Terms of Endearment

By angelic_editor <moxie406@yahoo.com>

Rated: PG for mild language

Submitted: May 2006

Summary: Clark trusted Lois with his secret, but can Lois trust Clark with her heart? Both deal with the repercussions of his revelation in this sequel to "Terms of Estrangement."

Disclaimer: The characters aren't mine; the words are. Please don't take legal action, as poor college students aren't worth suing, anyway.

This is a sequel to "Terms of Estrangement," which can be found at http://www.lcfanfic.com/stories/2006/termsof.txt. It's probably best if you read "Terms of Estrangement" first, as this takes place directly after the events depicted. Now, Clark and Lois deal with the repercussions of his revelation.

Feedback: Better than chocolate, especially since I'm so new at this. Be brutal, kids.


Prologue, Part One

{*Driving away from the wreck of the day

And the light's always red in the rear-view

Desperately close to a coffin of hope

I'd cheat destiny just to be near you*}

— "Wreck of the Day," Anna Nalick


Lois Lane sat at the deserted intersection, waiting for the light to change from red to green.

*This is ridiculous,* she thought. *Why am I stopping for a red light at 3 a.m.?*

And then her conscience kicked her in the temple.

*Oh, yeah. Because it's the right thing to do,* she mocked herself. *And I'm nothing if not civic-minded.*

Lois sighed, not amused by this running monologue in the slightest. She was desperate for a distraction from her earlier conversation with Clark Kent, but her mental babble was no help. Driving aimlessly through Metropolis for the last hour had gotten her no closer to any sort of closure.

Clark. Superman. They were the same person.

*And you're a fool for not seeing it yourself.*

Lois wanted nothing more than to lambaste Clark for not telling her sooner. Every instinct was screaming for her to do just that.

But she hadn't — at least, not yet.

The damnable thing was, she loved him. At the moment, she couldn't work up even a spark of her usual fury, though she was still struggling to sort out the jagged pieces of this sadistic farce of a figurative jigsaw puzzle.

*So Clark is Superman. It's a lot to deal with — for both of us,* she amended. *And he's just having a bad night.*

Lois swallowed hard against the rejection-sized bruise mottling her heart.

*It's just business, not a personal attack on you. Don't undermine his feelings, even if he did show you the door.*

She squeezed her eyes shut, wanting nothing more than to erase the last two hours. The emotional onslaught was nearly too much to bear.

*You idiot — too much to bear? What does Clark go through every single day?*

She sighed, thinking back to the depthless pain she'd seen in Clark's eyes. He'd looked so old then, so weary. His voice echoed in her head, rough with feeling. She heard the hurt and frustration that tinged his words.

<"I — I couldn't — I just — I just *couldn't.* It wasn't enough. I tried, but it wasn't enough.">

Lois swallowed hard once more, doing her best to focus on the red light in front of her. Difficult, seeing as how it was underwater.

<"How do you tell a seven-year-old that her mom will never walk again? Tell me, please — how does Superman explain that even he can't help everyone? That he can't fix everything at once?">

Lois' heart constricted. Her grip tightened on the steering wheel in frustration.

*Oh, Clark, I'm sorry — I wish I'd known. I wish I'd seen behind the glasses, I wish I hadn't acted so foolishly, I wish I knew what to do. I wish I could show you how much I want to understand how you do what you do.*

Her knuckles were white.

*You've carried this around for so long, alone, and now, you must be so scared … *

Lois' mouth dropped open in horror.

*Oh, God. I can't believe I forgot to tell you.*

Hurriedly checking the empty streets once more, she made a sharp, illegal U-turn and headed toward Clark's apartment.

*I really, really hope you didn't leave. Be there, Clark. You have to be there.*


Prologue, Part Two

{*In my head, your voice —

You've got all that I need

And this make-believe will get me through

Another lonely night*}

— "In My Head," Anna Nalick

<"But, Superman, you can do anything. Why can't you help my mom today?">

Clark Kent's dark eyes flew open.

He involuntarily flinched, reluctant to meet the seven-year-old's baleful blue gaze, full of confusion and disappointment.

The question reverberated in his brain.

His heart hammered in his ears.

But Emily wasn't there, sitting beside him on the park bench.

Clark was alone in his darkened apartment, slumped on the couch, still fully dressed in his rumpled khakis and wrinkled white dress shirt.

*You're losing it.*

He didn't know how much time had passed since Lois left. It could've only been an hour or two, though it felt like half the night. He was surprised he'd managed to sleep at all.

After Lois had left, he'd brooded, sitting in the shadows, staring at nothing.

Just like now.

He sighed and raked a hand through his unruly hair.

*You've got to stop this. Deal with it and move on. You're no good to Lois or yourself — or anyone else, for that matter — like this.*

Clark's stomach clenched.

*Lois. God, I'm sorry.*

Funny, how the thought of her made him feel ill and full of hope almost simultaneously.

He needed to do something. Patrol, maybe. Anything to get away from the apartment that suddenly felt like a cloying, emotionally overwrought prison.

*Of my own making,* he thought darkly.

A car door slammed close by, cutting through the stillness of the late hour.

*Or early?*

Clark glanced at his watch. Three-fifteen a.m.

*Plenty of time for a transatlantic flight or two before work.*

Just before he spun into the Suit, there was an unexpected knock at the front door.


He knew it was her — he could hear her rapid heartbeat, could hear her fidgeting. Could hear her muttering under her breath.

He just didn't know why she'd come back.

*"Please be home."*

So quiet, nearly imperceptible.

But he'd heard.

And if not for that whispered, fervent plea, he wouldn't have answered.

Inwardly cursing himself for his own weakness, he opened the door.


"Clark — " She faltered. He was leaning against the doorframe, shrouded in darkness, his brown eyes guarded. Waiting.

She swallowed hard, her dark eyes liquid in the faint illumination from the streetlights.

"I forgot to tell you something."

Clark straightened, but the tension didn't leave his shoulders.


Fear and dread gnawed at his stomach. He clenched his jaw.

*Wait for it, Kent — she's made a terrible mistake and doesn't want to put up with you or your issues, after all.*

Clark willed his voice to remain steady.

"And what's that?"

Lois looked down at her shoes, unable to meet the intensity, the unexpected intimacy of his stare.

"That I … I won't tell anyone," she stammered. "About — about you."

Clark's mouth opened, then closed soundlessly as surprise and relief surged through him.

*I know I didn't expect _that_.*

"Lois, that's — I never thought —"

She looked up at him then, as he shook his head in disbelief.

A short, unintentional laugh escaped him, and he gently placed his hands on Lois' shoulders.

"I was never worried about that," he told her earnestly, searching her face for signs of understanding, of trust. He lifted one hand and cradled her cheek in his palm. "Never."


A tear slipped down Lois' cheek, and Clark tenderly brushed it away with his thumb.

*Never — Clark, you have no idea what that means to me … *

But she could only nod before she stepped forward, wrapping her arms around Clark's neck.

He pulled her closer.

"I trust you," Clark whispered fiercely, his lips close to her ear. *Because I love you,* he finished silently.

Lois was trembling. She closed her eyes and rested her forehead against his collarbone, still gripping his shoulders.

"Good," she managed shakily.

Clark's answering chuckle was a deep rumble against her ear.

He placed a kiss on the top of her head.

"I hope you feel the same way," he said seriously.

Lois pulled away. She licked her lips and averted her eyes.

*Don't shy away from this. Just tell him.*

"I — I do, Clark," she said quietly, lifting her brown gaze to meet his. "I always have, even when — when I didn't want to believe it."

Clark's smile, tinged with exhaustion and deliverance, caused her heart to skip a beat. Literally.

*Wow — I thought that was just a romance-novel cliché. But it actually happens.*

She looked around, suddenly remembering that she was still outside, and that dawn was soon approaching.

"It's late," she said, wishing it weren't true. "I should go, and you — " She studied him for a long moment, taking in his disheveled appearance. "You should get some rest." She paused. *Ack.* "I mean, not that you look like you need it or anything — I didn't mean to imply —"

"Lois, it's okay," he broke in. "Really. I am … kind of tired, actually. And you're probably even more tired than me."

The understanding in Clark's eyes silenced any protest Lois could muster.

"All right," she conceded.

Clark gave her a small, encouraging smile. "It's been a long day."

Lois nodded. "We'll talk, we'll, um, figure this out — later."


After he'd seen Lois to her Jeep, Clark walked back into his darkened apartment and shut the door.

He was shaking. Surprised to find that his legs could barely support him, he dropped onto the steps that led down to his living room.

*She makes everything worth it,* he realized in amazement.

With just a few words — Lois' reassurance, her touch, just her presence — she'd made all his doubts, all his self-loathing, bearable.

*Tonight,* the pessimistic part of his brain argued.

*Don't,* he warned himself. *Don't analyze this. Don't question this.*

He took a deep breath, pushing away thoughts of a seven-year-old's haunting blue eyes and the echoes of questions he couldn't answer.

*Just don't mess it up.*


Chapter One

{*Under the weight of your wings

You are a god and whatever I want you to be

And I wonder if truly you are

Nearly as beautiful as I believe*}

— "In My Head," Anna Nalick


Lois surreptitiously studied her partner over the rim of her coffee cup. Less than twelve hours had passed since he'd told her, and she was still having trouble reconciling the information, still struggling with seeing him in a completely new, disconcerting light.

His back was to her while he methodically rifled through recent copies of The Daily Planet stowed in an overflowing file cabinet.

*Clark Kent. Superman. One and the same.*

It was strange to suddenly view Clark as, well, superhuman.

And to see Superman as completely human.

Sure, Lois often wondered what the hero did when he wasn't rescuing people from burning buildings or dismantling bombs or flying into her apartment to check up on her, but she'd never managed to totally personify him. Never imagined he could love Mel Gibson movies. Or listen to Pearl Jam. Or enjoy pizza and beer.

But he did — because he was Clark.

*And I never even suspected. Some investigative reporter I am. The man behind the cape — he's been here all this time, and I never knew.*

Lois sipped her coffee, her dark eyes tracing the lean, muscular line of his broad shoulders.

*Just like you never looked too far beneath Lex Luthor's polished exterior, you half-wit.*

Lois set down her mug harder than she intended.

*Not now. I don't want to think about this now.*

Too many thoughts were bouncing in her exhausted brain, ones that she'd pushed away during the drive back to her apartment, during the sleepless night she'd spent staring at the ceiling above her bed.

The tortured look in Clark's brown eyes.

The pain she'd heard in his voice when he'd told her he — Superman — couldn't save everyone.

*How does he do it? How does he separate himself from Superman? And talk about a responsibility complex from hell … *

The panic she'd felt when she realized she'd forgotten to reassure him that she wouldn't tell anyone about his secret.

Driving back to his apartment at 3 a.m. to tell him so.

The elation that had rippled through her when he'd pulled her into his arms afterward.

The doubts that dogged the heels of all her thoughts.

*It's too scary to trust this — it's too much, too soon.*

Against her wishes, her mind's eye replayed the events of the past few weeks in a whirlwind, ulcer-inducing montage. Lex's unexpected proposal. Clark's subsequent declaration of love in Centennial Park. Her shaky "I love you like a brother" response. Later asking Superman if there was any hope for a relationship. Rejection. The confusion, the heartache. Accepting Lex's offer. Her pre-wedding trepidation. <"Lois Lane-Luthor. Lois Luthor-Lane. Lois Lane … Kent."> The disastrous wedding that almost was. The police raid, led by Perry and Jimmy. Lex's outrage. Lex's death. Clark, comforting her minutes later. A painful, self-imposed estrangement. Anger. Heartfelt confessions. Hurt. Denial. Love. Doubt.


Lois shook her head, trying to clear it.

Funny, how everything had seemed so small and unimportant when Clark held her outside his door this morning.

For just a few minutes, everything had faded to mere background noise, safely muffled inside a Pandora's box somewhere in the back of her mind.

She'd felt so safe, so cared for, so …

*Shut up, brain. Focus.*

She turned back to her computer screen, reluctantly dragging her eyes away from Clark, and accessed her e-mail.

Scrolling through the seemingly endless spam, she absently wondered if Clark was wearing the Suit beneath his khakis and blue button-down shirt.

*Work, Lane,* she reminded herself sternly. *But — wouldn't that get uncomfortable, all those layers? What does he do with his real clothes when he becomes the Man of Steel? And how does the cape fit under there?*

She made a mental note to ask him later.

*If we can actually hold a conversation,* Lois reminded herself soberly. *Right now, he won't even look at me.*

She sighed and scanned Perry's latest staff e-mail for two long minutes without comprehending the information before giving up. Her thoughts were too muddled.

*Was it really too much? Did we cover so much emotional ground that Clark's even more freaked out than I am? Why hasn't he even uttered a 'good morning' to me?*

She didn't know.

*You. Are. Ridiculous,* she rebuked herself.

Still, she couldn't concentrate. Her mind kept bouncing back to Clark, who was now seated at his desk, intent on a pile of newsprint.

*This is the man who can save the world six times before lunch,* Lois reflected, a little awed by the thought. *This is the man I've idolized, I've dreamed about, I've … loved. Or, at least, _thought_ I loved.*

She furrowed her brow.

*He's — he's _Clark_.*

Lois almost laughed out loud at the irony. Clark, the nice guy, the best friend. Her safety net, her support. The man she'd foolishly rejected countless times in favor of his spandex-clad alter ego.

She would've laughed, had the thought not depressed her so much.

Her gaze wandered back to Clark, watching as he absently tapped a pencil against his desk while he read through whatever story he was so focused on.

She watched him, superimposing a mental image of a bright blue suit and red cape over Clark's seated figure engrossed in research.

They blurred together, the real and the imagined, but when Lois blinked, she was staring at Clark once more.

Just Clark — the person who truly mattered.

*I'm sorry I've been so stupid,* she silently apologized. *I'm sorry I didn't know; I'm sorry you felt like you couldn't let me in.*

Lois gathered what little reserves of courage she had left and stood.

*But you can't shut me out now.*


Clark focused on his research. On the pen in his hand, scribbling away in the notepad on his desk.

His eyes flicked between the recent Planet report on gang violence in Hobbs Bay and his notes.

Anything but Lois.


His hand shook, and a line of blue ink sliced through a neatly printed column of crime-rate increases from the past eight years.

*Damn. Focus.*

He didn't dare look up from his work. He couldn't meet Lois' eyes, which he knew would be full of questions and concern.

In fact, he'd been studiously avoiding Lois since he'd arrived at The Planet an hour ago.

And he wasn't sure why.

He only knew that last night's — well, this morning's — conversation had left him more rattled than facing Nightfall the second time.

The knot in his gut was bigger, tighter, than the one he'd felt when Lois had told him she was marrying Lex Luthor.

Clark's grip tightened on his pen.

*You're such an idiot. A coward. A complete — *


*Oh, God.*

Clark's hand stilled mid-word. His eyes were riveted on his notepad. He couldn't look up. He just couldn't.

"Clark, I — I know this is a little … awkward," Lois began haltingly. "But you haven't even looked —"

Clark's head jerked up.

His eyes met Lois' gaze, and she saw the hesitation there, mirroring her own. He looked almost … scared.

"… at me," she finished quietly.

Clark raked a hand through his hair and rubbed at the back of his neck. His thoughts were racing at something approaching light-speed, but he couldn't think of a single intelligent thing to say.

Lois cleared her throat.

"Clark —"

"Lois —"

They stopped, each searching the other's features.

A smile ghosted across Lois' lips.

"You first, Kent," she said.

Clark ducked his head, embarrassed.

"I just … I don't know what to say," he mumbled, his eyes fixated on the back of his oak nameplate. "I wish I did, Lois."

He looked up at her then, losing himself in her dark eyes that were shining with compassion.

"I just —"

"Look," Lois interrupted, "I know this has to be — " She stopped and looked around to see if anyone was listening to their conversation. "Weird," she continued in a lower tone. "It is, kind of. I mean, a lot. I mean … oh, God. You know what I mean."

Clark nodded mutely, willing himself not to grin at Lois' babbling and marveling at her ability to lift his mood.

*And to think you were too damn scared to even look at her just a minute ago.*

He turned his attention back to what Lois was saying.

"… because I know and no one else knows and it's just … weird." She paused. "And, um — well … after all that happened last night … " She trailed off, unable to voice all she was feeling.

Clark took a deep breath and pressed his advantage in the sudden lull.

*Say it. Now, before you overthink.*

"Lois, let's, uh, have dinner tonight. Together."

*Smooth,* he inwardly groaned. *For a Neanderthal.*

Lois' breath hitched. For a moment, she didn't move.

*Dinner? Like a date?* She smiled. *Like a — date.*

"Clark, I'd —"


"… love to."

*Great timing,* Clark thought darkly, then quickly apologized to whatever deity might be listening to his innermost thoughts. *I didn't mean it, I swear. It's just — oh, never mind.* He nearly sighed out loud. *Superman to the rescue. Again.*

Clark looked at Lois' beaming face and his heart constricted.

*Please understand,* he silently implored.

He stood, already tugging at his tie.

"Good! Great!" He was already around the desk, backing away. "But Lois, I'm so sorry, I have to —"

She looked startled for a brief moment, but quickly recovered when the realization hit.

*I can't let him think up another lame excuse. I just can't. They're too awful. 'Return a video' — really?*

"Meet a source?" she asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Uh — y-yeah," Clark stammered, a little shaken by her response. "I'll be back, I promise — as soon as I can."

Lois grinned as she watched him go, forcing herself to ignore the knot of fear in the pit of her stomach that had formed at the thought of Clark — not merely Superman, but her *partner* — risking everything to help a stranger in trouble.

*And you think I'm going to hang around here while you save the day?*

"Jimmy! Grab your camera!"

She grabbed her bag and headed for the stairs, determined to get tomorrow's page-one Superman exclusive.

*Not a chance, Farmboy.*


Chapter Two

{*I fear I have nothing to give

And I have so much to lose here in this lonely place

Tangled up in our embrace, there's nothing I'd like better than to fall

But I fear I have nothing to give*}

— "Fear," Sarah McLachlan


He knew.

Tugging at his tie, spinning into the Suit, desperate to respond to the cries for help — running from Lois, again — he knew.

*You're going to mess this up.*

It didn't matter that she knew his secret. That she'd actually understood the true reason he'd rushed off this time, or that she'd even offered a plausible excuse so he didn't have to voice another barely feasible lie.

None of it mattered, because Clark was convinced he was going to destroy any chance he might have with Lois. He was perpetually playing a blitzkrieg game of catch-up among his personal, professional and alter ego's responsibilities.

He vaulted into the sky, flying hard toward the panicked screams reverberating in his ears, self-doubt ricocheting around his every thought.

With Lois, he could never seem to find the right words at the right time. He felt like a constant disappointment; such a sharp, hollow contrast to the perfect man she believed him — or Superman, anyway — to be.

He loved her. Of that, there was no question. But he had no idea how to save either of them from heartbreak.

*Some Superman I am,* he thought darkly, speeding toward a hysterical woman kneeling on the sidewalk. *I can protect Lois from everything but myself.*

He landed hard and fast, assuming his role as the hero as soon as his red boots hit the pavement.


The woman looked up, the anguish in her tear-filled green eyes pinning him in place, and Clark's next words lodged in his throat.

*Please, no.*

She was cradling an unconscious boy in her arms — no more than five or six years old, from the look of his small frame. Blood gushed freely from his nose, pouring down his chin and soaking into his white T-shirt. Two shopping bags were strewn next to them, forgotten.

"I — Superman — oh, thank God!" She brought a trembling, bloodstained hand to her mouth, struggling to control her emotions. "I didn't know what else to do — we were just shopping, and Adam was walking along, holding my h-hand, and he fell, he *fell* — but now — " She broke off, sobbing too hard to continue.

*Don't react. Just _act_.*

Clark crouched beside her and gently placed a hand over hers.

"Let me help," he said, his dark eyes searching her terrified gaze, communicating trust. "I'll get him to the hospital as fast as I can, and come right back for you."

She could only nod.

Clark carefully gathered the child into his arms and within seconds, he was hurtling toward Metropolis General.

*Hold on, little guy — we're almost there.*



Clark started as the unexpected voice rang down the sterile corridor outside the hospital's emergency room.

He turned.

"Lois?" *What're you doing here?*

She was walking toward him, Jimmy only a few steps behind.

"What happened?"

She had her notepad ready, pen poised to take down his answer. Her dark eyes darted from his face to the dark splotches of dried blood near his shoulder, just above the edge of the red and yellow "S" emblem on his chest.

Clark crossed his arms and concentrated on keeping his expression blank.

It was more of a struggle than ever, keeping his features studiously neutral, knowing that the flashy Suit and lack of glasses were no longer a buffer.

He'd never felt so exposed in the presence of anyone before, even Jason Trask, on both a physical and mental level. For the first time in almost a year, he was hyperaware of just how tight the Suit was, how it outlined every line and curve of his body. How Lois would never look at him in khakis and a button-down shirt in quite the same way again.

The irrational part of his brain half-expected her to laugh at him at any moment. To ask what on earth he, Clark, mild-mannered reporter extraordinaire, thought he was doing here, playing hero in skintight blue spandex and a cape.

At that moment, he almost felt like a caricature of himself. A wholly inadequate imposter.

But Lois wasn't laughing — she was waiting for an answer.

*Focus. Like it or not, you _are_ the hero right now, not the man.*

"I — " He swallowed, his mouth suddenly as dry as the blood caked onto his Suit.

*You've got to do better than that.*

His eyes cut to Jimmy, and he gave the younger man a short nod of acknowledgement.

He cleared his throat and met Lois' unreadable gaze. There was so much in her brown eyes — questions, concern, sympathy …


Clark exhaled sharply. *Focus.*

"A boy had a seizure," he managed, forcing an even tone. *Don't think about it. Don't think about the blood, or the mother's panic. Don't. Remember.*

Lois opened her mouth, but Clark interjected.

"He's stable now, and should make a full recovery." He saw Lois' shoulders relax almost imperceptibly. "The doctor said it appears to be an anomaly — there's no history of epilepsy in the family, so they're not sure what caused it," Clark continued. "We can just hope it's an isolated incident."

Lois nodded, scribbling furiously in her own version of shorthand. She looked back up at Clark.

"And the mother … ?" she asked, raising her eyebrows.

"She's with her son now," Clark replied. "They're moving him to a private room and keeping him overnight for observation."

Lois processed this information and voiced her next question without missing a beat.

"Do you think there's any way — " she began, stepping closer.

*No,* he longed to cut in, already knowing what would come next. *You need to leave this poor woman alone. Respect her privacy and give her some time with her son.*

But he didn't. This unrelenting drive was what made Lois Lane the best investigative journalist in Metropolis. Yet right now, it made his stomach clench in something scarily akin to revulsion.

"… we could talk with her?" Lois finished. "Just for two minutes?"

Jimmy nodded at Lois' words, his hopeful eyes trained on Clark.

"Yeah, Superman — you think that'd be okay? We won't take long."


Clark didn't know why he was suddenly so hostile. He was a reporter himself — he knew the lengths it sometimes took to get the truly great stories that hit readers like a punch to the gut.

But seeing Adam sprawled on the sidewalk, his terrified mother cradling the boy in her arms and covered in his blood had sliced through Clark's defenses. He tried to switch his brain to autopilot during rescues, dutifully removing his emotions from the situation to take whatever action was necessary as fast as possible. That tended made most situations easier, somehow.

Today, though, the horror, the fear and the undeniable love he'd witnessed in a scant few seconds had shaken him with its naked intensity. Now, he felt almost protective of this woman and her son; these questions felt so obtrusive. So wrong.

Lois watched him carefully.

"Superman?" she asked tentatively, placing a hand on his forearm.

Clark set his jaw against the dull ache in his chest and met Lois' gaze.

*Don't emotionally invest in this. Just don't.*

"It's not really my decision to make," he said quietly after a moment, gently removing Lois' hand.

He saw the hurt flash across her features — only for a nanosecond, to Lois' credit — and immediately knew he'd made a mistake.

*Again,* he thought sadly. *I'm messing this up again.*

"You'll — you'll have to speak with her yourselves," he said, his eyes fixed on Jimmy's earnest expression. He couldn't look at Lois now. He'd see too many questions he couldn't answer, and certainly not in front of Jimmy. If he looked at her, what was left of his resolve would disintegrate, and Clark's carefully crafted façade would crumble around his caped shoulders.

*Just go, before you do even more damage.*

"And now, if you'll excuse me …"

He walked away, inwardly cursing himself as he strode down the corridor.


*Wait. Please, wait.*

Lois swallowed back the plea and watched Clark's retreating figure, struggling to reconcile Superman's unexpectedly curt, distant demeanor with her partner's intrinsically kind, considerate nature.

*I'm not going to blow this for you,* she ached to reassure him. *I know how big this is — I'm not going to call you 'Clark' in the middle of a Superman interview.*

Still, it had been decidedly strange to see Clark — not Superman — in the Suit for the first time. Now that she knew, he was so obviously … *Clark.*

*How could I have ever been so blind, so stu — *


Jimmy's voice broke through her thoughts.

"Sorry, Jimmy. I was just — thinking." She turned to face the photographer. "What were you saying?"

"Let's go find this lady, see if she'll talk to us."

Lois nodded. "Come on."

*And don't worry about Clark,* she told herself tersely, ignoring the knot of anxiety coiled in the pit of her stomach. *Think about him later, when the story's done.*


Hours later, Clark wearily let himself into his apartment, closing the door quietly behind him.

He stood in the semi-darkness for a long minute, then loosened his tie and rubbed at the back of his neck.

*Just call her.*

His eyes darted to the cordless phone lying on the coffee table. He just had to pick up the handset and punch in Lois' number — it should've been simple. But after two more rescues and changing back into his regular clothes, he'd walked aimlessly for a half-hour, subconsciously avoiding this very decision.

*And you're still standing here. Why?*

Clark sighed.

He didn't know.

He was angry with himself, at his inexplicable trepidation.

*You're afraid,* his brain mocked. *Paralyzed. And you're supposed to have dinner together, you idiot.*

Clark tensed his jaw and checked his watch.

*Just past six — maybe … *

Before he could change his mind, he rushed to the coffee table at super-speed and picked up the phone. He dialed a familiar sequence of numbers and willed his heart rate to slow down.

*Don't blow it.*

The first ring buzzed in his ear.

Clark froze, gripping the receiver so hard he heard it creak in protest. All coherent thought had left him — he couldn't remember what he was supposed to say, what he was supposed to do.

Two rings.

He gritted his teeth.

*Just find the right words, for once.*

Three rings.

He licked his lips nervously.

Four rings.

"Hi —"

His heart leapt.

"Lois —"

"… you've reached the desk of Lois Lane at The Daily Planet. I'm currently unavailable to take your call, but please leave your name and number with a short message, and I'll get back to you as soon as I can."


He pressed "end" and tossed the phone onto the couch, watching it bounce against the cushion, trying his best to ignore the crushing, invisible wave of disappointment that washed over him.

He raked an agitated hand through his hair, seemingly at a loss.

*You have to fix this. Tonight.*

He set his jaw and abruptly spun into the Suit. He was out his window and airborne in seconds, rocketing toward Lois' apartment.

*Be there, please. I need you, Lois — and it's time I told you that.*


Chapter Three

{*You're all the things that I desire

You save me, you complete me

You're the one true thing I know I can believe*}

— "Push," Sarah McLachlan


Clark raked a shaking hand through his hair.

*Don't think. Just act.*

Before he could talk himself out of it, he raised his fist and rapped on the smooth mahogany wood.

"Lois?" he called hopefully, listening for any sounds of movement inside the apartment and unconsciously straightening his tie.

No answer.

*This is really not your day, Kent,* he thought sadly. *Poor timing all around.*

He turned away and stood for a moment, staring unseeingly down the hallway, wondering if a quick flight to The Planet would be any more fruitful.

*She wasn't there when I called, but maybe she was just away from her desk.*

Clark set his jaw. He hated this feeling — indecision and apprehension had joined forces to form a Gordian knot in his stomach.

*Just find her.*

He squared his shoulders, exhibiting a physical confidence he didn't feel, and headed for the exit.


Lois cradled her two brown grocery bags in one arm and slammed the hatch of her Jeep harder than necessary. The sound echoed through the parking garage.

*Home sweet home,* she thought darkly, her heels striking a staccato tempo on the dingy concrete as she walked toward the exit.

She should've felt satisfied. Vindicated. *Something,* surely.

She'd turned in a Kerth-worthy profile of Adam's mother. It was human interest, an area Lois had thought she'd never write, thanks to the relentless nature of investigative reporting. But the woman had spoken so openly, so honestly during her responses to Lois' every question that Superman's — *Clark's,* Lois reminded herself — rescue had merely been a news peg for the story to hang on. It had turned into a heart-wrenching portrait of a mother's love for her son without being saccharine or flowery, a mistake too many writers often made with such material.

But she didn't feel satisfied. Or vindicated. In fact, she felt anything but.

*Damn you, Clark,* she thought hatefully.

Lois expelled a noisy breath. *I'm sorry,* she amended, striding the short distance from the garage to her building's entrance. *I didn't mean it — I'm just angry. I'm sure you were doing something much more important than finalizing dinner plans with me. Like, you know, saving the world. Or something.*

She walked up the short flight of steps to the main entrance, struggling to balance the two bags in one arm while she fished for her keys.

*Note to self: Nordstrom's tomorrow. Must buy a smaller bag to find keys faster.*

Four flights of stairs later and just outside her door, she continued to fumble for the elusive key ring, her muscles beginning to protest.

The groceries were much lighter when she'd lifted them out of the Jeep, she was certain.

*One of the perks of having a man around: heavy lifting. Wait, no. Don't think about Clark. Not yet. You can cry when you're inside.*

She'd just hooked a finger around her key ring when the strap on her purse fell to the crook of her elbow, jarring her arm. The keys fell from their precarious perch on her finger, landing with a muted metallic jangle on the hall carpet.

*Typical,* Lois thought with an inward groan. *I can't wait for this day to be over.*

She moved to set her bags down so she could grab the offending keys.


Lois started at the unexpected voice. Before her brain had even registered the movement, her purse strap was back on her shoulder, her keys were back in her hand, and the groceries were taken from her arms.

She blinked.

"Clark?" *What are you doing here?*

Her dark eyes searched his face.

The scrutiny made Clark uncomfortable. His mouth was suddenly dry. He felt too warm. He'd forgotten everything he wanted to say, pinned by Lois' penetrating gaze.

*Focus. You're here to finally make this right.*

His heartbeat reverberated in his ears, a deafening cadence to his paralyzing ineptitude.

*Don't mess this up.*

"Hi," he said hesitantly, willing his voice to remain steady.

Lois opened her mouth to reply.

*That's it? 'Hi' — that's the best you can do? Where were you this afternoon? I waited for you to come back to the office, and you never did. That hurt, you inconsiderate bastard.*

But she swallowed back the angry diatribe. This wasn't going to be easy for either of them, and bludgeoning Clark with such sharp words wouldn't help.

"Hi," she said finally. "Um — thanks."

Clark looked down at the groceries in his hands. "It's no problem, really."

"How did you know … ?"

Clark gave her a small smile. "I'd just left and was walking by when you pulled into the garage."

"Oh." *So maybe he does care, after all.* Lois unlocked her apartment and opened the door, forcibly ignoring the small thrill that rippled through her. "After you," she said quietly, watching him walk into the soot-streaked kitchen and place the bags on the counter.

*Superman just carried in my groceries,* she thought distractedly.

Lois closed the door, stepped out of her heels and tossed her purse on the couch. She followed Clark into the kitchen, idly wondering when maintenance would be in to restore the fire damage, and silently unpacked her groceries.

Clark raised an eyebrow. Two bottles of wine, two pints of Ben & Jerry's Phish Food, four Double-Fudge Crunch bars, a jumbo-sized bottle of chocolate syrup …

Lois fixed him with her patented Mad Dog Lane stare.

"Don't judge, Farmboy," she warned, wagging a candy bar at him. "You exorcise your demons by flying around in a cape and helping people. I binge on comfort food."

Clark grinned and nearly told her that ice cream, chocolate, and pinot grigio didn't quite classify as "food," but then thought the better of it. That would truly infuriate Lois, and might spark an hours-long debate over semantics and the unfair rigidity of the food pyramid.

Watching as she stowed her ice cream in the freezer and placed the wine in the fridge, he marveled, not for the first time, at how Lois could lift his mood so completely.

*I love this woman.* The thought still left him slightly awed. *She deserves to know how much, and what I'd do for her. Everything.*

Clark's expression grew serious.

*Now. Before you lose your nerve.*

"Lois — " he began, but she turned to face him and interjected.

"I know," she said, her voice shaking slightly. "I know we're not here to make jokes and small talk. I know." She shook her head, her eyes focused on the charred kitchen counter. "I just wish I thought I'm ready to hear what you have to say."

An icy band of uncertainty clamped around Clark's ribs. He wished Lois would look at him, wished he knew what she meant. Anything.

"Lois?" he asked hesitantly.

Her eyes met his, and the storm of emotion he saw there rattled him more than Kryptonite exposure.

"We can't go back after this conversation," she whispered, her voice husky. "We can't."

*Oh, God.* Clark swallowed hard. "Do you really want to?"

Lois chewed her bottom lip thoughtfully.

*Do I? Do I want to go back to that place — where it's all just easy banter and no true emotional investment? And even if I did want to … how can we, after all that's been said and done already?*

"I don't know," she said finally, smoothing her skirt over her thighs. "I'd just gotten used to the idea that I'd fallen for my partner. I'd given up that whole Superman fantasy for you." She held his gaze for a long moment. "For you, Clark — just Clark. No spandex, no superhero. But then, I find out you're the same person. I think I'm dealing with that pretty well, by the way. And now, today … " She trailed off, at a loss for what to say.

"Now?" he prompted in a low voice, dreading the answer.

Lois looked down at her hands, twining her fingers together. Clark hardly dared to breathe. When she looked at him with tear-filled brown eyes, his heart constricted.

"I'm wondering — " Her breath hitched, and she drew a deep breath. *Be strong. Be honest.* "I'm wondering if you're worth it."

Clark had never been sucker-punched. But now, because of Lois' words, he instinctively knew what the term felt like.

<I'm wondering if you're worth it.>

The syllables echoed cruelly in his ears. His gut was on fire, fear and anxiety squeezing rational thought from his brain. Lois couldn't be unsure about this — she just *couldn't.* He was here to fix things, to make Lois understand how important she was to him. This was wrong. All wrong.

"Lois, no — " he protested weakly.

But she turned away, walking toward the living room.

Clark stood, frozen.

*This isn't how it's supposed to happen,* he thought sadly.

"Lois — " He stepped into the living room.

"Convince me," she challenged, standing with her arms crossed. "Right now. You can save the world, right? Well, now you can save this supposed relationship."

Lois almost wished she could take those words back. But she couldn't — so she held her ground, heart-wrenchingly certain she was about to witness Clark's ultimate failure … all because of a ridiculous ultimatum she'd thoughtlessly voiced in anger.

*Have I made a huge mistake?*

She was sure she had — Clark wasn't even looking at her. Couldn't, probably.

Clark raked a hand through his hair, amazed that it wasn't trembling.

*Find the right words,* Clark ordered himself. *Even if it kills you, find the right words this time.*

He looked up to see Lois watching him. Waiting. She was so beautiful standing there in her fitted white blouse and burgundy skirt, her dark eyes intently studying his features.

Clark took a deep breath.

"Lois, this isn't easy," he began, averting his eyes from her intense gaze. "I feel like I've messed up so many times. I've lied to you — not because I wanted to, but because I thought it was easier that way."

He looked back up, meeting her eyes so she could see the sincerity in his own. "I was so afraid that you'd become a target, and after the first lie, there had to be a second, and a third, and from there, they just snowballed until I had you — everyone — convinced that Superman was a different person, an unknown entity. Definitely not Clark Kent."

He looked back at the hardwood floor, his eyes tracing the lines of the planks. "It hurt — lying to you. To my best friend. To the woman I'm in love with."

He heard Lois' breath catch, and he paused, swallowing hard. "Every time I made some lame excuse and rushed off, my stomach clenched and I had this awful taste in my mouth because I was hurting you — and hurting myself in the process. With you, I was in a constant competition with Superman — with myself. I was an idiot for keeping up the charade for so long, and I'm so sorry, Lois. You've got to believe me."

He couldn't look at her. Not yet. Not until he was finished.

"Lois, you don't know how important you are to me. You're my reason — " He stopped abruptly and cleared his throat, his eyes still focused on the floor. *Easy. Don't scare her with too much so soon.* "You were the whole inspiration for Superman. It was you and your brilliance that allowed me to help Metropolis — and the world — in a way that allows me to have some kind of normal life.

"But more than that, you keep me going. You … you've wrecked me, Lois, in the best possible way. You inspire me. You keep me sane. And I love you for it, and for so much more. I've been in love with you for so long, and I don't know what I'd do if you weren't part of my life."

He stopped then, forcing himself not to say anything more. He didn't trust his voice, and he had no idea how Lois was about to react to his words.

*Look at her.*

The simple act of lifting his eyes had never been so difficult. Facing Nightfall the second time had been easier.

When his dark eyes, clouded with uncertainty, met Lois' tear-filled gaze, his breath hitched.

*You've ruined this, you idiot. Your last chance, and you blew it.*

"Oh, God. Lois, I'm sorry," he breathed, horrified at what he'd done. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean — look, I'll just go —"

He turned to leave, inwardly cursing himself.


And then Lois' hand was on his, bringing him up short. She stepped between him and the door and placed her palms flat against his chest.

"No," she whispered, a tear trailing down her cheek.

"But —"

She shook her head emphatically. "No," she said again, sniffling. "I'm sorry I'm crying, but I'm not upset. I just didn't know. I didn't know, Clark — I didn't know."

And then her arms were around his neck, and she was drawing his head down, closer to her. She was so warm, and he could smell the faint citrus shampoo she used, the light, sweet scent of her lotion — like sugar cookies and caramel — and the salt of her tears. Clark wrapped his arms around her and realized she was shaking.

"Lois?" he asked gently.

"I'm sorry," she whispered, her voice muffled against his shoulder. "I — this is awful. I'm such a bad person —"

"Lois, you're not —"

"Wait, you have to let me finish," she interrupted.

Clark closed his mouth.

"I was so mad at you today," she went on, "for being so weird and I thought you'd know that I wouldn't — wouldn't *out* you, especially with Jimmy there, and besides, we were in a public place and — and then it was like you just didn't care. And I was worried about you! There was blood on your Suit and I didn't know what had happened but after you told me, I just wanted to talk to that little boy's mother for two minutes — two minutes! — and you acted like I was some kind of monster, Clark, and I'm not. I'm not.

"And then I wrote this great profile and waited for you but you didn't come back and I was even more angry and I bought a ton of chocolate on my way home because I was so upset. But here you are, being absolutely honest and totally open with me, and I just didn't expect it and I'm not mad at you now — I never really was, I was mad at myself, I think — and I didn't know … God, Clark, I didn't know how much — how much —"

She stopped, breathing hard.

"I didn't know how much I meant to you," she finished in a small voice.

*So much, Lois — more than I'll ever be able to adequately articulate.*

Clark placed his hands on her upper arms and took a step backward.

"Lois, look at me."

She reluctantly met his gaze.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I should've told you sooner."

In spite of herself, Lois chuckled. "You've got to give this Superman complex a rest, partner — you can't be responsible for everything."

Clark's expression darkened. *You can't save everyone.*

Unbidden, images of Emily's mother sitting in that black Explorer, her green eyes wide with terror, flickered through his mind's eye. Her pain, her fear. He saw Adam, lying on the sidewalk, covered in blood. Phantom cries of nameless, faceless victims he'd never manage to save echoed in his ears.

His jaw clenched. "I know."

"Oh, God — Clark, I'm — I'm sorry," Lois stammered, seeing his expression. She touched her fingertips to his cheek. "I didn't mean —"

Clark closed his eyes at her touch. Her skin was so soft.

"I know," he said again. He opened his eyes to see Lois searching his features, at once both hesitant and curious.

"This kind of responsibility can be hard sometimes," he said.

Lois nodded at this admission, her hand sliding from his face to his forearm.

"I can't save everyone — I know it, but that doesn't make it any less painful," he continued, his voice raw with emotion. "But you — you save me, Lois. Every day."

*Oh, God.* Overwhelmed, Lois didn't know how to respond. "Clark, I —"

"No," he cut in. "It's all right. You don't have to — I mean, I know it's a lot to take in. I'm trying my best here not to scare you."

She licked her lips. "Um — okay. You're not scaring me, exactly. It's just … oh, Clark, I don't know — a lot."

Clark ducked his head, embarrassed. *Easy, you idiot. It's not like you're proposing here.* "You're right. I'm sorry."

"Don't be!" Lois exclaimed. "I, um, mean — it's fine. It's — Clark, it's the most amazing, most romantic, soul-shaking thing anyone's ever said to me." She bit her lower lip. "It's just going to take a little time to get used to."

Clark nodded. *Give her some time,* he thought, remembering his mom's sage advice. *Don't scare her.* "Does that mean you still want to have the dinner we agreed on?" he asked after a moment's pause, keeping his voice intentionally light.

Lois laughed out loud. "I dunno," she teased. "You were late, after all."

He checked his watch. "Wow — I didn't realize we'd been talking for so long. Aren't you starving?"

Lois grinned. "Famished. And it's all your fault."

Her heart melted at Clark's stricken expression.

"Relax, Farmboy. You just have to pick up the check."

Clark returned her grin with a smile that made her breath catch.

"You really know how to make a guy feel loved."

Lois folded her hand in his and tugged. "C'mon — we've still got a lot to talk about."


Chapter Four

{*I pull you from your tower

I take away your pain

I show you all the beauty you possess

If you'd only let yourself believe …*}

— "Adia," Sarah McLachlan


"So, tell me — why'd you run away today?"

Clark looked down at his hands. Throughout a quiet dinner at a tucked-away Italian restaurant, he'd managed to answer all of Lois' questions about his past and his abilities. But now, sitting in Centennial Park, this inquiry somehow cut deeper than the rest.

*Because I was upset. Because it was easier. Because I was afraid.*

He met her penetrating honey-brown gaze and realized how heart-breakingly beautiful she looked sitting there, her features lit by the glow of a nearby streetlamp.

"I'm sorry, Lois."

She tentatively placed a hand on his.

"I didn't ask for an apology," she said gently, inching closer to him on the concrete bench, the site of so many raw memories for both of them. "I asked for an explanation."

Clark set his jaw, and for a moment, Lois was afraid she'd gone too far. After all they'd covered tonight — after learning more about this man than she'd ever hoped to know — this was the question that had pushed Clark too hard.

*Careful,* she warned herself. *Even Superman has his limits.*

"Wait, Clark — " she began to backpedal.

"No, it's all right," he cut in. "I just — Lois, I don't know, really. It was a lot of things."

He paused, eyes riveted on Lois' hand on his. *Whatever you do, don't mess this up.* When he spoke again, his voice was no more than a hoarse whisper.

"Seeing how terrified Adam's mom was, and finding the little guy covered in blood on the sidewalk — barely getting him to the hospital in time … " He trailed off, wishing he could stop the deluge of painful images flooding his mind's eye. "And then, just when I was about to leave, you showed up with Jimmy, and I — I panicked, I guess." Clark willed his voice to remain steady. "Because you saw me — for the first time, you saw behind the cape and the spandex."

Lois' fingers tightened on the back of his hand. For the moment, it was all she could do to lend Clark this unspoken support; she didn't trust her vocal cords.

Her silence terrified Clark, but her grip on his hand gave him the courage to meet her eyes, which were liquid in the soft semi-darkness.

"I'd never felt so — so exposed," he confessed, dropping his gaze. "And I've never been so ashamed."

Lois furrowed her brow in confusion. "Why?"

*Because I let you down. Because I'm a poor excuse for a hero.*

It was too hot. The mild evening air was suddenly heavy and cloying. Lois was too close. Clark couldn't draw a deep breath. His skin was crawling and his throat was tight.

"Because I acted like an idiot," he answered quietly after a long minute. "All this time, you've thought Superman was more than — than just a man. He's this … this almost god-like figure who never makes mistakes. Who never hesitates, never gets scared."

When Clark's gaze touched hers, Lois was horrified by the naked self-loathing she saw there. But before she could say anything, Clark continued.

"But I'm hardly any of those things. I'm just me — not even close to perfect. I'm so far from the ideal that Superman represents."

He swallowed hard. *Go ahead. Admit how much of a failure you are — it's not like her opinion of you could get any lower now.*

"I make mistakes every day, Lois. Most of the time, when I'm in the Suit, I'm terrified. Not for myself, but for everyone else. The decisions I make usually affect this entire city. And, more often than I'd like, the whole world. And today, all that responsibility and all my shortcomings magnified when I saw you and Jimmy — and I didn't know what else to do, so I left."

He stopped then, his breath coming in short, shallow bursts. He burned with revulsion at his own weakness.

"I'm sorry, Lois," he whispered brokenly. "I wish I were — I just wish I were more."

*Oh, Clark.*

Lois' heart was breaking for the man beside her. She had to reassure him, to make him see.

She cupped his cheek with a trembling hand, and he reluctantly raised his head.

"Clark, don't you understand? You're so much more because of who you are. Because you're Clark Kent. Because you're real and tangible and get scared sometimes and try to have a life outside the Suit and because you're just … because you're *you.*"

She brushed her thumb tenderly across his cheekbone, an echo of the same way he'd touched her countless times both in and out of the Suit. Her eyes conveyed everything she couldn't voice.

Clark's breath hitched as he searched her features.

*What did I ever do to deserve this woman?*

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders and pulled her close.

"Thank you," he murmured, pressing his lips against her temple.

"For what?"

*Everything.* "For being here."

Lois' breath caught at the intensity emanating from Clark's dark eyes. She rested her head against his shoulder. "It's not exactly a chore."

Clark took her hand in his free one. "Lois, you have no idea how important you are to me. I wasn't kidding when I said you keep me going."

She flashed him a watery smile. "I was kind of hoping you weren't being glib."

That earned her a chuckle from him.

Clark's expression grew serious. "I can't promise you this'll be easy," he said haltingly.

She swallowed hard. "I know," she replied in a small voice. She leaned against his side, into his warmth. "But that's a promise no one can ever keep. And besides, I care about you too much to *not* trust this."

Clark let out a breath he didn't know he'd been holding.

*Thank you.*

He turned toward Lois and lowered his head until his lips were hovering centimeters from hers.

"Please don't be scared when I say this," he whispered, barely brushing his mouth against her lower lip.

Lois shivered at the contact and closed her eyes. "What's that?"

"I love you."

Before Lois had a chance to respond, he pressed his lips against hers and kissed her with everything he had, melding his love, his need, and his devotion into a single soul-searing moment.

When he pulled back, Lois licked her lips and slowly opened her eyes. "Wow."

He grinned. "Really?"

"Really. You should be careful; I could get used to that."

Clark laughed. "I'm counting on it." *For the rest of my life.*


Chapter Five

{*I will be the answer at the end of the line

I will be there for you while you take the time

In the burning of uncertainty, I will be your solid ground

And I will hold the balance if you can't look down*}

— "Answer," Sarah McLachlan


<He was happy. Truly, deliriously happy. He'd never felt so simultaneously calm and quixotic.

He just wished he could keep his hands from shaking.

It was Lois — she affected him like no other woman ever had, and no other ever would. He was sure of it.

The double doors would open any second now, and she'd walk toward him, looking more beautiful, more radiant than possibly imaginable, and he was a bundle of nerves.

Well, that just wouldn't do.

He took a deep breath just as the violinist played the first strains of the wedding march.

The doors opened, and when Lois stepped into his line of vision, that same breath left him in a rush.

Clark swallowed hard, scarcely believing such loveliness could be personified.

*She wants to spend the rest of her life with me,* he thought dazedly, barely able to string together a coherent thought. *And it's not part of some cosmic joke. She really does.*

Panic seized him.

*Oh, God. How am I supposed to recite my vows when I can't remember my own name?*

But as she glided inexorably closer, Clark's hands stopped trembling. His breathing evened out. He beamed at Lois, and she gave him a euphoric smile that calmed the last of his nerves.

His life had purpose and meaning — because of Lois.

And as she stopped next to him and they faced the altar together, Clark realized he'd never felt so secure, so certain of anything before.>


Lois squeezed Clark's hand gently, pulling him from his reverie.

He returned the gesture, pouring his love and resolve into the tender sign of affection.

*Don't think,* he warned himself. *Just believe.*

She gave him a grateful smile that was nearly his undoing. "I love you," she whispered, her voice husky.

Clark felt his heart constrict. He hated hospitals — they were too antiseptic, too unfeeling. Too unsettling on a visceral level he couldn't explain to himself, let alone his wife. And that made it all the worse — that Lois, the one person he cared about more than anyone, was at Metropolis General, waiting in a small, nondescript room that was too white, too bright, too cold to be anything but a maddening, nerve-racking holding cell.

*Everything's going to be fine,* he told himself firmly.

"I love you, too." He pressed his lips to Lois' temple. "Remember that — no matter what."


<She was captivating. Even while he was restoring her fire-damaged kitchen to its previous immaculate state, his mind was only half on the tools in his hands.

She was just that incredible — he couldn't *not* think about her.

"… and I thought there had to be some kind of connection, so I just called my source at the mayor's office and he was able to corroborate — Clark?"


He flushed guiltily. He hadn't realized he was staring quite so overtly at her animated features.

*Focus, you idiot.*

"Sorry," he said quickly, averting his eyes to survey the charred countertop before him.

But instead of admonishing him, Lois suppressed a grin. "Don't let it happen again," she teased. "The fruits of your manual labor have to hold up to an inspection when you're done, y'know."

Clark raised an eyebrow in mock surprise. "And who's going to inspect my impeccable craftsmanship?"

Lois put her hands on her hips. "Why, me, of course."

"Says the woman who set fire to her own kitchen."

Lois' eyes widened and her mouth formed an incredulous 'o.' "Clark Kent, you know that was an accident! I left the coffee maker on —"

Clark raised his hands in surrender. "I know, I know." He gave her a heart-stopping smile. "I just can't help but wonder what happens when you use the stove."



"Mrs. Kent?"

Lois started, her hand jerking in Clark's own, jarring him from his disjointed memories.

A nurse stood in the doorway, an understanding smile softening her features.

"I'm sorry it's taking so long," she apologized. "The doctor should be with you any moment now."

Lois nodded. "Thank you."

The nurse gave Lois another small smile as she shut the door on her way out.

Lois took a deep breath and let it out slowly, smoothing her hands down her black pinstriped pants. The gentle pressure of Clark's hand on her back helped soothe her nerves, but she couldn't look at her husband — not yet. She couldn't face the depthless compassion in his brown eyes without tearing up.

Clark leaned in close, his lips close to her ear.

"I love you," he whispered.

"I know," she said quietly, her voice unsteady.

Lois closed her eyes, willing away the tears that threatened to spill. If only the doctor would come through the door — if only she *knew* — she wouldn't be such a jumble of emotions. It almost didn't matter what the results were; the not knowing was infinitely worse.

She didn't realize her entire body was trembling until Clark pulled her into his embrace. He stood behind the examination table where Lois was perched and wrapped his arms around her small frame.

She leaned back, grateful for the silent support.

"I'm so glad you're here," she choked out, twisting her wedding band nervously.

"Hey," Clark said gently, covering her hand with his. "There's nowhere else I'd rather be."


<So much confusion.

Panicked screams and disembodied cries for help. Smoke and dust swirled, forming an acrid fog. The debris seemed to stretch to infinity on all sides — the crumbled remains of ruined buildings and homes, churned-up sidewalks and haphazard chunks of concrete, broken benches strewn about, a crumpled compact car and … a single, child-sized shoe.

Clark's heart nearly stopped at the sight. He fervently prayed to whatever deity was listening that that child was safe in his or her parents' comforting arms.

*Focus,* he told himself sternly. *No distractions.*

He worked tirelessly through the night, helping wherever he could, pulling survivors from the rubble, stabilizing buildings barely standing from the worst earthquake to hit Bangladesh's capital in the last century.

Hour after hour, he never stopped moving. Hesitation meant death for some victims — as long as he could move, others would live.

When the Red Crescent arrived, he set up relief areas at super-speed. He delivered the wounded to the makeshift hospital tents. He unloaded cases of water and medical supplies from the delivery trucks.

Through it all, thoughts of Lois sustained him. When he wanted to stop and take a moment to process the horror of the situation, he imagined her honey-brown eyes. And he kept moving. The faster he moved, the more people he could help, and the sooner he could be back with his wife.

He pulled all the hurt, the pain, the terror and the confusion into a tight, mental ball and pushed it into a dark corner of his mind. He ignored the fear that clawed in the pit of his stomach, threatening to overwhelm him.

And he moved. Until grey morning light dawned on the shattered city, he moved. For the victims of the earthquake — and for Lois.

"Superman." The general clapped a meaty hand on Clark's spandex-clad shoulder. "Thank you for all you've done."

"You're welcome, sir," Clark replied, returning the gesture. He dropped his hand from the general's shoulder, his dark eyes surveying the decimated area. "If you'll excuse me, I —"

"Superman, we can manage from here," the general said quietly, studying the hero's haggard features and the shadows beneath his haunted eyes. "I can't tell you how grateful we are — how grateful the world is — for your aid. Without you — " The general trailed off, unable to finish the thought. "But, please — the rest of the world needs your strength as well."

Clark wanted to argue. He knew he should — but the weight of the situation had finally settled on his weary shoulders. He'd been nothing but a blur of constant motion for more than twelve hours, and even his superhuman reserves were nearly depleted. His cape was in tatters, the Suit stained with dust, dirt, sweat and … *blood,* he realized dimly. *Blood from so many strangers.*

He met the general's concerned gaze and nodded.

The general clasped Clark's hand. "Thank you, Superman."

"Thank you," Clark replied. "If you need anything, I'll be here in no time."

With that, he vaulted into the lightening sky, racing back to Metropolis.

He had to get back to Lois — he needed her. Had to see her, hold her to diminish the horrors he'd witnessed in Dhaka.

When he stumbled into the townhouse, physically and emotionally spent, she was there.

"Clark!" Lois ran into the kitchen, where he'd fallen onto the hardwood floor. She cradled his head in her lap, wiping his dirt-streaked face with shaking fingers.

"Clark," she whispered, the pain in her voice audible. "Oh, Clark …"

She helped him out of the ruined Suit and into the shower, turning the hot water on full-blast. She joined him, scrubbing away the dirt, the sweat and the blood that caked his skin while he leaned against the tiled wall.

And when she was finished, she helped him towel off and led him to bed, wrapping her arms around him while tears — the silent, most painful kind — streamed down his cheeks.

"I love you," she whispered, stroking his hair. "So much."

"God, Lois," he managed. "I — I love you. Thank you."

"Shh," she said softly. "Don't thank me, Clark Kent. Just let me hold you."

He gave her a weak smile and closed his eyes, determined to push away everything he'd seen half a world away. It was too raw, too horrifying to process just now.

His arms tightened around Lois. "You saved me," he whispered thickly before sleep claimed him.>



Dr. Kate Reddy turned the doorknob.

The faint noise brought Clark back to the present.

Lois stiffened in his embrace.

He rubbed her upper arm in what he hoped was a soothing manner. "Honey, I'm here." *And everything's going to be fine. It has to be.*

She nodded wordlessly and swallowed hard. "I know."

Dr. Reddy stepped into the room, her blue eyes taking in Clark's protective stance and Lois' wary expression.

"Mrs. Kent, Mr. Kent," she greeted them slowly, closing the door behind her. "I'm sorry to have kept you waiting so long — I just wanted to be absolutely sure before I gave you the results."

Lois exhaled sharply. "Well?"

She felt Clark's hand tighten almost imperceptibly against her arm.

"Mrs. Kent —"

"Kate, you can call me Lois. I've been seeing you for three years now."

Dr. Reddy met Lois' resolute gaze, then looked down at the clipboard in her hands. She cleared her throat.

"Lois, there's no easy way to tell you this," Dr. Reddy began.

*Oh, God.* Clark willed his hands to remain steady.

Lois took a deep breath. "Go on."

"It's multiple sclerosis."

*No.* Clark felt his heart constrict. *Wait. Stay calm. You can deal with this. Lois can deal with this. We can handle anything. We have to.*

Lois was quiet for a long moment. "M-multiple sclerosis," she said slowly, feeling the unfamiliar syllables roll off her tongue. "I — um, I'm not sure I'm up to speed with that particular — ah, condition."

Dr. Reddy sat down on a beige stool and scooted closer to Lois and Clark.

"I'm sorry we haven't been able to pinpoint it sooner," Dr. Reddy said quietly. "It's a difficult diagnosis, and there's no known cure. Multiple sclerosis is thought to be contracted at a very early age — it's a virus that lies dormant until the patient is in his or her late twenties, thirties, or sometimes even early forties before the signs begin.

"MS turns the immune system against the body," she continued. "The white blood cells attack the myelin sheath in the brain — that's the protective coating around the nerves. The cells can cause deterioration of the myelin sheath basically anywhere, and depending on which area is affected —"

"The corresponding part of the body is affected," Clark finished tonelessly. *With no known cure,* his brain cruelly reminded him.

Dr. Reddy met Clark's red-rimmed eyes, hating herself for having to convey such devastating news to the Kents. It was in situations like this one when she regretted her choice to become a doctor.


"So that's why it's so hard to diagnose?" Lois asked, already knowing the answer.

"Yes," Dr. Reddy repeated. "It's an unpredictable disease."

Lois nodded, absently twisting her wedding band. "So — that explains this numbness I've been feeling in my left leg and left arm. I assume it'll only get worse?"

Dr. Reddy gave Lois an encouraging smile. "Well, actually, that's where I have some good news for you. MS can progress very slowly or move at an alarmingly accelerated rate, but you've got the slowly progressing kind, Lois. In the three years you've been coming here, your symptoms honestly haven't increased or intensified by much, if at all."

She leaned closer, her blue eyes shining with hope and compassion. "Lois, there's a fantastic chance that you'll be able to manage this with almost no problem. There are several treatment options that can substantially slow or even halt the progression —"

Lois clenched her hands in her lap. "Wait."

Surprised, Dr. Reddy fell silent in mid-sentence.

Lois shook her head, as if trying to clear it. She stared down at her hands. "Could Clark and I — I'm sorry, I know you're a busy woman, Kate — but could we have a few minutes … a-alone? Please?"

Dr. Reddy nodded. "No problem. I know this is a lot to — well." She licked her lips. "I'll — I'll be back in fifteen minutes."

When the door closed, Lois shut her eyes.

She heard Clark draw in a shaky breath behind her.

"Lois," he said gently, moving to her side. "I —"

"Clark," she interrupted, her eyes still closed, "there's something I need you to understand."

Clark cupped her cheek in his palm. "All right."

Lois opened her eyes to meet Clark's gaze, and the depth of unspoken love she saw nearly stole her next breath. And it made what she was about to say so much harder.

"This is — this is big, Clark," she said haltingly, struggling to keep her voice steady. "It's — I mean, this is something I'm going to have to deal with for the rest — for a long — " She stopped to take a deep breath, shuddering breath. "Clark, I can't ask you to … to deal with this. With me. Like this."

The tears fell then, and Lois sobbed silently, unable to contemplate the lonely, terrifying uncertainty that was suddenly her future.

"I can't," she whispered, pain coloring each syllable. "It's so unfair — I just can't — can't ask you to do this, can't ask you to w-wait around while I become some feeble, wheelchair-bound, useless —"

But then Clark's arms were around her and the solid warmth of his chest was against her wet cheek. Her tears soaked through his white dress shirt, pooling into small spots of moisture.

"Lois, don't."

She cried harder, her sobs muffled against his chest.

"I can't do this, Clark — I can't ask you to —"

"Lois, stop. Please," he interrupted, tears shining in his dark eyes. "You don't spend eight years married to someone and then turn your back on them. Besides, I'm here because I love you — sweetheart, that means you never have to *ask* me to do anything.

"I'm here for you because I want to be. Because I love you so much."

"Oh, Clark, I love you, too — you know that. But this is so much to take on and we don't know what's going to happen. You deserve someone who's fully functional and — and what if — God, Clark, what if I get to the point where I can't work? What if I can't fulfill my duties as managing editor? What if I can't walk or we can't have — have — " She couldn't finish the thought. Couldn't bear contemplating not being able to make love with her husband. A tight, invisible band had clamped around her ribs, making it difficult to breathe. "Clark, there's just so many awful possibilities."

*And I'll be here to see you through every moment,* Clark thought determinedly.

"I love you," he said softly, pulling back to look into her tear-filled eyes. "I love you, Lois, and that's going to make all the difference in this situation. You're my life, my reason for all that I do. You've been there for me so many times — you don't know all the instances when you've … you've saved me, Lois." He swallowed hard and brushed an errant tear from her cheek with the pad of his thumb. "So I'm not going anywhere — we're partners in this, just like everything else."

Lois pulled him close. "Oh, God," she breathed. "I — Clark, I don't know what to say. Th-thank you — you're … oh, Clark, you're too — " Her breath hitched. "I love you."

Then Lois was quiet in his embrace for a long minute.

"Clark?" she asked tentatively.

"Yeah?" He stroked her hair.

"I — I'm a little scared."

"Me, too."

"Actually, I'm a lot scared."

Clark managed a grim laugh, unwilling to analyze any possibilities save one. "We're going to beat this thing, Lois."

"Do you really think so?"

"I do," he replied with absolute certainty. "Nothing can stand in the way of your resolve, and you know how I get when I'm determined."

Lois gave him a small smile. "You're right."

"And you heard what Dr. Reddy said — there are a few different treatment options out there, and some of them can slow or even stop your symptoms from progressing. When she gets back, we'll learn everything we can to combat this."

"True." Lois nodded and wiped her eyes impatiently. She drew a deep breath and let it out slowly. "There. No more crying. I hate crying."

Clark kissed her forehead. "It's all right, you know."

"No. I'm ready to take this on. And win."

Clark gave her a heart-stopping smile. "I love you so much — and I hope you know this doesn't change anything."

Lois returned his smile and held out her hand. "So, partners, then?" she asked.

*Always.* Clark folded her hand in his own. "For the rest of our lives."


Editor's notes: Multiple sclerosis is a disease I've unfortunately become an impromptu expert on — my mom has been living with MS for 19 years. She was diagnosed when I was four.

Everything Dr. Kate Reddy told Lois and Clark about the disease should be correct; it's gleaned from my own working knowledge of the disease and I double-checked with the National MS Society's Web site before posting. However, there's always room for error — if I've gotten anything wrong, the mistake is entirely my own.

Again, thank you for reading — all you FoLCs have been absolutely wonderful since I began posting on the message boards at the end of December, and it's much appreciated by this newbie!