House of Cards

By Matrix

Rated: PG-13

Submitted: August, 2007

Summary: Lois is having doubts about getting married to Luthor. Superman is slowly dying in a Kryptonite cage. Both realize how much the other means to them, but is there any hope of realizing both their dreams… or is it too late?

Disclaimer: I am not, nor have I ever been, an expert on anything medically related. I am not a doctor, nor do I play one on TV. <g> However, I did do research, and I did ask around (bless Sue's sweet little heart for answering all my questions). Hopefully I didn't get too far off the mark with my postulations in this story and if I did, I hope you'll all excuse me. We are dealing with science fiction here and an extra-terrestrial so hopefully you'll cut me a little slack. <g> But feel free to correct me if you find anything that glares at you. Just be gentle.

And another disclaimer: There isn't really any main villain in this fic. Luthor is in the beginning, but that's it. I say this because even though there's not a villain-plot, I'm not sure if this fic could be classified as mostly b-plot or not. <shrug> I'll let you decide that.

All characters and settings are the property of DC Comics, Warner Bros., and whoever else can legally lay claim to them. No copyright infringement is intended. This story was written purely for fun, not for profit, but the story is an original idea and belongs to me. A thank you to the writers of Lois & Clark, without them we wouldn't have this wonderful world to play in. Any scenes or dialogue from the series belong strictly to the original writers of the episodes borrowed from.

Thank you to Sue my always wonderful beta, and to Laramoon, who offered her brilliant beta services to me part way through… words can't adequately express my gratitude to both of you for your endless help and words of advice on this story. Thank you. And a thank you must be given to my GE, Julie, who has had the job of editing yet another one of my long fics. I don't know what she's done to deserve that task, but I'm indebted to her for all her help. Thank you, Julie!


Lois stared at the image in the mirror in front of her. The pristine white wedding gown was ornate and exquisite but something way too gaudy for Lois's tastes. She had wanted something more austere, something with less frills and more… her. But Lex had insisted that while no dress could properly do her justice, this dress and this extravagant veil came the closest.

She reached down and fingered one of the lace appliques that adorned the soft satin. It was too flashy, too ornate. She preferred more tasteful clothing. A wedding dress could still be beautiful — and in her opinion could showcase the bride even better — if it were simple.

But it was what Lex wanted.

That thought made her pause. Since when had she started caring so much about what Lex wanted? Lois Lane was still her own person. Being married was not going to change who she was.

Was it?

In truth, things had already changed so much. She felt like she was losing herself to all the changes. For longer than she wanted to admit her life had been her work. Her life had been the Planet. It was her anchor and she missed it dearly. Her strong fortress had been reduced to a house of cards. How easily it had been toppled. But while she missed the building itself and the work, she missed the people even more.

People who weren't going to be at her wedding.

Friends… like Clark.

Lois could feel the twinge of tears trying to start in the corners of her eyes. She took a deep breath and blinked a few times, trying to ward them off — she had been fighting back tears all afternoon.

Why was Clark being so stubborn about this? Lois knew that she could have been more tactful when he told her about his feelings for her. But what had he expected? His revelation of love for her had caught her completely off guard.

No, she had to be honest with herself. It actually wasn't such a surprise. The fact that he told her was, but not the feelings he expressed.

He had told her, back when Miranda sprayed them with her pheromone compound, that he hadn't been affected. But Lois hadn't really believed him. If there was one thing she knew with certainty, it was that Clark was attracted to her. That had been obvious almost from the moment they met — she had just sublimated her attraction to him because the last thing she wanted was another complicated affair with someone from work…

But she knew he was attracted to her; it was partly Clark's attentiveness to her that proved his attraction. While it was true that she considered him a really good friend… no, that wasn't right. If she was being honest with herself, Clark was her *best* friend. Even so, the kind of things Clark did for her, the way he put up with her for one thing, that went beyond mere friendship.

Lois reached up and wiped under her eyes where a little moisture had gathered and was threatening to smudge her mascara.

Before today, Clark had always been there for her. And it wasn't just the little things, though they were nice all by themselves.

Lois couldn't help thinking back to when Barbara Trevino had threatened her and she had gone over to Clark's apartment. It had just seemed so natural to go there. She had callously told Clark that if she had to pick a bodyguard, it wouldn't be him. But that wasn't the truth. There wasn't anyone she trusted more to protect her and be there for her. Well, almost anyone…

Sure, maybe Superman was more physically capable of protecting her, but no one had a heart like Clark's. He had taken her into his apartment that night, no questions asked. She could still feel the strength and comfort in his arms as he held her and let her cry softly against his shoulder. She could still hear his soft voice as he promised her that she would be safe with him.

Lois knew there had been more beneath the surface of that comment. He had meant she would be safe from Barbara Trevino, but he had also meant that she could trust him. He had given up his bed for her — even insisting on putting fresh sheets on it — and he had slept on the couch. Not once during that night had he made her feel uncomfortable or made her feel like he was encroaching on her privacy.

She had known then that she had feelings for him. Her feelings had been allowed to surface during the pheromone fiasco and she had tried to deny them, push them down… flippantly wave them off. But they were there and they had resurfaced. They had slowly been developing since… well, she wasn't exactly sure. But they had only grown stronger during the Nightfall asteroid incident. She had almost lost her best friend then. Besides nearly losing Superman, she had almost lost Clark. Not literally, of course. But she had really been afraid that his memory was permanently gone. It had scared her in a way that she wasn't comfortable thinking about.

Somehow Clark had found the chink in what she had thought was the impenetrable armor of her heart and he had snuck inside.

The closer they became the harder she tried to push him away. That's why she had gotten involved with Lex to begin with. Lex was safe. He was unattainable. She knew that she was only a fun, diversionary amusement for Lex. Even so, she loved the extravagant meals he lavished upon her, the trips to the opera… the gifts. And as a side benefit, it allowed her to keep her distance from Clark.

But then something unbelievable had happened. Lex had proposed to her.

Lois reached up and straightened the veil on her head. Why had she accepted? Lois wasn't really sure she had planned on ever getting married… to anyone. She was of course overwhelmed and flattered that Lex Luthor — the world's richest and most eligible bachelor — would actually be so in love with her to propose to her. Lois Lane — the bristly, hard-as-nails reporter who didn't let anyone get close to her. The woman who Cat was certain would die a lonely old spinster.

So Lois had considered Lex's proposal.

And then Clark had done the unthinkable! He had outwardly professed his love for her. She wasn't sure why she was so afraid of her feelings for Clark. Truth be told, she hadn't actually realized that she had feelings of *love* for him until that very afternoon in the park when he had laid his heart on the line and told her how he felt.

Lois had told herself all along that she really liked Clark. That they were good friends. That she cared about him as much as she could care about anyone… but not in a romantic way.

But that day she realized she had been lying to herself. She did have those kinds of feelings for him. And it had scared her. It had terrified her. She had done the only safe thing — she had told him she had feelings for him but just as a friend. It was all she could admit to. She was so stunned that she hadn't been able to even think straight.

Lois cringed at her reflection in the mirror. What had she said? Even now she couldn't believe how calloused she had been to Clark. Just moments after he had confessed his love for her, she had asked him to run and fetch Superman. How could she have done that to him?

Her stomach clenched into a tight knot. She had done it to push him away. She could have contacted Superman herself. A couple of hearty "Superman's" shouted from her apartment window would have surely gotten the Man of Steel's attention. And she really had wanted to talk to him. But she had asked Clark to find him for her because she knew it would show him that she didn't have *those* kind of feelings for him — she had those kind of feelings for Superman.

She could only bring herself to fall for men who she knew were unattainable. That was the only way to be safe. It was the only way to guarantee that she wouldn't end up with another Claude or Paul or some guy like the ones who had pursued her in college. Maybe it was just easier to be the one who's loved than to be the one doing the loving…

She knew that was certainly the case with Superman. She had known deep down — even if she didn't want to admit it — that Superman was unattainable. That was probably part of the allure. What she hadn't counted on was his blatant refusal of her. He had been so cold and aloof that night he had come to see her. He had rebuffed her and then left without so much as a goodbye. It had stung. Stung? It had hurt like hell. It had left her open and vulnerable. So when Lex had asked her once again if she would marry him, she had done the unimaginable.

She had accepted.

The tears that Lois had been holding back so fervently began abruptly spilling from her eyes and a soft sob escaped from her lips. What had she done?

Lois jumped slightly as a voice came from the other side of door, interrupting her thoughts. "Ten minutes, Mrs. Luthor."

Mrs. Luthor? Why did that sound so… wrong?

Lois took a deep breath and sniffled a couple of times as she wiped under her eyes. She looked carefully back on her image in the mirror as she practiced saying her name, "Mrs. Lex Luthor." She sniffled again. "Lois Lane Luthor." She sucked in a breath as another sob tried to escape. The name just didn't feel right. "Lois Luthor Lane," she whimpered out. A few tears escaped her eyes again and she patted them away with the tissue in her hands. It didn't matter how she said it. It was wrong. This whole situation was wrong. She shouldn't be marrying this man. This wasn't the man she wanted to be with.

She had to say it, just once. She had to see what it would have sounded like. "Lois Lane… Kent." Her voice broke on the last name.

She started crying again in earnest, mumbling her name to herself as her mother entered through the door into the spare guest room. "Oh, mom, what am I going to do," she half spoke, half sobbed.

"Oh, honey, if you're not sure," her mother began earnestly.

"It's too late!" she cried, interrupting her.

"No it's not!" her mother reprimanded her. "You do what your heart tells you to do."

Could it really be that simple? It *was* too late, wasn't it? She had already accepted Lex's proposal. She was here, in her wedding dress, and the ceremony was about to begin down in the lobby. She couldn't back out now.

As if reading her thoughts, her mother continued, "It's never too late until you say 'I do'. And then you'll live with the regret the rest of your life or your marriage will end in failure like mine and your father's did. Don't marry someone who isn't right for you, honey. Divorce is a terrible thing to have to go through. Believe me. I know."

"But mom, I said yes. Lex Luthor is well respected. He is a humanitarian and would be a good provider and…"

Her mother took her by the arms and turned Lois to face her. "Do you love him?"

Lois's heart stammered. Did she love him? She liked him a lot. She loved the things that he had done for the city. Her pride was enamored and flattered by the attention that he lavished on her. And truthfully she was probably a little infatuated with the kind of power that he held.

But if she was honest with herself, she didn't have romantic feelings for him… not the same way that she did for Clark. Or even for Superman. How could she have not realized that sooner? Or maybe she had, maybe that's why she had put off his sexual advances.

Her silence was answer enough for her mother. "Lex is still in his bedroom across the hall. Do you want me to go get him?"

Lois hesitated. Could she do this? Could she really tell Lex Luthor that she was backing out of the wedding?

Yes. Yes she could… she would… she had to. She nodded softly at her mother. "Yes, please."

She watched her mother disappear out her door and she fidgeted for a few seconds while she waited for the inevitable. What would Lex think of her? What would the public think of her? Would they think that Lois Lane was a flake? A ditz who couldn't make up her mind? Who didn't know a good thing even when it was handed to her on a silver platter?

The door opened again and a very concerned-looking Lex walked through the door. "What's the matter, my dear? Pre-wedding jitters? Your mother said you needed to speak to me." He seemed to sense her unease and he attempted to lighten the mood. "You know it's bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding."

She nodded. "Yes, Lex, I know." It was going to be the worst luck he could imagine. She opened her mouth again, but she wasn't really sure what to say next. How do you tell someone that you're not really in love with them?

Lex walked over to her, smiling indulgently at her. For some reason the smile irritated her. "Come, come, my dear. What's this all about? Hmmmm? Everything's ready. It's time to begin. We shouldn't keep our guests downstairs waiting any longer."

He took her by the arm and attempted to lead her from the room. She finally came to her senses and planted her feet, resisting him. "No. No, Lex. I'm… I'm sorry," she began.

He had turned to look at her when she had resisted him and now his eyebrows were beginning to furrow. "Sorry?"

"Yes, I'm sorry. But I can't marry you, Lex. I'm… I'm not in love with you. Not like I should be. And that's not fair — not to you and certainly not to me." The words were soft but she spoke them with a firm determination that almost surprised her. She almost felt like her old self again.

She couldn't be sure but his eyes seemed to darken almost imperceptibly. But then that same indulgent smile fell back into place across his face. "Come now, darling. You don't mean that. You're just nervous. You'll feel better once you walk down the aisle and say your vows."

Lois frowned. The smile told her everything she needed to know. He was trying to placate her and still get his way. Hadn't he even heard what she had just said? Didn't he care that she didn't love him? Any other man would refuse to marry a woman who had professed that they weren't in love with them. After all, he didn't even really know her that well. If they didn't have love, what did they have?

She started to pull her arm away from him and was shocked when his grip tightened on her. "Ouch, you're hurting me."

"Am I? I'm sorry, my dear." His voice almost seemed patronizing. "But you have to understand. I always get what I want. It's too late for you to back out now. You already said yes, you already promised to give yourself to me."

His words threatened to make her nauseous. 'Give herself to him.' Had she really been willing to do that? She had managed to put him off until their wedding night, telling him that she wanted things to be perfect. But she had really wanted to wait until she felt more comfortable, until she knew him a little better, until she… loved him.

But now she realized that she hadn't ever really known him at all. Maybe Clark had been right. Maybe she had been so enamored with Lex that she hadn't taken the time to see him for who he really was. Because the man standing before her right now was not a man that she wanted to spend the rest of her life with.

"No, Lex. Let me go," she protested, allowing a little heat into her voice as she ripped her arm free of his grasp. "It's not too late until I say 'I do' and sign that marriage certificate. And I can't do that. I won't. I'm in love with someone else."

Lex's eyes darkened visibly. "Who? Superman?"

Lois shook her head. "I won't deny that I have feelings for him, but that's not who I was talking about. Not that it's any of your business," she bit out.

He frowned at her and then understanding seemed to light up in his eyes. "No, it can't be," he said, shaking his head in amazement. "How perverse. You can't honestly tell me that you'd rather be with that out-of-work hayseed partner of yours over me."

A knock at the door interrupted them and Lex snarled, "Who is it?"

"Mr. Luthor this is Inspector Henderson with the Metropolis Police Department. Open up. We have a warrant for your arrest…"

"Arrest?" Lois yipped, not hearing the rest of Henderson's words. "What's he talking about, Lex?"

Lex wasn't listening to her. He was looking at a wall on the opposite side of the room. "I'm sorry to hear of your decision, my dear. I'm afraid before this day is out that you are going to deeply regret it." He walked past her headed for the other side of the room as Henderson began to bang on the door.

"Open up, Mr. Luthor, we know you're inside."

Lois heard the sound of the doorknob turning and then the door flew open. She looked back in the direction that Lex had gone and found herself in shocked amazement.

He was gone.

"Lane, where did Luthor go? Don't try to protect him or we'll have to…"

"I'm not trying to protect him, Henderson," she snapped. "He was just here. I watched him walk that way." She pointed. "Then I turned to look at the door when you came through it. When I looked back, he was gone. He must have gone out the other door."

Henderson pulled a walkie-talkie out of his coat pocket. "All units proceed to the exits of the building. I repeat all units, secure the building. Our suspect has fled the scene. I repeat, Lex Luthor has resisted arrest." He turned back to look at Lois. "Do you know where that other door leads to?"

She nodded. "A hallway. The hallway leads to his office and he has a private elevator." It was the elevator that she had been instructed to take down to the lobby floor for the wedding.

Henderson pulled out his walkie-talkie and shouted into it, "Jones, I want you to question Mrs. Cox about Lex's private elevator. Find out what stops it makes. See if she knows where he's headed. I'm on my way down in one of the main elevators to meet you." Henderson pointed at the two officers who had accompanied him inside the room. "You two fan out and secure this floor in case Luthor doesn't take the elevator and doubles back."

Lois watched in stunned amazement as the officers sprinted from the room. "What's this all about, Henderson?"

"Luthor has been charged with too many crimes for me to even go into right this moment. But I will tell you that your *fiance*," he stressed the word and Lois felt herself blanch just a little, "is guilty of arson, attempted murder, and the destruction of the Daily Planet building, just to name a few. Perry White brought the evidence to light for us. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a criminal to apprehend."

Lois stood there in shock as she watched Henderson leave the room. Clark was right. He had warned her about how dangerous he thought Luthor was. She hadn't believed him. She had even mocked him. But he was right.

Would he ever forgive her?


Clark was going to die if he didn't get out of here soon. He wasn't completely sure why he wasn't already dead. He wasn't sure how long he had been in this Kryptonite cage, but it felt like a lifetime. Every breath he took was excruciating.

He had been certain that he was going to die here, either succumbing to the Kryptonite itself or by Luthor's hand when the man came back to finish him off after his wedding ceremony.

But then Luthor had made a mistake. He had left him a way out.

Clark looked at the key he held in his hand. It had taken every ounce of strength he possessed to finally get this key. Now he wasn't sure he had the strength left to follow through and get himself out of this cage.

He was lying on his back on the cold concrete floor of the wine cellar. At least the floor should have been cold. He couldn't feel it. He couldn't really feel much of anything, anymore. His body was numb all over. The pain had been worse than anything he had ever experienced. Even his first exposure to Kryptonite hadn't felt like this but, then again, it had been a short exposure. He hadn't been trapped inside and surrounded by a cage that had been infused with it.

Just the thought of the pain returning was enough to take his breath away. Or maybe that was the pain that his breathing was causing him. That was the only thing he could still feel — knives stabbing through his chest with each breath he took.

That and the ache in his heart at knowing that Lois was here in this very building about to marry the man who would have murdered him.


She was the reason he was still alive, that he was still fighting. Even though she hadn't listened to him when he had tried to warn her about Luthor, he couldn't give up on her. He couldn't stand by and just let her marry that monster.

Lex's words came back to him, igniting a fire in his heart.

<I love Lois, I do. I really do. But she's just a little too independent, don't you think? Well, I'll take care of that…>

Lex would break her. He would extinguish the spirit that made Lois the woman that Clark had fallen in love with. And once Lex did that, he would have no further use for her.

And even if Lex wasn't able to accomplish that, Clark knew him too well. If he couldn't break her, he would take all he could and then he would kill her.

Clark shuddered with the rage that was building inside him. No! He couldn't let that happen. Not as long as there was breath left in his body. He pulled himself up from the floor and dragged himself over to the cage door. Sliding the key into the lock, being careful not to touch the glowing bars all around him, he turned the key and let out a sigh of relief at the welcome sound of the lock releasing. He pushed the door open and crawled away from the cage to a far corner in the room.

Now what? How did he proceed? He was in no shape to do anything 'super'. Who knew how long it would be before he regained his powers after this long of an exposure to Kryptonite… if he even did regain them this time. As bad as he felt right now, he should probably still be worried about making it out of here alive.

He just needed to rest for a few moments to catch his breath. He still had to figure out a way to get to Lois, to stop that ceremony. To do that, he was going to have to go as Clark Kent. Superman was in no kind of shape to be seen publicly. Clark was sure that the farther away he got from this cage and the longer he was away from it, the better he would feel. By the time he made it to the room where the ceremony was being held, he should at least have it together enough to carry on a coherent conversation with Lois.

She had wanted proof. She didn't believe him about Luthor and had wanted proof. Well he had the proof now and he would give her what she needed to stop this wedding.

And then he would leave.

She had made it clear that she didn't love him and she sure as hell didn't trust him. That had been obvious when she accepted Luthor's proposal. Clark couldn't continue on living in this city, working side by side with someone he loved, knowing that she would never feel that way about him.

And then there was Superman. He might have rebuffed her advances as Superman but she was still in love with her hero, he was sure of it. Whereas Clark himself would never be anything more in her eyes than just a friend or a partner.

And Clark needed more than that.

But first things first. He needed to change clothes. And he finally felt like he might have enough strength to manage it. There was no time to lose. The ceremony would be starting any moment. Clark wasn't able to spin back into his clothes, but he moved with all the strength he could muster and a couple of short minutes later he was Clark again.

He looked down at the suit, cape and boots he was holding in his hands. The constrictive nature of his suit had been making it hard for him to breathe, so he had opted to take it off. Plus he didn't know what he was going to face before this was all over and he didn't want to risk the suit getting exposed. He couldn't be Superman so it was probably better if he just hid his costume somewhere for now.

But where?

Clark peered out from behind the barrels he had been hiding behind. They seemed to be shielding him just a little from the effects of the Kryptonite because when he exposed himself just then, the pain hit him again full force.

This wasn't going to be fun. But he couldn't hide in here forever. He had to get out of here and up those stairs. He just had to keep it together that long and he would be okay.

The stairs.

There was a hollow area beneath the stairwell. He could stash his clothes under there and come back for them later… perhaps after the police had deactivated that cage.

Clark took a few deep breaths. It was now or never. He moved out from behind the barrels and gasped audibly as the pain slammed into him full force again. He had to get out of this tomb. He kept to the sides of the room, staying as far away from the middle and that cage as he could.

When he got to the stairwell, he quickly tucked his uniform as far back underneath it as he could reach. The pain was threatening to overtake him again, sharp shards of torture sliced through him with each movement he made. He just had to make it up the stairs. Once he got up the stairs and through that door, he would be safe.

When Mrs. Cox had led him down here, he had been surprised to find a room like this inside the LexCorp building. Although he probably shouldn't have been. Lex's living quarters occupied the whole top two floors of the building. The rest of the building was pretty much offices and laboratories, rooms and sections devoted to his vast empire. But Lex still lived out of this building, this wine cellar was evidence of that.

On his short tour, Mrs. Cox had made it a point to lead him through the lavishly decorated lobby area where the wedding was to take place today. Not far beyond that door at the top of the stairs there was a marriage ceremony about to begin. He could already hear the organ beginning to warm up. Images flashed through his mind of Lois in a beautiful white gown, her skin glowing radiantly, her glossy dark hair barely visible beneath her delicate veil… Luthor didn't deserve to see her like that.

Clark weakly began his ascent of the steps, barely able to take one at a time. He jerked his head up at the sound of the door opening above him. His eyes widened in horror as he saw Luthor step through. Why was he here? Wasn't he supposed to be at the alter right about now?

Luthor's mouth gaped open in shock when he saw Clark standing on the stairs below him. "You!" he screeched. "This is your fault." He came towards the stairs and then froze when he realized that the cage below him stood empty. He let out a fierce shriek and turned his gaze back on Clark. "This is the last time you will interfere with my plans."

Clark felt his knees go weak when Luthor reached up and snatched the axe from the wall beside him. Luthor held up the deadly-looking weapon for inspection and smiled wickedly at Clark. "It appears that I have the high ground, Mr. Kent." Clark watched as if frozen in place as Luthor moved down the stairs towards him. Clark was weak and he was vulnerable, if Luthor struck at him with that axe…

"So this is who she would love? This simpering nothing that is cowering before me?" Lex gloated as he moved toward Clark.

Clark didn't understand what Luthor was talking about, but he knew he had to put some space between them and he began backing down the stairs. His mind whirled. Where could he run? There wasn't anywhere to hide down here.

Luthor advanced on him in a rush and took an unsteady swipe at Clark's throat. Clark dodged at the last second, but his attempt to evade cost him his footing and he stumbled backwards down the stairs. In that instant Luthor swung out with the axe. The steel blade penetrated Clark's vulnerable skin and he felt a red-hot heat rip through his side, sending a searing jolt of pain through him.

Clark let out an anguished cry and Luthor lunged out with the axe punching Clark in the stomach with the flat end of the blade. It knocked Clark off his feet and he fell the last couple of steps. He slammed into the rock wall behind him, hitting his head hard. The room started spinning and he slid slowly down the wall until he came to rest against the landing.

He grit his teeth. The pain from his wound was almost unbearable. He hadn't thought anything could hurt worse than the Kryptonite. Clark looked down and felt faint from the blood that was seeping into his shirt.

Luthor arrogantly strode down the stairs, smiling at Clark. "So wise so young, they say do never live long." He chuffed a short laugh. "This axe is special, Mr. Kent. It was going to be the death of Superman. I wanted the satisfaction of personally plunging this through Superman's heart — watching him suffer as he drew his last breath. You may have taken that from me, but I most certainly will get the satisfaction of killing you with it."

Clark's mind was hazy. He couldn't seem to concentrate on Luthor and the only thought he could hold on to was that he was sorry he had failed Lois. But as he watched Luthor adjust his grip on the axe, Henderson entered through the open door at the top of the stairs. His gun was drawn and aimed at Luthor. "It's over, Luthor!"

"It's never over!" Luthor snarled as he raised the axe up to plunge it into Clark's defenseless body. Henderson didn't waste any time and fired his weapon, hitting Luthor in the back between his shoulder blades. The axe slipped from Luthor's hands, clattering noisily down the stairs to the floor below, and he collapsed next to Clark. He looked up at Clark and coughed. Blood began to trickle from his mouth when he opened it. Luthor tried to speak but before he could form any words his eyes closed and his body slumped.

The world was swimming around Clark, colors and images blurring and fading and he fell over. The last thing he heard was Henderson calling his name.


Lois followed one of the officers into yet another room, questioning his retreating form, "What do you mean you can't tell me what's going on? Don't you know? Can you at least tell me if you've heard back from Henderson yet?" She was doing her best to remain calm but the officer's insistence on ignoring her was beginning to aggravate her.

The young officer stopped and turned to face her. To keep from running into him, she stopped so suddenly that the slick soles of her satin shoes slid on the polished surface of the tiled floor. "Listen, Ms. Lane, I realize you're not the person we came here to arrest today but don't push me. I might decide that the future Mrs. Luthor is disrupting the peace…"

Lois scowled at him and opened her mouth to flash a retort — how dare he call her that? — but a voice from his walkie-talkie cut her off.

"Johnson? This is Henderson. Call an ambulance. We've got a civilian down. I repeat, man down."

Officer Johnson's face paled. "Sir, do you require assistance? Have you apprehended Luthor?"

"Luthor's dead," Henderson's voice came back. Lois's eyes went wide in shock. What had happened? "Now get me that ambulance, Johnson, and tell Perry White that one of his reporters has been wounded. It's Clark Kent."

Johnson pulled a cell phone from his belt and began dialing numbers while Lois looked on in shock. Lex was dead and Clark was hurt?

Lois hurried out of the room into the hallway headed towards the elevators. Clark was hurt! She had to find him. How badly was he hurt? Henderson hadn't said, but if they were calling an ambulance that couldn't be good. She suddenly felt numb and everything seemed to tilt out of focus. Staggering forward, she reached out for the wall in front of her to steady herself.

Clark was hurt…

Lois felt a pair of arms grab hold of her and she turned dazedly to look into the eyes of her concerned editor. "Perry?"

"Lois, honey, are you all right?"

"Perry! It's Clark. I have to find Clark." She started squirming in his arms to get free of his grasp.

"Now hold on," Perry instructed her, slowly releasing her but keeping one hand on her, "You looked like you were going to pass out on me. We'll find Clark in a minute. You just need to…"

"No, Perry!" she wailed. "You don't understand. Clark's hurt. He's been wounded somehow. We have to find him." She took his hand in hers and pulled on him, urging him to come with her down the hallway. They were close to the elevator. She would get on the elevator and…

And do what? Go where? She didn't even know where he was.

"Honey, what in Elvis's name is going on?" Perry huffed, refusing to let himself be dragged with her. "How do you know Clark's hurt? I haven't even seen Clark in the last two days. What did you…"

Lois whirled on him, feeling too panicked and impatient to explain herself but understanding that she had to. "Because I heard it on the police radio. Henderson said Clark had been wounded and they were calling an ambulance. I have to find him!"

"Okay, just calm down. If they've called an ambulance then our best bet is to go downstairs and wait for it outside. All right?"

"Okay, Perry. I just… I need to find him." Lois swallowed the lump that had formed in her throat and bit back tears. He had to be all right. Please let him be okay. She hadn't even gotten to tell him yet… He didn't even know…

This time it was Perry who took the lead, taking her hand and escorting her into another room across the hallway. He was going in the wrong direction — the opposite direction of the elevators. "Perry, the elevators are…"

"I know. I have to let Jimmy know where we're going. Jimmy!" Perry bellowed as they entered the room.

"Yeah, Chief?" Jimmy yelped as he jumped and then jerked his head around to look them.

"Lois and I are going downstairs to check on Clark — don't ask, I'll tell you later. If Henderson comes looking for me you tell him Lois and I went to check on Clark. You keep an eye on Jack and I'll meet up with the two of you later, okay?"

"Sure," Jimmy said, looking thoroughly confused but knowing better than to question Perry when he was giving orders. Perry nodded at him and then turned on heel, headed back out of the room towards the elevators. Lois followed closely behind him.

They rode the elevator in silence. The ride was taking entirely too long for Lois. She glanced at the digital readout. It was going down in variables of ten and was currently displaying the fiftieth floor — she was over halfway there. Come on, come on, she thought furiously, move faster! With the wedding ceremony taking place here today, Lex had pretty much shut down the rest of the building so hopefully the elevator would have an uninterrupted trip to the ground floor.

She looked at the readout again — fortieth floor — and then began repeating to herself that Clark was going to be okay. He had to be.

But what if he wasn't? What if she never again got to see that beautiful smile light up his face? She thought back to the night he had held her in his arms when Barbara Trevino had threatened to kill her. Would she ever feel his arms around her like that again? Her mind raced to the kiss they had shared in the honeymoon suite of the Lexor hotel. Would she ever have the opportunity to kiss him like that for real?

She glanced down at her wedding dress and immediately felt tears trying to form but she held them back. She wouldn't cry, not yet, not until she knew he was okay. Then she could cry tears of relief.

But what had happened to him? All she knew was that he had been badly wounded — bad enough that it had warranted an ambulance. She looked back up at the readout — twentieth floor — and then shut her eyes. She began her mantra again — please be okay, Clark.

She opened her eyes when the bell dinged, alerting them that they had arrived at their destination. When she stepped from the elevator she was off at a run towards the front doors. She could see bright red and white bursts of light coming from the ambulance outside and each flash tore through her. If he wasn't injured that badly, they wouldn't be in such a hurry. They wouldn't still have the lights flashing like that. Would they?

Lois hit the front doors at top speed and shoved through them, not caring that part of her wedding gown had gotten caught in the side of the door and ripped. She could see them lifting a gurney up into the back of the ambulance and she hurried over to it. It was Clark, there was blood on his shirt and an oxygen mask was attached to his face.

"Clark!" she cried in a strangled voice.

"Excuse me, Miss," one of the paramedics said. He stepped in front of her to halt her progress.

"No, please. That's my friend. Is he all right? I need to see him," she begged.

"I'm sorry," he said, shaking his head. "I can't allow you in the ambulance. You'll need to…"

"Which hospital are they taking him to?" Perry's voice cut the paramedic off. He walked up behind Lois and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder.

"Metropolis Regional South." With that the paramedic left them standing there as he climbed inside the back of the ambulance and shut the doors.

"Oh, Perry," she sniffled as she watched the ambulance drive off, sirens blaring.

"Come on, honey. I'll get you there. My car's parked just over there." He gestured across the street. "I pity the person who gets in our way."


Lois walked through the automatic doors into the emergency room waiting area. Perry had dropped her off at the front door and was parking the car. She walked up to the check-in desk and tried to steady her voice as she spoke to the woman sitting there, "Can you tell me where I can find a patient who was just brought in?"

The woman was typing on her computer and didn't look up or acknowledge Lois for a few seconds. Lois was about to get impatient when the woman finally looked up at her with tired eyes and simply said, "Name?"

It must have been a busy day. Lois finally realized that the waiting room area was overflowing with people. "Clark Kent."

The woman flipped through some charts on her desk before nodding slightly. "He's in an exam room right now."

"Is he all right? Do you know how long he'll…"

"No, ma'am. I'm sorry. If you want to have a seat, I can check again for you a little later."

Lois felt her shoulders sag. She desperately wanted to see Clark, to touch him and tell him that she was here. But it wouldn't do her any good to press the woman further. It would probably just irritate her. "Thank you."

She turned around to see Perry come walking through the doors. "Did you find out anything?" he asked.

She shook her head. "The only thing they could tell me was that he's in an exam room."

Perry nodded at her. "It could be a while before we can see him." He let out a long sigh. "Listen, Lois, I can sit here and wait if you want to run home and change your clothes or…"

Lois was shaking her head. "No. I can't leave, Perry. What if something happens? Or something goes wrong? We don't even know how badly he's hurt. I have to be here." She looked down at the wedding dress she had on and fingered the tear that had been ripped into the side of it. Between her attire, her swollen eyelids and her tear-stained cheeks, she was sure she was quite a sight. But she wasn't leaving. Not until she got to see Clark and she knew that he was okay.

Perry nodded softly at her in understanding. They looked around for a place to sit but there simply wasn't any. Lois felt like her legs were going to give out and considered just sitting down on the floor, wedding dress and all. Instead she leaned against one wall and tipped her head back to rest against it, closing her eyes.

She felt Perry's hand on her shoulder and opened her eyes to look at him. "Come on, let's go, kiddo."

He turned and headed for the front doors and Lois followed behind him voicing her objection, "No, I told you, I can't leave."

"I'm not asking you to, darlin', there's a bench just outside." He pointed out the window. "You look like you could use a place to sit."

Lois frowned, not really happy with leaving the emergency room itself. But maybe she could sit for just a little while and then she could go back inside to check on Clark.

She sank onto the bench Perry had led them to with a grateful sigh. It was a pretty spring day. The air was warm and the sun was shining. And yet, something seemed wrong with that. How could the sun be shining while Clark lay inside a cold exam room in pain?

A sob tried to rise in the back of her throat. This was her fault. Clark was here and was hurt because of her. She didn't know exactly what had happened, but if Luthor was dead and Clark was injured…

Why hadn't she listened to him? Why hadn't she believed him? If he died without ever knowing… thinking that she…

Tears began to slip past her closed eyelids and her breath caught as she tried to hold them back. She felt Perry's arm slide around her shoulders and he gave her a gentle squeeze. He didn't say anything, just comforted her as she let the anxiety of the day finally wash over her.

The tangled mass of her emotions was almost too much to endure and Lois was glad when she heard the sound of a car pulling up to the curb in front of them. It gave her a needed distraction. She was a little surprised to see it was a police car and even more amazed when she saw Henderson get out, followed by Jimmy and Jack.

"White." Henderson nodded his head at Perry and then turned to look at her, "Lois." Henderson rarely used her first name and for some reason the way he had said it so softly made her want to cry. But she wasn't going to cry in front of Henderson so she bit back the tears that were threatening to begin anew.

"Thanks for dropping the boys off," Perry told him, extending his hand.

Henderson took the hand and shook it. "No problem. Listen I've gotta get down to the precinct and get some paperwork filled out, but I need to speak to Kent just as soon as he feels capable of talking."

"What happened?" Lois finally blurted out. She wasn't going to let him leave without an explanation.

"I'm not exactly sure what happened," Henderson admitted, shaking his head. "That's why I need to talk to Kent. But if you mean how did he get injured? Luthor attacked him with an axe."

Lois gasped. "Where? Where did he…?"

"Through the side of his abdomen. The wound didn't look deep — just a flesh wound — but I'm not a doctor. Clark had passed out on me by the time it was all over. I didn't get to ask him anything."

Lois's heart clenched painfully inside of her chest. It was her fault! All her fault. She had broke off the wedding with Lex and he had deduced that she was in love with Clark and he had… tried to kill him! But how had Clark found Luthor? Where had Clark been all that time? Perry said he hadn't seen him in almost two days. What had happened?

"Where did you find him?" she asked softly.

Henderson frowned. "They were down in the wine cellar…"

"Wine cellar?" Perry exclaimed. "Great shades of Elvis. What does a man have a wine cellar at his corporate headquarters for?"

"Because he lived there," Lois murmured. She realized that Lex was beyond eccentric. He was downright strange sometimes. What had she seen in him? "What were they doing down there?"

"You got me." Henderson shrugged. "Although, come to think of it, maybe you could help me out with something else." He stepped away and opened the door to his car. He pulled out a box and brought it over to her. "You and Superman seem to be pretty close. At least you write an awful lot of exclusives about him." He handed her the box. "Have you seen him in the past couple of days?"

Lois looked down into the box. It contained the pieces of Superman's uniform. What in the heck?

"Hey! Those are Superman's! Where did you get those?" Jimmy piped up before Lois could say anything. Jack reached inside and fingered the material of the cape, his expression darkening.

"Under the staircase in the wine cellar. When I went down to retrieve the axe I found them." Henderson furrowed his eyebrows. "There was a very strange cage with metal bars in the middle of the room."

"What was strange about it?" Lois asked, realizing that it was strange enough that Lex had a cage in a wine cellar to begin with…

"It was glowing. It had this strange greenish hue coming off of it. We're not really sure what it was for. But we were more than a little alarmed to have found Superman's uniform down there."

"I'd say," Jimmy spoke up. "Luthor wouldn't have these unless…" he broke off, looking a little pale.

Lois's heart lurched in her chest. "No. No, he couldn't kill Superman," she stammered. "Superman's invulnerable. There has to be some kind of logical explanation."

"Does there?" Henderson asked her, frowning. "I'd sure like to know what it is. I'd like to know what Superman's uniform was doing down in that cellar."

"Well maybe he just has some morbid fascination with Superman and it's a knock off, a copy of the suit," she suggested lamely. The idea even sounded ridiculous to her.

"Maybe," Henderson graciously conceded. "But then why did Luthor head down to that wine cellar when we came to arrest him? And why did he and Clark get into a fight? He would have killed Clark if I hadn't been there to stop him."

That's when Lois realized what had happened. Lex was dead because Henderson had killed him. Henderson had saved her partner's life. She looked up at him through misty eyes and whispered, "Thank you."

Henderson didn't look like he knew how to respond. "Yeah, well you just make sure that partner of yours returns the favor. I'm going to have a lot to answer for over this. I'm going to need Kent to give a statement about what happened down there."

Lois nodded at him. "We'll call you just as soon as we know something," she promised.

Henderson nodded at her and took the box back from her. "I've got to get back to the precinct. I'll be waiting for your call."

She watched him walk away and get back into his car. He set the box down in the seat beside him and Lois felt a shiver run through her. Superman wasn't dead. He couldn't be dead.

But why else would Lex have had his suit? And why hadn't anyone seen him the past couple of days? The last time Lois had talked to him personally was the night that he had come to her apartment at her request. The night he had told her that there couldn't be anything between them.

The night she had gotten in bed with the devil, so to speak. That's the way Clark had termed it, and now she knew why.

She should have listened to him. He was lying in there in pain and Superman was missing and it was all because of her. "It's my fault," she muttered softly.

Perry had been chatting with the two boys and he turned to look at her when he heard her voice. "What is?" he asked stiffly.

"Everything. If I had listened to Clark none of this would have ha…happened," her voice broke and she cleared it. "If I had seen past Luthor's facade and seen who he really was…"

"Don't, Lois, don't do this…"

"No, Perry! It's the truth. How could I have let him deceive me like that? I pride myself on being able to read people…"

Perry wrapped one arm around her and gave her a soft squeeze. "He fooled us all, honey."

"Not me," Jack piped up. "I never trusted the guy."

"Me either," Jimmy quickly agreed.

Perry flashed them both a warning glance and their faces fell, looking chagrined. "You can't blame yourself. This was Luthor's doing all the way. This was his fault."

"Yeah, maybe," she hesitantly agreed, feeling sullen.

"Hey," Perry said, turning her to look at him. "No maybes. The blame falls squarely on Luthor's shoulders, including what he did to you. You hear me?"

She nodded at him, feeling a lump beginning in her throat. But would Clark feel the same way?

"Okay, then," Perry continued, "Don't forget it."

Perry gave her another squeeze before releasing her. He started to turn back towards the two boys when Lois spoke again, "Perry? What happened? What things did you guys find out about Luthor?"

Perry turned back to her and sighed softly. Where did he begin?


As Lois walked towards the admissions desk to check on Clark again, she glanced back through the front glass at where Perry and the boys were still sitting. She felt like she was in shock from hearing about all of the things they had uncovered on Luthor with Clark's help.

Clark had been right. She had been about to get in bed with the devil. It scared her that she had known Lex so little. He had hidden so much from her.

Not like Clark. Lois knew Clark better than she probably knew any man; her father included. And she cared so much for him. Hopefully it wasn't too late to show him.

The lady saw her approaching and gave her a short nod. "Clark Kent, right?"

"Yes. Is he okay?"

"He had to have several stitches but they've moved him into a recovery room now. He sustained a concussion and he might still be a little groggy from that and from the pain meds."

"So I can see him?" Lois rang her hands in nervous tension. She *had* to see him.

"Yes, they've got him settled in now." The woman checked something on the clipboard in front of her and then looked back up at Lois. "Room R14. Go through the doors to my right and down the hallway. The room will be on your left."

"Thank you." Lois entered through the set of doors and began walking down the hallway glancing at room numbers on her left before stopping at the one Clark was in. She opened the door hesitantly and peeked inside. Taking a deep breath, she walked in and closed the door behind her.

The room was dark but not because it was getting dark outside yet — far from it. Someone had pulled the blinds to cover the windows. A small wall lamp above the sink in the room provided the only lighting. It had a fluorescent bulb, which cast a cold white sterile glow to the room.

Lois felt her heart race as she walked towards her partner lying motionless in the small bed. She was relieved to see, at least, that there weren't a lot of wires and tubes and things attached to his body. She didn't know if she could have handled seeing all of that. He just had one IV connected to his left hand and he had a finger cuff connected to his right middle finger — probably taking his pulse or blood pressure or something. Lois wasn't that familiar with hospitals. They weren't a place that she enjoyed visiting.

She walked up next to the bed and laid one hand softly on his arm. "Clark?" she whispered. He didn't respond. Groggy nothing, those pain meds had knocked him out. "I'm sorry," she continued, rubbing her fingertips gently up his forearm. "I'm so sorry."

As her eyes adjusted to the light, she realized that he had some bruises on his right arm. The white light made his skin look pale and the sight of the purple flesh made her eyes tear again. "So sorry," she murmured again. "You were right. You were so right and I was so wrong. When you wake up I'm going to tell you that. So you have to wake up, okay? You want to hear Lois Lane admit that she was wrong, don't you?" She laughed half-heartedly at her own joke but there was no response from Clark.

If it hadn't been for the slow rise and fall of his chest she would have felt alarmed by the sight of him. Clark was a strong, healthy looking man — very healthy looking — despite what his diet might say otherwise. She should know; she had seen him before in nothing but a towel. But she had never seen him like this. He looked so… frail. It frightened her and she averted her probing gaze from his body. As she did, the telephone on the table next to his bed caught her attention.

Had anyone phoned his parents yet? Her heart sank with the thought. She needed to call them.


"Lois?" Martha's cheerful voice greeted her. "How nice to hear from you… um, but aren't you supposed to be getting married today?"

Lois couldn't miss the strangely hopeful sound in Martha's voice and it made her grimace with guilt. "Yes, I was. I wish I were calling under better circumstances," Lois told her unsteadily.

There was a hesitant pause before Martha answered her, "Better circumstances? Is something wrong, Lois?"

"Oh, Martha, how do I say this? It's… it's Clark. He's in the hospital."

"What?" Martha asked anxiously. "Why? What happened?"

"It's a long story and I promise to fill you in on all the details later but," she took a deep breath, "Lex Luthor… wounded him." At Martha's worried gasp she hurried to continue, "He's… okay. He had to have some stitches."

"Can I talk to him?"

"No, I'm sorry, Martha. They gave him some pain meds and they seem to have knocked him out. I'm sorry no one called you earlier. Everything just happened so fast…"

"I understand," Martha replied tightly, trying to reassure her. Lois flinched. She was sure Martha did probably understand but Lois was also sure that Martha was still probably upset that she hadn't been contacted sooner. "I'm just glad you called now. Jonathan and I will catch the next flight out and be there as quickly as we can."

"I thought you might."

There was silence for a few seconds and Lois began to wonder if Martha had already hung up when she began speaking again, "Lois, can I ask you to do something for me?"


"Can you watch over him, please, until we get there?" There was another pause but before Lois could answer, Martha continued, "Don't let them treat him any further until we get there."

Lois felt her eyebrows creeping up her forehead. "Can I ask why?"

"I promise I'll explain more later. For now, you just need to know that Clark could have some very unusual reactions to medication or treatment. Promise me, Lois, please?"

Lois found herself nodding her head and she verbalized her promise. "Okay, Martha. I will. I wasn't planning on leaving him alone anyway. I'll look after him until you get here."

"Thank you. We'll be there just as soon as we can. Bye, Lois."

"Bye Martha."

Lois hung up the phone and stared at it, a weird kind of shiver running through her. The last part of that conversation felt very peculiar. She glanced back down at Clark. "What other things don't I know about you, farm boy?"

The door opening startled her and she looked up to see Perry entering the room.

"Oh, Perry! I'm sorry. I meant to come out and get you. The lady out front let me come back to see him and then I realized that no one had probably called the Kents so I called them to let them know what was going on." She glanced behind him, waiting for the door to open again but it didn't. "Where's Jack and Jimmy?"

"They don't usually like a lot of people in the room at once," Perry explained in a hushed tone. "I told Jack and Jimmy that I'd come back first and then they could take a turn."

"Oh. Well, there's not much to report on right now," she told him mechanically. "They stitched up his wound. I guess the pain meds they gave him must have knocked him out." She sighed softly, letting a little of her emotion through. "The nurse said he'd just be groggy… I really wanted to talk to him."

"Don't worry, honey," Perry said, coming up beside her and patting her arm. "I'm sure he'll wake up soon." Perry reached down and lightly patted Clark's shoulder. "You hear that, son? I need you up and at 'em. I'm not letting go of the Daily Planet without a fight and I'm gonna need all the help I can get."

Lois felt a tug at her mouth and her eyes sparkled with a watery smile as she watched the loving exchange. Perry was a softie, whether he wanted anyone to know it or not.

"Okay," Perry said, stepping away from the bed and clearing his throat softly. "I'm gonna go so Jack and Jimmy can come back. When they're done, we'll head down to the precinct to give Henderson an update. I remembered one more file of info that I need to give him on Luthor's involvement in the destruction of the Daily Planet building."

Lois blanched at the reminder of what had happened. "Perry, I'm so sorry. I still can't believe I didn't see Luthor for who he really was. He almost destroyed everything I cared about." She briefly glanced at Clark. "Almost."

"Don't you worry. The Daily Planet is not going down without a fight. I've already had one meeting with an investor I hoped might be interested, Mr. Stern…"

"Really? Was he?"

Perry let out a sigh. "No, I couldn't convince him. But I've got other names on my list. I'm not ready to give up just yet. The Daily Planet was more than just a building with offices and desks. It was more than just a newspaper. What really made the Daily Planet great were the people who worked there, like you and Clark. That and the things it stood for, like honesty and integrity. I've just got to get other people to see that," he growled in frustration.

"You will, Chief. I know you will," Lois said encouragingly. If anyone could resurrect the Daily Planet, Perry could.

An awkward silence fell upon the room and Perry cleared his throat. "I should, uh, probably get going. You know you're welcome to come down to the precinct with us. Or we could run you by your apartment…"

Lois shook her head. "No thanks, Perry. This is where I need to be right now. I don't want to run off and Clark wake up here alone. When the Kents get here then I can think about leaving."

"All right then. I'll be back first thing in the morning to check on him. You take care of yourself, okay?"

Lois nodded at him. "I will. I'll see you tomorrow."


Lois fingered the edge of the baby blue sweatshirt she was wearing. It was probably one of the ugliest items of clothing that she had ever worn. It had a big brown teddy bear on the front of it that was holding a sign that said 'get well soon'. But after having been in that wedding dress half the day, it felt like a cashmere sweater on a crisp fall evening. Bless Perry's sweet heart for buying the sweatshirt and pants for her in the hospital gift shop downstairs.

She glanced over at the trash bag that she had stuffed the wedding dress into. She'd deal with it later.

Once Perry and the boys had left and everything began calming down again, Lois had felt herself beginning to get tired. It had been a very long day, and the day wasn't over yet.

But she didn't want to fall asleep. At least not yet. She walked over to Clark's bed and stood beside it, looking down at her friend sleeping peacefully. The hair on his forehead was damp and the ends had begun to curl just slightly. She reached out and laid her hand against his forehead. It was hot. She wondered if that was normal after what he had been through.

Lois walked over to the sink. There was a paper towel dispenser hanging on the wall next to the sink. Grabbing a couple of towels, she ran them under some cool water. After squeezing the excess water out of them, she took them over to Clark and blotted the cool, wet cloths against his forehead as she whispered softly to him, "You have to cooperate with me here, Clark. They're going to keep fussing over you if your temperature doesn't come down. You've gotta work with me, partner." She sighed quietly. "You've got to wake up." She pulled the towels back and felt of them. They felt warm so she turned them over, applying the other cool side to Clark's face.

"I called your mom," she continued in a soft, soothing voice, "I bet she and your dad are in the air right now on their way here to see you." She rubbed the towels across his face lightly, wiping his cheeks and down his neck. Clark's face looked different to her and she finally realized what it was. He didn't have his glasses on.

She wondered briefly where they were. Did the hospital have them somewhere? Or had they been lost or left back at LexCorp? She draped the warmed towel across the table next to his bed and reached out with one hand to feel his face. She was satisfied to note that he felt just a little cooler. Lois stroked his cheek softly with the back of her hand and smiled at him.

"You know, you look very handsome without your glasses, Clark. You really should try wearing contacts."

She reached out with her other hand to smooth a few curls from his forehead with her fingertips. When she had them combed back to her satisfaction, she frowned down at the man lying in front of her.

Something looked very familiar about him.

Well duh, she chastised herself, he is your partner. Of course he looks familiar. She looked again, more closely. No, something definitely seemed familiar, almost in an abstract sort of way somehow. As she continued to stare at him, grasping at the idea that was tugging at the back of her mind, thoughts began to run through her head.

Henderson's earlier words came back to her mind.

<They were down in the wine cellar…>

<Why did he and Clark get into a fight…?>

<I'd like to know what Superman's uniform was doing down in that cellar…>

Lois frowned, trying to decide where her tired mind was going with this when Martha's words flashed through her mind.

<Don't let them treat him any further until we get there…>

<Clark could have some very unusual reactions to medication or treatment…>

Now that Lois thought about it, what Martha had said was very odd. She didn't want Clark to be treated any further? If he had some kind of weird allergy or medical condition why didn't she just tell Lois what it was? So Lois could tell the doctor?

She took an even closer look at him.

<You know, it's remarkable. I never noticed before… You look a lot like Superman…>

Lois had dismissed that thought when she had told Clark that while under the influence of the pheromone. It was a preposterous idea.

Wasn't it?

<You and Superman seem pretty close… Have you seen him in the past couple of days…?>

She hadn't. And that just wasn't like Superman. He might still be upset with her for whatever reason… Lois paused in her thoughts. Why *was* Superman upset with her? She had been mulling that question over and over since the night he had flown out her window without even saying goodbye. He just hadn't seemed like himself that night. At first she had thought she was imagining it. But there had been that crass remark about her putting on a robe. And he had just seemed so cold and aloof. Not at all the way he usually was when he came to see her.


And then he had obviously been avoiding her since then. She had even seen him at a public function once after her engagement to Lex, but he had taken great pains not to even make eye contact with her.

Her engagement to Lex…

Was that what was bothering him? But why? He had told her that they couldn't be together. She had wanted to know his feelings before she gave Lex an answer and he had slighted her. She had poured out her heart, told him she would love him even if he was an ordinary man and…

Lois paused and blinked a couple of times, looking at Clark again.

<…you look a lot like Superman…>

Her breath caught in her throat. She reached out with both hands and smoothed his hair back from his face. Her eyes widened at the sight of him. "No," she whispered. "No, it can't be."

Clark had been wounded. Superman was invulnerable. He couldn't be hurt. She had seen bullets bounce off his chest. She had watched him eat a bomb for crying out loud.

<There was a very strange cage with metal bars in the middle of the room… It was glowing…>

Had Lex found a way to hurt Superman? Was he that evil? Lois snorted. The man had blown up the Daily Planet. He had endangered the lives of every person in that building. Of course he was that evil.

And he knew that she was in love with Superman.

But how could he hurt Superman? The only thing even rumored to hurt Superman was Kryptonite. And she hadn't seen any proof that Kryptonite even existed.

A stray memory flitted through her mind. Mrs. Cox. She was in Lex's office reading his itinerary to him.

<The Series K field test is set for three forty-five…>

Mrs. Cox hadn't been willing to talk to her about Series K when she had asked. And Lex had oddly changed the subject when she brought it up. Lex had promised her that there wouldn't be any secrets between them and she had meant to bring it up again later but with everything going on, she had forgotten.

Could Series "K" have been short for Kryptonite? It couldn't be a coincidence, could it?

She shook her head at herself and almost laughed out loud. Lane, you are losing it. You're grasping at straws.

Was she?

She tried furiously to think of a time when she had seen the two men together — Clark and Superman — but she couldn't think of one. Not one single instance where she had seen them in the same place at the same time. That was a little weird, wasn't it? After all, Clark and Superman were friends, weren't they? When Lois had asked Clark to get a message to Superman — he'd been able to. But if they were that close, or friends, why hadn't she ever seen them together?

And then there were all those times that Clark would just dash off in the blink of an eye, with no good reason.

Lois frowned down at Clark. She needed answers. And if Clark couldn't give them to her, she knew of two people who were on their way there that just might.

She laid her hand across Clark's chest and leaned down, whispering fiercely to him, "Clark Kent, you have some explaining to do when you wake up."


Lois was awakened to a knock at the door and she jumped. It took a second for her to remember where she was.

Had she really fallen asleep? She was amazed and a little embarrassed. The knock came again and she rushed to get up out of the chair she had pulled over next to Clark's bed.

"Come in!" Lois hollered at the door without thinking. She cringed and looked over at Clark but he continued to sleep. Those drugs must have really knocked him out. She glanced back over at the door, expectantly waiting for it to open. She was sure it was probably Martha and Jonathan. If it had been a nurse, they would have just come in.

Sure enough, a half a second later Martha's concerned face appeared as she opened the door. "Oh, my boy," she said worriedly.

Lois walked over to greet her. She held out her hand but Martha pulled her in for a hug. "Thank you for watching over him, Lois. Has there been any change?"

Martha released her from the hug and she started to respond when Jonathan wrapped one arm around her in an embrace. "Hello, Lois."

The emotion in the room was starting to get to her and she had to take a deep breath so she didn't get teary-eyed again. "No, no change yet. He's just been sleeping." Staring Clark's parents in the eyes now, she began to question her earlier suspicions. Her desire to get some answers and get to the truth was warring with her need to just let Clark's parents spend some time alone with him and come to grips with the situation. "Why don't I step out and let you two have a…"

"Nonsense!" Martha replied. "There's no reason for you to leave… unless of course you were waiting to leave until we got here?"

"No." Actually that was sort of true… "I just thought you might want some time alone."

"If you want to be here, you're welcome to stay. I'm sure Clark is glad you're here."

Lois didn't want to point out that Clark was completely out of it and had no idea that she was here. Instead she kept her mouth shut and watched as Martha went over to give her son a hug.

"Oh, Clark. I'm so sorry," Martha whispered quietly. She looked back at Lois. "Where was he injured?"

"On his left side," Lois numbly replied, pointing. Before she realized what Martha was doing, she had folded Clark's covers sideways and tugged the left side of his gown up.

Clark was still modestly covered but Lois blushed furiously at his exposure… that is, until she saw the long ugly line of stitches and dried blood that marked the side of his body. The sight threatened to make her nauseous and she had to look away.

"Jonathan, I don't understand…" Martha broke off and Jonathan just nodded at her, going to her and wrapping her in his arms.

Lois's curiosity was piqued again at the intriguing interchange. She was probably reading too much into it but it sounded more like Martha didn't understand how something like this *could* happen — instead of how or why it had happened.

She knew in her heart that this probably wasn't the most appropriate time, but she couldn't stand it any longer. She was tired of being lied to and kept in the dark. There was a chance that her suspicions could be completely wrong and that they would think she was a looney for asking, but she had to do it. "Martha, Jonathan, if there's something you haven't told me about Clark, I think now would be a good time."

"What do you mean, dear?" Martha asked, staring intently at her.

"This situation could be worse than any of us thought if my suspicions hold true," Lois explained, "and I need to know the truth."

"What truth?" Jonathan asked, eyeing her warily.

Lois sighed in frustration. They were as bad as Clark. They obviously weren't going to make this easy on her, so she got right to the point. "I think there's a good chance that Lex had Kryptonite."

Martha and Jonathan's faces both paled visibly and she thought she heard Martha's breath catch. If that wasn't an admission then she didn't know what was. "Can Kryptonite kill Clark?"

Martha sighed, turning away from Lois to look back at her son. "We don't…"

"Martha, wait," Jonathan urged her.

Martha looked up and frowned at him. "No, Jonathan. She knows already. Can't you see?" She turned back to face Lois. "You do, don't you?"

Lois suddenly felt an unbridled flash of anger well up inside her. "I do now!" she huffed. Martha looked startled and it only fueled her annoyance. "He didn't trust me, did he? He told me he loved me but he didn't even trust me enough to tell me who he really was. He led me to believe that he was two different people. How could he not have expected me to choose between them? Here I thought I was being rejected when in reality I was merely being given a taste of my own medicine from the man whom I had rejected." She snorted at the irony of it.

"Lois, honey, he wanted to tell you," Martha assured her.

"Well wanting and doing are two entirely different things, aren't they?" she snipped. She couldn't believe how brazenly she was behaving but her ego and her pride had taken a huge hit and she just couldn't let it go. She looked down at her hands and was surprised to find them shaking. She was furious.

And yet a small part of her was screaming at her, chastising her for her insensitivity. Clark was hurt and his parents had just spent the last several hours on a plane to get here… only to have to see their only son lying injured in a hospital bed. How callous could she be?

She swallowed the bile that had tried to rise up the back of her throat and let out a soft sigh. This wasn't the time or place for this. "I'm sorry, Martha. That was rude and insensitive of me. It's… it's just a shock, you know?"

Martha nodded her head and gave her a soft smile. "I know. But believe me when I say that Clark did want to tell you, eventually. He just felt that right now wasn't the best time. Lex Luthor hated Superman. And with you being so closely involved with him…"

"Martha!" Lois was aghast. "I would have never told Lex about Clark. You have to believe me. I may not have known the true nature of the man, but I would have known to keep something like that a secret."

"It's not that, Lois," Martha hurried to assure her. "Of course Clark trusted you and your integrity but… well… Clark told us that Lex Luthor has ways of finding things out, and he didn't want to put you in that position."

Lois felt inexplicable tears forming in her eyes. "Clark tried to warn me about Lex but I didn't listen." A couple of tears broke free and rolled down her face. "But he didn't have any proof, and I couldn't see past my own ego. I'm so sorry."

"Oh, honey, *we're* sorry," Martha said, coming over to give her a soft hug. "What an awful way to spend what was supposed to be a happy day. No woman should have to spend her wedding day like this."

"No, but better like this than married to a monster. I was so blind."

"It's not your fault, Lois," Jonathan piped up. "Lex Luthor had a lot of people fooled. Clark knew who Lex really was *because* he was Superman. He all but admitted to Clark that he had been the one performing those tests on Superman back when Clark first created Superman."

"Yes, Clark's been quietly investigating him from the beginning," Martha continued. "Especially his connection to several deaths, including Dr. Baines. It was because of the things Superman saw that no one else could that Clark knew Lex was behind a lot of the shady things that went on in Metropolis. Clark just hadn't been able to find any solid proof before now."

Lois nodded her head and then glanced over at Clark. "Yeah, but I was blind about more than just that."

Martha patted her arm. "Well, that wasn't exactly your fault either." She looked down at Lois's odd choice of clothes and then over at the trash bag that her wedding dress was peeking out of. Martha's questioning eyes came back up to search Lois's face. "Can you tell us what happened?"

Lois nodded. "Yeah. Let me go see if they have some more chairs we can bring in here. I'm sure you guys are exhausted. And then I'll explain."


Lois had rolled and unrolled one of the elastic cuffs of her sweatshirt as she spoke, unable to sit still. She had explained the situation to Martha and Jonathan to the best of her knowledge. None of them would know any more until Clark woke up and could fill in the missing pieces.

But for now, at least, he was safe and he had someone to watch over him. For the first time today, Lois felt like she might want to go home and get out of these ridiculous sweats and into some comfortable clothes of her own.

She glanced over at the bag with her dress in it — it was a horrid reminder of the day's events. Maybe she would burn it. With the shape the dress was in she certainly wouldn't be returning it. And there was no way she was keeping it.

"Martha, Jonathan, I think since you're here now, I'm going to run home for just a bit. It's been a really long day and I could use a shower and," she gestured at her sweats, "some of my own clothes."

"Oh, of course, Lois," Martha said, reaching out to pat her hand. "You go home and relax. You've had a hard day. I'm sure Clark wouldn't want you to spend all of your time up here at the hospital."

"Yes, Lois," Jonathan agreed, "You should go home and get some sleep…"

"Thanks. I don't know if I'll sleep or not but I'll be back later. I'd like to say goodnight to Clark and check on him before I turn in." Lois got up from her chair and went over to Clark. She hesitated for just a moment before she leaned down and gave him a gentle hug. "I'll be back," she promised in a whisper.

Lois released him and patted Martha and Jonathan on their shoulders. "You make sure you call me if anything changes."

"We will," Martha promised.


Lois wasn't completely sure how she had ended up at Clark's apartment, staring at his front door. She had gone home first to shower and change clothes. A pair of jeans and a t-shirt had never felt so good.

She was fortunate that her water and electricity were still on at her apartment. As it was, her apartment felt foreign to her with half the furniture gone and all her pictures and knick-knacks missing from the walls and counters. She had spent a few days earlier that week packing up her stuff for the move to Lex's penthouse. But when Lex had learned she was moving everything herself he had put a stop to it, telling her that his people could move all of her stuff while they were gone on their honeymoon. And since part of her furniture was gone, she could only assume that they had already started.

It was going to be fun trying to sort this whole mess out.

After showering, changing her clothes, and feeding her fish, she had gone for a walk. With her wedding dress under one arm, she had set out to clear her head and look for a dumpster to deposit the garment in.

It hadn't taken her long to locate a dumpster and she had gladly pitched the thing inside it without so much as a glance back at it as she walked away. But then, instead of going home, she had continued walking.

Walking and thinking.

And she had ended up here, at Clark's apartment. She had been about to leave, had actually turned around and walked down a couple of steps, when she realized that it might be good to get Clark a couple of things while she was here. It certainly wouldn't hurt to get him a pair of fresh clothes to change into when he was released from the hospital. She knew if it were her, she wouldn't want to go home in her hospital gown; and the clothes that Clark had worn today were certainly in no shape to be worn again. So now she found herself staring at his front door with a decision to make.

Was it wrong to break-in to a friend's house? Just to get them a change of clothes?

It probably was. She had searched high and low for a hidden key but couldn't find one. She thought he used to have one under his front mat but maybe he had let Perry use that key while he was staying with Clark.

It was too bad that Jimmy, Jack, and Perry weren't still staying here, but Perry had insisted on getting them a hotel room. He had told her earlier that if she needed to find him she could call the Metropolis Tower Hotel. He said Clark didn't need a bunch of squatters hanging out at his house when he got back so they would stay at a hotel until Perry could sort out a few details with his house. He had put his house up for sale when he had retired and moved to Florida. The house hadn't sold yet, but it also no longer had any furniture or food inside of it either.

Okay, so no hidden key. Actually, now that she knew Clark was Superman, she thought it was probably not a good idea for him to have a key hidden somewhere for just anyone to break into his apartment and snoop around. Truth be known, if he ever got locked out of his apartment, he probably didn't need a key to get back in. Having super-powers surely had its advantages. She would mention that to him later.

But that didn't help Lois any now. She wouldn't have felt so bad using a spare key to get into his apartment… but using her lock-picking skills to get in?

She sighed softly and wavered a few more seconds before rummaging through her purse for the needed items. A minute later she was standing inside Clark's front door. She inhaled the familiar scent that was distinctly Clark and let out a soft sigh. Then she realized that the scent also reminded her of Superman. How had she never noticed that before? That the two of them smelled so much alike?

She glanced around the room and noted with satisfaction that the boys had done a fairly good job of picking up after themselves. They hadn't left the place a disaster at least. Lois walked down the stairs and found herself looking at things through new eyes.

This was where Superman lived.

Everything in the apartment reminded her of Clark. It was so… him. And yet, little had she known the times that she had come over to hang out with him or work on a story that she had been with Superman. It gave her a weird out-of-sorts feeling and she had to catch her breath. She was still trying to meld the two men together in her mind.

She made her way over to his closet and opened the door. She wondered briefly what clothes he would want? Definitely something soft and comfortable. She fished around until she found some dark gray cotton pants. They weren't exactly sweatpants because the legs weren't gathered at the bottom, but they had a drawstring waist and looked like they would be comfortable. For the shirt she just grabbed a white cotton t-shirt.

She started to shut the door and a thought hit her. Where did he keep his *suits*? Or did he have just the one suit? She stuck her head back inside the closet and looked around but she didn't notice anything out of the ordinary. If he did only have the one suit, she probably needed to find some way to get that back from Henderson later. She'd have to ask Clark about it when he woke up.

Poor guy. If he knew everything he was going to have to answer for when he woke up, he might not ever wake up.

Lois frowned and mentally chastised herself. She didn't even want to joke about that.

Okay, she had pants and a shirt. He probably already had shoes, but were they dress shoes? He might appreciate a pair of sneakers. She glanced down at the floor of the closet and spotted a pair. Now to find some socks.

She walked over into the bedroom area of his apartment and looked around. He had an armoire of sorts in one corner. Is that where he kept them? She opened the doors on it and found that it was filled with drawers. Probably so.

Opening one of the drawers, she looked inside and immediately felt herself blush. It was his underwear drawer. She started to close the drawer but then realized that he would definitely want a fresh pair of boxers to put on. Pulling the drawer open further she felt her flush deepen.

Oh, come on, Lois, she thought. They're just boxer shorts for crying out loud.

But still… they were *his*. She reached inside and pulled out the pair sitting on top. They had a red and black plaid pattern. She doubted he'd care very much which pair she brought or what color they were. Her mind began to drift and she found herself visualizing what Clark would look like in the boxer shorts. It wasn't hard to do because she had seen him that one time in nothing but a towel.

She felt her mouth fall open. She had seen Superman nearly naked! It was a good thing that she hadn't known he was Superman at the time because that image had already left her lying awake more times than she wanted to admit, wondering how it was that she had ended up with a partner like Clark. If she had known the fine male form she had been gawking at was really Superman…

Lois pulled her thoughts away from the vision that had come back to her mind, yet again, feeling the heat in her face spreading to other parts of her body. She quickly tucked the shorts inside the folded pair of pants she had across her arm and then began busying herself by checking the other drawers for socks.

Once she had everything she turned to walk towards the front door. As she moved past his bed, a picture on the table next to his bed caught her attention. It was a picture of them together. She picked it up with her free hand and took a closer look. Jimmy had taken it at one of those press events they had all attended together. They both had happy smiles on their faces. She remembered that night. They'd had a fun time together.

Would there be more times like that?

Now that the initial fear of losing him had passed, she was back to worrying about losing him for a whole different reason. And she was still upset with him. She was still angry at him for allowing her to believe that he was two different people. But she was also scared.

She was scared because *she* had messed up too.


She knew she could forgive him for his deception… eventually. It was always hard for her to let go of things. It wasn't easy for her to trust people to begin with and she had really begun to open up to Clark. But now, after this… she wasn't sure how she felt. It felt on some level like a slap in the face. But she would try her best to work through her feelings and not lash out at him.

But that still left him. She could forgive him, but there were also things that she had done that would require forgiveness. Would he be able to forgive her?

Lois set the picture back down on his table suddenly anxious to get back to the hospital. She noticed a pair of glasses on the table and realized that Clark probably kept several spare pairs of glasses around just in case. She smiled as she picked them up and added them to her pile.

Now she was ready to go check on him.


It was late when Lois finally made it back to the hospital — later than she had planned. She walked into Clark's room to find Jonathan and Martha fiddling with their chairs. There were a couple of extra blankets and pillows lying at the foot of Clark's bed.

"You aren't thinking of sleeping here tonight, are you?" she blurted out.

Martha looked up, a little startled by the intrusion. "Hi, Lois. You didn't need to come back here tonight. And yes, we were going to stay here with Clark tonight."

Lois frowned. "But there's nowhere for you to sleep. You can't possibly get comfortable or get any rest in those chairs."

"We'll be okay. I don't want Clark to wake up during the night and be alone." Martha looked tired and Lois knew she had to find some way to get her and Jonathan to leave and get some rest.

"I'll stay with him."

Martha raised a questioning eyebrow at her. "You've had an exhausting day too, Lois. You need your rest as much as the rest of us."

"Yeah, but I'm betting my back can handle a night in one of these chairs better than yours can." Lois smiled reassuringly at her. "You have a key to Clark's apartment, don't you?"

"No, but we found Clark's things in a bag next to his bed and his keys were with his stuff."

Lois nodded. "Then I think you should go stay at Clark's apartment tonight. I don't have a bed to go home to at my apartment right now. There's a bed at Clark's and there's no reason all of us should stay here tonight. I can call you just as soon as he wakes up. I promise."

Jonathan had been quietly staying out of it but when Martha looked like she was about to object, he spoke up, "I think that's an good idea. There's not anymore we can do tonight, Martha, and Lois is perfectly capable of keeping an eye on Clark."

Martha looked conflicted. "Lois, are you sure? We don't want to impose."

"Don't be ridiculous. Please, go home to Clark's and get some rest. He wouldn't want to wake up and find you sleeping in these uncomfortable chairs. I'll call you when he wakes up or else I'll see you first thing in the morning."

Martha hesitated and glanced over at Clark. She looked back at Lois and smiled softly. "Okay. Thank you, honey."

Lois nodded at her. "Sorry I was so late getting back. I went by his place before I came back here and picked up some clean clothes for him to wear home."

"I'm sure he'll be grateful," Martha assured her as she began packing up her things.

Lois stood back out of the way and watched while Martha and Jonathan got their stuff together and prepared to leave.

"Now you promise to call when he wakes up? Don't worry about getting us up, okay?" Martha told her.

"I will." Lois diverted her gaze as Martha and Jonathan said goodbye to Clark and gave him a hug, feeling that to watch would be an intrusion. They came over and gave her a hug as well, and then she walked them to the door. After saying goodbye, she shut the door behind them.

Lois turned to look at Clark. She was alone with him again. She walked over to his bed and gently took his left hand. "Hi there," she whispered, rubbing her thumb across the back of his hand softly. "I guess it's just you and me. Are you still hanging in there?" She reached up and felt of his forehead. It didn't feel as hot as it had earlier. That was good.

"I brought you some clothes. Probably not what you would have picked out for yourself, but go with me here. I'm not used to dressing a guy." She smiled at him and squeezed his hand before letting go of it.

"I guess I'd better rearrange the furniture a little bit and see if I can get comfortable," she mumbled more to herself than anyone. She put two of the chairs together where they were facing each other and then grabbed one of the pillows and blankets from the end of Clark's bed. She sat down in one chair and propped her feet up in the other.

As tired as she was, she didn't think she'd have any trouble sleeping in the chairs.

She was right.


Lois had no idea how long she had been asleep when she was awakened to a soft groaning sound, but judging by the lethargy in her body she hadn't been asleep long.

The dark room was illuminated only by the lights of the city shining through the window but it was enough light that she could see Clark moving around in his bed. He was making soft grunts and moans. Lois slid her feet out of the chair and stood up. She walked over and laid her hand against his head. It felt hot again. "Shhhh," she whispered. "It's okay."

She started to walk over and get some wet paper towels to blot him with again when Clark's hand on her arm stopped her.

"Lois?" he said hoarsely.

Her heart swelled in her chest. He was awake! "I'm here… I'm here," she soothed, taking his hand from her arm and holding on to it. "You're okay. You're safe now."

"Wher…" He cleared his throat. "Where am I?" he murmured softly, reaching up to rub his eyes.

"You're at the hospital…"

"What?" He pulled his hand away from his eyes and they seemed much more alert than they had a second ago.

Clark was trying to fight through the haze in his mind. What was wrong with him? Why did it seem so hard to focus? He tried to remember what had happened but it was hard to grasp onto a single thought and hold it for very long.

He took a long, deep breath and forced himself to concentrate. It began to come back to him in flashes.

Bright green bars…

Intense pain…

Hard cold floor…

Luthor mocking him…





He sucked in an unsteady breath. Why did it hurt so much to breathe? The left side of his body felt like it was on fire. "Ouch," he moaned.

"I know. I'm sorry," Lois soothed. "I can go get the nurse, maybe she can give you some more pain medication or someth…" She broke off because Clark was struggling, trying to sit up in bed. "Wait, Clark! Don't do that! You're going to hurt yourself. You might rip a stitch!" She put her hands on his shoulders and tried to force him to lie back down.

"No, Lois," he said weakly. "Please." He groaned. "I'm gonna… ugh… I'm gonna be sick."

"Oh!" she exclaimed and began frantically searching for something in the darkness… There! She spotted the outline of a kidney-shaped basin. She hadn't been in the hospital often but she knew enough to know what one of those pink plastic tubs was for. She snatched it up and held it under Clark's face. He heaved a couple of times and a little bit of bile came out. Lois wrinkled her nose at the sight of it and then looked away.

She hadn't ever been a very good nurturer, but she knew how awful she felt whenever she threw up so she used her free hand to rub Clark's back lightly. "That's it," she soothed. "You're just probably a little nauseous from the concussion, or maybe from the pain meds."

He took a shuddering breath and lay back in bed. "Thank you," he told her quietly. He could now add stomach cramps to his list of bodily aches and pains.

"You're welcome," she said softly. She grabbed the pitcher from the table next to his bed and poured some water into one of the paper cups. "Here."

Clark took the glass and rinsed his mouth, spitting into the basin she had offered him again. He lay there speechless while she emptied the basin into the sink and rinsed it out. Then she turned on a light over the sink.

Blinking against the sudden onslaught of light, he held up a hand to shade his eyes. His head was still a little foggy and to compound the problem he had a dozen different questions flashing through his mind.

"Did they stop the wedding?" That wasn't really the first question he had meant to ask, but it was what came out first.

Lois seemed to pale slightly and held up her left hand. There was no ring. She had given her engagement ring to Lex the day before because he was having the engagement ring and wedding band soldered together before the wedding.

Clark felt a bit of relief wash over him. As he tried to recall the details of what had happened, he vaguely remembered Henderson being there before he blacked out. "Did Henderson arrest Luthor?"

"Clark, Lex is… dead." She watched his body tense and then almost visibly relax.

"What happened?"

"I was hoping you could tell me. From what I know, Henderson shot Lex… to save you. Lex was going to kill you." Her voice cracked a little and she swallowed a couple of times. "You should rest." She tried to smile at him and managed to succeed. "I called your mom and dad. They were here earlier but I sent them to your apartment for the night. They didn't want to go but I told them I'd watch over you."

"Thank you," he said quietly again.

She nodded. Part of her was just dying to blurt out 'I know you're Superman!' But the other part of her knew he still wasn't well and she didn't need to add any anxiety to what he was already feeling. "You really should lay back and relax."

"I'm okay," he told her and then flinched from the throbbing in his head.

"Oh, of course you are." She rolled her eyes and then a smart response flitted through her mind. She couldn't resist. She would probably smack herself later for it but she added, "Who do you think you are? Superman?"

Clark stiffened noticeably and Lois wanted to call him on it right then and there. Instead she went over and stroked his cheek softly with her hand. "I know you're in pain, Clark. You can't hide it from me. I can see it in your eyes." She smiled at him — those big beautiful brown eyes. She had never realized how gorgeous his eyes really were until just then. He always kept them hidden behind a pair of glasses…

Obviously Clark's mind had gone to the same place hers had because his hand went immediately to his face and he got a panicked look in his eyes. "Lois, where are my glasses?"

"I'm not sure what happened to the glasses you had on, but…" She was about to tell him that she had brought him a pair from home when he interrupted her.

"I need my glasses. Please. We have to find them."

A swelling of anger seeped out and got the better of her right then. He was still trying to deceive her — still trying to play games. "Why? Did you decide that you can't see all of the sudden without them? You were fine just a few moments ago. Didn't seem to have any trouble recognizing me… in the dark," she grated, cocking an eyebrow at him but silently cursing herself for behaving like she was. She had wanted to wait to get into this with him. But patience wasn't always one of her strong suits…

And he had started it. He had brought it up.

His face flushed and he looked away from her. "So you know?" She did — he could tell from the heat in her voice and the fire in her eyes.

She sighed in frustration — at herself, at him, at the whole dang situation. "Yes, I know."

"Do my mom and dad know… that you know?"

She nodded at him. "Why do you think they agreed to leave you alone with me?" Lois fidgeted for a moment in silence, not sure she really wanted to know, but yet needing to. "What happened, Clark?"

Where did he start? He knew she was asking about what happened with Luthor, but it would help if he went back a little further than that.



"Where are you going?" Clark asked her when Lois suddenly got up from beside him and started grabbing her stuff. She had been listening to him explain what had happened, surprisingly patiently, until just then. Had she finally worked herself into a frenzy? Clark had fully been expecting her to be furious with him for keeping his secret from her.

"I'm going to LexCorp," she stated rather matter-of-factly.

That caught him off guard. "What? Why?"

She slung her purse over her shoulder and came back to his bed. She started to lean down to hug him goodbye but stopped short and stood back up, feeling very tentative about close contact with him right at this second. Her feelings were all jumbled up inside. She felt so confused and after listening to what he had gone through the past few days…

Lois suppressed a shudder. What must he think of her right now?

She pushed that thought away and steeled her resolve. "To get that chunk of Kryptonite and destroy it so they can't use it against you again." Instead of hugging him she touched his hand softly and gave it a light, reassuring squeeze. "Henderson is interested in that cage. He thinks it might have something to do with Superman since he found your suit under the stairs in the wine cellar."

"He found my suit?" Clark moaned. So much for going back for it. "Lois, I don't think this is a good idea. What if…"

"Well, I don't think you're in much of a position to argue with me." She patted his arm condescendingly. "Oh, and that reminds me. Do you have other suits? Or do we need to try and get that one back from Henderson?"

Clark frowned. "No, I have other suits, but listen to me, Lois. I don't think you should go there. Not tonight and definitely not by yourself. Just because Luthor's gone doesn't mean…"

"I know," she cut him off, already nervous and not wanting his cautionary nature to add to her growing anxiety. "I'll be careful, Clark. Don't worry. You know I did survive quite well on my own before Superman came to Metropolis."

In response, Clark muttered something to the effect of that having been a miracle and Lois scowled at him. "Listen, we don't have time to wait. Henderson will still be collecting evidence from the murder scene and also evidence related to the crimes that Lex was being charged with. We don't need Henderson getting his hands on that Kryptonite. It would become public knowledge and that's the last thing Superman… err… you need."

Lois walked around the bed to the table and picked up the phone.

"Who are you calling?"

"Your parents." She began dialing numbers.

"Wait. Lois, don't do that. It's the middle of the night and I'm…"

"I promised Clark. Your mother told me she didn't care what time it was, she wanted to know when you woke up. I'm not going to have your mother upset with me." She put the receiver up to her ear. "And I'm not going to leave you here alone while I run off to LexCorp. I don't think… Hi, Martha? It's Lois. Clark's awake."


Lois silently thanked the stars that Lex had trusted her enough to give her the entry codes into the LexCorp building, the elevators, and his living quarters. Although, seeing that she was supposed to be marrying him and moving in with him, she had needed the codes.

They had certainly come in handy now. She wasn't sure that she could have broken into LexCorp without setting off some kind of alarm, not to mention how hard it would have been to move around once she was inside. Lex had all sorts of monitoring systems and alarms in place to guard against intruders.

But with her codes she had moved effortlessly through the building. She felt a little ridiculous in her all black outfit and the scarf she had wrapped around her head. She was sure she looked absurd but she hadn't wanted anyone to recognize her in case someone took a look at the security tapes for the building. She had worn gloves too, just to make sure she didn't leave any fingerprints behind.

Everything had gone perfectly so far. But now she found herself face to face with Lex's desk and the drawer that he kept his personal files in — the one thing she didn't have a code for. Not that she needed one. This was the one place that her lock-pick skills would finally be of some use. The lock on the file drawer of his desk took her a little longer than she had expected, but after several frustrating minutes she had it jimmied open.

She squinted through the darkness at the files, wishing that she had a flashlight with her. She would have turned on the lights but felt like that might unnecessarily expose her. Thankfully his office had lots of windows and the moonlight streaming in was enough to illuminate the file names.

One file caught her attention — Series K. Lois held her breath as she opened the file and looked inside.

She had been right. Series K did stand for Kryptonite.

According to the notes and detailed reports contained inside the file, Lex had been conducting experiments with the deadly substance. Lois sat down in Lex's chair and spread the file out on his desk.

Not only had he done a field test of the Kryptonite on Superman to confirm its effects on him, he had been doing tests on the rock itself. He had ground a chunk of it down into a fine powder which had then been experimented on further — its ability to be dissolved in liquid, combined with certain chemicals and paints, and added as a component in a dirty bomb… just to name a few. In fact, the substance appeared to exist in almost every form imaginable inside the vaults of Lex Labs. There was also a report about a proposed process of duplicating Kryptonite through specialized cloning techniques.

They had possibly found a way to create more Kryptonite!

The final notes she found detailed how they had found a way to power it as some kind of force field, which is how Lex had used it on the cage that he had Superman in. The chunk that was powering the force field on the cage was down in the same place as the cage — in the wine cellar.

Lois closed the file. She started to put the file back in the drawer but then hesitated. Clark needed to know this, not to mention the fact that no one else needed to learn about it. She took the file with her as she left the office to board Lex's private elevator.

She rode the elevator down as far as it would take her, assuming that was where she would find the wine cellar. Compared with the main elevators in the building this thing moved like lightning. The initial movement as she began her decent was enough to momentarily take her breath away and she was soon at her destination.

Lois had come here to find that chunk of Kryptonite and destroy it, but she wasn't sure any more if that's what she should do.

What good would it do to destroy this one chunk if there was more?


Lois shifted the telephone receiver from one ear to the other as she glanced down at the glowing green rock inside the small cardboard box she was holding. She probably could have called from her apartment, but she was suddenly feeling a little paranoid about the whole situation and that's why she found herself standing inside a pay phone booth about three blocks down from her apartment.

The phone had rung twice now. It was still late, would he pick up?

"H…hello?" his groggy voice spoke from the phone.

"Dad?" she answered. "It's Lois."

"Lois?" There was a pause. "It's three-thirty in the morning. Are you okay?" She could hear the genuine concern in his voice and it gave her a warm feeling, just briefly.

"I know. I'm sorry I woke you but this really couldn't wait." Her father hadn't been there for pretty much her entire life. He had attempted to reconnect with her during his involvement in the boxing incident earlier that year. Before he had disappeared out of town, he had given her a number where he said she could always reach him.

And she had. And he was going to be there for her now. She needed him.

She heard him sigh softly. "Okay, princess, I'm listening. What kind of trouble are you in?"

"First, please don't call me princess. I'm a grown woman. Secondly, I'm not the one in trouble. It's a friend of mine."

"What kind of trouble are they in?" he asked, his voice betraying how seriously he was taking this.

"The worst kind. Listen, dad, what I need is a name from you. I need the name of a doctor or a scientist. It has to be someone you would trust with your life… no, with my life…"


"I know. It's okay. Trust me, I'm okay," she tried to reassure him. "But I have to have someone I can trust. I know you've met and worked with some brilliant scientists in your day. I need someone here in Metropolis who can do research on chemical components. The kind you might find… say in a meteorite that had been found. It has to be someone completely trustworthy."

The line was quiet for several seconds and Lois bit on her lip waiting for his reply.

"Klein," he finally replied with a soft sigh. "Doctor Bernard Klein. He works for STAR Labs. He's honest and hardworking. He's one of the few sincere men left in our field. If you can trust anyone, it would be him."

"Thank you, daddy."


Lois suppressed a groan. "Yes?"

"I'm sorry I didn't make it to the wedding. I bet you looked beautiful."

Lois sighed, not wanting to get into it but needing him to know. "There wasn't a wedding. I called it off. The man wasn't who I thought he was."

There was a long silence. Lois realized that her dad was probably feeling some guilt over what he considered her distrust of men. But when he spoke again, he didn't say anything about it. "I won't ask what you're involved in. You're a big girl. But, please be careful. If there's anything I can do…"

"I'll call. I promise." She closed her eyes briefly and took a breath. "Next time I call it won't be because I need something."

"It's okay. Maybe the next time you invite me into your life, I'll be there to accept." He paused for a moment and when he began speaking again, she could hear a waver in his voice. "I'm glad I could help you. I hope Dr. Klein can help too. Goodbye, sweetheart."

The emotion in his voice was unsettling and she forced her voice to remain steady, "Bye, Daddy."

She looked down at her watch and sighed. It was too early to do anything right now. She wouldn't be able to go to STAR Labs until later that morning, and she wasn't going to let the Kryptonite out of her sight until then.

That meant she wasn't going back to the hospital right now either. She wasn't going to let this stuff anywhere near Clark.

She glanced back up at the receiver. She had another call she needed to make.


Clark lay awake in his bed staring worriedly at the ceiling. The nurse had told him that he should stay awake if at all possible. It wasn't good to sleep too much right after a concussion. Apparently the pain medication they had given him had knocked him out, so he had opted not to take anymore. And now his side was really beginning to ache. But that wasn't what was keeping him awake.

Why had he let Lois go off and do something dangerous like that? Mrs. Cox had been arrested, but Luthor surely had other equally dangerous people working for him. Any one of those could be watching over things… could catch Lois. If she got into trouble, there was nothing he could do to help her. Superman was out of commission.

He shouldn't have let her go.

Yeah, like you had any say in it, he reminded himself. Lois was gonna do what Lois wanted to do… with or without his input.

And he loved her for it.

She was putting herself in danger to do something for him, to help him. But who was she really doing it for? If it had merely been Clark who was in trouble and needed help, would she still have offered herself so willingly? Or was it because she now knew that he was Superman?

Clark didn't want to play second fiddle, not even to his alter-ego. He knew on some level that he wasn't being completely rational about the whole situation, but…

Was it so much to want to be loved just for himself? Not for the special things he could do, but just for who he was? Just for the man and not the suit? Was that too much to desire? Should he have just taken what he could get? Been happy with her adoration for her superhero?

He couldn't do it. And it wouldn't have been fair to Lois either — to let her love only the superhero. Because one day she would wake up, she would realize that her idol was merely Clark in brightly-colored spandex. She needed to love him for who he really was, otherwise it wasn't real. He wanted that kind of lasting love. The kind of love that his parents have.

Clark looked over at his parents, who had fallen asleep sitting in their chairs. He winced at how uncomfortable they looked. He wished Lois hadn't called them and had just let them sleep, but he knew his mom would have been furious if she hadn't. And honestly, he was glad they were here.

Speaking of uncomfortable… Clark tried to shift a little bit to find a less painful position to lie in, but the movement pulled at his stitches and he had to bite down on his lip to keep from letting out a cry of pain. God, that hurt. He sucked in a breath and tried to relax again.

Clark almost cursed himself for wishing all those times that he could just be normal. Because this being injured and vulnerable to pain thing wasn't very fun at all. He hadn't even had the nerve to look at his wound. He remembered how scary it had been just to see his finger bleeding from that paper cut after his first Kryptonite exposure. Clark had made enough disturbing rescues before to have a pretty good idea of what it probably looked like.

The phone next to his bed rang and Clark jumped, eliciting another pain of protest from his side. He hurried to grab the receiver before it could ring a second time, hoping to catch it before it woke his parents up.

"Hello?" he said quietly into the receiver.

"Clark? Did I wake you? I'm sorry. Of course I woke you. I probably woke your parents too. I was just afraid if I didn't call you'd be worried, and I didn't want you to worry because you really need to get your rest. Are your parents still there?"

Clark was awake but, even so, he was having difficulty keeping up with her. "It's okay, Lois. I couldn't sleep. You aren't supposed to sleep a lot after a concussion," he whispered. "Mom and dad must be exhausted because even the phone ringing didn't wake them up." He hesitated for a second but when she didn't say anything, he continued anxiously, "Did you find it?"

There was silence for a couple of seconds and Clark started to worry, when she finally responded, "Mmmm. Yeah. I found it. It's taken care of. You don't have to worry about it Clark. Listen, I'll talk to you about this later. I don't want to disturb your parents so I'm gonna go sack out on the floor at my place and…"

"The floor?"

"Yeah. My bed had already been moved out, along with half my other furniture." Clark could hear the frustration in her voice. "But don't worry. I've got a pad I can sleep on. We can all get a little rest and I'll come up to the hospital later in the morning. Do you need me to bring you anything?"

Clark looked over at his pile of clothes sitting on a table in the corner of the room. He unconsciously reached up and adjusted the glasses that he was once again wearing. "No, you already brought me what I needed, Lois. Thank you." He was touched by what she had done. She had gotten his glasses to help him protect his identity and she had gone after the Kryptonite to protect his life. No one could argue how much she loved her hero. If she could have only loved Clark…

"Okay then." He could hear her yawn into the receiver. "I think I'm going to try to get some rest. I'll see you in a little while, partner."


Clark sighed softly. "Okay. Bye, Lois."


Clark hung up the receiver and went back to staring at the ceiling. Partner. Is that all she would ever see Clark as? Maybe now that she knew he was Superman, it would change even her view of her hero. Maybe too much had happened between them to go back or even to press forward.

She didn't love him. She had said she didn't. And you can't force someone to fall in love with you. Not even by pretending to be someone that you're not.

He felt another wave of pain, but it wasn't related to his injury. He had managed to save Lois, only to lose her all over again.


Lois followed the receptionist back to Dr. Klein's laboratory. When he had found out that she was Sam Lane's daughter he had been happy to take the time to meet with her.

She felt a little guilty for not discussing this first with Clark, but Lex Labs was getting dangerously close to finding a way to replicate Kryptonite. And if they did that, Superman was in trouble.

The young woman Lois had been following finally stopped outside a door and pushed a button on the intercom system. "Dr. Klein, Ms. Lane is here to see you."

A few seconds later the door opened up and an older, kind-looking man peered out at them. He slipped a pair of goggles over his bald head and smiled warmly at Lois.

"Wow. Ms. Lane. You sure have grown up." He shook his head in appraisal of her. "Your father spoke so highly of you back when I worked with him but that was when you were still in school. He had a picture of you on his desk, but you were just a kid then. Please, please, come in."

Lois found herself a little amazed to hear that her father had kept a picture of her on his desk. The man never ceased to confuse and surprise her. She nodded her thanks to the receptionist and followed Dr. Klein into his laboratory. She marveled at the beakers full of liquid, the wires and tubes flowing from one to another, some of them being heated over an open flame. It looked like the lair of a mad scientist.

"So," Dr. Klein said, taking a seat on a tall bar stool in front of one of his experiments, "I assume that this isn't a social call."

"No, unfortunately it's not." She sat the box that she had been carrying down on the counter in front of her. "But before I tell you the real reason for my visit, I have to get your ironclad assurance that what I'm about to tell you… what I'm about to show you, will never leave this room. I need the kind of confidentiality that you give your government contracts. Can you give me that?"

Dr. Klein raised an eyebrow at her. "For Sam's girl? Yeah, I can do that. Trust me, I know how to keep secrets, Ms. Lane. What's in the box?"

Lois took a deep breath, praying that she was doing the right thing and that Clark would forgive her. She tilted the box so he could see the glowing specimen of Kryptonite inside it.

"Wow! That's amazing… I don't think I've… Where did you get that?" Klein stammered.

"This," she glanced down at the rock she was holding. "Has been named Kryptonite. It's a meteorite that fell to Earth, a chunk of rock from Superman's home planet of Krypton."

"Amazing," he mumbled staring appreciatively at it. "May I?" he asked, reaching out for it. Lois handed it to him and he carried it over to a table. He picked up an instrument that resembled a pair of tongs and removed the rock from the box. Then he set it on the table and began examining it.

"This hunk of space rock is…" she started to say 'deadly' but she wasn't sure if she was ready to trust the doctor quite that far yet. "Harmful to Superman. It seems to make him sick when he's exposed to it. He isn't sure exactly how the rock affects him or why, but I was hoping that maybe you could study it, determine the extent of its effects on Superman's biology. It probably wouldn't hurt to find out if it's harmful to humans as well."

Dr. Klein was nodding at her but he seemed totally engrossed in what he was doing, like a kid with a new toy. Lois cleared her throat. "Ultimately I'm hoping you can discover some way that we can combat its effects on Superman."

The doctor continued his examination, mumbling things quietly to himself.

"Dr. Klein? Are you listening to me?" Lois finally asked exasperatedly.

He looked up and smiled sheepishly at her. "Yes, Ms. Lane, I am. And I can understand why this has to be kept quiet. You don't have anything to worry about. I will make this a top priority and I'll make sure that I'm the only one with clearance for this project."

"Thank you, Dr. Klein, and Superman thanks you."

He nodded at her. "I will of course need Superman to come in so I can do preliminary work-ups on his DNA through some blood work."

Lois's eyes widened in surprise. She obviously hadn't thought things through all the way. Of course he would need biological information on Superman if he hoped to find a way to combat the Kryptonite's effects on him. That, however, was going to be tricky. Especially since Clark didn't know what she had done, and he might not approve of it.

"When I see Superman the next time I'll let him know that in order to proceed you'll need him to come in and do some tests," she assured him.

"Good. Our next hurdle will be figuring out how to get past his invulnerability in order to draw a sample of his blood."

Lois smiled tightly at him. If only he knew how little of a problem that was right now. Clark had told her that he didn't know how long it would be before his powers started returning. That meant she needed to talk to him about this soon, while he was still vulnerable enough to get a blood sample from.

She grimaced at just the thought of that conversation.


Lois entered Clark's room to find him sleeping. His parents were nowhere to be seen. She walked quietly over to his bed and touched her hand softly to his forehead. It was much cooler than last night. That was good.

Clark's eyes fluttered open at the contact and he smiled at her. "Hi. Did you get some sleep?"

She withdrew her hand a little self-consciously. "No, not really." The truth was she hadn't even tried. Her mind had been racing since the time she had left this room only a few hours ago — it somehow felt like days ago. "It looks like you did."

He nodded. "Yeah, a little. I worried myself to sleep thinking about you."

Lois blushed. "It wasn't any big deal, really. I didn't hit a single snag getting in and out of LexCorp." She smiled and breathed on her fingernails and then rubbed them across her chest in a motion suggesting she was pretty proud of herself.

Clark's smile broadened. "I should have never doubted the awesome skills of investigative reporter, Lois Lane."

She smiled back. "Yeah. I'm pretty good at covert operations…" Her smile disappeared. "I just can't see what's right in front of my face."

His smile fell and he looked away from her. Lois shifted uncomfortably on her feet. She had hardly sat down all night and her feet were killing her. She glanced over at the chairs that Martha and Jonathan had been sitting in and decided to change the subject. "Where're your parents?"

"Down in the cafeteria," he said, without looking up. "They're early risers and have been up for a while, living on a farm will do that to you. I told them to go get something to eat."

She nodded and walked over to sit down in one of the chairs.

"Clark, I need to…" "Lois, there's something I…" They both said at the same time.

"Let me go first," Lois told him. "I did something last night that I'm not sure you'll agree with completely, at least not at first. But I need you to hear me out because I think…"

She was interrupted by a loud knock at the door. She sighed in frustration as Clark's voice rang out, "Who is it?"

"It's Henderson," the gruff voice said from behind the door.

"Come on in," Clark told him.

Henderson opened the door and walked inside. "Hi, Clark… Lois." He frowned. "I thought you were going to call me when he woke up." He fixed her with a stare.

"Cool your heels, Henderson. It was the middle of the night. You couldn't have come down here to interrogate him then anyway," she snipped.

Henderson raised his eyebrows slightly. "Not get enough beauty sleep last night, Lois?"

"Uhhh, what can I do for you?" Clark interjected.

"I just wanted to ask you a couple of questions, Kent, that's all. Nothing too strenuous."

What was he going to ask? Clark tried to keep the anxiety from his voice, "O-kay…"

Henderson came closer to Clark's bed and pulled out a notepad and pen. "First, how are you doing? Since I did come down here to check on you and not just to 'interrogate' you." He looked at Lois as he said the last part and she had the decency to look chagrined.

"As well as can be expected under the circumstances, I guess," Clark told him chivalrously. Lois frowned. She knew he had to feel like crap. Why didn't he just say so? Was it a macho thing, or a polite farm boy thing? Maybe it was just a 'superhero' thing?

Henderson nodded at him. "Good. Tell me, what do you know about Superman? What happened to him?"

Lois was watching Clark's face and she swore she could almost literally see the blood draining from it.

"Uhh, what do you mean?" Clark stammered. Lois could hear the waver in his voice. Come on, Clark, she thought at him. Don't give Henderson any reason to be suspicious.

"Surely Lois told you that we found Superman's uniform in the same room that I found you and Lex," Henderson said with an expectant-looking frown. "Did Lex do something to Superman?"

Lois bit the inside of her cheek in an effort to quell the images that were flashing through her mind. Did Lex do something to Superman? That was the understatement of the year. She had seen the cage. He had trapped Clark behind metal bars reinforced with Kryptonite and tortured him like some sort of animal.

The thought almost made her sick, but then she realized Clark looked like he was going to be ill so she decided maybe it was time for her to intercede in his behalf. "Superman was helping with the investigation into Lex," she answered for Clark. "Lex called Clark and told him that he wanted to meet with Superman. When Superman didn't come back, Clark decided something was wrong. He went to see Lex and…"

Henderson eyed her pointedly. "Excuse me, is your name Kent?" When her face flushed, he continued, "No, I didn't think so." He turned back to look at Clark. "Is that right, Clark?"

A little color seemed to have come back into Clark's face finally. "Yeah, that's about it. I went to LexCorp to confront Luthor and he caged me in that wine cellar. He came back down to check on me later, actually had the nerve to come inside the cage and threaten me. He said he would deal with me after his wedding was over. Anyway, I managed to lift the key to the cage from him and that's how I escaped." He paused for a second and glanced briefly towards Lois before continuing, "But I don't know what's happened to Superman."

Henderson let out a sigh. "I see. Well I sincerely hope he's okay. A few people at the precinct still aren't sure where they stand on the Superman issue, but I for one would miss him if he was gone."

"We'll be sure to tell him that if we see him," Clark assured him with a small smile.

"Okay," Henderson said, closing his notebook, "I guess I'm done here. Clark, as soon as you break out of here, I'm going to need you to come fill out some paperwork down at the station and give your account of what transpired yesterday."

Clark nodded. "I'll do it first thing."

"Lane," Henderson pointed at her. "I trust you'll keep yourself out of trouble while your partner's laid up and Superman's missing. I've got plenty on my plate right now without you adding to it."

Lois scowled at him. "I always stay away from trouble; trouble just has a way of finding me. I can't help it if I flush out the best stories. I'm just blessed that way."

Henderson smirked. "Yeah, well since you don't have a paper to work for right now, I don't think you need to go chasing after any hot leads." He waved to both of them as he opened the door. "You two take care. I'll see you later."

"Can you believe him?" she huffed after the door had shut.

"Well he does have a point, Lois. We are currently unemployed," Clark reminded her.

"Not for long. You should see Perry, Clark. He's been going around talking to investors about buying the paper and getting the Daily Planet back in business. He's already had one meeting with a Mr. Stern. I don't think that went exactly the way Perry planned but still, it's a start." She smiled encouragingly at him.

"Well if anyone can do it, Perry can."

She nodded. "I'm actually surprised that he hasn't come by yet this morning. He told me yesterday when he left the hospital that he'd be here first thing this morning and that's not like…" Lois broke off in mid-sentence as there was another knock at the door. For crying out loud, she thought, what was this? Grand Central Station?

"Come in," Clark answered, without even asking who was at the door. If Lois hadn't been afraid of someone overhearing her, she would have asked him if his powers were coming back. She looked up to see Martha and Jonathan walk through the door. Martha was carrying a plate of food with her that was obviously meant for Clark. Lois could tell because of the unhealthy array of foods it contained. Clark's diet no longer surprised her anymore. What did surprise her was to see Perry come walking in behind Martha and Jonathan.

"Look who we found on our way back up," Martha announced, smiling.

Perry came over and shook Clark's hand. "How ya feeling, son?"

"Like someone hit me with an axe," Clark joked lamely. "How are you, Chief?"

"Me? I'm finer than frog hair split four ways." Perry's face split into a wide grin and Clark chuckled at the funny southern saying. "I just got off the phone a little bit ago with a man whom I'd pitched the paper to, Mr. Stern. Apparently he's seriously reconsidering my proposal. There's no offer on the table yet, but it was encouraging."

"That's great, Chief," Clark said with a smile, taking the plate of food Martha was holding out to him.

"Would it help if I met with him and talked to him, Perry?" Lois asked, getting up out of her chair to offer it to Martha. Martha shook her head but Lois stepped away from the chair, insisting. "Because I can be pretty persuasive when I want to be."

Perry's face beamed in a grin. "Honey, there's a big difference between persuasive and pushy." At her look of protest, he continued, "No. I think it's best if your old editor fights this battle on his own. I just need my reporters to get well and be ready to hit the streets when we're back up and in business again."

"You got it, Chief," Clark told him, setting his plate of food off to the side on his table.

Lois frowned. "I think in order to get better that means you're going to have to eat something, Clark." She gestured at the food. "What's wrong? Don't tell me…" She crossed her arms in front of her. "You don't like hospital food."


"Clark for someone who eats Ho-ho's and Dingdongs, you can't be that picky. You need to eat something," she insisted.

Clark smiled softly at her. It wasn't often that he got to see her mother hen side. And obviously she had forgotten that he didn't really need to eat. His energy — his strength — came from the sun. "My stomach still doesn't feel up to eating anything yet."

Lois winced sheepishly at him. "Oh." She remembered Superman telling her once that he didn't have to eat but he liked to. Obviously if Clark's stomach was still iffy he wouldn't actually enjoy eating.

There was a knock at the door and then a nurse came in. "I'm going to need everyone out of the room for a little bit." She smiled at Clark. "Since you're awake and doing a little better, we can take your catheter out."

Everyone began to file out of the room and Lois reached over to pat Clark before walking away. Clark took hold of her wrist gently and stopped her. "Thank you."

"For what?"

Clark glanced over and Lois followed his eyes. His mom and dad were talking to the nurse. Clark looked back at her and continued in a quiet voice, "For helping me with Henderson and for protecting my secret. And not just *that* secret. Thank you for leaving out the part about the Kryptonite. I don't think it would be safe for anyone to know that it really can hurt me — not even Henderson."

She nodded, immediately feeling uncomfortable. Once Perry left she had planned to talk to Clark about Dr. Klein. But if what Clark had just said was any indicator, he wasn't going to be in agreement with what she had done — giving that Kryptonite specimen to Dr. Klein. In fact, he just might be angry with her when he found out. Lois decided that it would probably be better for her to just let the dust settle for a bit before she brought that point up for debate.

Suddenly, she felt uneasy being there. She felt like she needed to get some fresh air and maybe try to get a little sleep. Her body had given up complaining and was now flat out shouting pleas of protest, and her mind wasn't as sharp as it usually was. Things would look better after she'd had some sleep.

"Clark, I'm going to run home for a little while and try to get some sleep." She slipped her wrist from his hand and gave him a pat. "I'll come back and check on you later, okay?"

Clark nodded. He could tell she was exhausted and he could use some more sleep himself. "Okay, I'll see you later."


Lois woke up on a pad in her apartment with an uncomfortable pain in her lower back. One of the first things she needed to do was get her bed back from wherever it had been taken. The movers were supposed to be taking her clothes and personal effects to LexCorp, which they hadn't done yet — thank goodness. And they were supposed to move her furniture and decorations into a storage facility until she decided what she wanted to keep and what she was willing to just get rid of. Lex had told her it was all up to her.

It looked like all they had managed to move so far was a few of the heavier pieces of her furniture. Her bed, both loveseats, her desk and her TV were all gone. She had written the name and number of the moving company on a note and pinned it to her fridge — the one thing they wouldn't be moving. She just needed to call and arrange for them to bring her stuff back… and keep them from moving anything else.

Oh, that reminded her, she needed to call her landlady, Mrs. Harper, and let her know that she wouldn't be moving after all. That probably needed to come first. Then she'd also need to call the utility companies to make sure her phone, electric, and water continued uninterrupted. Lois wasn't sure but she thought they were scheduled to be disconnected just a few days after her wedding. So that didn't give her much time.

Having made a mental list of things to do, she got up and stretched — trying to relieve a little of the stiffness from sleeping on the floor. Maybe a hot shower would help. She padded into the bathroom and went through her normal morning routine of taking a shower, brushing her teeth, styling her hair and applying her make-up. Once she felt ready to face the world again, she grabbed her phone and dialed her landlady.

"Hello?" the woman's kind voice answered.

Lois began pacing around her living room as she spoke, "Hello, Mrs. Harper? This is Lois Lane. I gave you notice that I was moving out this week…"

"Yes, dear. I need to give you your copy of the paperwork that you signed to terminate your lease. I was going to stick it in your mailbox if that's okay."

Lois stopped in front of her fish tank and ran one finger along the glass, tracing a fish as it swam. "Actually, I was calling to inform you that I won't be moving after all. I'd like to just tear up that termination agreement, if that's possible." The fish stopped swimming and turned to look at her.

Yes, that's right, she thought at the fish, we're not moving. You get to stay right here where you're comfortable.

"Oh, dear," Mrs. Harper said worriedly. "I'm afraid that's not possible."

Lois sighed. "Well if I can't cancel the agreement, then can I just sign a new lease agreement?"

"No, it's not that. I've… well, you see, two-bedroom apartments in this part of Metropolis are hard to find and… someone has already signed a lease agreement to move into your apartment next week."

Lois felt her jaw drop. She was being evicted!

Her landlady continued talking when she didn't say anything. "I'm sorry, dear. But don't worry; I do have a one-bedroom apartment you could move into. It's opening up two weeks from tomorrow. With Lucy not living with you now, I'm sure you probably don't even need that second bedroom anymore."

Lois felt the panic creeping into her voice, "But that means I need to be out of here sometime this week and that other apartment isn't going to be ready for another week after that. Where am I supposed to stay in between?"

"That does present a bit of a problem, doesn't it? I am sorry. But that's the best I can offer you."

Lois scowled. She supposed she'd just have to let the movers come get her stuff, after all, and store it until she could move back in. She could get a room at a hotel in the meantime — although with no job and no money coming in, it was going to tax her credit cards. But what else could she do?

She'd cross that bridge when she came to it.


Clark began to ease himself down onto his couch, fighting to control the pain. They had just gotten back from the police precinct, after filing the report that Henderson had needed, and he was glad to be home. However, he wasn't sure sitting had been such a good idea. But he was going to have to sit down sometime — it might as well be now. He just hadn't realized how many abdominal muscles it took to do something as simple as sitting down.

"Here, Clark, let me help you," his dad offered.

Clark held up a hand to stop him. "No, I'm fine, really. I've got to learn how to do this on my own."

"Clark, honey, about that," his mom said with a concerned look on her face. "Why don't you come back to Kansas with us for a while? I could look after you until your powers return and you get well…"

"No, Mom." He shook his head letting out a tight breath he had been holding as he relaxed into the couch. "I don't want to put any extra stress on you or dad right now. I know this is the busy time of year with the crops."

"It's going to stress me out more to know that my boy is up here in pain and dealing with this all on his own." Her voice wavered a little and Clark could tell she was struggling to get a handle on it. "You don't have a job right now to worry about, Clark, and you need someone to help you. Please let me. You were a healthy child your whole life. I never had to worry about you being sick or getting hurt like other kids. But you are hurt now. Let me take care of you."

Clark could see how much it meant to her and she was right, he didn't really have anything to keep him from leaving Metropolis for a while. The truth was, before all this happened, he had been thinking of leaving Metropolis permanently because of Lois. He couldn't stand the thought of living so near to her after losing his heart to her. The temptation would be too great to visit her as Superman.

He sighed, rehashing the same argument to himself. He didn't want to be loved for just part of who he was.

So maybe it would be good for him to go stay in Kansas for a bit. At least until his powers came back. He certainly couldn't do any good here as Superman until that happened.

"Okay, Mom. I'll come back with you and Dad. Just give me a day or two to rest and get my stuff packed…" He hesitated for a moment and swallowed before continuing, "And say goodbye to Lois."

Martha nodded at him and went into the kitchen, probably to fix them all something to eat. Clark still wasn't sure he felt like eating anything. He glanced around the room trying to remember where he'd left his phone.

"Do you see my phone, Dad?"

"It's in here," Martha said, picking it up from the counter. She brought it to him. "Are you going to try Lois again?"

"Yeah. Surely she's off the phone by now. I don't want her to go to the hospital and find out from them that I checked myself out."

Martha caught Jonathan's eye. "Why don't you come in the kitchen and give me a hand."

Clark dialed Lois's number and put the phone to his ear, hoping she hadn't already left.


"Lois? It's Clark."

"Clark? Is something wrong? I'm sorry I hadn't made it back to the hospital yet. I'm having a bit of a problem with my apartment and I've been on the phone all afternoon and…"

Clark grinned to himself as he listened to her go on. "It's okay, Lois. There's no problem." At least he knew now why her phone had given him a busy signal every time he had tried to call. He had begun to worry that something was wrong. "I was just trying to catch you before you left your apartment to let you know that they released me. I'm home now."

"Home? Really? That seems awfully fast. Are you sure you're ready to be home?" The concern in her voice was unmistakable and it made him feel good despite the pain he was in.

"Trust me. I'm more than ready to be home. Anyway, I just wanted to call so you wouldn't waste a trip down to the hospital." Wanting to change the subject, he backtracked a little. "But what's wrong with your apartment? You said you're having a problem?"

"Yeah. I'll tell you about it in a little bit. I was just getting ready to come see you, so I'll just come over." There was a pause and then she added, "If that's okay. I mean, if you're not feeling up to it then…"

"No, I'm fine, really," he did his best to assure her. "Please come over. I need to talk to you about something too."

"Oh… okay. Well then I'll see you in a few. Bye, Clark."

"Bye, Lois."

Clark hung up the phone and closed his eyes as he sunk a little further into his couch. It wasn't going to be easy to say goodbye.


"Kansas?" Lois repeated the word numbly. "You're going to Kansas?" she asked, this time with a little heat in her voice.

Clark wondered now if it had been such a good idea to have his parents go out for a while so he could talk to Lois alone. He hadn't thought this would upset her. "Just for a while, until I feel a little better and my powers start coming back."

He watched anxiously as Lois got up from his couch and began to pace the floor.

"Listen, Lois, it makes sense. And besides, according to what you just told me, you need a place to stay for a while until your new apartment opens up. Since I'm not going to be here, you could stay in my apartment while I'm gone… free of charge. You can't afford to stay at a hotel without a paycheck coming in."

Lois felt tears trying to start at his generosity but her pride got in the way, "I've got a little money put away. I'd be fine," she replied stubbornly.

Clark sighed, realizing that he'd offended her without meaning to. "I know you would, but save that money for a real emergency. My apartment is going to sit here with or without you. You might as well use it."

Lois sighed deeply and rubbed her hands up her face and through her hair. "You can't leave. There's something you… Oh, I should have told you… You just can't leave."

She had his full attention now and he raised an eyebrow at her. "Why? What haven't you told me?"

Lois looked a little pale and she sat back down again. But she didn't sit beside him on the couch; she sat on one of the chairs at the kitchen table.

Clark felt a knot forming in his stomach.

"I should have told you this earlier. Actually, I probably should have asked you before I did it. But that's water under the bridge now." She had begun to play nervously with the placemat sitting on the table in front of her and she wasn't looking at him.

The knot tightened.

"Lois, what did you do?" Clark asked hesitantly, afraid of what the answer was going to be.

"I called my father and got the name of a very well respected scientist at STAR Labs. His name is Dr. Klein. Dad told me I could trust him…"

"What did you do?" He repeated, his mind blaring with warning alarms. She knew his secret. She knew about Kryptonite. And she knew he had been injured badly. What exactly had she gone to Dr. Klein for? And what had she told him?

Lois fidgeted nervously in her chair. What had she done? Clark would never trust her again. At that moment she wished she could take it all back, undo what had been done, but it was too late. Her heart ached inside her. "I'm sorry… I thought it was the right thing to do. I was trying to help you."

Clark struggled to get up off the couch. "Lois, what did you tell him about me?"

"Nothing. I didn't tell him anything about… Clark," she said, her voice rising in pitch. "Your secret is safe, I promise. I… I took the piece of Kryptonite to him so he could examine it."

Clark had begun slowly walking towards her but her words brought him to an abrupt halt. "What? Why? Why would you do that, Lois? I told you to destroy it. To get rid of it. How could you do something like that behind my back?"

"I'm sorry," she repeated, silently begging him to believe her. "I only did it to try to help you…"

"Help me? By exposing me?" He ran a hand through his hair exasperatedly. "I should have known."

"Known? Known what?" Lois didn't like his tone and it sparked a flicker of anger in her. Unable to sit still any longer she got up and began to pace. "I don't know why you're acting like this. I had your best interests at heart. You really should be thanking me. It's not like I told Dr. Klein who you really are."

"No, but I suppose that's next," he snipped.

"What do you mean?" she bit out, unable to calm herself in the face of his accusations.

"The truth about Kryptonite and what it can do should have stayed a secret. It should have never left the confines of my immediate family… and now you," he said, pointing a finger at her. "But you went and blabbed it to the first doctor you could find — some man who I've never even met before and know nothing about. Are you trying to get me killed?"

Lois looked like he had slapped her. She opened her mouth a couple of times but nothing came out. Clark's legs felt weak but he wasn't going to give her the satisfaction of watching him have to sit back down, and he was entirely too upset to sit down anyway. "But why should I have expected any more from the great investigative reporter, Lois Lane — who always has to keep digging, has to know everything about everybody… who hates secrets?" He snorted loudly. "It won't be long before the whole city of Metropolis knows I'm Superman at this rate. Why did I ever think you'd be able to keep my secret?"

Lois stood there still gaping at him. Then she quietly walked over to him and promptly slapped him in the face. Clark reeled from the pain in even that small action — both physically and emotionally.

"How dare you," she said, her voice low and steady, but brimming with emotion. "I did what I did to help you, you dim-witted, thick-sculled… Kryp…" Lois wasn't sure what the term for his people would be, but she tried again anyway, "Kryp..tonian! Because I… care about you."

She walked away from him and went up the stairs towards his front door. "Goodbye, Clark," she said quietly. "I hope you get better in Kansas."

And before Clark could even think of what to say, she had slammed his door shut behind her. "Wait, Lois!" he called out. Why had he been so harsh? He made his way slowly up to the door, cringing with each step that he climbed. He opened the door wide and shouted after her, "Lois!"

But she didn't answer and she didn't come back. He shut his door and leaned his forehead against it, taking a couple of deep breaths to stave off the pain in his side. His heart stung with her words and what she had called him.

How far her hero had fallen in her eyes.


After meandering aimlessly the sidewalks between Clark's apartment and hers, Lois finally made her way home. She wanted to just fling herself onto her bed and have a good cry. The problem was that she didn't have a bed. She didn't even have a couch. So she did the next best thing. She opened her freezer to look for some ice cream.

The empty freezer mocked her and she slammed the door. Why had she thrown out that last carton of ice cream?

Because you thought you were moving, she reminded herself. And actually she was moving, whether she wanted to or not. That thought threatened to set loose the impending deluge of tears and Lois began to hunt frantically for a piece of chocolate to calm her nerves. After checking every drawer and cabinet — already knowing that she wasn't going to find any — she hunted through her purse. She managed to find a couple of those little after-dinner mints that she had gotten at a restaurant — the kind dipped in chocolate.

She unwrapped one of the delicacies and slipped it into her mouth. She let it melt slowly against her tongue, permeating her senses with the sweet chocolate and fresh mint. It gave her the small endorphin rush she had been looking for and she managed to hold back the tears that had been threatening. She had cried too many tears too often over the past couple of days. It was time to get herself under control and get her life back.

Lois crinkled the wrapper into a tiny ball and went to throw it away in the kitchen. As she walked past her answering machine, she noticed that the light was blinking. She stopped and considered it for a moment. She knew it was probably Clark and part of her just wanted to unplug the thing and throw it in the trash. But she didn't. She pressed the button.

"You have… three… new messages," the synthetic voice told her. "Message one:"

"Lois? It's Clark. I…" She could hear his audible sigh. "We need to talk. Give me a call back."

"Fat chance," she answered him.

"Message two:"

"I went ahead and booked a flight to Kansas." It was Clark's voice again. "We're flying out tomorrow morning. The flight leaves at nine-fifty. Lois, I don't want to leave with things like this. Please, call me."

He was leaving tomorrow? He said he wasn't leaving for a couple of days — obviously he had changed his mind. How could he even think of flying in his condition? Oh, wait, she forgot, he was Superman — powers or not. She rolled her eyes and then glanced down at her watch. It had been a little over an hour ago that she had left Clark's apartment. Would all three messages be from him?

"Message three:"

"It's me again. Obviously you aren't going to talk to me. I just wanted to call back to tell you goodbye. And to tell you that you're still welcome to use my apartment while I'm gone. It's going to be sitting empty and there's no reason for you to waste money on a hotel. I'll leave a key for you under the mat. I wish… I'm…" There was a sigh and then, "Goodbye, Lois."

She suddenly wished there were four messages. Obviously he didn't mean to call back after that last one. Lois fidgeted a little and looked up at her front door. She didn't really want him to leave like this. She didn't want him to leave period.

But this was his fault. He had overreacted. It wasn't like people didn't know about Kryptonite. After their run-in with Trask they had written an article about it for heaven's sake. She hadn't believed Kryptonite was actually real, and that's the slant she had put on the article. She had told Perry and Clark that she wasn't sure whether or not the mysterious rock even existed anywhere except in Trask's mind.

But it was real. It was a genuine threat. And not just to Superman but, as it turned out, also to her friend and partner. She looked back down at the answering machine. Had she been wrong to contact Klein?


She probably should have talked to Clark about it first… okay, she definitely should have talked to him first, but she stood behind her decision. What good would it have done to just destroy that chunk when there was still some out there and the possibility that more could be manufactured?

But Clark didn't know that…

In her anger, Lois had forgotten to tell Clark about the experiments and the other samples in the lab. How could he possibly have understood the validity of what she had done? He didn't even really know why she had done it.

She massaged her forehead with one hand. How many times would she keep messing things up? She might be hurt and angry with Clark for what he had said to her, but the truth was, he was still ahead of her if anyone was keeping score. She didn't even want to think about how awful she had treated him over the past year. Not to mention the day that he poured his feelings out to her and she had dismissed him so flippantly…

Lois grabbed her purse, dropping the forgotten candy wrapper on her desk next to the answering machine. She picked up the Series K file she had taken from Lex's office off of the counter and headed out the door.

She owed him a better goodbye than what she had given him.


Clark felt horrible — and not just physically. His side was aching something awful. He had painkillers that the nurse had sent home with him, but the ones they'd given him at the hospital had knocked him completely out. So he was a little afraid to try any meds again since he wasn't quite sure how they would react with his…

His mind flashed back to what Lois had said —

'Kryptonian'… his *alien* biology.

Even if he never regained his powers and ended up being just like every other man — he wouldn't ever be 'normal'.

<If you had no powers, if you were just an ordinary man leading an ordinary life, I'd love you just the same. Can't you believe that?>

Clark wanted to cry at the irony. Lois would have never said that she loved him if she had known the ordinary man inside him was Clark.

A noise outside brought him out of his thoughts and he glanced up at the door. Maybe his parents were back. They had wanted to give him plenty of time with Lois — little had they known her visit would be short.

When the door didn't open, he tried to reach out with his hearing to see if he could pick up any noises outside.

Nothing. He wasn't sure if he really couldn't hear anything or if there just wasn't anything to hear. He pulled his glasses down and concentrated on the door. He caught just a fraction of a glimpse of his front porch but then he was staring at the inside of his front door again.

His powers were there, but they definitely hadn't come back yet.

Feeling like he was going to go a little stir crazy waiting for his parents to come back, Clark decided to get up from the couch and at least go outside on his balcony to get some fresh air.

After a few seconds of painful exertion, he was standing. He wondered how long it would be before he could stand up without feeling like someone was stabbing him in the side. Truthfully, he wasn't really supposed to be up and around yet. The doctor hadn't agreed with Clark checking out of the hospital so soon and he had told Clark that he should stick to bed rest for several days.

But the doctor didn't realize that was like asking Superman not to fly. Clark had already lost his powers and was grounded. He couldn't stand the thought of being confined to a bed for several days on top of that. Although if he didn't slow down, he'd probably end up overdoing it. Then he'd feel even worse… if that were possible.

He slowly and carefully made his way to the balcony door. When he reached out to pull on the heavy door, a sharp pain in his side brought him to his knees. He clenched his eyes shut against the pain and a muffled cry escaped his lips before he sank down to sit on the floor. He leaned his head back against the door's cool metal surface and took a few shallow breaths.

Clark opened his eyes when he heard a knock at the front door. Probably his parents. "Come in," he tried to yell, but it came out as more of a strangled moan.


It was Lois! Clark immediately began trying to pick himself up from the floor when she swung the front door open and came inside. Her eyes went wide when she saw him on the floor on his hands and knees.

"Clark! What happened?" She rushed down the stairs — dropping something on his couch as she passed it — and knelt down beside him.

"I had a little mishap," he said lamely.

"What were you even doing up?" she scolded him, putting her arms awkwardly around him and trying to help him up.

"I wanted to get some fresh air," he answered once he was standing again. He let out a surprised gasp when Lois lifted the edge of his shirt and carefully peeled back his bandage, exposing his stitches. "Lois, what are you doing?"

She ignored him and he could feel her soft fingertips gently probing the skin around his wound. "I'm checking to make sure you haven't popped any stitches."

Clark pulled away from her. "I'm fine."

He was sulking and Lois had to bite her tongue so she didn't say something she'd regret later. "You're not fine, Clark. I came in and found you on the floor, holding your side in pain. Now let me look."

She laid one hand against his stomach to steady herself as she leaned in to take a better look. Clark's skin seemed to come to life at her touch. He could feel the warmth of her palm where it lay pressed against his skin and it was sweet torture. Then her thumb pulled against the skin next to his stitches and it *was* torture.

"Ouch," he complained.

She lowered his shirt back down and hid a grimace. The bruises around his stitches were a deep purple and looked mean. A pang of sympathy flowed through her.

This was your fault, her mind rebuked her. Her heart twinged with guilt and she kept her eyes on his side, unable to look him in the face. "Everything looks okay but I should probably wipe it with some peroxide or alcohol just in case I had any germs on my hands. Do you think you could get sick from a human germ?"

What she had said had been innocent enough, but it hurt an already open wound in his heart. "I'm not human, remember?" He sighed. "Don't worry about me. I'm fine."

"But I do worry about you, Clark," she laid one hand on his arm. "You've got to be more careful. You don't want to have to go back to the hospital because you're bleeding from trying to do too much. Who knows what problems that would cause?"

"Don't worry, Lois. I won't be your problem after today," he said sullenly, turning away from her.

She hadn't come here to fight but she couldn't stand his petulant attitude, as if he didn't think she cared. "But you *are* my problem, Clark. This was my fault."

Clark turned to look at her and was surprised to see the emotion in her face. It softened him and he sighed quietly, "No, it wasn't."

"Yes, it was." Her voice was tinged with guilt. "If I hadn't been fooled by Lex and had seen him for who he really was this never would have happened. I'm sorry, Clark. I really am. I told you in the hospital while you were still out that you needed to wake up so you could hear me say that I had been wrong. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, you know." She gave him a small grin as she reached up and touched his cheek softly with one hand. "I am sorry. I was wrong. About a lot of things."

Clark was completely speechless as he watched Lois close the distance between them and wrap her arms around him. She hugged him gently and whispered in his ear, "And I'm so glad you're okay."

Before Clark could recover and have the opportunity to hug her in return, she pulled away from him. He almost reminded her that he wasn't okay. But he knew what she meant. Things could have been so much worse. He was fortunate that he hadn't died inside that Kryptonite cage.

Lois walked back to his couch, wiping under her eyes, and picked up what she had laid there — it was a folder. "I brought something with me that I wanted to show you. It might help explain why I did what I did."


Lois and Clark sat quietly on his couch while he thought about everything she had said and flipped through the contents of the folder she had handed him. After a few moments, he finally spoke, "Would you do something for me?" he asked, closing the folder.

"Anything." Lois held her breath hoping that he would tell her he was willing to give Dr. Klein a blood sample. What he said instead caught her off guard.

"Hold on to this file for me and don't say anything about it to my parents." He held the file out to her.

Lois raised an eyebrow as she took it from him. "Clark, why? Why wouldn't you want to tell…"

"Because it will just upset them," he said, looking tired. "They were hoping that when you went to LexCorp you were able to destroy that last piece of Kryptonite. They were still worried that there might be more of it out there somewhere, undiscovered, but to tell them that Lex had been experimenting on it…" He shook his head. "No, I don't want them to have to worry like that."

"Okay, if that's what you want," she said, unable to hide the doubt in her voice. "But somehow I don't think your parents will feel that ignorance is bliss. I think they would want to know."

"You're probably right, but it's my choice and I'd rather they had peace of mind. They're already concerned enough that my powers haven't come back yet." He reached up and ran one hand through his hair in an exasperated motion.

"Still nothing?" she asked softly.

He shook his head.

"Well that's why I think you should meet with Dr. Klein. Give him that blood sample while you're still vulnerable. He could work on a way to fight the Kryptonite, and maybe he could determine how fast your powers…"

"No, Lois," Clark's voice was firm and resolute — it was his 'Superman voice'. "I don't want to be experimented on like some kind of lab rat. I understand why you did what you did, but that doesn't mean I'm happy about it."

"But it wouldn't be like that!" she protested. "Dr. Klein is trying to help you…"

"Yeah, and in the process he stands to help himself quite a bit. The first physician to study Superman's biology." He scowled and turned away from her, a far off look in his eyes. "The way they buy and sell Superman on every street corner, I don't even want to think about what would be for sale if I whore myself out to some doctor for research."


"No, I said! Don't ask me again." Clark was flabbergasted by her insistence. Was it so hard to understand that he didn't want to be dissected like some frog? That he didn't want to be tested and experimented on? That he didn't want yet another reminder of how different he was?

Lois was startled by his reaction and it halted any further protests that were forming in her mind. He wasn't going to do this — end of discussion, negotiations closed. It made her angry. Why did all men have to be so ridiculous when it came to doctors? Every man she had ever known, it was like pulling teeth to get them to visit a doctor. She sighed in frustration… but not in failure. She'd talk to him about it again, but she had pushed him as far as she could for now — at least without making him mad. And she didn't want this goodbye to be like the last one.

Assuming he was still going to say goodbye.

"So you're really going to Kansas?" she asked softly.

"Yes, it will put my parents' minds at ease, and it's so quiet and peaceful on the farm…" He gave her a small smile. "It will be the perfect place for me to rest and take it easy while I recuperate. With the Daily Planet gone and me out of work, there's nothing to keep me here right now." Nothing but you, he added silently.

Lois's breath caught in her chest. There was nothing to keep him here. Not even her. She didn't let him see how his words had affected her and instead chose to redirect her feelings in a different way. She'd argue with him. "But Perry is working on getting the Planet rebuilt. He's going to need our help."

"The Chief doesn't need my help. If anyone can restore the Daily Planet, it's Perry." He leaned forward putting his elbows on his knees and resting his chin on top of his clasped hands.

Lois was about to argue when she realized he had a pained look on his face. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing." He sat back up, wincing.

She crossed her arms and fixed him with a stare. "Nothing? Come on, Clark. Is something hurting?"

He sighed. "It's my back." He gave her a sheepish grin. "I guess I'm still new to this whole pain thing."

"It's no fun, is it?" She patted his arm with one hand. "Here, turn sideways and I'll rub it for you. Clark looked like he wanted to protest, but then he obediently turned to give her access.

"Thank you, Lois, but you don't have to do…" He broke off as her hands began kneading into the muscles of his shoulders, working the tightness out of them. It wasn't like anything he'd ever experienced — it felt so good. He'd never hurt like this before and the relief her hands and fingers were providing was amazing. "God, that feels good."

Lois smiled, pleased with herself. She moved her hands lower, kneading the flesh through his shirt as she went. It would be more effective if he didn't have a shirt on, but she was too embarrassed to ask him to take it off.

Clark wished he could get away with taking his shirt off. If her ministrations felt this good fully clothed, he couldn't imagine how it would feel skin on skin. His mind flashed back to her fingertips on his stomach and swallowed unconsciously. No, that probably wouldn't be a good idea. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," she answered, enjoying the way his body was responding to her efforts. "That's what you do when you care for someone. You help them. You try to make things better."

Clark didn't miss the underlying meaning in her words. "Is that why you're doing this? Because you care for me?"

Her hands stopped and she turned and leaned forward so she could look into his face. "You know I do," she said earnestly.

"Do I? You told me just a few short weeks ago that you didn't share my feelings. Then you told Superman that you'd love him even if he was an ordinary guy — but you didn't love the 'ordinary guy'." He looked away from her sadly and glanced down at his lap. "You already told him that you didn't."

"Clark, you don't understand, I…"

"No, Lois," he interrupted, his voice heavy. "I understand perfectly. You were in love with your hero, with Superman. It's just that I don't want that kind of love. Superman isn't who I am. He's a big part of me, but he's just the disguise I use so I can help people and still have a semi-normal life… still be Clark. But you aren't in love with Clark," he finished sadly.

"Clark, I know what I said, but…" She was interrupted by a knock at the door.

"Clark?" It was Martha's voice.

"Come on in," Clark answered.

Lois grimaced. What bad timing. She guessed she'd just have to save pouring her feelings out to him for another day. But when? He was leaving for Kansas tomorrow.

Martha came through the door and her eyebrows went up in surprise. "Oh, I'm sorry. We didn't think you'd still be here, Lois."

"You were waiting for me to leave? Oh, Martha, you shouldn't have done that!" Lois protested.

"Nonsense. Clark didn't have any food in his fridge and Jonathan and I needed to grab something to eat," Martha explained as Jonathan came through the door behind her.

Lois pulled her attention from the door and looked back into Clark's face. He was watching her, and she was amazed by the emotion she saw in his face. "We're not done yet," she told him softly. "We need to talk."

He nodded at her. "We will," he promised, his voice low and quiet. "As soon as I get back. I think right now what both of us need is just a little time to think and figure things out."

Lois wanted to shout that she didn't need time to think, but while she was prone to outbursts around Clark, she was more reserved around his parents. So she simply nodded sadly. "Okay, if that's what you want."

"It is," he assured her. "And I also want you to stay here while I'm gone. I mean it. You don't have anywhere to go and there's no reason you should waste your money staying in a hotel until your apartment opens up."

"I don't know…"

"Please? I would feel better knowing you were here." And that was true. He wasn't sure why, but the thought of her staying here, at his apartment… it just made him feel better about leaving.

Lois fidgeted. She had taken advantage of Clark enough in the past; she wasn't about to do it again. She searched his face looking for the truth, but the truth was staring her in the face. He wasn't just being nice — although Clark was probably one of the nicest persons she had ever met — he really did want her to stay here. "Okay." She nodded.

He looked relieved and gave her a small smile. "Just no late night parties, okay?"

Lois couldn't help herself and she laughed softly. "I don't think I can live under such harsh rules. I was planning to talk to Jimmy about hosting an all night rave next week."

Clark chuckled. "That reminds me, I don't know how to contact Jimmy or Jack. Or Perry for that matter. They were staying here before the…" He broke off not wanting to remind her about the wedding. "Anyway, they weren't here when I got home…"

"Perry didn't want the three of them hanging around when you got back from the hospital, so he checked them into a hotel for now — until he gets things sorted out with the Planet." She paused, realizing what Clark wanted. "I can tell them goodbye for you. I'll get a phone number for Perry. I'll be keeping in touch with you, and I'll get the number to you, okay?"

"Thanks, Lois, I appreciate it."

"Sure." Lois shifted uncomfortably, realizing that it was probably time for her to go but not wanting to. How could Clark leave and go to Kansas? She had worked with him every day for almost a year. The past few weeks without seeing him had been awful.

She sighed and looked over in the direction of the balcony. Martha and Jonathan had long since slipped quietly from the living room and out the door to the balcony. Lois decided to go say goodbye to them first and she stood up from the couch.

"Where are you going?" Clark asked, not looking like he was thrilled about the thought of getting up to follow her.

"Just stay put," she said, gesturing for him to remain sitting. "I'm going to say goodbye to your parents. I'll be right back." She walked over to the balcony door and opened it. Martha and Jonathan were standing next to the railing, looking down on the street below.

"Um… hi," she said, feeling awkward.

They both turned to look at her and smiled.

"I'm going to leave so Clark can get some rest," she continued. "I guess you guys have a busy day tomorrow."

"Busy day?" Martha asked, frowning.

Lois realized that since Martha and Jonathan had been gone all afternoon, they didn't know yet. "Yeah, Clark booked your flights back to Kansas for tomorrow morning."

"Oh? We thought he wanted to stay a couple of days…"

"Yeah. Me too." Lois felt her voice trying to waver and she fought to control it. "Anyway, I just wanted to tell you both goodbye."

Martha walked over to her and wrapped her in a hug. "Thank you for what you've done for Clark. He's fortunate to have a friend like you."

Lois cringed guiltily as she returned Martha's hug, wondering if Martha would feel that way if she knew what Lois had done. But Clark had asked Lois not to mention it, so he obviously wasn't going to say anything either. "That's how I feel about him. I know you'll take good care of him, but don't let him forget to call me and let me know how he's doing."

Martha nodded. "I will."

Jonathan stepped up and gave her a hug of his own. "You really need to come back and visit us again soon. I promise I won't wear a dress while you're there."

Lois giggled. "I'm never gonna live that one down."

They all shared a laugh and Lois told them goodbye before she walked back inside the house. Clark was still sitting on the couch — watching the door expectantly. As Lois came towards him, he stood up with some difficulty.

"No, Clark, you don't need to get up," she protested.

"Yes, I do." When she got close enough he enclosed her in his arms. "Otherwise I couldn't do this."

"Oh." She tentatively slid her arms around him and held him for a moment. "Don't stay gone too long, okay?" The longer she held him, the more she wanted to continue holding him. Why did he have to leave?

"Don't worry. You won't even miss me," he teased her. "You'll be too busy moving."

"Yeah, that's why I'll miss you. I could have roped you into helping me," she joked back. Standing there with his arms wrapped around her, she wished the moment wouldn't end. His embrace was so strong and sure, yet so tender and caring. She wished she could ask him to stay but that wouldn't be fair, and she wasn't entirely sure he'd stay even if she asked him to. And she didn't want to risk having to face rejection. "Call me tomorrow when you get to Smallville, okay?" she asked instead, pulling away to look up at him.

Clark didn't want to let her go. She felt so right in his arms. Her body was so soft and yielding, pressed against him. He could sense the strength inside of her but could also feel her fragility and uncertainty. For just a moment he had been able to pretend that she felt more for him, for Clark, than just friendship. "I will," he promised.

She nodded and released him from her arms, stepping back out of his. "I guess I should get going so you can pack."


"I'll be waiting for your call tomorrow," she said as she walked up the steps to his front door.


"Please, Clark, I can't do long goodbyes. I'll talk to you soon." She opened his door. "Goodbye."

And then she was gone.

"Goodbye," Clark whispered after her and then wondered again why he had decided to go to Kansas.


Lois sighed to herself and shifted her telephone receiver from one ear to the other before answering, "Yes, Dr. Klein, I know you can't continue your experiments without a blood test and DNA sample from Superman. He's just very busy, you know?"

As she continued to pack a few more last minute items for transport to Clark's apartment, she half-heartedly listened to Dr. Klein explain that he understood but that he couldn't proceed any further until he had something more to work with.

"Well I actually haven't seen him lately," she admitted. "I'll have him come in just as soon as he can." Before Dr. Klein could ramble on any further, she decided to end the conversation by saying, "Thanks for calling and I'll pass the information on to Superman."

"Wait! Ms. Lane," he exclaimed. "Don't you want to hear what I've discovered so far?" His voice had an anxious quality to it and it piqued her interest.

"Go on," she told him.

"Actually," he stammered, "I don't think it would be a good idea over the phone. Why don't you come to STAR Labs? I'll be here for another hour."

"Okay, I'll see you shortly. Bye, Dr. Klein." She hung up the phone and scowled at it. She didn't really have time to do this. Today was the last day she had left to get her stuff moved out of her old apartment.

Time had flown the past few days. Clark had been right. She had hardly had time to miss him. Plus, he had been really good about calling her once a day to check on her.

Except today. She frowned. He hadn't called her yet today. She hadn't realized how much she had begun to look forward to that daily call. Well, he probably figured with her moving today that she wouldn't have time to talk.

And she really didn't. She certainly didn't have time to go talk to Dr. Klein, either, but she would. She glanced back down at her red telephone. That needed to go in her last box — she wasn't leaving it behind.

She had arranged for the movers to store all her furniture and the boxes of things she could live without for a week, and then re-deliver them to her new apartment next week. She had only moved a few clothes and some bare necessity, personal items, to Clark's apartment for the week that she was going to stay there.

It was going to be weird staying there without him.

Wait a minute, she thought, that came out wrong. She giggled a little bit to herself. It would be even weirder staying at his apartment *with* him there.

Weird, yes, but not necessarily in a bad way, she mused.

She walked over to the counter and grabbed her purse before heading for the front door. She hoped Dr. Klein's interruption was going to be worth the trouble.


Dr. Klein shook his head as he thumbed through several reports in the folder he was holding. "Kryptonite is a very exceptional piece of meteorite. The chemical composition of it is so complex that I…"

"Dr. Klein, I skipped on chemistry class," Lois told him, trying unsuccessfully to hide the impatience from her voice. "Can you get to the reason that you called me to come here?"

"Oh, yes, of course. What I was amazed to discover was that Kryptonite emits a high level of radiation and…"

"Radiation? As in the stuff that causes you to get sick and your hair to fall out? The stuff that causes cancer? That kind of radiation?" she asked alarmed.

"No, Ms. Lane. I've run several carefully controlled tests and the radiation emitted by Kryptonite doesn't seem to affect humans. There's a possibility that it might if someone was exposed to it enough over a long period of time, but accidental contact with it isn't going to have any lasting detrimental effects…" he paused and looked at her significantly before continuing, "…to humans. However, if my hypothesis is correct, the radiation is very likely deadly to someone from Krypton."

Lois kept her mouth shut, listening intently, and pretty soon he continued. "In fact, if I were to postulate based on what I've read about Superman and the information you've given me about him, I would say that if it wasn't for the healing and strengthening effects of our yellow sun on Superman, a lengthy exposure to Kryptonite would probably kill him. Perhaps not at first, but if he didn't have the sun to rejuvenate him, he could die. It's that potent. It's like people on Earth who have had radiation poisoning. I'm sure you've read accounts of the things that happen to their bodies as the radiation begins to…"

Lois held up her hand to stop him, not wanting him to go into the gory details. She felt like her heart was going to stop. No wonder Clark still didn't have his powers back yet. After such a prolonged and intense exposure, he was fortunate to be alive. Add to that his injury and the fact that he had been out of the sun for a while…

She needed to share Dr. Klein's theories with Clark. Surely it would make him feel better to know that's why he still didn't feel 'super'.

No. Not yet. She wasn't sure if he would be ready to have a reasonable conversation about it yet. She would wait. It wasn't something she wanted to discuss over the phone anyway. "So you think it's possible that the effects of the Kryptonite would last longer and be more potent if Superman were kept out of sunlight while he was exposed?"

Dr. Klein rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "Yes, I'd say that's a very strong possibility." He glanced back down at the file he was holding and closed it. "I can't do any further research without running some tests with Superman's blood and DNA samples. Once I have those, I can begin to work on some type of inoculation to counter its effects."

Lois sighed. "Yes, I know, and I'm still working on getting those for you."

He nodded. "In the meantime, tell Superman that if he comes in contact with Kryptonite, to get away from it as quickly as possible and get himself out into the sunlight. That's really all I can tell you at this point."

"Thank you, Dr. Klein. Really. You've been more help than you know." Lois held her hand out and he shook it.

"My pleasure. Tell your father I said hello the next time you talk to him."

Lois fidgeted uncomfortably. Ah, yes, she had told her father she would call him again soon, hadn't she? Well, all things in good time, she always said.


Lois sat down on Clark's couch with a cup of coffee and glanced around the room restlessly. She felt like an intruder. She had spent her first night here last night, but she had gotten in so late and been so tired that she had fallen into bed and gone to sleep without giving it a second thought.

Now that it was morning and she had gotten a good night's sleep, things felt very different to her. Clark had asked her to stay here, told her that he wanted her to, but that didn't make her feel any more comfortable being here without him.

She glanced towards the unmade bed in the other room. She had slept in Clark's bed last night. In Superman's bed! She felt a little light-headed and took another sip of her coffee.

What about later? She was going to be using his shower and eating at his table… It was just strange. She had been over here lots of times, even eaten with him, but it was still weird.

Lois glanced around the apartment again as she took another long drink of her coffee. Part of her wanted to snoop around a little bit, but the other part of her was horrified that she would snoop around in her friend's home… Superman's home!

But it was her home for right now, too.

And she needed to know where things were at, in case she wanted to… well, cook or something. She rolled her eyes in disgust. Couldn't she have come up with a better rationalization than that?

Lois got up and walked over to the stairs. At least she could hang up a few of her things in his closet so they wouldn't get wrinkled. She had been so tired last night that she had just draped her clothes across the railing. She gathered up the slightly wrinkled, dry-clean-only items and picked up the couple of extra pairs of shoes she had brought with her.

She went to his closet and opened it, hanging her clothes up. Then she bent down and set her shoes on the floor inside. When she rose up she bumped her head on something. She let out a few choice phrases and stepped back to see what she had hit. It was the metal hook that his ties hung on. It was tilted up a little from her head bumping it.

Smarting from her injury, she smacked it, forcing it to bend even further. Then she jumped back, startled, when the wall in the back of the closet slid over to reveal a secret compartment.

She smirked. "So that's where you hide the suits," she muttered. She parted the sea of clothes and peered into the back section of the closet. There they were — three suits and three capes hanging pristinely. She glanced down at the floor — and three pairs of boots stacked neatly.

The phone rang and Lois jumped like a kid caught with her hand in the cookie jar. She lowered the tie hook and made sure the door was securely closed before running to the couch to grab the phone.

"Hello?" she answered frantically on the fourth ring.

"Lois?" It was Perry. "Are you okay?"

"Yeah. Fine, Perry. I was just…" Snooping. "Exercising."

"Uh-huh. Well, I've got great news. Mr. Stern has asked me to meet him at the Planet building this afternoon. Jimmy and Jack are tagging along with me and I thought you might want to meet us." He paused for a moment and when he continued, Lois could hear the smile in his voice, "I thought if he required any further persuasion that you might be just the person to give it to him."

Lois couldn't hide the excitement in her voice. "You can count me in. I'll be there. What time?" She couldn't believe it. The Daily Planet just might get rebuilt after all!

"Two o'clock. We'll see you there."

"Bye, Perry."

Lois hung up the phone and felt the most peace that she had in days. She was about to set the phone down when she remembered that Clark still hadn't called. He hadn't called her all day yesterday. While it was still early today — even though she had slept in a little — he hadn't called today yet either.

Maybe she should call him this time. Lois dialed the Kents' number and waited for someone to pick up.

"Hello?" Martha answered.

"Martha? It's Lois. How are you?" Lois tried to make polite conversation but she was just itching to tell Clark the good news.

There was a quiet sigh. It was almost inaudible but Lois heard it. "I'm fine, honey. How about you?"

"Martha? What's wrong? You know you can't fool an investigative reporter." She paused for a moment and rolled her eyes before adding, "Well, not for very long, at least. Is something wrong with Clark? He didn't call yesterday. I thought maybe it was because he knew I was moving."

"That was part of it, yes. But Clark's not feeling very well. He… caught some kind of a cold." Her voice was quiet.

"A cold?" Lois exclaimed. "But Superman doesn't get sick?"

"Apparently he can if he goes without his powers for long enough. His body is evidently normal enough for him to get sick."

Lois was floored. "So his powers haven't come back yet at all?"

"No, they haven't."

Hearing the concern in Martha's voice, Lois hesitated a moment before asking, "Clark's never been sick before, has he?"

"No, he hasn't." Martha's voice had gotten even quieter. "And just between you and me, I'm worried about him, Lois."

"Can I talk to him?"

There was a sigh. "His nose is really stuffed up and he's been coughing. He says he's not fit to talk to anyone right now and that he doesn't feel like it anyway."

Lois scowled. "You tell him to get some rest and that I'll be calling him tomorrow… make sure you tell him that I'll be expecting him to actually talk to me then."

"I will." There was a long pause and Lois was about to say goodbye when Martha continued, "Thank you, Lois."

Lois didn't really know what to say. "For what?"

"It's just so nice to have someone to talk to about my boy. All I've ever had was Jonathan, and while I love him dearly, I'm sure you know that men aren't always the best at talking or sharing their feelings." Her voice had taken on a tremble and it made tears sting Lois's eyes.

"Yeah, tell me about it."

"And since Clark started getting sick yesterday, Jonathan hasn't wanted to talk about it at all. I think he feels that if he just ignores it that it will go away and everything will be okay."

"Oh, Martha, I'm sorry."

"Thank you." Lois could hear her clear her throat a little. "Oh, but listen to me go on. You didn't call to hear me complain. How have you been?"

"Good. Still trying to adjust to the idea of staying at Clark's apartment. But at least it's temporary. I'll be glad to get my stuff moved into my new apartment."

"Well stay there as long as you like. Clark was happy to have you there."

"Thanks, Martha." Lois ran her finger along the rim of Clark's coffee mug that she was drinking from. "Please tell him I said to feel better and that I miss him."

"I will. Goodbye, Lois."

"Bye, Martha."

Lois hung up the phone and frowned. Poor Clark. It was miserable to be sick and she couldn't imagine how it felt to someone who had never been sick before. She hoped he would be feeling better when she called him tomorrow, but if not, maybe the news she hoped to get this afternoon would cheer him up.

She finished up her coffee and put the mug in the kitchen sink before heading into the bathroom. After a quick shower, she wrapped her hair in a towel and walked over to the mirror. Ugh, her reflection looked as bad as she felt. Her eyes were tired and had shadows under them. The past few days had taken their toll and she was nowhere near caught up on her sleep.

A bottle of hair gel sitting on the sink caught her eye and she found herself a little amused to think of Superman using hair gel — but of course Clark would have to use something to style his hair.

Her mind suddenly made an abrupt turn and she found herself imagining what it would feel like to run her hands through his dark silky locks. She could picture the two of them right here — Clark kissing her, his arms around her. It didn't take too much imagination since she had shared kisses with him both as Clark and Superman. He would run his hands up her back as he deepened the kiss, exploring her body softly with his fingertips, and she would wrap her arms around his neck, threading her hands up through those delicious locks.

She glanced up at her reflection in the mirror to find her cheeks flushed. Lois smiled at herself and the color deepened, making her feel like some sort of lovestruck teenager.

Then her smile began to fall into a frown. Would she get the chance to hold him like that? Kiss him like that? What would Clark have to say to her when he came back from Kansas? Would he come back?

Lois looked back down at the hair gel and picked it up to put it away in his cabinet. She paused long enough to pop the lid open and take a whiff of the fragrance. Mmmm, it smelled good. It was part of what made up Clark's scent and it made her stomach do an excited little flutter. She closed the lid and noticed a stray black hair stuck to the outside of the bottle. She picked it off and dropped it in the sink and then put the bottle away.

She grabbed a washcloth and started to turn on the water in the sink, but she hesitated. Something was nagging at the back of her mind. She glanced down at the hair she had deposited in the sink. It was Clark's hair. She could tell by the color and length of it.

It was Superman's hair.

She was pretty sure that Superman normally didn't lose his hair. She wasn't even sure how he managed to cut his hair. Surely he would break any pair of scissors unlucky enough to attempt the task. But since he was 'normal' right now, his hair was obviously normal as well. This hair must have fallen out when he was putting gel in his hair.

Hair… contained DNA, didn't it?

Lois frowned at her reflection in the mirror. No. She shouldn't do it. Clark had told her that he didn't want Dr. Klein to experiment on him.

And yet…

Dr. Klein wouldn't actually be experimenting on Clark. This was just a stray hair that she had found. Clark didn't even have to know about it.

No. It was Clark's decision. She should respect his decision. No matter how completely and inexplicably unreasonable it was…

Lois's frown deepened. Not only was it not reasonable, it was downright silly. If Dr. Klein could help him get better faster and maybe even find a way to keep him from getting sick from Kryptonite in the future, what was there to consider? It seemed pretty black and white, cut and dried to her.

In fact, if she posed that same question to herself…

If she had the opportunity to help her friend, help him get well and possibly save his life on down the line, what was there to consider?

His feelings, she reminded herself.

Yes, but he didn't have to know about it. She could give it to Dr. Klein and keep it quiet. Then when Dr. Klein found a way to help Clark, he would forgive her.

She ran out of the bathroom and into the kitchen. She began opening and closing drawers in rapid succession until she found what she was looking for — a sandwich baggie. She took it back into the bathroom and collected the hair from the sink, dropping it inside the baggie.

Now to finish getting ready so she could make a stop by STAR Labs before meeting up with Perry at the Planet.


Lois stared in awe at the sight in front of her. It was the Daily Planet globe! Mr. Stern had unveiled it and announced that the Daily Planet was back in business. It was going to take several weeks and a lot of work to get the building itself repaired and remodeled — including some exciting updates and modifications from the way it sounded — but he had wanted to at least show off the re-constructed globe and let them know of his intentions.

Perry was the happiest Lois had seen him in months, and she herself was overjoyed. The Planet was her life and she had felt a huge whole in her heart the day it had been bombed, as if the explosion had ripped something from her too.

Her thoughts turned dark for a moment as she thought about Lex and how he had almost destroyed everything precious to her. But he hadn't been successful. The Daily Planet was coming back, and Clark was going to be okay.


She hoped he wouldn't be too mad when he found out what she had done, taking his hair to Dr. Klein. Klein had been so excited to get it — he had almost been giddy. But he had told Lois that he would still need a blood sample in order to complete some of the tests that he wanted to do.

That was going to prove a much more difficult task for Lois to accomplish. But at least that hair gave him something to work with in the meantime, until she could get Clark to warm up to the idea.

Perry came walking towards her with a huge grin plastered on his face. She couldn't help but smile back. "It's great, isn't it, Chief? I bet you're beside yourself."

"I am. I'm happier than a bunch of clams at high tide." His grin widened, if that were possible.

She nodded. "Me too. Things just weren't the same without the Planet. I can't wait to tell Clark."

Perry's smile dropped just a little. "How is Clark? Have you heard from him lately?"

"Not today. I've talked to him almost every day, but he caught a cold and he's feeling under the weather. I told his mom that I would call him tomorrow. It's going to be hard to wait that long to tell him."

Perry gave her a pat on the shoulder. "Well, you tell him I said hello and to hang in there. We need him well so he can hurry back here to help us get this newspaper back on its feet."

"I will. Thanks, Perry."

Lois watched Perry walk back over to talk to Mr. Stern again and she started to turn around and head for her car when she heard Jimmy's voice.

"Lois, wait!"

She turned back to see Jimmy come running up to her with Jack close behind him.

"Hey! Isn't it great?" He opened his arms in invitation and she gave him a quick hug.

"Yes, Jimmy. It's wonderful," she agreed.

"Have you heard from Clark? Are you gonna tell him?" he asked excitedly.

"Yes. I'm supposed to call him tomorrow. He caught a cold and wasn't up to talking today."

Jimmy frowned. "So he's not feeling better then, yet, huh?"

"Not yet." She noticed Jack looked particularly unhappy to hear that news. "What's wrong?"

"Jack is moving to New York next week," Jimmy answered her, happily blabbing Jack's news for him. "The Chief called a few of his contacts and pulled some strings and got Jack into a community college there."

Lois lifted her eyebrows in surprise. "Wow, Jack, that's great. I guess I was under the impression that you hadn't finished high school."

"I hadn't. I dropped out a couple of years ago to take care of my brother, but when Clark got me the job at the Planet, Mr. White made the stipulation that I had to take the GED and pass it in order to stay on permanently. So I took it, and I passed it." He smiled proudly.

"Passed it! I'll say," Jimmy interjected. "He had one of the highest scores in the group that he took it with. Between that and Perry helping him, and the fact that the government has a lot of special grants out there for orphaned kids, Jack was able to get into a college."

"That's great, Jack. I'm so happy for you," she said, extending her hand to shake his. "I'm sure Clark will be really proud of you."

"Yeah, well, I wouldn't be where I am today if it weren't for him," Jack said quietly. "Would you tell him that for me? In case I don't get to see him before I leave?" He hesitated for a moment before continuing, "Will you tell him that he'll always be a hero in my book?"

Jack had a curious twinkle in his eyes and Lois was intrigued. Obviously he and Clark had shared something that she didn't know about. Her breath caught in her throat. Did he… did he know about Clark? She gave him a meaningful smile. "Yeah, I'll tell him, Jack. But I'm sure he'll want to come visit you even if he doesn't make it back here before you leave."

"Thanks." Jack smiled at her. "Well, Jimmy and I haven't had lunch yet and I for one am starving. The Chief promised to take us out for a celebratory meal if he got good news from Mr. Stern." Jack glanced over at the two men talking. "But if Jimmy and I don't go pull him away, he'll be here talking until lunchtime tomorrow."

Lois grinned. "You don't know how right you are. Especially if he gets started on one of his Elvis stories."

Jack smiled and looked at Jimmy. "You ready?"

"Yeah." Jimmy gave Lois a questioning look. "You want to come eat with us? You're welcome, you know."

"Oh, no. That's okay. I have a lot of stuff to do and this is 'boy time'. You guys go have fun. But Jack, I expect you to look me up and tell me goodbye before you leave. You're going to have a blast in New York. It's been so long since I've visited there that I may have to come with Clark when he goes up for a visit."

"Sure thing," he said with a smile. "See ya."

"Bye, Jack. Bye, Jimmy. I'll talk to you guys later."


Lois woke up the same way she had yesterday morning, feeling disoriented. She remembered after a few seconds that she was at Clark's apartment.

She was sleeping in Clark's bed.

The thought caused an unexpected flush in her cheeks and she burrowed down a little deeper under the comfy covers. This was where Superman slept every night. When he came home from a rescue or an emergency, he crawled into this very bed.

Her mind lingered on that last thought for a minute. She hadn't really given that aspect of being Superman very much thought before. How did Clark deal with all the emergencies and catastrophes that he encountered? She was fairly certain that he didn't go running off to Kansas every time something difficult happened.

And it was doubtful that he had anyone he could talk to here in Metropolis. Oh, he could have come to her and talked anytime and she would have listened. But he hadn't. He had just quietly dealt with it and greeted her the next morning as Clark, with a smile on his face and a hot cup of coffee.

The thought brought tears to her eyes. How many people had Clark lost? In fires and accidents — people that he couldn't save in time? And he'd had to come home alone to an empty apartment to hear their cries and see their faces in his mind.

Lois shuddered, clutching his blanket tighter against her. She had just realized something even more amazing about Clark. Superman might be the strongest man in the world — able to lift a space station into outer space — but Clark was also strong where it really counted. He had an unimaginable strength of spirit.

He was even stronger than she had possibly imagined.

Lois stared up at the ceiling, contemplating her thoughts, and something shiny caught her attention from the corner of her eye. She rolled over in bed and looked up at the shelf on the back of Clark's bed. He had a couple of trophies sitting on it and some pictures.

She picked up one of the pictures and smiled. It was a picture of him and his dad. Clark was pretty young, didn't even look like he was a teenager yet. He had a grin on his face, a fishing pole in one hand and a fish in the other.

Having grown up in a family that was so different from his, she couldn't even imagine what his life had been like in Smallville. She smiled at the picture as she set it back down. She hoped he was feeling better today and would be able to enjoy some of his time back in his hometown — just as long as he didn't enjoy it so much that he decided to move back there.

Lois glanced at the alarm clock next to his bed. It was early, but not too early. She had told Martha she was going to call back today, and she was too eager to wait any longer.

She got out of bed, threw on her robe and padded into the living room to find the phone. After dialing the Kents' number, she snuggled down into the couch and pulled her knees up where she could prop her feet on the edge of the cushion. Clark's couch may not be as aesthetically pleasing as her loveseats, but it sure had them beat for comfort — hands down.

"Hello?" Martha answered after a couple of rings.

"Hi, Martha," Lois replied cheerfully. "How's our patient?"

"Good morning, Lois," she said, not sounding at all cheerful herself. "Not very good, I'm afraid."

Lois immediately became concerned. "Why? Has his cold gotten worse? Did he re-injure his wound?"

"He ran a pretty high fever during the night and had the chills. I think he must have picked up some kind of flu bug." She sighed softly. "He told me he doesn't feel like talking to anyone."

"What?" Lois exclaimed. "Not even for just a couple of minutes? I have some exciting news to tell him." Not to mention *important* news. "Is he asleep?"

"No. He's not asleep."

"Well, what then? Is he trying to avoid me?" Lois protested. She knew he wouldn't feel good if he had the flu, but there was no reason he couldn't talk to her for just a couple of minutes.

Martha sighed again, and when she began talking it was a muted whisper, "Between you and me, I think he's feeling a little depressed. With his powers not coming back yet, his injury keeping him from doing very much physically and now getting sick… I think it's just taking a toll on him."

"Oh, Martha, I'm so sorry."

"Thank you, Lois." Lois thought she heard a muffled sob but then Martha was speaking again in a hushed voice. "I'm actually a little worried about him. I've tried babying him. I've tried being hard on him. I've even tried just talking to him, but nothing seems to be working."

Lois opened her mouth to ask if Clark had been out in the sun much lately, but Clark's words from before echoed through her mind…

<…don't say anything about it to my parents…>

Lois frowned. She had done enough lately to damage his trust in her. She would keep his promise — but he was going to have to talk to her. "Hand him the phone, please."

She could hear some muffled noises and then she heard Clark's voice. She couldn't make out what he was saying, but his voice was deeper than it usually was and sounded strained. Lois pushed the pity she was feeling for him down, it wouldn't make him feel any better.

"Lois?" It was Martha again. "He says he's just not up for it."

Lois was instantly mad, forgetting her pity from a few seconds ago. Stubborn male. "All right. Fine. Then, I'm coming to see him." If he wouldn't come to the phone, then she would come to him.

"You're coming to Smallville?" Martha's surprised voice asked.

Lois realized that she might have been a bit rash. She was a little tight right now financially. But the money she had saved on a hotel room for the week could be used for an airline ticket instead, and all those mileage points she had been accruing on her credit card wouldn't hurt either.

And she wasn't about to let Clark get away with ignoring her.

"Yes, Martha," Lois affirmed. "That is, unless it creates a problem for you," she added.

"Oh, no. I'd love to have you, honey," she paused and then continued on in a lower voice, "I think it would be good for Clark. Thank you."

"I'll call you later and let you know when to expect me. I'll get a rental car at the airport and…"

"Heavens no. Jonathan can come pick you up. He needs to head into Wichita to pick up a couple of parts for our older tractor anyway."

The thought made Lois feel a little claustrophobic. It was kind of Martha to offer and would certainly save money for her not to have a rental, but Lois didn't want to be dependent on someone else for transportation. And when she decided she was ready to leave, she wanted to have the means to leave — without having to wait on someone else. Besides, she didn't plan on staying very long. A car rental for a couple of days wasn't going to break her — especially now that she knew she would have a job again very soon.

"No, really, Martha," Lois protested, "I don't want Jonathan to have to come all that way, even if he needs to make a trip. He certainly won't need to make the return trip to get me back to the airport. I'll just get a rental. It'll be easier."

"Okay," Martha said, not sounding quite convinced. "Do you need directions from the airport?"

Did she? Lois had been there before but Clark had been driving so she hadn't really paid attention to the road. "Yeah, let me grab a pen and paper."


Lois was glad the drive to Smallville from the airport wasn't an extremely long one because she had become sick of the tiresome flat expanse of road that she had been driving on. There was nothing to see — just miles and miles of flat farmland intermingled with fields where cattle grazed behind barbed wire fences. She couldn't have been happier when she reached the turnoff for the road that would take her to the Kents' old farmhouse.

As she neared the turn for their driveway, she caught sight of the old house, illuminated by the warm orange glow of the afternoon sun. The house looked pretty much the same as it had the last time she'd been here, although it did look like Jonathan was in the process of repainting the barn.

Turning into their driveway and making her way towards the house, Lois marveled at how time just seemed to stand still somehow out in the country. It was so much different than the hustle and bustle of life in a big city.

There was no way she could ever live in the country. It would drive her insane. The constancy of it and repetitiveness. She needed excitement, challenges… variety.

She brought the car to a stop and turned off the engine. Before she had even gotten her door open, Martha was out on the front porch and coming down the steps to greet her.

"Lois! Did you have a good trip?" Martha asked as she walked up and embraced her.

"Hi, Martha." Lois awkwardly hugged her in return. "Yes, but I'm glad to be here finally. Is the wind always this strong? The plane ran into a lot of turbulence and I felt like I was going to get blown off the road at times."

"Yes, I'm afraid the storms this time of year bring in a lot of wind," Martha explained, looking through the side rear window of Lois's rental car for luggage. "Sometimes even a few tornados."

Lois pulled the release to open the trunk and Martha followed her as she walked back to retrieve her one bag. "Tornados? Are you kidding?" Lois asked before giving her a lopsided grin. "So there is some truth to Dorothy, Toto and Oz, after all?"

Martha returned her grin. "Well I don't know about the 'Oz' part." Her grin widened. "But yes, the tornados are real enough."

Lois frowned. "Well, yeah, but you guys probably haven't seen a tornado in years, have you?"

Martha watched helplessly as Lois picked up her lone bag, then she led the way back towards the house. "Actually a farm about five miles down the road, the Harris farm, sustained some minor damage from a tornado just last spring."

"Really? Is that where Rachel, the sheriff, lives?" Lois asked, feeling a little apprehension when another gust of strong wind whipped around her as they made their way up the front porch steps.

Martha nodded, tucking a few strands of hair that were blowing wildly, behind her ears.

Lois frowned, looking up into the sky. "Are there any watches or warnings out for tonight?"

"No, not yet. The weather forecasters don't seem to think that the storm tonight is going to be very bad." At Lois's concerned look she continued, "Don't worry. We have a weather radio in the kitchen and it's programmed to sound an alarm if either a tornado watch or warning is issued."

That didn't do much to make Lois feel better, but at least there was a warning of some sort. Martha held the front door open for her and she went inside. The house was quiet. "Where're Jonathan and Clark?"

"Jonathan's out working on the corn crop. Clark…" She paused and glanced up the steps as they walked past them on their way towards the couch. "Clark is still in bed."

"At this time of day?" Lois exclaimed — it was the middle of the afternoon. "Martha, is he that sick? Has he gotten worse since I talked to you yesterday?"

Martha's shoulders slumped and she let out a soft sigh. "I don't know. He won't talk to me. Somehow I get the impression that it's not just illness keeping him in that bed. I think part of it is a lack of desire to get out of bed. That's why I was so glad to hear you say you were coming here."

"Do you think he's contagious?" Lois was rarely sick. She had never been a sickly child either, but she didn't want to press her luck.

"I'm not sure," Martha said softly. "His fever dropped off yesterday afternoon and hasn't come back. I had always heard that normally if you didn't have a fever, you weren't contagious. But this isn't exactly 'normal' is it?"

"No, I guess not." They had stopped in front of the couch and Lois suddenly realized that this was where she would be sleeping. She remembered on her last visit that Clark had given up his room for her and had taken the couch. She certainly wouldn't expect him to do that this time. "Where should I put my bag?"

"I'm sorry we don't have another room to put you in," Martha apologized.

"Oh, no, this is fine, Martha, really. Clark took the couch the last time…" And that time in the honeymoon suite at the Lexor hotel, she reminded herself. "It's definitely time for me to take a turn. I just didn't know where I should leave my stuff."

"Why don't you put it in Clark's room? It'll be close to the bathroom that way and…"

"Are you sure he won't mind?" Lois interrupted, feeling suddenly shy about keeping her personal items in Clark's room with him in it. Not like she thought he would go through them or anything and not like there was anything to see, really, anyway. But still… "Maybe I should wait. I don't want to wake him up if he's asleep."

"If he's not asleep, he should be," Martha said, and then frowned. "But I would be very surprised if he's sleeping."

Lois nodded and turned to head up the staircase. She looked back to say something to Martha, but she wasn't there. Then she heard her doing something in the kitchen and realized that Martha didn't intend to follow her up to his room. Her palms began to sweat a little for some reason, and when she got up to his room she found herself a bit hesitant as she stared at the closed door.

Should she knock?

Of course you should knock, she scolded herself. She certainly shouldn't just open the door and go striding inside like she owned the place. What if he wasn't dressed?

She blushed and swallowed once before reaching up to knock on the door. "Clark? It's Lois. May I come in?"

There was silence for a few seconds and Lois was about to knock again when he finally said, "Be my guest, if you want to risk getting sick. I told Mom that she should have told you not to come."

Lois opened the door cautiously and walked inside, feeling for all the world like it had been weeks instead of days since she had seen Clark last. "Well your mom told me that you weren't running a fever any more so you probably aren't contagious."

Clark was lying in bed with his back to the door and the blanket pulled up high around him. His only answer was an indecipherable grunt.

"I'm just leaving my bag here for now." She set her bag down next to his chest of drawers and then walked to the foot of his bed. "How are you feeling?"

There was only another grunt followed by silence.

"Clark? What's wrong? Why won't you talk to me?"

"I just don't feel like it," he mumbled, still refusing to turn and look at her.

"What do you mean?" She scowled. "You don't feel like it because you're sick? Or because you just don't want to talk to me? How sick are you, Clark?" When he didn't say anything she continued, "Are your powers still gone? Is that what's…?"

"Ah, so now we get to the real question," he interrupted, rolling over in bed to face her. His face was pale and he had dark circles under his eyes. Had he been out in the sun at all the past few days? "No. My powers aren't back yet. Does that bother you?" The hard edge in his voice was unmistakable.

"Yes, it bothers me, of course it does!"

"Of course it does," he echoed her abrasively.

Lois furrowed her eyebrows. What was his problem? "Clark, why wouldn't it bother me? If your powers aren't back yet, then you obviously aren't getting better. Something's wrong."

"That's not the only reason it bothers you though, is it?" His eyes left her face and he looked down at the floor.

Lois could hear the sadness in his voice and she wasn't sure she wanted to know where he was going with that question. But she asked anyway, "What do you mean?"

He sighed softly. "You once told Superman that you would love him even if he didn't have any powers at all, even if he were just an ordinary man leading an ordinary life…" He turned over in bed putting his back to her again. "Well it looks like you just might get that chance," he continued softly.

"Don't talk like that," she scolded him. "You're going to get better and you're going to be back to your normal 'super' self in no time." She sat down on the bed next to him and laid her hand on his arm, silently hoping that he wouldn't pull away from her. "But I meant what I said to… you. I *would* still love you, even if you had no powers at all," she recited the words she had said to Superman, "even if your powers never come back. You have to believe that."

"How can I?" he asked, turning his head to look up at her. How could she be so blind as to not realize how her words had hurt him? "Clark *is* the ordinary man leading the ordinary life and you didn't love him. The only reason you care about me now is because you know that the man who you only considered to be your partner and your friend is actually your super hero. It changed your perspective of me, but it didn't change *me*," he paused for a moment and when he continued, his voice was very quiet, "I'm still the same person I've always been and when it comes right down to it, you never loved that person."

"That's not true!" she protested, swallowing the lump that had formed in her throat. She never liked having words thrown back in her face — they were never easy to digest.

"Oh, so you've changed your mind? Is that it?" he growled softly.

Warning signs were flashing inside Lois's mind. She had to proceed very carefully. "It's not that I've changed my mind. I just came to realize something that my heart has known all along but I had refused to admit."

"Oh, sure, you say that now. You know that I'm Superman now. That's the only reason you've changed your mind." Clark had no idea why he was pressing the issue at this particular moment. He really didn't feel like talking about it — like talking period. It just hurt to know that Lois loved her super hero so much that she would hop on a flight to come down here and check on him, but if it were really just Clark, she wouldn't have come.

He had thought a lot about things over the past few days. It's all he'd had time to do. Think. Meditate on the things Lois had said to him as Clark, the way she had treated him. His mother called it feeling sorry for himself. Well that was fine. She could call it that if she wanted to. But it didn't change anything. It didn't change the truth. And the truth was that Lois was only doing what she was doing because she knew he was Superman.

Lois sucked in a sharp breath at his accusation. It had taken all her control not to smart back at him. He hadn't been honest with her — he had hidden things from her. So he was just as guilty. But right now he was hurting, physically and emotionally. He wanted proof and he obviously didn't think she had any to offer, but he was wrong. "I broke off the wedding," she whispered softly.

Clark lay there quietly for a few seconds before answering her, "Of course you did, you found out your husband-to-be was a criminal mastermind."

"No!" she protested. "That's not why I called it off. Henderson hadn't even come yet. I…" she took a steadying breath, "I called it off because I realized that I didn't love him. I told him I was in love with someone else."

"Luthor already knew that," Clark retorted, turning over again to frown up at her. "He knew you were in love with Superman. That's why he had me caged up down in that wine cellar — to keep me out of the way so I couldn't interfere, until he could kill me."

Lois flinched at his words and the mental images they invoked of his torture. "No, that's what Lex asked me — if it was Superman. I told him it wasn't. And the surprising thing was that he knew who I meant. He knew it was you." She squeezed his arm softly. "I didn't really have time to think about it then because Henderson came busting in shortly after that, but later on I thought about it. I realized that I talked about you all the time. And then there was the pheromone incident. Lex had seen me throwing myself at you. He knew there had to be an attraction there for the pheromone to work."

Clark wanted to argue with her. He wanted to tell her that the attraction didn't have to be deep — obviously, or Perry wouldn't have gone after Rahalia like he did.

But he knew she was telling the truth. He could see it in her face, and something Luthor had said to him came flooding back.

<So this is who she would love? This simpering nothing that is cowering before me?>

Luthor had said that right before he had attacked him. Clark hadn't understood at the time what Luthor was talking about, but he did now. Lex had known that Lois was in love with Clark.

Clark felt a rush of pure pleasure run through his body at that knowledge. It was somehow vindicating to know that before Luthor had died, he had known that Lois loved Clark more.

Lois fretted as she waited for him to say something. He looked like he was considering what she had said. Did he still not believe her? "You can ask my mother if you don't believe me. I had her get Lex for me so I could tell him that I wouldn't go through with the marriage." She rolled her eyes inwardly at how juvenile that sounded. "I'm sorry I said what I did that day in the park. It wasn't true. I realized then that I had deep feelings for you but they scared me. Please believe me. I'm sorry that I…"

"I believe you, Lois," Clark murmured quietly. He pushed himself up into a sitting position and the blanket fell away, exposing the bare skin and contoured muscles of his chest.

Lois tried to hide a blush as she realized that she was actually contemplating what still lay beneath the blanket. "So…" she said, trying somewhat unsuccessfully to avert her gaze, "where does that leave us?"

"I don't know," Clark admitted quietly. Honestly she had blown him away with what she had just admitted.

"Oh," she said softly. Lois got up from the bed unsure of what to say next or where to go. She certainly wasn't in a position to talk to him about Klein. And it wouldn't do any good right now, anyway; the sun was already starting to go down. "Well I should probably go downstairs, see if I can help your mom with dinner or something and let you get your rest."

"I couldn't rest now if I tried."

Lois stood in awkward silence for a few seconds before remembering the other item of interest she had wanted to share with him — the Planet. "Um, I do have some good news to tell you."

"What?" Clark was fairly certain that whatever else she had to tell him couldn't possibly top what she had just told him.

Realizing an opportunity when she saw one, she continued slyly, "I want to tell your mom and dad too. So why don't you take a shower — that always makes me feel better when I'm sick — and come downstairs and have dinner with us?"

Clark frowned half-heartedly. "Are you doing the cooking?" She shook her head 'no' and he continued with a smile, "Then I think I might be able to make it down."

Lois stuck her tongue out at him in mock indignation and hid a smile. He was already feeling better.


"Dinner was great, Mom," Clark said, wiping his mouth with his napkin. Dinner had been wonderful for more than one reason. Lois had told him about everything that had been happening back in Metropolis over the past few days. The Daily Planet was coming back, better than ever. Jack was getting a fresh start at a better life…

And Lois was very possibly in love with him — if he dared to believe it.

"Yes, it was delicious," Lois agreed. "Better than my mom's, that's for sure." She made a face. "I think I unfortunately inherited her cooking skills, or lack thereof."

Clark immediately felt guilty for having teased her earlier about her culinary skills. "I'm sure your cooking is fine, Lois."

She shook her head. "Nope. I can't cook to save my life. Whoever you got your information from is absolutely correct." She paused for a minute and narrowed her eyes. "Who *did* you get your info from?"

"I'm not sure I should tell you," Clark teased. "It's against a reporter's code of ethics to reveal a source."

"Not to your partner!" Lois exclaimed in protest.

"Especially to your partner," he said, grinning widely, "if said information is about them."

Lois rolled her eyes. "Martha, I don't think he's sick. I think he's faking it."

Martha laughed. "It wouldn't be the first time a Kent male had feigned illness for some TLC."

"Hey!" Jonathan protested. "It was too beautiful of a day that fine spring morning to spend it away from my new blushing bride. I don't remember hearing any complaints."

"Dad!" Clark exclaimed. His cheeks had turned rosy and it made Lois laugh. He looked over at her and caught her eye, a grin spreading across his face. "I have to admit that I do feel better. In fact, what would you say to taking a walk with me?"

Lois raised an eyebrow. "Are you sure you're feeling up to it?" She would enjoy taking a walk with him but she didn't want him pushing himself.

"Yeah, I think the fresh air would be good for me. The view of the stars here is amazing." He smiled warmly at her. "I wanted to show you the last time you were here, but I didn't get the chance."

"Just be careful," Martha warned. "There's a storm blowing in and you don't want to get caught out in the rain. I don't want to discourage you but you might not see too many stars out tonight."

"That's okay," Lois said, smiling at Clark. "I'm sure there's more to look at than stars."

Clark felt a swell of warmth flow through him. He stood up from his chair and walked to the front door, opening it for Lois. He followed her through it out into the warm, spring night. The moisture hung heavily in the air — you could literally feel it against your skin — there was definitely a storm coming.

Clark looked up at the evening sky. The sun had just finished setting and while there was still a bit of color left on the horizon, the sky above them was dark. Dark enough that they should have been able to see the stars, but they weren't there.

"Sorry. It looks like the clouds are blocking our view of the stars tonight," Clark said apologetically.

"That's okay. It's still lovely. The way the deep red hues at the horizon blend into purples, blues and then black. You don't see a sky like this in Metropolis," Lois noted, sounding wistful.

Mesmerized by the view and not watching where she was walking, she stepped on a small rock with her hiking boot and almost stumbled. She recovered quickly — embarrassed and hoping Clark hadn't noticed her misstep. She didn't get too many chances to wear her hiking boots, but she remembered from her trip here before that boots came in pretty handy on a farm. A dressier pair of shoes was packed away in her bag in Clark's room. She wasn't sure if she'd need them or not but at least she had them.

Clark surprised her when he reached out and took her hand in his as they walked. Maybe she hadn't covered her stumble as well as she thought she had. Lois smiled, enjoying the way her skin tingled where it met with his.

"Sometimes I miss *this*, he said and gestured at the sky, "living in the city."

Lois bit her lip. "So I guess that means you aren't really missing the city, yet?"

Clark glanced over at her and flashed her a smile that she could barely see through the darkness around them. "No, I miss it, but I've got the best part here with me tonight," he said softly, giving her hand a gentle squeeze.

She was glad it was dark out so hopefully he couldn't see the color that she could feel flushing her cheeks. "When do you think you'll come back?"

Lois heard him sigh softly. "I don't know. When do you think Perry will want me to come back?"

She thought for a moment. In truth, Perry probably wouldn't need Clark for at least a couple more weeks, but she didn't want him to be gone that long. "Next week?" she replied hopeful.

"Next week?" Clark stopped walking — beginning to feel the soreness threatening to return in his side — and turned to face her, trying to read her expression through the darkness. He was cursing the fact that his powers had deserted him. His eyesight was normally much better. "Is that when he wants me back or when you want me back?"

She hesitated for a moment before replying, "I would want you to come back tomorrow."


"I know, I know, Clark. You still need to recuperate and you can do that better here. I just miss you. I was worried about you when you didn't call." She tentatively moved closer to him and when she continued there was a tremble in her voice, "That day, when I heard Henderson say you'd been wounded and then I saw them loading you into that ambulance, I…" She trailed off and Clark didn't know what to say so he just wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into him, allowing himself to believe that she really did love him.

"Shhh," he whispered quietly against her hair, "it's all right. You're safe and I'm here…"

"Yes, but you're not okay." She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him gently. "You're hurting and it's my fault."

Clark drew back from her. "Look at me." When she didn't comply, he used one hand to lift her chin up so he could look into her eyes. "This isn't your fault. Luthor did this…"

"Yes, but if I had seen him for who he really was, I could have been helping you, instead of hindering you," she argued. "We might have found evidence on him sooner. He might not have…"

Clark pressed one finger to her lips, silencing her. "You can't dwell on what might have happened or what you could have done. Believe me. It would make you go insane."

She realized he was probably speaking from experience as Superman. Even as Superman there was only so much that he could do. If he dwelled on all the things he couldn't do, it would make him crazy. She couldn't even imagine how he was dealing with things now — coping with not having any powers after having been the strongest person in the world.

Instead of responding to what he said, she just snuggled closer against him, enjoying the warmth of his arms around her. "I'm sorry for what happened that day in the park," she murmured, trying to find a way to ease into a conversation about Dr. Klein. She hadn't brought the subject up at the dinner table because Clark had asked her not to say anything to his parents. That's why she hadn't just spilled the news to Martha over the phone, instead of flying all the way here to talk to him.

She had promised.

That wasn't the only reason she had flown all the way here, though. She had needed to see him. Lois sighed softly and Clark gave her a gentle squeeze, sending a pleasant fluttering through her nervous stomach.

"That day… the park… wasn't your fault," he consoled her. "I caught you off guard. I shouldn't have…"

"No, Clark, I lied about my feelings that day." She had to make him see that she loved him, make him understand that she had gone to Dr. Klein to help him. He needed to know what Klein had told her. But the potential to wreck everything loomed over her, threatening to smother her voice. Or maybe that was just the humidity. "Clark, I…"

She paused because of a crack of thunder and flash of lightning from the field next to them. "Wow, that was close," she breathed.

And then the rain came.

"Run!" Clark instructed her, taking her by the arm and heading back towards the house.

Lois had heard about rain hitting fast and furious but she hadn't experienced it in quite this way before. In the city there were always plenty of buildings nearby with awnings for shelter, or if you were desperate you could take a short cab ride. But out in the country, a couple of hundred feet from the front porch and no other available shelter, you were in trouble.

By the time they made it to the front porch Lois was soaked and shivering slightly, yet it had been kind of fun. She was out of air from running so hard so fast, and she bent over to catch her breath. Clark might not be 'super' right now, but even for a man with a wound in his side, he could still outrun her.

Clark rubbed his side gingerly where his stitches were. They hadn't bothered him as much the last couple of days, but then again, he'd mostly been in bed. "Lois, are you okay?" he asked, leaning over and pulling her hair back to look at her.

She rose up, giggling softly. "Y..yeah. I'm f..fine," she told him through chattering teeth.

He stood up, putting his arm around her, and led her to the door. "I'm sorry. If I had my heat vision I could dry you out in two seconds…"

Lois planted her feet, forcing Clark to stop. He turned to look at her and she frowned at him. "Don't."

Clark gave her a look of confusion. "Don't what?"

"Don't you do that, Clark. I don't care about your powers. I mean it. I would just as soon have your arm around me keeping me warm."

He tightened his hold on her. "I can definitely do that."

"Okay, good," she said, sounding satisfied. "Now let's get you inside before your cold turns into pneumonia."

Clark opened the door for her and followed her inside. Lois looked around expecting Martha to come in and fuss at Clark for getting caught in the rain, but she wasn't anywhere to be seen. "Where's your mom?"

Clark gestured upstairs. "They go to bed pretty early because they have to get up before the chickens," he said, smiling at her. Then he shrugged. "That's life on a farm." He headed upstairs, continuing to talk as he climbed, "Get your…" He almost said pajamas but decided against it, "…clothes ready that you want to change into and I'll get the shower hot for you."

"No, Clark," she hollered up at him, "you go ahead. You need to get warmed up. Besides, I'm sure you're faster than me in the shower."

A couple of minutes later Clark was stepping into the shower. The heat of the water soaked into his body, warming him through. As he savored the rhythmic massage of the water against his neck and shoulders, his mind turned to thoughts of Lois bathing in this same shower after him. After a few seconds, Clark reached down and shifted the nozzle to cold.


Lois came down the stairs prepared to go to bed on the couch, but she found Clark lying there instead.

"What do you think you're doing?" she asked, crossing her arms in front of her — not just for authority but also because she felt a little self-conscious in the thin cotton pajamas she had on.

"Going to sleep," he responded easily. "I put fresh sheets on my bed for you."

She shook her head. "Uh-uh. You're sick. I'm not letting you sleep down here on the couch. Besides I owe you one from the honeymoon suite at the Lexor."

Clark laughed lightly. "I hope you don't think that this would make up for that. You'd still owe me."

Lois raised an eyebrow. "Really? And just what did you have in mind?" She smiled in triumph when his face reddened. "I'm serious. You don't need to be sleeping on the couch. Now get upstairs."

He sat up on the couch and gave her a little mock salute. "Yes, ma'am."

"Where's my pillow?"

"I took it upstairs and put it on my bed," he answered. "I can go get it…"

"Nah. I'll walk upstairs with you and get it."

Clark got up from the couch and walked to the stairs. He held out his hand, gesturing for her to go first, and she hesitantly began to climb them. It was ridiculous for her to feel nervous about him walking up the stairs behind her in her lightweight pajamas — after all she had greeted him as Superman in a silk nightie — but she felt self-conscious nonetheless.

And this was different. This was Clark. Her mind knew that the two of them were the same person, but her heart still had a little trouble with it.

Thinking about that silk nightie, she remembered something he had said that night at her apartment. "Clark? Have you ever…" she hesitated for a moment but then decided that she had to know the answer, "…x-rayed me?"

"What?" he exclaimed. He realized he was staring at her nicely formed backside as it gracefully ascended the stairs in front of him. Of course he hadn't ever x-rayed her — not that he hadn't thought about it.

She reached the top of the stairs and turned to look down at him. "You heard me. That night you came to my apartment as Superman, I was going to put on a robe and you told me that it wouldn't do any good unless it was lead-lined. Have you ever…"

"No!" Clark replied, horrified.

"Not even a little?"


Lois was grinning like a Cheshire cat because Clark's face had turned a deep shade of red. "Haven't even thought about it, huh?" She pretended to be a little affronted.

"Lois, Superman would never…"

"Well I'm not talking to Superman, now, am I?" she bantered, stepping aside so he could get up the last couple of steps. She walked into his bedroom and grabbed her pillow up from his bed.

Clark felt dizzy from the comfortable way she was teasing him. He followed her into the bedroom and when she turned around he decided two could play this game. "So you're asking if I've ever been tempted to take a peek?" He flashed her a grin. "Sure."

Lois felt a little light-headed at his admission. "But you didn't… um… look?"

He shook his head.

"When were you tempted?" she asked, giving him a curious look.

"That night in the honeymoon suite. You looked so beautiful and I had teased you about sharing the bed with you. I couldn't get you out of my mind. I was listening as you got ready for bed. I…" He swallowed, amazed that he was actually going to admit this to her. "I heard you pull back the satin sheets and I heard you take off your clothes." He ran a hand through his hair nervously. "Before I realized what I was doing, I was standing in front of your bedroom door and had pulled my glasses down. But I caught myself. I didn't look, I swear."

Lois's face had turned a pretty shade of pink and Clark smiled. "It was so much harder not to want you after you threw yourself at me when you were affected by the pheromone spray," he admitted.

Her mouth fell open. "I did not *throw* myself at you," she huffed, pretending to be upset.

Clark shrugged and her pretense fell away into a shy grin. "Well, maybe just a little," she admitted. Then her head started to swim when she realized what he had just said, 'it was so much harder not to *want* you…'

Lois felt her breath catch when Clark stepped closer to her. She watched in anticipation as his hand came up to cup her cheek softly. It set her nerve endings on fire where his skin touched hers and she closed her eyes in expectation of what was to come.

Clark looked down into her face. It would be so easy to kiss her. He wanted to kiss her so badly. But what if she wasn't ready for that? She looked ready — she looked like it was what she wanted.

But it was a big deal. Clark hadn't ever kissed her before as 'Clark', at least not when she knew that he really meant it. When it wasn't a diversion or some kind of pretense to cover something else.

All of the sudden he lost his nerve and he brushed his lips lightly across her cheek instead. "Goodnight, Lois," he whispered next to her ear.

The feather-light brush of his lips sent a shiver down her spine, but when he pulled away, Lois opened her eyes and tried to do her best to hide her disappointment. "Goodnight, Clark." He wasn't comfortable enough with their situation to kiss her. He probably still wasn't sure if it was really him that she cared about, or if she was still enamored with Superman.

She walked out of his bedroom and back down the stairs, biting the inside of her cheek as she contemplated her situation. How could she prove her feelings for him? What had to happen in order to heal the rift between them?


Lois was riding inside Lex's private elevator at LexCorp. The elevator went lower and lower, never stopping. She silently cursed it. Clark was hurt. She had to get to him.

Bright, gleaming green bars flashed through her mind. She could see Clark doubled over on the floor inside a cage, clasping his stomach and coughing in agony. He looked up at her and his lips moved. 'Help me, Lois,' he seemed to be saying.

Lois opened her eyes and found herself looking into the face of Lex Luthor. "You promised to give yourself to me!" he yelled in a fury, ripping off part of her dress.

"No," she screamed. "Clark!"

"Clark is dead," Lex taunted her. "I would have killed him to take him from you but he had already died from a broken heart." Lex pinned her body beneath his and crushed his lips forcefully against hers. Lois fought against him, closing her eyes to what was happening.

When she opened her eyes again she was back in the elevator. Bursts of light flashed around her and an alarm went off.

A loud, piercing alarm that ripped through her consciousness and woke her from her nightmare. She wasn't at LexCorp. She was in Kansas at Clark's parents' house.

But the alarm — that was real enough. It was coming from the next room. Lois got up and hurried into the kitchen, where the sound was emanating from. She looked around and found the object making the noise — it was the weather radio.

"The national weather service has issued a tornado watch for the following counties…" a mechanized voice informed her.

Tornado watch? Watch… Was that the bad one? She knew there were watches and warnings. One meant that there was the possibility of a tornado and the other one meant that a tornado had actually been seen. Thinking logically, warning would mean that a tornado could form, and watch would mean that one had been spotted and you needed to watch for it, right?

"…Reno, Sedgwick, Sumner…"

Lois had no idea what county they were in. She needed to get Clark. She ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs, her path being lit by the flashes of lightning outside. Her heart raced with each subsequent crash of thunder.

Not worried this time about knocking, Lois threw the door open and rushed inside. She put her hands on Clark's shoulder and shook him. "Clark? Clark, wake up, there's a tornado."

Clark rolled over to look up at her. "What?" he asked sleepily.

"A tornado! The weather radio went off. I didn't know what to do. They were naming off all these counties and I didn't know which one we were in and…"

"Lois, calm down. Did they say if it was a tornado watch or a warning?"

"A watch. Isn't that the bad one?" Lois was fidgeting nervously, wishing that Clark would hurry up and get out of bed. He seemed way too calm. "Warning just means that they're warning you that there could be one, right?"

Clark sat up in bed and swung his legs off the side of the bed. "No, a warning means that an actual tornado has been spotted. A watch means that conditions are favorable for a tornado." He stood up slowly, trying to get his bearings after having been woken up so abruptly.

"What do we do? They don't have tornados in Metropolis." She started to pace in the small confines of his bedroom. "I've never been in one before. Where do we go? I remember something about getting to the basement or the southeast corner of your house or something like that…"

He stopped her from pacing on her next pass, putting his hands on her shoulders. He intended to assure her that it wasn't serious yet, but before he could say anything she turned into his body and wrapped her arms around him. "Clark, I'm scared." Truth be told, she still felt a little shaky from her nightmare. It hadn't helped to have such a rude awakening, and the thought of a tornado really did frighten her.

Enfolding her in his arms he rubbed her back softly. "It's okay. Trust me. I've been through this lots of times." Clark felt like he was trying to convince her as much as he was himself. If a tornado really did come, there wouldn't be a damn thing he could do about it. He didn't have any of his powers or abilities to try and divert it; he wouldn't even be able to fly them away from danger.

Clark pulled away from her and took her hand, leading her out of the room. He grabbed his glasses and put them on out of habit. "Let's go downstairs and turn on the TV, see what the local stations are saying."

He led her down the stairs and they both sat on the couch. Clark turned on the TV and flipped through the stations.

"…reported at this time," the anchorman was saying.

"What? Did he say a tornado had been reported?" Lois asked anxiously.

"Shhhh," Clark shushed her. The meteorologist was talking and he couldn't hear him over Lois. "Listen."

"…definitely some circular motion being detected in the lower level clouds here," the weatherman pointed to a spot on the screen and drew animated arrows indicating the rotation. "We will continue to monitor this system and keep you informed of any changes."

"Thanks, Ted," the original anchorman said. "As we said before, there have not been any reported sightings of an actual funnel cloud at this time. But now is the time to get prepared. This storm has already knocked out power in several towns and has produced some large hail — anywhere from marble size to golf ball size pieces." He used his thumb and finger to indicate the sizes. "We are advising everyone to remain indoors and stay tuned in for further updates."

The bulletin cut off and went back to the regular programming, which happened to be a late night talk show. The watch box in the lower left corner of the screen had the counties highlighted that were at risk.

Lois had been fidgeting restlessly. Now that the broadcast was over, she turned to look at Clark. "So what do we do now?"

"There's not much we can do," he said apologetically. "Mom and Dad have a bag in their closet with flashlights, bottled water, a radio and back-up batteries. If the advisory changes from a watch to a warning, then I'll go wake them up. We can go out to the storm cellar until it passes."

She raised her eyebrows. "They have a storm cellar? Like what? A concrete underground bunker?"

Clark chuckled lightly. "Sort of. It's a shelter built down into the ground. It has some canned goods and some oil lanterns in it. It's not very comfortable though, so we don't usually go in there unless we're certain there's a real threat. The last time I remember using it, I was probably about thirteen." He stood up from the couch and started to walk away.

"Wait. Where are you going?" Lois asked, standing up and following him. "I don't think I want to be down here by myself."

Clark turned around and smiled at her. "Don't worry, I'm not going to leave you by yourself. I'm just going to get a glass of water. You want anything?"

"Yeah, my bed in my own apartment back in Metropolis?" she joked.

"If I could fly, I would take you there in a heartbeat," he said earnestly, his voice suddenly serious.

Lois smiled timidly. "No, if you had your powers you'd be out there in the middle of that storm, trying to see if there was anything you could do to divert it." She had spoken without really thinking about it and when she saw the look on Clark's face and watched him walk quietly into the kitchen, she wanted to kick herself.

She let out a soft sigh and followed him into the kitchen. He had his back turned to her while he filled up a glass with water. Lois walked up and reached out with one hand, rubbing his back softly. "It's okay, you know," she said gently.

"What is?" he asked simply, wishing he could avoid the subject.

"Clark, talk to me. Please? I know you're bottling everything up inside you…"

"What good would it do? It wouldn't change anything," he brooded. "If I shared my fears or my troubles with you or my parents, it wouldn't help anything. It would just make you feel as lousy as I do," he said, taking a long drink from his glass.

"It would make you feel better. That's something. It's not good to keep things pinned up inside you. Believe me, I should know," she admitted, putting her arms around him and giving him a gentle squeeze.

Clark was quiet for a few seconds before answering her, "What if my powers never come back?"

Her heart clenched inside her. If his powers never came back it would be her fault. She had been the bait Lex had used and it had worked. She would be guilty of the death of a super hero. Lois had an inkling of how Clark felt because she knew it would devastate her if that happened.

"Then you'll just be Clark Kent." She pulled on him until he turned around to face her. "Clark, whether you have super powers or not, you're still a very special person. You are the kindest, gentlest, most considerate, caring person that I've ever known. You'd have to be to have put up with me for so long. That takes the patience of a saint." She smiled broadly at him and he gave her a small smile in return. "You help people in so many ways, not just as Superman. Look at the things you've been able to accomplish just through the articles you've written at the Planet."

"Yeah," he said quietly. "I guess. But it's going to be so hard. I'm used to being able to fix things, to help people. I've always been able to and now suddenly I can't. I feel powerless."

"But you aren't, Clark. You are one of the strongest people I know. And you're talking like you've already lost your powers for good. You don't know that for sure. Where's that incorrigibly hopeful, naive farm boy partner that I've grown so fond of?"

"Don't you mean 'hack from nowheresville'?" he reminded her.

She frowned. "I'll have you know that hack is the only partner I'd ever work with, and he comes from this cute little town that has the best caramel apples you've ever tasted."

Clark raised his eyebrows at her. "You didn't ever get to taste those caramel apples I told you about."

She smiled mischievously at him. "Yeah. I was hoping we might rectify that this trip."

He smiled back and then got quiet for a minute. He sighed softly and took hold of her by both shoulders, looking intently at her. "Are you sure you could really love the ordinary man, the farm boy from Kansas with no powers, nothing special?"

Lois took a deep, shaky breath as she looked into his apprehensive eyes. "I'm already in love with him. He's the reason I didn't marry Lex. Not Superman. He's the one I hoped I could have something more with, if he could forgive me for being so blind and foolish."

Now. She should tell him about Klein now.

Clark was overcome by emotion and he drew Lois to him with his left hand around her waist. He didn't care if he was being reckless. For once in his life he was going to do something he wanted, without worrying about the consequences. He reached up with his right hand and cupped her face, pulling her towards him as he leaned forward to claim her lips with his own.

There was no hesitation with this kiss. It wasn't some false pretense or diversionary tactic. It was the real thing.

He caught Lois by surprise with the kiss, but all her thoughts quickly melted away and she relaxed, softening against him. She tightened her arms around him, closing her eyes and giving herself over to the moment. Clark was kissing her. Really kissing her. She could feel every place his skin met hers, the way his thumb was pressed lightly against her cheek and his fingers teased the hairline behind her ear… the passion in the way his hand pulled against the small of her back where it rested.

Clark pulled away from her to catch his breath before taking a soft taste of her upper lip. She moaned into his mouth, running the tip of her tongue along the silky inner surface of his lips. His thumb caressed the soft skin of her cheek while his fingers moved lower, gently exploring the contours of her jaw line and neck as the fingers of his other hand tensed and teased against her back.

Lois felt herself tremble at the soft caresses. The tenderness in his movements raised the hair on the back of her neck and arms. She released him from her embrace and ran her hands up along his pectoral muscles and over his shoulders, sliding her fingers around behind his neck and up into his hair. It was just like she had daydreamed. She relished in the feel of his soft, silky strands between her fingers. Lois pulled against him, deepening the kiss, drawing from his lips until she felt lightheaded. She tilted her head back and took a few gulps of air.

Clark wasted no time in lowering his mouth to her exposed neck, leaving a trail of kisses down to her collarbone. But as nice as that felt, Lois didn't want to be parted from his lips so soon. Having caught her breath and feeling a little empowered, she sought out his mouth again.

She pressed him, her body insisting on gaining ground against his. Clark gave into her advances, slowly backing up until his body met with resistance from the kitchen cabinets behind him.

"You have nowhere left to run, Clark," Lois panted between kisses. "No where to hide," she murmured, before sucking on his lower lip.

Clark uttered a groan of pleasure before responding, "I don't want to hide. I never want to hide from you again."

Taking her by surprise, Clark lifted her up in his arms and turned around to sit her on the countertop behind him. He leaned in and brushed a soft kiss between the plunging v-collar of her pajama top. If he'd had his powers now, it would have practically taken a miracle for him not to sneak a peek at what lay under her soft cotton shirt. As it was, the garment was almost thin enough not to leave much to the imagination.

Clark leaned his head forward against her shoulder and took a few deep breaths to calm himself. He wondered for just a moment if he might be dreaming. He'd had many dreams about Lois, but none of them had ever felt this real.

Lois pulled him out of his thoughts when she wove her hands into his hair and began lightly stroking it. "Mmmm," she hummed happily. "I can't believe I'm making out with you in your parents' kitchen."

He placed a soft kiss on her shoulder before pulling away and looking up into her eyes. "Hmmm, I've eaten a lot of good food in here," he said before leaning in to kiss her neck, "but I don't think any of it ever tasted quite like this," he murmured against her throat, a soft chuckle coming from deep within him.

Lois tilted her head down to look at him. "Why did we ever wait so long to do this? God knows I've dreamed about it often enough… well, except for the kitchen part." She flashed him a small smile.

"You've dreamed about making out with me?" he asked. She nodded. "Me? Not Superman?"

"I won't lie. I've dreamed of making out with Superman, but I've also dreamed of making out with you, Clark. Ever since I saw you in that towel when I came to pick you up at the Apollo hotel." She got a dreamy look in her eyes. "I mean, wow, Clark. After that day, I always wondered why you kept that body hidden beneath those suits, and those awful ties."

Clark's eyebrows lifted. "You think my ties are awful?"

Lois giggled. "A few of them are…" at his hurt look, she softened the blow, "a little… um… wild."

"Well that's the point. To see the tie and not the man behind them."

She nodded. "To see the glasses and not the beautiful brown eyes behind them." She reached out and took his glasses off, looking into his eyes. "How could I have not seen you? I should have realized right off…"

"I'm glad you didn't," he admitted softly. "I needed to be able to fool people, Lois. I wanted to have a real life."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "But yet you were upset that I couldn't see, how was it you put it, 'what was right in front of me'?"

Clark sighed. "Yeah, I know — you can't have it both ways. I was actually more upset that you couldn't see Luthor for who he really was than because you couldn't see me for who I was."

Lois looked away, hating to be reminded of her error in judgment. Clark winced guiltily and put one hand to her chin to turn her face back to look at him. "But that was partly my fault too. No one knew Luthor the way I did."

"Yeah, but I should…" She reached up and covered her mouth as a yawn escaped her lips.

She smiled apologetically at him and he brushed his hand across her cheek softly, sweeping her hair away from her face. "You should go up to my bedroom and get some sleep. I can stay up for a while and keep an eye on the storm, see if it gets any worse."

"No," she protested, "I told you I wasn't going to take your bed." Just the thought of sleeping in his bed sent a rush of flutters through her stomach. Definitely not a good idea — she'd never get to sleep. Even as tired as she was, her mind was still reeling with thoughts of his lips and hands…

Clark sighed. "All right, then let's go sit on the couch together. We can watch TV until we can't keep our eyes open."

"Okay." Lois wasn't sure that was better, but she didn't argue. Clark lifted her down from the counter and she followed him back to the couch, sitting down next to him. The same watch box was still on the screen, apparently there hadn't been any new developments, and the same talk show was still on — a comedian was attempting to juggle various items.

After a bit, Lois began to relax. She felt a comfortableness with Clark that she had never known before and she eased over closer to him. She could feel the warmth of his body and she snuggled against him. He lifted his arm and slid it around her shoulders allowing her to lay her head against his chest. She smiled when she felt the vibrations of his laughter at what he was watching on TV.

Lois yawned again. Her eyelids were so heavy that she swore they felt like they weighed five pounds each. She wouldn't be able to keep them open much longer.

Clark looked down at her, watching her as she lost the battle with sleep. Waiting until she was completely gone, he then scooped her up in his arms. He winced with pain as he stood up with her, his abdominal muscles pulling against his wound. He kept forgetting that there were some things he had trouble doing. Clark set his jaw against the pain and carried her towards the stairs. He might not be 'super', but he wasn't a weakling either. He would fight this in whatever way he could.


Lois wasn't sure what exactly woke her up, but when she opened her eyes she was surprised to see how light it was in the room.

The room.

She was in Clark's bedroom, in his bed. Lois didn't remember coming up here and going to bed. In fact, she remembered protesting when Clark offered to let her sleep in his bed. Had he carried her up here after she fell asleep? She scrunched up her face and frowned. Shame on him. He shouldn't be carrying her like that; he could hurt himself. But… the thought of being carried to bed… by Clark…

Her mind wandered back to the kiss they had shared last night and it sent a shiver of excitement through her. He had kissed her. That had to be a good sign, an indication that they were moving past everything that had happened. Didn't it?

She sighed happily and snuggled down under the warm blanket a little further, not quite ready to get up yet. She wondered what time it was? Feeling for her right wrist, she realized that she hadn't taken her watch off. She glanced at the time — eight forty-three! How in heaven's name had she slept that long? She never slept past six-thirty at home. But in all fairness she hadn't been sleeping at home the past few nights… at least, not her home.

Lois kicked the sheets and blanket off, scrambling to get out of bed. She wasn't sure what it was about staying here, but she had slept in the last time she was here as well — she had 'snoozed' her little travel alarm clock at least three times before she had finally gotten up. Martha and Jonathan were going to think she was a lazy bum! She listened for any noises or voices in the house but didn't hear any. Was Clark already up too? Was he feeling any better today?

Dr. Klein's words rang through her head about Superman needing sunlight to recuperate. She hadn't passed that information on to Clark yet, and she needed to. But how? How did she tell him without upsetting him? Especially now that they were getting along so much better.

Her mind wandered and she found herself daydreaming again about the kiss they had shared last night. The gentleness of his hands as they explored her back, the way he had lifted her up to sit her on the counter. She could still feel his lips where they had pressed against her. Lois opened her eyes, not realizing she had closed them, and felt a rush of warmth flow through her.

She didn't want to ruin things.

If she said anything to Clark about what Klein had said, he would know that she had been to see him again. That could lead into a discussion about the hair. Lois fidgeted, shifting her weight from one foot to the other on the cool hardwood floor. She went to her one piece of luggage and bent down, hunting through it for a pair of socks.

Maybe she didn't have to actually *tell* him just yet. After all, she was here where she could keep an eye on him, she reasoned as she leaned against the bed and pulled on her socks. She could get him out in the sun today and keep him out in it as much as possible. She bent over again and grabbed a fresh pair of jeans and a shirt out of her suitcase and threw them on.

That's just what she intended to do.

Her hiking boots were downstairs where she had left them last night when she and Clark had come in wet and muddy. Before Lois headed off in search of her boots, she bent down to zip up her suitcase. The garment bag inside it caught her attention.

Smiling as she thought about what the bag contained, she bent down and retrieved it. She unzipped it far enough to check the contents, making sure the item hadn't been wrinkled too badly. It looked like it had traveled fairly well. She was sure Martha would loan her an ironing board and iron if she needed one. Right now she wasn't even sure if she'd get a chance to wear it or not.

She hung the bag up in Clark's closet and then made her way downstairs to retrieve her boots. Her first estimation had been right — she was alone in the house. Everyone else had probably been up for a while by the looks of things. She knew from her first trip to Kansas that Martha normally fixed a big breakfast, but Lois couldn't even smell a *hint* of anything coming from the kitchen. They had long since finished.

After grabbing her boots by the front door, she carried them over to a chair so she could put them on. She was just about to sit down when the front door opened. Martha came walking in. She had her hair tucked behind her ears with a wide-brimmed straw hat on her head and dark cotton gloves on her hands that were caked with dirt.

Martha smiled warmly at her. "Good morning, Lois. Did you sleep well last night?"

"Yes, apparently better than I thought I would," Lois replied with a sigh as she slipped into her boots and began lacing them up. "I can't believe I slept in so late! What happened with the storm? I'm assuming since no one woke me up that it just blew on through."

Martha nodded. "Yes. It's still a little cloudy out, but I think the rain is done. There was a little damage to a few of our trees from some strong wind bursts but a tornado never actually formed." She slipped out of her gloves and pulled her hat off her head. "Our neighbor, Wayne Irig, said that the Bradford Pear tree in his front yard was blown completely over. But those trees are known for being a little weak. Otherwise everything is fine."

"Good. That was a little more excitement than I wanted last night." Lois tightened the bows in her shoestrings and frowned. "But I hate that I woke Clark up for nothing."

"Oh, don't be silly. A tornado watch is nothing to sneeze at," Martha assured her.

Lois glanced out the front window. "Speaking of Clark, where is he?"

Martha grinned. "He was feeling so much better today that he offered to go feed the chickens for me. I think you have a healing effect on him."

Lois blushed. "I don't know about that." She furrowed her eyebrows. "Chickens? I didn't know you had chickens. I thought this was just an agricultural crop farm." Clark had mentioned them 'getting up before the chickens', but she had thought that was just a saying.

"It is, but we keep a few chickens around for the fresh eggs. They're so much better than what you can get at the store. And when Clark was younger he always enjoyed the baby chicks we'd have each spring." Her grin widened into a broad smile. "In fact, I imagine that's why he's still out in the barn. We just had some babies hatch a few days ago."


"Yeah, you ought to go out and see them. Baby chicks are just adorable. They're out in the barn," Martha pointed in the general direction. "Did you want something to eat first?"

"Oh, no, thank you. I don't usually eat breakfast."

Martha made a face of disapproval. "Yes, I seem to remember that now. Well I'll be sure you make up for it at lunch. Be careful walking out to the barn. The ground is pretty saturated from the rain last night and can be a little tricky to walk on."



Lois pulled the door open to the barn. "Clark? Are you in here?"

"Back here," came his reply.

Lois stepped carefully across the hay-covered floor and around a few bales towards his voice. She found him in the back corner of the barn holding a fluffy, yellow chick.

"Oh, it's so cute," she said, smiling at the fuzzy little thing that was peeping in Clark's hands.

"Do you want to hold it?" he asked, holding his hands out to her.

Lois eyed the tiny animal cautiously. "Oh, um, I don't know. It won't bite will it?"

Clark smiled. "Chickens don't have teeth. They don't bite; they peck." Lois rolled her eyes at him and Clark's smile widened. "But, no, it won't peck you. It's just a baby."

She held out her hands and he deposited the soft little bundle into them. The baby chick tilted its head and seemed to look up at her. "Peep," it chirped. Lois laughed. She hadn't had much experience around baby animals, but she was enjoying holding this one.

"I think it likes you," Clark said, his smile widening. "It better be careful or I might get jealous."

Lois grinned at him and patted the little chick before handing it back to Clark. "Your mom said you were feeling even better this morning."

"I am." He put the chick down and slid his arms around her waist. "I'm glad you came."

Lois felt a pleasant flutter in her stomach. "Me too." She patted his broad chest with one hand. "So, do you think you might feel up to a trip to town later? Be honest. I won't be disappointed if you're not."

Clark gave her a little squeeze. "I'll always be honest with you, Lois. From now on. There won't be any more secrets, I promise."

Lois swallowed, her conscience berating her for the secret she was keeping from him about Dr. Klein and the hair sample she had given him. She knew she needed to tell Clark what she had done, but not right now.

Right now, Clark just needed to get better. He needed to spend time in the sun and time with her. He seemed so relaxed and she was enjoying this so much. She didn't want to ruin it by telling him something that would upset him. She would tell him, eventually, when the time was right.

"But to answer your question," Clark continued, "yes, I'd like to go out."

Her stomach fluttered again at the words 'go out' and once more she felt like a lovestruck teenager. It made her break out into a goofy grin. "Did you just say 'go out'?"

Clark's face reddened. "Yeah, I guess I did. Well what would you call it when two consenting adults go to dinner together?"

"Sounds suspiciously like a date," she teased.

"Does that bother you?" he asked, a little uneasy. The last thing he wanted to do was lose their newfound comfortableness with each other by moving too fast. A kiss — even like the one from last night — was different than a date. A date meant commitment, at least on some level.

"Not at all," she assured him. "I just hope your parents don't plan to chaperone. I was kind of hoping to spend some time alone with you." Her eyes twinkled and she rubbed her hand up his chest slowly. "So, is there anywhere in this town that a girl could get a good slice of pizza?"


"Yeah," she smiled, "I wasn't sure if Smallville had any fancy restaurants and somehow I think pizza and beer would be more fun anyway."

He smiled at her and felt a warm rush of pleasure and comfort at the thought of spending more time with her. "I think I know just the place."

"Good." Lois stepped back from him and looked around. "Well, I guess I should let you get back to work. I'm gonna go back to the house and give Perry a call, see how things are going back home."

Clark reached out and grabbed her hand, pulling her back to him. He brushed a tantalizingly brief kiss to her lips that held the promise of more but then released her. "Okay, I'll see you later."

The butterflies promptly left her stomach and were replaced by an even stronger sensation — desire. How could she have ever thought she didn't have *those* kinds of feelings for Clark?

She made her way unsteadily back to the house in a daze. When she finally made it to the front porch, she looked up at the door and couldn't quite remember how she had gotten there.


Lois followed closely behind Clark as they made their way through a patch of trees on a small dirt path. Her lunch was sitting a little heavy on her stomach and she was beginning to wish she had opted to take a nap instead of tromping off into the wilderness to some unknown location. But Clark had insisted she would enjoy it, and since she was trying to keep him outside in the sun as much as she could…

"Where are we going again?" she asked, squinting through the trees up ahead for a glimpse of their destination.

"We're almost there," Clark answered her, remaining ambiguous about where they were going.

Lois sighed and then grunted when she stumbled over a rock. She scowled down at the rock, about to kick it, when Clark's hand came out offering to help her. Feeling slightly miffed about the whole situation, she waved it away. "I'm fine."

"I know you are. It's the rock I'm worried about."

He turned his face away so she couldn't tell if he was smiling or not, but she didn't need to see his face for confirmation. She could hear it in his voice. "Hmph," she muttered.

"It's just up here a little further, I promise."

"You said that three rocks ago," she complained. She had thought her hiking boots would be just the thing for tromping through the woods. Apparently, though, it helps if you're used to walking in the big, clunky things, and she wasn't. She was used to wearing stylish but practical pumps and heels, which were nothing at all like these things. And even if she had worn these in the city more often, there was a big difference in walking around in them on pavement than out here on uneven, rocky ground.

Lois muttered another few choice words about spraining her ankle or breaking her neck, when the trees opened up to uncover their treasure.

It was a pond. But not just any pond.

There was another smaller pond not too far from the barn. It was the one that Clark had fought with Trask in. But it wasn't anything like this pond.

Lois had seen pictures of ponds that were covered in green, mucky scum, or ponds that were only a couple of feet deep and served as more of a watering hole for cows than anything. This pond was big — had to be at least a hundred feet across to the other side and even wider from end to end. And the water was clean and clear. There was a little wooden pier that went out a few feet and it had a small metal flat-bottom boat tied to it.

"It's beautiful, Clark. Is this where you would go fishing with your dad?"

Clark raised an eyebrow at her. "Yeah, it is. What made you ask that?"

"Oh, I had just noticed the picture above your headboard — you and your dad standing together with your fishing poles. You looked so cute." She glanced out at the pond again and another question came to mind. "Did you ever go swimming here when you were younger?"

He smiled. "Yeah, I still do."

"Really?" Lois grinned mischievously at him. "Did you ever go skinny-dipping?"

"Uh, yeah."

Lois had only asked to try and make him blush. She hadn't actually expected him to say yes. She felt her mouth fall open. "You did?" she exclaimed. "By yourself? Or with someone else?"

At first, Clark couldn't believe how audacious she was being, but then he reminded himself that this was Lois, after all. He cleared his throat before answering, "Both." He had tried not to blush but he didn't think he was very successful.

Lois's eyes grew wider. "With a girl?" she asked incredulously.

Clark nodded, feeling himself start to squirm. Of course with a girl. He wouldn't go skinny-dipping with one of his boyhood friends — they always at least left their underwear on.

"Who?" she demanded curiously.

"You really want to know?" he asked, hoping she would say no.


He blew out a breath of air. "My girlfriend in high school. She was…"

"You had a girlfriend?" Lois could have slapped herself the minute the words came out. Of course he'd had girlfriends. What a stupid question to ask. She'd seen how great he looked in just a towel and he had played football in high school. He had probably dated a cheerleader. "I mean, of course you had a girlfriend," she stammered. "What was her name?"

Clark's hesitation melted away in the face of her attack on his experience with women or lack thereof and he decided to tell all. "Lana Lang. She was a varsity cheerleader," he broke off when he saw Lois smirk. "And she was captain of the debate team," he added, noting with satisfaction the surprised look on her face. "Anyway, we were seniors and we were going to be enrolling in different colleges. We were miserable because we knew we wouldn't see much of each other. Lana was going to USC and I was going to Kansas State." His face got a far away look as he remembered. "We came out here after graduation one night to lie under the stars. We talked about our futures and what we hoped to accomplish. We made out on a blanket on the soft grass and we… skinny-dipped a little."

Lois's face had long since passed red and she looked away shyly. "Whatever happened to you two?"

He shrugged. "We went to college. Last I heard, Lana had decided she wanted to go on to grad school. And I decided that I wanted to travel the world. I lost track of her after that. I tried to call her a few times but… People sometimes just move on. That's it, end of story." Clark walked out onto the pier and Lois followed him. "It's a little too cold for a swim. Do you want to go for a ride around the pond?" He pointed at the boat.

She looked down at the boat about six feet below them in the water. "I don't see a ladder. How do I get down there?" There was a rope, tying the boat to the dock, but she wasn't sure she trusted in her ability to climb down it into the boat.

"I'll lower you down. But first let me check it out and make sure no snakes have hitched a ride and decided to nest in it." Clark climbed down into the boat and lifted the lifejackets up, looking underneath them. After he was sure it was safe, he climbed back up onto the pier. "Ready?"

Lois honestly was a little apprehensive about the whole boat ride thing. What if it leaked? "Umm…"

"What? Don't tell me you're scared," he taunted her.

She frowned at him. "No. I am not scared," she said adamantly. "What do I do?"

He grinned in satisfaction. "I want you to sit on the edge of the pier, right above the boat, and raise your hands over your head." She complied and he continued, "Okay, I'm going to hold your hands," he explained, reaching out to grab her hands, "And I want you to scoot forward off the pier. When you feel steady in the boat let me know and I'll let go. Don't worry, I won't let you fall."

But Lois was a little worried. He didn't have the strength that he normally had, what if he was expecting too much of himself? And then there was his wound. Was it good to put that much strain on it? "Maybe I should just try climbing down there on my own," she suggested. "I don't want you to re-injure yourself."

"Lois, I'm fine. I carried you to bed last night, remember? Trust me."

She didn't exactly remember — she had been asleep, after all. But she could hear a pleading tone in his voice that was asking her to believe in him like she did Superman, and she wasn't about to disappoint him — even if it meant she would end up soaking wet. Lois took a deep breath. "Okay, I'm ready." She started scooting her way forward, off the pier. To her delight, when her butt left the surface of the boards, she found herself easily suspended in the air by Clark's arms that were now gently lowering her down into the boat.

"Okay, I'm good," she told him once she had her footing. She sat down on the seat as quickly as possible so she didn't rock the boat. Clark untied the boat and then lowered himself down. He sat in the seat opposite of her and grabbed the oars out of the bottom of the boat. He secured them in their cradles and then took a couple of experimental strokes with them, working the boat away from the pier.

Lois glanced down at her hands, noticing that her knuckles were white from where she was griping her seat.

Clark obviously noticed as well. "Don't worry, flat-bottomed boats aren't easy to tip over. You'll be fine."

Lois forced herself to let go and relax. Clark seemed to know what he was doing. He had probably done this lots of times — he wouldn't dump her out of the boat.

She hoped.

She glanced down at the reflection of the clouds in the water. It was too bad that it wasn't sunnier today. But some sun was better than no sun. She could see why Clark had wanted to come to Smallville to recuperate. His parents' farm was such a peaceful, relaxing place. And yet, surely as Superman he had seen some pretty spectacular places. "So, you said you planned to travel the world," she prompted, deciding to continue their previous conversation, "Did you?"

He nodded. "Yeah. I backpacked through Europe, learning several languages and some interesting skills along the way."

"Like ballroom dancing?" she asked, seeming to recall him saying something about that once. Had it been at the White Orchid Ball?

Clark smiled. "No. I learned how to dance from a…"

"Nigerian Princess," Lois finished for him, remembering his words from that night. "So you've been to Africa, too?"


Lois couldn't believe how flippantly she had blown him off back when she first met him. Clark had been a worldly man even before he became Superman. She paused for a minute in her thoughts. When had he become Superman? When had he come to Earth? If Martha and Jonathan were his parents…? "Clark? How long have you lived here? Not just this farm, but *here*? I remember that picture of you with your dad when you were little. Did you come here as a small child?"

Clark looked a little uncomfortable with the question. "I was sent here as a baby. My homeworld was dying and my Kryptonian parents sent me here to save me."

"Do you remember them?"

"No. Not really." Clark let out a soft sigh. "Do you remember the *globe*? Superman's globe?"

Lois's eyes lit up. "Oh, Clark! That was yours all along!"

"Yeah. It told me some about my life before, about my parents." Clark got a far off look in his eyes. "It was nice to know that they loved me and hadn't abandoned me, but my parents here will always be my family. The only parents I've ever known." He smiled softly at her. "I still have the globe. I can show it to you sometime, if you want."

"I'd like that," she told him, returning his smile. Clark turned their boat a little and began rowing in a different direction. Lois dazedly watched him for a little while before finally breaking the silence again. "So, where else?" she asked, genuinely curious. And then a thought came to her. "No, let me guess — China."

"Why would you guess China?" he asked, taking a break from rowing and just letting them float gently across the water.

She shrugged. "Well, I remember you reading me that Chinese fortune cookie and…" she broke off giving him a funny look. "Wait a minute. Was that food really from China?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. She remembered how authentic it had seemed.

Clark was grinning like the cat that ate the canary. "Yes, it was. And yes, I did make a brief stop through in China. I was on my way to Borneo to work as a journalist for the Borneo Gazette."

"Borneo?" Lois searched her brain for the location but came up empty-handed.

"It's an island off the coast of South East Asia," Clark supplied. "I actually gave Perry a copy of one of the articles I wrote while I was there. He didn't seem all that impressed." Clark started rowing again since their boat had drifted to a stop.

Ah, yes. Lois remembered that day. When she had gone back into Perry's office to argue with him some more about Samuel Platt and the messenger, he had been mumbled something about 'amateur writers peddling puff pieces from the Borneo Gazette — this is the Daily Planet for crying out loud.'

Lois smiled. He had misjudged Clark almost as badly as she had. Fortunately, Perry was better at admitting mistakes. "What was the article about?"

Clark muttered something indistinct.

"Excuse me?" Lois asked. "I didn't catch that."

He sighed. "The mating rituals of the knob-tailed gecko," he repeated just a smidgen louder.

Lois couldn't stop herself and she giggled. In fact, it must have struck her funny bone because she couldn't seem to stop.

Clark looked annoyed. "They were believed to be an endangered species on the island and I… oh good grief, would you please quit laughing?"

Lois tried but instead ended up laughing all over again. It felt so good to laugh.

"If you don't stop that," he warned, trying to keep from laughing himself, "I'll dump you out of this boat."

"You'd dump… yourself out… too," she managed between laughs.

"It would be more than worth it." He gave the boat an experimental shake.

Lois grabbed hold of the sides of the boat, her laughter abruptly ceasing. "No! No, okay. Okay, I'll stop."

The playful look on Clark's face did nothing to help her situation, though, and she bit her bottom lip to try to keep from laughing. "Pfft," she finally sputtered out and began laughing again.

Clark reached down into the pond and scooped up some water with his hand and flung it on her. "I warned you," he proclaimed.

"Ohhhh," she gasped. It was warm outside but it was spring and the water was still cold. It wasn't freezing, but it was plenty cold. "I'm gonna get you for that!" She reached into the water and got a handful herself and tossed it at him.

He yelped and leaned forward, reaching out for her. "You are in so much trouble."

"Eeek!" she hollered, giggling again. "You wouldn't dare," she said, trying to scramble away from him.

Their motions were swaying the boat dangerously and before Lois knew what had happened, Clark had fallen into the water. She began howling with triumphant laughter… that is, until Clark grabbed the edge of the boat and dumped her into the water with him.

When she came up from the water, she gasped for air. Her teeth were chattering and she was fairly certain that her lips had instantly turned blue. But she didn't have time to contemplate it because Clark was swimming towards her.

She kicked a splash of water at him and began swimming for the shoreline as fast as her arms and legs would move.

Clark swam as quickly as his aching side would allow him, determined not to let it spoil his fun. He *had* to catch her before she reached the shore. It was all he could do to just keep breathing and not burst out laughing at the ridiculousness of their situation.

Lois managed to get close enough to shore that she could touch bottom and she began to slog through the water like a person walking in slow motion, trying to make her way out. She could hear Clark splashing behind her. She risked a look back at him and squeaked when she realized how close he was. He had chosen to continue swimming instead of trying to trudge along the soft pond bed and he was catching her.

She picked up the pace and was mere feet from the shore when Clark dove under the water and caught hold of her ankle. It caused her to become unbalanced and she fell backwards. Clark came up from the water and caught her in his arms, then took her further out into the water. "Stop! Let me go!" she pleaded, holding back another laugh.

Clark was enjoying this way too much and realized that Lois was probably going to kill him when it was all over. But for now, he was going to have his fun.

"Do you give up?" he asked.

"Never!" she assured him and began trying to wriggle free of his arms. He reached into the water going after her stomach and began to tickle her.

"Ahhh!" she screamed in protest and then began laughing hysterically. "No…! Don't…! Please… I'm begging you," she said between fits of giggles.

"Do you give?" Clark managed to ask again in between laughs of his own. He had no idea Lois was this ticklish.

"Yes! YES! You win! I give!"

When their laughs subsided she tried to squirm away again, but Clark held her tightly in his arms. Realizing he wasn't going to let her go, she quit fighting and turned to look at him. The adoration in his eyes was unmistakable and it made her swallow reflexively. Their bodies bobbed softly in the water for a few seconds as they looked at one another.

"Lois…" Clark's voice had dropped a few timbres and it sent a shiver through her. She turned in his arms and wrapped her legs around him, causing Clark to close his eyes and take a couple of short breaths.

Was she trying to torture him? He could feel her hands as they left his shoulders and wrapped themselves around his neck.

Lois couldn't believe she was being so bold, but god, he looked so good. His t-shirt was clinging to his body where it came out of the water. She could see every line of muscular definition in his shoulders and arms… and the upper part of his chest. Here was the strongest man in the world, and she was at his mercy. Lois took in a shuddery breath. Maybe it was time to turn the tables a little. She leaned in close to his face, her lips dangerously close to his. Her breath stilled when Clark's eyes darkened. She felt a heat building inside her, despite the cold water.

"Clark, I…" The rest of her words were lost as his lips captured hers. Clark couldn't resist her any longer and didn't want to. He had hardly slept last night thinking about and reliving their kiss from the kitchen — wanting nothing more than to experience it again. The way her body yielded and responded to his. The soft suppleness of her lips and sweet flavor of her. It had been like the first taste of a drug and it had addicted him instantly. He needed more.

Lois lost herself to his touch. Her world had narrowed to this man, this moment. His kisses were soft and sure at first, his lips merely touching and caressing hers. But with each silky conquest, his attentions became more urgent. She ran her fingers up his neck and tangled them into his wet curls as she took his bottom lip into her mouth. His fingers played up and down her back as his mouth made its own explorations, his tongue gently slipping inside her mouth to lightly tease hers.

"Lois… god…" He broke from the kiss, panting slightly. "You don't know how many nights…" Another kiss. "…I've dreamed of this." He slid one hand from behind her back and up to cup her face, drawing her in for an even deeper exploration. The feeling was sensory overload combined with the exhilaration of the cold water and Lois started to shiver.

She didn't want the moment to end, but she didn't want them to die from catching pneumonia either. "What…" she managed between his attentions on her. "Slow death… by hypothermia?"

Clark pulled back from her lips and looked questioningly at her. It was only then that he felt her trembling in his arms and realized how cold the water felt. Their swim and subsequent horseplay had warmed them but now the cold was beginning to take hold again.

Lois kissed him again, a brief but delicious touch to his lips. "Clark, this is wonderful, really. But could we maybe do this somewhere slightly less wet and a little more warm?" She smiled alluringly.

He nodded, releasing her back into the water. "Let me go grab the boat and get it secured and then we can head back to the house… and get you warmed up."


"You know, this isn't exactly what I had in mind," Lois said, clutching a mug of hot chocolate close to her face and watching the flames from the fireplace dance in her vision. "But it's absolutely wonderful."

They had walked through the front door laughing over the fact that this was the second time in twenty-four hours that they had come back to the house, soaking wet.

The hot shower Lois had taken had warmed her a little, but she had still been cold. When she had gotten out of the shower and come downstairs, she had been surprised to find Clark building a fire.

"Yeah, it's nice, isn't it?" Clark slid an arm around her shoulders and gave her a soft squeeze. "Are you getting warmer?"

"Much. I just wish I had grabbed my pillow to sit on." Lois shifted uncomfortably on the hardwood floor. Clark was sitting beside her and they were resting against the pent up footstool of his dad's recliner.

Clark smiled and, feeling reckless, said, "Well, we could always sit in the chair together — you on my lap."

Lois looked over at him, her eyes widening a little. "You'd like that, wouldn't you?" She raised an eyebrow at him. "Then I might never get you up again, and we have a date, remember?"

"Ah, yes, our date. But this could be more fun," he teased.

"Huh-uh. No way. Besides, we might get caught. Who knows when your parents might come walking in. I don't want to get caught sitting on your lap engaging in…" she broke off and blushed. "It's not like you'd be able to hear them coming." Lois instantly regretted what she had said when she felt Clark's arm tense around her shoulders. She bit her lip, wondering what to say. "Clark, I didn't mean it like that. I just meant we'd be so…"

"It's okay, Lois," he said softly.

Lois leaned forward and turned her body to face him. "You know I don't care, right? I don't care if you have your powers or not?" She frowned. "Wait, that didn't come out the way I meant. I mean, of course I'm concerned that your powers haven't come back yet and I want you to be well, but…"

Clark cut her off by leaning forward to press his lips against hers in a soft kiss. He pulled away and noticed that her eyelids had slipped shut. He stroked her cheek with his thumb and her eyes fluttered open.

"Thanks," she murmured.

He flashed her a smile. "I think I've finally found a way to respond to your babbling. It seems to work pretty well."

"Very well," she agreed, smiling back, then her face turned serious again. "But you do know that, right? That your powers don't matter to me?"

In spite of everything, Clark had a few residual doubts and still felt a little of the pain from her rejection of him as 'Clark', but he was also aware of the truth in her words. Everything they had been through since the day of her near wedding had proven it to him. "Yeah, I know."

She let out a soft sigh and leaned back, relaxing against his arm again. "So where are you taking me tonight?"

"You said you wanted pizza, right?" She nodded and he continued, "Well we have a little joint called 'The Pie Pan.' They have the best pizza pies around here. It might even rival some of the pizzerias in Metropolis."

Her stomach threatened to grumble. "I got kind of hungry after our swim. Think we could go a little early?" she asked, her mouth salivating at the thought of some homemade pizza.

Clark looked up at the clock on the mantel. "They aren't open for another hour and a half. They're only open for dinner because during the day they make dessert pies. Their apple pie is second only to my mom's, and even then it's a close second." He grinned widely. "But don't ever tell her I said that."

"Ahhh, blackmail material," she said, smiling playfully.

"Don't even think about it or I might decide to tickle you again." He made as if to do just that and Lois jerked away from his questing hand.

"Ack! Okay, you win!" she said, laughing. "I think I'd better get up while the gettin's good. I need to get ready for our date, anyway."

"I think you already look beautiful."

Lois felt heat flash through her cheeks. "Thanks, but I brought a little something special with me."

He cocked an eyebrow at her. "Oh really… what?" he asked, a million possibilities flashing through his mind. Not all of them plausible.

"You'll see." She got up and went upstairs, smiling at his protests of being kept in the dark.


Clark was sitting restlessly on the couch, picking tiny specks of almost imagined lint from his pants while he waited for Lois to come down. He had been ready for almost twenty minutes and he had gotten started after her. He didn't have anyone to keep him company because his parents had run into town to pick up some things at the hardware store before it closed. So he was left alone to sit and patiently wait… Clark frowned — well wait, anyway.

He heard a noise at the top of the stairs and looked up. Lois came walking down and the sight of her took his breath. She had on the burgundy floral country dress that she had gotten at the corn festival the last time they had come to Smallville. Her hair had big, soft curls woven into it and her face was fairly glowing. She was stunning.

"You look… amazing," he said softly.

"Thanks," she replied with a shy smile.

He got up from the couch and started to walk towards her. "I don't think I told you before how great you look in that dress. I could hardly keep my eyes off of you the last time." He gave her an appreciative glance. "I didn't realize you had kept it."

"Of course I kept it. It was one of two souvenirs that I kept from my trip."

He raised his eyebrows. "Two souvenirs?"

"Yes." She nodded, her eyes sparkling. "This and the teddy bear that you won for me."

Clark chuckled. "I remember. I was so surprised that you chose him over the Superman doll."

"Me too, actually," she agreed, smiling. "But it just felt right." Her smile turned to a smirk. "I remember thinking that you'd be disappointed if I picked the Superman doll." She regarded him appraisingly. He had on a pair of grey dress slacks and a black, collared shirt. "You look nice."

"Thanks," he said, glancing down at his ensemble. "I didn't realize when I was packing that I would be going on a date."

She reached out and straightened his collar, smoothing her hands down his shirt. "Well I think you're appropriately dressed for pizza and beer."

"As long as you're satisfied," he said playfully. He held out his elbow to her. "Shall we?"


Lois took the last long, slow drink of her frosty beer and enjoyed the way it slid down her throat. She wasn't a big beer drinker; if she was going to have alcohol, she preferred wine. But there was just something about pizza with beer. It was like the two belonged together.

Clark downed the rest of his second beer, enjoying the slight buzz he had gotten from it. They had finished their pizza and he had polished off his first beer quite a while ago. The evening had been perfect so far. They had talked and laughed and just enjoyed one another's company in general. It was like old times — back before the almost wedding — only better. This time they knew how each other really felt.

Clark sipped at the last little bit of beer in his glass, savoring every last drop. Normally beer, or alcohol of any kind, didn't affect him. But right now, while his powers were MIA, the drink seemed to have quite a kick.

"All right guys and gals," a man on the small stage in the back corner of the restaurant said into the microphone, "it's time to fire up the karaoke machine. Do we have any takers?"

"You should sing, Lois," Clark suggested, gleefully. "You've got a better voice than any girl in this place," he doted. His head seemed to be humming slightly and it made him feel a little giddy.

"What? No. No, Clark, I couldn't," she said, feeling suddenly bashful.

"Why?" he complained. "Don't tell me you're feeling shy. You sang beautifully at the Metro Club when we were investigating Toni Taylor."

"That was different. We were on assignment," she stammered. "It was part of my cover."

"Come on," he encouraged her. "Do it for me." She had sung for Lex that night at the Metro Club and Clark couldn't help wanting her to sing for him… to him.

Lois fidgeted as she thought about it. What would it hurt? She'd probably never see these people again and she did love to sing. And Clark was right; she was fairly certain that she did have a better voice than most of these hayseeds. She was almost sure of that. "Okay," she said softly.

She got up and walked over to the stage. "I'll give it a try," she told the man who had made the announcement.

"All right, a brave volunteer. What'll you sing?" the balding, middle-aged man asked with an eager, toothy smile.

"What do you have?"

He handed her the list of songs she could choose from. "Not much it appears," she mumbled quietly.

"S'cuse me?" he asked, eyeing her indignantly.

"Nothing," she assured him with a gracious smile. "I'll sing 'Crazy' by Patsy Cline."

"Always a crowd pleaser." He raised the microphone to his mouth, almost burying it in his bushy mustache. "We have our first victim… I mean volunteer." He chuckled loudly. "Little lady is gonna sing 'Crazy'. Put 'er on, Bob," he instructed, pointing at a man over behind the bar.

"You got it, Jerry," the bartender said, fiddling with something behind the bar. Then the music started up.

Lois took a nervous gulp of air as Jerry handed her the microphone and stepped down from the stage. Various cheers and accolades were being shouted from the audience. She looked out into the crowd and spotted Clark. He smiled reassuringly at her. Lois smiled back and then turned her attention to the lyrics monitor in front of her, just in time for her to begin singing.

"Crazy," she lilted. "I'm crazy for feeling so lonely…" she held the note, getting a feel for her rhythm. She loved this song. She was pretty sure she could have sung it by heart, without any help from the prompter.

"I'm crazy," she belted the next line. "Crazy for feeling so blue…"

A waitress came by Clark's table. "Can I get you a refill on that beer, hon?" she asked sweetly.

"Um, yeah. I'll take another one, make it a tall." Clark was fairly certain he could handle at least one more, maybe two.

"Sure. I'll be right back," she promised.

Clark turned his attention back to Lois. She looked so innocent and sweet in her pretty country dress.

"I knew…" Lois closed her eyes to project feeling into the words, "you'd love me as long as you wanted…"

Her voice was captivating. It had the same effect on him that it'd had at the Metro Club — there was no one in the room but her. He could only see her and couldn't hear anything other than her lilting voice.

She brought her free hand up, laying it across her heart. "And then someday… you'd leave me for somebody new…"

The crowd cheered for her and it bolstered her confidence. "Worry… why do I let myself worry…" She raised her hand into the air, closing it into a fist. "Wond'ring… what in the world did I do… ooooh, oooh, oooh…"

The waitress set a fresh draft beer in front of Clark and he began to down it while he watched Lois perform.

"Oh, crazy… for thinking that my love… could hold you…"

Several whistles came from the audience and made Lois smile. She opened her eyes and found Clark. He was watching her intently and she held a hand out, as if reaching for him, while she sang the hook.

"I'm crazy for trying… and crazy for crying… And I'm crazy for loving you…"

A few of the more inebriated patrons shouted out their praise of her singing, and Clark smiled to himself. They could drool all they wanted, Lois was in love with him. Both of him. Clark surprised himself when he let out a small burp. He glanced down at the nearly empty glass and then swallowed the last drink, finishing up his third beer before he realized he had even drunk it. It had just gone down so smooth and easy. He looked back up when the musical interlude finished and Lois began singing again.

"Crazy… Crazy for feeling so lonely…" she powered the vocal, "I'm crazy for trying… and crazy for crying… And I'm crazy… for loving…" she found Clark once again in the audience and pointed at him, "you…"

A few people began standing as they applauded and whistled, and that only encouraged more people to stand. Lois blushed attractively and made a small curtsy before stepping off stage and handing the microphone back to Jerry.

Clark dazedly watched her make her way back to their table and sit down. He grinned widely at her. "You were great!"

"Was I?" she asked nervously. "I can't believe I did that."

"I can," he assured her. The beautiful smile she flashed him caused his head to swim. "That's the confident Lois Lane I know… and love…"

Lois realized that Clark was slurring his words a little bit, and he couldn't seem to wipe that dopey grin off his face. Was he drunk? "Clark, how many beers have you had?"

"Three…" He held up three fingers, wriggling them, and hesitated before continuing, "I think."

Three. That shouldn't normally intoxicate a man of Clark's stature. But given the fact that alcohol normally didn't affect him — he probably didn't even absorb it — there was definitely a more than reasonable chance that he could get intoxicated with his powers on the fritz. And he must have downed that last one fairly fast too — he had only been on his second one when she had gone up to sing.

"Come on," she said, standing up and taking his hand. "I think we'd better get you back home."

"Wait!" he protested. "There's sumthin I need to ask ya first."

"You can ask me when we get home," she insisted, hoping to avoid any embarrassment before she could get him out to the car.

No such luck.

Clark clumsily dropped down to one knee in front of her. What was he doing? Her eyes widened as a thought came to her. No… No he wouldn't!

"Lois Lane, will you marry me?"

He would.

There was a chorus of oooohs and awwwws from the tables nearest them and Lois let out a heavy sigh. "Come on, Clark. I don't think this is the best time to be asking this."

"Why not? I've dreamed of asking you for a long time," he drawled.

Lois tried to hide her embarrassment as she glanced at the people sitting nearest to them. But, she consoled herself, those people were probably half-drunk themselves too. "I tell you what," she bargained, "You come out to the car with me, and I'll give you an answer. Okay?"

"Kay," he agreed easily.

She led him by the hand out to her rental car. She helped him inside the passenger's seat and then crossed around the front of the car to get in behind the wheel. She had only had one beer and she had drank it slowly… with food. She should be fine — she felt fine.

Lois glanced over at Clark as she started the car. He had already passed out. She wasn't sure how good he would feel come morning and she silently prayed that Martha and Jonathan would already be asleep by the time she got him home. What would they think of her for allowing their son to get drunk?


Clark woke up to find himself lying in his bed. He started to sit up but then lay back down with a groan. His head was pounding. And his stomach didn't feel too good, either. What had happened? He tried to concentrate, remember what had happened last night, but everything was so fuzzy. He remembered going to the restaurant and eating pizza, and he vaguely remembered Lois singing to him.

He sat up again, a little slower this time. There was a strange rush to his head and it made him feel nauseated. Was he getting sick again? He hoped not. That would ruin his time with Lois.


Was she feeling bad too? Maybe the food had been bad? Clark stood up, adjusting his pajama pants which had gotten twisted in his sleep. He made his way over to the bedroom door and was almost there when the door opened a crack. Lois peeked her head inside.

"Oh, Clark, you're awake," she whispered.

"Unfortunately." He grimaced. "I feel like I've been hit by a train," he complained.

"Um, yeah, a hangover will do that to you," she continued in a soft voice, trying to keep from adding to his misery.

"Hangover?" Clark's eyebrows shot up. "You think I got drunk?"

To his reply, Lois bit her lip. "No, Clark. I *know* you got drunk." She handed him a glass of a foul-looking concoction. "Here, drink this. I know it looks nasty and it probably won't taste any better, but drink it anyway. Lucy always swore up and down that it helped with her hangovers."

Clark was about to argue again that he wasn't hungover, but he could tell by the look on Lois's face that she was dead serious; and the more he thought about it, the more he realized she could very possibly be right. He took the glass and downed the foul brew as fast as he could.

He handed the glass back to her and noticed that she was looking everywhere but *at* him. Glancing down, he realized he only had on pajama pants. No shirt.

But what bothered him more is how he had gotten into his pajama pants.

"So what happened?" he asked warily.

"Um…" she faltered. "Not much. We ate pizza and drank some beer. You talked me into singing karaoke and I sang…"

"'Crazy'," he finished for her. "Yeah, I remember parts of that, it's what came after that I'm hazy on."

"Uhh, well, after I got done singing, I realized you were a little…"

"Drunk," he supplied at her hesitation.

"Yeah, and so I took you home and uh… put you to bed," she finished, her cheeks a little rosy.

"You dressed me?" He tugged on his pants experimentally and was relieved when he felt his boxers on underneath them.

"I helped. You passed out in the car. I got you to wake up enough to get you into the house, but your clothes… uh… needed to be changed. You got a little sick getting out of the car… and you weren't really in any shape to dress yourself, so…"

"Do my parents know?" He could have died from embarrassment right then and there.

"Well, they didn't. I made sure we were real quiet when we came in last night," she gave him a pointed look, "which wasn't easy, believe me." She thought back to how 'handsy' Clark had been — not like himself at all. He had even suggested that *he* should help *her* get undressed. "But, unfortunately, I forgot that in a small town everyone knows everything about everybody. When your mom went into town to grocery shop this morning…"

"She's already been to town?" he asked incredulously. "What time is it?"

"It's a little after ten."

"Ten o'clock in the morning?" he exclaimed.

"Yeah. I just let you sleep it off and told your parents that we had stayed out a little late last night and you had probably just over done it." She folded her arms in front of her. "Now are you going to let me finish the story or not?"

He nodded, dumbstruck.

"Okay. So everything was fine until someone asked your mom at the grocery store… uhh… something, and they…" She was blushing again.

"What? What did they ask her?"

"Nothing." She brushed away his inquiry. "It's not important, but anyway they got to talking and…"

"No, Lois. What did they say?" he insisted, a little anxious about what her answer would be.

She fidgeted, wringing her hands. "They uh… asked if your mom was going to have a umm… new… daughter-in-law."

Clark felt his mouth fall open. "What? Why would they ask that?"

Lois looked away, searching for something interesting on the wall to stare at — the floral curtains covering the window, an old picture hanging next to the dresser, the one corner of wallpaper that was trying to peel back from the wall — anything to avoid his gaze. "Because you proposed to me in the middle of the restaurant," she answered quickly in a small voice.

"I what?" he exclaimed. "Oh my god." He shook his head. "This is going to be all over town if it isn't already."

"It is," she interjected.

"My poor parents!" He took Lois by the shoulders and gave her a quick hug. "Lois, I'm so sorry. I can't imagine how embarrassed you must have been."

"Well, it was a little more excitement for a first date than I had expected," she said with a grin. "But don't feel bad. You didn't know alcohol would affect you like that."

Clark looked chagrined. "I do now. I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

Lois raised an eyebrow mischievously. "What won't? The getting drunk part or the proposal part?" she teased.

Rendering Clark speechless was something she always enjoyed. It gave her a sense of power, but especially now that she knew who she was teasing. She put her arms around his waist and gave him a little hug. "Don't worry, Clark. I won't hold you to it," she kidded, squeezing him a little tighter.

"Ouch!" Clark hollered.

Lois jumped, startled by his outcry. She pulled away and looked at him. "What's wrong?"

Clark shook his head. "Nothing. Just the same old complaint." He rubbed his side where the bandage covered his stitches and winced a little.

"Here, let me take a look," she said, reaching for the edge of the dressing.

"No, Lois, that's okay, you don't have to…"

Lois sucked in a sharp breath. "Clark!" The area around the stitches was red and looked infected.

Clark looked down and grimaced at them. He had known that they weren't healing up like he thought they should, but he had assumed that was because he had gotten sick. They definitely hadn't looked this bad yesterday.

"Have you been hiding this?" Lois asked pointedly.

"No… well, yes, but not *that*." He gestured at the wound. "It was taking longer to heal than I thought it should have, but it hasn't looked like that."

Lois frowned. "The pond. If it wasn't healing well and then you took that spill into that dirty pond water… I don't even want to think about how much bacteria was in it." Lois shook her head. "Oh, Clark, I'm sorry. I wasn't even thinking…"

"Hey," he said, putting his hands softly against her arms, "it's not your fault. You didn't throw me in the water, I just fell in."

Lois bent over and took a closer look at the wound. "Clark it doesn't look good. You need to see a doctor."

He shook his head. "I can't. I can't risk them running some kind of test and realizing that my body chemistry is different… figuring out that I'm Superman. It's a miracle that didn't happen at the hospital. If the cut had been deeper and I had needed more than just stitching up…"

"Yes, but this probably won't heal on its own," she said, trying to get him to see reason. "It's just going to keep getting worse. You don't want to risk getting gangrene or something in it."

Clark could literally almost see the wheels turning in her head. "So what would you suggest?" he asked cautiously.

Lois swallowed and took a breath and her words came out in a rush, "Go see Dr. Klein… as Superman. You can trust him, Clark; I know you can. Please? Do it for me. I'll come with you and stay with you if that will make you feel any better. I'll make sure he doesn't do anything unorthodox."

Clark sighed deeply and went back to his bed, sitting down heavily. "I won't let him experiment on me, Lois."

"Fine. That's not what I'm asking, Clark." She'd deal with that part later. "That infection could be serious. Dr. Klein had told me that Superman would need lots of sunlight to recuperate after a long exposure to Kryptonite."

"What? When did he tell you that?" he asked, looking suddenly wary.

Lois felt the color draining from her face. "A few days ago."

Clark frowned. "I thought I told you that I didn't want Dr. Klein involved. That I didn't want him experimenting on me." The irritation in his voice was plain.

Lois had to think fast. Clark was sick. She had to convince him to see Dr. Klein and she couldn't do that if he was upset. "You did. But I didn't ask Dr. Klein about you. He called me to give me that bit of information." That was true enough. Dr. Klein had called her that day and had asked her to come in and visit with him. She didn't need to tell Clark about the hair — that had been a separate event and telling him about that right now would only spell trouble.

Clark wasn't saying anything. He was still frowning and looked like he was lost in thought. She wished she knew what he was thinking. Was he upset that she hadn't told him? She wanted to scream. He couldn't be upset that she had talked to Klein and then also upset that she hadn't told him what Klein had said. He couldn't have it both ways.

But she couldn't afford to get upset back at him — she had to walk a fine line. She had to get him to agree to come back to Metropolis. He *had* to go see Dr. Klein.

"I'm sorry," she continued doggedly. "I tried to tell you on the phone but you wouldn't talk to me. I should have told you when I got here, but you were so… And I…" She sighed and let her shoulders drop. "I didn't want to fight with you again. So I decided to just make sure you were out in the sun."

She reached out hesitantly and touched his face, hoping he wouldn't pull away from her. "Clark, we were out in the sun a lot yesterday, but instead of getting better, you got worse. You need *somebody* to look at you," she insisted. "If it will make you feel better, I'll get the Kryptonite back from Dr. Klein while we're there and do whatever you want me to do with it. Okay?" Lois held her breath. She'd let him believe that for now — hopefully later he would see things differently.

Clark sighed and hung his head. He knew that he had put her in a tough position with the way he had acted about Klein. And he knew she was right — he needed to see someone. It might as well be Klein. Clark wouldn't trust some other doctor any more than he would trust Klein. And besides that, he trusted Lois. "Okay. I guess we'd better go tell my parents that we're heading back to Metropolis."


Martha stood quietly, listening as Clark finished explaining that he and Lois were going back to Metropolis to have a doctor look at his stitches. As soon as he had finished, she jumped in with the obvious question, "But why not have a doctor look at it here, Clark? If it looks infected, then you probably shouldn't wait. I could call the doctor that your dad…"

"No, mom," Clark said, shaking his head. "I don't want to raise any suspicions. Even if I don't have my powers right now, I'm still not exactly 'human'."

Martha frowned at him, unhappy with his choice of words, but even more unhappy that his reasoning wasn't entirely sound. "But if that's what you're afraid of, then why are you more comfortable going to see some big city doctor? You're probably less likely to raise suspicion here."

Clark sighed. He was trying to find a way to get around telling his parents everything. He didn't want them to worry, but it seemed like his mom was going to continue grilling him until he spilled all the details. She was going to be mad when she found out that he and Lois had been hiding things from them. He knew she'd be upset about the information at Lex Labs on the experiments with Kryptonite, but he wasn't sure exactly how she'd react to Dr. Klein and what Lois had done. Clark was steeling himself, preparing to come clean, when Lois jumped in.

"Yes, but Clark is going to go see Dr. Klein as Superman." Lois could tell Clark was fidgeting, trying to decide how much info to divulge. She still didn't agree with him not telling his parents, but she had agreed to help him keep it a secret. And now, after what she had done and her involvement with Dr. Klein, she wasn't exactly thrilled with the idea of laying bare secrets and then being interrogated about them. "He can't visit a doctor in Smallville as Superman. How would that look? He needs to see someone in Metropolis."

Martha wasn't convinced. Something was going on here. Clark looked like he did back when he was four and she had caught him trying to sneak a freshly baked cookie before dinner. She had made him admit the truth to her back then, and he certainly wasn't going to hide from her now.

Jonathan placed a cautionary hand on her shoulder and she shrugged it off. He probably knew what was going through her mind, and he was probably thinking that they shouldn't butt in — but she was past that point of reasoning right now. This was their boy. Clark had always been open and honest with them, his whole life. The fact that he was being evasive with them now only increased her worry. She was just about to open her mouth to ask another question when Jonathan spoke up.

"Martha, I'm sure Clark and Lois will be careful," he said, putting his hand back on her shoulder and giving it a warm squeeze. "They're not going to take Clark to just any doctor, right?"

Lois was shaking her head. "Of course not. Dr. Klein is a family friend. He worked with my father several years ago. We can trust him." She stepped a little closer to Martha and looked at her earnestly. "Believe me, I won't let anything happen to Clark."

Martha's face softened. She did believe her. Lois had hurt her son before, had broken his heart. But that was in the past. She didn't believe that it would happen again — not after the way she had seen them together the past couple of days.

No, Lois would take care of their boy, and she had to let them go. "All right," she said with a soft sigh, "make sure you call us the minute you find something out." At both of their nods, she continued, "Go get your bags packed and I'll make some sandwiches to send with you. Airline food is atrocious."


Clark held the door of his apartment open for Lois. She walked inside and he followed her, closing the door behind them. The air in his apartment smelled faintly of her and it made him smile to think of her staying here — eating at his table, sitting on his couch… sleeping in his bed. He swallowed slightly at that last thought and it warmed him from the inside.

"I should put some clean sheets on your bed," she said, walking towards his bedroom.


His simple statement brought her to a halt and she turned to look at him. "Because, you don't want to sleep on the sheets I'd been sleeping on."

That idea was up for debate, he thought to himself. But that wasn't what he had been implying. "I'm not going to sleep there, you are."

She raised an eyebrow at him and then began shaking her head. "No. I'm not taking your bed from you again."

"Then where are you going to sleep? The couch?" he asked, moving closer to her.

Her stomach fluttered and all the strength seemed to leave her legs. "No. I'm going to get a hotel room."

"No, you aren't." Clark's voice was firm, not open to discussion.

"Oh, really?"

"Yes. You said you were going to go with me to see Dr. Klein tomorrow. You said he told you on the phone that we should come first thing in the morning."

The electricity between them on the plane ride home and in the taxi on the way here had almost been tangible. It had been sweet torture. But now they were here, in the quiet solitude of his apartment. They were finally alone. No parents, no flight attendants, no taxi cab drivers.

Clark finished closing the distance between them and Lois thought she would die if he didn't touch her. He was so close. She could almost feel the heat from his body, or maybe that was her imagination.

"So it makes sense for you to just stay here tonight," he finished explaining.

Lois wanted nothing more than to stay here tonight. But the still functioning part of her rational mind balked at the idea. What would people say if they found out? It could sully her reputation, or Clark's. Although, she had stayed at his apartment with him before, but back then everyone knew that they were just work partners, friends. Right now, she was a dead man's ex-fiancee and Clark had recently professed his love for her…

…Not that everyone exactly knew that, but still…

"Clark, I'm not sure that's a good idea." She tried to take a step away from him but her legs didn't comply. Her body was crying out for him to touch her… hold her. "What if people got the wrong idea?"

Somehow Clark managed to move even closer to her, still without touching her. If either of them breathed too deeply, their bodies would meet. God, he wanted to hold her. What would she do if he did? Back in Kansas she certainly hadn't seemed to mind, but that was before he had embarrassed her in the middle of the restaurant, proposing to her.

His heart finally won out and he threw caution to the wind, reaching out to place his hands on her hips.

"Clark…" His name came from her lips as a soft whisper and it fueled the desire he was already feeling.

He pulled her into his chest and wrapped his arms around her. "Please stay," he whispered next to her ear. "I don't want you to leave." Ever, he added mentally.

"All right," she said, her voice shaky. "But I insist on taking the couch," she said, trying to keep the mood light. She could feel the heat of his breath on her neck. Kiss me, she silently begged him. She turned her face until their lips were just inches apart. "No arguments," she murmured close to his mouth.

He groaned at the proximity of her lips. That small sound was Lois's undoing and she seized hold of his lips, kissing him deeply.

Clark responded, taking a long slow taste of her. Lois was here, really here, and she was his. She loved him. His mind whirled at the thought.

She loved him for everything he had been. Her love encompassed both what he had been able to do as well as what he might never do again. She knew him in a way that no one did — not even his parents. That knowledge fueled his passion for her and he dared to untuck her shirt and slide his hands across the bare shallow curve of her back. Her skin was lusciously soft and he realized that the more he touched her the more he wanted to touch her.

She moaned softly into his mouth as she kissed him again. His hands were so gentle as they traced circles across the small of her back. "Mmm, Clark," she purred.

Clark's stomach dropped and hollowed out, a sudden warmth flowing through him. "Lois," he murmured in return as she pressed her lips to his in a kiss. He responded, kissing her again, just a little longer, before fighting to regain control. "Maybe we should…" He broke off when her hands began tugging on his shirt. She was going to kill him if she kept this up. "Maybe slow down…"

Her hands abruptly stilled. Oh, god. She had gone too fast. He wasn't ready for this. "I'm sorry," she stammered, feeling abashed and hastily trying to pull away from him.

Clark wasn't about to let her go. "I'm not," he said earnestly. "I just want to take things slow, enjoy being with one another without any added pressure." He reached up and stroked her hair softly. "I made the mistake of going too fast before, because I was afraid I was going to lose you." He smiled softly at her. "I don't want to make that mistake again."

Lois was feeling a bit like she was floundering on unsteady ground and she was desperate to get back in control. "Going too fast? What? When you declared your love for me? Or when you proposed?" she teased gently.

Clark looked chagrined and released her from his arms. "Lois, I'm so embarrassed about what I did at the restaurant. I can't believe…"

"Have you really fantasized about proposing to me?" she asked abruptly, not wanting him to suddenly take it back, even if it hadn't been *real*. He had told her at the restaurant that he had dreamed of proposing, but maybe that had just been the booze talking.

Her question caught him off guard and he stood silently for a moment, considering how much to admit. She was looking at him intently and he remembered his promise not to hide from her. "Yes," he whispered softly. "I have. But never like that. It's always in some romantic setting, with soft music playing, and… there's a ring."

Lois felt her insides melt. He had dreamed of proposing to her, had worked it all out in his mind. She suddenly realized something — she *wanted* him to propose. Lois shook her head inwardly at herself. How could she even be thinking along those lines? They'd only had one date for crying out loud.

But did that mean anything? Really?

She had dated a few men seriously and had never known any of them as well as she knew Clark. She had always thought that you dated someone to learn about them — their likes and dislikes, their temperament. And yet, she already knew all of that about Clark. Didn't she? She certainly knew him better than she had Lex… and she had stupidly accepted his proposal.

<All you ever need to know about me is that I love you…>

Lex's words came back to her and she sneered inwardly at them. What an idiot she had been.

Clark was watching her anxiously and she smiled softly at him. "And what did I say? In your dreams?" she asked quietly, wondering what his answer would be.

Clark looked away from her, embarrassment creeping into his cheeks. "Yes," he whispered. "They're my dreams and so you always say yes."

Lois took a shaky breath. "And what do you think I'd say for real?"

Clark began to sweat. Where was she going with this? He began to feel unnerved. What did she expect him to say? He needed to get things back on steady ground. "I don't know," he admitted and then smiled when a thought came to him. "You never gave me an answer from the other night," he teased, flashing her a grin.

Lois's emotions were stretched tight and when he said that, she couldn't do anything but laugh. She laughed for a few seconds and Clark's smile broadened. "Touche," she finally replied.

She moved away from him to his chest of drawers, pulling out a clean set of sheets. "You know, though, you're going to have to change your proposal idea if you want to surprise me. If you take me to some nice place with soft music playing in the background, the jig will be up. I'll know what's going on," she teased playfully as she went to his bed and pulled the blanket back.

Clark was at a loss; he didn't know how to respond. Was Lois actually talking about the possibility of him proposing to her in the future? How long would he have to wait? He went to the opposite side of the bed, helping her strip the sheets. She refused to look up at him and he realized she was probably worried about what she had said. "I know one thing," he said softly. "I'll make sure I have a ring the next time."

She stopped her tugging motion on one corner of the bed and looked up at him, a curious sparkle in her eyes.

Clark smiled nervously at her and neither of them said a word as they finished making up the bed, just enjoying being together.


Clark lay awake in bed, listening for Lois. He couldn't hear anything, not this time… not like at the Lexor Hotel on that stakeout. No whisper of movement from her sheets, no sounds escaping from her lips. Without his powers, he might as well have been deaf.

It should have been easier for him to fall asleep, but it wasn't. What his hearing couldn't pick up, his imagination was filling in for him. He kept thinking about the fact that Lois was asleep on his couch — just one wall separating them. She had slept here before, but never like this. Now she knew how he felt about her, and he knew how she felt about him…

It was all he could do to keep himself from getting out of bed to check on her. Part of him just wanted to go in there and sit in a chair and watch her sleep. But what would he say if she woke up?

Things had gone so well between them the past few days. He didn't want to mess it up. So he closed his eyes and tried again to fall asleep.


Lois shifted restlessly on the couch. She hadn't had any trouble sleeping in Clark's apartment before… but then again, he hadn't been here in the same living space with her. Even at his parents' house, a floor had separated them.

Her mind kept racing to their kiss earlier. The feeling of his lips pressed gently against hers, the soft touch of his fingertips against her skin.

She let out a sigh of frustration. It was going to take her forever to fall asleep if she couldn't redirect her thoughts. She tried shifting her attention away to focus on something else. But then she was sorry when she realized where her thoughts were turning…

Dr. Klein… Kryptonite… Hair sample… DNA…

When was she going to tell Clark? Maybe she should get out of bed right now and go in there and tell him. But what if she told him and he freaked out and wouldn't go see Dr. Klein? It was obvious that his wound was infected. He needed to get it treated. Maybe she should just call Dr. Klein in the morning and explain the situation to him and ask him to… She broke off in her thoughts when she heard a noise. She peeked through a cracked eyelid and felt her breath catch when she saw Clark standing there.

What was he doing? He was just standing there silently, as if he were watching her. She couldn't see his expression, but after a moment she heard the soft whisper of his voice.


She wanted to answer him but no words would come.

"I guess you're asleep." He sighed softly and walked over to the couch.

Every nerve ending in her body went on alert. What was he doing? She should open her eyes right now. She knew she should, but she didn't. Instead she closed them tighter.

"Goodnight, Lois," he murmured softly, and she could hear him bending over her. "I love you," he whispered as he brushed a light kiss into her hair.

Her heart was crying out to tell him the same thing, but she just continued to lie there quietly and soon he moved on into the kitchen. She heard him fill a glass with water and she risked a glance at him.

"I love you too, Clark," she whispered, realizing that without his super powers he wouldn't hear her but not finding the courage to say it louder. She buried her head between the couch back and her pillow and tried desperately to quiet her mind.

It was going to be a long night.


Lois listened for the water to start, signaling that Clark was going to be busy for the next few minutes in the shower. It had been a long night and she hadn't gotten nearly enough sleep. It would be her turn in the shower next and she definitely needed one, if for nothing else just to wake her up.

Finally the sound of rushing water hitting the floor of the shower could be heard and she dialed the phone she was holding in her hand. She felt absolutely wretched for continuing to deceive Clark, but she was consoled by telling herself it was for his own good. She couldn't risk him not going to see…

"Hello, Dr. Klein? It's Lois Lane. I need you to tell you something…"


Clark felt a little out of sorts as he walked inside Dr. Klein's laboratory, wearing his Superman suit. He hadn't worn the Suit since the day of the almost wedding. His powers still hadn't returned and it just felt a little surreal.

Lois must have sensed his apprehension because in that moment she reached out and took him by the hand, squeezing it gently.

He looked over at her, smiling, and she returned his smile. Then he looked up at the doctor who was eyeing him with admiration. "I appreciate you taking the time to see me, Dr. Klein," Clark told him, trying to project as much of Superman into his stature as he could — even if he didn't feel 'super'.

"Oh, of course," Dr. Klein responded happily. "How else was I going to get a bl…"

Lois cleared her throat loudly.

"Oh, I mean… um…" Klein stammered.

"Dr. Klein," Lois interrupted hastily, "Superman is here to have you look at a wound. We're afraid it might be infected."

Clark caught the significant look that Lois was giving Dr. Klein and felt an odd shiver run through him. Something about this just didn't feel right. But before he could think about it further, Dr. Klein was talking again.

"Right, the injury." He looked chagrined. "You told me that on the phone. Superman, can I get you to pull down your suit for me so I can examine the wound?" He asked, setting a pair of magnifying lenses on top of his head.

Clark complied, unzipping his suit and pulling his left arm out of its sleeve. He peeled the left side of his suit over and down, exposing the dressing covering his stitches.

"Wow, so that's how the cape works," Dr. Klein remarked, eyeing the cape's harness that went under Clark's arm. "Interesting." He reached out and carefully peeled back Clark's bandage. "Hmmm, that definitely looks infected," he said, frowning. "How long has it been like this?"

"We noticed it yesterday morning," Clark told him.

Dr. Klein began glancing around the room and patting his pockets. "Now where did I put those glasses?"

"Um, Dr. Klein?" Clark pointed. "They're on top of your head."

Klein grinned widely. "Oh, yes." He pulled them down on his nose and then bent over to take a closer look. "Superman, I have some antibiotics that I keep on hand to treat cuts or injuries that sometimes happen in the lab. If you want me to try a dose on you, we can monitor it and see how it reacts with your biology. I must admit from the hair I've studied that your physiology and DNA structure are very similar to an Earth human's."

Lois cringed, shutting her eyes. No! She should have known that Dr. Klein was too absent-minded to remember not to mention it. He had already slipped up once and she had caught him. She opened her eyes cautiously to find Clark staring at her. His eyes flashed darkly and she winced.

"You managed to study my DNA from a strand of my hair?" Clark asked, somehow managing to keep the heat out of his voice. It didn't surprise him. After all, Luthor had cloned him from a piece of his hair. It was the fact that Dr. Klein had obtained a sample of his hair that he was challenging.

Dr. Klein glanced over at Lois and seemed to go a little pale. "Um, yes. It's quite fascinating, actually. There are a few differences — enough of a difference that you couldn't donate blood, or accept an organ or tissue transplant, but there are so many similarities that it's mind boggling."

Klein glanced from his patient to Lois and back again. When no one said anything, he felt the need to explain himself further, "Think of it in this way. Say we were all…" He looked around the room and spotted the apple he was going to eat for a snack later. He picked it up and held it out for inspection. "Apples. Lois and I," he said, pointing to himself and at her, "and the people of Earth are all… um, Granny Smith apples. You," he continued, pointing at Superman, "are still an apple but you're a… red delicious." He held up the red delicious apple he was holding as if it were on display.

Despite her precarious situation, Lois found herself smiling at the comment — red delicious — he could say that again.

Klein examined the apple as he spoke, "Basically, what I'm saying is that if the Earth revolved around a different type of sun, a sun like the one from the planet Krypton, that you would very well be just as human as Lois or me, except for a few subtle differences in DNA structure. Back on your home planet, you would not have had the kinds of powers you have here." Klein breathed on his apple and rubbed it against his lab coat before setting it down on a table.

Lois knew she should keep her mouth shut, but since Clark wasn't going to ask questions, she decided she would. "But what about now? Why is he…" Clark threw her a warning glance and she broke off. He obviously wanted Dr. Klein to know as little about his situation as possible.

At her hesitancy to continue, Dr. Klein continued, "Vulnerable? I'm assuming that you've come into contact with Kryptonite recently, Superman. Is that correct?"

Clark nodded at him, the desire to know more about his own body momentarily overshadowing the feelings of betrayal at what Lois had no doubt done.

Dr. Klein looked thoughtful. "From what I've deduced so far, when Kryptonite attacks your body, it drains your reserves of energy from the sun. I think it also does something else at the same time — it poisons your system. Even once you're removed from the source of the Kryptonite, it still continues to contaminate your system — like radiation poisoning. But," he continued, holding up a finger for emphasis, "given enough time away from it and in the sun, your body begins to rebuild its super reserves and fights the infection off."

The doctor paused for a moment and pointed to Clark's wound before continuing, "In your weakened condition, you can be harmed. You already know that. But I believe that you are also susceptible to things that normal humans are vulnerable to, such as infections. Which is why your wound isn't healing up like it should."

"So I can get sick from human diseases if I'm vulnerable long enough?" Clark asked. He was pretty certain of the answer since he had obviously been sick with some sort of cold or flu.

Dr. Klein nodded. "Nothing that would be 'genetic', but simple invaders, like viruses or bacteria, yes. I believe it would also allow you to be affected by stimulants to your system such as caffeine, alcohol, or medications, which is why I think a simple antibiotic treatment will work on your wound."

Lois was amazed. That explained why Clark had gotten drunk the other night. She had been right. Clark wasn't used to alcohol affecting him, but in his weakened state it had.

Clark nodded. "So I'm assuming with the hair sample Lois provided, you've been running tests on the effects of Kryptonite to my genetic make-up?"

Dr. Klein grabbed a clipboard from his table and brought it over to show him. "Yes, I had told Lois that you would need to come in and give me a blood sample before I could conclude the tests. That's another reason why I'm doing a bit of guessing right now. I'll know more after examining your blood. I had hoped you would allow me to take a specimen today."

Clark glanced over at Lois but she wouldn't meet his eyes. He frowned and shook his head. "I'm sorry, Dr. Klein, but I want you to suspend those tests for right now. Can I trust that you will keep all of the information and samples you've collected so far, confidential?"

"Yes, of course, but…"

"I'll let you know if I intend to proceed with them at a later point," Clark continued, interrupting him, "or if I would prefer that you simply destroy them."

Klein's mouth dropped open in a stunned expression. "Uh, yes, of course. It's your file and your results," he conceded, pointing down at the clipboard he was still holding, "But I do have a lot more information that I'd like to share with you, and some questions…"

"Maybe another time," Clark cut him off. "For now I'd just like to try the antibiotic therapy you mentioned."

"Of course," Dr. Klein stammered. "I, uh, really feel like you will respond well to antibiotics. From what I've determined so far, I think your body in this weakened state will actually respond faster to antibiotics — to any medicine really — than a human would. If your invulnerability were present, it wouldn't work at all. But then again, you wouldn't be wounded, would you?" Klein got a far off look in his eyes and rubbed his balding head. "To be safe, though, I think we should start you out on half doses."

"I think that would be a good idea," Clark agreed. "I reacted so strongly to the pain medication in the hospital that it knocked me out."

Klein nodded. "You should probably come back in a couple of days and let me take another look at the wound. In the meantime, continue changing the dressing on it daily and keep an eye on it." Klein turned and headed towards a door in one corner of the room. "The antibiotic is kept in the cold storage vault. I'll be right back."

Lois watched him key in a passcode and open the door. When he disappeared through it, she could feel Clark's gaze on her. "Clark, I know what you're thinking."

"No, Lois. You couldn't possibly know what I'm thinking," he said quietly. "If you did, you wouldn't even be talking to me right now."

Lois had opened her mouth to respond but snapped it shut when she saw the pain of betrayal plainly in his eyes. Before she could work up the nerve to say anything else, Dr. Klein had re-entered the room.

"Okay, Superman, I'll give you an injection of this and we'll get a clean dressing on your wound. Then you can be on your way," he said as he walked towards Clark, sticking a syringe into a small vial of liquid. "Just remember to come back in a few days and let me take a look at it."

Klein withdrew some fluid, pointed the syringe at the ceiling and flicked it. Then he pressed the end, letting a small drop escape from the top.

Clark cringed in anticipation as Klein brought the needle near his skin.

Yes, being normal definitely wasn't all it was cracked up to be.


Lois followed Clark out the front door of the STAR Labs building, watching his cape billow from the breeze coming in from outside. He hadn't said a word since they'd left Klein's lab. He hadn't turned around once to look at her or make sure she was still following him.

"Clark?" she whispered his name hesitantly and then waited for a response — any kind of response. When she didn't get one, she continued a little louder, "Please say something." She had known as soon as the words had been out of Klein's mouth that Clark would be mad at her. But he had never given her the silent treatment before, not like this. He had fought with her, argued with her, even pouted at her in the year that she'd known him, but he'd never just ignored her.

And yet that was precisely what he was doing now.

She didn't quite know how to deal with it. Was it chancy to try and force him to talk while he was this upset? Or was it more risky to just leave him alone… allowing resentment to build up until there was no way to overcome it?

She found herself thinking an odd thought. What would Martha and Jonathan do? She certainly couldn't take her cue from her own parents' interactions with one another. They had ended up divorced after all — they were no example to follow.

But even as good of a marriage as Clark's parents had, she was sure they'd had their share of disagreements and problems. How did they handle them? She had no idea. What she did know is that she had promised Clark that she wouldn't mention anything about the Kryptonite to his parents. So calling them about this was unfortunately out of the question.

Clark was continuing to walk, heading in the opposite direction of her Jeep.

"Where are you going?" she asked.

When he continued to ignore her, she sprinted to catch up with him and took his cape in her hands, pulling against him.

Without his super powers to assist, she actually had the strength to slow his movements. The realization of that only fueled his irritation. "What, Lois? What do you want? Would you please let go of my cape?" he asked without turning to face her.

"Not until you talk to me," she argued. "And I really don't think you should go parading around town in your Suit."

"Oh really?" he snipped, glancing back at her. "Yes, I guess it wouldn't do much for your hero's reputation to be seen *walking* around town, would it?"

Lois felt like he had slapped her in the face. "Stop it! You know that's not fair. I'm only thinking about you. Superman has been missing for the last couple of weeks. How would you explain your sudden reappearance? And you don't have your powers… what if someone needed help and expected you to do something?"

He whirled on her unexpectedly. "Oh, that's right. I'm helpless and useless without my powers. What would I do?" he replied caustically.

"You know that's not what I meant," she bit back. "I just don't want to see you get hurt, that's all."

"Too late," he replied, his eyes flashing. He looked away from her and his fight seemed to disappear. "Just leave me alone," he said sadly.

Lois sighed exasperatedly. "I did what I did because I wanted to help you. Dr. Klein told me that Kryptonite was deadly enough to kill you. He said it was like radiation poisoning and that if you were exposed long enough…" She shuddered. "It scared me. I wanted to find some way to protect you against it and I really felt like I could trust Dr. Klein. So when you refused to do any testing and I found that hair of yours at your apartment, I did what I felt I had to do to help you. I'm sorry… I should have told you," she finished earnestly.

Clark didn't say anything. His shoulders were slumped and he kept his face turned away from her.

"I shouldn't have gone behind your back," she continued doggedly. "I know that. If I had it all to do over again…" She reached out and put her hand on his shoulder. "I just wanted to help."

He sighed softly. "I know. But I just can't… I'm sorry but I need some time alone right now. Just go home to my apartment and I'll be there later."

"Go home?" she repeated, feeling a spark of anger ignite. "What am I? A dog?"

Clark's eyes widened. "No. You know that's not what I meant." He ran a hand up through his sculpted hair, mussing it a little. "I just…" He sighed. "I can't do this right now. If you want to talk later, you can wait for me at my apartment." He started to walk away but Lois's hand reached out to stop him.

"Fine, you do what you have to do. You don't want to talk to me — I can't make you. But will you please change into your clothes?" she persisted.

Clark nodded silently. He knew they needed to talk. Lois might have been wrong for going behind his back, but he knew she cared about him. And on some levels she was right to do what she did. If Lex had begun experiments on Kryptonite and there were notes and other samples of it out there, Clark needed to do what he could to protect himself.

But he just felt so alone, so *alienated* from everyone and divided from everything he knew and understood that he just needed time to think. Even if that meant time away from Lois.

"Yeah, I'll change into my clothes in your Jeep." He turned around and headed in the direction of where they had parked.

Lois followed him, watching him sadly.


Lois stood up from Clark's couch and paced a circle around the living room before checking her watch again — eight thirteen — only five minutes later than it had been the last time she had checked it.

Not physically capable of forcing Clark into the car and making him ride home with her and not wanting to upset him any further, she had let him go. That had been this morning. He had been gone all day.

She hadn't gone immediately to his apartment because, after all, she had meant what she had said — she wasn't some kind of pet that he could order around. Later that morning, though, she had caved and come 'home'.

Her temporary home anyway…

But he hadn't been there. After about an hour of waiting for him and him not showing up, she had left. Her pride wasn't going to allow her to sit around all day alone, pining for a man — not even if that man was Superman. She had never been the type of girl who had sat next to the phone waiting for it to ring… okay, well maybe there was that one time with Paul. But that whole crappy situation with him and Linda had only proved to her why she should never do that again. She would never let the man think that he had broken her; that she had nothing better to do than to wait for him. She hadn't given Claude that satisfaction and she wouldn't give it to anyone… not even Clark.

So she had left. She had gone by to check on Perry, to see how things were proceeding with the rebuilding of the Planet. Perry had surprised her when he told her that Mr. Stern was anxious to get a reputable paper back into the hands of the citizens of Metropolis and therefore was working on setting up a temporary printing facility for them to work out of. It was going to be in a huge warehouse that he was renting in the downtown district.

In order to proceed with the reconstruction of the Planet, all of the equipment, furniture… everything, had been taken out of the building. What was salvageable had been kept and what wasn't had already been replaced. It had all been relocated to the warehouse and was in the process of being set up as a temporary base of operations.

Perry had told her that he had planned to track her down later that day to tell her the good news. Mr. Stern wanted them back on the beat A.S.A.P. and expected to have something to go to print with in the next few days.

Lois had been floored. The initiative of their new owner surprised her. They had been busy during the few days she had been gone. She hadn't hidden her enthusiasm from Perry. How could she? It was the best news she had heard in weeks. So she had left with a new sense of purpose and had hit the streets to re-establish some old contacts and see just what was happening in the city. She felt really out of touch and out of practice. It had bolstered her confidence in herself to stretch her reporter's legs again.

But now she was back at Clark's apartment and once more found herself waiting. It didn't look like he had been home all day from what she could tell. Or if he had, he had just stopped in briefly and left again. Where was he? What was he doing?

When would he be back?

She had briefly considered leaving again, still not wanting him to come home and find her waiting — no matter what time it was. But she was exhausted and couldn't find the energy or think of an acceptable place to go, this time of night.

Maybe she should just go check into a hotel? Was Clark seriously going to be okay with her staying here tonight, and was she going to feel comfortable?

Yes, she should just go. That would solve both her problems. She wouldn't be sitting around here, looking like she was pining over Clark, and she might actually get a good night's sleep.

Lois walked over to the couch and picked up her purse. She was headed for the stairs when she heard a key being inserted into the lock. Oh, god, he was home. She suddenly felt like she'd rather be anywhere but here. Why hadn't she left sooner?

Well, at least she was up on her feet with her purse on her arm and she didn't look like she had been sitting around waiting for him to come home.

Lois climbed the stairs to meet him as he came through the front door. "Oh, hi, you did make it back," she stated matter-of-factly. "I was just getting ready to leave you a note."

He took his keys out of the door and looked up at her with tired eyes. "A note?" Lois was a little caught off guard by his appearance. The black slacks and navy shirt he was wearing looked dirty, there even appeared to be some dark stains on them. And there was a tear in his shirt.

What had he been doing?

She started to ask him but decided if he wanted to tell her, he would. She cleared her throat. "Yeah. After what you said earlier, I didn't think you'd feel comfortable with me here tonight, so I was going to get a hotel room and…" Lois broke off in shock when his arms went around her.

He buried his face against her shoulder and held her for a few seconds in silence. She could feel his body trembling slightly and she awkwardly put her arms around him and patted him softly, her earlier irritation gone. "Clark? Are you okay? What's wrong?"

He mumbled a muffled reply that she couldn't really understand and her concern increased. She pulled away from him and used one hand to lift his face up. His eyes were glossy with unshed tears. "Talk to me, Clark. Are you in pain? Did something happen?"

"Can I just hold you for a minute?" he pleaded quietly.

She nodded and took him back into her arms. She stroked his back tenderly, running her fingers up and down in a soothing motion. After a few more seconds she disengaged from him and led him down the stairs to his couch. She encouraged him to sit down and then took one of his hands in hers.

Clark didn't want to talk; he didn't want to think about it. But Lois didn't know what had happened and she was waiting for an answer. He looked into her concerned eyes and tried to find his voice. "After I left you at STAR Labs this morning, I just walked around, for hours, trying to clear my head. I made my way to the park and sat alone with my thoughts, working myself into a righteous indignation at you for what you had done."

Lois opened her mouth to say something but Clark held up a hand to silence her. "But after a while I cooled down and decided to make a trip to the Planet to look at the new globe and see how the rebuilding was coming. I took a cab there and just stood outside the building for a while, watching the construction crews working to rebuild one of the most important parts of my life." He sighed quietly before continuing, "Then I realized that I needed to see one of the most important people in my life."

She smiled softly at him but didn't say anything, just waited for him to continue.

"That was a couple of hours ago." His voice broke off and he was quiet for a couple of seconds. "As I was about to hail a cab, a car ran a red light a couple of blocks down from where I was standing. It plowed into another car that had started to turn left. It was so loud that I didn't need super powers to hear it. I ran down there as fast as I could to see if everyone was okay, to see if there was anything I could do to help."

He reached up and ran a hand through his hair and hung his head for a moment. "There was a young woman. Her… her legs had been crushed and pinned underneath the dashboard," his voice broke on the last word and he cleared his throat. "She was bleeding pretty bad from a gash on her head but she was still conscious. She was begging me to help her. And I tried. I did everything I could, used every ounce of strength I had, but I couldn't get her out. So I sat with her and talked to her, trying to keep her conscious until the paramedics could get there." Clark let out a shaky breath as he relived the moment.

Lois patted his hand reassuringly. "You would have helped her more if you could have, Clark. It's not your…"

"That's just it," he said, his voice full of frustration, "I should have been able to help. If I had been Superman, I could have saved her, Lois. She… she wouldn't have died."

Lois's eyes went wide with shock. "She died?"

He nodded slowly. "The accident happened at rush hour, the streets were flooded with cars and it took a while for the emergency vehicles to get through. She must have had some internal injuries. She had gone into shock by the time the paramedics were able to reach her. By the time they got her body out of the car and began working on her… she…" his voice choked, "she was already gone. They couldn't revive her."

Lois pulled him to her and began rubbing his back softly. "I'm so sorry, Clark." He brought his arms up around her and held her tightly. She could feel him beginning to tremble again.

"I felt so helpless, so powerless to do anything. I was just talking to her, and then she was gone. She shouldn't have died. I could have saved her," he murmured angrily against her shoulder.

"And you would have. If Superman could have, he would have saved her. It's not your fault."

"I know," he said softly. "I've told myself that over and over, but it doesn't really help." He pulled away from her and she could see the determined look in his eyes. "Lois, I don't want to ever feel that helpless again. You were right to go to Dr. Klein like you did to try to help me. People need Superman, and I need to be him. I have to at least try. I can't just give up without knowing if I've done everything I can."

Lois felt a surge of hope flow through her. "Does this mean you're willing to let Dr. Klein run some tests on you?"

"Yes. But I'm still nervous about it," he admitted, letting out a soft breath. "Before I went to the Planet, earlier, I came by my apartment to call my mom. I knew she'd be worried until she heard from us. I… I told her everything. You were right, Lois. They needed to know what was going on and I shouldn't have kept it from them."

Lois tensed. "Was she mad?"

Clark nodded. "Yeah, at first, but then…"

"At me?" she interjected, feeling a twinge in her stomach.

He frowned. "No, not at you. She was upset that I hadn't told her what was going on. Why would she be mad at you?"

Lois looked away and fingered a loose thread on the hemline of her shirt. "For involving Dr. Klein. I hope she knows that I only did it to help. I know that I'm a little impetuous sometimes…"

Clark raised an eyebrow at her. "Sometimes?" he teased.

Lois shot him a dirty look. "That's just how I am, Clark. I leap off of buildings without looking to see how far down the fall might be. I act. That's the only way I know how to get things done," she explained defensively.

"You should really leave the 'leaping buildings' thing to Superman," he teased, trying to lighten the mood.

She grinned a little. "But she wasn't mad? At me?"

"No, Lois, she wasn't mad at you. In fact, she told me that I should listen to you."

Her grin turned into a wry smile. "She's a smart lady, your mom."

Clark rubbed his hand across her back lightly and it sent playful little tendrils of sensation through her.

"Yes, she is. Both of the women in my life are smart." He sighed softly before continuing, "You were right, Lois. But you have to understand why I was so hesitant. I've been worried for so long that someone would find out about me, about Superman, and that my chance at a normal life would be gone. Once I started developing my powers, my dad was always telling me to be careful, that if the wrong person found out about me that they would 'dissect me like a frog.'"

Lois patted his arm reassuringly. "Dr. Klein won't do that. He's not like that."

He nodded. "I think you're right, but it still feels a little like being used as a laboratory experiment or something. I didn't ever want to feel like some *thing*, a lab rat, afraid of what someone might do to me." He ran a hand through his hair and closed his eyes briefly before continuing, "After everything that's happened, though, I'm more afraid now not to try. I think I'm ready to let Dr. Klein see what he can do."

She let out a sigh of relief. "I'm sorry for not realizing how scary this must be to you." She wrapped her arms around him again and gave him a soft squeeze. "I'll be there with you if you want. I won't let him do anything you're not comfortable with."

"I know," he said softly. "And I want you there, Lois… thank you."

They sat for a few moments just holding one another, rocking gently from side to side. Lois snuggled against him a little closer, slipping her mouth up next to his ear. "I love you, Clark Kent," she whispered.

Clark stilled his movements abruptly at the words. It was amazing how hearing those words could make him feel. She had spoken of love in his parent's kitchen that night of the storm, but he hadn't let himself believe it then, not completely. And they had flirted and teased and hinted at love since then. But now she was telling him again — saying those words to a man who was weak and broken, who didn't know if he would ever be the man he had once been.

And she was still saying them.

And he believed her. This wasn't about her feelings for Superman or her rejection of him that day in the park. This was about here and now. They had both made mistakes and done things they wished they could take back, but none of that mattered now. She was all that mattered to him now. "And I love you, Lois Lane," he whispered back, holding her tighter.

"You have no idea how sorry I am that it took me so long to say those words. I wish so badly I could have said them back to you that day in the park," she said with a shaky voice. "I've tried to show you how much you mean to me…"

He drew back to look at her. Her face was so hopeful and vulnerable; she had never looked more beautiful. "I know. And I'm sorry too. I had held back, afraid to believe you at first," he admitted, reaching out to tenderly brush a few strands of hair out of her eyes and tuck them behind her ear. "I'd had my heart broken once; I didn't think I could live through it again…"

Her eyes started to get glassy. "Oh, Clark, I'm so sorry. I…"

"No," he stopped her. "No more apologies. It doesn't matter any more. We both did things we wish we could change. What matters is where we go from here."

"But you do believe me?" She reached up and grabbed his hand, bringing it down close to her chest and giving it a gentle squeeze. "That I love you?"

Her body was trembling and her eyes were glistening with unshed tears. Clark smiled softly at her. "Yes, I…"

She bent forward and captured his lips with her own before he even had time to realize what she was doing. "Let's promise each other something," she murmured against his lips.

"What?" he asked, touching their lips together again.

"No more lies. No more half-truths or keeping secrets from each other."

Clark smiled at her as he reached out to cup her face in his hand. He leaned up and kissed her forehead softly before resting his forehead against hers. "I promise. I have nothing left to hide, Lois, and I don't want to ever hide from you again."

The heaviness of the day seemed to lift a little and she felt better than she had all day. But she could still see the evidence of it on Clark's clothes, and she could still feel the tension of it in his body. She needed to find a way to lift his spirits. "That's a good thing because, well, to be honest, you aren't very good at it anyway," she teased gently.

His smile came back and she could feel him relax just a little in her arms. "Oh, really? I managed to fool one of the city's best reporter's for almost a year."

She pushed away from him, raising her eyebrows. "One of the best? And in who's company would you put me?" she huffed.

Clark broke out into a full grin and she thought she almost heard a chuckle from his lips. "No one… well except maybe this one guy…" This time he did chuckle at the look of outrage on her face. "He's this hack from Nowheresville who writes puff pieces and feel good stories; maybe you've heard of him?"

She smacked him lightly. "Yeah, maybe. There's definitely more to him than I gave him credit for," she said smiling. She was about to tease him again when his stomach let out a loud growl. Lois lifted an eyebrow. "Hungry?"

Clark's eyes looked a little surprised. "Um, yeah, I guess so. That's never happened before."

"Really? You're stomach's never growled before?"

"No, it hasn't. I eat because I enjoy eating, but to be honest, I'm not really sure I *have* to."

Lois remembered him telling her something like that the night she had come to fix dinner for Clark and Superman — when Clark was keeping Superman at his apartment during the heat wave. She choked back a snort at that thought. Clark had always kept Superman at his apartment. "Must be nice," she told him with a frown. "You don't have to eat and yet you can eat whatever you want. Figures." She rolled her eyes at him in disgust. "So how did you figure that one out anyway? Go on a starvation diet?"

Clark smiled. "Sort of. I found out the hard way one time when we were visiting some family."

Her interest was piqued. "How?"

"When I was eight, we drove to the Smokey Mountains to stay with my uncle Edward and aunt Opal, my mom's sister. They had a son a year older than me, Robert. He claimed to know the woods around their house like the back of his hand."

"Oh, no. You didn't!" Her eyes widened as she realized what had happened. "You got lost?" she exclaimed. He gave her a somewhat sheepish look and she let out a laugh. "Couldn't you have used one of your powers? You could have x-rayed through the trees and found your way home. Or maybe when Robert wasn't looking you could have…"

"I didn't have my powers yet," he protested. "I was a teenager before my powers began to manifest."

"Oh," she managed between restrained giggles. "I'm sorry. Please continue."

"I'm not sure I want to," he sulked.

"Oh, come on. I promise I'll quit laughing," she said, covering her mouth with her hand and biting the inside of her lip.

He rolled his yes. "Yes, we got lost. We probably ended up going in circles. If we had stayed put, in one place, like I had wanted to, they might have found us faster. As it was, it took them two days."

"Two days? Growing boys not eating anything for two days? I bet Robert was famished."

"He was. Thankfully I had been in Boy Scouts for a short while and knew enough that we found a freshwater spring, so at least we had water."

That did not surprise Lois at all. She had always considered him the world's biggest Boy Scout. She tried to bite her lip to hide another smile — but was unsuccessful — and then giggled when she saw Clark frown. "So, go on," she encouraged.

He sighed in mock irritation before continuing, "Neither of us knew what kinds of berries or vegetation were safe to eat. Robert almost ate some red berries that I now know were Holly berries. I told him that they might be poisonous, so he didn't eat them."

"Are they?"

"Yeah. They can make you really sick." He shook his head and smiled. "But when our parents finally found us and got us back home, Robert ate so much that he threw up anyway."

"But you weren't hungry?" she asked in amazement.

"No, I wasn't. I ate so I didn't raise any suspicion, but I wasn't starving like I should have been. At the time I really didn't understand why, but I didn't want anyone to think I was weird, so I didn't say anything." Clark was amazed by the interest Lois was displaying. It made him feel eager to share with her. He shrugged his shoulders and continued, "When my powers started developing a few years later, I started testing my boundaries — in a lot of ways — I pushed myself harder and farther, to see what I was capable of doing. I remembered what had happened all those years ago, and I decided to see how long I could go without food."

"Really? How long?"

"I only went for a week. Not because I couldn't have gone longer, but it was worrying my mom. She was fussing over me and it was upsetting her, so I stopped. I know just about anyone can go that long without eating, but the difference is that I wasn't hungry."

Lois smiled at him. That was so Clark. He was always so thoughtful of others. He worried about everyone, it seemed, but himself.

"But you are hungry now, right?" When he nodded, she continued, "Then I think we should get you something to eat. Why don't you take a shower and get cleaned up and I'll order us some pizza, okay?"

Clark got up from the couch and started to walk away. Then he turned around and came back to touch her cheek softly. "Thank you."

She looked up at him quizzically. "For what?"

"Just for listening. I've never really had anyone I could share stuff like that with. You know, besides my parents." He smiled warmly at her. "It feels really good to have someone to talk to."

Lois wasn't sure what to say. "Um, you're welcome." Clark again began to walk away and Lois continued softly, "Thank you… for wanting to share it with me." She was happy to have been here for him. He hadn't had to come home and be alone this time.

Clark glanced back and smiled at her before making his way into the bathroom. For the first time that day, he was beginning to feel a little better.

"You don't happen to have any chocolate hidden anywhere do you?" Lois shouted from the living room. "I looked all over for some when I was staying here but I couldn't find any."

Clark smiled broadly at his reflection in the bathroom mirror. "No, I'm sorry," he hollered back, "fresh out of chocolate. I'll put it on my grocery list." He had high hopes that she would be spending more time over at his apartment, even after she got moved into her new place. It definitely wouldn't hurt for him to have some chocolate around.

In fact…

An idea came to Clark and he began to make a mental checklist of what he wanted to do as he went over to his shower and turned on the water.


Clark glanced lovingly at Lois one last time before slipping quietly out the front door. She was still asleep and he hoped she stayed that way, but in case she woke up before he got back, he had left her a note.

But it would be better if she didn't wake up and wonder where he was. There would be fewer questions that way. It would be easier to keep things secret.

Clark glanced at his watch. He had several stops to make but only two of the stores were open this early in the morning. One of them happened to be the stop closest to his apartment. Close enough that he could just walk. Clark looked up, squinting against the bright sunlight. But with the temperatures already sweltering, even at this time of day, he decided maybe he'd take a cab instead.

Plus, a cab would save a little time and he was in a rush to beat Lois. He would really like to be back before she woke up. He had turned off the alarm clock that she had set for seven-thirty and could only hope that there wouldn't be any police sirens or barking dogs to wake her up.

He stuck his thumb and forefinger in his mouth and whistled shrilly as a cab approached. The cab slowed and he walked over to get inside of it, an excited flutter filling his stomach.


A telephone ringing is what brought Lois out of her deep sleep. The first couple of times it rang she thought it was an alarm clock and she began to feel around for it, not bothering to lift her head from where it was buried in her pillow. When her hand smacked into the side of Clark's couch, she remembered that she wasn't at home in her own bed.

Then she heard Clark's voice. "Good morning, Chief." There was a short pause and then, "Yeah, I'm feeling a lot better."

Lois lifted her head up and squinted against the bright sunlight. Clark was in the kitchen, holding a cup of coffee. She blinked and looked again — he was bright-eyed and fully dressed. He looked like he had been up for a while. What time was it?

"No, she's still asleep," Clark continued. He glanced over at Lois and seeing that she was awake, he smiled sweetly at her. "Actually scratch that, she just woke up." He set his mug down and went to his cabinets, getting another mug out. He poured her a cup of coffee and doctored it just the way she liked it. He brought the mug over to her and handed it to her. "Good morning, Sunshine," he whispered as he lowered the phone. He kissed her forehead tenderly and then put the phone back to his ear. "Yeah, Chief. We can cover that. We'll be there. Yeah. Eleven o'clock. Got it. Bye, Perry."

Lois took a drink of her coffee and sighed contentedly. She could get used to this. But she better not since she'd be moving into her new apartment in just a few days. "What did Perry want? Does he already have an assignment for us?"

"Yeah. He's handed out assignments to everyone apparently. We've been sent to cover the Mayor's speech at eleven. We should probably get there early." He glanced at the clock in the kitchen. "It's almost nine so that gives you about an hour, hour and a half, to get ready."

"What happened to the alarm clock!" she exclaimed. "I set it so I wouldn't sleep in." Obviously her body was still catching up from the sleep it had lost recently, but this getting up at almost nine in the morning business had to stop.

Clark gave her a sheepish smile. "I turned it off. You were sleeping so peacefully, I didn't want to wake you up."

Lois mumbled something under her breath as she got up from the couch and Clark had to choke back a laugh. He covered it by offering her a suggestion, "You might want to dress cool. It's really hot outside."


Clark was elated. This was the first press conference he had covered in weeks. The last one had also been a mayoral speech, back before the bombing of the Planet.

He looked around at the familiar faces of some of the other reporters. It felt good to be back in his element. Clark felt a trickle of sweat slide down his forehead and he reached up to wipe it with the back of his hand. It was hot today, much hotter than a normal spring day. He thought it had been hot yesterday while he was wandering the streets, trying to figure things out, but today was worse — especially standing in this crowd of people with no air moving. The air was so humid and heavy that it was almost stifling. It hadn't been this unusually hot since the heat wave Luthor had created and blamed Superman for.

Clark frowned, not wanting to think about anything having to do with Luthor. Instead, he decided to think about last night. He and Lois had spent a relaxing evening eating pizza and talking about how different their lives had been growing up. It had been really nice. And Lois had also told him about the Planet and Mr. Stern setting up the temporary offices for them to work from. Clark had been ecstatic. He could finally get back to work, to doing something that made him feel useful again.

Lois had again insisted on sleeping on the couch, claiming that it was very comfortable and Clark was bigger than she was and wouldn't be comfortable on the couch — which was true. For the first time in days, weeks really, Clark had gotten a good night's sleep.

Lois's apartment would be ready in a few more days and she would be moving out, but Clark realized that he wasn't looking forward to that. Undoubtedly she was. He was sure she would be glad to get to sleep in her own bed again. But he would miss her. It wasn't like her apartment was that far away, but it just wouldn't be the same.

No sense dwelling on it, though. Her apartment wouldn't be ready for a few more days. He might as well enjoy it while it lasted.

And who knew what the future held, anyway?

Clark wiped his forehead again and glanced at his watch. How much longer before the Mayor got this show on the road? When Clark and Lois had gotten up that morning, Perry had called them and told them to get downtown to cover the press conference about the beautification project for the Hobbs bay area. The Mayor was investing millions of taxpayer dollars into renovating the dilapidated Bay area. It was a point of hot debate between various social groups. The press conference was supposed to have started at eleven o'clock; it was now fifteen minutes past.

Clark swiped at the back of his neck and thought he could feel a bead of sweat sliding down his back. It didn't feel at all pleasant. How did people stand it? He noticed Lois pull her blouse forward and fan it against her body a few times. She puffed a breath of air up trying to blow a few strands of hair from her forehead, but it didn't work. The hairs were stuck to her forehead with sweat. Clark reached up and fingered the hairs away and behind her ear. "Hot, isn't it?"

"Yeah. I guess they weren't counting on this heat wave when they scheduled the press conference outside, huh? I'm glad you warned me; I would have died in one of my poly-blend suits." She glanced up at him and frowned. "You're sweating," she stated the obvious.

He shrugged. "Yeah, but I'll live. You and Dr. Klein were right — I haven't been out in the sun as much as I probably should have been. It feels good."

Lois took a closer look at him. "Clark! You're face is getting pink!"

Clark reached up and felt the heat in his cheeks. "What? Like a sunburn?"

She nodded. "We should get you out of the sun. You've probably never had a sunburn before, have you?" She furrowed her eyebrows in frustration. It figured. He was out in the sun, getting what he needed, and it had found find a way to be detrimental to him. When were things going to go *his* way for once?

"What do you think?" He frowned at her.

She grabbed his arm and started to lead them through the crowd. Clark pulled against her, protesting, "No, Lois. There's nowhere close by to get out of the sun. We're in a good position here to ask questions. If we go too far, we won't be able to cover the speech. I'll be okay."

Lois opened her mouth to argue when she heard a beeping coming from her purse. She opened it and dug around inside of it, pulling out a pager.

Clark raised his eyebrows. "A pager?"

"Yeah, Perry gave it to me yesterday. Mr. Stern wants all the top reporters to have one. I'm sure you'll be getting one when we check in later today." She stood up on her tiptoes, shaded her eyes with her hand and looked around. "I'm gonna go use that payphone over there. Stay here and hold our spot, I'll be right back."

She worked her way through the crowd to the payphone and dialed the number. While she was waiting for Perry to answer, she noticed the Mayor was taking the stand.

"Ladies and gentlemen thank you for coming. I realize it's hot out today. I'll try to keep this press conference as short as possible. Please hold all questions to the end and then I will open the floor to questions…"

Lois didn't hear anything after that because Perry had answered the phone. "Perry White."

"Perry, it's Lois. Is this important? The Mayor's speech is just beginning."

"Lois, thank Elvis for these pagers. Yes, it's important. You're the first one to call me back so the story is yours."

"What story?" she asked, feeling herself getting excited.

"A man is holding some people hostage at the LexCorp building. We don't have any details other than we know he's an ex-employee. I need you to get down there and find out what's going on. With so much of the press at the Mayor's conference, we might just get the scoop on this," Perry said eagerly.

Lois felt her mouth drop open. "You mean we could actually get a paper out today?" she exclaimed in disbelief.

"Yeah. We're real close and I think the added incentive of a major headline just might get us there. Have Clark stay and cover the Mayor. Call me as soon as you have the story."

Leave it to Perry to get them back in business well ahead of schedule. "I'm on it, Chief. Bye." Lois hung up the phone and began wading her way through the sea of reporters to get back to Clark.

"…condition of the Hobbs Bay area has gone uncorrected for far too long," the Mayor was saying.

"Clark," Lois hollered. A few of the reporter's closest to her began scowling at her.

"Quiet down, Lane, we can't hear," one reporter complained. Lois recognized him from the Star.

"It won't matter anyway. The Star never has anything interesting to report," she quipped.

He sneered at her and she glared back.

"Lois?" Clark whispered her name as he came over towards her. "What's wrong? You're making a commotion."

"I've gotta go," she said in a hushed voice, glancing around at the other reporters. "Perry wants me down at LexCorp to cover a story that's breaking there…"

"Well, come on, let's go," he continued quietly, taking her by the arm.

Perry's words came back to her, 'a man is holding some people hostage…' No, it wouldn't be a good idea for Clark to come. He'd only get frustrated that he couldn't bust in there as Superman and get things under control. Besides, Perry told her to have Clark stay and cover the Mayor.

"No, Clark," she whispered, shaking her head. "Perry said for you to stay. He still wants coverage on the conference." He looked like he wanted to argue, and she didn't want to discuss this in front of the other reporters so she continued quietly, "It'll be okay. I'll meet back up with you later at our temporary headquarters." She took out a piece of paper and scribbled a number down on it. "Here. This is my pager number. Page me if you need me." Then she was off, wading back through a protesting crowd of people.

"Be careful, Lois," Clark said, pleading with her under his breath. He watched her leave, his face grim. She was excited. That could only mean one thing — this was a hot lead Perry had sent her after. He hoped it wasn't anything that would turn out to be dangerous. Surely she wouldn't take any risks knowing that Superman wasn't around…

Clark's stomach began to feel a little nauseous.

What was he thinking? This was Lois Lane. When did she not take risks? Clark couldn't see her any longer and he mentally repeated the words again, 'Please be careful'.


"What do you mean you can't tell me why the guy has taken hostages?" Lois demanded of the young and pretentious police officer she was currently grilling. "Hasn't he made any demands yet? There has to be a reason. You don't just…"

"Lane, quit badgering my officers," Henderson said, walking up behind her.

"Well I would if they'd just give me some straight answers," she said, turning to face him with a frown. "What's going on, Henderson?"

Henderson waved the officer away and looked around before gesturing for her to follow him over to a quieter area. "Look, Lois, all we know is that the guy and his wife used to work for Luthor. From what we've managed to put together so far, when Luthor died and his criminal activity was exposed, his company's stock bottomed out. To appease the stockholders, the board of directors began making massive cut backs, including *letting go* a good portion of employees. Apparently Mr. Whitmore and his wife were two of those employees. He's out of work and his stock options are worth nothing right now."

"So what is he hoping to accomplish? Has he made any demands?" Lois looked away towards the building, as if she had Clark's x-ray vision and could actually see inside. "Does he want money? Or his job back? Has he gone off the deep end?" she chuffed. "He can't possibly think this is going to turn out well."

"I think he's finally realizing that," Henderson said grimly. "He's refusing to talk to anyone, even our negotiators. I think at this point he's probably starting to panic. The reality has probably sunk in that he's now a criminal and is facing prison time."

"Well it's a little late for that," she muttered, turning back to face Henderson. "What are you going to do?"

Henderson wasn't looking at her. He was looking at a car that had just pulled up to the curb behind them. "Excuse me, Lois. I've gotta go. Stay back out of harm's way. Don't force me to restrain you." He gestured at the officer Lois had been speaking to originally. "Ellis, escort Ms. Lane back behind the police tape…"

"What police tape?" Lois argued. "Henderson, you can't…"

"The tape that's going up right now. I mean it, Lane. Don't push me," he warned with a scowl. "You can watch from behind the tape, or you can watch from inside a squad car," he explained pointing to one of the police cars.

Lois glared at him. "Fine. But don't think I won't be waiting for you when this is all over. I'm here for the story, and I'm gonna get it one way or the other."

She watched Henderson walk away and she followed him as far as Officer Ellis was willing to let her go. From her vantage point behind the plastic yellow tape that was being strung across various points of the sidewalk and street, roping off the entrance to LexCorp, she watched Henderson open the backdoor of the car that had just pulled up. A woman exited the vehicle and Henderson escorted her towards the entrance to the building.

Then all hell broke loose.

The front doors to the building slammed open and a man holding a gun to another man's head appeared in view.

"Everybody back off, right now. I mean it," the man screamed, pressing the muzzle of the gun into the side of the other man's neck. "Either you let me walk away from this alive with Doug here accompanying me, or he gets a bullet in the brain right now."

"Rich, please," the scrawny, pasty-faced hostage, Doug, begged, "I had to let you go. I had no choice. There was…"

"Shut up!" Rich shouted. "You ruined my life and my wife's life!"

"Richard, don't do this," a woman's voice pleaded. "This isn't what I wanted, honey. Please. We'll be okay. Just put the gun down…"

Lois glanced from the woman to her husband to the surrounding police officers. A further examination of some of the surrounding buildings told her that if the man made one false move, he was going to pay for it with more than his job — possibly his life.

One thought kept running through Lois's mind — if only Superman were here. But she was so glad she had come instead of Clark. After what had happened yesterday, he would have probably ended up doing something foolish. Either that or he would have been guilt-ridden that there was nothing he could do to help. As it was, Lois was holding her breath, almost literally praying that everyone would come out of this alive.


Clark glanced down at his watch. The mayor had gone on about the project for over half an hour and had been entertaining questions for another twenty minutes since then. Clark had managed to get in a couple of good questions, but now all he wanted was for this press conference to be over so he could sit down and rest. His legs were getting so tired that they were beginning to cramp.

Besides not having his powers, his body was still pretty weak. It was draining him to be on his feet this long, especially out in the harsh sun. He tugged at his tie, wishing he had left it at home. It wasn't like he had needed to wear one. He didn't have his Suit on under these clothes, but it was just such a habit.

Maybe it would help if he rolled his shirtsleeves up. As he started to work on the sleeves, he swayed a little on his feet. If he didn't go ahead and leave now, they might be carrying him out on a stretcher. Clark quietly slipped through the crowd of reporters and onlookers, headed for the nearest available taxicab. He found one and crawled inside. "344 Clinton Street, please," he instructed the cabbie.

Lois had told Clark that she'd meet him at their temporary office, but he was sure he had time to go home for a little while and rest, first. By the excited tone of her voice, he was fairly certain her story was going to take some time. His stomach spasmed as he wondered again if she was okay. He hoped that she wasn't doing anything dangerous.

The cab came to a stop and Clark realized numbly that he was already home. He dragged himself out of the cab and paid the driver before stumbling up the steps towards his apartment. He might need to lie down for a little longer than he had originally thought. Maybe he should page Lois and let her know he wasn't feeling well. He hated to put additional work on her, but she might need to take his notes and write up the Mayor's speech herself.

Clark fumbled with his keys — his eyes were having trouble focusing. God, it was hot, and he was so thirsty. He staggered through his front door and down his stairs. The cool air from the air conditioner felt so good against his sweat-soaked skin and clothes.

The phone was on the coffee table by the couch. He picked it up and dialed the pager number Lois had given him. At the tone, he punched in his number and then hung up the phone, tossing it on the couch.

The room suddenly lurched and he felt like he was going to be sick. He made his way to the bathroom and got there just in time to empty the contents of his stomach into the sink. It wasn't much, just the coffee he had drunk earlier that morning. He grabbed a tissue and wiped his mouth before taking off his glasses and looking up at his reflection in the mirror.

His skin was bright red! He had gotten a sunburn! But beyond that, his eyes were puffy and his lips were swollen and dry. He probably needed to drink some water. He had sweat a lot during the press conference.

But before he could grab his cup from the cabinet and turn on the water, another wave of nausea hit him and he threw up again. This time not much came out, and it was really painful. His stomach cramped and protested. Not long after that wave passed, he dry-heaved again into the sink. Nothing came out and he felt as if his stomach was going to turn itself inside out.

A dizzy spell hit him and his legs felt weak. He slid down to the floor, unable to remain standing. He rested the side of his face against the porcelain pedestal sink and relished in the cool comfort that he found there.

What was wrong with him? His stomach cramped again and he felt himself wanting to wretch but he didn't have the strength to get up. He heaved on the floor, but again nothing came out. He had eaten pizza last night but that was all he'd had all day yesterday. That had long since been digested, and coffee was the only thing he'd had yet today. What was making him sick? He had nothing left to throw up.

As an uncontrollable shivering took over his body, Clark passed out.


"You should have seen it, Perry!" Lois exclaimed into the pay phone's receiver. "I was here and I still didn't believe it. It was like something out a movie. When the guy threw down the gun and his wife started crying…"

"Okay, okay, Lois," Perry interrupted, trying to calm her down. "That's great. Just what we need for page one. Now, can you get your butt down here and get it written?"

"Sure thing, Perry. I'll be there faster than you can recite your favorite Elvis song. See ya." She hung up the phone without bothering to wait for his response and headed off in search of a cab. Half-way to the street, her pager began beeping and she stopped to dig through her purse one-handed as she stuck the other arm in the air to flag down a cab. Her fingers closed around something hard and she pulled her hand out to find it clutching a container of mace. Making a face, she gave up her pursuit of a taxi and focused on finding the pager. Who was paging her anyway? Did Perry already want something else?

She finally located the item and snatched it out of her purse, glancing at the display as she pulled it out. Lois frowned. It was the number for Clark's apartment. She glanced at her watch. The press conference was surely over by now, but why did Clark want her to call his apartment? She had told him she'd meet him at their temporary office.

Lois turned around and headed back for the pay phone. She dialed his number and waited impatiently for the phone to ring once, twice, a third and finally a fourth time before Clark's answering machine picked up. "Hi. This is Clark. I'm not home right now…" his recorded voice began. Lois hung up the phone and bit her lip. Why hadn't he answered?

Should she go check on him? She really needed to get this story written up for Perry. But what if something was wrong? She had told him to page her if he needed something, and obviously he had paged her — his phone number is what came up.

She should probably try him again. Maybe he was just in the bathroom and couldn't get to the phone. She dialed the number and waited anxiously. Again, no answer.

Lois sighed as she flagged down a taxi and got inside. Clark had better be dying — or else Perry was going to kill her.


Lois exited the cab and paid the driver. She hurried up the steps to Clark's apartment and then froze when she got to the top.

The door was standing partway open.

In this heat? Clark wouldn't leave the door open like that for the air conditioning to pour out of. She approached the door cautiously and peeked her head inside. There was no sign of Clark.

"Clark? Are you in here?" she yelled.

No answer.

She went inside and shut the door behind her. Her mind began to run away with her. Had someone broken in on him? Had they beat him up and left him for dead and all he'd been able to do before he passed out was page her?

What if they were still here?

She grabbed a lamp from his entry table and held it over her head. "If anyone's in here, I have a weapon and I'm not afraid to use it."

Lois moved cautiously down the stairs, craning her neck to look behind pieces of furniture and around the wall into Clark's bedroom. Surely it wasn't something as absurd as burglars, nothing was out of place. And she hadn't heard any noises or seen any signs of a struggle.

She lowered the lamp and shook her head at herself. Lane, you've gotta get a grip, girl. There could be a million reasons for why the door had been left open. Maybe the building maintenance man had been by and had left it open. Maybe Clark had been here but had already gone… and he had left in such a hurry that he forgot to shut the door. Yeah, that was probably it. But why had he paged her?

After a few seconds of contemplating searching the entire apartment, just to be sure, she convinced herself that she was overreacting. She set the lamp down on the floor and realized that between the heat outside and the excitement in here, she was sweating profusely. It would do her some good to freshen up a bit.

The sight that met her as she walked into Clark's bathroom made her blood run cold. "Clark!" She ran to him and knelt down beside him. His face was bright red and hot from the sunburn but his hands were cool and clammy. "Clark, come on now. Wake up," she told him, leaning over him to check his breathing.

He was still breathing slow and easy and she let out her own breath in relief. She took his shoulders and shook him gently. "Wake up, Clark. What's wrong?" He didn't respond.

Lois sat there for a few seconds, stewing about what to do. Who should she call? Part of her wanted to call an ambulance, but Clark had made it clear that he didn't feel safe going to a hospital. They might realize something was different about him and start doing tests and…

Dr. Klein. She would call Klein. He was the only one she could trust.

She got up from the floor and ran into the other room in search of the phone. Spotting it on the couch, she snatched it up and dialed Klein's direct number.

He answered after a couple of rings, "Klein here."

"Dr. Klein, this is Lois Lane. I need your help," she was trying to keep her voice even and controlled but didn't think she was doing a very good job.

"Lois? Is something wrong? You sound…"

Nope, she was right. "It's Superman," she blurted out. "Something's wrong with him. He's passed out. He got a sunburn…"

"Is it bad?"

"No," she ventured, "I don't think so. But the rest of his skin is clammy. He wasn't feeling well earlier and…" And what? She came to Clark Kent's apartment and found him passed out here? "I, uh, asked him to meet me at Clark Kent's apartment. I've been staying at his place… it's a long story. Anyway, when I got here, I found Superman passed out. I don't know what to do, Dr. Klein. I can't get him up into bed by myself and I don't know how serious his condition is."

"I think I might know what's wrong," he said soothingly. "I'll be there as soon as I can; I've just got to grab a few things first. Just stay with him and keep him cool, wipe his face with a cool, wet washcloth. If he wakes up, make him drink some water."

"Okay," Lois said, immediately heading for the bathroom to get a washcloth. "Thank you, Dr. Klein."

"Uh, Lois," he continued before she hung up the phone.


"The address?"

"Address? Oh, yeah, right, sorry," she sputtered. "344 Clinton Street."


Lois hung up the phone and grabbed a washcloth. She ran it under cold water and wrung it out before bending down to blot Clark's forehead with it.

"Clark? You're gonna be okay, you hear me? I called Dr. Klein. He'll know what to do," she rambled as she continued to bathe his face with the cool rag.

Maybe she should take his tie off and unbutton his shirt? It might help to run this rag over his neck and chest as well and…

Lois felt her mouth drop open in horror. His clothes! Clark was still dressed as… Clark! And Dr. Klein was on his way over to help her with Superman. No, no, no!

Laying the rag across Clark's forehead, she jumped up. She ran straight to his clothes closet and hit his tie hook. The secret compartment opened up, revealing his suits, capes and boots. She wasn't going to bother with the cape or boots. She'd just tell Klein that she took them off to make him cooler or more comfortable or something.

She grabbed one of the suits off of its hanger and started to slide the door shut, but then she hesitated. If she were going to use that story, then she'd still need the boots and cape sitting out where Klein could see them. She grabbed a pair of boots and a cape and the finished shutting everything back up.

Lois laid the boots and cape in a pile on the floor of the bathroom and knelt down beside Clark. "Clark, please wake up," she pleaded with him. Embarrassment flushed her cheeks as she realized he wasn't going to cooperate and she was going to have to undress him and put his suit on herself.

She licked her lips nervously and decided to start with the tie. Not quite sure how to get the thing undone, she simply loosened the knot and slipped it over his head, being careful not to let him hit his head on the floor as she pulled it off.

Okay… the shirt. She'd remove the shirt next. Lois methodically unbuttoned it and then laid it open. She was trying hard not to gawk at his well-defined pectoral muscles or the sculpted lines of his abs, but they were a little distracting to say the least.

She chastised herself. How could she be ogling Clark's body while he was lying unconscious on the floor and she didn't even know what was wrong with him?

What was wrong with her?

She pushed the shirt back off his shoulders and then slipped one sleeve down over his hand. It took some work but she finally got one arm free and then the other. She pulled the shirt out from underneath him and threw it off to the side.

Her palms began to sweat. Why was this so hard? She had undressed him and helped him get into his pajama pants at his parents house the other night when he'd had too much to drink.

Ah, yes, but it had been almost pitch black. She hadn't turned any lights on, not wanting to wake his parents up. And he had sort of been awake then. He'd been able to at least help her. He had gotten his pants off on his own and had even managed to get his pajamas on by himself.

This was different. It was broad daylight. Clark was unconscious…

And they had told each other that they loved one another.

She swallowed and moved down to his shoes. His shoes would have to come off before she could get his pants off. Maybe he would wake up…

Lois removed both his shoes and his socks but, to her distress, he was still out. She took his belt buckle in her hands and unfastened it, ashamed with herself for thinking what she was thinking. She slid the belt from his pants and then unbuttoned and unzipped them.

Oh god… Focus! No…! On the task…!

She began tugging and pulling on his pants, working them off his hips and down his legs until she had freed them from his body. Now Clark was lying completely naked on his bathroom floor, save for a pair of thin, silk boxer shorts.

Did she leave the boxers on? Did he usually wear them under the suit? After all, he wore briefs on the outside… Would they show lines through the spandex material?

Did lines honestly matter!?

She closed her eyes and shook her head, appalled at herself. No, no the boxers would stay on; she would save both of them the embarrassment later when he woke up. She grabbed the Suit from where it lay on the floor and contemplated it for a second. The spandex material was slick and tight — like control top pantyhose — it wasn't going to be easy to get on.

Lois tugged, pulled and slid and finally she had the garment on — with a minimal amount of awkwardness at touching certain areas of his body. The legs had been easy, but when she had gotten to his waist… well, besides trying to get acceptable handholds, it had just been a lot tighter of a fit to get the Suit over his hips… and ample backside. At least the Suit unzipped, that had helped her get it over the muscular span of his chest. But she'd finally had to pull him up into a sitting position to finish getting the suit on — and zipped up.

It had been a lot of work.

She took hold of her shirt and pulled it away from her chest, blowing a stream of air down into the opening, and then began fanning the shirt against her. As she reached up to wipe her forehead with the back of her other hand, she could tell that perspiration had long since curled a few of her errant hairs. She thought she had been hot before — she was going to need a shower by the time this was over… most likely a cold one.

Crawling around on the floor, she picked up all of Clark's clothing and then deposited the bundle into his hamper. She glanced back down at him with a pang of sympathy. He didn't look at all comfortable, but he did look like Superman, at least. His hair had been damp with sweat and she had finger-combed it back into the style he wore as Superman.

Lois glanced down at her watch. If Dr. Klein took very long, Clark was sure to get cold in that thin spandex, lying on the hard, bare floor. She could at least make him a little more comfortable while she waited. Leaving the bathroom, she went to his bed to grab a blanket and pillow, and that's when she noticed them.

The pictures.

There were pictures everywhere with Clark in them. What if Klein looked at the pictures too carefully? Obviously, Clark had kept up his dual identity so far without any problems — she certainly hadn't seen through his disguise. But this was a strange situation, having 'Superman' here at Clark Kent's apartment and Clark was nowhere to be seen. Dr. Klein had never met Clark before, only Superman. He would have no idea what he looked like. But if he noticed how much Clark resembled Superman from any of those photos…

Better to be safe than sorry…

Lois began to dart around the apartment, collecting all of Clark's photos. She took them into the kitchen and tucked them inside the cabinet under his sink.

Now she just needed Klein to hurry up and get here.

She glanced up at the door, willing him to knock on it. Please hurry, she thought at him.


Clark woke up slowly, feeling disoriented. The last thing he remembered clearly was throwing up in his bathroom. He had a vague recollection of people being there and of being moved…

And now he found himself lying on his side in his bed… In his Suit? What was he doing in that? Something soft and warm was draped over him and dangling against his chest. He looked down and realized it was someone's arm.

A woman's arm…

Lois's arm?

His heart began to race and he turned over carefully in bed so that he could look at her. As he turned, he was aware that something was moving with him. He glanced down at his arm and saw that the sleeve of his Suit was rolled up and there was an IV attached to him. The cord led up to a bag of fluid on a stand next to his bed.

Where had that come from? And who had brought it?

He looked back down at the arm on his chest. His eyes followed the arm to Lois's body. She was fully clothed and lying on top of the covers, but her arm was draped over him protectively. He finished rolling over and smiled softly at the enchanting expression on her face, a peaceful look of innocence exposed in her sleep. He couldn't count the number of dreams he'd had where he would wake up in bed next to her.

They didn't quite happen like this, but still…

Clark reached over and touched her cheek, caressing it gently with his thumb. "Lois?" he whispered softly.

"Hmmm what, Clark?" she mumbled, not yet awake.

Clark was about to say her name again when her eyes flew open and then widened in surprise. "Um, hi," she said shyly.

"Hi," he repeated back to her.

"Sorry," she mumbled as she started to pull away from him. "You were tossing in your sleep and I was afraid you were going to pull your IV out. As long as I was touching you, you seemed to calm down. I was just going to lay by you until you fell asleep but…" She paused in her explanation when he reached out and put one arm around her, holding her in place.

"Don't apologize."

"Oh." Lois didn't really know what else to say and was verging on panicked embarrassment when Clark saved her.

"What happened?" he asked, releasing her.

"You passed out," she explained as she worked her way up into a sitting position on the bed. "Dr. Klein thinks you were suffering from heat exhaustion. He borrowed some IV equipment from a colleague of his who works at a hospital." She took his arm in her hand and inspected the IV. "He said you should get some rest and get plenty of fluids the next few days."

He slowly sat up and then scooted back to lean against the headboard, letting the covers fall from his body to expose blue spandex. "How did I get into my Suit?"

Lois looked away from him shyly. "I, uh, put it on you. I didn't know what else to do. I told Dr. Klein that Superman wasn't feeling well and I had asked him to meet me here." She gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "You're not mad, are you? It's just that when I found you passed out on the floor, it scared me. I knew someone needed to look at you and there wasn't any way I could get you up from the floor, let alone move you. So I called Dr. Klein."

"No. I'm not mad, Lois," he hurried to assure her, smiling lovingly at her. He had really been too hard on her about Dr. Klein. She needed to know that he trusted her. "You did exactly what you should have done."

"Thanks," Lois said, relieved. She let go of Clark's hand and got up from the bed.

"So Dr. Klein thinks I just have heat exhaustion? That's it?" Clark was afraid to believe it could be that simple.

"Yeah. He said he thought it was probably either that or possibly sun poisoning." She walked around the bed to his side and checked the fluid bag attached to his IV. "He hadn't thought to mention it, but the antibiotic he gave you can cause extra sensitivity to sunlight. So that could have aggravated things."

Clark frowned. It figured that the one thing that was supposed to heal him would end up making him sick.

Lois turned his arm over and looked down at the IV. "Do you want me to take this out?"

He wanted to object that she didn't have to, that he could do it, but the truth was that it would be hard to do one-handed. "Yeah. Thanks."

She peeled the tape back and made a face as she quickly pulled the IV from his arm. "Do you remember him being here?"

"Dr. Klein?" At her nod, he continued, "No."

"You were mumbling a little incoherently while he was checking you over. He told me to watch you closely and if you didn't come around in an hour or so to call him back." She glanced over at his alarm clock. "That was about forty minutes ago. We should probably call him and let him know that you're awake. He might have more to tell you."

Clark took hold of her hand and gave it a soft squeeze. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." She smiled softly at him. "I'm sure you probably want to take a shower… you were pretty sweaty. But take a cool one. Hot water won't feel good on your sunburn. I uh… laid out a fresh towel for you after I finished my shower earlier, while I was waiting for Dr. Klein to get here."

She had taken a shower? Clark started to ask her why but there was a knock at the door.

Lois glanced towards the door and then back at Clark. He gave her a questioning look. She shrugged her shoulders — he was the one with x-ray vision, not her — and left his bedroom, making her way to his front door.

Clark struggled to get out of bed and followed her into the living room.

"It's Jack and Jimmy," she hissed, peeking through the veiled curtains of the front door. "I called Perry to tell him that I was coming to check on you. He must have sent them over," she continued in a whisper. She opened the door just a crack and smiled at the two boys. "Give us just a minute, okay? Clark's… uh…" She glanced back at Clark who was hiding off to one side, clothed in his super hero outfit, "…getting dressed."

The astonished looks on the two boys' faces brought a flush into hers. That might not have been the best thing to say. She closed the door before they could respond and ran back down the stairs. "Hurry, we've got to get you changed." She shooed at him with her hands, gesturing for him to go back into his bedroom. At the same time, she rushed over to his closet and grabbed a pair of tan slacks and a blue button-down shirt.

Clark struggled to reach his zipper to undo his suit. He wriggled out of the top portion and then hopped from one leg to another as he pulled the suit from his body.

Lois came in, bringing him the clothes to put on, and gaped momentarily. He was standing there in only his boxers. She averted her gaze and held out his clothes. "Do you need help?" she asked awkwardly, not meeting his eyes.

"No. I think I can manage," Clark responded, grinning slightly at her reaction.

Lois went back to the front door and opened it again. "What exactly did you need, Jimmy?" She turned her gaze from one to the other. "Jack?"

"Perry sent us," Jack piped up, a funny expression still on his face.

"Yeah, he thought CK might need some… help," Jimmy added with obvious mirth, trying to hold back a snicker.

Lois rolled her eyes. "No. Clark's fine now. He got a little sick earlier from the heat, that's all. But since you're here, can I ask you a favor?" She glanced back towards the bedroom; Clark hadn't come out yet. "I really need to check in with Perry and get my story written about the hostage situation at LexCorp, but I don't…"

"Want to leave Clark by himself?" Jack finished for her. "Yeah, Jimmy and I would be happy to stay with him, wouldn't we?" he asked, looking over at his friend. Jimmy nodded his willing agreement and Jack continued, "I leave the day after tomorrow and wanted to say goodbye anyway."

"Yeah, and Perry's letting me take a couple of days to help Jack get moved in," Jimmy chimed in.

"Oh, so you're going with Jack to New York?" she asked Jimmy.

They both nodded and Jack walked through the open door, brushing past Lois. He stopped and turned back to look at Jimmy. "Why don't you go ahead and go back to the office with Lois? Perry won't like it if we're both gone, and I'm the one who's officially off the payroll. Both of us don't need to sit with Clark. You go on."

"Are you sure?" Jimmy asked, looking a little lost all of the sudden.

"Yeah," Jack nodded. "I'll stay here with Clark. We've got some catching up to do."

Lois noticed the peculiar look he had in his eyes. He definitely knew *something*. "Thanks, Jack," she said appreciatively. She turned back to Jimmy and smiled. "Come on, Jimmy, let's see if we can get a front page headliner done today."

She glanced back at Jack before taking Jimmy by the arm and leading him off.

What she wouldn't give to be a fly on the wall right now.


Clark had stepped into the shower just long enough to rinse off a little and then, moving at top speed — definitely not super, but fast — he had gotten out, dried off, and dressed. He heard the front door shut as he finished tying his shoes. "I'm coming, Lois," he hollered as he started towards the living room.

But Lois wasn't there. Jack was. He was standing there with his arms crossed and a lopsided grin on his face.

"Jack!" Clark greeted him. Jack met him halfway, extending his hand, but Clark ignored the hand, pulling him into a brief one-armed hug instead. "Where's Lois?"

"She went back with Jimmy to write her story from this afternoon," Jack explained, releasing Clark and taking a step back. "You've had us worried," he said, his face full of concern.

"I know, I'm sorry. But I'm getting better. I think I just overdid it today."

Jack nodded and was quiet for a moment. "Did you hear the news?" he finally asked, grinning widely.

"Yeah," Clark nodded. "Lois told me. I'm so proud of you, Jack," he told him, clapping him softly on the shoulder.

"Thanks. Me too." His face got serious all of the sudden. "You know I couldn't have done any of this without you."

"Sure you could," Clark argued. "You're a good kid, Jack. You just needed someone to believe in you, that's all."

"Yeah…" Jack shook his head. "Most people would have had me locked up for stealing from them, but you… you helped me. You're a real hero, you know that?"

Clark shifted self-consciously on his feet. "Sure," he said quietly.

"I mean it," Jack continued, "You don't have to fly or wear a cape to be a hero. You understand?"

Clark swallowed and gave Jack a small grin. He wasn't exactly sure just what Jack thought he knew, but Clark knew he had his suspicions. "I just looked beyond the external, that's all. I could tell you had a good heart."

"Yeah? Well that makes you pretty super in my book."

"Thanks." Clark's heart swelled slightly at Jack's admiration and belief in him, and he had to clear his throat softly to keep his emotions in check. "So when are you leaving?"

"Day after tomorrow. Jimmy's coming with me to help me get settled in. You know you're welcome to come and visit anytime. It's not that far to drive… or fly." Jack grinned. "You can even bring Lois, if you want."

Clark smiled. "You can count on it." He realized what Jack had said was true. He might not be Superman right now, but that didn't mean he couldn't make a difference. Every person could make a difference if they wanted to. Clark could still live a fulfilling life and could still find happiness — especially with Lois by his side.

He just had to put his mind to it, and that's precisely what he intended to do.


The next couple of days passed too quickly. The presses were rolling again in their temporary offices, and Clark and Lois were falling back into a comfortable reporting routine again. It wouldn't be too much longer and the Daily Planet building would be open again and they would be fully functional.

Clark was healing from his sunburn and his wound seemed to be doing a little bit better. Since he hadn't had any other *episodes*, they concluded that it really had just been heat exhaustion. But he had given a blood sample to Dr. Klein for him to examine and begin running tests on. If the doctor found anything further, he would let them know.

In the meantime, Jack and Jimmy had already left for New York and now, sooner than he would have thought possible, it was time for Lois to move into her new apartment.

Clark watched, feeling melancholy, as Lois packed up the few things she had brought with her. She was supposed to be meeting the movers in a half hour to let them into her apartment. He hated to see her go. The past few days with her living here had been beyond definition.

But what could he say? Lois, move in with me?

Even if he thought she would agree to it — which he wasn't sure about — he wouldn't ask her. Clark had been raised in a traditional family and he was fairly sure his parents would frown on him asking his girlfriend to live with him, especially since neither his parents nor Lois knew what his future plans were.

Future plans…

That thought brought a small smile to his face, but it was quickly erased when Lois set her box down next to the front door with a contented sigh.

"Okay. I think that's everything," she said, glancing around the apartment as if to make sure she didn't see anything else.

She stopped when saw the gloomy look on Clark's face, and she mistook it for him not feeling well. "You don't have to come, you know. The movers have everything covered. We've both had a long day and I'm sure you're tired."

Clark frowned at her. "Of course I'm coming," he said, a little agitated. If she didn't quit babying him, he was going to start taking offense.

She wrinkled her nose. "Of course," she muttered. Why wouldn't she want a grumpy, dejected Clark tagging along? What was his problem anyway? He had been disconsolate all day.

Was he sad to see her move?

Surely not. He had to be glad to at least have his bathroom back, all to himself, and not have to worry about things like not being able to streak from the bedroom to the bathroom because he forgot to take his clothes in there with him.

Lois had felt like such an imposition to him, especially with him not feeling well. Although, on that count, she was glad she had been staying here so she could help him out. She was going to miss him horribly. She almost wished she could stay.

But what would she say? Hey, Clark, could I move in with you?

No. That was asking too much. Besides, what would people think? People would think she was sleeping her rent, that's what. And it wasn't that she even cared too much about what other people thought, but she did care what Clark thought. And that would be too much of an imposition. It would probably be good for them to have a little space. After all, they weren't married.

She frowned unexpectedly at that thought. Her mind seemed to want to linger on it but she pushed it away. "All right, I guess we'd better get going then, huh?"

Clark let out a noisy sigh and climbed the stairs. "Yeah, I guess."

This was probably for the best, he told himself. He didn't know how things were going to unfold, and if they didn't go the way he hoped, well…

Yes, it was probably better this way.


Clark sat on his couch, quietly thinking. It was time for him to go to bed, but he just couldn't bring himself to get up. He wished Lois was still here.

If she had been here, she would have shooed him from the room telling him that she needed to go to sleep. But he would have hung around for a few more minutes, just to talk to her a bit longer.

Instead, now, he would go to bed, alone in his apartment. He wouldn't have to get up a little earlier than normal in the morning so that he could get finished in the bathroom to let Lois have it. There wouldn't be someone sitting across from him at his table, drinking coffee and talking about possible headlines for the day.

He sighed quietly and stood up from the couch. If he didn't go to bed now, he was going to be worthless tomorrow.


Lois looked around her bedroom with a satisfied smile… well, almost satisfied. All of her furniture was where it should be. The layout of her new apartment was almost exactly the same as her old one. The only difference was that it didn't have an extra bedroom. But even though everything seemed familiar, it didn't feel right.

Her apartment seemed empty, and she felt lonely.

She had lived alone since she had moved out of the house as a teenager. Sure, she'd had roommates in college and Lucy had moved in with her for an occasional stint. But for the most part, she had lived by herself.

And she had liked living alone.

But somehow it seemed to have lost its appeal. How could staying a few nights with Clark have changed her point of view so much that she now missed having someone with her?

A noise outside her bedroom window startled her out of her thoughts. Her new apartment was on a different floor, on a different side of the building and it faced a different street. She was going to have a whole new set of sounds to get used to.

However as she turned down the sheets and blanket on her bed, she heard another noise. This time it was louder and sounded like it was coming from the fire escape.

A cold shiver ran up her spine. What if someone was out there? She ran over to her window and quickly closed it, looking down through the ladder-work of the fire escape.

After a few seconds passed and she didn't see anything, Lois backed away. Maybe she would call Clark… just to check on him and say goodnight. She sat down on her bed and picked up the phone from her nightstand.

But what if he was asleep? She glanced at her alarm clock. It was a little late, but not that late. She dialed his number and put the phone to her ear.

"Hello?" Clark's sleepy voice answered.

"Clark? Oh, I'm sorry. I woke you, didn't I? I shouldn't have called…"

"Lois?" Clark was instantly concerned. Something must be wrong. "No, it's okay. Is everything all right?"

Suddenly, she felt ridiculous. "Yes, everything's fine. I…" She what? Just wanted to hear his voice? Wished that she could come back over and stay the night on his couch even when she had her own bed to sleep in? "I just wanted to say goodnight."

"Oh." Clark sighed inwardly. Her voice sounded as lonely as he felt, but he was sure he was probably imagining it. "Well, goodnight, Lois. I'm sure you'll sleep better in your own bed…"

"Yeah. I mean your couch is comfortable…"

"But it's not a bed," he finished for her.

"No." She bit her lip. "It's not a bed." She shook her head inwardly. What was she doing? She needed to let the poor guy get some sleep. "Well, I guess I'll see you tomorrow. G'night, Clark."

"Lois, I…" Clark ran a hand through his hair in frustration. No, there would be other times… He sighed before continuing, "G'night."

Lois stayed on the phone until she finally heard the click from the receiver being hung up on the other end.


Lois was startled out of her sleep by the phone ringing. She cracked one eye open and looked at her alarm clock — it would have gone off in another fifteen minutes. Who had the audacity to rob her of her final fifteen minutes of sleep?

She moaned audibly before snatching her phone up. "Hello?" she grumbled.

"Lois? It's Clark."

She was instantly awake. "Clark? Is everything okay?"

"Yeah, fine."

"Oh." She frowned. "Then why did you call and wake me up before my alarm even went off?"

"Was I early? I'm sorry. I was trying to catch you before you got in the shower."

Lois found herself blushing that he knew her so well, and she cleared her throat. "It's okay. It won't hurt me to get an early start. Did you need something?"

"Yeah. I need you to cover for me at work this morning. Tell Perry I went to the doctor for a check-up."

Lois would have been more concerned but Clark didn't sound like he wasn't feeling well or was in any pain. "Aren't you forgetting something?" she asked.


She sighed exasperatedly. "You aren't going to tell me what's going on?"

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said, flustered. "Dr. Klein called and wants me to come in so he can check my stitches. He said he has some news for me. So would you tell Perry…"


"No?" he asked surprised.

"Yes. No. I'm not going in to work either," she stated adamantly.

"You're not?"

"No, you lunkhead! I'm coming with you!" she said, thoroughly annoyed with him.

"Oh, you don't have to do that. You've already had to waste too much of your time listening to his clinical…"

"Clark! How could you say that?" she chastised him. "Of course I want to come, and I'm going to come. What time?" She heard what sounded almost like a sigh and it made her pause. Did he not want her to come with him?

"I was going to leave in about a half an hour. You know how bad the traffic is during rush hour."

A half an hour? That didn't give her much time. "Yeah, I do. Okay, let me throw myself together and I'll come by to get you."

"Okay." There was a pause and then, "Thanks, Lois."

"You're welcome. I'll see you in a bit. Bye."


Clark hung up the phone and let out a long sigh. He hadn't thought she'd be willing to let him go alone. And he wasn't sure he wanted to. Something in Klein's voice had sounded like he didn't have good news. Klein had said that he tried to call Clark late last night but the line had been busy. It must have been when Lois had called. So Klein had called him first thing this morning. That couldn't be good news, could it?

In some ways he'd be glad to have Lois along, but it would mean that he wouldn't be able to run the errand he had planned… Clark sighed again. He obviously hadn't thought this through very well.

But it was okay. He'd just have to be patient. He could run the errand a little later today.


Dr. Klein looked grim. His normally pleasant, cheerful face was lined with worry and his brow was creased. "I think I know why you're still vulnerable, Superman, and why your wound isn't healing."

Clark was anxious to hear the answer and yet part of him was afraid of what that answer might be. "What's wrong with me, Dr. Klein? I can see it in your face. Just tell me."

Lois was clenching Clark's hand so tightly that it was almost painful. He glanced over at her and found her lips pressed together in a tight line and her eyes focused intently on the doctor.

Dr. Klein sighed. "I've spent the past couple of days examining the blood sample you left with me. I noticed some peculiar traces of an unknown substance. I began running tests to isolate the substance…" He fidgeted slightly before continuing, "Superman, I found trace amounts of Kryptonite in your bloodstream."

Lois gasped audibly and turned to Clark. "How is that possible? Was Le… were you injected with something?" She and Clark had already discussed the fact that they couldn't reveal that Lex Luthor was the one who had injured Superman or that Superman had been cut with his axe. Too many newspapers had published articles about the wedding fiasco and they had also printed the details of Luthor's attack on Clark. It would be too coincidental for both Clark Kent and Superman to have been attacked by the same man, with the same weapon, in the exact same place on their body.

"No," Clark answered her. "I wasn't injected with anything." He turned to look at Klein. "What do you mean, exactly? Do you mean that the radiation from the Kryptonite is still in my system?"

Klein shook his head. "No. I found actual particles of the substance in your blood. They entered your body through some means." He paused for a moment and tapped his chin in thought.

Lois sucked in a breath. The report she found in Lex's desk about the experimentation on Kryptonite — Lex had tested it in several forms. "Maybe whatever caused that wound was somehow coated with Kryptonite — like in a liquid form."

Klein nodded. "That's very possible." He looked from Lois over to Clark. "You know I respect your privacy and I've tried not to pry into how any of this happened. But if you could tell me how you were wounded and what the circumstances were, it could go a long way towards helping me figure this out." He glanced briefly at Lois again. "I'm sure Ms. Lane would leave if you would be more comfortable with…"

"No," Clark interrupted him. "It's not that. It's just… there are certain things I simply can't tell you."

Dr. Klein sighed and nodded wearily. "I understand. Let me ask you this then, would you be willing to let me take a tissue sample from your wound?"

Clark felt a knot in his stomach and he glanced nervously at Lois. She didn't say anything, just gave him an encouraging look — as if to say that she would support him no matter what he chose to do.

But what should he do?

Lois scrunched her toes inside her shoes nervously. She was going to die if she didn't say something. Surely Clark wasn't thinking about not letting Klein take the sample?

"Okay," Clark said reluctantly, with a soft sigh. "But *you* have to do it, and it has to be done here. I don't want to risk going to the hospital and the tissue sample disappearing."

"I understand," Klein said, giving them a brief nod. "I have some local anesthetic I can use to deaden the area. Give me a minute to round up a few things and then I'll take a biopsy."

Lois watched Klein walk off and then she went to Clark and slid her arms around him. "Lex's last ditch attempt to get back at us from the grave," she grumbled. "Now do you see why I wanted to have Dr. Klein work on some sort of antidote?"

He nodded silently, holding her snugly against him.

Lois could feel the tight apprehension in his body and she hugged him gently. "It'll be okay, Clark," she whispered, trying to impart more encouragement into the words than she was feeling herself.

"I know," he replied, surprising her. He put his hands on her arms and rubbed them softly.

Klein came back all too soon carrying a small container. "Superman if you'll hop up on the counter here," Klein patted the surface, "No offense, but some people get queasy at the sight of blood and I don't want your legs to give out on you."

Lois frowned. It seemed absurd that the world's strongest man could be brought to his knees by a little blood, but she knew what Klein said was the truth. When she was younger she had been around enough athletes when her dad worked on them to know what babies some of them could be. Not that she thought Clark was a baby. But she remembered how he had reacted that time in Smallville when he got that paper-cut and his finger had bled. It had freaked him out.

Clark obliged and Klein set the container down on the counter next to him — it contained a vial of liquid and a couple of syringes, one significantly larger than the other. Lois stepped to the side, out of the way, but took hold of Clark's hand and held it reassuringly. Clark looked into her eyes and focused on them while Dr. Klein gave him a shot of local anesthetic in the wound. It didn't feel very good at all but he was sure it would be better than the sensation of the doctor extracting a biopsy from his wound with that other longer, thicker needle.

While the anesthetic took effect, Dr. Klein worked on preparing the other syringe and cleaning the area where he would make the extraction. Then, all too soon, he brought the biopsy needle towards Clark's side. Lois squeezed Clark's hand and tried to tell him with her eyes that it would be all right.

A few short seconds later, Dr. Klein announced that he was done and he headed over to a corner of his lab. "I just have to flash freeze this tissue sample first, otherwise it would be several hours before we could view the sample. I'd have to enclose it in a formalin solution and…"

"We would prefer to get the results as quickly as possible," Lois urged him, trying to keep the impatience from her voice.

He nodded at them and began fiddling with a machine that looked like a big freezer of sorts.

It took several minutes for Dr. Klein to freeze the sample and then he proceeded to create several slides from it. Lois and Clark tried to wait patiently, not disturbing him while he worked, but it was more than Lois could bear when Dr. Klein spent another couple of minutes examining the slides under a microscope, grumbling and murmuring disapprovingly to himself without saying a word to them.

"Well?" she finally blurted out. "What do you see?"

"It's just as I expected. Kryptonite. There are particles of it in the infected tissue around his wound. That's why it's not healing properly." He leaned up from the microscope and frowned at them. "And it won't heal until we get it cleaned out. Those stitches have kept it trapped inside of you, festering the injury." He let out a long sigh. "We can try irrigating the wound, first; however, simply cleaning it and disinfecting it may not be enough. We may need to resection some of the infected tissue."

Lois watched Clark's face pale and could feel the blood leaving hers as well. "Resection?" she asked weakly. "As in, cut out a chunk of his abdomen?"

Klein shook his head. "No, no, Ms. Lane. Nothing so drastic as that. Only the small amount of tissue that might resist our efforts to clean it would have to be removed. Kryptonite is an inanimate substance. It's not like a living virus that can multiply or reproduce. We just need to clean out what's there."

Clark looked dazed. Lois hated to overstep her bounds by asking all the questions herself, but someone needed to do it. "But what about what's already in his system?"

"You mean what has seeped into his bloodstream?" Klein frowned thoughtfully. "I'm not sure."

Lois opened her mouth to utter a protest, but Klein continued, "I think if we can remove the majority of the substance, that Superman's body will eventually expel the remainder of the particles itself. Again, this is all merely speculation at this point, but his kidneys and liver will probably try to filter the poisons from his system."

"But how long will that take?" Lois objected. "Isn't there anyway to speed it along?"

Klein nodded. "Yes, if Superman was healthy, I might suggest exposing him to a large dosage of radiation in attempt to burn out the Kryptonite. But that again would only be a theory and there would be no guarantee of success."

Clark perked up at the idea. "But there is a chance that it could work?"

"Again, in theory," Dr. Klein said, shrugging his shoulders. "But, in your current condition… you can't risk it. It could very possibly kill you. Your body has been stripped of its invulnerability and has been invaded by infection… No, at this point, I think our best option is to wait and see how your body responds."

"But what if it can't expel the toxins?" Clark asked, finally slipping into his 'reporter' mode and pushing past his fear.

Klein frowned. "We'll jump that fence when we come to it. Let's give your body a chance. In the meantime, you need to make sure you are getting plenty of sunlight, but not in the heat of the day. I would tell you to wear sunscreen, but I'm not sure how that would affect your absorption of what you need. So just stay out of it during the more intense hours."

Lois watched Klein retrieve a clipboard. He was jotting down notes as he continued talking, "You need to make sure that you continue to drink plenty of fluids — especially water — your kidneys will need it. Based on a human's physiology, your kidneys will be working overtime to clean the infection and poisons from your body. And it wouldn't hurt to make sure that you're eating healthy, either. Lots of vegetables and whole grains."

Lois snorted. She didn't mean to do it so loudly, but both men turned to look at her. "Sorry." Her cheeks flushed and she flashed Clark a smile. "Private joke."

Clark returned her smile and then grimaced — in other words, no more donuts for breakfast or midnight runs for Twinkies and Ho-Ho's. "But my body hasn't ever seemed to rely on food in the past," he contended.

Klein nodded. "That might be true, for the most part. I couldn't be certain without running further tests to see just what benefit your cells derive from physical nourishment. But for right now, with your body in a weakened state, I think it would be good for you to eat healthy. It certainly isn't going to hurt anything."

Clark couldn't really argue with that.

Klein walked over to a table and began clearing books, papers, and various pieces of equipment off of it. "I'm assuming that you will want me to do the procedure here."

Clark nodded at him and his palms begin to sweat. He felt Lois grab hold of his hand once again and when he looked up into her face, she smiled reassuringly at him.

"I'll need to give you several more shots of anesthetic in the wound, and even at that, I'm not sure that you won't feel some of it." Klein set an armful of items down on the counter and spread his hands apologetically. "It would be better to put you out, but I don't have the equipment and I'm not trained as an anesthesiologist."

"I understand," Clark assured him, with more strength in his voice than he felt. "I know you'll do the best you can." He felt Lois squeeze his hand gently and he squeezed back.

"Okay, then," Klein said nervously, picking his clipboard up again and making more notes in it. "After I get done cleaning the wound, I'll give you another injection of antibiotics. You'll be sore when the anesthetic wears off, but with the Kryptonite removed and the wound cleansed, you should start to feel better soon." He set the clipboard down and looked up at them awkwardly. "I don't know if you have a place to stay, um nearby, but I would suggest that you rest for the remainder of the day. Don't do anything too strenuous. In fact, it would be better if you took it easy for the next several days."

"Don't worry, Dr. Klein," Lois assured him. "I'll make sure of that."

Klein nodded. "Let me explain what I'm going to do and then I can gather up what I need and we can get started."


Clark winced as he lay down on his bed. That hadn't been at all pleasant. Dr. Klein was right — he had been able to feel some of what the doctor was doing. There had definitely been some pain. And his side did hurt now that the anesthetic was wearing off, but it also felt better too, somehow. Probably because the Kryptonite was gone.

"Clark," Lois's voice came from his kitchen. "You don't have much in the way of 'health' food in here. But there is a can of chicken noodle soup. I'll make that for you and then I can run to the store and get a few things."

He didn't want her to make a fuss over him. He could certainly fix himself a cup of soup. "You don't have to do that, Lois. Really. I just want to lie down for a little bit and then I can fix myself something to eat."

Lois came walking in from the other room, holding the can of soup in her hand — an eyebrow raised defiantly. "I am capable of making soup, you know. It doesn't require any cooking skills. I promise it will be edible."

Clark almost laughed but he held it in since he knew it would hurt. "No, it's not that," he protested. "It's just… well, one of us needs to go in to work. Perry just got the paper back up and running and we shouldn't both be gone. I'm fine, really. I just need some rest. It would be good for you to go in to work — get your mind off things."

"But, Clark…"

"No buts. I promise I'll take it easy." He almost felt the need to cross his fingers on that statement… but he would take it easy, for the most part. He just had one little errand he wanted to run, and she couldn't be around when he ran it. "I'll even let you pick me up some healthy food from the grocery store on your way home tonight. Deal?"

Lois scrunched her face up in disapproval, but then she let it fall into an uncertain frown. "Okay. But you have to promise to rest and do what Dr. Klein said."

Clark held up three fingers with his right hand and mentally crossed his other fingers. "Scout's honor."


As Clark walked out of his bathroom, he didn't need his super senses to tell him that something was burning. It smelled like something was cooking. Then he heard Lois's voice. She uttered a sharp explicative.

He had hoped to get a shower, get cleaned up and do a few things before Lois came back, but he was moving a bit slower after his trip downtown. That little jaunt had taken more out of him than he had thought it would.

But it would be worth it.

He walked into the kitchen to find Lois mumbling to herself as she used a spatula to scrape the contents of something that had once been edible out of a pan and into his garbage disposal. It was warm in the kitchen and Lois had removed the black dress jacket she had been wearing earlier; it was lying across one of his chair backs. She looked striking in just a pair of jeans and the short-sleeved, cream silk blouse that she'd worn beneath her jacket.

"Hi. I didn't expect you back so soon," he told her.

She looked up from the pot, a scowl lining her face. "It was a slow news day. Perry let me go a little early and I thought I'd come make you dinner. How are you feeling?"

"Pretty good. A little tired, but my side actually seems to be feeling quite a bit better." He glanced at the charred remains in the sink. "Do you need some help?" he asked, trying to hide a smile. There was another pot on the stove with something cooking in it. Maybe he could help her salvage that one.

She narrowed her eyes at him. "No, I do not need any help, thank you very much. Just get out of here and let me work."

He walked up behind her and rubbed her shoulders softly. "Maybe you should take a little break."

She whirled on him and pointed at him with her weapon of plastic serving ware. "Maybe you should get out of here like I said, before I decide to use this spatula on you!" she growled. Lois was pretending to be mad, but the thought of her actually using her spatula on Clark threatened to break her facade. She bit her lip to hide a grin, but by the look on Clark's face she was pretty sure it hadn't worked. "Go on, get," she told him with as much indignation as she could muster.

He backed away and held his hands up in a gesture of surrender. "My, my, aren't we a little sassy?" he asked, flashing her a playful grin.

"Sassy?" she squeaked. "I'll show you sassy." She lunged at him with her outstretched spatula.

"Hey!" he exclaimed, feigning indignation. "Don't do that, you'll get your spatula dirty."

She snorted. "My spatula's already dirty. What are you afraid of? Getting spanked by a girl?" She took another swipe at him, this time at his backside, and he dodged out of the way, reaching out to try and take the offending weapon from her. She spun the other direction and smacked him lightly across the butt with the back of her spatula.

"Ouch," he hollered, grabbing for her again. This time he succeeded and wrapped her in his arms. She struggled against him, dropping her weapon. She continued to wriggle and managed to work her hands between their bodies.

"It's my turn to torture you a little, farm boy," she said, panting happily with exertion and smiling impishly. Clark let out a small chortle at her threat, which only incited Lois to make good on it. His chuckle turned into all out laughter as her fingers sought out places to tickle him, carefully avoiding his wound, but he refused to relinquish his hold on her.

Determined to get the upper hand, Clark turned her body, folding her into one arm and then used his other hand to tickle her in return.

"No!" she squealed, giggling hysterically. "You're going to hurt yourself, Clark." She laughed some more, almost too breathless to talk. "Dr. Klein… said you… should take… it easy," she finally managed between giggles.

Clark laughed. "Oh, so now you're worried about me? Is that it?" She only giggled again in answer. "Don't worry, I'm fine. Feeling much better."

"No, Clark…" She sputtered and laughed again as his fingers found another spot to tease. "I think you should listen to Dr. Klein."

"Really? I think you're just worried that I might win this one. I don't think you want to admit defeat."


They wrestled with one another until they both ended up on the kitchen floor in a heap, breathing heavily.

Clark rolled them so that he was on top of her, ignoring a twinge of protest from his side, and he pinned her flailing limbs to the floor with a look of triumph on his face. Lois frowned at his delight before leaning up and covering his mouth with hers to wipe the smug grin off of his face. He tensed in surprise but soon softened as she began a thorough exploration of his lips, tasting them again and again.

When she was pretty certain that she had him right where she wanted him, Lois used one of her martial arts moves to roll them so that he was now beneath her and she was straddling him. Then she resumed her attentions on him, getting her newly liberated arms in on the action. She smoothed her hands over his chest and down his abdomen, feeling the flexing and tightening of his muscles as her fingers came in contact with him. She flicked her tongue inside his mouth and moved a hand even lower, eliciting a groan from him.

Clark turned his face away from her, breaking the kiss, and took a couple of breaths. "I thought you said you were hungry."

"Not for food," she said breathily, attempting to kiss him again.

Hoping to change positions with her, he tried to squirm away from her, but his attempt was unsuccessful. "Come on, Lois, let me up," he half-heartedly complained, trying to lean up and managing to rest on his elbows. "The floor's… dirty."

In response, she tightened her legs around him, not letting him get away. "Admit it, you like me because I'm sassy. There aren't enough sassy women in your life."

Clark thanked his lucky stars for that. He couldn't handle more than Lois and his mom.

Lois smiled mischievously at him. "I wouldn't be nearly as interesting if I was just some sweet girl who never put you in your place."

"I like sweet girls…"

"I'm sweet," she murmured, interrupting him. Her mouth was practically touching his.

"No, you're not," he argued weakly, feeling lightheaded from the position of her body against his and the easy manner in which she was teasing him. "You're…" Lois stole his breath away, smothering his protest between their lips. She drew from him urgently, deepening the kiss and lingering against his lips until they were both out of breath.

Clark leaned back, resting his head on the floor beneath him, panting heavily. Lois followed him down, taking his lower lip into her mouth and savoring the feel of it between her lips before releasing it. "Mmmm, so what's for dessert?" she teased.

"Dessert?" He raised an eyebrow at her. "You mean you aren't satisfied yet?"

She couldn't stop herself from blushing and she shook her head softly. "No, and I don't plan on stopping," she gave him a wicked grin, "until I am."

Clark's other eyebrow rose to join the first one and this time it was his turn to blush. He was about to respond when Lois sat up abruptly and sniffed the air, cringing.

"Oh, no! The vegetables!" she yelled, jumping up and running for the stove.

Clark could smell it too. The kitchen was beginning to reek of the smell of dirty diapers. She must have had some broccoli in with those vegetables. He wrinkled his nose — yuck, or maybe some cabbage. It would take a while to get that smell out of the apartment.

He got up from the floor and walked over to inspect the pot she was now scowling at. It was beyond repair. The water had evaporated, cooking the food to the bottom of the pot and blackening it.

"I wasn't really that hungry anyway," she muttered, setting the pot in the sink and running some water in it so it could soak. "I was only cooking for you since Dr. Klein said you needed to be eating healthy." She glared at the pan, making a face. "If he saw that, he'd think I was trying to kill you off for sure. Maybe I could call for some take out…" she offered, turning around to face him.

Clark was smiling affectionately at her. "No, that's okay. I really wasn't that hungry either." Although, what she didn't know was that it was his nervous stomach that was keeping him from having an appetite. He had been debating with himself all day long. Was it time? Should he wait? But now felt so right. "You're right — why don't we just skip to dessert?"

Lois raised an eyebrow at him, wondering what kind of dessert he had in mind. "Dessert?"

"Yeah." His smile widened. "I got you some chocolate."

Chocolate? "Oh." That wasn't really what she had been hoping for but… She watched quizzically as Clark left the kitchen and went into his bedroom to the window seat. He lifted the seat and pulled out a box.

No wonder she hadn't found any chocolate anywhere — she hadn't thought to look there. But, wait, he said that he had *gotten* them for her. So they probably weren't there before.

Clark opened the door to his balcony. "Let's air out the kitchen for a little while." He gestured outside with one hand, "Care to join me?"

She smiled and stepped out into the soft, warm evening air. There was a gentle breeze blowing and it ruffled her hair slightly. The sky was growing dark but the lights from the city cast a shimmering glow that outshined the stars. She mused forlornly that if they were still in Smallville, they could have seen them. She turned and watched Clark step outside behind her, still holding the box of chocolates.

"I was going to give this to you after dinner, but…" Clark opened the box. Lois got a glimpse of the label as he took the lid off and she recognized the brand. It was from one of the little specialty chocolate shops in Metropolis. The handmade stuff. Her favorite.

The box was filled with a dozen chocolates in various shapes and shades — light, dark, square, oval, oblong — with fancy designs stamped into the top of them. She was pretty certain they were the kind that had creamy centers.

"Mmmm," she murmured, forgetting that she hadn't really wanted chocolate a moment ago. She licked her lips in anticipation.

Before Clark realized how fast she could move when chocolate was involved, Lois had snatched one up and popped it into her mouth. He flinched momentarily before asking, "Don't you usually check to see what the filling is, first? What if it was coconut?"

She wrinkled her nose. Yuck. Anything but coconut. But this wasn't coconut — this was strawberry, her favorite. "Well if you know I don't like coconut, then you wouldn't have bought me coconut," she answered knowingly. She closed her eyes as the sweet chocolate dissolved into every crevice and sensory pore, and for just a moment's pleasure, she thought she was in heaven. Yes, these were her favorites — the good kind, the expensive kind. Lois smiled. Even with her eyes closed, she knew Clark was watching her.

And she was going to give him his money's worth.

She slowed her consumption of the decadent treat, letting out a few soft moans of appreciation. As the last few vestiges of flavor slid down her throat, she licked her lips enticingly. When she opened her eyes, expecting to find him pleased with her enjoyment, she was a little surprised to see the anxious expression on his face.

Clark pointed at an oval one in the middle. "Try that one."

Lois obligingly retrieved it, feeling an odd flutter in her stomach, and brought it up to her face for examination. It had some sort of seam running through it, almost as if two halves had been put together and then sealed. Was that how they got the cream in the middle? She had always just assumed they injected the filling into the hollow shell somehow.

Heeding Clark's earlier suggestion, she broke into the chocolate a little to see what flavor it was. But the center, where there should have been cream-filling, was empty. "That figures," she muttered — no filling at all. How disappointing. She was about to put the reject back and try another one but something sparkled, catching her attention. She scowled at it. What had she almost eaten? Glass? Nice. No cream filling and a nasty surprise instead. Maybe those specialty shops weren't all they were cracked up to be. That shop owner could guarantee that she was going to write up an article about their poor inspection practices.

"You know, Clark, when you buy chocolate from a specialty store like this, you should really check the place out first. Is my next piece going to have a razor blade in it?" She quickly finished breaking the chocolate in two and shook it in her hand to extricate the offending article. When she looked down at what lay in her outstretched palm, she started in shock and the object spilled from her hand.

But Clark was faster. He reached out and caught the ring as it fell. And instead of the ring falling to the balcony floor, Clark knelt down to the floor in front of her, holding the ring out between his thumb and index finger.

Lois felt like her head was spinning. Was this really happening? Hadn't Clark said he had always dreamed of proposing to her someplace special, with music playing softly in the background… and…

…yet this seemed perfect. She couldn't imagine how much trouble he had gone to in order to have the ring put inside that chocolate…

"That didn't go exactly the way I planned it," he said softly. "But I knew that I couldn't propose to you the way I had dreamed of — not after telling you about it and certainly not after the fiasco in Smallville. It had to be special."

Propose… he had said *propose*! Somehow that word just made it all the more real. Lois didn't think she could take another breath. Her heart was fluttering rapidly inside her chest and she felt light-headed, almost giddy. Could she do this? Was she ready for this? What if it was too fast?

No. No, what she had done with Lex; that had been too fast. She had hardly known him — as it turned out, she hadn't known him at all — and yet she had agreed to marry him. She knew Clark — knew everything about him, knew him better than anyone else on the planet except maybe for his parents. And there was no one else that she'd rather spend her life with. So in light of all of that, how could she even think of turning him down?

She couldn't. This is what she wanted. What she had even secretly fantasized about.

All of these thoughts flew through her head at the speed of light and probably wouldn't have stopped there except that they were interrupted by Clark's actual proposal.

"I meant what I said that day in the park and my feelings for you haven't changed. I have been in love with you for a long time, almost from the moment we met. There's no one else I'd rather spend my life with." Clark took a deep breath before continuing, "You once told me that you'd love me even if I was an ordinary man, with no powers at all. Here I am, that ordinary man, and I'm asking you to let me love you… for the rest of our lives."

Lois took in a shaky breath as she gazed through tear-blurred eyes at the ring — her ring. She brought up her hand, ready to extend it to him but yet not wanting the moment to end. Was he finished or did he have more to say? He hadn't actually said the words yet… It was silly but somehow she wanted to hear the words. He had said them to her in Smallville, but they hadn't been real then. She wanted to hear them again, when they really meant something.

Clark knew that it shouldn't matter whether he proposed to her now or when, and if, his powers returned to him and he became Superman again. But somehow, it did. He wanted desperately to know that if his powers never came back, that Lois would still want to share her life with him — that she truly did love him for who he really was and not what he could do. "Lois Lane, will you marry me?"

Her heart melted. He had said them — the words she had never known she wanted to hear so much. "Yes!" she proclaimed happily as a tear slipped down her cheek. "Yes, Clark. I will marry you." She held out her hand and he slipped the ring onto her finger. It glided easily but felt snug against her. He had guessed her size… and had been right. That small token of the depth of his attentiveness warmed her further.

Clark rose up from the floor and took her in his arms. "If I never lived another day, you've made me the happiest I've ever been in my life." He drew her in for a kiss and took a hesitant, loving taste of her lips.

"Mmm, but you're stuck with me now, for the good and the bad… for the rest of your long life," she murmured against his lips, brushing them alluringly with her own, beckoning him to claim them again.

And he did. He brought them together again, gently, their lips joining their two bodies as one. "Lois…" he murmured her name and the sound of it slid through her body leaving a liquid heat in its wake.

"Clark," she whispered huskily, her voice thick with emotion.

Clark slipped his tongue between her lips briefly to take a taste of her and then smiled against her lips. "You know, you're right. You are sweet," he teased softly.

"Mmmm, you haven't tasted anything yet," she asserted, sliding her arms up around his neck.

"No, I haven't," he agreed, seeking to taste more of her. She tipped her head back as he moved his lips away from hers, placing soft, promising kisses across her jaw and then down her neck. She swore as she gazed into the heavens that she saw a shooting star overhead. Or maybe she had imagined it, because each time his lips made contact with her skin, tiny bursts of light seemed to flash in her vision.

"I'm so sorry, Clark," she whispered as his tender kisses brushed lightly across her collarbone. "For everything, for being so blind…"

His lips came back to hers, to cut off her words, and then he murmured, "I'm sorry… for hiding from you for so long. If only I hadn't been so proud. I should have told you the truth that night I came to you as Superman… about me, about Luthor… everything." He kissed her again passionately, stealing away any response she might have had, his hands teasing away any insecurity from her body. "No more apologies. I don't want to waste any more of our time together on what we could have done differently. What matters now is that we're together, and we're going to get married."

They were going to get married. Clark Kent was going to be her husband. The thought thrilled her in a way that she had never thought marriage to any man could have. It certainly was a far cry from the hesitant uncertainty she had felt when she had accepted Lex's proposal. It filled her instead with an uninhibited desire to be with this man. Where she had refused Lex's advances, she welcomed Clark's.

Clark's soul was alight with unequivocal passion for the woman he held in his arms. She was to be his wife. After all the nights he had dreamed of her, longed for her… It had finally happened. She was in love with him — she wanted him to belong to her.

He let out a shuddery breath when he felt her hands reach for the top buttons of his shirt. He couldn't repress a shiver as he felt her lips sweep across the hollow of his throat and suck softly against his skin. Running his hands up her body, he relished in the feel of each curve and turn of her through her thin silk shirt. She shivered as he touched the bare skin of her arms with his fingertips, and as he took her lips with his own once more, she made a small cry of pleasure in the back of her throat.

The sound resonated deep within him and set loose a wave of yearning desire inside of him. He pressed her as he deepened the kiss and she yielded to him, slowly backing up until she made contact with the open balcony door behind her. The heavy door bumped into the brick retaining wall behind it with a soft metallic 'thud' as their bodies came to rest against it. Clark ran his hands across her shoulders, up her neck and into her hair, caressing it softly as his lips lapped lustfully at her sweet flavor.

He pressed against her gently, slipping one leg between hers and lifting against her. It elicited a groan from her and her hands groped at his body, finally cupping his shoulders and pulling him even more firmly to her.

Clark released her with one hand and braced it against the door, trying to steady himself as he continued his exploration of her.

He shifted his leg against her again and she whimpered his name, "Clark."

Her eyes were dark with need. The look of longing in them moved him to put his hands low around her waist and lift her up into his arms.

Lois instinctively wrapped her legs around him. She draped her arms around his neck, seizing hold of his lips once more.

God he wanted her. Every part of him was crying out to hold her, touch her… make love to her. Almost… One small part of him was protesting just a bit in pain. He couldn't hold her like this for much longer; his side wasn't going to let him.

At that moment, he realized something. As special as tonight was, he wanted their first time to be nothing less than perfect… in every way. He didn't want it to be a momentary passion, all too quickly lost and never again to be regained.

They had the rest of their lives to be together, to please one another, but there was only one first time. And he wanted it to be special. He had waited for her this long; he could wait a little longer.

Could she? What did she want?

Clark leaned back and gazed lovingly into her veiled eyes. "Would you be disappointed if we… waited?" he asked her hesitantly.

Of all the things she had expected him to say, that had been the last thing on her mind. A man, who had just proposed to her and who was obviously aroused, was asking her if she minded if they waited? It was unimaginable.

And unthinkable. She wanted him and she didn't understand his hesitation. Was he afraid he was pushing her too fast? She had just agreed to marry him, after all.

Lois glanced down at where her legs were wrapped around him. Maybe he just wasn't feeling well. "I'm sorry, Clark. I got carried away. Your side is probably hurting, isn't it?" She released her legs from around him and let them slide down until her feet were touching the floor again.

She couldn't miss the distress in his face. "No," he protested, resisting her attempts to step out of his arms. "I mean, yes. But… that isn't it."

Lois frowned slightly at him. "Then what? Surely you're not worried about going too fast? You just proposed to me!"

Clark smiled tenderly at her. "I just want our first time to be something wonderful… something special… perfect."

Perfect. There was just something about that word. She smiled indulgently at him. He was such a cute farm boy sometimes. "It will be, Clark. It will be incredible." She tried to lean in to kiss him again but he held back.

"I know. I just want to wait… you know, until we get married," he explained carefully. "I want our first time to be when we start our new life together. It will make our honeymoon even that more special." And he had to admit, it would give him a little more time to heal as well. He didn't want their first time to be marred or hampered by anything.

Clark was a sentimental sweetheart and it made Lois smile. "Honey, that's sweet and all, and I could understand if it was the first time, for either of us, but it's not." At the uncomfortable expression on his face, she continued, "Is it?"

He ran a hand through his hair nervously and Lois gaped. It was! It was his first time? He was a vir… he was a… he hadn't ever…

"Clark? You aren't serious, are you?"

He blushed and she gasped a small breath. "You are! But how is that possible? What about Lana? And the pond? The goodbye?"

The color in his face deepened and he looked away from her probing gaze. "I said Lana and I made out and we skinny-dipped. I never said… I mean we never…"

"But Clark, you traveled the world!" she exclaimed, becoming increasingly blown away by his revelation. "You learned how to ballroom dance from a princess. A princess!"

"Yes," he answered almost shyly, "but it just didn't feel right. I wanted it to be with the right woman, someone special. I'm not exactly human and I didn't…"

"No." She shook her head adamantly. "Don't you ever say that, Clark. Not to me. Never again — not like that," she told him, her voice brimming with feeling. "You are human, in all the ways that count; certainly more human than Lex ever was. The only thing different from you and any other person on this planet is where you were born. That's all, you hear me?"

Clark was surprised at the emotion in her voice. It made his breath catch in his chest and he had to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat. "Thank you, Lois," he said softly. "But it is true. I didn't want to take things too far. I was afraid to share myself like that with someone. You're the first woman who's ever known me completely… and accepted me for who I am."

She was shaking her head. "No, I *love* you for who you are."

He reached up and stroked her hair softly with one hand. "I know you do, honey, and I love you for it."

Lois raised an eyebrow at him. "Honey, huh?"

He raised his eyebrows at her in return. "You said it first. It's only fair."

Lois opened her mouth to argue, but then she realized — she had said it first. She had gotten caught up in the passion of the moment and she had called him honey. She smiled coyly at him. "I guess you're right." She shrugged. "I kind of liked it, anyway."

"Kind of?" He kissed her cheek softly. "Is there something you'd rather I call you?"

"I don't know. What did you have in mind?" she teased.

"I don't know. How about Baby? Or Sweetheart? I know…" He flashed her a playful grin. "Sex Kitten…"

Lois's eyes went wide and she smacked his arm. "Clark! We haven't even…"

He chuckled and captured her lips in a tender kiss. "Okay, honey it is," he murmured into her mouth.

She broke the kiss and smiled impishly at him. "Watch it. I could come up with some names of my own for you… hmm… like Super Stud," she said, giggling at the ridiculous choice of endearment. Clark let out a groan and she giggled again. "Come on," she said, taking his hand and leading him over to the couch. "Let's watch a movie until we fall asleep."

Clark looked at her questioningly. "But you don't sleep here anymore."

Lois shrugged and sat down. "Just because I have an apartment doesn't mean I can't crash on your couch, does it?"

He shook his head as he joined her on the couch. "No, I guess not," he replied with a smile. "But you know one reason I didn't ask you to move in with me was because I couldn't stand any more sleepless nights."

"Sleepless nights?"

"Yeah. Knowing that you were in the next room, just one wall between us, and I couldn't touch you. It was enough to keep me awake at night."

Lois blushed. "You can touch me, and kiss me… You can… hold me, Clark," she said, wrapping her arms around him and cuddling next to him. "We just won't take it any further than that."

"What if I can't resist you?" he asked with a mischievous grin.

"That's easy. I just won't let you get any further."

"Oh, really. You were the one pushing it a minute ago," he reminded her.

She smiled wickedly. "Yes, but that's before I knew you were a…" she lowered her voice, "virgin," she said in a breathy whisper, making it sound like something totally different.

Clark groaned. Maybe he shouldn't make it a policy to tell her *everything*. She was giving him a sultry smile and he knew, deep down, that he couldn't ever hide anything from her again. She could see through him like polished glass.

And he wouldn't want it any other way.


Clark sighed contentedly as the weight of Lois's sleeping form settled against him. She had been losing the battle with sleep for the past half an hour. They had put in one of his favorite romantic comedies, 'Romancing The Stone', but she hadn't even made it halfway through the movie. Carefully reaching over, trying not to disturb her, Clark hit the off button on the remote. He would rather watch her. Shifting slightly, he slid his arm around her shoulders and pulled her to him. He looked down into her sweet, sleeping face and smiled.

He still couldn't believe she was here, in his arms, and she was going to be his wife. Only a few weeks ago he had nursed his wounded heart after watching her accept Luthor's proposal. He could have died that night. To lose Lois to another man was bad enough. To lose her to his mortal enemy was almost unbearable.

A piece of hair had fallen across her face and he reached up with his other hand to brush it back, away from her eyes. She had an almost childlike innocence when she was asleep. The stress from the past few weeks wasn't there in her face. She slept in his arms as if it were the only place she wanted to be.

Had Luthor ever held her like this? Had she ever let him touch her the way Clark had touched her earlier, the way he was touching her now? He had seen Luthor kiss Lois, more than once. The kiss that he had seen them share from the window of Lex's penthouse, the night of the engagement, had made Clark physically sick.

Just the thought of Luthor touching her, kissing her… seeking his own pleasure from her, made his stomach turn.

<I love Lois, I do. I really do. But she's just a little too independent, don't you think? Well, I'll take care of that…>

He knew Luthor's reputation with women. They were merely playthings to be sought after, conquered, and then discarded like yesterday's newspaper. He had no doubt that Luthor would have done the same with Lois. Once he had broken her, he would have been through with her.

Clark tightened his hold on her shoulders and slid his other arm under her legs, lifting her up and into his lap. He was about to attempt standing up with her, when her voice stopped him, "What're you doing?" she asked sleepily.

"Taking you to bed," he answered softly, scooting forward on the couch to get in a better position. If he'd had his powers, he could have easily stood up with her without even waking her.

"No," she protested, clinging to him. "I don't wanna go to bed. I wasn't asleep, honest."

Clark smiled at her murmured objection. "Sure you weren't. You should have heard yourself, snoring like a bear."

At that, Lois's eyes snapped open and an inner light flickered in them. "Liar! I don't snore!"

Clark chuckled. "How would you know? You sleep alone."

"I don't care! I don't snore!" She scrunched up her face into a pout. "And I don't want to go to bed."

"Okay, so what do you want?" he asked, sinking back into the couch with her still on his lap.

"This," she stated simply, nestling against his chest and laying her head on his shoulder. She smiled to herself before continuing, "and some of those chocolates wouldn't be bad either."

"Oh, really?"

"Yeah, but not right this minute. I just want to sit here, like this, for now." She slipped her fingers into the hair at his neckline and teased it gently.

Clark closed his eyes, relishing in the sensation and realized that he would be completely content with holding her in his arms like this the rest of the night.



"While I was *resting*," — Lois could sense Clark's smile — "I was thinking."

"About what?" He slipped his fingertips under the sleeve of her shirt and lightly caressed the skin on the back of her arm. It was so soft and smooth. He glided delicately across its silken surface, causing Lois to shiver faintly.

"Mmmm," she hummed in approval. "About the wedding."

Wedding. The word had never sent such a strong current of excitement through him before. "What about it?"

"What if we didn't have a big wedding?" She leaned up from his shoulder and looked into his eyes. "What if we just got married? Something simple. Something we didn't have to plan for… wait for…"

No waiting. Clark liked the sound of that. But something didn't feel right. "You don't want a wedding? With a dress and flowers and cake and all that other…"

"I used to think I did. When I was a little girl, I would put on my mother's veil that she kept hanging decoratively in the guest bedroom," she said with a wistful smile. "I would wear it around the house and make Lucy follow me around with a bouquet of paper flowers, pretending that I was getting married." Her smile began to fall. "That was before things changed between my parents, before I began to question whether or not I even wanted to get married."

"Yes, but all that has changed now," he encouraged her. "Besides, you were going to have a big wedding with Luthor. I know that I… we… don't have near the connections, money, or influence that he had, but we can still have a nice wedding." He leaned forward and kissed her lips lightly.

"It's not that. It's just… oh, how do I put this?" She frowned, closing her eyes for a moment before reopening them. "The idea of marriage used to scare me to death. But I came to terms with my fear of it when I agreed to marry Lex. And I didn't break off the wedding because I was afraid of getting married, but because I finally realized who I wanted the groom to be. That wedding with Lex — I don't want ours to be anything like that. All that lavish garb and expense… that's not what's important." She paused and smiled at him. "What really matters is that we love each other and want to be together… as soon as possible. If we have a big, fancy wedding, we're going to have to save for it. And that is going to take time… and I for one…"

"Don't really want to wait that long?" Clark finished for her. She nodded at him and he smiled. "Me either."

She let out a soft giggle.

Clark raised an eyebrow, trying to decide why that was funny. "What?"

"Nothing." She tried to wipe the smile from her face, but it reappeared as fast as it had left.


"Well… I'm still just surprised that you're a… you know… that's all."

"Is that such a bad thing?" he asked her, trying to decide whether to feel hurt or insulted.

"No!" she protested. "It's wonderful! I get to have you all to myself," she said, giving him a squeeze.

"I know how you hate to share," he teased.

She smacked him and then went quiet for a moment. What did he think of her? She hadn't waited for him. "I wish I could give you the same thing."

"Lois, that doesn't…"

"No, Clark. I do. I can at least say I haven't had much experience. Claude was really the last man I ever…" she broke off, feeling embarrassed.

Clark couldn't believe what he was hearing. "But Lex… you mean you never…"

"No!" she all but shouted. "Oh, Clark. No. Never with Lex," she continued in a softer voice. "He wanted to. But I told him that I wanted to wait till we got married."

She let out a shudder that he could feel echoing the one in his mind. The thought of her in Luthor's arms exchanging passionate intimacies had haunted him since the day she had told him that Luthor had asked her to marry him.

"But I wish that I…" she managed before Clark was kissing her again.

"It doesn't matter," he murmured against her lips. "This is the start of our life together. I told you before, no more apologies. We leave everything behind and start fresh."

"No more apologies," she agreed, kissing his neck before lying against his shoulder again. She brought her hand up and stared admiringly at her ring.

Clark glanced down and realized that she was examining her ring. "I know it's not very big," he said regretfully. "But I was thinking later, maybe for an anniversary, that I could…"

"No," she scolded him, drawing her hand into a fist and bringing it close to her body as if she was afraid he would take the ring away right that second. She opened her hand and glanced down at it again. "It's perfect."

Clark gave her an indulgent smile but said nothing else.

Lois knew what he was thinking — that it wasn't nearly as big as the ring Lex had given her. But she was glad that this ring didn't resemble that gaudy chunk of rock. In her eyes it was the most beautiful ring she had ever seen.

"Perfect," she murmured again, closing her eyes.


"Great shades of Elvis!" Perry exclaimed, taking a closer look at the ring on Lois's hand.

"I know it probably seems a little sudden, Chief," Lois stammered.

"Ah heck, kids, I knew the two of you had chemistry together," Perry said proudly, glancing over at Clark and then back at Lois. "Why do you think I paired you up? I could see that right from the start."

"Yes, apparently I was the only one who couldn't see what was right in front of me," she told him, giving Clark just the briefest of glances.

"So have you all picked a time and a place, yet?" Perry asked, suddenly all business again.

"Actually, Chief, we're not exactly sure," Clark explained. "We can't afford anything too extravagant right now but we really don't want to wait until we can. So we wanted to ask if…" He hesitated for a second and Perry jumped in before he could finish.

"You don't have to beat around the bush, Clark. You know if you kids need to borrow some money that I…"

"No!" Lois interrupted and then continued sheepishly, "I mean, that's awfully sweet of you, Perry, but no. What Clark was trying to say is that we needed to ask for some time off next week."

"Next week?" their editor exclaimed, his eyes widening.

"Yeah," Clark said with a nod. "We haven't made any decisions yet," he explained, throwing a side glance at Lois. "But we were thinking of… eloping. Not that people won't know where we are, and maybe not anywhere too far away, but just one of those quick…"

Perry's eyebrows shot up. "Eloping?"

"Um, yeah," Clark continued, fighting the need to fidget. "Well, you know, getting married at a wedding chapel wherever we stay for our honeymoon…"

"Like in Vegas? By an Elvis impersonator?" Perry was astounded.

"Well, that's not *exactly* what we had in mind." Clark grinned nervously. "But we were thinking it would be much less expensive and we wouldn't have to be off work for too many days, although we would like to have a few for a honeymoon…"

"Have either of you told your folks?" Perry asked, interrupting again.

Lois shook her head. "No. Not yet. We wanted to wait and call them once we had made a decision for sure." Lois shrugged her shoulders. "Even if we'd had a regular wedding I doubt my parents would have come. My father couldn't make it to my last wedding and I think my mom is probably still recovering from that one." She glanced over at Clark. "I'm just sorry that Clark's parents would miss out."

"They'll be all right, Lois," Clark assured her. "I'm sure they would have loved to be there, but they would understand."

Perry was shaking his head. "Well I don't." He frowned before continuing. "If you kids think I'm going to miss this, you've got another thing coming."

"But, Chief," Lois protested.

"Now just hush, Lois — I'm not through, yet," Perry said, looking agitated. "If you kids want to have a whirlwind wedding, that's completely up to you. I'm not going to tell you what you can or can't do. But I won't let you run off like this without your friends and family there with you."

Lois frowned. Where was he going with this? "So then what do you suggest we do?"

Perry was quiet for a moment and then a smile spread slowly across his face until it was practically beaming. "I think you should have it at the Planet."

Lois felt her mouth fall open. "The Planet? But, how…? When…? It's still being rebuilt. That could take…"

"Less than two weeks," he provided for her.

"Two weeks?" Clark interjected. "It's that close to being finished?"

Perry nodded. "The repairs have been going faster than we anticipated. The structural damage wasn't as bad as we had first thought." His smile broadened. "Combine that with the 'go getter' that Mr. Stern is and…" He shrugged.

"Wow," Clark murmured.

"Yeah," Perry agreed. "Anyway, I had planned to have some kind of welcome back shindig, but what better way to celebrate reopening the front doors of the Daily Planet building than by having the wedding of its two best reporters there?"

Lois glanced over at Clark and caught the twinkle in his eyes. It just seemed perfect somehow.

Perfect. She was really beginning to like that word.


"Okay, bye Mom, bye Dad, we love you too." Clark hung up his kitchen phone and Lois tightened her arms around him from where she stood behind him.

She lifted her face away from his back to ask, "Were they excited?"

Clark turned and slid his hands through her arms and around her waist, wrapping her in an embrace of his own. "What do you think?" He smiled. "They were beside themselves." He leaned forward and kissed her lips softly. "Now, what about your parents?"

Lois scrunched up her nose. "Later. I'll call them later." At his skeptical look she sighed and rolled her eyes. "I will! I promise. I just know that I'll end up in some debate with them over…" She waved her hands in the air at nothing in particular. "…and it'll end up spoiling our evening." She leaned up and brushed her lips against his. "And I don't want anything to spoil it. So I'll call them after I've gone home."

"Ah, so you're not planning on sleeping over again tonight?" He was only partially teasing. He knew she couldn't keep sleeping on his couch from now until their wedding, but part of him just hated having to say goodnight to her.

In less than two weeks, he wouldn't have to, he consoled himself.

Lois raised an eyebrow at him. "Why? Are you offering?"

Clark's breath caught in his throat. "Are you asking?"

Lois smiled mischievously. "Are you willing?"

He almost choked. "Are you saying…?"

"Are you still a v… very patient man?" she teased, kissing him softly and lingering just a moment before pulling away. Her playful smile seemed to take on an innocent air. "Mmmm. No, I'm sorry. You can't tempt me…"

"Me tempt you?" he exclaimed in disbelief.

"Yes. I'm looking forward to a virgin sacrifice on our honeymoon." She kissed him again, letting her tongue flit inside his mouth to tease him. "So, you'll just have to be on your best behavior until then."

He groaned. "You're going to make it hard for me, aren't you?"

She grinned impishly. "When have I ever made it easy?"

"Good point," he said with a chuckle.

Lois tugged on his shirt, untucking it from his pants, and Clark grabbed for it, trying to pull it back down. "I was only kidding," he protested. "If you don't stop, you're gonna kill me."

"Calm down. I was only going to check your dressing," she said with a sly smile as she led him towards the bathroom.

Clark laughed. "Sure you were."

She smacked him playfully before retrieving a bottle of peroxide and package of gauze out of his bathroom cabinet. Gently, she worked his bandage with her fingers to pull it back… and then gasped at what she saw.

"What?" he asked anxiously, looking down. She was holding his bandage up and it was blocking his view. "Is it worse?"

She didn't answer, instead bending down to take a closer look at it.

"Lois?" Clark started to pull away from her when she stood up abruptly and planted a soft kiss to his lips.

"It's better. It's…" She looked at him dazedly. "It's barely even visible." She stepped away from him and turned his body to face the mirror where he could see.

Clark was astounded. He ran his hand over the smooth skin. The wound had closed up. He could still see where it had been — it wasn't really a scar but looked more like tissue that was still healing.

Lois was almost bouncing with excitement. "Does this mean…?" She looked down at the healed skin eagerly and then back up at his reflection in the mirror. "Can you…? Are your powers back?"

"I don't know."

He closed his eyes and Lois watched anxiously, hoping to see some sign that they had returned. A little levitation off the floor, maybe? Clark opened his eyes a few seconds later and stared intently at her before slumping his shoulders.

"Nothing?" she asked, trying to keep the disappointment from her voice.

He shook his head. "Nothing. I tried levitating, reaching out with my hearing, even x-ray. Nothing yet."

"Well, you haven't completely healed up yet," she told him encouragingly. "And Dr. Klein said your body would probably be working to filter the Kryptonite from your blood stream. So maybe your powers won't come back fully until that happens." She threw her arms around him and hugged him. "But they're obviously there. You wouldn't have healed up that fast without a little help."

Clark slid his arms around her in his own embrace. "I think you're right. And I feel better than I have in… well, in a long time." But whether that was actually from the wound healing or from the knowledge that Lois was going to be his wife, he wasn't exactly sure — maybe it was both.

Lois nestled contentedly against his chest. Her head was easing down toward his shoulder when it snapped back up, all of the sudden, startling Clark.

"Is something wrong?" he asked when he saw her eyes narrow suspiciously.

"You checked your 'x-ray' capabilities?" she asked, a smirk tugging at the corner of her mouth. "You had your eyes closed…" The smirk widened. "At least until you opened them and stared at me." Lois let her mouth fall open in feigned disbelief. "Clark Kent! Were you trying to sneak a peek? Were you trying to x-ray me?"

A red hue crept into Clark's cheeks. "Well, I figured if I was going to get one power to work, that one might just have a little more incentive," he answered with a flirtatious smile.

"Mmmm, well maybe I could give it some further incentive," she murmured, her lips brushing lightly across his neck.

"Incentive?" Clark breathed, feeling his skin come to life at her touch. "Or bribery?"

"Is there a difference?" Lois placed kisses up his neck and along his deliciously defined jaw before finally claiming his lips.

"Mmmm," he groaned, "yeah, a little."

She laughed softly and kissed him again before tilting her head up to look at him. "You know, I actually… um… daydreamed about making out with you just like this."

"Where? Here?" She nodded and he continued, "When?"

"After you left for Smallville and I was staying here. Even though you weren't here, you were everywhere. And I don't mean your pictures. I could just feel you, smell you… the vivid aroma of your cologne in the closet, the fresh hint of aftershave in the bathroom… the sweet smell of fabric softener in the towel I wrapped around me after my shower. It all reminded me of you."

Clark swallowed as he thought of her wrapped in one of his towels — the soft fabric touching and caressing parts of her that he had, as yet, denied himself. "So, how did I touch you?"

Lois felt her breath catch at the husky, deep timbre in his voice. "You started off by kissing me, long and dee…" She couldn't finish because his mouth had covered hers and was stealing her breath. He pulled away from her after a few seconds leaving her head spinning playfully.

"And then what?" he murmured, his lips hovering close to hers.

Lois took an unsteady breath. "You ran your hands up my back and tangled them into my hair," she whispered.

"Like this?" Clark moved his hands as she had imagined they would feel and her knees felt like they were going to fail her. She couldn't believe she was telling him this and that they were acting out her daydream.

Not surprisingly, it was better than she had imagined.

"Mmmm, yes. But you were still kissing me, your hands were pulling against me and deepening the…" And he was kissing her again. "Oh, Clark," she moaned into his mouth, running her hands up into his hair like she had in her fantasy. His locks slid through her fingers as his hands teased at her back, their lips each dancing to the rhythm of the other's.

Clark groaned, losing himself to her. There was nothing but her — nothing but this moment.

And then…

"So how many days do we have left till our wedding?" Lois asked breathlessly, sliding her mouth from his.

"What?" Clark mumbled, his lips and hands continuing to try and demand her undivided attention.

She couldn't believe her brain still had the coherence to function or the capacity to do anything except respond to him. But she had sworn to him, and to herself, that she wasn't going to let things go too far. He wanted their honeymoon to be unforgettable, and so did she. Besides, Clark had claimed that she was the one 'pushing things', practically challenging her that she couldn't keep her hands off of him until the wedding.

She was resolved to outwardly be the pillar of virtue, even if inside, her resolve was crumbling. "I said, how many more days do I get to torture you until our wedding?"

Clark pulled away and looked at her. The playful light in her eyes didn't do much to extinguish the fire that was growing inside him, but it was enough to goad him into a response. "Enough that I'm willing to bet you'll cave before I do."

Her eyes flashed. "Do you wanna make that bet official?" she asked, stepping out of his embrace and crossing her arms in front of her.

He considered it for a few seconds, wondering just how far he could push things, but then he knew the answer with all too much certainty. "No. I've always known you were stronger than me, Lois," he admitted, half kidding, half serious.

Lois felt her head swim. The strongest man in the world had just admitted she was his weakness. She grinned wickedly at him. "Just wait till the honeymoon. I bet Kryptonite can't bring you to your knees the way I can."

Clark choked on his own breath. "You really shouldn't say such things; you have your honor to defend. I might try to make good on my bet." He grabbed for her and she let out a cute squeak before fleeing from the bathroom. He chased after her, wondering how in the world he was going to make it through the next several days.


Lois walked out through the open restaurant door that Clark was holding for her. Dinner had been exquisite. They were supposed to have a little pre-wedding bash at Clark's apartment the night before the wedding, which was two nights from tonight. Clark's parents and her parents — amazingly, both of them — were flying into town tomorrow night. They would all be there — and she prayed that her parents wouldn't fight — along with Perry, Alice, Jimmy and even Jack.

It was going to be a fun night… but certainly not a private one. And she and Clark had both agreed that they wanted one last quiet dinner together before the wedding. So he had taken her to Ermilio's, a little Italian restaurant within walking distance of his apartment.

They had talked and laughed. She had snuck a few bites of his decadent chocolate dessert, insisting that she didn't want to get her own because she didn't want to be fat for their wedding night. And her head was pleasantly humming from the red wine they had drunk with dinner.

She let out a contented sigh as Clark joined her on the sidewalk, sliding his arm around her, his hand resting against her hip.

"If you're too tired to walk, I can hail a cab," he said, giving her a soft squeeze.

She shook her head. "No. We'll get back to your apartment too quickly as it is, and it'll be time for me to say goodnight and go home." She had driven her Jeep to Clark's apartment, but it was such a nice night that they had opted to walk to the restaurant instead of driving. She sighed and leaned her head against his shoulder as they continued to walk. "This will extend our trip at least a little bit."

"You could always stay the night."

Lois could hear the smile in his voice. "No way, Farmboy. You pretend to be all innocent… but I know the real you. The past few days have been torture. I think your virginity will be much safer if I sleep at my own place." She laughed softly. "We both know how you get after you've had a little alcohol."

Clark chuckled and they walked on in silence for a bit. At least, until he heard footsteps behind them. He glanced nonchalantly over his shoulder, but he didn't see anyone there. Without trying to cause alarm, Clark casually quickened their pace. He wasn't exactly sure why the hair on the back of his neck was standing up, but what he did know was that it was late, it was dark, and the streets leading to his apartment weren't always the safest. Superman could attest to that.

"Clark?" Lois attempted to slow them. "Why are we walking so fast?"

"Are we?" he asked distractedly. "Sorry," he said, glancing back over his shoulder again. He could finally make out the outline of a couple of guys, pacing them from behind. He could hear their footsteps plainly now, striking against the hard concrete sidewalk.

Clark glanced around. No cabs in sight, and no other people, for that matter. "I think we better pick up the pace a little," he said stiffly, sliding his hand to the small of her back to urge her forward.

Lois didn't argue, picking up her pace. She could almost feel the nervous energy radiating from him. Risking a glance around, she found the source of his concern. There were a couple of burly looking guys coming up on them from behind. She felt a knot forming in her stomach.

The knot exploded when two more thugs stepped out of an alleyway in front of them. She glanced back nervously to find that the other men had closed the distance, and she and Clark were now effectively trapped between the two groups.

Clark urged her toward the building next to them, allowing the two groups to converge into one, and effectively putting himself between them and Lois. "Can I help you?" he asked, doing his best to keep his voice even, yet firm.

"Yes, as a matter of fact, you can," one thug answered him. The young man wasn't broad or muscular like his companions, instead being tall and sinewy, but he looked foreboding just the same. "You can hand over your wallet and her purse."

Lois could feel Clark's body flex instinctively beneath her hands. These thugs had no idea who they were messing with. But right now, Clark was still healing. His powers were there, right below the surface, but they had yet to show themselves. "Just give them what they want, Clark," she whispered next to his ear. Part of her wanted desperately to smart off to the group of hoodlums, but she didn't want to put Clark in any danger. If he got hurt because of her smart mouth, she'd never forgive herself.

Clark was about to argue that these criminals weren't likely to stop at their wallets, when Lois stepped out from behind him. She held out her purse as an offering and said, "Here, take it."

The wiry-looking thug snatched her purse from her and backed away. He fished out her wallet, throwing the purse off to the side. Clark carefully withdrew his wallet and then tossed it to the same guy. The criminal caught it and then handed the two wallets off to one of his companions before once again stepping closer to his captives.

Clark reached back with one hand, protectively, to feel for Lois, making sure to keep his body between them and her. "That's all we've got. Take it and go. We don't want any trouble."

"Ah, but you've got trouble," the speaker for the group continued. He licked his lips greedily. "That's not all you've got." He leaned to the side where he could address Lois. "Let me see that pretty little hand."

Lois flinched. No! He was going to take her ring from her. Thinking fast, she held out her right hand for inspection while she used her thumb on her left hand to twirl the engagement ring upside down.

"Not that hand, slut, the other one," he said, grabbing for her other hand.

Clark's body was pressed against hers and she felt it stiffen just an instant before he said, "Don't touch her."

Lois thrust her left hand out hastily and whispered, "It's okay, Clark." She kept her hand balled into a fist where all the thief could see was the thin, gold band on her hand. "See, it's not much," she ventured.

Quicker than Lois had thought possible, the thug took hold of her and jerked her out from behind Clark. Clark started after her but was immediately restrained by the other three hoodlums.

"Take it off," the leader of the group instructed her.

Lois cringed at the thought of losing her engagement ring, but obligingly reached for the ring with her right hand.

"No. The clothes," the thug clarified.

She stared at him wide-eyed in terror. He wanted her to undress? Clark was right. They weren't just going to rob them — they planned to rape her as well. They probably planned to take turns.


"Kill him," her attacker instructed the men who were restraining Clark. In the span of a heartbeat, one of the thugs had a switchblade out and held next to Clark's throat.

"No!" Lois screamed. "Please!" she pleaded, tugging on the sleeves of her jacket. "Okay. Okay, I'll do it. Please, just don't hurt him." She had no intention of letting them rape her. She was sure Clark would see himself dead before he would let that happen, but she needed to buy them some time so she could think.

"No, Lois, don't!" Clark begged her, fighting against the men holding him as she extricated her arms from her jacket and tossed it away. One of the thugs guarding him threw a hard kidney punch into his side and Clark's knees buckled. Then one of the other thugs landed a blow to his face, snapping his head back.

"Stop!" Lois hollered. She glanced over at her purse on the ground, just a few feet from her. If she could just get to it… She made a move to go after it but was stopped by a hard jerk on a handful of her hair by the thug who had been advancing on her.

"Be a good little whore and this won't hurt too much," he breathed next to her ear.

"Take your hands off of her!" Clark yelled, bucking against the men holding him.

More fists began pounding against Clark and Lois realized that there wasn't any time left to think — there wasn't anything to do but fight. In one quick motion she turned, flinching as her hair pulled painfully tight in her attacker's hands, and brought her knee up sharply into his groin. He let go of her hair, grabbing for his crotch and groaning in pain.

Lois dove for her purse, snatching it up from the ground and fishing out her container of mace. Her attacker had recovered and was coming for her but he was met with a stream of mace to the face. He howled with rage and agony all rolled into one.

The sound caught the attention of the other thugs. They looked over to see what was happening to their leader and the distraction was just enough to give Clark an edge. He attacked them swiftly, faster than he should have been able to move.

Lois stared, wide-eyed, as Clark punched, kicked, jabbed, and head-butted the three thugs into submission. Clark picked up his abandoned wallet from the street and left the men writhing on the ground as he ran towards Lois.

"Are you okay?" he asked anxiously.

"I'm fine," she assured him. Movement from the corner of her eye caught her attention and horror swept over her when she realized that the thug she had sprayed with mace was pulling a gun from inside his jacket. "Clark! Look out!" she screamed.

Clark spun and used his body to shield Lois from the three bullets that the thug fired at them.

Lois felt like her heart was being ripped from her when Clark's body jerked at each bullet as they hit his chest.

"No!" she screamed. Clark moaned and began to slide out of her arms.

"Now you've done it!" one of the other thugs grunted as he pulled himself up from the ground. "The police will be after us for sure now. I didn't sign up for no murder rap." He took off running down the street and was joined by his two wounded companions.

The thug who had shot the gun was staring in disbelief as Clark slumped to the ground. His face paled and he stumbled off down the street after the others.

Lois dropped down beside Clark. "No," she whimpered. "Clark?" She shook him. "Clark!"


Clark felt someone shaking him and it jolted him to his senses. Lois was in trouble. They were being attacked… and he had been shot.

"Please don't leave me," Lois murmured as she rocked his body in her arms. She hadn't looked for blood or checked the wound — she didn't want to see it. Clark's unresponsiveness was all the answer that she needed. His powers had been coming back and he had been healing, but it hadn't been enough. He hadn't been strong enough.

"I won't leave you, Lois," came a soft whisper from his lips.

"Clark?" she whimpered, pulling away from him to look down into his open eyes. "You're alive?" She wiped the tears from her face and stared at him in wonder. "Hold on. I'll go call an ambulance."

She started to lower him gently to the ground, but he wrapped his arms around her. "No, honey. I'm okay."

Lois stared at him disbelievingly, then reached for his jacket with a shaky hand and pulled back the side that was sporting three bullet holes. The shirt beneath the jacket also had three holes in it, but there was no blood. Relief flooded through her. Feeling no compassion for the buttons on his shirt, she ripped it open.

Three bullets slid down his chest, leaving behind them three ugly, red welts. She put her fingers to the swollen, bruised skin and pressed against it. There was no blood.

"Ouch," Clark complained. "I might not be shot, but that still hurts."

Lois started to cry. "Don't be such a baby, Clark," she teased happily between sobs. She pulled him to her and held him fiercely. "Don't ever scare me like that again."

"What about you? Are you okay?" he asked worriedly.

"Aside from probably missing a small chunk of my hair, I'm fine," she assured him.

"Let me see." He reached a hand into her hair and felt around until he hit a spot where she winced. He turned her head gently and examined her scalp.

"Is it bad?" she asked quietly. "Is there a bald spot? Will people be able to see it at the wedding?" Her mother had brought Lois her veil — the one Lois used to wear as a child — insisting that it would fulfill the 'something old' part of the tradition. Would it be enough to cover the missing hair? Or would it still be noticeable? Maybe it was bad enough that she would need to wear her hair up? Or get a haircut? She sighed… as long as she didn't have to go to her wedding bald.

"No. It's okay, honey." Clark gave her a squeeze. "There's a little chunk missing but it's underneath your hair. No one will see it."

"Good," Lois said with a smile. Then the smile fell and she let out a shudder, holding him tighter. "I just kept thinking that you couldn't leave me. Not now. Not when everything was finally going right and we were going to get married." Her voice fell to a hushed whisper. "We haven't even made love. We hadn't had a chance to start our lives together."

"I know," Clark answered her softly.

She kissed him tenderly. "I'm not sure I want to wait, now, Clark. I want to hold you. I want you to touch me…" She hesitated for a moment and then continued quietly, "Take me home."

Clark knew, without asking, whose home she was referring to. And he couldn't think of anywhere else he'd rather be than at his apartment, holding her in his arms.

Lois watched as Clark sat up and turned to gather her in his arms before standing up with her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and snuggled against him, wanting never to let go. But Clark faltered suddenly, almost dropping her.

"Clark?" Lois scrambled out of his arms anxiously and watched as he doubled over, resting his hands against his knees. "Honey, what's wrong?"

"I don't know," he answered woozily. "I just feel really weak all of a sudden."

"Is your wound hurting?" she asked, grabbing for his shirt.

"I don't know. I don't think so," he wheezed.

She pulled his open shirt back and examined his side. It appeared to be okay. She then checked the area where he had been shot and it, too, seemed all right. Yet, she could tell Clark was in obvious pain.

"Do you think you can make it back to your apartment?" she asked, glancing around the street.

"No," he admitted. "I'm sorry. I just feel so weak." He went down on his knees and then sat down on the ground. "I don't even have the strength to stand."

Lois spotted what she had been searching the street for — a pay phone. "Stay right here. I'm gonna go call Dr. Klein," she instructed as she headed off towards the phone.

"No, Lois. Don't bother him at this time of night. Just call a cab and…"

"Dr. Klein told us to call him if there were any changes. You're in pain, Clark. And your body was just put through a tremendous ordeal. He needs to look you over," she said firmly, leaving no room for argument.

Not that Clark would have argued. He didn't think he had the strength even for that.


Dr. Klein pulled the stethoscope out of his ears and set it on the table next to him. "I've examined everything that I know how to, Superman. You seem to be fine. I think what you need right now is rest."

"That's it? That's all you can tell us?" Lois exclaimed, a little heat in her voice.

Dr. Klein flinched. "Well, actually, I do have something else…"

"Well let's have it!" she badgered him. When she had called Dr. Klein, he had told her to meet him at STAR Labs so he could examine Superman. She had called a cab to take them by Clark's apartment where Clark could change into his Suit and then she could drive 'Superman' to STAR Labs in her Jeep.

That had been a lot of work for a simple 'I think he needs rest'.

Clark laid a hand reassuringly on Lois's arm. She looked over at him and frowned slightly. How could he be so calm? Something was obviously wrong with him. He had all the strength of a newborn kitten. He had confided in her, just moments before the attack, that his powers had been trying to come back. His hearing had stretched out farther than it had in a long time — that was how he had heard the thugs coming. And during his fight with them, he had fought at speeds nearing unbelievable for a normal person. She had seen that with her own eyes.

And yet, here he sat, his powers completely gone again. He was as weak as she had seen him, except for when he had been lying in that hospital bed, unconscious.

"If you'll remember," Dr. Klein continued, a little perturbed by her outburst, "I told you that Superman's body would be working overtime to expel the remaining particles of Kryptonite from his system."

"Yes," she admitted. He had told them that.

"Then you should understand that it's probably taking a lot of his strength and energy to fight, and hopefully expel, the invading poison in his system." Dr. Klein shook his head disapprovingly. "He shouldn't be trying to use any of his powers right now because it obviously drains him too much. Any energy reserves that he had built up, he probably used on that little rescue. He should be resting as much as he possibly can."

"I have been, Dr. Klein," Clark assured him. "But surely you can't expect me not to help when Lois was being attacked."

Klein sighed. "No, of course not. I'm just saying that you need to be careful right now… Both of you -" he eyed Lois pointedly "- if you expect to get better and not worse, Superman."

Lois bit her tongue. Dr. Klein thought this was her fault. He didn't know that she and Clark had been on a date and had been innocently walking home when they were *both* attacked. All he knew was that Lois had gotten herself into trouble and she'd had to be rescued by Superman.

"Now, on that point," Dr. Klein continued, "I think I've got something that might help." He walked over to the vault, went inside, and then came back out a few seconds later with a vial of liquid and a syringe.

Not another needle, Clark lamented, wincing at the thought.

"This is an antidote of sorts," Klein explained, tilting the bottle to indicate the liquid inside. "Or actually… maybe you would call it an anti-serum… Or perhaps a… vaccine?" he mumbled, staring at the vial. "You can't really call it anti-venom…"

"Dr. Klein?" Lois said impatiently.

"Hmm?" he asked and then seemed to remember where he was. "Oh, yes. I, uh, tinkered with the sample of Kryptonite you had given me and created a hybrid form of it which has a much lower dosage of radiation. I used it to produce this serum, which I'm hoping will help Superman to combat the effects of Kryptonite on his system — even possibly help him build up a kind of tolerance to it." A proud grin spread across his face but then quickly disappeared. "You understand, though, that this will be extremely experimental. I haven't exactly had any other Kryptonians that I could do research on. So we will need to proceed with caution."

If Clark could have hugged the man, he would have. However, such a display of affection would have probably seemed out of character for Superman — so he held back, extending his hand to the doctor instead. "That's wonderful news, Dr. Klein. Congratulations."

Klein shook his outstretched hand, seeming pleased at the commendation. "I don't want to pressure you, but the sooner we begin treatment, I think the faster you'll heal. I'm hoping that this serum will help your body expel any remaining Kryptonite in your system, and get you back to normal… err, *super*."

Lois felt butterflies in her stomach. This was it! What they had been hoping for — Clark was finally going to have the chance to be Superman again. She looked over at him to find his eyes shining brightly. He was as excited as she was.

"Then let's get started, Dr. Klein," Clark said anxiously. Their wedding was the day after tomorrow and he wanted to have the strength to enjoy it.


Lois sighed, slamming the phone down in the Daily Planet conference room. The day had been so perfect… up until now. She looked down at the fluffy white folds of pristine satin and gauzy tulle that were gathered up in her lap and felt herself wanting to cry. Even her dress was perfect. She had considered renting a dress — Clark had rented his tuxedo — but her mother wouldn't have it.

Ellen Lane still had power over Lois's father, despite being divorced from him, and when she had insisted that no daughter of hers was going to be given away in a dress that some other woman had worn before her… Well, Sam had immediately and graciously offered to buy Lois a new wedding dress.

This was the second time in so many weeks that Lois had found herself happy to be accepting her father's help. Because of him, Clark was going to get better, maybe better than he had ever been if Dr. Klein's vaccine worked like it was supposed to.

She sighed again. Yes, it was nice to think of a time when all their problems might be a thing of the past… but that wasn't going to be today. Lois gathered up her dress, got out of the chair carefully, and walked over to the closed conference room door. She opened it a crack and peered out.

It was supposedly bad luck for the groom to see the bride before the wedding, and she was not going to tempt the fates. They didn't need anything else to go wrong.

She eyed the sea of people milling around the newsroom floor chatting and talking, oblivious to the huge problem that was going on behind closed doors — well, behind this door.

Perry looked up and caught her eye. She stuck one hand out through the crack of the door, motioning him to come over. He hurried over and when he got close enough, she opened the door wider to let him in.

"What is it, Lois?" He paused for a second, taking in her appearance and a huge grin spread across his face. "You look prettier than a… ah, hell, I can't even make a comparison. Darlin', you look amazing."

Despite the current problem, Lois managed to blush in appreciation of the compliment. Although, truth be told, she felt slightly awkward at the amount of skin she was bearing. Her dress was sleeveless and the top was mostly lace — it wasn't see through, but it still showed a lot more than her prim business suits. "Thanks, Perry. But it looks like I went to a lot of trouble for nothing," she complained.

Perry frowned. "What in Elvis's name has happened now?"

Lois grimaced. It wasn't that a lot of things had gone wrong. In fact, with respect to the actual wedding, most things had gone right. But Perry knew at least some of what they had gone through to get here. It had to be time for them to catch a break, didn't it? That had to be what he was thinking.

Sadly, that time wasn't going to be today.

"I just got off the phone with the minister's wife. Apparently he either ate something that didn't agree with him or he's caught a stomach bug or something…" She reached up and pulled her mother's veil from her head, laying it down on the table and slumping into one of the chairs. "What are we going to do? There's no way we'll be able to find someone to marry us on this short notice!" She found herself on the verge of tearing up again.

Perry walked over and put a gentle hand on her shoulder. "Don't cry, honey. You'll mess up your pretty face."

"Oh, Perry," she sniffled. "Who cares about make-up if there's not going to be a wedding?"

"There is going to be a wedding."

His voice was so adamant, so sure, that it made her pause. "There is?" she whimpered. "How?"

Perry suddenly looked uncomfortable and he took his hand from her shoulder to run it through his thinning hair. "Well, uh, I normally wouldn't reveal this, but… I can marry you."

Lois's eyebrows shot up. "What? Perry, be serious."

"I am, Lois. I am an ordained minister of the First Church of Blue Suede Deliverance," he said, somewhat sheepishly.

Lois was floored. Blue Suede Deliverance? She grinned. She didn't care if he was ordained by the church of the Three Stooges! Everything was going to be okay! They were going to get married after all!

"Listen," he continued. "I know it's not what you had planned on and…"

Lois flung her arms around him. "No. It's perfect!"


"Are you ready, honey?" Sam asked his daughter.

Lois smiled up at him. "I don't think I've ever been more ready for anything in my whole life."

He smiled back at her and gave her an appraising eye. "You know, today, you really do look like a princess."

"Thanks, Daddy."

Music from the pianist that they had hired filtered into the conference room, announcing that it was time. Lois slipped her arm around her father's and he opened the door.

A sea of faces turned to look at her as she emerged from the conference room doorway. They were all there — colleagues, friends, family… all smiling, all waiting anxiously for her to join her groom at the top of the ramp.

Lois glanced up at the landing, where the ramp led up to the elevators. Perry and Clark were waiting for her. Clark's smile was so big that she could see it from where she was standing.

Sam led Lois down the aisle that had been created between the sections of seats. All the desks, office chairs and equipment had been moved to another floor to accommodate seats for the guests.

When they reached the bottom of the ramp, Sam released Lois's arm and leaned in to give her a soft kiss on the cheek. "Congratulations, Princess," he whispered. "I'm so glad I made it for this one."

"Me too, Daddy," she whispered back to him, feeling tears trying to start again. She made her way up, leaving her train to cover the surface of the ramp behind her as she went.

Clark watched his bride as she walked up the ramp towards him. He had never seen her look more beautiful. Not just beautiful, breathtaking, he realized as his breathing quickened. He took her hand as she reached the top. He hadn't stopped smiling since she had stepped from the conference room, and he understood now why people said their mouths hurt from smiling so much at their weddings — it wasn't because of the pictures, it was from just being so happy. "You look amazing."

"Thanks. You're not so bad yourself," Lois said as she took in his handsome appearance in the black tux. Tuxedos always made men look good, but they made Clark look positively yummy every time he had worn one — and especially today. She wondered fleetingly how long a wedding ceremony and reception were supposed to last — and if there was anyway to speed them along — and then Perry was speaking.

"Shall we begin?" he asked them. They both nodded and he took a deep breath. "Friends, we are gathered here today to witness the joining of this man —" he gestured to Clark "- and this woman —" he gestured to Lois "- in holy matrimony. I know I speak for everyone here when I say what a joyous and happy occasion this is…"

Lois shifted on her feet, making sure not to lock her knees. The last thing she wanted was to pass out at her own wedding. How embarrassing would that be? And her head had already begun to swim, just with the knowledge that they were here! They had finally made it — through everything.

Clark's heart was beating frantically. Perry was making a beautiful speech, but he couldn't seem to concentrate on it — he was too excited. He took a deep breath, trying to calm himself and focus. If he didn't get a handle on himself, he wouldn't have the mental capacity to make it through the vows without forgetting his own name.


Vows were pledges… promises… Lois was promising to give herself to him, for the rest of their lives. To stay by him through everything.

She had already stood by him…

They had been through the 'sickness', hopefully now they would experience the health. And while they weren't exactly poor, he looked forward to a time when he could give her more than he could right now.

And the having and the holding — he definitely looked forward to that.

Perry broke into both of their thoughts as he asked, "Who gives this woman to be married to this man?"

Everyone turned to watch Sam rise out of his chair. "Her mother and I do." Lois was amazed to note that her mother and father were actually sitting next to one another.

Perry reached into his pocket and brought out the rings. "These rings are an outward symbol of the commitment that you have made to one another." He handed Lois's ring to Clark. "Clark, please repeat after me. I, Clark, take you, Lois, to be my lawfully wedded wife…"

Clark's heart was racing as he took the ring from Perry and turned to look at Lois's smiling face. "I, Clark, take you, Lois, to be my lawfully wedded wife…"

"To have and to hold, from this day forward," Perry continued, "for better or worse, for richer or poorer…"

"To have and to hold," Clark repeated, giving Lois's hand a soft squeeze, "from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer…"

"As long as we both shall live."

"As long as we both shall live," Clark concluded, slipping the ring onto Lois's finger.

"Lois…" Perry held out Clark's ring to her. "Repeat after me. I, Lois, take you, Clark, to be my lawfully wedded husband…"

Lois's hands trembled as she took the ring from Perry and looked up into Clark's loving eyes. "I, Lois, take you, Clark, to be my lawfully wedded husband…"

She repeated the rest of the vows, never breaking eye contact with Clark as if she could silently reinforce what she was saying with her eyes. She could see their life together in his eyes. The happy times they would share, the sad times they would help each other through. It was all there, in the twinkling of his eyes.

Clark's eyes slipped shut as Lois slid the ring onto his finger. A warm feeling of comfort washed over him as he realized that he finally knew where he belonged — beside Lois, for the rest of his life.

"Now, by the power vested in me by this state and the First Church of Blue Suede Deliverance," Perry proclaimed. "I now pronounce you husband and wife." He grinned widely. "You may, uh, kiss the bride."

Lois's head hadn't stopped swimming and a thousand different things were flying through her mind, but before her stampeding thoughts could carry her off any place else, Clark was kissing her. It was a soft, tender kiss full of hope and promise… and passion.

But, due to the fact that there was a crowd of people watching expectantly, it was also short-lived. Then the two of them turned to greet the smiling faces looking up at them.

"All right! Now let's get this shindig started!" Perry exclaimed happily from behind them. "There's cake and punch in the conference room," he bellowed to the room. "And something with a bit more kick in my office," he continued in a quieter voice, winking at the new couple.

Lois and Clark laughed and then turned to make their way down the ramp to the newsroom floor. Clark ran a hand comfortingly across the white lacy back of Lois's dress as they began to descend the ramp, sending flutters through her. She smiled contentedly as he slid his arm around her waist and gave her a tender squeeze. By the glance he was casting at the lace-covered bosom of the sleeveless bodice of her gown, he definitely approved of the dress she had chosen. Actually, he looked more like he couldn't wait to get the dress off.

She knew she certainly couldn't wait to get his tux off. That little bet they'd had going was one that she had almost lost — more than once. Lois smiled to herself — well they were married now and all bets were off. She gave Clark one last fleeting glance — wondering briefly how long they were expected to stay at their own reception — before finally managing to take her eyes off of him long enough to sweep them across the room, admiring the modest floral decorations and the warm faces of all their friends. "Could you have imagined getting married anyplace else?" she asked, thinking to herself that she couldn't.

"No," Clark replied, though he knew that wasn't exactly true. He could have imagined getting married in a hundred different places… as long as Lois was the one he was marrying.

"CK!" Jimmy exclaimed happily, running up to greet him. "Congratulations!"

Jack came walking up beside Jimmy but turned to face Lois when several more people crowded around Clark, realizing that it might be a few minutes before he could get a word in edgewise with his friend. "Congratulations, Lois."

"Thanks, Jack," she said, stepping forward to give him a hug.

"You've got a real good guy there," he said sincerely, embracing her.

"Yeah. He's pretty *super*," she said quietly, next to his ear. She broke from the hug, flashing him a wide grin.

Jack smiled back at her. "Yes, he is."

An unspoken understanding passed between them, causing both of their smiles to widen.


Clark held the passenger door open for Lois and she climbed inside of her Jeep — their Jeep — waving to all of the onlookers. After giving a final wave of his own, he walked around to the driver's side and got in. Betraying his impatience at having stayed longer at the reception than either of them had wanted to, he fired up the engine and pulled away from the curb in one swift motion. The movement pushed Lois back in her seat and made her smile.

Lois kept waving until they had turned the corner and she could no longer see anyone. Her eyes were drawn to the sight of the Jeep in the side mirror. It was hardly recognizable with all of the shaving cream, ribbons, and streamers adorning it. Not to mention the words painted across the windows in pink icing — JUST MARRIED — HOTTEST TEAM IN TOWN. But at least the windshield was clear, so they could see to drive home.

She was ready to get home.

Having only been in her new lease agreement for less than two weeks, her landlady had graciously agreed to let her out of it with the news of her impending marriage. The movers would be coming back — the day after their honeymoon was over — to move her stuff into Clark's apartment. She was considering selling a few items — like perhaps those fancy, uncomfortable loveseats. It would take a little work, but she was sure they could fit most of her stuff into his apartment. And what they couldn't fit, she had rented a storage unit to keep it in for now.

Maybe later, when money wasn't so tight, they could look at getting a bigger place. But right now she couldn't think of any other place that would feel as much like home as his apartment.

That's why she had suggested that they spend their honeymoon there. Besides saving money by not traveling anywhere — and the fact that she didn't really want to waste time traveling — God only knew how many daydreams she'd had about his place while she had been living there. Or, more specifically, what she wanted to do to Clark at his place. She looked over at Clark and grinned. They might as well fulfill some of those daydreams on their honeymoon.

Their honeymoon. The thought sent a shiver down her spine. She still could hardly believe that her husband — she was beginning to love how that word sounded — was… well… inexperienced. Lois hadn't ever been much of a teacher, but this was one pupil that she had no reservations about… and the subject matter wasn't bad either.

That thought left a pleasant smile on her face that continued until Clark pulled up to the sidewalk in front of his… their… apartment.

Clark put the Jeep in park, jumped out and ran around to open the door for her. "Wait for me on the landing," he told her, as she stepped out. "I'll be right back."

Lois nodded at him and watched him pull away, before making her way up the stairs to the front door. Her stomach gave an excited little lurch. They were finally here. They were married. There was no more holding back — no more waiting.

She wasn't sure how long she had been standing there daydreaming, but when Clark came around the corner and caught her by surprise, he must have realized what she had been thinking about.

"No fair starting without me," he teased softly.

"I can't imagine what you mean," she managed with a straight face. "I was figuring up how many 'thank yous' I would have to compose later."

"Really…" he said wryly, cocking an eyebrow at her. "Thank yous, huh?"

"Mmm, hmm," she murmured as she kissed his lips softly. "Thank you for that." She slipped her tongue between his lips for a deeper pleasure. "Oh, and that," she breathed.

Clark slid his arms around her and drew her against his body as he took his own turn exploring her.

"Oh, god, definitely that," she whispered in a husky tone. She was surprised by how little she recognized her own voice at that moment.

Clark checked the door and found that Lois had already unlocked it. He pushed it open and scooped her up into his arms before carrying her over the threshold. "Welcome home, Mrs. Kent."

He hadn't planned on setting her down, but she wriggled out of his arms.

"We need to save your strength," she explained, flashing him a wicked smile. "You're going to need it."

"Too late. I'm already feeling a little weak."

Lois started to get concerned — Clark had gradually been feeling better since their episode the other evening, but his powers hadn't returned yet. Then she noticed the teasing light in his eyes and she gave him a light smack on the arm. "I told you — Kryptonite's got nothing on me, baby," she assured him, taking the veil off her head and then sliding several strings of pearls over her head. She set the items down before reaching up to hastily undo the bow tie of Clark's tuxedo. She pulled on it, but it didn't come out smoothly like she had hoped. It seemed to be caught on something.

"Don't get too over zealous," he said, flashing her a grin. "It's rented, remember?" He started to reach up to help her. "Here, I pinned it to the collar so it would stay in place."

She waved his hands away. "Oh, no, Farmboy. I've undressed you twice now — having to repress any pleasure that came to mind. This time, I'm gonna enjoy every moment. You just keep those hands to yourself."

"How 'bout I keep them on you?" he asked, placing his hands on her hips and then sliding them enticingly up her body in search of how to relieve her of some of her clothing.

Her fingers made short work of the pins holding the bow tie and she had it off of him and was working on the buttons of his shirt when Clark let out a soft sigh.

"I admit defeat," he said, his voice husky and thick. "Where is the zipper or the buttons… or do I have to just rip the dress off of you?" he asked with a mischievous grin. His fingertips found the top of her dress and he slipped them inside, running them across the silky smooth skin of her back.

Lois murmured a sound of approval at his touch. Actually ripping the dress off didn't seem like such a bad idea, but it wasn't necessary. He just didn't realize what the bodice of the dress actually was — which was the whole point. "Mmm, the bow," she whispered next to his ear. "Untie the bow in the back at my waist."

Clark did as she asked and then his eyes widened as he watched the puffy lower half of the dress slip to the floor, leaving her adorned in a white lace bodice that doubled as lingerie. He blew out the breath he didn't realize he'd been holding. "Wow."

There was a white satin and lace bridal garter wrapped around one of her deliciously long legs. Clark knelt down and slipped his fingers underneath it, pulling it down and off her leg. He placed a soft kiss where the garter had been and then worked his way up her body, leaving a trail of kisses behind. Lois tangled her hands in his hair and encouraged his exploration with soft mews of appreciation until he finally claimed her lips.

"Oh, Clark." Lois shivered and a soft moan escaped from her. The warm tingling sensation that had begun to flow through her was demanding that she finish undressing him. She quickly finished unbuttoning his shirt and pulled it back away from his neck, taking a taste of the soft skin at the base of his throat.

"Lois," he breathed into her hair. "God, I want you. I've wanted you for so long." He lifted her into his arms again and carried her into the bedroom, laying her gently on the bed. He followed her down to the bed, kissing any skin that was exposed to him until his lips finally found hers. "I've waited for this moment…"

"*We've* waited for this moment," she amended. "And I don't want to wait any longer…"


Lois lay on the bed, her chest still heaving from the exertion and her mind and body still reeling from the unfathomably intense sensations. Clark might have been the virgin, but she hadn't ever felt anything like that before. She looked over at him lying next to her, his face attractively flushed, and suppressed a giggle. They hadn't even managed to make it completely out of their wedding attire first. All this time, she had daydreamed about undressing Clark again, but they hadn't made it that far…

She almost laughed out loud. Actually, they had made it much farther. "Wanna try it again? Maybe without clothing this time?" she asked playfully.

Clark smiled at her, still reveling in the aftermath of their lovemaking. He was amazed at how weak and yet how invigorated he felt all at the same time. He needed a moment to recover. She was right — Kryptonite had nothing on her.

"Just give me a minute," he murmured, cupping his hand to her face tenderly and giving her a soft kiss. As the delightful sensations began to ebb from his body, he could feel something else taking their place. An ache was beginning to throb low in his back.

"Mmm, I'm just too much for you," she teased.

Clark ignored the ache and focused on the challenge. "I'll show you who's too much," he said, kissing her with fervor.

Lois sighed with pleasure and wondered fleetingly if his clothes were going to be salvageable after this, before losing herself to him and the moment.


Clark stared in disbelief at what he saw. Blood.

The aching in his back hadn't subsided, and after making love to Lois again, he had excused himself to use the bathroom, thinking it might help to get up and move around. His bladder had seemed to be aching along with his back.

But when he relieved his bladder, the last thing he had felt was relief. Instead it had hurt — a lot. And there was blood.

What was wrong with him?

Had he just overexerted himself? Or was it something else? It was true that he hadn't ever made love before, but unless Kryptonians are that different from humans, he didn't think there was supposed to be pain or bleeding involved — maybe for a virgin woman, but certainly not for a man.

He took a couple of deep, cleansing breaths, trying to calm himself and fight the growing pain in his back. On his next deep breath, that's when it hit him.

An intense, mind-searing pain ripped through him, causing him to let out a loud groan as he reached out for the wall in front of him for support.


Lois jerked her head up when she heard Clark's pain-filled cry come from the bathroom. She jumped out of bed and rushed into the other room to check on him.

She paled when she saw him. Clark was clutching his side with one hand and grimacing in pain. His other hand was braced against the wall as if that was the only thing keeping him standing.

"Clark? What's wrong?" she asked as she rushed to his side.

"I…" His face contorted in pain. "I don't know," he grit out between clenched teeth. "My back was aching a little before… but…" He let out a moan. "Then it started to hurt worse and… oh!" He sucked in a sharp breath. "Oh god, Lois, it hurts. It hurts!"

Lois felt panicky at the pain in his voice. "What hurts? Where does it hurt?"

Clark covered his mouth. "I'm gonna be sick!" he mumbled against his hand.

Lois grabbed the small trashcan next to his sink and held it under his chin. He grabbed hold of it and wretched into it, his body heaving violently.

When it passed, Clark slid slowly to the floor and leaned his head against the wall beside him, breathing heavily for a few seconds. "No… please, no…" he moaned, his body squirming. Then he threw up again into the trashcan.

Lois grabbed a washcloth and wet it with cool water. She knelt down beside him, patting his face with it. "What can I do? Are you just sick or is it something more serious?"

"I… don't know…" he ground out. "There was… blood… in my urine."

Blood in his urine? Lois felt her blood run cold. That was definitely serious.

Clark let out another cry and slumped over to the floor, clutching at his back and side. "Oh, it hurts!"

Lois felt tears come to her eyes and fear grip her heart as she watched her husband — the strongest man in the world — curled up in a fetal position, writhing and moaning in pain.

"Hold on, Clark," she pleaded. "I'll be right back. I'm gonna call Dr. Klein." As she started to stand up, he reached out and grabbed her hand.


"What?" she asked with a shaky voice.

"I… I love you," he whispered. "I'm… I'm sorry," he managed before a wave of pain hit him, eliciting another groan and cutting off his ability to speak.

He didn't know what was wrong with him, but it was more serious than a little overexertion. He felt like he was dying. Something inside of him was aching so badly that he couldn't feel anything else — couldn't think about anything else — but the pain. Only dying could hurt this bad — it was worse than Kryptonite.


Maybe the antidote that Dr. Klein had given him hadn't worked or maybe it had made things worse. That had to be it — the Kryptonite had finally overrun his system and it was going to kill him. It was probably his liver shutting down. Or maybe his kidneys had failed. He'd probably never know exactly what had happened.

"No! No, Clark. You're going to be okay. Do you hear me? Dr. Klein will know what's wrong." Lois slid back down to her knees beside him and took his head in her hands, looking down into his pain-filled eyes. "Look at me."

Clark tried to focus on her voice. It was so hard. All he wanted was for someone to make it stop — do anything to make it stop. But he finally managed to fight through the pain to find her face. He watched a tear slip from her watery eyes and she gave him a relieved smile.

"You remember the night of that storm?" she asked. "At your parent's house? I told you not to leave me. You promised that you wouldn't." Her breath choked in her throat and she whispered, "Don't leave me, Clark." She leaned down and kissed his forehead tenderly before getting up to go for the phone.

Clark wanted to tell her not to leave, but she was already gone before he could find his voice. It was a scary thought to contemplate dying, and yet, he found a strange inner peace descend on him. For one brief moment, he'd had everything he had ever wanted. Lois was his wife. They had pledged their lives and their love to each other. They had kissed and held one another, and they had made love. That had been the most beautiful and amazing thing he had ever experienced.

For one fleeting instant, he had known exactly where he belonged.

<…For as long as we both shall live…>

No. It was too soon. Their life together had barely begun. It wasn't enough.

But would it ever be enough? He would never want to leave her, or her to leave him… even when they were old and gray. But if he had to leave this world, at least he would die knowing that he had found happiness. Not everyone could say that.

A calm slowly overcame him — his brain's reaction to the intensity of the pain taking over and blocking his cognizant reception of it. He was losing consciousness.

Fight, he told himself. Fight for Lois.

But he couldn't. The room was fading in and out. He could hear Lois's voice coming from far off and he wanted to call out to her, but he couldn't. It was just too hard — it hurt too much. His eyes rolled back into the darkness and try as he might, he couldn't open them again.

If he'd had just one wish, it would have been to see Lois one last time…


Lois snatched up the phone from the wall in the kitchen. Please be there, she begged Dr. Klein as she dialed his home number.

One ring…

Clark's moaning abruptly stopped. There were no sounds coming from the bathroom.

Another ring…

"Clark?" Lois yelled, covering the mouthpiece on the phone.

She listened for a response, but there was nothing. Silence.

Another ring…

"Clark! Say something!" she pleaded. Why hadn't she gone for the cordless extension? She stepped away from the wall as far as the coiled phone cord would allow and glanced around for the other phone, but she couldn't find it.

Another ring…

Dr. Klein wasn't there.

She wanted to hang up. She wanted to run back into the bathroom, just to make sure Clark was still breathing…

She wanted Dr. Klein to answer his freaking phone! Was that too much to ask? Answer the dam…


Thank god. "Dr. Klein? It's Lois. I…"

"Lois? Congratulations!" he said, interrupting her. "I read about your wedding to Clark Kent in the paper. That was today, right?"

"Yes, thanks," she said absently. "But I need…"

"Shouldn't you be on your honeymoon right now?" he rambled on.

Lois closed her eyes and took a deep breath. There was no way to hide what was going on from Dr. Klein. She was going to have to tell him. "I *am* on my honeymoon. I'll explain everything later, I promise, but there's no time right now. It's Superman, he's…" She paused, not wanting to reveal too much over the phone. "I need you to come to Clark Kent's apartment now! Please hurry!" she urged him.

"I'll be right there." There was a click and then silence on the other end of the phone.

Lois dropped the receiver, not bothering to hang it up properly, and ran to the bathroom.

He wasn't moving.

"Clark? Honey?" She ran to him, dropping to her knees on the floor next to him. "Please… no…"

He was on his side, facing away from her. She rolled him over and lifted him into her arms where she could cradle his head and check his breathing. He was so limp. So pale.

So lifeless…

But then his chest moved — his lungs were still taking in air.

He was just unconscious.

She let out a relieved breath and rocked him in her arms. "It'll be okay, Clark. Dr. Klein will know what to do."

Leaning down, she placed a soft kiss to his cheek. "Fight, Clark. Fight," she whispered to him, blinking away tears so she could see him. "You're not a quitter. You never gave up on me. Now you have to fight…" Her voice was beginning to tremble and she swallowed. "You have to come back to me."


Lois jolted at the sharp knocking sound coming from the front door. In reality, it hadn't taken Dr. Klein long to get there, but it felt like hours.

She carefully released Clark, laying him down on the floor gently, placing a tender kiss on his cheek. "Dr. Klein is here, honey. Everything's going to be all right." At least she hoped it would be.

Lois gave him one last hug before getting up. Please don't be mad, Clark, she prayed silently. There was just no way to hide *this*, she reasoned with herself as she grabbed her robe and ran to the front door. Oh, she could have tried to get Clark out of the pajama pants he was wearing and into his Suit, like she had before, but she wasn't sure she would've had time — Klein had gotten here pretty fast. Plus, she didn't know what was wrong with Clark — could jostling him around have injured him further? And what if Klein asked questions about Clark, their honeymoon? How would she answer? No. She had to tell Dr. Klein. They could trust him.

She hoped.

Taking a deep breath, she jerked the door open.

Dr. Klein's concerned face greeted her. "What happened? Is he okay?"

"He's unconscious right now. I was afraid to move him. He was in so much pain…"

"Where?" he asked, stepping inside the apartment.

"In the bathroom."

Klein shook his head. "No. Where was he in pain? Did he tell you? Did he give you any symptoms before he passed out?"

"He kept grasping at his lower back… like this," she explained, demonstrating for Dr. Klein. "And he started throwing up." Then she remembered something Clark had told her. "He said there was blood in his urine." Her voice broke and she cleared her throat. "I was so scared. He was rolling around on the floor, clutching at himself." Her voice began to waver. "Is he… is he going to…?"

"I think he's going to be okay." He patted her arm. "Based on everything that he's been through, and what you've told me… I just might know what's wrong with him." Some of the worry had left his face and it made Lois feel a little better. "Let's go take a look at him."

Lois followed Dr. Klein back towards the bathroom, fidgeting nervously the whole way. Her voice stopped him, just short of the bathroom door, "Wait…" She bit her lip. "There's something you should know about him."

Dr. Klein turned and looked back at her expectantly, an unreadable expression on his face.

"Superman is…" Lois began. "He's…" She sighed softly. "He's my husband, Dr. Klein. Superman is Clark Kent."

Dr. Klein nodded, smiling softly. "I know, Lois."

Her eyes shot open in disbelief. "You know? How long have you known?"

"I've had my suspicions for a few days. It wasn't hard to see how much Superman cared for you and you for him. Mr. Kent never accompanied you and Superman when you would come to my lab, and then, when I read of your upcoming marriage to Mr. Kent, well…" He shrugged. "Plus, I had heard about what Lex Luthor had done to Mr. Kent…"

"Please, call him Clark."

Klein smiled and nodded. "Clark had been wounded in the same place and in the same manner as Superman. I just put two and two together."

It was a good thing Dr. Klein was the only one who knew about Superman's injuries. Lois frowned. She and 'Superman' were going to have to do a better job of hiding their feelings for one another. "Why hadn't you said something?"

"It was your secret to keep, not mine to reveal." He patted her arm. "Don't worry. His secret… your secret… this secret is safe with me. I'll never tell."

She smiled warmly at him. "Thank you, Dr. Klein."

"Now, let's go have a look at our boy, shall we? I think things may not be as serious as you first thought." He made his way into the bathroom and she followed behind him as he continued talking, "I'm sure you've probably heard of kidney stones. I had a bout with them myself back a couple of years ago. Painfully mean little things…"


Clark awoke to find himself in his bed.

He was alive.

And, once again, he had an IV in his arm.

He closed his eyes wishing that the rest of it had been the same as the time before, that Lois's arm was draped over his body.

But he was alone in bed this time.

It was real… wasn't it? He and Lois really had gotten married… made love to each other… hadn't they?

The sound of running water caught his attention. It was coming from the bathroom.

"Lois?" he croaked. He felt like he had cotton in his mouth and he swallowed and worked it for a couple of seconds before trying again. "Lois?" he called out, much louder this time.

The sound of water stopped abruptly and he could hear feet running across the floor. A second later, a dripping wet, towel-clad Lois came running out of the bathroom. "Clark?" A wide grin spread across her face and she rushed over to his bed. She sat down on the edge of the mattress and leaned down to give him a hug. "You're awake!"

"Am I?" he said, eyeing her fervently. "I could swear that I'm dreaming."

She laughed. "And you must be feeling better." She hugged him again. "You scared me."

"I scared myself," he admitted, hugging her. "Has Dr. Klein already been here and left?" Obviously he had since there was an IV in Clark's arm and no sign of the good doctor…

…and his wife was sitting in their bedroom, half-naked.

"Yes," she confirmed, sitting up. "He told me to call him if you weren't awake in a few hours or if there was any change." She took his arm in her hands and examined the IV. "We weren't sure Dr. Klein would be able to get this thing in. But I guess the attack weakened you enough that your skin was vulnerable." She let out a sigh before giving him a reassuring smile. "He left me instructions for you."

Clark raised an eyebrow at her. "Instructions? Does he already know what was wrong with me?" he asked, sitting up slowly and then scooting back to rest against the headboard.

She nodded. "He's ninety-nine percent sure that you are suffering from an attack of kidney stones."

"Kidney stones?" Clark rolled his eyes. "Great. Some super man I am. I can't even handle a few little…"

"No, Clark! They're awful!" Lois assured him. "Dr. Klein had them a couple of years ago and he said it's some of the worst pain he's ever felt. A female colleague of his had them and she told him that kidney stones are the closest pain to childbirth that you can have — maybe worse even, because labor pains come and go but the pain from kidney stones is constant. She's had three kids, one of them without an epidural, and she says her kidney stones were worse."

That made Clark feel a little better. He gave her a sheepish grin. "I thought I was dying."

Lois felt a sting in her eyes. "Me too," she said softly, giving his leg an affectionate squeeze. "Dr. Klein thinks your kidney stones may have even been more painful than normal ones because they may have had traces of Kryptonite in them."


She nodded. "Yeah. His theory is that the Kryptonite caused the stones. Your kidneys were trying to filter the Kryptonite from your blood, and he thinks that the Kryptonite particles might have crystallized in your kidneys and bonded with other minerals, forming stones." She got up from the bed. "Which reminds me…"

Clark watched her hurry into the bathroom and he hollered after her, "Hey, while you're in there, can you get me a glass of water?"

"Yeah," she called back. "Dr. Klein said you should continue to drink plenty of water to help flush the stones out." A few seconds later she came back out, carrying a glass and what looked like a strainer. She held out both items to him.

"What's this?" he asked, taking the strainer from her. He took the glass and downed the water before setting it on his nightstand.

"Um… well… when you use the bathroom, uh, Dr. Klein wants you to use that. He hopes that the stones are small. If they are you'll pass them and he wants to collect them for examination."

"And if they're not small?"

She grimaced. "Well, he said we can try lithotripsy — where they break up the stones with sound waves. But if the stones are very big, you'll probably have to have surgery. Dr. Klein needs you to go to STAR Labs later, when you're feeling better, so he can do an ultrasound."

Clark made a face, but he nodded at her, handing the strainer back to her. She set it down on the nightstand and then sat down again on the bed next to him, tucking the bottom of her towel underneath her.

"He also wants to talk to you about the Kryptonite vaccine. He thinks that if you continue to take a booster shot of it every so often, it will help you build up at least a small immunity to the radiation that Kryptonite emits." She reached out and took his hand in hers, letting out a soft breath. "Clark, I have to tell you something," she said, looking down at their joined hands. "I did something…" she broke off, unable to meet his eyes.

Clark reached out and lifted her chin up, forcing her to look at him. She looked uneasy and it made him feel a little nervous, but he didn't want her to see that. He wanted to reassure her. "Whatever it is, you can tell me."

The look on his face was so earnest, so loving… so trusting. Lois prayed that he would understand. "I had to tell Dr. Klein… about you." She winced. "I had to tell him that you were Superman. I'm sorry, Clark," she continued, forging ahead quickly. "I didn't know what else to do. I was so scared… I'm sorry for betraying your secret and your trust. I know I didn't have the right…"

"No," Clark said calmly, interrupting her.

Lois's heart fell. He wasn't going to be okay with what she had done.

"You had every right," he continued, watching her eyes widen in surprise. "You're my wife, Lois. That secret is no longer mine, it's *ours*. I know you wouldn't have revealed it unless you had no other choice. You didn't betray anything, honey," he assured her, giving her hand a gentle squeeze before rubbing his thumb across the back of it.

Her lips spread into a small, relieved smile. "It did at least make me feel better to know that Dr. Klein already knew."

Clark raised his eyebrows. "He already knew?"

"He said he did. I asked him why he hadn't said anything and he said that it was our secret to keep, not his to reveal. I really do think we can trust him."

He nodded. "I think you're right. I think you were right all along about him." He smiled lopsidedly at her. "Just don't let it go to your head."

She smacked him lightly, giving him a challenging glare but unable to hide her smile. "Good. The sooner you learn that I'm always right, the better off you'll be." He grinned widely, his eyes flashing briefly away from her face. Realizing what he was looking at, Lois glanced down at the knot in the towel that she was still wearing like some sort of sleeveless toga. She bit at her lip. "So do you feel better?" she asked, rubbing her hand down his arm affectionately.

"Yeah. I do."

"Just a little better? Or a lot better? How do you feel?" she persisted.

Clark slipped his fingers under the knot that was holding her towel in place. He gave it a tug and the towel fell off her body, landing in a heap on the bed. "I don't know. Why don't *you* tell *me* how I feel?"



Lois was so ready to get home. This had been her first day back to work after their short honeymoon. She had insisted that Clark stay home today to rest just one more day before going back to the grind. When Perry had heard about their honeymoon fiasco, he had agreed that one more day of rest for Clark was a good idea.

It wasn't that Clark wasn't doing better. He was. He had ended up passing his stones, like Dr. Klein had thought, and no bigger stones had shown up on the ultrasound. But she had argued that a little more rest wasn't going to hurt anything.

Strangely enough, Clark hadn't protested. Maybe that was because he knew she would be coming home to him later. She smiled and glanced down at her ring as she neared the front door, thinking about opening the door and yelling 'Honey, I'm home!'

She giggled. Maybe not.

When she reached for the door handle, she was surprised to find it locked. She took out her key, unlocked it, and went inside. The apartment was deathly quiet and she became instantly concerned. "Clark?"

Hurrying down the stairs, she headed for the bedroom. He wasn't there. She was on her way to check the bathroom, but a piece of paper on the bed caught her eye — a note with a red rose lying on it. She picked up the rose and smelled it, feeling a warm delight surge through her. Then she picked up the note.

'Dear Lois,

Had to run an errand. Don't worry. I'm fine and I'll be back in a little while.


Your husband'

Husband. Lois couldn't stop smiling and felt ridiculously in love. She went into the kitchen and found a vase to put the rose in and then she pinned the note to the fridge.

She hoped he wouldn't be gone too long because she was dying to see him. How in the world she had made it through the day was beyond her. Her lips turned up into a smirk. Although, if he had been at work it might have been even harder to make it through the day. How had she sat next to him, worked so closely with him this whole past year, and gotten any work done at all?

She rolled her eyes and her smirk turned into a scowl. Because she had been stupid, that's why.

Oh, truth be told, she had fantasized about him plenty. Certainly after seeing him in that towel, but especially after the pheromone incident. But she had been woefully blind.

It was a little ironic that she used to try to force herself *not* to think about him and all she wanted to do now *was* think about him.


That wasn't completely the truth.

She smirked again.

Thinking about him wasn't all she wanted to do…

She glanced at her watch. Clark, where are you?


Clark found Lois asleep on the couch when he got home. He hadn't meant to be gone that long…

It wasn't *that* late, though. It was dark outside, but it certainly wasn't time to go to bed yet. Lois had just dozed off.

Clark knelt down next to the couch and brushed a light kiss across her cheek. "Hi, honey," he murmured and then kissed her lips.

Her eyes blinked open, sleepily. "You're home," she said with a smile. Then she frowned. "What took you so long?"

"I'm sorry. I didn't think I'd be gone that long," he apologized, slipping his arms under her and picking her up. She slid her arms around his neck and he carried her to their balcony door. "Could you get that for me?"

Lois reached down and opened the door. "Why are we going out here?"

"You'll see," he said with a smile as he carried her out onto the balcony.

Lois looked up into the dark sky above them, trying to make out the stars. "You know, I bet you're right. I bet the stars are much prettier in Kansas." She frowned. "It's a shame we didn't get to see them when we were there. We've really got to go back there sometime so you can show me."

"I'm glad you feel that way," he said, hardly able to contain himself any longer. "Because that's where we're going. I'm sorry that I got home so late, but the night sky is going to make this even easier. I won't even have to change into my Suit because no one will see us."

Understanding lit up Lois's face but before she could say anything, they were floating, rising higher and higher into the darkening sky above them.

"Clark!" Lois breathed, clutching him tighter as she was caught by surprise. "You're flying! You're back!"

He flashed her a smile that would have made her weak in the knees if she had been standing. "I'm back."

"Oh, Clark," she said, nuzzling against his neck and kissing him. "You're back," she murmured against him.

"When I flew to Kansas earlier today, I went as Superman, just in case. But I've always wanted to fly with you like this — no suit, no pretending, just me and you."

"It's wonderful," she breathed, and then a thought came to her. "No, it's perfect."

Clark gave her a squeeze. "Almost. Just wait."

Wait? She was perfectly happy to wait as she flew through the night sky in Clark's arms. Hell, she could spend all night like this, completely content.

But wait for what?

She looked up into the moonlit heavens above them, able to see the stars perfectly now. "It's beautiful."

"Yes, it is," he agreed, though he wasn't looking at the sky.

Her cheeks flushed when her eyes met his — then she narrowed them. "You don't need to take me all the way to Kansas for stars… What have you got up your sleeve? Why did you go there earlier today?"

"I went there earlier to tell my parents the good news…"

"You told them before you told me?" she exclaimed, pouting.

"Only because I didn't want to spoil your surprise," he told her, giving her another squeeze. "And they helped me set up for the surprise. That's the reason why I got back so late. Well, that and partly because my mom just couldn't quit hugging me." He smiled at her. "But, mainly, I was trying to make sure that it was perfect."

"Oh," she whispered softly, having been rendered speechless by the depth of what he had done for her. She didn't actually know what he had done and yet it thrilled her nonetheless. Luthor could have given her any material possession that she had asked for… but he could have never given her something like this. The thought wouldn't have even occurred to him, nor would he have understood it.

They flew for a while without saying anything, just enjoying being together, and then Clark picked up speed, clutching Lois closely to him to keep her warm. He flew as fast as he dared fly with her in his arms and then slowed their approach when he could almost see their destination. "Are you okay? You aren't too cold, are you?"

"No, I'm fine. I'm just…" Lois had been lost in her thoughts about him and everything they had gone through and now she couldn't come up with the right word, so she settled on the closest one she could think of, "…amazed. I don't think you'll ever cease to amaze me, Clark."

Clark chuckled self-consciously. "That's good to know. After our honeymoon I was afraid I might have left you a little… un-amazed."

Lois's body jerked and Clark had to tighten his hold on her so she didn't slip from his arms. "No!" she protested. "Honey, how could you think that?"

He smiled sheepishly. "Well, you have to admit, it wasn't the honeymoon every girl dreams of."

"What wasn't?" she asked, raising an eyebrow. "Getting to see your incredible body naked? Or the mind-blowing sex?" She thought she could see Clark's cheeks flushing and she smiled in triumph.

"Lois, I'm serious," he said, sincerely. "I feel awful about ruining our honeymoon."

"But it wasn't your fault!" she exclaimed.

"No, but it certainly wasn't yours. And I'm positive it's not how you envisioned your honeymoon." He let out a soft sigh. "I hope you enjoy your surprise tonight. I know Kansas isn't nearly as exciting as Hawaii or Paris or somewhere like that, but I promise that if Perry ever actually consents to give us some time off again, I'll fly you wherever you want to go. Just name it."



"Yes, just here in your arms," she told him, snuggling more tightly against him. "That's where I want to be. I don't care about the location if the scenery is this good."

"What about this scenery?" he asked, nodding to the area below them.

Lois's breath caught in her chest. It was the pond.

Clark set them down on the grassy bank of the pond. A couple of tiki torches were sticking out of the ground next to them and he shot a beam of heat vision at them to light them up.

Lois gasped when the light from the torches revealed a quilt spread out on the soft grass a few feet away. There was a picnic basket and a bottle of wine sitting on one corner of it. A bouquet of red roses matching the one he had left on their bed were tied together with a ribbon and sat alongside a box of chocolates on another corner.

"Clark! It's beautiful!" she exclaimed, running over to make a closer inspection. She turned back to look at him and raised an eyebrow. "I hope you don't think that you're gonna get lucky on this quilt," she teased.

"Maybe," he responded, smiling broadly at her. "But I was actually hoping I'd get lucky and you'd go skinny dipping with me."

"Skinny dipping?" She glanced over at the pond and closed her eyes, feeling the cool breeze dance across her skin. When she opened her eyes she let out a wistful sigh. "I think it's still too cold," she complained.

"It doesn't have to be."

Lois watched as he lifted himself into the air and looked down at the pond, sending a steady stream of heat vision into it.

Clark concentrated carefully. This was going to take a little finesse and precision. He didn't want to kill any plant or animal life in the water, just get it warm enough to accommodate Lois. He moved the flow of heat coming from his eyes over the entire surface of the pond as Lois looked on, completely overwhelmed.

"Okay, try that," he said, continuing to hover above her.

She kicked her shoes off and hurried over to the water's edge, tentatively dipping one foot in and breaking the calm surface.

It was warm. Not bathwater temperature, but warm enough. She stripped out of her clothes and waded in, letting out small gasps as she went. "It's a little cool, but it's okay."

Clark lowered himself back down to the bank. He started spinning until he became a blur — a flesh colored blur — and then suddenly he was in the water and coming towards her.

Lois closed her mouth, realizing that she had been gaping. "Neat trick, but I didn't get a peep show," she complained.

"I'll give you one later, I promise," he said with a playful grin. "The one you're giving me right now is pretty spectacular."

"Huh?" Lois said bemused, looking down at herself. She couldn't see anything — the water was completely covering her…

She gasped, looking back up at Clark and realizing that he wasn't wearing his glasses. "Clark! You're bad!"

"Am I?" He gave her a lopsided grin. "What's my punishment?"

She splashed a little water at him playfully and considered his penance. A few fun things came to mind but her curiosity won out. "You have to tell me what's in the picnic basket."

"Italian," he said, without hesitation. "Spaghetti, freshly baked garlic bread…"


He nodded at her.

"From Italy?"

He nodded again, smiling at her. "Yeah. I love pasta," he said, giving her an enticing look.

"You do, huh? Why?"

"You'll see." He reached out and pulled her to him, wrapping his arms around her.

"So you flew all the way to Italy to get me pasta, huh? A girl could get used to that," she teased. Then another thought hit her. "Wait a minute, Clark! You said you flew to Kansas as Superman. Did you fly to Italy as Superman? What if people saw you? I mean Superman's been missing for weeks. He… you… probably need to have some sort of press conference or at least an interview. We're going to have to come up with some kind of explanation for where he's been and…"

Clark interrupted her, placing a soft kiss to her lips. He took a few delicious draws before releasing them.

"Thanks," she murmured dazedly.

"You're welcome."

Lois looked around and realized that they had floated out into the middle of the pond. She couldn't feel the bottom any longer and wondered how far over her head she was.

It didn't matter.

Clark had her and he wasn't letting go of her.

Wrapping her legs around him, she relaxed against him. Their bodies bobbed softly together in the deep water and she smiled contentedly. The shaky house of cards that had once been her life was finally coming together. A new foundation had been put in place. Self-reliance was no longer her anchor — Clark was.

When Clark felt Lois sigh softly against him, he pulled back to look at her. "I'm sorry, honey, I shouldn't have interrupted you like that. You're right, those are important questions and we really should talk…"

Lois kissed him, relishing taking her turn interrupting him. "No," she murmured, releasing his lips and shaking her head. "No more talking. We can discuss all of that later. Not right now. Right now it's just you and me and the stars." She smiled at him. "Right now it's perfect."



A huge, huge, HUGE thank you goes out to both Sue and Laramoon for their wonderful beta work on this story. You ladies are awesome! And your comments never cease to crack me up and have me laughing through tears. Thank you so much.

For any of you who've never known someone who's had kidney stones, I'm pasting the links I used to research them at the bottom. My dad had them when I was younger and I remember it distinctly — no fun. I also pasted the link to the article on the heat exhaustion. I hope my theories and postulations in this story were believable.

Thank you all so much for going on this long ride with me. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed it and were not disappointed in the least. You were all wonderful to give me fdk and I enjoyed every single comment — thank you. And should you have any further comments to make <g> you have my e-mail address.