One True Thing

by paperbkryter


Thank you SO SO much Maveness for helping me untie all the knots in this fic, and keeping me motivated to finish it. Mmmmmmwaaaah!


He had an interview that morning, early, so by the time she woke, he was gone. A brief fly by the office to leave her a note and a cuppa and he was gone again, claiming another meeting to anyone who heard and missing her own departure by only a minute. He didn't return, but Superman was busy - a high rise fire, a bus accident - the usual fare. She spent her day in the depths of the Metropolis Library among the cobwebs and dust.

At five there was a reception and he stood her up for a date with a missile gone awry instead. She hobnobbed alone and took notes, gathering fodder for the story she knew would be hers. Corporate big-wigs spent money on lobster bisque and caviar while their employees went hungry on minimum wage. She smiled prettily, while the knife's edge of her pen twisted itself deeper, and came home just before sunset with blistered heels and the story half written.

Just inside the door she kicked off her heels and headed into the kitchen. A quick peek into the fridge revealed the necessity of grocery shopping and the fact they would be eating out tonight. The Jade Dog down the street delivered. She poked through the menus she kept stashed in a drawer and pulled out the one she needed. He would protest, she'd insist, but instead of sending Supes on a mad dash to China, they'd eat the more domestic equivalent.

Lois Kent, better known as Lois Lane, toed off what she now considered a pair of satanic pumps and went looking for her husband.

It was after eight, but the long summer days kept the darkness at bay. Sunlight from the waning day streamed through the windows of the Kent's' loft apartment, giving everything a warm, rose-colored blush. Outside it was sweltering still, but inside the air was cool and dry. Lois was swept with a wave of contentment. It wasn't anything fancy, their humble abode, but it was theirs and met all their needs - gifted them by a friend who understood some of those special needs...

Such as bedroom windows offering plenty of privacy from prying eyes. A lot of traffic went through those windows, most of it too fast for the human eye to see, but there were times when the night was simply too beautiful for flying solo. Lois sighed. They'd been too busy for too long. When had Clark last taken her flying?

She stopped in the bedroom doorway.

He was sprawled on his back across the expanse of their bed, wearing nothing but a tangle of sheets and a towel. His hair was still damp from a shower and curled around his face like swirls of dark black ink. Long dark lashes brushed his pink cheeks, closed lids hiding the brilliance of eyes that could be as green as an ocean tide or as blue as the sky. The rise and fall of his chest beneath one hand was slow and steady. The other hand lay outstretched upon the mattress, as if he were reaching for someone who wasn't there.

Lois smiled gently. In the four years they'd been married she'd gotten used to Clark's cat-naps. It was the only way he could juggle his two careers - two identities - and still keep his sanity. He rarely slept more than four hours at a time, and without rhyme or reason, catching a nap any time he found a quiet moment alone.

But even asleep he was on a wire-hair trigger, with some natural sense attuned to hone in on the slightest cry for help. As soon as Lois took one step from the carpeted hallway to the wood floor of the bedroom, his body shifted and his eyes opened. It never angered him to be disturbed. He accepted it as par for the course.

"Hi," she said softly. "Sorry."

"Hmm." Clark held out a hand, making a `come here' gesture. Lois padded across the room and slid into the bed fully clothed, lying down with her head upon his shoulder and her fingers intertwined with his. He kissed her temple and sighed. "Hungry..."

"I'm ordering 'Dog Food,'" Lois joked, playing on the name of the restaurant.

Cocking one eye open, Clark looked at her inquiringly. "They didn't feed you at the party?"

"I wouldn't have eaten their food if I were starving, those sons-of-bitches, blowing money on all that when their employees struggle just to get three square meals a day on the table! It makes me ill."

The eye closed again. "That's my girl."

"I am not your 'girl' Clark," Lois said hotly. She elbowed him (gently) in the side.

"Ow!" Both eyes came open. "I think you broke a rib!"

Lois grinned, hastily hid it, but could no longer resist when he disengaged his hands from hers in order to tickle. She squirmed, he pursued and ended up above her, hovering ever-so-slightly with his hands upon her face and his lips pressed to hers. They parted with the leisurely pace of those without a care in the world. Their eyes were bright.

"Your hair is still wet," Lois plucked at it, noting with a small glint of remorse the signs of aging at his temples. Her own youthful look came from a bottle. "Look at the gray..."

"It's distinguished."

"It's disturbing," Lois muttered. "Superman is ageless, immortal..."

Clark laughed.

"Invulnerable," she concluded.

"I think," he said, kissing her again. "If anyone mistakes my premature gray for a sign of infirmary, they're going to be pret-ty surprised."

"Cocky."

One eyebrow went up, and his smile when wry. "Why yes, Mrs. Kent, I'm quite cocky." His fingers moved down the buttons on her blouse. "Let me just show you how cocky I can be."

"Is that a threat or a promise?"

Clark lost the towel.

"Damn, I hope it's a promise!"

They both started laughing.


"Bye," he whispered. "I'll see you in the morning."

Lois reached up and grabbed a handful of scarlet, tugging him back down to her for a kiss. She messed his hair up on purpose and fell back to the pillow with a grin.

"Lois," he laughed, and gently untangled her fingers from his cape. "I have to go."

"Want hubby."

"Hubby has work to do."

"Hubby meanie."

She sobered, looking up at him, studying his face as if committing it to memory, not that it wasn't there already. "I love you, Clark."

"Love you too." He ran his fingers through his hair, and coughed a little, clearing his throat. Then, with a wink, he vanished out the window, even remembering to close it behind him.

One could do worse, Lois thought, and flopped back to the bed clutching her pillow.

But I wish our time together wasn't always so fleeting.

In the distance she heard the wail of sirens. Superman was going to be busy.


It was a slow news day. It was a slow day, period. The air conditioner at the Daily Planet was acting up, leaving the newsroom bathed in sticky, smelly, warm air. Lois sat in the office she shared with Clark, her hose off and her bare feet propped up on her desk while a fan blew at her over a plastic bag full of ice. She was playing cards with Jimmy Olson, who had been given a reprieve from his courier runs for the day because of the heat. The noontime news broadcast was playing on a small television set up on a file cabinet.

"Even they have nothing much going on today," Jimmy grumbled. "They're interviewing Superman for the second time today. They got him this morning after he got back from Chicago."

"People need to stop setting that town on fire," Lois muttered. She rolled one eye toward the television. Clark had rescued a dog from a car and was lecturing the news viewing public about the dangers of leaving poor helpless animals in a car in the heat. You could take the boy off the farm...

"I fold," she said.

Jimmy collected a pile of colored paperclips from the center of Lois' desk blotter. She shuffled the cards and began dealing again. Her little box of plastic coated paperclips was nearly empty, while Jimmy's overflowed with what looked like clown vomit. Perry had thrown a hissy when supply ordered the more costly paperclips. He'd be really ticked if he knew they were being used as poker chips.

On the television, Superman coughed, excused himself, and continued his speech.

Lois stopped in mid-deal, her head turning toward the television. "Did you hear that?"

"Hear what?"

"He coughed."

"Yeah, so? It's dry, and dusty." Jimmy made a `gimmee' gesture. "Are you gonna deal or what?"

Shaking her head, Lois threw down the cards and put her feet on the floor. "He coughed during the earlier interview, too. Twice."

And I heard him coughing before he left this morning. Oh my God, he's sick!

"Allergies."

Lois glared at her companion. "Are you suffering from heat stroke?"

"I'm just sayin'..."

"Jimmy, this is Superman we're talking about, not your cousin Melvin with the perpetually runny nose."

"Well that's not actually allergies. He has this glandular problem and..."

"Get out."

"But..."

"Out!" Lois stood up and gave him a little shove toward the door. "Oh, you, tee, out!"

She slammed the door.

And stood trembling in the middle of the room, her mind anxiously trying to find rationalizations for the fact that Clark had coughed, repeatedly, within an eight hour time frame. He didn't usually cough, nor sneeze, nor truthfully emit any sort of bodily noises. (Although he had once burped the entire Gettysburg Address to meet the challenge of a classroom of first graders.)

Was he sick, or was there some simple explanation which would render her current state of panic into one of her more embarrassing moments?

She was still trying to puzzle it out when the door opened and the subject of her concern walked through. He shut it behind him, started to speak, and was promptly interrupted.

"What's wrong?" Lois demanded.

Clark glanced behind him, thinking perhaps she was talking to someone else. His eyebrows rose above the tops of his glasses in inquiry. "And hello to you too."

"You coughed."

He applauded. Clark Facetious Kent.

"I'm serious, Clark!"

"I can see that." A finger rose to point at his own forehead. "When you're serious you get this little line..." He laughed as he ducked a handful of paperclips flung at him from across the room. "Lois! Come on! What's this all about?" Quickly he caught her by the elbows, holding her still so he could look down into her eyes.

"You coughed," Lois said. "Superman coughed."

For a moment he looked nonplussed, then he shook his head slightly. "Lois, it's the height of summer. It's dry and dusty outside. The smog is atrocious over the city this time of year, and I just got back from fighting a four alarm fire." His voice grew soft and gentle. "Yes, I coughed."

"You're not sick?"

"No." Gathering her up in his arms, he rested his cheek on her hair and held her. "Lois, stop looking for problems. Can't you just be content for once in your life?"

She inhaled against his lapel, closing her eyes as the scent of him filled her senses. He used only the barest bit of cologne, to prevent anyone associating Clark and Superman by smell. He smelled very clean, but there was just a hint of smoke clinging to him still.

"I can't help it, Clark," she whispered. "I have a long history of getting the rug pulled out from under me, not to mention my insatiable urge to uncover all the wrongs in the world. That includes any in my personal life." She paused. "If I were to lose you..."

"Don't be silly."

"You're a fairy tale. You're my fairy tale. I keep waiting for the Wicked Witch to make an unpleasant appearance, because that's always how it goes."

He bent and kissed her.

"But fairy tales always come with happy endings, so there is a flaw in your logic."

Lois looked up at him and felt her heart tighten. "It depends on if you're Cinderella or one of the ugly stepsisters, doesn't it?"

Clark sighed. "I feel fine, Lois."

One of the things about Clark was that he was extremely skilled at lying without actually lying. His ability with words and phrases made him adept at wriggling out of uncomfortable situations, usually when they threatened to expose his secrets. Lois was well aware of this ability. She'd experienced it first hand many times during the long span of their relationship. Once she learned what he was doing, it had shocked her how obvious it really was and made her wonder how she'd missed it.

He said he felt fine. He had mentioned things that could have made him cough without actually saying one of them had. Without admitting anything, he'd demonstrated that there was something going on, and as yet, he was unsure as to what it was himself. Until he had some facts, he wasn't going to worry her.

The harder she pushed, the more stubborn he'd get too.

"Okay," she said, and dropped the subject.

For the time being.


Lucy had a brief stop-over in Metropolis before she had to catch a plane for L.A. Lois met her at the airport for dinner and drinks, spending a couple hours catching up with each other's exploits. At the back of her mind Lois maintained a nagging worry and felt anxious to get home.

When she'd left, Clark had just come in from working late at the Planet. He'd looked...tired. By the time Lois changed her clothes and grabbed her purse on her way out the door he was asleep, curled up on the couch still fully dressed. He didn't wake up when she'd kissed him good-bye.

Not good.

"I think he's sick and not telling me," she confided in her sister. "What do I do?"

Lucy waved her cigarette, the smoke trailing behind her fingers like a gray silk ribbon. "Men are babies. Give him time and he'll start whining that he doesn't feel good and then you can haul him off to the doctor."

Lois supposed that would work if one's husband were human. Clark didn't whine. He didn't get sick.

And he certainly wouldn't go to the doctor.

She paused with her hand on the front door of her apartment.

Or would he? He'd consulted with Emil a few times regarding Kryptonian biology. Emil wasn't a physician but he was a scientist, and he'd had some of the same training as would a doctor of medicine.

Shoving open the door, Lois entered with a mission. "Clark!"

He shouldn't have been there, she realized immediately. A quick glance at her watch and she knew it for sure. Superman should have been on the prowl in the skies above the city looking for bad guys. This time of night he was almost always out crime fighting.

Instead he was blinking into the light she switched on, groggily staring at her as if he were disoriented. His face was creased, his suit rumpled, and his eyes were half shut behind the glasses propped crookedly on the end of his nose. Lois realized he'd still been asleep on the couch. He'd been asleep the whole three hours she'd been gone.

When he started to greet her, he was silenced by a coughing fit.

Lois sat down beside him. "Clark!"

He waved at her, finally caught his breath, and the coughing stopped. It had been short lived, but the coughing left her feeling more frightened than ever.

"I want you to talk to Emil."

"Emil?" Clark shook his head. "Lois..."

He coughed again.

She waited, and finally he nodded.

"When?" she demanded.

"Next week. There's a large convention in town and Superman..."

"Tomorrow." Lois said firmly. "No arguments."

"All right, tomorrow." He reached out for her, wanting to pull her close but she jerked away, rising and walking into the kitchen. There was beer in the fridge, and she wanted one.

Clark followed.

"You're mad at me."

Lois struck the cap off the beer bottle on the corner of the counter, leaving a gouge, but she didn't care. When her red-necked army brat came out, he knew he was in trouble.

"Well, Sherlock, I guess you did earn that Pulitzer with your brilliant powers of deduction after all." Jerking open a cupboard, she dug around until she uncovered a pack of cigarettes.

He snatched them away from her and stuffed them down the garbage disposal, taking obvious delight in flipping the switch. They glared at each other as the disposal blades chewed up the cigarettes. Shredded paper and small bits of tobacco rose back out into the sink like fine confetti.

"How fair is that, Clark?" Lois slammed her fist down on the counter, shoving him aside as she turned off the roar of the disposal. "You get to pick up some of your old bad habits, but I'm not allowed mine?"

"Bad hab..."

"You lied to me you son-of-a-bitch!" Lois chucked her beer at him. He ducked and it shattered against the wall, spraying a cascade of malt beverage all over the kitchen.

"Lois, now, come on!"

"I can explain," she mocked. "I came to you and said I was worried and you lied to me! I don't want to hear any excuses, Clark. None. Nada."

Lois stormed out of the kitchen, slamming around the living room doing things that really didn't need doing. She straightened a few magazines, tossed a pair of shoes into the closet, moved a chair...

Clark wisely remained in the kitchen. She heard his voice as he cleaned up the broken glass.

"I didn't think there was anything to worry about at the time."

"Liar!" Lois put a magazine down on the coffee table with a loud `smack!'

"It's not like it was something important, you know, like the whole Superman issue."

Abruptly, Lois froze, her fury reaching the point where, like an engine revving too far into the red, it seizes up and goes quiet. She stalked back into the kitchen just as he turned around from dumping the broken bottle into the trash. Her voice was as cold as his ice planet origin.

"Not. Important," she said quietly.

Clark didn't say anything.

Nodding, Lois turned her back on him and returned to the living room where she snatched up her purse and slammed out the front door.

Damn you, Kent. Damn you.


She stayed out late, hanging out in the bar of the Metropolis Grand Hotel. She hid her wedding ring in her purse and accepted drinks and cigarettes from strangers while she listened to bad karaoke. One drunk would-be Sinatra put his hand up her skirt and she sprained his wrist for him before getting a cab back home.

Her bed had been empty. It became sanctuary.

The room stopped spinning some time later. Lois wasn't drunk, just numb. The dizziness had been brought on by something else. She lay sprawled on her back staring up at the slowly revolving fan.

There was a very loud bird singing outside her window. Perry would be pissed, but she was calling in sick.

The bird suddenly stopped its racket. Lois heard the soft slide of the window being opened and closed and a breath of warm air entered the room. Without raising her head she turned to look at him standing there beside the bed. He knelt as if praying and brushed her hair from her face. In the gray light of dawn the garish colors he wore seemed muted and sad. So did his expression.

"You promised," Lois whispered. "We'd never keep anything from each other."

He had sense enough to look contrite. "I'm not supposed to fear anything."

"Who said?"

One corner of his mouth quirked up in a wry expression. "It comes with the costume, Lois."

She wrapped her hand around his. "You're Superman."

"I'm scared."

Lois tugged at him. He slid into the bed next to her, lying face down on the pillow with his face turned away. She toyed with his hair, petting him soothingly.

"So you tried to blow it off."

"Denial is a talented temptress," he murmured. "I fell. I'm sorry."

With a sigh, Lois leaned over and kissed his cheek. "Go see Emil."


"She's a friend," Superman told Emil Hamilton.

Emil regarded Lois suspiciously. He mistrusted the press, she knew, but he also had no clue of Superman's identity or Clark's identity, or however it worked. Sometimes Lois wasn't sure who the "real" man behind the mask was. Sometimes she felt like she had two husbands. Clark was an actor deserving of Oscar's highest accolades, changing his personality and even his appearance at will. He was able to make people suspend their beliefs like a master illusionist.

"People see only what they want to see. The eyes look but the mind sees. It's a matter of fooling the mind."

Clark and Superman were so radically different men the physical resemblance was hardly noted. If Superman claimed Clark Kent's wife was merely his friend, no one would doubt it wasn't true.

And again, Lois thought, he's not lying.

Emil carried out his testing with some trepidation, consulting in private with a physician friend who was ignorant of Emil's subject's identity. He was an unusual subject to be sure, but not too terribly out of the human ballpark. The biology was quite close.

But not close enough.

Part of the reason Clark had allowed Emil to study him in the first place was to find out if Clark could conceive a child with a human woman. The answer had been disappointing to Lois, but for Clark it had been a devastating blow. He'd always held in the back of his mind the hope that he could father a child. Emil had dashed that hope to pieces. He explained that maybe, just maybe, if Superman had not been altered by his exposure to the Earth's atmosphere, which gave the Kryptonian people their remarkable powers, it might have been possible. Now, however, he saw no chance.

Those test results had been bad news. The expression on Emil's face as he stood clutching a manila folder and trying not to meet Clark's eyes was similar to the one he'd worn before.

Clark had been pretty tight-lipped about what Emil had found after his first visit regarding the cough. He went back for more tests the next day.

Day three.

"It's malignant."

And Lois' vision went black for a moment, her memory falling back to the day her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Groaning she clutched at Clark's arm and he steadied her as a wave of dizziness made her sway on her feet. When her vision cleared Emil was fumbling in his file. Clark's hand around her arm was practically the only thing holding her upright.

"...most unusual pathology," he said. "Fast growing and nasty. Dr. Krulic has seen the like of it only once before."

"Where?" Clark asked.

Emil met his gaze, clearing his throat uneasily. "Alexander Luthor. Bone cancer. Spread up through his fingers into the hand until it had to be removed, but - you probably knew that."

Lois and Clark looked at each other.

"The ring," she said. "And you're constantly being exposed. Everyone who comes down the pike shoves Kryptonite under your nose hoping to kill you, Lex especially."

"Now Lois, you know you can't prove anything."

"He's a bastard. I don't have to prove anything," Lois muttered angrily.

Clark ignored her, turning his attention back to Hamilton. "So could repeated exposure to Kryptonite radiation have caused this?"

"Most definitely. The biopsy revealed high levels of toxicity. Superman, I wish I had better news for you, but I don't think traditional treatments will..."

Nodding, Clark cut him off with a raised hand. "It's all right, Emil. I'm aware of that."

There was an awkward silence.

Lois straightened herself, and pulled away from Clark to go to the sink where she turned on the water to splash some on her face. It was cool, very cool, but did little to quell the burning ache she was feeling inside.

He's not just sick, he's dying.

The Wicked Witch had arrived, and her name was carcinoma.

The bitch.

"Lo," Clark said softly.

She raised her head. Emil was gone. They were alone in the elderly researcher's lab, where bits and piece of copper wire and glass tubing lay scattered about among vials of mysterious substances. Hand written notes on small bits of paper dotted the landscape like pale winged butterflies.

"You okay?"

Lois made an assessment and came up with nothing. She was numb. It was over, all over. She should have known better than to fall in love with him. She should have never let herself get so emotionally vested. Staring down at the diamonds and gold upon her finger, she rued the day she'd ever said, "I do."

Her hands were shaking. She twisted the ring nervously around and around on her finger as she moved away to pace back and forth along the length of Emil's work table.

"Lois, talk to me, please?" Clark intercepted her, clutching at her shoulders. "It's okay," he whispered. "Everything is going to be okay."

Her voice was a shrill counterpoint to his. "I don't see how. Tell me how, Clark. Huh? You think about what Emil just told us and you tell me how everything is going to be okay!"

He'd promised not to lie to her.

A sob caught in her throat as she fell into his arms and held him as tightly as she possibly could. His silence had said it all.


They fought. Lois took refuge in anger, making demands. Superman was finished. She didn't want him going out anymore. People were just going to have to do without the Man of Steel, just like they had before he came.

Clark refused to listen to her, but she pressed the issue. She nagged and bitched, following him around the apartment yelling at him and not giving a damn about who heard her. It didn't matter anymore anyway if the world knew Clark and Superman were the same person. When he was gone, nobody would care.

He rarely lost his temper. She goaded him into it; pick, pick, picking until he turned around and screamed at her.

"I'm not going to just sit around waiting to die!" His expression was hard, Superman most serious. "Wallowing in self pity when I could be out there..." He waved a hand toward the window and the city beyond. "Doing what I can in the time I have left."

"And what about our time?"

Clark's jaws were clamped tight as he struggled not to raise his voice again. "You accepted what I am when you married me. You accepted the fact that I can't always be here for you. In sickness and in health."

"Till death do us part," Lois spat. "I read the damn lines, Clark."

She raised a hand to her face and rubbed her eyes.

"Don't think," he murmured. "That I don't want to spend every second with you, Lo, because I do. I so...do. But I can't give quarter with this. I can't let it change me, because the minute I do, I'm dead."

Lois stared into his eyes, and felt as if her heart would burst.

"I love you," she whispered.

"I know."

"I only yell because I'm scared."

"I know."

"And because you took my cigarettes," Lois sniffed. "Damnit, Clark. I hate this. There's got to be something we can do! I don't want to lose you without a fight. I won't lose you without a fight."

Clark tipped his head, grinning wryly. "That's my girl." He moved slowly toward her until he was pressing her up against the wall next to their bedroom door. Thus pinned, she found herself being kissed once, then twice, and her blouse being unbuttoned.

"Clark."

"Mmm?"

Lois' anger melted away as he ran his fingers around the lower edge of her bra to the back. She sighed as he unhooked it. Her lips quirked in a small smile.

"Do you get horny when I yell at you?"

His tongue traced the curve of her throat to her mouth, where he kissed her. "Yes," he breathed. "Let's continue this argument in the bedroom."

"I don't believe you're thinking about sex right now." Annoyed, Lois shoved at him, squirming but unable to get away. "Fool."

His hair tickled her breasts. She felt his laughter as much as she heard it. When he looked up at her again he had mischief in his eyes.

"Weren't you just saying you wanted to spend more time with me?"

"Yes." She dug her fingers into his hips. "But this isn't - ooh! - exactly what I meant."

Laughing, Lois allowed herself to be propelled, inhumanly fast, into the bedroom and onto the bed. Clark smiled at her, shrugging out of his shirt and unbuttoning his pants. Beneath his suit was another and while he shed it, Lois shimmied out of her own slacks and underwear. Her bra and blouse were AWOL in the living room.

He lay half atop her, his hands on her breasts and his thigh pressed between her legs in a most sensitive place. She rose into him, her mouth finding his as they kissed long and deep. Her eyes closed. Her hands ran down his sides.

His ribs heaved. Their kiss broke off with Clark's gasp and a round of sharp sounding coughs from deep inside him. Lois stroked his back as he struggled, wrapping her arms around him as he shuddered and gasped against her rolling away onto his back. He lay there panting for some time before Lois propped herself up on one elbow beside him.

He sighed, looking up at her with a pained expression. "Sorry."

Lois rested her head on his chest. His heart beat was a little thready, a little fast.

"Just hold me," she said.


She was considered the closest thing to a First Lady the country had at the moment. Lex Luthor was unmarried, the position unfilled, so his VP's wife stepped into the role of the White House chatelaine. She handled the job very well.

Lois had caught a red-eye flight from Metropolis to D.C., sneaking out under her husband's nose immediately after he'd left on his "rounds." As far as Perry knew she was off investigating a new lead and would dutifully inform Clark of such when Clark made his inevitable inquiries. She had not told Perry exactly where she was going. "Out of town" would suffice.

She was strung out on coffee and lack of sleep. Wearing jeans, a cotton shirt, and her hair pulled back in a scrunchy, she hardly looked human let alone very professional. Her press pass got her into the White House itself. Dropping her own name and a few others eventually got her an audience with the Vice President's wife.

As horrible as she felt and probably looked in comparison to the impeccably groomed Mrs. Ross, Lois couldn't help feeling a little surge of superiority when Lana walked into the room.

He chose me, nyah, nyah.

But she quickly wilted beneath Lana's pretty smile and perfectly refined manners. One would never have known this elegant woman had been born and raised among the cornfields of Smallville, Kansas. Clark still retained a certain amount of country kid naivet, even at the ripe old age of forty. Lana didn't.

She maintained her youth from a bottle too, Lois noted. There was no gray threading Lana's dark hair, and her skin was still as smooth and clear as that of a girl half her age. Her stunning beauty made Lois look...

Old and frumpy.

"Lois!" Lana smiled and motioned for Lois to sit, which she did. "What a pleasant surprise."

Translation: Oh, God, it's you. What do you want?

Lois dove right in and got straight to the point. "I need to talk to your boss. I want to meet with Lex."

Anyone else would have laughed outright at Lois' gall and told her to piss off. Lana simply switched from exaggerated smile to exaggerated frown. That she was miffed at Lois for using her was evident in the slight narrowing of her eyes, but Lana was not one to let her irritation show, particularly in front of Lois.

"Lex doesn't give interviews."

"So I've been told, repeatedly. This isn't an interview."

"Oh?" Lana quirked a brow and laced her perfectly manicured fingers across her knee. "What is it then?"

Lois gritted her teeth. "I have an inquiry of a personal nature."

She has been hoping the meeting with Lana would go more smoothly, ending with Lana saying "yes" to her request simply to get Lois out of her hair. Unfortunately Lana seemed to be doing her impersonation of the Spanish Inquisition instead. Lois could tell she wasn't going to get through to Lex without passing Lana's dogged scrutiny and if she latched on to the fact that Lois' purpose could possibly have anything to do with...

"Is this about Clark?"

Lois groaned silently to herself. Lana was one of only a handful of people who knew Clark's connection to Superman. Those who knew, including Lois herself, tended to be extremely protective of him. Lois got the distinct impression that Lana feared she would betray Clark to Lex somehow. It infuriated her how Lana could not accept the fact that someone besides herself could be so loyal to Clark and thus keep his secrets. She'd never admitted defeat either. Although happily married with children, Lana still considered Clark her one true love and no one could possibly love him as much as she did.

Delusional bitch.

"No," Lois lied. "It's not.

Lana didn't believe her, it was obvious. Lois didn't give a flying flip if Lana believed her or not, as long as she got her in to see Lex.

"I see," Lana said. "Does he know you're here?"

"What's with the questions? I thought I was the reporter."

The younger woman's lips tightened over her teeth. Lois was pushing her buttons.

"Look," Lois leaned forward, resting her elbows on her knees. "Why I want to speak with Lex is none of your business. Your business is getting me in to see him. If that takes you running to my husband and tattling my whereabouts to him, then go right ahead and call him up."

Lois was smug. The word "husband" rubbed Lana the wrong way, as did the invitation to give Clark a call. Clark purposely avoided Lana like the plague for several different reasons, but chief among them was due to Lana's obvious dislike for his wife. When Lana and Lois locked horns, Clark almost always backed Lois. Lana, he admitted, was a sore loser and it bothered him.

*"If she really loved me*, Lois, like I love her, she'd be happy for me. I was ecstatic when she married Pete!"

"Do you love her, Clark?"

"Not like I love you."

"Smart answer. I don't think I'll divorce you today."

Lana rose from her chair. "Wait here. I'll see what I can do."

Lois smirked at Lana's stiff departure.

Loser.


The life of the President of the United States was treating Lex Luthor very well. He'd always been a big man, not as big as Clark of course, but tall, broad shouldered and lean. He'd filled out a little during his six years in office. A little heftier, but in obvious good health, he painted the picture of a contented mother hen sitting on a clutch of eggs.

Plump and broody, Lois thought as she took a seat opposite the huge marble topped desk. He's got it made, and nobody but me and Clark realize that a fox lurks beneath that fluffy exterior. He takes good care of this country, but he's getting fat off of us, too.

She'd hoped to meet with him somewhere besides the Oval Office, knowing it was bugged to the nines, but beggars couldn't afford to be choosers.

Lex was, as usual, quietly cool. His voice was much lower than she remembered, his eyes more blue. He regarded her with the confidence of a man who feared nothing and who could easily handle any situation presented him. He'd proven it time and time again, too. Even Superman didn't worry him that much anymore. He still took the occasional pot shot at him, but only if Clark got in his way. Otherwise they battled a cold war, silently hating each other from afar.

At least Lex did. Clark's feelings were a little more ambiguous.

"The last person I expected to see cross my threshold this morning was you, Ms. Lane." He quirked one pale brow. "Or should I call you Mrs. Kent?"

"You can call me anything you want, I don't particularly care." Lois leaned back in her chair, crossing her legs before her. "Mr. President."

His lips twitched. He was amused by her. He always had been. "I'll be Lex. You be Lois. It'll be just like old times."

"Feeling nostalgic? Shall I call Superman in to do some ass kicking then?"

"I think that's a rather ballsy comment for someone requesting an audience with the President."

Lois did too and was kicking herself for it, but she didn't miss a beat when she made her reply. "I thought you were just Lex right now."

There was a pause, then Lex smiled. "Touch," he leaned back himself, steepling his fingers together as he regarded her solemnly from across the expanse of his desk. "I was told this was off the record."

"It is."

"So I'm intrigued. What could Lois Lane possibly want from me that would be 'off the record?' I was unaware that you even knew the meaning of the term."

Lois gathered herself together and met his gaze. "I want to know about your cancer."

It wasn't what he'd been expecting, she could tell. There was the barest flicker of a glance toward his right hand, which, thanks to modern technology, was completely unidentifiable as artificial. He grew slightly suspicious as he sat up again and leaned forward over his desk.

"Concerned for my health?" he smirked. "I can assure you that I'm perfectly healthy. The cancer has been gone for seven years now with no sign of return."

"I want to know how you cured it, and don't deny that you didn't, Lex, because I have it on good authority that your doctors were baffled."

"Illustrating a distinct disregard for patient confidentiality," Lex growled. Heads were going to roll, but Lois didn't care. She'd sacrifice a few medical professionals to save Clark if she had to, especially ones who did betray their patients rights.

"I also know it wasn't a normal carcinoma. It was something never seen before, virtually untreatable with standard practices, and yet you - cured it - almost over night. How?"

A note of desperation must have crept into her voice. Lex was looking at her carefully, studying her face and eyes, trying to read between the lines. He was as good at it as any investigative reporter; it was how he had always stayed one step of the story that would expose the truth about him.

He was not a very nice man.

Which explained the very chilling smile that gradually spread across his face.

"Superman," he breathed.

Lois squirmed, then made the decision as to who she was going to throw down on the table. It couldn't be Superman. Lex would let Superman die.

"No," she said quietly. "It's Clark."

The smile vanished. "Clark?"

"Clark. He was diagnosed a couple weeks ago. It's the same stuff you had."

Lex pushed himself back from his desk and stood up, coming around to lean against the front of it, closer to Lois' chair. "They're sure?"

She nodded, waging battle with a flood of tears threatening to break loose. She would not cry in front of this man if she could help it. If she showed any weakness, he would shred her. Her greatest fear was that he would blackmail her into betraying Superman in exchange for the information she needed. What would she do then?

Inhaling deeply, she replied, "They found a tumor in his right lung, close to his heart. They can't operate. It's unresponsive to medication..."

"And radiation," Lex murmured. "Lois, I'm sorry."

Lois jerked her head up to look at him. "Are you?"

She instantly saw that he was. Aside from the fact "Clark" picked at him by snooping into his business and was a staunch supporter of Superman, Lex held very little animosity toward his old friend. Of course if he knew the truth it would be a different story. If Lex Luthor ever discovered the fact that Clark Kent was Superman, he'd be enraged to the point he'd disregard his benign "cover" and declare an all out war.

Quite possibly destroying us all in the process.

"I am," Lex said softly. "But I can't help you, Lois. The cure I discovered was a fluke. I'd been doing some 'housekeeping' at the time, fully believing that I was going to die, when I came across an old project of my father's. He'd been searching for a cure for his own disease. The research had been completed, but not in time to save him. When I cleared out the lab I discovered, still frozen in its container, one vial of the serum." He shrugged. "I had nothing to lose so I injected myself with it."

Lois wavered between feeling deflated and hopeful. The serum was gone but...

"You said the research had been completed. You can make more."

Lex shook his head. "I wish I could. That's any researchers dream, isn't it? To find a cure for one of the most insidious of all diseases. Unfortunately the primary ingredient in the formula is a substance derived from a blood sample of unknown origin. To the best of my knowledge it cannot be reproduced."

Closing her eyes, Lois let out a sob. Her control was slipping. "Can I have the notes?" She whispered. "Please?"

Now was the time when Lex would make his demand, letting her know what he wanted in return for his assistance. She pushed herself out of her chair and stood up, opening her eyes again to meet his gaze.

They stared at each other for a long time before Lex quietly nodded.

Lois let out a sigh of relief. "Thank you."

He turned around and went to his computer. "Don't thank me. You owe me, Lois, and trust me, that's not a place you will like being."

"I love my husband, Lex."

At her words, he shot her a glance, and his expression softened. "He's a good man."

Lois wiped at her eyes, nodding.

Far better than you will ever know.


Lois slept on the plane. Clutched in a death grip upon in her lap was a thick file folder full of notes from Lionel Luthor's "Adam" project. She dreamed of falling and woke with a start when the airplane began making its final descent. In her dream there was no Superman to catch her.

The cabbie was listening to the news. That's how she learned about the wildfires in California. She thought nothing of it at first. There were always fires out west during the summer when lightning sparked dry tinder into raging infernos. These, however, had threatened homes and lives, and a call had gone out for assistance. From the skies over Metropolis to the smoke choked skies over San Bernadino, Superman had come to the rescue. He dug trenches, started backfires, and with his powerful cold breath had finally just blown the fire out.

Lois hit the door running, bursting into the apartment with a bang, and flinging her bags and the precious notes onto the sofa. Her heart was racing.

"Clark!"

She rushed for the bedroom.

"Oh God!"

He was sprawled face down on the floor, the singed red cape pooling around his body like fresh blood. The scent of smoke was strong as Lois dropped to her knees beside him. She had no idea how long he'd been back.

"Clark, hey!"

Her fingers slipped off the tight cloth of his costume as she struggled to roll him over. He flinched and started coughing, doubling up into a fetal ball as spasm after spasm wracked his body and he struggled to catch his breath. The sound of the coughing had changed, becoming a liquid rattle deep in his chest. There was blood on his lips.

"Lo..."

"Shut up. Don't talk," Lois grunted as she helped him sit up. He still coughed, but the position was helping him breathe better. "Easy, shhh. Easy."

Lois knelt beside him, pulling his head close to her chest as he leaned heavily against her. Gradually the coughing subsided, but she could hear his breath rasp in his throat, shallow and gurgling. She rocked him back and forth until she could feel him start to relax.

"You pushed it."

He nodded. "I had to."

Lois sighed. "Too bad you don't have a super bladder. You could have pissed out the fire."

Clark laughed. It made him cough again.

When he settled once more she helped him shower and change, and then put him to bed. They lay there together going over the notes Lex had given her. Clark read them through before commenting but Lois could see in his eyes a growing despair.

"This is useless," he murmured.

"Why? Because of the unknown element?"

"Yes, but it's not an unknown element." Clark rolled over onto his back, staring up at the ceiling with his hands upon his chest. One rubbed small circles just over his heart. Lois wondered if he were in pain.

"You know the source?"

He turned his head to look at her. "I'm the source. Lionel got hold of a sample of my blood. He made the serum using platelets from my blood, and it did serve as a temporary cure. He must have continued the research after the failure with Adam."

"Emil said the cancer is exactly the same as what Lex had, Clark. The serum could cure you, human or not. Maybe a kick start from a dose of your healthy blood would be just what you need to beat this."

Clark reached out a hand to touch her face, pushing her hair back with his fingers, illustrating how gentle he could be despite his ability to bend steel bars.

"Ah," he whispered. "But there's the rub. Where are you going to get a healthy blood sample? I have none to provide."

Lois' hope sputtered and died. She collapsed into his arms with a whimper.

"Now wait, don't get upset just yet." Clark gave her shoulders a slight squeeze. "I think I have an idea."


"You'll be tempted to change things - don't." Batman had said. "Time isn't something you can manipulate like that. Whatever you do will cause ripples and as they progress forward those ripples become waves that could possibly destroy life as we know it. Try not to make any ripples."

"Why can't I just go in and take the serum?"

"For one," Clark had answered. "At this stage it's still incomplete. Secondly, that would be a pretty big ripple. Concentrate on getting the blood sample and that's it."

"Right."

"And it's not going to be as easy as you think."

Lois was beginning to realize exactly what they'd meant. She couldn't walk right up to a teenaged Clark Kent and demand a blood sample, she'd scare him out of his wits. It would take earning his trust first.

Who did teenagers trust? Nobody. Especially teenagers from outer space with secret super powers.

A teacher was as close as Lois could come to a trusted adult, and it had been surprisingly easy to get herself hired at Smallville High as a substitute. According to various sources she had very carefully interviewed upon her arrival, the high school was particularly prone to some very odd happenings. People tended to go schitzo, and teachers were either murdered, did murder, or simply fled in terror. School officials were desperate. They'd hire anyone with half way decent intelligence.

Lois found herself teaching history.

How ironic, a time traveler teaching history.

She should have been teaching "future."

It was her first day. She was more than a little nervous as she had not yet actually seen Clark since she'd arrive three days earlier. A quick cruise by the Kent farm revealed to her that it hadn't changed much in twenty-three years, but she'd been uneasy about pulling up into the driveway close enough to get a glimpse of Clark. He proved to be quite elusive.

"What if I run out of time?" she'd fretted.

"You won't, Lois. You'll come back here only minutes after you left, although to you it will seem like much longer." Clark had held her tightly. "I promise I'll be here when you get back."

It wasn't quite true, Batman told her. The portal had a default mechanism to prevent anyone from completely running amok with history. After three weeks in the past she would be automatically brought back to her own time. They could always send her back again, but it was risky. It would be hard to calculate where exactly she'd left.

She glanced at her watch. Hidden inside was a failsafe switch. If she got in trouble, or she simply accomplished her mission, she could trigger her return.

It was also a watch, and according to her time, the bell would be ringing any...

The school bell went off with a loud buzzing wail.

"Minute," Lois murmured.

Outside in the hallway there came the sound of banging doors and loud voices as students poured through the hallways on their way to their classes. The students in Lois' classroom grabbed their books and backpacks and filed from the room in a daze. She'd assigned them reading. She'd bored them to tears.

No wonder I never went into teaching. Of course there is the matter of having a really short fuse too....

Her next class - Clark was in it.

She stood leaning with her butt against the front of her desk, her fingers digging into the edge, as she watched her next group of students pile in through the door. None of them were Clark and she was beginning to wonder if he would actually show up when a pair of young girls caught her eye.

They stood near the door, talking. One waved her hands with some animation. The other was more resigned, clutching her books to her chest and nodding in response to the other girl's speech. One was blonde, the other brunette. Both were pretty. They moved further into the room, taking seats toward the edge of the classroom.

Lois' sharp hearing caught the name, "Adam," and pretending to search through her notes, she edged a little closer.

"...worried about you." The blonde was saying. "And so am I."

"Clark's just jealous." The brunette sniffed. "He had his chance and he blew it. Adam's good to me."

"He's hiding something."

The brunette's voice turned cold. "And so is Clark," she snapped. "Look, I don't want to talk about it any more, Chloe."

"Okay Lana," Chloe said, raising her hands in defeat. "Backing off now."

Lois turned her head, looking back over her shoulder.

Oh, my God. I'd forgotten about Chloe.

Her stomach tied itself up in a knot. She remembered her mother's shock when Uncle Gabe called her with the news.

My poor little cos. If it weren't for you I would have never turned to journalism. I miss you still.

Chloe caught her staring, and stared back with a "what?" sort of expression.

Lois looked away with a slight smile. There was definitely a family resemblance.

She moved to the front of the room again, her eyes flickering over the class looking for Clark. Would she even recognize him? To the best of her knowledge, and his, there were no photographs of him pre-Superman left in existence. He'd destroyed them all after he'd donned the suit and thick, bottle-bottomed glasses. Nobody remembered what he looked like before his transformation. Even Lex never caught on, which had always puzzled Lois.

"Hate can make one blind to the obvious," Clark told her. "And he's never been quite well wrapped, Lois. That's what makes him so dangerous."

"Love can make you blind to the obvious too, but I hope I'm a wrapped a little better."

He had laughed at her.

"That's what makes you so endearing."

Lana sat staring down at her books. Lois felt an unwelcome surge of jealousy and dislike. Here was the younger version who Clark had loved so dearly, before she got bitter and bitchy. She looked sad, and very tired. Lois wondered if she suspected there was truth in Chloe's words but didn't want to admit it.

The second bell rang. Lois walked to the back of the room and shut the door. Nearly all the desks were occupied and there was no one among them who could pass for Clark Kent.

"I'm Ms. Logan," she announced. "I'll be substituting for Mr. Goodman for the next three weeks." As she spoke she walked up to her desk and stopped. "I'm not a tough teacher. I'm not going to rip you to shreds with tests and pile on the projects. I do, however, demand respect. You respect me, and I'll respect you. In other words, I won't put up with any crap. Everybody got it?"

There were murmurs of acknowledgment. Chloe looked amused. Lana wasn't paying attention at all.

Lois moved on to call roll, anxious to determine Clark's whereabouts. When she got to his name there was silence, confirming the fact that he wasn't present.

"Give him a couple of minutes," Chloe piped up.

The class tittered.

So that's what that sounds like.

"He's got tardiness issues?" Lois inquired, trying not to laugh herself.

Chloe nodded. "Biiiiiig ones. I hope you have a good supply of detention slips. He's a regular."

"Duly noted."

Clark appeared at the end of roll call in a less than spectacular presentation. Out of the corner of her eye Lois saw the door open, and a tall, (very tall) lanky boy slipped in through the narrow opening. He slunk over to the closest desk and sat down, bowing his head over his books in a studious fashion, looking as if he would like very much to sink into the floor unnoticed.

The giggling prevented that of course. Even had Lois not seen him it would have drawn her attention. She turned and looked at him.

"Mr. Kent, I presume?"

He looked up at her from beneath shaggy brown bangs, and she found herself melting.

Lois Lane, you dirty old woman.

Clark was nothing short of angelic, with huge hazel eyes and full pouty lips. The angular lines of his alien bone structure were clear and sharp in a face just shy of manhood. All the elements that made up the Clark Kent and Superman Lois knew were there, but all jumbled up and confused in his youthful countenance. He looked completely different from either of them. No wonder he was never recognized.

He spoke in a wavering tenor. "Yes."

"You're late."

"Yes, ma'am. I..."

"Try not to let it happen again, okay?"

Clark blinked, obviously surprised he'd been let off so easily. He didn't say anything else, but bent his head over his books again, his shoulders heaving in a sigh of relief.

Lois started teaching the class. She kept looking at him out of the corner of her eye, once catching him exchanging a beautifully brilliant smile with Chloe. She pleaded with him silently.

Help me to save you.


"I've become a stalker," Lois whispered to herself.

She sat in an over stuffed chair in one corner of the Talon's common room, supposedly grading papers while she sipped her latte. In truth she was watching Clark, observing him like Jane Goodall would study a chimp, trying to figure out what made him tick and how to best insinuate herself upon him. He seemed to have very little on his plate besides making nice with Lana and studying with Chloe and Lana's future husband Pete Ross, V.P.

Watching Pete goof around showing off for a gaggle of cheerleaders while he and Clark waited for their coffee, made Lois wonder how he'd ever managed to collar the more sophisticated Lana Lang. They seemed to be polar opposites at this age, but then, look at herself and Clark; prime examples of the opposites attract theorem.

Clark made a habit out of trying to melt into the woodwork. Both in and out of class he seemed very ordinary, almost too ordinary, as if he were (and this was probably the case) trying too hard. He was quiet, and dull, almost zombie-like. The exception to this was when he was around either Lana or Chloe. Both girls seemed to bring out the personality Lois knew he possessed. His longing desire for Lana was palpable. Chloe was able to get him to smile.

Lois realized immediately that Chloe and Clark had a definite chemistry and it made her sad, a little jealous, and achingly homesick. It made her understand at least part of Clark's almost immediate crush on her, when he'd first walked into the 'Planet and one look stopped him in his tracks. Maybe it wasn't conscious, but Lois reminded him of Chloe. He had been looking for what he'd lost, and it wasn't Lana Lang.

She turned her attention to the paper she was grading. It was Clark's. She'd been staring at it for a half an hour, the familiarity of his atrocious handwriting comforting her. She missed her Clark. That he was so close but yet so far away from her was painful, and despite Batman's reassurances, she feared that somewhere in time he was dying alone.

"You look like you could use some company."

Lois started, jerking her head up to look at the man who addressed her from above. A pale, slim hand emerging from the sleeve of a long black coat presented her with a fresh latte. He sat down across from her with the flowing grace of a dancer and regarded her with some amusement through blue eyes the color of spring rain. He was unnervingly more handsome than the rather jowly version she knew.

"I don't necessarily want your company," Lois blurted before she could stop herself. She shuffled Clark's paper to the bottom of the stack and took up her red pen.

"My reputation precedes me."

"I'm busy."

"Stalking Clark Kent?" he asked archly. He sipped his drink and smiled. "It's a hobby we have in common."

Lois bristled. "I'm not stalking anyone."

"You seem to be fixing Clark with some rather intense stares. Truly, if you're going to spy on him, you need to be a little less obvious. I spotted you from a mile away."

Putting down her pen, Lois fixed him with an intense stare. "And what's it to you Mr. Luthor?"

"Clark's my friend."

"Your obsession."

"That too." He grinned again. It was unnerving. In the future he did very little grinning and when he did, it was usually full of foreboding. "I have my reasons for finding Clark intriguing. What are yours? Don't tell me you have a problem with pedophilia."

"Takes one to know one."

Lex rolled his gaze in Clark's direction, sizing the boy up very carefully before turning back to Lois. "He's cute, not my type. You on the other hand..."

Irritated, Lois started gathering up her things and putting them into her bag. "I have better things to do than to sit here being insulted."

"Insulted? Hmm. I thought I was hitting on you, Lois."

She froze.

"My name is Lori," she said finally, forcing her voice to be calm. "Lori Logan."

Leaning forward, Lex cocked his head up at her, regarding her with those intently blue eyes. "You know, the funny thing about time travel, Lois, is that it breaks all the rules. Different technologies produce different results."

Slowly, she met his gaze. "I don't know what you're talking about."

He smiled, again. "Right at this moment, twenty-odd years in the future, the President of the United States is hidden away in the White House sedated to the gills so the younger version occupying his body doesn't blow a mental gasket." With a shrug he added as an afterthought, "Not to mention make a royal mess of the time stream."

"You bastard."

"No, I assure you my parents were married at the time of my conception." Lex sipped his coffee. "Hmm. I have to say Lana's coffee brewing skills have definitely improved."

Lois sagged into her chair. "What are you doing here?"

"Helping you." He sat up and nodded toward Clark. "You'll never get close to him. He's as tightly wound as a spring and locked up tighter than Fort Knox." His voice lowered to a whisper. "I always suspected that sample came from Clark. You've now proven it."

When she didn't reply he moved in for the kill.

"Clark is Superman, isn't he?"

Lois stared into his eyes and lied to him. "You're grasping at straws."

"You tell me the truth, Lois, or I'll make sure you never get what you're looking for. I'll make sure he's so scared of you he'll cut class every day and cross to the other side of the street when you walk by."

"I'm telling the truth."

"You're telling me a goddamn lie. Is it worth losing him?"

She leaned forward, her voice a hiss. "If Clark were Superman, do you think I'd hand him over to you like that? He's dead either way, Lex because I know you'd never let Superman live if you had him in your crosshairs."

"What an unbecoming opinion you have of me."

Lois smirked. "That's the truth isn't it? And you don't know for sure that sample came from Clark himself. It's possible it came from another source, a source that Clark is keeping hidden from you. He's not stupid, Lex. He doesn't trust you as much as you think he does." She paused. "But he does care for you, even now. So you ask yourself if he's worth losing just to test some half-baked theory that he and Superman are the same person."

Lex's mouth twitched. He frowned.

Checkmate, you son-of-a-bitch.

"Well, Lex? Are you going to help me or not?"


"If you've had access to time travel before, why haven't you tried changing things?"

"What makes you think I haven't? Time isn't something you can easily screw around with, Lois. It's a very intricate game, and my technology, unlike whatever mechanism sent you back, is more limited."

"You're tied to your physical body, which can't be moved around the time stream like mine."

"Exactly. I am very limited as to what I can do without risking my own safety."

"Which is, of course, of utmost importance. Never mind you could be destroying the lives of others."

"I'm not stupid, Lois. Devious maybe, but not stupid."

"I sense disapproval," Lois stated, looking at her companion out of the corner of her eye.

Clark squirmed in his seat and blushed. "The last time Lex dated one of my teachers, it turned out kinda badly."

They were sitting in the Kent's' truck in the long curving driveway of Lex's Smallville mansion. Lex had asked Clark to drive Lois back to her boarding house after the two of them supposedly had spent the day together. Lex was being very careful about making it well known Lori Logan and he were having an affair. When the Lex from this timeline returned, he wouldn't know anything about it, and that could be awkward. If only Clark knew, it could be easily swept under the rug. Clark was a little "odd" anyway and that Lex took him with a grain of salt when he came up with tall tales.

The "she needs a ride home and I'm busy" excuse also allowed Lois to get Clark alone, which was the real purpose behind the fictional affair. Lex had already assured Clark that Lori was no Desiree Atkins. Lois was becoming a popular teacher. She'd met the parents at an open house. Clark was beginning to trust her, or so she hoped.

"We share a common interest in Greek history," Lois said. "Perfectly harmless."

Clark nodded as he put the truck in gear. It was odd to see him driving, he rarely did. As Clark Kent he took taxis in the city. As Superman he flew everywhere. She'd never known he actually possessed a driver's license until they'd gotten married and he'd had to show identification at the registrar's office.

Of course it was actually odd seeing him - period. He was, as Lex mentioned, wound up tighter than a watch spring. The air of confidence he had as an adult was sorely lacking from this youthful version, and his mind seemed perpetually lost in the clouds. Her Clark was always carefully calculating his every move. This Clark was blundering through life in the dark, only occasionally stumbling back onto the right path. He was an exile in a world not his own and was desperately trying to figure out where he fit into the greater scheme of things. It made him endearing, but knowing his secret as Lois did, also somewhat frightening.

He's like a powder keg about to blow. No wonder Lex treats him with kid gloves. Even if he doesn't know the truth, he can probably sense the danger.

"Smallville can be a weird place, Ms. Logan," Clark said. "Sometimes stuff that looks harmless, isn't."

Like you?

He glanced over at her. "Or should I say Mrs. Logan?"

Lois frowned. "It's Ms."

"You're married though," he said. "Or do you wear a wedding ring just for fun?"

Lois looked down at her hand where the conglomeration of diamonds and gold winked at her in the waning afternoon sunlight. The ring was made up of both her engagement ring and her wedding ring, fused together after their honeymoon. Clark's heat vision could be very precise when he wanted it to be.

"We're separated," she whispered, using his trick of lying without lying.

"The last woman Lex - dated - had an ex who came back to cause trouble."

"You really don't like me seeing him do you?"

Clark paused, then said, "No, I don't."

"You want to tell me why?" Lois asked, reaching out to brace herself as the truck bumped over a pothole. Clark could drive, but he was rather haphazard about it.

"Lex is my friend."

"Why do I sense an 'and' coming up?"

He nodded, "And you aren't who you say you are."

The glance he shot at her was one hundred percent Superman. It took her a little off guard. It was a look he had never given her before. She was a suspect.

Lois wasn't sure whether to be irritated with Clark, or Lex, who should have known Clark would be suspicious. Then again, Lex tended to dismiss Clark's loyal nature. Even when Lex was at his worst, Clark still tended to go easy on him. By putting herself together with Lex, Lois had indeed gotten closer to Clark - she was now under his radar.

"Have you been looking into my background?"

"I asked Chloe to dig around a little, yes."

Oomph! There's the problem. Chloe. The wild card.

"There's no Lori Logan anywhere with your credentials, so either you made up the credentials, or you made up the name. Either way, you aren't who you say you are and I'm not going to let Lex get burnt again. Besides," he added. "You're old enough to be his mother."

"Well I'd rather be dating you, Clark, but I have no desire to be thrown in the Smallville jail for statutory rape. Orange is just not my color."

The truck wavered a little on the road as he turned to stare at her. He was mad. Young Clark Kent had a shorter fuse than the grown up version.

"I'm kidding," she said. "Okay, you're right. I'm not who I say I am. I'm actually a time traveler. I come from a place twenty-three years into your future on a mission to save the life of my dying husband."

"Yeah, I'm believing that," Clark snorted. "This is Smallville, not the Twilight Zone"

"From what I've heard there isn't much difference."

He laughed slightly. "Do you expect me to actually believe you?"

"No, that's why I went ahead and told you." Lois watched him as he shook his head and smiled to himself. He was positively adorable. "You don't believe me?"

"I don't believe you," he said. After a moment he added, "So in this future world of yours, I suppose the Earth is overrun by aliens."

Tricky little brat, he's keeping an open mind isn't he?

"Just one, like now."

Clark drove the truck off the road, slamming on the brakes just shy of tipping it nose first into the ditch. Dust flew up around them from the vehicle's slide down the berm, causing Lois to cough while the engine sputtered and went dead. She waved her hand in front of her face to clear the air.

When she could breathe again, Lois found herself sitting in the silence staring at Clark's surprised expression. He hastily arranged it into something less surprised, and tried to start the truck again. It flooded. He turned the key off.

"Sorry," he mumbled. "This is just a farm truck. Nothing fancy and futuristic."

"Like you're just a farm boy?"

His temper flared again. "What's that supposed to mean?"

"You tell me."

"You know, if this is another one of Lex's little games to try to get some sort of admission out of me, I'm not playing. I don't have anything to tell him and I don't appreciate being set up."

"A minute ago you were defending him," Lois pointed out. "But now that the tables are turned and someone is poking into your business, you get defensive. To me, that screams 'I'm hiding something' all over the place. You've got to learn not to react, Clark, it paints a big bulls eye on your backside."

He fumed in silence.

"I'm not trying to pry," Lois said quietly. "Okay. Lex is trying to help me get closer to you, but not for his own purposes. I asked him to help me. You're right not to trust him entirely, though, Clark. You can still be friends with him, but watch your back."

The absolute misery written all over his face told her that he'd already learned that lesson the hard way, and hated it. There was nothing worse than caring about someone and finding out they can't be trusted. It was a hard lesson to learn, especially for Clark, who still tended to be overly optimistic when it came to the human race. Whether it was because he wasn't human himself, or a result of how over protective the Kents had been when he was a child, Lois didn't know. Clark always wanted to see the good in everyone. Maybe that's why he put up with a lot of her crap too.

"How much do you know about Adam Knight?" Lois asked quietly.

Clark raised an eyebrow. He was a lot more comfortable talking about someone besides himself.

"Not much, why?"

"Do you know about the serum?"

He hesitated, still not trusting her. "It's keeping him alive," he admitted. "I know that much."

Lois nodded. "It has the potential to be an amazing cure, Clark, but not at this time, in another."

"Your time," he said skeptically.

"My time," Lois said softly. "And someone very dear to me is in need of it."

She stared at him, wanting to reach out and hold him because regardless of his youth, he was still the man she loved with all her being. Tears filled her eyes and she turned her gaze down toward her hands. She didn't need to take her ring off to know what it said inside the band.

Forever yours, K.

The letter K. People thought it stood for "Kent" but it didn't.

"I love you, Lois. Not Clark. Not Superman. Me. Who I am, really, because you're the only one who has ever truly accepted all of me."

This boy who sat beside her now, this was the person she loved. There was no Clark Kent, nor Superman, only a lost alien child trying to learn who to trust.

Clark's hands tightened around the steering wheel. After a moment he leaned over and started it again, carefully backing up onto the road. He put it in gear and continued on his way toward town.

"So you want me to steal some of the serum."

"No."

"No?" He looked at her. His voice grew soft. "You're crying."

Lois shrugged. "It's been a long day." She cleared her throat and addressed the dashboard. "The serum is useless to me. I need a sample of the blood platelets that give it its healing abilities."

She felt his eyes moving from the road, to her, and back again. "And you think I can get you what you need?"

"Yes."

Falling silent, Clark concentrated on driving for a while. Lois watched from the corner of one eye as he fought an internal struggle with himself. It wasn't evident in his expression, but rather the stiffness of his shoulders and the tight line of his jaw.

He didn't speak again until they pulled up to a stop in front of Lois' rooming house.

"I have to have time to think about it," he said.

"You have another week," Lois replied, she met his gaze when he turned to look at her.

"Why? What happens in a week?"

"I have to go back."

There was a significant pause. "And if I say no, I won't help you?"

"Have you ever seen anyone die of cancer, Clark?" Lois whispered. "Someone you love?"

He looked pained. "No."

"Well I have." Her voice broke, tears ran down her cheeks. "And this time, if he dies, I won't be the only one mourning."

Lois fumbled for the door, pushing down the handle and rushing out onto the sidewalk. She couldn't stand to look at him anymore.


Lex stood near the doorway of her room, indolently lounging around as if he didn't have a care in the world, and in truth, he didn't.

"Well?"

"He's thinking about it," Lois put her face in her hands and collapsed onto the couch. "And I don't know what I'll do if he says, no." She sighed. "Go back and try again I guess."

"If he says no now, Lois, he'll say no every time. Have you considered the fact that Clark is meant to die, and you being here is an entirely futile waste of time?"

She stood up, pacing the floor. The boarding house was a non-smoking building or she would have been sucking on a butt as she paced. Waiting was not Lois Lane's forte. She growled as she passed him, discounting his theory. He finally caught her and drew her to a halt, his eyes meeting hers.

"You could stay," he said quietly. "Here." With an ever-so-gentle touch, he soothed away the remnants of tears beneath her eyes. "Start over. Think of it Lois, you'd have the accumulated wisdom of over forty years of living housed in the body you had as a youth, and an entirely new future ahead of you."

"Lex..."

"Clark might live. If time were altered he may never get sick, nor would I. We know what causes the disease, the Kryptonite. If we eradicated it before it could do any harm to people, Clark would be safe."

"And Superman might never come to exist too, is that it?" Lois started to pull away from him but he held her tight.

"It would be your sacrifice, Lois. Do you love Clark enough to stay here if it meant saving his life?"

"It wouldn't be his life if time were altered. He might not be who he is now." Lois' cheeks grew warm with anger. "You were the one who said it was dangerous to alter time."

"It is."

"And when we reach the point in the future when we go mad, when our younger selves are brought forward and trapped inside what they will be?"

He smiled. "That time may never come if we alter history. If Clark lives, what point is there in our coming back here? The path will have split, and we'll have created our own, new timeline."

Lois couldn't tear her eyes from his face. "You're serious."

"Very serious, and Lois, think of Clark. Think of how much you love him. What if you could be with him starting now, instead of halfway through adulthood? You're in college now, right? You could relocate, come to Smallville until Clark is old enough to go with you to Metropolis. You're young, and pretty, and it would be nothing for such a girl, with the mind of grown woman, to take him away from Lana."

She found herself holding her breath as he kissed her forehead as if in benediction. The warmth of his lean, hard body close to hers was as seductive as his words. She trembled. He kissed her neck.

"You could make him into anything you wanted, Lois."

I could. I could make him better than Superman - or not. I could find another way for him to use his powers for good, one that wouldn't take him away from me all the time.

I could stop Lex from doing all that he's done.

I could save my Chloe....

"And if that failed," Lex was saying. "You'd always have me." He slipped a hand inside her blouse. "Forever."

Lois shoved him away from her as hard as she could, retreating until her calves met with the coffee table. Lex staggered backward, but kept his footing, his expression filled with wry humor. Lois wasn't amused.

"You snake! You goddamn snake!" she growled. "Don't you ever touch me again!"

"What's the matter, Lois? Were you tempted?" Lex laughed. "Don't answer that, I already know." He walked around the room, keeping his eyes on her the whole time. "Clark's sick, huh? Maybe you haven't had the pleasure of a man's company lately. Come to think of it, Clark isn't much of a man anyway. Maybe that's why you spend a lot of time with a certain well-endowed alien."

I wonder how big of a ripple in time I'd create if I stabbed him in the heart with a knife right now?

Lex cocked his head and looked at her innocently. "Lois, I'm beginning to wonder about your motives here. Is your intent really to save Clark's life, or do you have a darker purpose? Maybe you're here to make sure he does die, so you and Superman can continue your little fling. Is that why Superman isn't here too? I'm sure he wouldn't approve, nor would Clark. Maybe I should tell him the identity of your poor suffering husband."

He started toward the door. Panicked, Lois blurted out the first thing that came to her.

"How do you know Superman isn't here?"

Lex paused. He looked over his shoulder.

"Uh-huh," Lois continued shakily. "You don't know."

His scowl deepened. Lois gained momentum.

"Remember what I said, Lex. It's not Clark, but maybe someone he's protecting. I can extrapolate too you know. Maybe Superman did come back with me. He can hardly show up dressed in spandex and flying around like a crop duster now can he? You don't know what he looks like out of that get-up. He could be anybody. So I wouldn't fuck with me Lex, and I sure as hell wouldn't fuck with Clark or maybe Superman will decide it's time to repay him for his protection all these years."

"You're bluffing."

"You want to risk finding out?"

Lex started to respond, but was interrupted by a knock on the door. Lois smirked at the brief look of panic that flickered across his features before he realized Superman probably wouldn't have knocked.

He turned and opened the door himself.

"Oh," Clark said, startled. His face turned bright pink. "I'm sorry, I didn't...I mean...I can..."

"It's all right, Clark. I was just leaving," Lex said quietly. "Ms. Logan and I have concluded our business." He bowed slightly, shot Lois a nasty glare, and breezed out of the room with his coat-tails flapping like one of Satan's winged minions.

Clark was not happy. He shut the door and faced Lois. "I thought you didn't trust him."

"I don't."

"Then why was he here? What did you tell him?"

"I told him to get lost," Lois snapped. Her hands were shaking. She had been tempted, and the fact that she could be, frightened her. "Why are you here?"

Clark hesitated. He put his hands in his pockets and faced her with a cool expression. "No," he said. "Especially now that I've seen you with him again. My answer is no, Ms. Logan. I won't help you, because frankly, I don't believe you."

Lois felt as if the floor had just dropped out from under her. She looked at him and pictured him as she'd found him just a few days before, lying unconscious on their bedroom floor, barely breathing.

"No," she gasped. "No, Clark. Please don't..."

He ignored her, turning on his heel to go back out the door.

"Please!" Lois caught him by one elbow. "Clark! God, you don't understand. I need that blood. You can't do this!"

"Yes I can, and I will." He shook off her hand and glared at her. "I don't believe you."

"Don't you care?" she shouted. "I'm telling you the truth, damnit! Only you can get me what I need to save my husband's life, and if you walk out that door you'll be committing murder. Is that what you want on your conscience for the rest of your life?"

With his hand on the doorknob, Clark stopped. He didn't turn around.

"I'm a proud woman," Lois said softly. "Sometimes I let that get in my way. I'm not one to beg, but I'm begging you. Don't walk out that door. Please."

His head turned. She saw only his profile, and in it she saw the man he'd become.

She cleared her throat, but her voice was still husky with emotion. "I know you. I know you don't like peas, and have a weakness for Saturday morning cartoons. I know how much you love Lana. More than that, I know what you are and what you'll be."

This time he turned around to face her, his expression one of mixed fear and confusion.

"What I am, and will be? What is that then?"

"A good man." Lois wiped the tears from her cheeks with the back of one hand. "I swear on everything I hold dear, Clark, that I didn't tell Lex anything that would hurt you now or in the future. I swear that there is no one on this planet you can trust more than me, no one who will do more for you than I. I will never betray you - never."

There was a long moment of silence while he stood there looking at her. It seemed to Lois that he almost looked "through" her, not with x-ray vision, but with some sort of intimate connection that bridged time and space.

"It's me, isn't it," he asked softly.

Lois caught her breath, let it out in a rush. "I can't say."

"You don't have to." Clark left the door and came back into the room. He stopped before her, lifting a hand to wipe a smear of mascara away from her cheek. "If you're feeding me a line, Ms. Logan - or whatever your name is - you're pretty convincing."

"So you'll do it?"

"Yeah, I guess, but not here." He paused, studying her face as if committing it to memory. Lois knew he'd be successful. Many years in the future, it would bring him up short. "My territory. Meet me at the farm tonight, I'll be in the red barn, in..."

"The Fortress of Solitude," Lois murmured. "The loft."

His frown was almost comical. "How did you..."

She put a hand to his mouth, stilling his voice. "Never mind. I'll be there at eight."


One of Lois Lane's mottos was "always expect the unexpected." She made it a rule to follow, never doubting anything until it was proven one way or another. It was a good rule for a journalist like herself, who had to maintain an air of impartiality and excellent research skills.

She also had a tendency to attract Murphy's Law, and should have known that she wasn't going to get her job done without problems arising. She didn't notice the red Volkswagen convertible parked behind her rental car until Chloe was out of it and on a course to intercept.

Oh, no!

"Ms. Logan? Ms. Logan!"

Lois stopped, straightened her shoulders, and turned around with a smile. "Yes? Oh, Chloe. How are you?"

The girl bounced to a stop, her blond hair falling over one eye. She raised a bangled arm to brush it back again.

"I'm fine. I uh...look. I need to ask you something."

"About your assignment? It's all in the syllabus..."

Chloe shook her head. "No, no. It's...it's personal." She laughed a little, but her underlying tone, and the look in her eyes, were somber. "You're going to think I'm totally coming from outer space but..."

No, I can say for a fact that you're not the one from outer space, Chlo.

"Yes?" Lois prompted. Out of the corner of her eye she glanced at her watch. She was going to be late for her meeting with Clark.

"Are you my mother?"

Lois blinked at her stupidly. "What?!?"

"See, outer space." Chloe said miserably. She looked to be on the verge of tears, and Lois couldn't leave her. Clark was going to have to wait.

Heedless of her deadline, she guided the girl up onto the porch of the boarding house and sat her down on the swing. Lois sat beside her and handed her a tissue.

"Maybe not outer space, Chloe, but certainly left field. Why would you think such a thing?"

"Because you look like her." Chloe sniffled, wiped at her nose, and recovered a little of her usual animation. "When I first saw you I noticed it, but after the parent teacher's conference my dad - he said you looked just like her. He showed me a picture, and you do."

"Oh. I see." Nodding, Lois mentally kicked herself. She'd always been told that she favored her aunt, especially as she got older. "And then when you and Clark found out my credentials were fake..."

Chloe looked alarmed. "He told you that?"

Lois shrugged. She put both hands on Chloe's shoulders. "Listen to me, Chloe. First of all, I'm not your mother. I can't tell you where she is, but I can tell you she loves you very, very, very much."

A line quirked into existence between the fair brows. "How...how do you know that?"

"I just do. But I want to tell you something else. It's great that you have the curiosity that you do, and the drive to find the truth behind things, but they can get you in trouble. Be careful, Chloe. Be very careful who you cross." Lois stood up, but she gave the girl her sweetest smile to let her know she was no threat. "I have to go. Remember what I said."

Chloe nodded, and snorted a laugh. "I'm sorry I..." Her nose wrinkled. "Kinda lost it. I just..."

"It's okay. I understand."

"Thanks."

Lois nodded, and made her way down the steps toward her car once again. Inside it she gripped the steering wheel tightly and willed herself not to think too much.

Did I make a ripple? Or was that a wave? I guess it depends on if she takes my advice or not.

She glanced over at the red car. Chloe got in, and backed out of the parking space. Her brake lights flashed once, and then she was gone.

Lois continued on her way to the Kent Farm.


The beautiful emerald light shimmered in the darkness, casting eerie shadows into the rafters above them. Its beauty belied its deadly nature.

"Just a second," Lois whispered. She glanced up at Clark's face.

Sweat was beading up across his forehead, running down the sides of his face as he gritted his teeth against the pain. He leaning as far away as he could from the small open box in Lois' lap, but it still had to hurt him. It hurt far worse than the needle she'd stuck him with, and the throb of his arm where the blood trickled into a clear glass vial.

"Hurry."

Shaking her head, Lois frowned at the dark liquid moving sluggishly into the vial. "I'm trying. It's all bubbly, doesn't want to come out," she hissed frantically. It occurred to her that she was creating one of the many exposures that would ultimate lead to his illness. It couldn't be helped. "Just hold on."

"I'm gonna puke."

Lois had to stifle a nervous laugh. "No you're not." She snapped the rubber tubing around his bicep, loosening it. The blood moved a little faster. "Almost there."

Clark moaned.

"There. Got it." Moving back, Lois clamped shut the lid on the lead box, snuffing out the light and the radiation. She put it down on a nearby hay bale and held up the vial, capping it quickly with a rubber stopper.

Sitting up straight again on the old battered sofa, Clark regarded the vial with some skepticism. "Is it enough?"

"I think so." Lois sighed. She rose from the floor where she'd been kneeling and sat down beside him. After a moment she looked up at him and said, "Thank you."

"No, thank you," he said quietly.

"What for?"

His gaze was solemn. "Saving my life."

Lois held up the vial. "I think you deserve credit for that," she whispered, and then stopped abruptly, realizing what she'd just said. "I mean..."

"I know what you mean." Clark's expression didn't change. "So it's true."

She lowered her gaze, and shrugged. "It's true." Her head came up sharply. "And Clark please don't ask me any more. I can't tell you. If I change anything..."

"You'll change history. I know how it works."

Lois was captured by his eyes. She couldn't look away, because she'd missed him so, and in his eyes he was the same man she had left two weeks ago. There were no barriers of time, and age, and unfamiliarity there in his eyes.

His voice was soft. "Who are you?"

"Someone who loves you," Lois murmured. Her eyes closed. She felt his breath against her lips.

And heard footsteps on the stair.

Lois opened her eyes, jerking away from Clark and rising to her feet quickly. She hastily hid her hand, and the vial, behind her back.

"I would have knocked," Lex drawled. "But there's no door." He looked from one to the other with a wry expression. "Making out with my girl, Clark?" His voice lowered, and his smile broadened. "She's a little old for you don't you think?"

Clark stood up slowly. "Uh...Lex. No. I was..." He shrugged. "We were going over my history assignment."

"I'll bet." Lex's grin vanished.

Lois searched for something to say, something that would get her out of there with the vial so she could activate her failsafe and get the heck out of Dodge. Her eyes darted around the loft - and fell on the box of Kryptonite.

She looked up, and gasped as Lex looked at it too. Slowly, as if savoring every second of her fear, he raised his eyes to hers.

And smiled.

One step. She took one step before he leveled the gun at her and cocked the trigger. Clark started to move toward him but stopped when he saw the weapon.

"Lex, wait! What are you doing?"

"What I should have done a long time ago." Lex kept the gun leveled at Lois as he moved a few feet to his left and picked up the lead box. He watched Clark out of the corner of his eye as he turned his attention to Lois. "I've always known the truth, Lois. No amount of intellectual chess games can convince me that they aren't the same person, because I've known for a very long time."

"You don't have any proof! And you still don't." Lois snapped.

"I do now," Lex purred, and opened the box.

Clark groaned, and fell his knees as if he'd been punched in the gut. "Lex..."

"This is Kryptonite, Clark." Stepping closer to his victim, Lex bent over him slightly, but kept the gun trained on Lois. "Its origins are from a planet that used to exist on the far reaches of the universe. After the explosion that destroyed Krypton these chunks of rock were altered. The radiation the contain is now fatal." He paused, and took another step, kneeling over his agonized victim. "But only to natives of that planet."

"Stop it!" Lois moved toward them. "Clark!"

Lex whipped his head around and tightened his finger ever-so-slightly around the trigger of the gun. "Shut up."

She stilled herself, and he turned his attention back to Clark.

"There's only one survivor of the cataclysm that destroyed Krypton. Only one man reacts to Kryptonite the way you are now, Clark. One man. And you're that man, aren't you?"

"I don't know what you're talking about!" Clark turned his head, looking up at Lex with an expression of pain that had nothing to do with his physical condition. "Please! Lex!"

"That's not Lex," Lois said coldly. "That's what he's going to become."

Lex stood up, his face twisting in fury. One hand waved the gun in Lois' face while the other, still clutching the open lead box, stabbed out toward Clark. "Because of him, Lois, because of him! He ruined my life! I could have been different, everything could have been different. I remember this," he gestured toward his own chest. "How I was. I was good Lois."

"Lex..."

He turned, laughing. "Oh, and then he came. The meteors came." Lex thrust the box toward Clark, who groaned. "And changed me. My mother couldn't stand to look at me. My father hated me. And it's all. Because. Of. HIM!"

Lois would only remember the instant before she rushed him, when the gun swung around toward Clark and she realized that the bullet would be fatal. Weakened by the Kryptonite Clark had no defenses. He'd die, and everything Lois had gone through to save him in the future, would have been in vain. There would be no future.

The first shot went into the hay bale next to Clark's head, missing him by inches. Lois wasn't sure where the second went as she knocked Lex backward and fell to her knees in front of him. He staggered. She slumped sideways, suddenly unable to breathe, unable to push forth the scream in her throat as she saw Lex take aim for a third shot.

No! Clark! No!

"Hey!"

Lois turned her head, saw a flash of red, and the blur of a shovel slicing through the air as it swung.

Lex never completed either his shot or his turn. He was felled with the blow, falling hard to the wooden floor. The lead box tumbled from one slack hand and came to rest close to Clark's now unconscious body. It was still open.

"People who play with guns, should never take shovels for granted." Chloe said somewhat breathlessly. She tossed the shovel to the floor beside Lex, and hurried toward Lois. "Ms. Logan! Oh, God! You..."

"Chlo..." Lois gasped. "Clark."

The blonde turned her head. "He's out but..."

"Close the box!"

Chloe frowned, but obeyed, crawling across the floor, and over Lex, to where Clark lay. Lois collapsed closer to the floor as she heard the box snap shut.

I can't breathe. Oh.

It hurt. She struggled to draw a breath, and started coughing.

Like him. Drowning. Drowning. Clark. I'm sorry. I've failed.

"Ms. Logan!"

She felt hands clutching at her jacket, pulling her upright. Lois stared up into the girl's face. "Chloe."

Stupid, stupid girl. Thought you could win the war didn't you? That's the difference between Lex and his father - Lex at least has a soul.

Ripple? This was going to create a tsunami. Batman would kill her if she weren't dead already. The thought made her laugh, but all that she heard was a breathy, liquid gasp.

Chloe was searching her pockets. "My cell's in the car. Do you...what's this?"

Lois reached for the vial. As she did, she saw her watch.

The failsafe!

"Chloe!" Gritting her teeth, Lois clutched at her arm, her bloodied fingers slipping over the watch-band. "Take this."

"We've got to get you to the hospital! I have to get my phone!" Chloe tried to rise, but Lois jerked her down again.

"Damnit! Take this," Lois clenched her fist over Chloe's hand, wrapping her fingers around the vial. She shoved the watch into the girl's other hand. "Go!"

"What?"

Lois pressed the failsafe button. "Go," she whispered.

And then everything went black.


"Clark," Bruce whispered, then, with more urgency. "Clark!"

He started, looking up into the dark cowled countenance of Batman hovering over him and feeling a disjointed sense of confusion for more than a few seconds.

Where? Oh, Gotham. Lois.

"I dozed off," Clark cleared his throat, alarmed by how hoarse his voice sounded. The coughing was getting worse. So was the pain in his chest. It felt as if something were squeezing him and with every breath he exhaled, it got tighter and tighter. "What is it?"

Bruce jerked his head toward the machinery he'd set up in one corner of his "lair." A crackle of electricity jumped between two steel posts and the distinct scent of sulfur filled the air.

"Something is coming through."

"What do you mean, something?" Clark demanded, levering himself out of his chair and crossing quickly toward the bank of monitors lined up behind a shield of protective plexi. "The only thing that should be coming back through there is my wife."

"The readings aren't the same. I would recognize the pattern if it were Lois." There was a pause. "But, if she was successful she'd be carrying vial of your blood. That might be what is throwing off the reading."

Clark cast his eyes toward the bare space between the four tall towers of steel and electricity and god knew what else. When they'd confiscated Dr. Caron's time equipment they never dreamed the stuff would actually work. Bruce had kept it safely locked up for years before now, declaring the technology far too dangerous to tamper with without reason.

Apparently he thought saving Clark's life a good reason to play with it.

A tickle and a tightness in his chest warned of a coughing fit. Clark forced it back through sheer will. He pressed his hand against his breastbone, pressing hard against the underlying pain as he steadied himself on the edge of the table upon which Bruce had set up his monitoring station.

"You okay?"

Clark nodded. He closed his eyes. "Fine," he managed. "Just get her back safely."

"It's my primary objective," Bruce said quietly. "But I think you should know. While you were sleeping I picked up some disruption along the time stream. Another field was opened, but with a different signature."

"Origin?"

"District of Columbia."

Groaning, Clark closed his eyes. "Not Luthor. Lex, damnit..."

Bruce was nodding. "I made some calls. He's been taken to an unknown location, supposedly to get some R&R. Clark, if he's gone back, your life is in serious jeopardy."

"As if it isn't already?" Clark smiled. "I'm still here, and Lois is coming through. Obviously whatever he planned wasn't successful." He clapped a hand on Batman's shoulder. "You worry too much."

Bruce crossed his arms over his chest. His pale, ice-blue eyes peered intently out from behind his mask. "And you underestimate your own importance," he sniffed. "Regardless, you are correct. She's coming back."

They turned their attention to what Clark had jokingly dubbed "The Transporter," watching as the maelstrom of temporal disruption within its confines increased. Winds swirled around inside the containment field, lightning flashed and shrieked as if it were a live, captive animal. From deep within the Batcave Clark heard the rush of wings, and his sensitive hearing picked up the faint clicks and squeaks of the cave's other residents fleeing out into the night. He could sense the bulging of the containment field walls as the pressure increased. Neither of them knew what would happen if it failed, but Clark had the sneaking suspicion a thick layer of bullet-proof plexi wouldn't help either of them very much.

In any case, he braced himself for action. If the machine blew up, he would do his best to put himself between it and Bruce.

If that thing goes, the blast will probably kill me, too. I may be the most powerful thing on Earth, but not in the universe at large.

He coughed. The constriction around his chest tightened.

Obviously.

Over the roar of the wind and the crash of the lightning there came a loud squealing whine, rising in pitch until it was, like the call of the bats, beyond human hearing. Clark heard it and clamped his hands over his ears. He barely heard Batman's cry.

"Here she comes!"

The whine increased, tearing at his head. Clark yelled. There was an immense "bang!" and suddenly the pressure and the screaming whine went away.

Inside the containment field the winds died abruptly. The lights stopped flashing, and the electricity resumed a quiet crackle at the top of each post. Bruce hastily switched everything off; the low hum of the machinery wound down, and then stopped silent. Everything was still.

Batman rushed around the plexi-shield with Clark on his heels. He stopped on the edge of the Transporter, and stared down at the figure slowly raising her head from within the protective circle of her arms.

"That's not Lois," he whispered.

She put her arms down, and looked up at them. In one hand she clutched the watch which had brought her back. In the other, a vial of blood. More blood stained her hands and her clothes. A smear of it ran down her forehead, dying one lock of her pale yellow bangs scarlet. Her face was white, her eyes wide and frightened.

Clark stared at her, aghast.

"Oh, my God," he breathed. "Chloe?"

Chloe looked from one to the other, and slowly started backing away from them. "Where am I? Where's Ms. Logan?" Abruptly she stopped and looked around herself, her fear more apparent as she saw what she held in her hands and all the blood on her clothes. This changed her priorities. She returned to them. "Ms. Logan! Oh! We have to help her! She was shot!"

Clark's head was spinning.

Ms. Logan! Oh God! I remember! She was going to meet me in the loft, and she never showed up. I thought she was crazy! It was Lois! That was LOIS!

But what had happened to her? Why had Lois sent Chloe back? If she was wounded she could have sent herself. She knew they were waiting for her.

His own voice sounded as if it were coming from miles away, through a dark, narrow tunnel. "She's already dead," he whispered. "Lois..."

A flash of light, and all his memories of her flickered through his mind.

He could almost smell her perfume, feel the warmth of her body against his own, hear her laughter...

Chloe still held the vial of his blood in her hand. Lois' was drying in dark streaks across Chloe's face, the face of a girl he'd almost forgotten. Years from now, would he have forgotten what Lois' looked like too?

Wait! Ms. Logan never showed up at the loft! How did Chloe get the blood? Had she tangled with Lionel? Was this the original sample?

"Chlo..." He reached out a hand toward her. His fist clenched as a sharp pain stabbed at him just beneath the ribs. Instinctively he reached out a hand to Bruce to steady himself.

"Clark?" Bruce's eyes met his. "What?"

The world tilted. Clark suddenly couldn't breathe at all. He clutched at Bruce's arm as staggered to his knees. The pain in his chest wouldn't go away and he could not find the words to explain it to Bruce.

"Clark?"

Chloe's soft, puzzled query brought him clarity for the briefest moment, when his eyes met her confused expression and he saw recognition dawn for her. He opened his mouth to speak, to tell her everything was going to be all right, but nothing came out but a small whimper of pain.

"Lois."

Then everything faded away.


The voices were a blurred mumbling, as if they were under the sea, or belonged to the adults from a Peanuts cartoon. He listened to them, and remembered the Halloween when he'd sat up in the Kent pumpkin patch, waiting for the Great Pumpkin to show. Some time after midnight he'd run back to the house screaming when the Great Pumpkin did arrive in the form of Jonathan Kent beneath an old tarp.

Dad....

So many lives lost over the years, so much heartache, and now Lois was gone, lost somewhere in time. In his dreams Clark drank warm apple cider on the farmhouse porch, sitting there rocking as he heard Lois and his mother laugh from inside. He could smell the cinnamon and the apples from the pies they baked, mingling with the smoke from a pile of leaves burning in the yard. The voices became clearer.

"It's tea, Miss. Cinnamon apple, with a bit of brown sugar for a young one's palate."

There was the clink of china. Clark realized he wasn't dreaming, but he was too weary to open his eyes.

"Thank you, Alfred." Chloe whispered. Clark felt the brush of her fingertips across his forehead, and heard her voice very close to his ear.

"He's very sick, isn't he?"

"The serum will help."

It was Bruce that replied, his voice low and bearing a softness Clark wasn't used to hearing. He ached all over and was so unbearably tired. There didn't seem to be enough air.

"Will he die?"

"That's up to him."

"She went back in time then, to save him?"

"Yes."

"And died for him." There was a rustle of cloth as Chloe apparently turned to face her companion. "She should have come back."

There was a long pause before Bruce replied. "Yes, Chloe. She should have come back, not you."

Clark felt his chest tighten. He moved his head, moaning slightly with denial.

Lois, oh, Lo. I love you, I love you...

"What does this mean? What happens next?"

Bruce's reply was brutally honest. "I don't know."

Before Chloe could reply, Clark had drifted away again, back to the farm, and a sunny picnic beside a pond.


"I don't feel much better," Clark said quietly. His voice was a breathy rasp, and sounded slightly congested due to the breathing tube stuck up his nose. He'd complained bitterly about that upon regaining consciousness. After a few minutes of struggling in an effort to hold a conversation without the extra oxygen, he changed his mind about it.

"This serum isn't an overnight cure, Clark. It takes several small doses over a length of time." Bruce's face, pale and expressive without his mask, twisted itself into a frown. "Which we may not have," he added.

"Chloe."

Bruce nodded. He leaned forward in the chair he had pulled up beside Clark's bed. It was a hospital bed, set up in one of Bruce's extra bedrooms. It had come with a nurse who, despite being young and pretty, had apparently studied at the Nurse Ratchett school of bedside manner. Clark hated her.

Or, more accurately, he hated her presence. He wanted nothing more than to be left alone in his misery. His grief was profound. It sank down into his very depths, and he who should feel no pain was in agony. Lois was gone, and Clark felt - unwhole. There was an animalistic urge to wander off somewhere, hide in the darkness, and just let nature take its course. If he died, who would care? He certainly didn't. Not anymore.

If there was anything Bruce Wayne was familiar with, it was grief. As long as he was in charge, Clark would not be allowed to get off that easy. He was stuck with Nurse Ratchett, and Bruce, who kept telling him things that confused him. He was already half addled from the disease and its cure, which tended to knock him flat after every dose.

"As this thread unravels, Clark, the new one replaces it. By my calculations, in less than twenty-four hours this reality will no longer exist."

Clark looked away out the window. The sun was shining brightly over the acres of formal gardens at the back of Wayne Manor. Beyond them was an expanse of woodland and, Clark knew from countless fly-bys, a steep ravine cut into the side of a hill. Beneath that hill was the Batcave and the time machine.

"Is that so bad," he asked, turning back to his visitor. "Have you thought that maybe this is supposed to happen? We shouldn't have sent Lois back, Bruce. Time is just righting itself. I was meant to die."

Bruce was shaking his head, his pale brown bangs falling over his forehead. He was younger than Clark. His hair was not yet showing signs of aging.

"No, you're wrong. I went over everything very carefully, Clark, before I sent Lois back and after. Chloe is supposed to die, murdered by an unknown assailant..."

"I know," Clark whispered, closing his eyes.

"Left in her car by the side of a deserted highway..."

"I know, Bruce. I remember." After a moment, Clark smiled sadly, softening the impact of his sharp tone. "Sheriff Adams came to our house," he said softly. "I listened from the loft. She told us Chloe had been found."

And I, like a fool, had not even known she was missing.

"I tried everything, searched everywhere, but not even I could figure out who killed her. I think it was Lionel, but I never could prove it."

Clark opened his eyes again. Bruce met his gaze.

"She has to go back, Clark. She has to die."

"She can stay here. With her gone in that timeline..."

Bruce was shaking his head again, his expression grim. "No. Her presence doesn't matter. Her death does. If she goes back and lives, it will be the same as if she stays here and lives. Instead of Chloe dying at the age of eighteen, it will be Lois."

Even the mere mention of her name hurt. "Lois is already dead."

"Not in the past, Clark, not yet. For some reason if Chloe Sullivan does not die the way she is supposed to, Lois will, and without Lois, there will be no Superman. Everything will fall apart. The world as we know it will be destroyed, and this timeline, the one in which you had so many years of loving Lois, won't even exist. She has to go back, Clark, and someone has to go back with her to make sure she dies."

"Bruce..."

"Clark."

They both turned at the sound of her voice. She stood in the doorway looking cleaner, but just as frightened as she had when she first arrived. Lois' death was a raw and open wound, and Chloe's life was salt being rubbed into it. Clark could barely stand to see her. The last time he'd laid eyes upon her had been at her funeral. They hadn't done her hair properly.

"I want to go back," she said. "I don't belong here."

Clark and Bruce exchanged glances. Clark motioned for her to come in to the room. She stood beside the bed, opposite Bruce, and Clark took her hand.

"Chloe. I want you to live," he said softly. "I want that more than anything in the world. I wasn't there for you when you needed it most and if I can give you your life back..."

"But," Chloe interrupted. "You can't." There were tears in her eyes. She tossed her head like he remembered, and smiled through them. "We need to do what's right, Clark. Going back and fixing mistakes is something we dream about being able to do, but I agree with Bruce. Sometimes we can make things worse without meaning to."

He felt her grip tighten around his fingers.

"I want you to have Lois back."

Clark's throat tightened, his eyes burned. He shook his head slowly back and forth. "Please. Please don't make me choose between you."

Chloe sighed. She put a hand out, touching his face. Her palm was dry and cool. "I'm not," she whispered. "I'm choosing for you."


"You're going with her."

"Me? What about you?"

"I need to operate the machinery. It has to be you, Clark. But you won't go through using our equipment. Like this, you're too weak to be effective. While you were out of it I managed to gain access to Lex's machine. It works differently. Only your mind will travel through time, to enter the body of your younger self."

"And my younger self?"

"In this body, sedated, being treated with the serum. 'He' won't remember anything about it.

"And remember," Bruce had said just prior to flipping the switch. "Chloe must die."

"Bring me the head of Chloe Sullivan," Clark murmured. He leaned back against the hay bales. He felt ill. How much blood had she taken anyway, a gallon?

Lois came back to him from where she had tucked the vial of blood away into a small bag. When he'd suddenly found himself here, in the past, he'd opened his eyes to see her hovering over him closing a chunk of Kryptonite up in a box. His first impulse had been to jerk away from her, his second, to grab her in his arms and hold her. He had done neither.

She looked tired and worried. "Thank you," she said.

"No," he whispered, reaching out to brush his fingers across her cheek. "Thank you."

"For what?"

"Saving my life." Clark levered himself upright and motioned for her to sit down beside him. She did, and with some hesitation, put her hand in his. "I think you deserve credit for...." Abruptly she stopped. She gave him a small smile. "I can't tell you anything more than I already have, Clark."

"I know."

"But." He saw her eyes flickering back and forth as she gazed deeply into his face, searching, perhaps, for some hint of recognition. "I can tell you that you're loved. You'll always be loved, not just by me, but so many people. Remember that, Clark." She touched her face. "And don't be lonely anymore."

He leaned closer to her. "I won't," he whispered. "Because I know you'll be waiting for me."

"I'm sorry, am I interrupting a Lolita moment?"

Clark stood up quickly, and so did Lois, both of them staring at Lex, who had just come silently up the stairs into the loft. Clark hadn't heard him.

"Lex," he blurted. For a moment he couldn't remember what Bruce had told him. They knew Lex had gone back in time, but not the precise times he'd been there. Was this the "young" Lex, or the older version?

Clark couldn't take any chances. "I...uh...wuh...we were going over my term paper."

Lex's eyes narrowed. "Oh, really." He strode further into the light, idly glancing this way and that in a nonchalant manner, but he kept his eye on, not Clark, but Lois. "It looked as if you were macking on my girl to me, Clark." He paused at the corner of Clark's desk. It was directly kittycorner to the hay bales upon which Lois and Clark had been sitting.

Within easy reach was Lois' bag, and the small lead box full of Kryptonite.

Clark looked over at Lois just as her eyes darted frantically toward the box.

Lex followed her gaze, and snatched up the box just as Clark started to move toward him. One quick flick of his thumb and Lex had the lid open, jolting Clark out of his forward momentum, back into normal speed. He tripped, and fell heavily to the floor at Lex's feet, shouting out in pain despite himself. It had been several years since he'd been exposed to Kryptonite, he'd almost forgotten how much it hurt.

Almost.

It was like having thousands of sharp, hot needles punching through his skin, through flesh and into bone, all over his body over and over again. That was only part of it though. Inside he felt as if his guts were tying themselves into knots. His heart beat too fast, trying to adapt to the boiling of his blood through his veins. He couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't move save to jerk in pain and weep with agony.

"Lex..."

"What are you doing?" Lois started to move. Clark heard her footfalls close to his body as she made her approach.

He also heard the click of the gun in Lex's hand being cocked.

"What I should have done years ago."

Clark heard another footfall, saw Lex's feet near his face. Saw Lex's face as he crouched low with the Kryptonite in one hand and the gun in the other. The gun was still pointed at Lois.

"This is Kryptonite, Clark. It's origins are from a planet that used to exist on the far reaches of the universe. After the explosion that destroyed Krypton these chunks of rock were altered. The radiation they contain is now fatal." He paused, and took another step, kneeling over his agonized victim. "But only to natives of that planet."

Clark's mind screamed at him. Damage control!

"Lex," he gasped. "What are you talking about?"

It was, positively, not "past" persona inhabiting the young Luthor's body.

"It doesn't matter, not here anyway. But I think it might in the future." He moved his hand, bringing the gun level with Clark's forehead. The barrel was cool against fevered skin. "What would my life be like if I were to kill you now - Superman?"

It was Clark's turn to narrow his eyes. "You'd be dead, Mr. President," he hissed softly.

Lex's head jerked upward. At first Clark thought it was in reaction to his words, and maybe in part, it was, but then he saw movement out of the corner of his eye.

"No! Lois," he gasped, struggling to sit up, but the Kryptonite had fallen from Lex's hand as he stood up to face Lois' charge.

The deadly stone tumbled toward Clark's face, stopping inches from the end of his nose. He was blinded by it, and as he heard the first "thwip" of the gun, his body began to fail. Darkness swarmed at the edges of his consciousness. He heard Lois scream, and then heard nothing but silence.


He came to his senses with a start, jerking up into a sitting position and looking around himself frantically. A blood stain on the wood planks nearby made him groan.

"Lois."

"She's safe," Chloe said softly.

Clark turned around. She was sitting on the top step, next to the black clad sprawl of limbs that was an unconscious Lex Luthor. Shovel lay nearby, apparently what had felled him. There was no sign of the gun.

He scrambled to his feet and she looked up at him.

"I sent her back. Bruce was waiting along with a med team. He told me to remind you of why you're here." Slowly she stood up, and carefully stepped over Lex to come closer. "Clark..."

And he found himself backing away from her. "No."

Chloe held out a hand. In it was Lex's gun, a long barreled affair with a silencer. Clark had been on the receiving end of many guns in his lifetime and still knew little about them. All he knew was that he could save people from them. That's what really mattered. He had never used one before in his life.

Lois had once found that odd.

"You lived on a farm, Clark. Didn't you have a gun?"

"Dad did. A rifle. Mom still has it."

"And you never had to put an animal out of it's misery?"

"Usually Dad handled that kind of thing, but yes, I did once. A calf got tangled in some barbed wire. It was suffering. I didn't want to go back to the house and get Dad, so I - broke its neck."

Clark didn't need a gun to kill, he had his bare hands.

"I can't, Chloe. God, I can't!" He backed up into the wall, and stopped, sliding down it to sit upon the floor with his face in his hands. "Please..."

"You have to, Clark. It's the only way to put things right." She was suddenly kneeling in front of him, clutching at his hands, trying to force him to look at her. "Clark. You have to! You're the only one who can. Think of Lois! Please, think of everyone who will suffer if there is no Superman!"

He looked at her then, his pain boiling over into fury. "I am, damnit! To hell with Superman." Frantically he clutched at her wrists, drawing her in close. "Chloe, it doesn't have to be that way. I can change things. I can keep one step ahead of everything. You'll live. Lois will live! And there doesn't have to ever be a Superman."

Chloe pulled away from him, nodding to herself as if responding to some unheard advice. "Bruce told me this would happen. Lex's machine is flawed, Clark. You're not thinking straight." Her expression hardened, took on a ruthless smirk Clark had only seen once before. "Think about this then. You can't keep one step ahead of me. I know your secret and I'll broadcast it to the world. I'll tell Lionel Luthor. I'll tell the Daily Planet. You think you'll be able to create the perfect timeline, Clark? Well you're wrong. In the one I'll create, you'll be locked up in a lab!"

"You'd do that to me?" Clark breathed. "Chloe..."

Her face fell. The tears began, rolling down her face one after another as she rubbed her nose with the back of one hand. "I don't want to, Clark. I want you to live. I want you to be happy. I want everything to be the way it's supposed to be, but I'm scared. I'm so scared. I just...I need this to be over."

Clark put a hand to his forehead. She was right. He wasn't thinking clearly, which would explain Lex's little lapse of reason. It was a side effect of the transfer. Once recognized, it was easy to combat.

But it left behind a bigger issue.

He pulled her into his lap, into his arms, and wrapped her in his embrace as she pressed her face into his shoulder and sobbed bitterly. Deep, wracking sobs issued up from her chest. Her body quaked as he soothed her, kissing her hair and rubbing her back.

"I know, Chloe. I know."

"I don't want to die!"

He broke down, shuddering. "I know." His tears dampened her hair as he rocked her silently back and forth. Her sobbing continued, and Clark, hearing a soft moan from Lex, felt his heart breaking.

Time was running out. Lex couldn't wake to find them.

Clark stroked Chloe's arms, rubbing them gently as he slipped one hand between them. "I love you," he whispered. "I'll always love you."

Her hand was small inside his own. She must have felt it, but she never looked up, instead burying her face harder into his shoulder, and grabbing his shirt with her free hand. It was her finger on the trigger, but his gentle squeeze.

"Thwip!"


Lois stood in the living room staring at the pair of high heeled pink pumps she had just removed from her feet. Her expression was that of a woman deep in thought, possibly pondering the greatest mystery of the universe. Clark looked at her with some amusement.

"Penny for your thoughts."

"I'm contemplating shoving them down the garbage disposal."

Clark chuckled. "Lois, if they hurt your feet so badly, why do you wear them?"

She rolled her eyes as she tossed the shoes over her shoulder, obviously unwilling to explain to him - again - about the power of a female reporter's sensuality when said reporter is interviewing an old school corporate CEO. Lois had nice legs, even at her age, and she liked to use them.

Without warning she plopped herself down into Clark's lap, wincing a little.

"Sore?" he asked softly, kissing her. "I keep telling you to take it easy. The doctors said six months at least before you're back to one hundred percent."

"I hate being an invalid." Lois pouted. "And so do you, so stop lecturing me. I saw you drag yourself in last night. You're working too hard, Clark." "That's what I do," he said.

"You've been ill."

"I'm better."

"You're tired." Carefully, Lois kissed first one eye, and then the other. "You have bags."

"I only have one bag, or should I say 'hag'?" Clark laughed, standing up with her in his arms. She kicked her feet in mock protest as he carried her to the bedroom.

Lois pulled his hair teasingly. "Whoa, call me a hag and then expect to get laid, I don't think so! Besides, I'm wounded."

Clark dumped her onto the bed, stripping off his shirt before lying down next her and gathering her into his arms. "Who said," he murmured, kissing her tenderly. "You're going to have to do anything? Just sit back," his hand ran down the front of her blouse, unbuttoning each button very carefully. "And relax."

"Mr. Kent, you are naughty."

Their eyes met. Lois propped herself up on her elbows.

"What's bothering you?" she asked.

"Nothing."

She scowled. "Is it Lex?"

Clark sighed. Lex knowing his secret was a worry, but since the President seemed very reluctant to actually use that information - mainly due to not having proof, nor able to divulge how he discovered said information - he was keeping it under wraps. A brief confrontation in the White House Rose Garden had confirmed this. Clark would, however, be keeping a careful eye on Mr. Luthor.

"He's just being really smug about it, Clark. I think you're safe for now."

"Thanks Pete, keep me posted."

"Always, bro."

"No," Clark whispered. "It's not Lex." He paused, sorting out which "non-lie" he could safely use in this situation. "You told me in the past that you saw Chloe."

Lois' expression fell. Her eyes grew distant and sad. "Yeah, and now I know the truth. She died not long after I met her. I remember when I found out about it. I did everything I could to help find her killer. I think that's when I got the investigative bug. I stopped partying, and decided I'd better do something with myself because it could have easily been me, you know?" She shrugged. "Figured Chloe's career choice was as good as any."

Clark leaned over, and kissed her shoulder, before resting his forehead on it and closing his eyes. "I hate that she's gone, Lois. But I'm glad you're here. I love you." Raising his head, he looked deeply into her eyes. They were, he noticed, shaped very much like Chloe's.

"Tomorrow," he whispered. "I want to drive out to the cemetery and take her some roses."

"She deserves them, that's for sure. If she hadn't clocked Lex with that shovel, I don't think either of us would be here."

"No," Clark whispered. "We wouldn't."

Lois frowned slightly. "What?"

"Nothing," he murmured, and with both hands on her shoulders, gently pushed her back down to the bed. His smile was tinted with sadness, his kisses flavored with grief. Lois, however, didn't notice.

I'm the only one who knows the whole truth. Even Bruce lost those memories when the timeline was mended. And that's how it should be.


EPILOGUE

"Mr. Kent. I believe you may have met Ms. Lane. I understand you knew her cousin."

Clark pushed his glasses further up his nose, nodding. "Yuh...yes, Mr. White. I uh...was friends with her cousin. We went to school together. But Lois and I have never actually met buh-before."

Lois sniffed.

Yeah, poor Chlo. I can't believe she was actually in love with this loser.

She resumed filing her nails, masking the brief flicker of grief at her little cousins' untimely death with a scowl directed at her peeling nail polish.

Cheap shit.

"Lois, this is Clark Kent. Your new partner."

They stared at each other. Clark frowned.

"Haven't we met before?"

Swinging her legs down off her desk, Lois stood up to face him. She regarded his thick ugly glasses, his rumpled suit, and horribly unfashionable hair, and rolled her eyes.

"Absolutely not," she snorted, and dismissed herself to get coffee. On her way out, she shot him a nasty look over her shoulder. His lip curled a little.

Dork.

Bitch.

~~FIN~~



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