, Amanda Byers had paid that price. Lois could have, too, if Ian hadn't found her.
"Either way," Ian continued, "she's a lovely woman. You seem like a nice fella. Take good care of her, Clark."
"I will," Clark said, smiling. "Don't worry."
The two men cut their conversation short when they saw Lois approaching. She sat next to Clark, and he gave her hand a little squeeze under the table.
"Miss Lois? Clark here was telling me you had some questions about what happened?" Ian asked carefully.
"Yes," Lois said, maintaining her cool front. "Can you tell me what you remember about the night it happened?"
Ian unclasped his hands and clasped them again, resting them on the table. "Well, it was Thanksgiving, you know. I thought I'd spend the night riding the train back and forth, seeing as how I'd collected enough change for a ride. I don't often do that, but if you'll remember, Miss Lois, it was very cold that night."
"I remember," she said softly, nodding.
"The train came to a stop, and I got on, thinking there was nobody in there. I was mistaken, because there you were sprawled out on the floor, with this fella on top of you trying to take advantage of you. I shouted, and the guy bolted. I tried to wake you, but you were unconscious. I found your cell phone in your bag." Ian looked ashamed for a second. "Pardon me for going into your bag, Miss Lois. I didn't take anything, I just wanted to get you some help."
Lois was shocked that he said it at all. "I know, Ian. I wasn't even *thinking* that."
Ian shrugged. "There's some folks who live on the streets who would have been thrilled to find someone such as yourself in that situation. Makes it real easy to loot somebody. But I'm not like that."
Lois was touched. She nodded and waited for him to continue.
"Well, I called 911. Told them what I'd seen, and that I was with you. They had me push the emergency stop button on the train, so they could find us easily when the ambulance came. In the meantime, your breath was shallow, and your pulse too. I tried to keep a close watch to make sure nothing changed. You started to get sick, so I turned your head so as you wouldn't choke. I've heard that's how that Amanda Byers died. No one found her, and she got sick and choked to death, poor girl." Ian shook his head sadly.
"I stayed with you until they took you away to the hospital," he continued." After that, there were police officers who wanted to question me. I described the guy as best I could. I didn't get that good a look at him, but I did my best. That's what happened, Miss Lois."
Lois was quiet for a moment, letting it sink in. After a moment, she asked softly, "What was the man doing when you walked in? What was he doing to me?"
Ian looked ashamed for a moment. He wondered why she'd want to know all of that. He hated to talk about a lady in such a situation. "Well, like I said, I only saw him for a second. He had you spread out and he was trying to undo his pants with one hand. That's how I knew for sure what his intentions were."
Lois felt her cheeks burn as she asked her next question. "And his other hand…?"
Ian answered honestly. "On your inner thigh, trying to keep your legs apart, I suppose." He hated to tell her something like that. "He had rolled your stockings down to your ankles. It's like your feet were tied together. I guess it was an effort to keep you in that position."
Lois felt Clark's hand rub hers gently under the table. She took a deep breath. "My stockings were rolled down, you said?"
Ian nodded gravely. "Underwear too. He had your skirt up and your blouse and your jacket torn open. I promise, I… didn't really look. I covered you up as soon as the man was gone."
"Thank you," she said softly. It was amazing that her modesty mattered to him. It was a comfort, in a way.
"It was scary, Miss Lois," Ian admitted, shaking his head. "I'm just glad I was able to help, and that you're all right now."
"Ian, what did he look like?"
"He had a trench coat on, and he had sandy blond hair and a full beard. He looked maybe 50 or 55 years old, but it was hard to tell with the beard. I described him to the police, and the artist at the station did a pretty good sketch of him. He may look very different now. Maybe he's clean-shaven. But his most distinguishing feature is his very pale blue eyes. Deep-set and intense, they are," Ian said, carefully recalling the details. "He also looks like his nose may have been broken before. It's slightly crooked."
Lois looked up at Clark, a pensive look on her face. "Clark…? Remember when I had that last nightmare? And I told you I saw his face?"
"I remember," Clark said softly, with a nod.
"I saw him. I could recognize him. Those eyes —" She shuddered, and Clark squeezed her hand under the table again.
"Miss Lois," Ian interrupted. "I'll gladly testify if and when they catch him. I could identify him."
Ian's testimony would definitely be more solid than Lois', especially since she'd been under the influence of the GHB. She nodded her understanding and thanked Ian again. "I guess… that's all I wanted to know," she said, heaving a sigh.
"Well, if you think of anything else, come on by St. Joe's again. I'll be glad to help in any way I can," Ian replied, standing up. "Thanks for the hot meal. That was too kind of you."
"It was nothing," Clark said. "If there's anything we can do for you, please let us know."
Ian nodded and shook Clark's hand. He turned to do the same with Lois, but instead both felt compelled to hug.
"Thank you, Ian. For everything," Lois said.
Lois and Clark walked back to St. Joseph's parking lot in silence. Clark could practically see Lois' mind at work over all she had learned while talking to Ian. He waited until they were both seated in her Jeep before breaking the silence.
"Lois…? How do you feel?"
She hadn't put the key into the ignition yet. "I feel… pretty good about that. I'm really glad to have met Ian. Without him — well, I'd have definitely been raped, and there's a good chance I could have died, too. I want to help him, Clark. I don't know how, but I want to do something for him. Something big."
Clark smiled a little. "You're really brave, you know that, Lois?"
Clark shrugged a little. "It had to be tough for you, hearing all about what Ian saw."
"It was… but Ian also reassured me that after all, the guy didn't have a chance to — violate me. It was close, but it didn't happen. I just have to get over that. I have an appointment with Robyn tomorrow."
Lois started the car. "It is. I have a lot of things to talk to her about."
Clark nodded. After a few moments of silence, he summoned his courage and asked her, "Lois? Do you want to go to the movies tonight? 'The Fugitive' is playing…"
"Like a date?"
"Well… like a — date, sort of. If you *want* it to be, that is…" Clark waffled, looking shy.
A smile spread across her face. "You know what, Clark? I think I'd like that."
"Really?" he asked, excitedly.
They had pizza downtown, and went to a late-night showing of 'The Fugitive' that night. As they exited the theater, Lois shivered; Clark wrapped an arm securely around her shoulders, sheltering her from the wind as they walked back to the car. It was a little after midnight, and both had enjoyed their evening out immensely.
"That movie had me on the edge of my seat," Clark said excitedly.
"I *know*!" Lois added, smiling up at him. "Harrison Ford was *amazing.*"
Clark raised his eyebrows.
"I mean—" Lois stammered, blushing, "his *acting.* Although he's not bad to look at, either…"
"Ooh," Clark teased. "*Somebody* has a celebrity crush!"
Lois laughed. "And *somebody else* is pretty jealous. Come on, Clark. Don't tell me you don't have a thing for a celebrity…"
Clark looked thoughtful. "Well, I *do*… but she's not an actress or anything. Still, she's very well-known. She's a member of the press, actually…" He squeezed Lois a little closer and planted a kiss on her temple.
She blushed, but smiled brilliantly. "Well, Harrison Ford's got nothing on you, Clark."
They had just made it to the parking garage when Clark's super hearing picked up on some muffled sounds coming from — *oh, no!* — the subway! Lois had just taken a step towards him, her eyes closed, and her lips just seconds away from his.
'Not now! Not now…' thought Clark, hoping the sounds would stop. He didn't hear anything now, and he boldly took Lois by the shoulders, drew her even closer to him, and kissed her with fiery passion. He'd wanted to kiss her like that for so long. And here she was, responding quite readily to his kiss.
"Lois," he whispered, pulling back just a little bit. "Please tell me to stop if you're not ready. Okay?"
"Clark," she murmured, her voice a husky whisper, "I'm ready all right." With that, she took his face in both her hands and drew him to her once more. She kissed him hard, all the desire she'd bottled up for so long came pouring out, and he could feel how much she wanted him. And he could hear—
He could hear, "Help, someone! Superman!"
Clark had not known physical pain until that dayy, when he pulled back abruptly, breaking off their kiss. Kryptonite didn't even hurt this badly. To make matters worse, Lois' expression was breaking his heart. She looked first surprised, then confused, then hurt. All in a matter of moments.
"Lois," Clark started awkwardly, "I just had a terrible feeling I left the coffee pot on at my apartment. I'm going to go check on it, then I'll be right over to your place." He backed away from her. Surely she was furious with him. If the roles were reversed, he certainly would be.
Lois' brow was furrowed. "Clark, we can loop around past your apartment on the way to mine. I don't mind."
"No, Lois," he said firmly. "I have to go. I'll be right there, I promise. You go ahead." He dashed off, leaving a hurt and bewildered Lois behind. His chest felt tight and ached as he spun into his Superman suit, and while he focused on listening to the voice calling for help, he could not shake the image of Lois standing there alone, looking as if she'd just been slapped across the face.
Lois sat in her car for a few minutes, wondering exactly what had happened. She touched her fingertips to her lips, wanting to know what she'd done to make him want to leave. It had been a good kiss. No, it had been a *great* kiss.
She was furious. There was a lump in her throat, threatening to bring her to tears. She swallowed hard, and willed herself to think logically about the situation.
*He* had asked *her* on a date. He was obviously interested. He'd kissed her first. He had enjoyed it. Or at least she had thought so.
Then, what was it he said?
He told her to stop him if she wasn't ready. He was thinking about her attack. Of course! That was it. Undoubtedly and absolutely.
He didn't find her desirable after what had happened to her.
That must be it.
Who wants to get involved with a woman who's been drugged and manhandled by some stranger? Who wants to have a physical relationship… with *that*?
Not Clark, apparently. Not since he'd heard all that Ian shared with them earlier today.
Lois felt disgusting again. Like she needed to take a shower. Like she was tainted and dirty. Feeling unattractive and unwanted, she pressed her foot on the gas pedal and sped home, trying not to think of anything other than how good a shower would feel.
Superman flew down to the subway platform where he'd heard the cries for help. The yelling had come from a woman who'd just discovered a fourth victim lying on the ground.
"Do you have a cell phone?" Superman asked the hysterical bystander. The woman nodded. "Call 911. Tell them to send an ambulance."
With shaky hands, the woman did as Superman had instructed.
Superman knelt by the victim's side, checking her for injuries. She was alive, her heartbeat was steady and so was her breathing. He monitored her closely to make sure her condition did not change. Her hair and clothing were disheveled, and there was no doubt in his mind that the Hyde and SEEC rapist had attacked her.
In a few minutes, he heard the sirens approaching. Two EMTs dashed down to the platform with a stretcher. They were followed closely by two police officers. While the EMTs began taking care of the victim, the police started questioning Superman and the bystander.
Lois stepped out of the shower feeling only slightly better. Clark's actions had hurt her pretty badly. She wrapped herself in her brown terry robe and strode into the living room for a moment. She'd left the television on, and a special report was just coming on.
Lois watched numbly as the newscaster reported a fourth victim of the Hyde and SEEC rapist had been found. She was alive, and had been found by another passenger. Superman assisted with the rescue.
There was another man who'd betrayed her.
Clark said he was coming back to her apartment after he checked on his coffee pot. That had been half an hour ago. Lois decided that if Clark actually kept his word and returned, he'd get a piece of her mind.
There was a light knock on the door a few minutes later. Lois answered, clad in flannel pajamas and her robe. Her expression was icy.
"Don't, Kent," she said, cutting him off.
Clark was amazed she actually let him in, judging by her not-so- warm welcome. "Please, Lois," he pleaded.
"Clark. Was there a coffee pot or not?"
Lois stood before him, hands on her hips, her eyes boring into his. He couldn't lie to her. He couldn't even come up with anything legitimate. He answered honestly, with a simple, "No."
"I knew it!" Lois threw her hands in the air, and let loose her bottled-up anger. "You have a lot of nerve! Taking me out like that, showing me a good time, and then… And *then*—! Running out on me like that?" Her voice was gaining volume, and was edgy with distress. She took a breath, calming herself enough to continue, deadpan. "Clark, if you didn't find me desirable, you shouldn't have asked me out."
"Lois, who says I don't find you desirable?!" Clark shot back. "I think you're the most desirable woman on the planet—!"
She waved her hand, a cold indication that she wasn't buying a word of it. "Your actions tonight speak louder than your words ever will. Things have changed since we met with Ian. Admit it. You felt sorry for me at first, and wanted to take me out. 'Poor Lois, let's cheer her up!' And then, when you really thought about it, you realized what I was: some poor, screwed-up, second- hand—"
"That couldn't be further from the truth, and you know it!" Clark said, raising his voice. He stopped. *Did* she? Did she know it?
"Clark, if that wasn't it, what was it? Tell me!" Lois demanded.
Clark opened his mouth to speak, but nothing came out. 'What do I do? Should I tell her the truth?' He hesitated just a little too long.
"I knew it," she said, her angry exterior softening for a fragment of a second to reveal her extreme sorrow.
Clark wanted to gather her in his arms and tell her everything. That he loved her more than anything. That he could never find her undesirable. That he was Superman…
Lois raged again. "And then, do you know what happened? Just now? Another victim was found in the subway! Superman was there for *her.* I still can't understand it. He didn't even come here to see if I was okay. He doesn't care! I don't know why I ever thought he did—!"
His ears were ringing with her hurtful accusations, and it was as if his super hearing was picking up on everything in the room at that moment. Her voice, her hard breathing, her heart pounding. "Hold it, Lois. Just — hold it!" Clark drew his hands up to his ears for a second, cringing. When he withdrew them, things had settled down in his head for the time being. "I know about the fourth victim. I was there. And I would have been there when it happened to you, too, except I was in Smallville with my folks, and I had no way of knowing. I've always cared about you. I've cared more than I ever let on." The words ran from his mouth as fast as he could speak them.
Lois looked like a scared rabbit. Clark was talking crazy. She took a step back, away from him. "Clark, I think you need to leave," she said, trembling. What was he talking about? He wasn't making any sense.
"Lois, I'm not leaving until I tell you this. I think you are the most attractive, intelligent, and desirable person in the world. I only left because somebody needed my help. I heard them. Down in the subway. I thought — maybe I could catch the guy who did this to you."
"*You* could catch him? *You*?" Lois retorted. "The guy has drugs that render people incapacitated, Clark. You'd have been as helpless as I was—"
Clark groaned. 'What am I doing? Do I want her to know or not?' he thought frantically. "Lois. Sit down. Please," he said softly.
Lois hesitated, then sat down on the couch slowly. Clark knelt down in front of her and took her hands in his. Lois felt like pulling them out of his grasp, but there was something in his eyes — something that told her she'd regret it if she did.
"Lois, I love you more than anything else in this world," Clark said tenderly. "But I have to tell you something about myself, and I don't know how you'll feel about it. But I can't have you feel like I left you before because of something that happened to you. Not for one more second." Slowly he released one of her hands, raising his hand to his face to remove his glasses.
Lois stared at him, her eyes glassy with tears. She fought them with all her might. She wanted to believe him. She wanted him to love her. But… what was going on here?
Clark looked up at her without his glasses, expecting her to miraculously know his secret. "Lois, it's me."
"Of course it's you," she said bitterly.
"No, Lois. Look harder."
A puzzled expression played on her features. "Clark, is this some kind of a joke? Because I really don't have time for it."
Clark took a deep breath before loosening his tie.
"Wait—! What are you doing?!" Lois exclaimed, suddenly feeling very uncomfortable. Clark pulled the tie from his neck and his hands moved down his shirt as he unbuttoned it. Lois panicked, babbling, "Clark, stop; this is — *inappropriate!* I'm not ready for this; you need to leave—!"
A small gasp escaped her lips. Her jaw dropped, and her eyes widened when she saw what he'd revealed beneath his shirt. She only needed to see a tiny sliver of red, yellow, and blue to realize what he was trying to tell her.
"Lois, I'm Superman," Clark said softly.
"I see that." She whispered those words, not quite sure if she'd said them aloud or thought them. The tears she'd been fighting spilled down her cheeks, completely silently.
"I'm sorry about what happened tonight, Lois. I really am—"
"You should be," she said bluntly. "I'd have liked to know this a long time ago, Clark. Superman. Whoever you are." She stared at him for a moment. "I would like you to leave, please. I need some time alone to think about this."
Clark's protective instincts kicked in. Her fears. Her nightmares. She'd begged him not to leave before. "Are you sure, Lois? It's 1:30 in the morning…"
Clark buttoned his shirt up and turned to leave. He cast one more glance at Lois before leaving her apartment for the night. The two of them had never been more miserable, and it showed. Clark's shoulders hunched just a bit, his mind raced with thoughts of how he could have better handled everything that night, from the date to the kiss, to the call for help, to telling Lois about his alter ego.
Lois stood there motionless, except for the quiet tears streaming down her face. She studied Clark. In this state, it was almost impossible to believe he was Superman. Why had he lied all along? He could have told her when he had begun spending the night. Instead, he had made a fool of her, and hurt her in a way that might not be so easy to repair.
"Goodnight, Lois. I love you," Clark whispered, before pulling the door shut behind him.
Lois stood there, numb and cold and stunned. Surprise and shock hit her a few minutes after Clark had shut the door.
*I love you.*
He'd said 'I love you.'
She walked over to her door and cautiously bolted all of the locks. After that, she made her way to the window and checked to see that it was locked. She pulled the shade down fiercely; it was not cooperating, and she very nearly broke it. Frustrated, she retreated into her bedroom and sat down on the bed, indian- style. Resting her elbows on her knees, she thrust both hands into her hair on either side of her head and made herself think — *really think* — about what had just transpired.
Alone in the darkness maybe things would become clear.
'Clark Kent is Superman. He loves me. *Superman* loves me. Clark and Superman love me.' Her head was pounding with a wicked headache. How was this possible? How hadn't she seen? She was friends with both men; she'd even kissed both of them before. She had worked with Clark day-in and day-out… Why hadn't she made the connection? They had never been in the same room together, come to think of it. At least this explained so many of Clark's lame excuses that had left Lois standing there alone with half a sentence still waiting to be said…
She shook her head. 'If I hadn't seen it, I'd have never believed it…' She was plagued by the image of a forlorn Clark Kent kneeling before her, his half unbuttoned shirt revealing the Suit he'd kept hidden from her for so long.
"I love you, Lois," he'd said. On bended knee. Holding her hands gently in his…
People that love each other don't lie to each other. But then—
He'd had his reasons, didn't he? She tried to put herself in his shoes, tried to imagine what life would be like if she were Super. Her mind drifted from dramatic rescues, to being fawned over by fans. And then she thought of something she hadn't before…
'If I was Super, and Clark was just a man… What if he only liked me as SuperLois? And as regular Lois, he acted like I didn't exist?' With that realization, her heart ached more than it ever had. Her eyes stung with tears as she sat there, contemplating in her dark bedroom. She racked her brain, thinking back on all of the times she'd ignored Clark, mooning instead over his alter ego.
"God, how it must have hurt," Lois whispered aloud. 'If he loves me like he says he does…'
She thought also of how she'd treated him since her assault. She'd hurled hurtful accusations at Superman, inadvertently to his *face.* When he was *right there,* taking care of her, supporting her, never leaving her side…
Clark Kent — Superman — whoever he was, he was the best friend she'd ever had, and she'd turned him away. She cast a glance around her room now that her eyes had adjusted to the darkness. Beside her on the bed was the black-and-white teddy bear he'd won for her. Over on the chair was a crumpled-up garment — the Metropolis Tigers t-shirt Clark had slept in. Hesitantly, she stood up and took the soft shirt in her hands. She held it to her chest, breathed in his scent.
God! How had she not realized! The shirt, it smelled like Clark… and Superman.
Lois curled up in the middle of her bed, hugging the t-shirt closely. In the morning, she would talk to him. Hopefully it would not be too late. She closed her eyes and willed sleep to come.
Clark had never felt worse in his life. He felt like talking to his parents. He looked at his watch. No, they'd be asleep by now. He didn't want to upset them. Maybe tomorrow he'd pay them a visit.
He walked home dejectedly. Lois was right. He'd lied for too long. But there were reasons. He wished he'd had time to voice them. His main reason was to protect Lois; the secret could potentially make her a target. His more selfish reason was that he'd loved Lois from the start, and she'd been infatuated with only Superman. Was it so wrong for him to want her to love him for who he *really* was?
A thought crossed his mind: if she stayed mad at him, she could expose his secret to the world. She wouldn't do that… would she? Surely their friendship meant *something* to her…
He made his way up the stairs and dropped his overnight bag just inside the door of his apartment. After a few moments, he spun into his Superman suit and flew out the window at high speed, his cape billowing behind him. He felt like flying hard and fast, with no real destination in mind. He soared skyward, letting the cool air make him temporarily forget what was bothering him.
Of course, that didn't work for long, and he was soon spiraling down towards Lois' apartment. He thought if he could just see any small indication that she was awake — a light on, the sound of her television or CD player… Maybe she'd want to see him. Perhaps they could talk.
Superman hovered just outside Lois' fire escape. Her shades were pulled all the way down and the room seemed dark. He peered through the shade with his x-ray vision and saw Lois all curled up on her bed. This was a bad idea. He wouldn't wake her up.
In a way, he was rather hurt by the fact that she could sleep soundly after all that had happened. He knew he certainly wouldn't. And after all she'd endured, the troubles she'd faced with sleep since her attack… Sleep did not come easy to her. Why of all nights, had it come easily *now*?
Superman flew to his apartment, not feeling nearly as much relief as he'd hoped to feel from his brief flight. Once home, he donned a pair of sweat pants and sat on the couch, brooding.
'I told her I loved her, surely that means something,' he thought sadly. He took his glasses off and pressed both palms to his face. Then another thought crossed his mind. Maybe confessing his feelings had scared her away. She hadn't yet recovered from her attack. They'd just gone on their first date.
'Stupid,' Clark thought to himself. 'Way to push her away when she needs you.' The date had been *his* idea. He'd been pushy. She probably wasn't ready, even though she'd said she was. But then…
That couldn't be true, could it? No, he decided, not when he'd seen the pained look in her eyes when he'd broken off their kiss and dashed off in the other direction. The image still haunted him, every time he closed his eyes. She wasn't angry. She wasn't confused or shocked. She was simply alone, and profoundly sad. He hated the idea that he'd made her feel that way. If only he had told her sooner.
He thought about it for a long time. So long, in fact, that two hours passed before he even realized they had, and he was still wide awake.
Lois lay curled up in a ball in the middle of her bed, still clutching the wadded up t-shirt. She lay there, motionless, but sleep never came. Her eyes were wide open, staring at small shadows in the corners of her room. Her mind had not ceased going over and over what had happened, playing out different scenarios in her head and imagining how both she and Clark could have handled it differently. It felt useless. She couldn't change the past.
She looked at her digital alarm clock. The numbers cast a red glow in the room, brightly proclaiming 4:02 AM. God, and she hadn't slept a *wink*! Her headache had subsided just a little bit. Ever so slowly, she sat up and stretched. Then she stood, and opened her dresser drawer. Grabbing a sweatshirt, she sat on the edge of the bed and began to get dressed.
She couldn't take it any longer. She needed to talk to Clark.
Clark was still on his couch when he heard the soft, hesitant knock on his door. He jumped a little, as he was broken out of his deep thoughts. "Who's there?" he called, already sure of the answer.
"Clark? It's me, Lois…" she called softly.
Clark was at the door in a flash, and opened it to reveal Lois clad in an oversized sweatshirt and a pair of leggings. She looked so exhausted, he observed, his hand still lingering on the doorknob. Then he realized he must not look much better. He answered the door sans glasses; what did it matter anymore? He'd been thinking about Lois all night, and now, faced with her, he wasn't quite sure what to do or say first.
Lois solved that problem for both of them; after about ten awkward seconds, she took a step forward and wrapped her arms around him tightly. Clark returned the embrace just as passionately. He buried his face in her hair and kissed the top of her head.
"My God, Lois, I'm so glad you came," he murmured. "There are so many things I should have told you—"
"Clark, I'm sorry. I didn't even give you a chance," she interrupted, still clinging to him tightly.
Clark pulled back a bit and looked her in the eyes. He grinned. "We can talk all night if you want… But come in." He realized they were still standing in the doorway and guided her inside. "I'll make some coffee if you want."
"Sure. I can't believe how late it is… I didn't sleep a wink. I tried pretty hard, but I couldn't stop thinking about… everything," she said with a sigh, and sank into his couch exhaustedly.
So she *hadn't* been asleep.
"I haven't been sleeping either," Clark admitted. A thought hit him suddenly. "You should have called me. I don't like the idea of you being out alone at night — not with the rapist on the loose…"
"I know, Clark. But we need to talk," Lois said. "Things got crazy before. I overreacted. I just never expected—"
"I know," Clark said gently, as he started some coffee. "I'm sorry I didn't tell you until today. There are so many reasons…"
Lois nodded silently, looking down at her clasped hands.
A few quiet moments passed while both collected their thoughts. Clark poured two mugs of coffee, fixing Lois' just the way she liked it. Soon after, he was sitting beside her gently. He gave Lois her coffee, steadying the mug in her hands. She took a small sip, withdrawing when the liquid was too hot.
"Clark, I need to tell you how I feel—" and "I have a lot to explain to you, Lois—" came tumbling out at the same time, both of them needing to talk more than anything.
Lois laughed a little. "You go first, Clark. One at a time, or we'll get nowhere."
Clark nodded and took a deep breath. "Lois, I've wanted to tell you about… Superman for so long now. I was born with these gifts, and all my life I struggled to find a way to use them. I didn't find a real way until I came to Metropolis…"
Clark told his story carefully, not neglecting a detail. Lois studied him, riveted. Now that she knew the truth, she could see Superman's familiar expressions and gestures in Clark. It made her wonder just how blind she'd been. Yet, at the same time, as Lois listened to how thorough Clark had been in making his secret identity as foolproof as possible, she was taken by his keen intellect and creativity. Rather than feeling completely oblivious, she was able to realize how hard Clark had worked to keep her and the rest of the world from knowing.
"I wanted to tell you, most of all," Clark admitted. "I just had a terrible feeling that if someone found out you knew, or realized we were close, they might—" His imagination went haywire whenever he thought of the possibilities. Images of all of his worst nightmares flooded his mind: Lois, bound and gagged in a dark room — Lois, held at gunpoint — Lois, abused and tortured for information… Clark shook his head. "My fear is that you'd become a target, Lois. People would kill to know what you know now," he said softly. He knew it was true. God! Why had he put her in such a position?!
Lois took his hand in hers. "Clark, I would never tell your secret. Even when I was upset, the thought never even crossed my mind. I care about you too much."
"Please listen, Lois," Clark continued, grasping both her hands and searching her eyes deeply. "That means so much to me. You have no idea. But I want your safety more than anything. If you're in a situation where you're going to be hurt because of my secret, or harmed in any way, you need to tell it. My secret identity is not worth your life, Lois."
"But, Clark—!" Lois started to protest.
"Lois, if something happened to you, I'd be completely and utterly lost." He stared tenderly into her eyes, gently lifting a hand to her face to tuck a lock of her hair behind her ear. "I've waited so long to tell you about this because I know how dangerous it could be. Please," he urged, "promise me."
Lois felt her eyes become glassy with tears. "I promise," she whispered.
Clark breathed a sigh of relief. "There's another reason I didn't tell you," he continued, clearing his throat. "I've had feelings for you, Lois. For a long time. Since I first met you."
She looked at him, ashamed. She knew what was coming next, yet she needed to hear him say it.
"You weren't interested in me, and I knew it. You only had feelings for Superman. I guess what I'm trying to say is, all I wanted was for you to want me for who I really am. Not just the powers and the suit…"
That very nearly broke her heart. "God, Clark, when I think of the ways I must have hurt you…" Her mind wandered to the countless times she'd put him down one minute, worshipped him the next — all because of a simple change of clothes. And then! And then when he had held her as she cried about her attack, she'd bad-mouthed Superman for not being there for her — when she was in his arms the whole time. How could he ever forgive her?
"I'm sorry. I'm so, so sorry," she managed at last.
"Don't be. I know for sure that things are different now. You don't know how amazing it felt to be wanted by you, when you kissed me for the first time — me, *Clark,* not Superman."
Lois reached out to him, touched his face tenderly, and drew him close for a gentle kiss on the cheek. "Clark, I don't know exactly when it was that I fell for you, but I do know that it was before the attack."
"It was?" Clark looked genuinely surprised.
"I woke up in the hospital, and all I wanted to do was see you," she explained. "My feelings only grew stronger when you started spending all that time with me."
"Mine, too, Lois. You have to realize how terrible I feel that this happened to you. Please know that if I'd had any idea you were in trouble, I would have been there. I just… had no way of knowing."
"I know that now," she said softly. It was selfish of her, really. She hadn't thought of Superman as a person with a family, with traditions, with a home. And now that she knew, she was upset with the way she'd complained to him about Superman's so- called 'lack of action.'
A thought-loaded moment of silence passed, and finally Clark asked, "Do you want to tell me your side of everything?"
Lois nodded. "Things had been going so well with us. I felt something between us; something strong… And even though I was confused as to when I'd be ready to act on my feelings, I knew I wanted to." She hesitated for a moment.
"Go on. It's okay," Clark urged gently.
"Well, when you asked me to the movies, things seemed innocent enough. And I knew I wanted to go out with you. I thought, 'Why not?' I was excited… and you seemed excited, too."
"I was," Clark admitted with a bashful smile.
"And everything was great, and that kiss—! I wanted it so badly, and it felt so good, and so right…" Lois explained wistfully. "Then — all of a sudden, you're making up excuses and running in the other direction. What was I supposed to think?"
He shook his head, ashamed.
"It hurt, Clark. A lot."
Clark could hear the pain in her voice. "I never wanted to hurt you," he whispered.
"And all I could think," she continued, "was, 'What changed?' And then I thought about everything that happened. I thought that you might not want me in the same way, now that you know what I'd been through — what he *did* to me…"
"Don't you *ever* think that. I know it looked bad — me running off like that — but I would never feel any different about you because of something that happened," Clark said emphatically.
"What if—" Lois averted her eyes for a second. "What if he *had,* you know, done what he wanted to with me? How could you want me after that?" She stared at the floor.
"Lois, look at me," Clark said, tipping her chin up with gentle fingertips. He waited until her eyes met his before continuing. "Nothing changes how I feel about you, or how attractive I think you are, or how much I want to be with you. Understand?"
Clark reached out and drew Lois close, his hand entwined in her hair, cupping the back of her head. He pressed her close to his chest; she could hear the comforting sound of his heartbeat. "God, Lois, these feelings I have for you…" he murmured, so full of love for the woman he held, he felt he might burst. "I'm sorry I confessed how I feel about you — I know you're not ready to hear all that. It must have scared you, and I don't mean to be pushy in any way — I'll back off, I promise."
"Don't, Clark," Lois stated firmly. "You're not being pushy. It feels good to hear how much you care." She drew back enough to look him in the eyes. "Go ahead, say it," she urged.
Clark watched her, studied her. Those stunning eyes were looking up at him with anticipation. "I love you, Lois." There. He'd said it. He stared at her in awe and amazement. She *smiled.* And God! What a beautiful smile it was! It felt so good to say it, and to know that she wanted him to. "I love you, I love you, I love you!" he added, returning the ear-to-ear grin.
Lois giggled, wrapping her arms around his neck. "I love you, too, Clark," she said, her breath warm on his ear. It was almost too much to bear!
Hearing her say it back was quite possibly the greatest moment of his life. She pulled back enough to look in his eyes. "I love you… so, so much. And yeah, it scares me. But *we* are something I really want to take a chance on."
Clark was filled with an incredible warmth he couldn't explain, nor did he want to. "Me too, Lois."
Lois beamed. "So… where do we go from here?"
Clark glanced at his watch. "Do you see what time it is? I'll tell you where we go from here." He stood up from the couch and offered Lois his hand, helping her up, too.
"To bed?" Lois asked, quizzically.
Clark shook his head, no. A small cryptic smile spread across his face. Then, before her amazed eyes, he spun into his Suit. And seconds later, he'd gently lifted her into his arms.
"Where are we going?" she questioned.
"Well, we can't be up *this* late without staying up a few more minutes to see the sun rise…" Superman — Clark — said, smiling lovingly at her. "And I know just the spot."
There was a park on the outskirts of Metropolis that had a splendid view overlooking Hobbs Bay in the distance. He brought her there, sat her down on the grass beneath a tree, and sat beside her.
"Wow," she murmured, in awe. She shivered a bit; the morning air was brisk.
Superman wrapped his cape around her shoulders and held her close. "I like it up here. Not too many people know about this hill, but it's got a great view."
"Yeah," Lois agreed, laying her head on his strong shoulder. She took it in; the colors of the sky rising — a stunning ever- changing kaleidoscope before her eyes, the feeling of closeness she felt with Clark, the sound of his voice, his breathing. It was serene, and soon she was drifting off.
Clark heard the slight change in Lois' breathing that indicated she'd fallen asleep. Very carefully, he lifted her in his arms trying not to rouse her. She stirred a bit and started to open her eyes. "Shh. Shh, Lois," he whispered. "You don't have to wake up." He kissed her cheek softly and guided her head to rest on his shoulder once more. Then, slowly, so as not to disturb her, he flew back to his apartment.
She was still asleep when he touched down on his fire escape, and carefully he carried his precious cargo through the open window and into the bedroom, where he laid her gently on the bed. He spun out of the Suit and into his pajamas, then untied the laces on Lois' sneakers, slipping them off her feet. He crept into bed beside her, tucked her in, and let himself drift off.
Clark woke up an hour or so later, noticing a change in Lois' heartbeat. She had tensed up in her sleep; he was sure another nightmare was coming on.
Gingerly, Clark embraced her and felt her body start to relax. "That's it, Lois," he said, his voice barely a whisper. "Let it go, honey. Let it go." He kept his voice soft, not wanting to really wake her up, but in some small way, he hoped his gentle tone would keep her mind off of the dark shadowy memories she rehashed on a nightly basis. He smoothed his hand over her soft hair and continued.
"Think about… think about when we were in Smallville. And we went to the corn festival, and you had a caramel apple, and I won you that teddy bear…" Clark murmured. Lois snuggled closer in her sleep. "You had on that new dress, and you looked so beautiful. Then we were line dancing, and I couldn't believe you knew how! You were so good at it…"
His voice trailed off as he watched her. She was sleeping soundly again, a small smile playing on her lips. She was the most beautiful sight he'd ever seen. He let himself sleep again, his slumber filled with wonderful dreams of Lois Lane.
Her voice from the next room woke him up. "…Sorry, Chief. I've decided to work from home for a few days," she was saying.
Clark could hear Perry White's voice on the other end of the phone easily with his super hearing.
"Honey, you do what you have to do," Perry said understandingly. "What are you working on, anyhow?"
"The Hyde and SEEC rapist," Lois replied matter-of-factly.
"Lois…" Perry sighed, exasperated.
Lois was getting indignant. "I need to, Perry. You know I do."
"No. You're too close to it. You know the rules."
"You told me to 'do what I have to do.' And I *have* to do this. If I can stop this guy from abusing one more woman—"
"Lois, I can get somebody else on it."
"Perry, you know Clark and I can do it better than anybody else."
There was a pause on Perry's end. She'd hit a nerve. She was right. "All right. Do it. But swear to me — on The King's grave — you're not gonna do anything crazy?"
Lois smiled. "I promise. This is good for me. It's therapeutic," she added convincingly. "I've been talking to my counselor about taking control instead of feeling like I'm losing it all the time."
"Atta girl, Lois. Keep your chin up. You're doing great."
"Thanks, Chief. I'll keep you posted on the story."
Clark entered his living room as she was hanging up the phone. She was seated on his couch munching on a cold Pop Tart. She looked adorable; her hair was disheveled from sleep and the collar of her oversized sweatshirt had slid down to reveal her bare shoulder. "Morning, beautiful." He dropped a quick kiss on the top of her head as he passed on his way to the kitchen. "You *do* realize you're supposed to heat those things up?"
"Yeah…" To Lois' surprise, the Pop Tart seemingly heated itself up thanks to a long-distance shot with Clark's heat-vision. "That is *so cool.* I don't know if I'll ever quite get used to that…"
Clark grinned. "You want some *real* breakfast?"
Lois smirked. "I thought you lived on junk food."
Clark shrugged, and looked through his cabinets. "Well, I could make some pancakes or something…"
Clark busied himself preparing a batch of buttermilk pancakes. He served Lois a generous stack, along with butter and warm syrup. She smiled, apparently impressed with his breakfast, and dove into the meal enthusiastically.
Once finished with breakfast, Lois made an announcement. "I have an idea."
Clark raised his eyebrows. "Let's hear it."
"I think we should go undercover," she stated.
Clark could see where this was going. "No way, Lois. Not this time."
"Clark, listen to me. This is foolproof. We go to the subway platform at the Hyde Street stop. You'll hide, and I'll be the bait. When the guy comes, you can nab him before we even get on the train!"
Clark shook his head. He could not even believe what he was hearing. He hardly knew what to say. "Lois… I don't think you should put yourself in that position. It's dangerous, and—"
"Since when has that ever stopped me?" she retorted. "I want to put this guy behind bars before he lays a hand on another woman, Clark. This can't go on."
"All right. I admit it's a good idea. But…" he hesitated to even say it, "does it *have* to be *you*?"
"Yes! Yes, Clark. It has to be me. I can't play 'helpless bystander' anymore. I have to get over this. You know I can do it better than anyone. And with Superman right there, I'll be perfectly safe, right?"
"Yes," Clark admitted. She'd definitely be safe. That was for sure. No one would ever lay a hand on her again if he had anything to say about it. "Let's think about it, okay?"
Lois nodded in agreement. "All right."
That afternoon, Lois had another counseling session with Robyn. She nearly had to sit on her hands to keep from talking about Clark being Superman. She did, however, confess to Robyn that she and Clark had admitted their feelings towards each other, and that while she wanted to take their relationship slowly, she was very excited about where it was going. Mostly she focused on how she felt about hearing what Ian had seen. It was frightening to hear about things that had happened while she'd been unconscious — helpless to defend herself. At the same time, hearing Ian's observations helped convince her once and for all that the rapist hadn't had a chance to finish the job he'd started. And Ian's care and concern had shed some positive light on what was otherwise a dark and dismal day.
Robyn was impressed by the progress Lois had made. She wasn't sure if it was due to talking to Ian or her budding relationship with Clark, but Lois was making many positive attitude changes that were helping her begin to heal.
Before they closed their session, Robyn told Lois that the other two women who had survived being attacked by the Hyde and SEEC rapist were getting together for a group session that evening, and Lois was invited to join as well.
"I think I'd like that," Lois said, nodding.
"And Lois? I want you to focus on something in the weeks ahead," Robyn continued. "I want you to stop thinking of yourself as a 'victim,' and start thinking of yourself as a survivor."
Lois thought on it for a minute, and smiled. "Thank you, Robyn. I like that idea a lot."
"It's the truth," Robyn said gently, giving Lois' hand a little squeeze. "I hope you can join us tonight, too."
Lois met up with Clark after her appointment, and they headed over to the Planet for a few hours to decide what to do about their undercover operation.
As soon as Perry White saw her, he called her into his office. "Lois…? I thought you were taking some time off."
"Well," Lois started, "I was going to, but I decided to come in and put a few hours in… I didn't want you to forget who I was or anything." A faint smile crossed her face.
"All right, Lois. Just don't overextend yourself. And if you want a different assignment—"
"No," Lois stated firmly. "I want to work on the Hyde and SEEC rapist. I have a few ideas on how to find him…"
Perry gave her a look. "Lois… this was just what I was worried about."
Clark had been listening in with his super hearing. Just then, he rapped on the door and entered. "Sorry to interrupt, Chief. Lois, I just wanted to let you know I heard from Superman. He's agreed to supervise our stakeout."
Perry raised an eyebrow. "Clark…? Don't tell me you're in on this, too?"
"Chief, I'll be the first to admit that I don't like the idea of Lois going into the subway to attract this guy. But now that Superman has agreed to be there, it would be very safe."
"Lois. You're not doing it."
Lois rose, her hands clenched into fists. "But, Perry—!"
"Someone else can do it. Get Cat Grant in here."
"Perry, it's not fair. It was Lois' idea." Clark chimed in.
Perry gave Clark a firm stare. "Now listen here, Clark. That girl is like a daughter to me," he said, gesturing towards Lois. "I can not in good conscience let her go and lure the very rapist who tried to violate her."
Lois was red in the face. "Quit talking about me like I'm not in the room!" Her voice escalated to nearly a shout. "Listen, I'm doing this because Clark will be there and Superman will be there, and together we can catch this guy! Perry, you and Clark have done nothing but shoot me down since I came up with this. If someone can think of a better idea, I'd like to hear it." She waited a second, the two men's eyes glued on her. They remained silent. "I thought so," Lois continued, calming a bit. "I need to do this. I need to be in control of the situation for the first time since it happened. I can't identify the guy in a court room, but I *can* do this." She stared at Perry, her stance firm, her shoulders back confidently.
Perry stared back, and, at long last, stepped towards Lois and embraced her. "Please just be careful, honey. If something happens to you, I don't know what I'd do."
"Neither would I," Clark added softly, as Perry released Lois from his embrace.
Perry watched his two best reporters leave his office together. He was proud to have them on his team. He was even prouder to see that the Hyde and SEEC rapist had done nothing to squelch Lois' spirit. He smiled as he watched Lois slip her hand into Clark's as they headed for the elevator.
"My name is Lois L—"
"No last names, please, Lois," Robyn interjected gently. "Our group will be as anonymous as we can manage. Go on."
"I'm Lois. It happened on Thanksgiving. I was working late that night, conducting a few interviews. I don't remember how it happened, but all of a sudden I felt like I'd collapsed. Then I woke up in the hospital two days later. I had no idea what was going on until the nurse explained it to me…"
Her story was not unlike the other two women's. Esperanza was a wife and mother of two young children; she had been taking the train to the 24-hour pharmacy to get some cough medicine for her son's cold. Tina was an 18-year-old freshman at SEEC, and had been returning to her dorm after staying part of the night at her boyfriend's apartment. Both women had been raped. Lois was moved by their bravery.
All three of them could easily relate to each other's feelings of bewilderment after being unable to recollect any of the events that had happened on the train. They had all experienced similar feelings of alienation immediately following the attack, and found similar problems in talking to their partners about what had happened. They discussed their fears at length, and were able to offer each other coping methods. It was comforting to realize that they were not alone in their suffering; the single group counseling session had cemented the three of them together as a community — there to support each other with Robyn's help and guidance.
Lois gave Tina a ride back to her dorm, where she was resuming classes after missing a few weeks. Then she headed to Clark's apartment — the place they'd agreed to meet after Lois' counseling session. The door was unlocked when she arrived. Once inside, she was greeted by a delicious smell.
"What are you making?! It smells phenomenal!" she announced, grinning broadly. She shrugged out of her overcoat and folded it over the back of a nearby chair. Her cheeks were rosy from the bitter mid-December air.
Clark looked up at her from his kitchen, grinning. "Veal marsala."
"Wow… you must be making it for somebody special, huh?" she teased, stepping up behind Clark and wrapping her arms around his waist.
Clark turned around to face her, still in her arms. "Yeah, she's pretty great. You should see her." He leaned in close and nuzzled the top of her head, placing a feather-light kiss on her temple. "She's beautiful…" he murmured, kissing her across her cheekbone, "and she's brilliant…" he trailed another kiss to her cheek, "and she's feisty as hell," he finished, finally capturing her lips softly in his.
Lois giggled. "Mmm, wow. You must really like this girl."
"Like her? I love her!" He raised both hands up to cup her face, drawing her chin up so her lips met his once more. He pulled back, tucked her hair behind her ears, and studied her intently. Her eyes seemed brighter somehow. Her spirits were so much better than they had been in days. Weeks, even. "How was your meeting?"
"It went really well. I think it was a great idea to have the three of us get together to share experiences. I was feeling like the only person in the world who's ever had to deal with something like this. I guess I felt… alone. And now I realize that's not the case at all."
"Lois," Clark said softly, "you'll never be alone. Not if I have anything to do with it…" He was lost in her features again. Her eyes were dark and enticing, her lips full and moist and parted. He stole another kiss before forcing himself to pull away. "We… better eat before it gets cold."
Lois had other plans. "It couldn't get cold," she said, gently lifting his glasses from the bridge of his nose. She pushed them up to the top of his head, pulling him close for another kiss.
"It couldn't?" he murmured, a quizzical look on his face.
"Well, you have that heat vision thingy, don't you?"
"Ah," Clark replied with a smile, trailing kisses down her neck. "I like the way you think, Lane."
"Dinner was excellent!" proclaimed a very satisfied Lois Lane.
"I hope you saved room for dessert," Clark said, lifting a bakery box from the top of his refrigerator. He cut the red-and-white thread that secured the box shut and opened it, revealing six miniature cream puffs.
"Ooh!" Lois squealed. "Where did you—?"
"France," he whispered, smiling.
"Wow, thanks! This is definitely a perk. Sorry I don't have any cool powers to impress you with," Lois teased.
"Sure you do," Clark replied, grinning.
"Oh, you mean, *this*?" Lois said. She reached out, gripped his shirt collar in both hands, pulled him near, and planted a kiss on his lips that made him weak in the knees. She wound her fingers into his hair at the nape of his neck. Her touch was gentle, electrifying… Her kisses were deep, sensual, inviting… Clark had to pull back before he lost his composure. He knew moving slowly was vital for Lois, but at the same time, her kisses were driving him crazy!
"Lois," he almost moaned.
Lois saw how flushed Clark had become when he pulled back. "Sorry, Clark, I — got a little carried away…" Her own desires were scaring her a little bit. She knew she wasn't ready for their physical relationship to move ahead. Still, she couldn't deny the fact that she wanted to kiss him like that.
"It's okay, Lois. I just don't want you to feel uncomfortable." He took her hand, offering it a little squeeze.
"You're doing fine, Clark. I'll tell you to stop if I'm not ready." She had a feeling that talking about it so seriously had just killed the mood. Distractedly, she took a cream puff and indulged. "Oh, Clark, these are amazing," she gushed.
"I knew you'd like them," he replied, smiling and taking one for himself.
The silence that followed was anything but awkward. They ate quietly, but Lois erupted in giggles as Clark accidentally got cream on the end of his nose. Clark retaliated by making sure Lois also 'accidentally' got cream on her nose, too. They shared a sweet kiss, both still breathless from laughing.
The next few days were spent gathering all possible pieces of information about the four incidents. Lois and Clark enlisted Jimmy's help in locating descriptions of the other three women who had been attacked. There seemed to be no major similarities. The women ranged in age from 18 to 41 and came from a variety of ethnic backgrounds.
The attacks had all taken place around the same time, anywhere from one o'clock A.M. to four A.M.
"We should go at midnight, Clark, and stay until we see him," Lois announced, spreading out her research on the table.
Clark nodded gravely. He was not at all thrilled with Lois' plan. It wasn't so much that he thought the rapist had a chance of attacking her again. He was more concerned that being in the subway and possibly seeing the rapist might dredge up negative memories for Lois. Yet, try as he might, he could not communicate his feelings to her when he watched her — brave, focused, and determined — carefully researching and planning a way to stop the crimes from continuing. He could do nothing other than admire her, in awe of her strength. His heart swelled with respect for the woman before him.
"You're sure about this?" he managed.
"I am," she answered. "Let's do this."
Clark Kent sat in his living room waiting for Lois to finish getting ready. Clark's attire consisted of a ratty knit cap, a flannel shirt, grubby jeans, and boots. He had an old, threadbare blanket as well; his plan was to lay on a bench on the subway platform, a 'homeless man' seemingly asleep. He'd peer out from under the blanket and watch to see if anyone fit the Hyde and SEEC rapist's description, or if anyone looked like he was after Lois. Then, he'd be able to spring up and seize the man before he and Lois could get on the train.
Lois emerged from his bedroom at long last, her hair hidden beneath a long reddish wig. She was dressed in a sweater and short skirt. "How do I look?" she asked.
Clark cringed a little. "Lois, do you have to wear a skirt?" She looked lovely; her long slender legs were enough to get anybody's blood boiling. He hated the thought that the guy could get one iota of pleasure from seeing Lois. He didn't deserve it.
She took a defensive stance, her hands on her hips. "Clark. I'm supposed to be the 'bait' here."
"I know, but one of the other women was wearing pants; it didn't stop him from—"
"Isn't the object to lure the guy after a susceptible young woman?"
"Then let's go. End of story."
It wasn't as easy as they'd hoped. There was no guarantee that he'd show up at all. They spent three nights in a row waiting for the Hyde and SEEC rapist… to no avail. Clark was starting to doubt they would ever find him. Lois was determined not to give up, and Clark resisted the urge to stop her from doing something she thought was right.
The first time they went to the Hyde Street stop, Clark walked with Lois to the platform. He held her hand as they walked, and he didn't need to use any of his super abilities to see that she was nervous. She gripped his hand tighter as they descended the stairs. She squared her shoulders as she did when she didn't want to appear nervous.
"You okay?" Clark whispered, as they both passed through the turnstile.
Lois nodded bravely.
Once at the platform, Clark bundled up in his blanket and feigned sleep on the bench. Lois paced as though perpetually waiting for a train.
For four hours.
For three nights in a row.
And they had seen nothing. No sign of the rapist, no suspicious- looking people, nothing.
Clark tried bringing up the fact that their plan might not work. Lois only felt more determined to succeed.
The fourth night was almost exactly like the previous nights. Clark very nearly fell asleep on the bench. Fortunately for him, Lois in a miniskirt was a very stimulating sight to behold, and he couldn't drift off entirely.
Four sleepless nights were taking their toll on Lois, as well. She felt less alert than she had previously. She was just about to turn to Clark and suggest they call it an early night at 3 A.M. when an approaching sound made her change her mind. Clark, of course, heard it too.
The turnstile creaked as someone approached the platform. Then footsteps followed.
Lois watched the train tracks and paced a little. Clark peered out from under his shabby blanket. He saw the man approach, wearing a long trench coat. He had sandy blond hair and clear blue eyes… He no longer sported a beard and mustache, but he had a crooked nose, as if someone had broken it.
Clark tensed, poised and ready to spring up at any minute.
Lois pivoted on her heel to see who was behind her and her eyes locked with the stranger's. And then, recognition! It was as if a thousand nightmares came flooding back to her. This man — this was the man! She would have known his eyes anywhere. Ian's description helped fill in the gaps, but this man was the one. His eyes had haunted her for weeks now.
They stared at each other for what felt like hours. In actuality it was only a fragment of a second. Time slowed down for Lois, and she was hit with a wave of adrenaline that gave her a rush. She reacted so fast that the man didn't know what hit him.
Lois, full of rage, threw a swift uppercut that hit the man across the cheekbone. Clark shot to his feet, shocked by how fast it had happened. The man stumbled backwards a few steps with a groan, and before he could steady himself on his feet, Lois lunged forward and caught him under the jaw with a fierce left hook. A knee to the groin sent the man back further where his head collided with the ceramic tile wall. He crumpled to the ground, limp.
Clark stood tense and motionless. He didn't dare approach Lois yet. She had done this; she'd done it all herself. At first he couldn't believe it. He watched Lois standing there, her fists still clenched at her sides, her every muscle still strained, her chest still heaving with the aftermath of the rush. She was looking down, still seething, at the crumpled, helpless man who had taken one life and altered three others irrevocably.
"Bastard!" she shouted at him, the word echoing throughout the hollow subway tunnel.
At long last, Lois turned away from the man and took a few shaky steps. She was starting to tremble. Clark was at her side in no time, and gathered her in his arms. He held her close for a moment before escorting her to the bench. He wrapped his blanket around her shoulders, and took her hands in his. Such small hands had done monumental things tonight. He turned them over, kissing her knuckles softly — two on her right hand had split from the force of her punch, and were bleeding a little. "That was incredible, Lois," he said, his voice tremulous with admiration.
"Told you I could do it," she whispered, smiling weakly. She raised her hands to her head and removed her wig, shaking her hair free from it.
Clark beamed ear-to-ear. He caressed her cheek with his palm, and brushed a lock of hair away from her face. "Sit tight for a minute, okay? I just want to check something."
She nodded and watched as Clark walked over to the unconscious man — the Hyde and SEEC rapist — and gave him a once-over. He was out cold. Clark carefully untied the belt on the man's trench coat and looked inside.
"Get a load of this, Lois," Clark announced, beckoning her closer.
Lois rose and took a few steps closer to see what Clark was referring to.
The inside of the jacket had about four of them, filled with fluid and ready to go.
Lois was not surprised. "We've got him now," she said softly. She cast a quick glance at Clark. "Should Superman take care of this?"
Clark looked at the man, then looked at Lois. "Nah. Let's preserve the scene for the police. Besides, this was a job for Lane and Kent."
Lois gave a wan smile. "You got it," she said, pulling out her cell phone and dialing.
The police were on the scene in a matter of minutes, and an ambulance arrived shortly after. Lois and Clark both gave statements to the police, and then the rapist was taken away on a gurney. He was starting to come around, and Lois gave Clark a look that said, 'Let's get out of here.'
"Are we all set here, officer?" Clark asked.
The officer nodded. "Yep. Great work, you two."
"You know where to find us if you need anything else from us," Lois said, handing the officer her business card. She stifled a yawn.
"Come on, let's get you home…" Clark said as she gently wrapped his arm around Lois' shoulders. "Your place or mine?"
"Yours is closer," Lois murmured tiredly. She yawned again, and Clark cuddled her a little closer as they walked back to the parking garage. She was very nearly stumbling, so Clark took her keys and helped her into the passenger seat, where she fell asleep soon afterward.
Clark drove to his apartment in silence. Stopped at a red light, he gazed at Lois. He smiled softly at seeing her sleeping so peacefully. She deserved it. Her delicate features were bathed in light from a street lamp nearby, and Clark couldn't help but admire her. He was disappointed when the light changed and he had to focus his gaze back on the road.
Five or ten minutes later, he pulled up to his apartment and parked her car at the closest space to his door. He stepped out of the car and opened the passenger's side door. "Hey," he said softly. "Wake up, sleepyhead." God, she was so cute when she was tired. But then, she was cute when she wasn't…
Lois opened her eyes groggily. "We're here?" She unfastened her seat belt and let Clark help her out of the car. She half- sleepwalked up the stairs to his apartment, thankful for Clark's arm around her shoulders, guiding her. Once inside, she shrugged out of her knit sweater, dropped her skirt on the floor beside the crumpled sweater, and practically collapsed on Clark's bed in just her white cotton camisole and panties.
"Come to bed, Clark," she murmured, her eyes already closed. Clark changed fast, and slipped under the covers beside her. She reached out instinctively and held his hand loosely in hers — such a sweet and endearing gesture that it very nearly brought tears to his eyes.
"Goodnight, Lois. I love you," he whispered.
She smiled softly, mumbling against his chest just before she drifted off, "Love you, too."
Lois and Clark wrote up the story from home the next day, and by noon, when they arrived at the Planet, word had already gotten out. At first sight of them, folks in the newsroom started to clap. By the time they had made it down the ramp and to their desks, they were receiving an all-out standing ovation from their co-workers.
Lois handed a print-out of the article to Perry, an I-told-you-so smile on her face. "Lois," Perry began, his expression stern, "that was stupid and crazy of you to go down there. You could have been in a serious situation." He gathered her into a tight bear hug. "But I'm proud as hell of you, honey. Good work."
"Thanks, Chief," Lois said, beaming brightly. Slyly, she added, "Do you think we could talk for a moment? In your office…?"
A week later, things had just about returned to normal. Lois continued attending her counseling sessions, especially enjoying her group meetings with Tina, Esperanza, and Robyn. The women were ecstatic and called an emergency meeting to celebrate Lois' victory over the Hyde and SEEC rapist.
Lois denied it was 'her' victory. "It was all of ours," she attested. "I couldn't have done it myself."
During their next meeting, the four women visited Amanda Byers' grave, each bearing a single flower. Tina knelt on the cold ground, the first to lay her white rose down. "I'm sorry you didn't live to see justice served," Tina said softly to the cold headstone. The others nodded in agreement, laying their roses down and huddling together arm-in-arm in the cold, a small symbol of solidarity in what otherwise seemed like chaos.
And now, at the end of the day, Lois Lane wrapped up another story. She had been back to work on a regular basis, and was happy to have her routine back. Straightening up, she pushed her chair a few inches from her desk and stretched. When she looked out the window, she saw tiny white snowflakes just beginning to fall.
"What are your plans for Christmas?" Clark inquired, coming up from behind her. He had his coat on, and was ready to walk out with her.
"Plans? I haven't got any plans…" Lois answered honestly. "You're going to see your folks, right?" She hit 'send,' mailing her story to Perry for a final once-over.
Clark nodded. "Yep. And I have news for you. So are you."
"What?" Lois looked a little surprised. "Christmas is a family holiday. I wouldn't want to intrude."
"Lois, if you think I'm going to leave you alone on another holiday, you've got another thing coming…" He lifted her jacket off the coat rack, holding it open as she slipped her arms into the sleeves.
Lois smiled. "I'll think about it, okay?"
"Is that a yes?" he asked hopefully, leading her towards the exit.
She laughed. "Okay, okay. Yes."
As they approached the revolving doors, Lois smiled and nodded to the Daily Planet's newest security guard, a distinguished looking gentleman. He had dark skin and bright eyes, and stood tall and proud in his new uniform and shiny black shoes.
"Goodnight, Ian," Lois said, waving.
Ian Johnson smiled ear-to-ear. "Goodnight, Miss Lois. Thanks again for telling Mr. White about me…"
Lois smiled warmly. "Don't mention it, Ian."
On Christmas Eve, Clark flew Lois to Smallville. Martha and Jonathan Kent were thrilled to see Lois again, and they were both secretly impressed with her incredible spirit after hearing about what had happened, and how she had initially reacted. She was herself again, which was more than anyone could want from her.
The Kents had a beautifully decorated Christmas tree, and Martha served up a delicious dinner of roast ham. Lois was amazed that she didn't feel out of place at all; on the contrary, she felt more welcome than she ever had. She felt an immediate sense of belonging — a sense she didn't even feel with her own family.
That night, Lois slept in Clark's room while Clark took the couch. When it was a little after midnight, he awakened and crept into the room where she was sleeping. Cool, blue moonlight pooled through the window and highlighted Lois' peaceful face. She hadn't had a single nightmare since the Hyde and SEEC rapist had been caught, and had spent several nights alone in her apartment with no trouble. Still, Lois and Clark had taken any excuse to spend the night together at one apartment or the other. They had grown accustomed to sleeping in one another's arms.
So, in the wee hours of Christmas morning, as much as Clark hated to disturb Lois' sleep, he woke her up. He had a surprise waiting for her. "Lois? Honey, wake up," he said softly, rubbing her shoulder.
She stirred, then looked up at him, squinting, her brow furrowed in confusion. "Clark? What's going on?" she whispered groggily, sitting up and wiping the sleep from her eyes.
"Come with me." Clark smiled and took her hand, starting towards the door.
"Wait, where are we going?"
Clark nodded and smiled. He held the ladder steady as Lois climbed to the top in just her red flannel pajamas and slippers. He joined her on the loft and grinned. "I used to hide up here all the time when I was a kid," he mused.
"I thought the hayloft was like the country version of the back lot of the Dairy Freeze…" Lois said, shooting him a suggestive look.
Clark blushed. "Well, it is…"
A smile spread slowly across her face. She tossed a handful of hay in his general direction and laughed. "You have ulterior motives, Kent?"
"I do… Merry Christmas," Clark announced, uncovering a small, square, wrapped gift from beneath the hay. "Open it," he urged.
Lois turned the box over in her hand. Oh God. It felt like a ring! What would she say? She was glad it was dark in the loft, because Clark might notice the panicked look on her face. Marriage — the thought hadn't even crossed her mind! At the same time, would it really be so bad? He was *the one,* wasn't he? He was the one and only man she'd ever love. She knew it now. Why did the prospect of marriage scare her so much? Everything was happening so fast… Maybe she could convince him to wait…
Her heart was racing; Clark could hear it. "Open it," he urged gently, as if to ease her suspicions.
Lois' shaky fingers managed to peel the paper off of the small velvet box. "Clark—" Hesitantly, she opened it. It was—
— a necklace! Oh, thank God!
It was so beautiful. A heart-shaped pendant set in platinum hung purposefully crooked on a delicate chain. "Oh, Clark," was all she could manage to say. Her smile said the rest.
"You like it?" Clark gently took the necklace from the box and fastened it around Lois' neck. "There. It looks even better *now,*" he observed with a smile.
"Thank you. I love it!" She leaned forward and kissed his lips ever so softly. "So," she added, "where do we go from here?"
"Well, there's something I wanted to ask you," Clark said shyly.
"Oh yeah?" Lois began getting worried again when Clark got down on bended knee.
"Lois Lane," he said, his voice passionate and his eyes staring deep into her soul, "will you go out with me?"
"What?" She almost laughed.
He held both of her hands, kissed them. "Be my girlfriend."
Lois smirked. "Aren't I already?"
"It dawned on me that I never asked you."
Lois looked thoughtful for a moment. "Well…" she chided, smiling, "since you asked so nicely…"
"It would be my honor to be your boyfriend," Clark added, grinning gallantly. "We can take it as slow as you want to."
"I think I'd like that…" Lois replied. Clark gathered her in his arms, holding her close and reclining with her on the soft hay. She smiled as she lay comfortably on top of him, face to face. "In fact, I'd definitely like that. Very much."
Clark touched the heart pendant gently. "Good. Because this isn't just any necklace. This is my promise to you that I will love and respect and cherish you for the rest of my life."
Lois looked at Clark, her brown eyes wide with surprise. "The rest of your life?"
He nodded. "If you'll have me. Will you?"
"You have to ask…?" With that, she threaded her fingers through his tousled hair and captured his lips in a kiss that made his glasses fog up, made his heart pound furiously in his chest, made him moan for more. It was a kiss that left no doubt in his mind as to where she stood on the subject. It was a kiss that spoke of love, of fresh, new beginnings — of a life that was theirs *together,* from now on.
Thank you to these two websites; I quoted them on Lois' coffee mug! Find out the meaning of your name here: