Disclaimers: I don't own the characters, etc. etc. This story is set after Clark has finished his training and started working with Lois at The Daily Planet, but before the first public appearance of Superman.
Lois stood at the window in the apartment above the Talon, hugging herself and trying to calm her pounding heart.
'Just breathe, Lane. OK, so that was a little freaky earlier, but that's no reason to wimp out now,' she told herself firmly.
Behind her the door opened, momentarily letting in sounds from the crowded coffee shop below. Lois continued to stare out the darkened window as the door closed gently and Clark quietly walked up behind her. She could see his face reflected in the window, but she would have known it was him anyway. It was something about the tingle in her spine and the way her whole body seemed to come alert whenever he entered a room. It was as if all her nerve endings suddenly became much more sensitive, like all of her senses were heightened. She could almost see him behind her back from the way the air currents moved and the small noises of breathing and rustling cloth. She preferred not to think about that response. It was only Clark, after all.
Lois expected some lame comment or corny joke. She held herself tighter, knowing that anything approaching normalcy, tonight of all nights would be too much, would push her over the edge. And she needed to stay safe, in control.
But Clark surprised her. Without a word, he slid his hands around her waist and rested his lips in her hair. After a moment, feeling his warm breath on her scalp, Lois relaxed enough to lean back against him slightly. He was solid and safe, like a living wall, and she leaned the rest of her weight on him. It was the first time she hadn't felt alone in a long time - longer than she cared to remember. 'How did he know that this was what I needed?' she wondered. 'Simple comfort and safety, and no questions, no words. I'd never have suspected Smallville of such depth. Expertise with cows, maybe. But this?'
She settled her hands on his and felt him gently kiss the hair above her ear, before he shifted and rested his chin on the top of her head. They stood in silence, looking out over Main Street for several minutes. Gradually, Lois felt her breathing and heartbeat slowing, relaxing into Clark's steady rhythm.
To her horror, her throat started to burn and she could feel unshed tears building up behind her eyes. Unconsciously tensing all her muscles, Lois blinked furiously, willing away the treacherous tears. She hated to cry any time, and to do it in front of someone... in front of Clark! Although they had become close friends over the past few years, their friendship was based on strength, on witty banter, not on tears and vulnerability.
'Stop being such a girl!' she thought fiercely. 'What would the General think!'
Sheer willpower drove the tears away again, until an unbidden image of Chloe's face earlier that evening - Chloe in pain - flashed before Lois' eyes and a hot splash landed on her hand. 'Damn it all!' she thought, scrubbing fiercely at her face. But once the tears had started, she no longer had the power or the energy to stop them, and her chest ached with the sobs she could no longer contain.
Clark gently turned her in his arms and cradled her face against his chest, holding her and stroking her hair and back as she cried. He was murmuring something, quiet words of comfort maybe, but Lois couldn't hear them over the racket she was making. The big warm hand on her back reminded her of a time long ago, that she had thought long-forgotten, of a mother who held her and comforted her.
It seemed an eternity before the tears dried up and her sobs calmed. Her breathing gradually steadied, still shaky for a while, and then easing. Clark's shirt was wet where she had leaned on him. Clark silently handed her a white handkerchief, and she pushed away from him to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.
'God, I must look a mess! I'm sure I'm all red and blotchy,' she thought. Embarrassed, she avoided his eyes as she handed back his handkerchief and cleared her throat.
"Thanks," she said gruffly.
"Any time," he said, pocketing the damp cloth.
"Yeah, anytime you want to see me acting like an idiot - or a mental patient," she retorted, with a shaky attempt at a laugh, turning away to shield herself from his concerned gaze.
Clark stepped forward and put his hand under her chin. He gently turned her face up to his.
"Lois. Look at me," he said.
Lois looked determinedly at his left ear as she took another steadying breath, and then resolutely looked into his blue eyes.
"You have nothing to be ashamed about. Anyone would be upset after what you went through tonight."
"Doesn't mean I have to lose it like a..." Lois struggled to find a word damning enough to convey her self-loathing at her weakness.
Clark was silent for a moment, watching her face. Then, his eyes slid away from hers and he seemed to suddenly find the floor really fascinating. "My mom taught me that if you love someone, you love all their sides - their strong, smart, independent side, sure, but also that part of them that is so concerned for their cousin that they ... feel her pain." Clark shoved his hands into his jeans pockets and glanced up at Lois from below his fringe of unruly black hair.
Lois' breath caught in her throat, and she took an involuntary step backwards. Was he saying what she thought he was saying?
"What," it came out as a squeak through a suddenly tight throat. Lois coughed and tried again. "What are you trying to say?"
"Lois, I know we've had our differences, and I know we fight a lot, but I feel like lately we've become really good friends." Clark rocked back on his heels, still resolutely looking at the floor. "And earlier today when I thought I'd lost you... I guess... what I mean is..." he took in a deep breath and then blew it out before continuing in a rush, "I love you. All of you. No matter what mood you're in." A blush spread over his features and he glanced at her and away again. His hands were fists inside his pockets.
Lois gaped at him. "I," she started, unsure what she planned to say.
"And it's OK if you don't feel the same way. I mean, I don't expect anything. I just... wanted you to know that if you need anything, I'm here," Clark broke in awkwardly. "Anyway, you must be exhausted. I'll go." He headed toward the door to the Talon, head bent, still blushing.
Lois was flabbergasted. Love? From Smallville? This, on top of all the shocks of the night, was too much. She didn't know what she felt - she was numb. And tired, suddenly. Lois Lane, indomitable force, wondered if she had the strength to make it across the room to the bed before she collapsed. But as Clark's hand reached for the doorknob, she also knew she couldn't bear for him to leave just yet.
"Clark," she called.
He turned, hope and fear warring in his eyes.
"I don't know quite how to say this," she began.
Clark's face tightened and the fear was clear in his eyes now.
"I wonder if you could stay a little longer? Not that you should expect anything - like that's going to happen! - but just, I guess, I'm not ready to be alone just yet?" Lois faltered, feeling like an idiot. "Could you stay until I fall asleep?"
Clark's face cleared, and a glimmer of the trademark Kent smile played around his lips. "Sure, Lois, I'd be happy to. Come on, let's get you settled."
He walked her across the apartment, his hand protectively on the small of her back. Lois was too tired to change into pajamas, so she simply kicked off her shoes and fell into bed fully clothed. Clark pulled the blankets up around her shoulders and then looked around for a chair to sit in.
Lois felt like she'd been awake for days. Bed felt so good - like it was a feast she'd been starving for. She dragged her eyes open again to see Clark perched next to the bed in the hard, ladder-backed chair that usually sat next to the kitchen table. It was much too small for him. He looked extremely uncomfortable as he slouched in it and crossed his arms across his chest. Lois remembered that she wasn't the only one that had had a hard, anxious day, and he was staying as a favor to her.
"Oh, all right, big guy, come on, there's plenty of room." Lois patted the bed behind her back with one hand.
"Are, are you sure?" Clark asked, looking up.
"Hurry up before I change my mind. And no funny business, or I'll have to hurt you," she warned.
Clark stood and pushed off his boots with the toes of his opposite foot. He walked around the bed and settled gingerly on the other side. Lois felt the bed tip under his weight. "Good night, Clark," she mumbled, already half asleep.
"Good night, Lois," he replied.
Lois struggled awake after the most delicious dreams of warmth and security. Sunlight was streaming across her face. 'Look at that,' she thought, 'even the worst nights have a morning after.' She shifted a little in the warm bed, stretching out her toes, and became aware that there was a weight across her waist. It turned out to be a large, flannel-covered arm. Clark was a wall of warmth against her back, and his breath tickled her neck. Lois froze, wondering what to do. 'On the one hand, this is Clark. On the other hand, he feels pretty good. Really good, actually. Maybe it wouldn't hurt anything to just lay here and pretend to be asleep for a few more minutes. And we are both fully clothed, aren't we?' Lois lifted the covers slightly, checking. 'Yep, fully clothed.' For a moment, Lois wasn't sure if she was disappointed or relieved. She shook off her doubt. 'In any case, a few minutes would be OK. No one will know. It sounds like Clark is out for the count. At least he doesn't snore.'
'What am I going to do about him, anyway? I can't let him walk around thinking he is in love with me, can I? Especially since I don't feel the same way, right? I mean, it could make our friendship very awkward. Maybe we'd even stop spending so much time together. Who would I have breakfast with? And investigate things for the Planet with?' Despite her earlier reservations, Clark had turned out to be a good partner at the paper. He was a decent writer and he sure seemed to have an inside scoop when it came to crime stories. Lois made a mental note to bug him about his sources again. 'Sooner or later he'll come clean.' She sighed. 'Just when I've gotten used to having him around, this had to happen. It is damned inconvenient, is what it is. And, I'd miss him.'
Lois tried to imagine her days without Clark in the picture, and they just felt... wrong. Hollow. Like there was a big, Clark-shaped hole in them. 'But that's just because we are friends, right? I don't feel any real attraction, no love. Even though he was pretty cute last night when he was telling me his feelings. And he is a handsome guy, I guess. Everyone can see that. And he sure feels nice lying here cuddling me. I could definitely get used to this. And last night, when I was upset, he'd been so safe. I can't imagine wanting anyone else comforting me like he had.'
'Oh crap. It couldn't be. Do I have feelings for Clark? What would that be like,' she wondered, 'to be Clark's girlfriend?' Even as she grimaced at the term, her imagination was caught. 'He'd be caring, warm, protective - probably a little too protective, but I could work on that. He'd cherish me.' Lois wondered what that would be like, to be cherished. It wasn't something she had a lot of experience with.
Her arm was falling asleep. She had to roll over, even if it woke Clark up. Otherwise she wouldn't be able to feel her hand much longer. Lois wiggled a little to get some space, and rolled over onto her back. Clark mumbled something, and rolled over onto his back as well, immediately falling back into a deeper sleep.
Lois rolled up onto her elbow to watch him sleep. He looked so innocent, lying there. His long black eyelashes cast a shadow over his cheekbones, and his hair was tousled against the pillow. He looked impossibly young. 'I should get up, take a shower, get some breakfast. I should leave him to sleep. But, God, he is beautiful. And that feeling, when I am in his arms, so secure, so protected. Like the evils of the world - and I've seen my share - can't reach me there. Like he somehow creates a little magical space around him that is separate from the world. It is tempting, to feel that just a little longer. Surely I've earned that, right?'
Carefully, Lois nestled up close to Clark's side and rested her head on his shoulder. He sighed in his sleep and wrapped his arm around her. Oh, yeah, it felt just as nice as she'd imagined. 'I'll just stay a few minutes, and then get up for breakfast. Just a few minutes, he'll never know....' She drifted back to sleep.
Lois woke up snuggled against Clark's shoulder. She looked up and saw him watching her, a twinkle in his clear, blue eyes.
"Good morning," he said. She could feel the words rumbling inside his chest, "Sleep well?"
"Better than I have in a long time," she answered honestly. "You?"
Lois became aware of the pressure in her bladder. "Excuse me, I just need to run to the..." she said, moving gingerly out from under his arm and heading to the bathroom. As she washed her hands, she looked sternly at her reflection in the mirror. "OK, Lane," she said to her reflection, "what do you want to do here?" Unfortunately, her reflection didn't seem to know any more than she did. Sighing, she put out a spare toothbrush on the counter and opened the bathroom door. It was a good thing that the Talon's owner had let her and Chloe keep some things in the apartment until a new tenant could be found. It was useful to have a place to stay in Smallville.
Clark was in the kitchen, starting a pot of coffee.
"All yours," she said, indicating the empty bathroom. "I left you a new toothbrush."
"Is that a hint?" he asked, grinning as he closed the door behind himself.
When he came out, Lois was seated at the little table with a mug of coffee cradled in her hands. Clark poured himself a cup and sat opposite her.
"So," Lois started, looking at the shimmering black surface of her drink, "thanks again for last night."
"My pleasure," replied Clark, smiling. Then his smile faded and he looked at her seriously, "You know I'd do anything for you, right?"
"Yeah, about that," Lois began, "I've been thinking about what you said."
"And?" prompted Clark when the silence had stretched on for several minutes.
"And I've been thinking I might... you know, maybe... possibly feel," Lois took a deep breath, "the same way," she confessed to her steaming coffee cup.
"Really?" Clark's voice cracked like he was back in high school again.
Lois looked up at him. He was beaming his mega-watt smile, and the joy in his warm blue eyes was so intense she had to look away again. It made her stomach feel funny.
"Yeah," she said, cradling her warm mug, "so..." But she got no further. Clark leaned across the little table and kissed her. It was so sudden; it took her a moment to respond. His lips were soft and warm, and the kiss was tender. He tasted like coffee, with a hint of mint toothpaste, and something that was uniquely Clark. The room faded away and the only thing she was aware of were his lips on hers, their breath mingling, the electric shivers that were running down her spine and making a warm pool deep in her belly. After a few minutes, or hours, or days, she came up for air and realized that somehow they were standing next to the table. Her arms were around his neck, and she had a fistful of his hair. His hands were warm on her waist and at the back of her neck.
"Wow," she gasped, "you're a really good kisser. Wait a minute, I think I've kissed you before," she mused, her brows knitting. This seemed so familiar, somehow. It was a few years ago, it was dark, an alley, that's it!
Lois took a step back, running her hands down his arms and resting them lightly on his broad chest. "You're the Green Arrow Bandit!" she exclaimed. "I knew I'd kissed you before."
Clark stared at her. He had a funny little half-smile on his face, but he also looked a little guilty. "Lois, I can explain," he started.
"Yeah, you better, buster!" she cut in. "All this time you've been the Green Arrow, and you never told me!"
Clark took her hand and led her to the couch, and sat down next to her. His body was angled towards her so their knees were touching, and he laced his fingers through hers.
"I do have a secret I want to share with you, but I am not the Green Arrow," he began. Lois opened her mouth to interrupt, and he forestalled her with a gentle finger to her lips, "although I am friends with the Green Arrow. I did dress in his costume that one time and you did kiss me in that alley, but that was just to protect his identity."
"Well, who is he, then?" Lois demanded.
"I can't tell you. I promised I would keep it a secret," he told her gently, but firmly.
Lois glared at him, but he simply looked back. She knew that look. He wasn't going to say anything else on the topic. He could be so stubborn sometimes. 'Never mind, I'll get it out of him sooner or later.'
"OK, so what's your big secret, then?" she asked.
"Well, you know how I am adopted, right?" he began.
"So, it turns out that I'm not from around here."
"Not from Kansas?" she asked.
Clark glanced down at their interlaced fingers, and then looked away. Lois realized that his hand was shaking. She narrowed her eyes and looked at his face more closely. She'd never seen him look so nervous, so...frightened before.
"Clark, what is it? Do you have a parent in prison or something? 'Cause whatever it is, it has nothing to do with who you are as a person, ya know," she said bracingly.
A small smile crossed his face and he turned to look her in the eye. "No, no, it's nothing like that."
"Oh. Well, what's the big deal then? You're worrying me."
"It's just that I have worked to hide this secret my whole life. Almost no one knows. And...I worry that it will change the way you feel about me," Clark admitted.
"I'm pretty trustworthy - and open-minded. Give me a shot, Smallville," Lois snarked, trying to lighten the mood.
"I know. That's why I'm willing to tell you. I've been thinking about telling you for a long time, anyway." Clark sighed. "I was born on a planet called Krypton. My parents sent me to Earth to keep me safe shortly before my home planet blew up. My parents...the Kents, they found me in a field during the first meteor shower."
Lois sat stunned. Whatever she had expected, it wasn't this. She must have misheard, misunderstood somehow. "So, you're telling me that you're... an alien?"
Clark glanced at her, nodded, then looked away again.
"But, but, you look so..." she began.
"Human?" Clark finished bitterly.
Lois had never heard such a tone from him before. All the crazy thoughts that were running through her head like - 'Great! I finally find a decent guy to date and it turns out he's not human!' and 'Figures, just my luck!' faded in the face of Clark's obvious misery. He'd trusted her with this, she'd promised to be open-minded, she needed to put her own feelings aside for the moment and comfort him. Time enough to process this later, when she was alone.
"Well, whatever planet you're from, I think you're pretty amazing," she said softly, tightening her fingers around his. Clark looked up swiftly.
"Really?" he asked, doubtfully, but there was a little gleam of hope in his eyes.
"Yeah. If you tell anyone I said so, I'll deny it, but you're the most caring, generous, gentle person I know. Why else would I, you know, feel the way I do?" she asked with a little one-sided shrug.
He raised his eyebrows and looked quizzical. "So, this doesn't change how you feel?"
"Well, I have about a million questions, but no." She leaned in and kissed him softly on the lips. His arms came around her back, tentatively at first, and then held her harder against him when he was sure she wasn't about to pull away. He buried his face in her hair where her neck met her shoulder. He was still shaking slightly. Lois smoothed her hands down his back, feeling his muscles shift under the soft flannel shirt. He smelled so good, like fresh air, and laundry soap, and...Clark. She rested her cheek against his and started to realize what a gift he'd given her, to trust her like this.
"So," Lois asked after they had resettled on the couch facing each other. "Who else knows about this?"
"Just my mom and Chloe," he answered.
"Chloe knows?" Lois demanded, "and she never told me? Her own cousin!"
Clark smiled at her. "Chloe knows how important it is for everyone's safety to keep this a secret."
"There are some unscrupulous people who would want to use this to their advantage," Clark explained.
"Well, that sounds like Lex Luthor, for sure," Lois commented.
"Yes, Lex, but not only him. I used to have nightmares about being trapped in a lab being experimented on."
"Yeah, that would totally suck," Lois agreed sardonically.
They sat in silence for a few minutes, each lost in their own thoughts. Then Clark sighed again. "You've been amazing about all this, but there's more."
"More?" Lois' eyebrows rose so high they were lost in her hair.
"I have these - abilities. Some people might call them powers. My parents always referred to them as my 'gifts,' though it took me many years to see them that way."
"Well, I can run really fast - like I can run to Metropolis from here in under a minute. I'm really strong, I'm pretty much invulnerable, there's some stuff I can do with my eyes, and...this." Clark wrapped his arm around her shoulders, and smiled down into her face.
"This? What's 'this'?" Lois asked.
"Look down," Clark said.
Lois looked down, gasped, and automatically tightened her grip on Clark's arm. They were floating a good four feet over the couch. She looked up. They were hovering just below the ceiling. Wonderingly, she reached up and touched the painted surface. "Where were you the last time I had to hang wallpaper?" she commented. "Clark, this is so freaking cool! I can't believe you could do all this and never told me!"
"Well, it's sorta hard to work into casual conversation, ya know?" he replied. He deepened his voice, "Lois, how do you want your coffee? And by the way, did you know I can fly?" He laughed.
"Get out! You can fly too? Oh, can you take me? Let's go!" she squealed.
"Sure, where do you want to go?" he asked, floating them lower as they neared the door to the Talon.
"Up! Anywhere! Just show me," she answered, landing gently and pulling the door open. The coffee house was filled with the usual mid-morning customers. Lois and Clark quietly slipped down the stairs and out the back door without being noticed. Clark scanned the alley to make sure it was empty before picking Lois up in his arms.
"Hang on," he said, and in a minute they were high above Smallville. Once they were high enough not to be easily seen, Clark shifted positions to hold Lois around the waist and leaned them both forward so they were parallel to the ground. They gradually picked up speed as they headed toward the Kent farm. Clark angled a look over at Lois' face to catch her reaction. She caught him looking and smiled even wider. It felt like her face was going to split open. Grinning himself, he navigated them to the farm and settled them down gently between the barn and the house.
"Oh, my God!" she exclaimed as her feet hit the ground. "That was... I don't even have words to describe that!"
"Lois Lane speechless," Clark drawled, "a miracle indeed."
He grinned as she swung a mock punch at him. He grabbed her fist and pulled her closer, gently pushing the loose strands of hair back behind her ears. He let his fingers linger on her face, stroking her cheek and caressing her ears. She grabbed a handful of flannel shirt and pulled him in for a kiss. The first kiss was tender and gentle, like earlier that day. The second deepened, became more passionate. Lois felt Clark's tongue gently stroke her lip, and she opened her mouth. She wrapped her arms around him, wanting to be as close to him as possible. His hands were stroking the back of her neck and her lower back, making her whole body tingle. She felt really hot, all of a sudden.
Clark gently kissed her forehead, eyes, cheeks, and the tender spot behind her ear before moving back to reclaim her mouth. Lois moaned gently and moved to kiss his neck. She stood on tiptoes to reach his earlobe. Suddenly he jerked and she could feel him chuckle.
"What?" she asked, pulling back to look at his face.
He grinned, "Nothing. I just have really ticklish earlobes, that's all."
"Oh, you do, do you? Come here, big guy!" and she reached up for his ears again.
"No, don't!" Clark laughed, covering his ears with his hands and running for the house. Lois laughed and followed him up on the porch. She grabbed him around the waist as he was unlocking the porch door. "My mom's in Washington this week," he explained as he led the way into the kitchen. "Are you thirsty? You can help yourself from the 'fridge. While we're here I'm gonna take a shower and get changed. I'll be right back."
Lois helped herself to a glass of lemonade and watched Clark climbing the stairs. She hoped the grin she couldn't seem to wipe off her face looked less goofy than it felt, but somehow, she doubted it. She couldn't believe she felt this happy less than 24 hours after everything that happened. 'Chloe! I have to call and check in.' Her cell was back in the apartment, so she grabbed the phone off the kitchen counter and dialed Chloe's number.
"Hello?" Chloe's voice sounded tired, but stronger than yesterday.
"Hey, Cuz! I'm just checking in to see how you are today," Lois explained.
"Well, honestly, I've been better, but I guess I should be grateful to be safe and still breathing today. Oliver has been great. I'm at his house where he can protect me and there's a staff available if I need anything. Why are you calling from Clark's house?"
"It's a long story. Listen, is there anything I can do to help you?"
"No, I called the Planet and Perry gave me a few weeks medical leave. I left a few stories half-done on my desk. Maybe you and Clark can finish them up for me?" Chloe asked.
"Sure, Cuz, no problem. I'm just relieved you're alright," Lois replied.
"You and me both. How are you coping after everything?"
"I'm fine, don't you worry. You know me - I'm good in a tight spot," Lois blustered.
"Yeah, but all the same, I'm glad Clark is around to keep an eye on you."
Just then Clark came clumping down the stairs, his hair wet.
"Speak of the devil, " Lois commented to Chloe, "here he is now. Want to talk to him?"
"Clark, it's Chloe, " she held out the receiver to him. His face lit up.
"Chloe! How is she?" He grabbed the phone, "Hey - how are you today? Is Oliver taking good care of you? Good. Listen, I thought Lois and I would come visit you today. We'll take the express. Yeah, she knows... about me. Will you let Oliver know we're on our way? OK, see you soon." He hung up and turned to Lois.
"You want to go to Star City and visit Chloe?" he asked in a deceptively casual tone.
"Of course I do. What do you mean we'll take the "express?" she asked.
"The Clark Express, of course. We can be in Star City in a few minutes - if we fly. If you want to, of course." His eyes twinkled as he tried, unsuccessfully, to suppress a grin.
"Do I want to... of course I do! Seriously, I want to see that Chloe is OK with my own eyes," she added quietly.
Clark crossed the kitchen and took her in his arms. "I know, and so do I. We've got time to stop at the apartment if you want to shower, change and pick up your things."
"Oh, are you hinting at something?" Lois asked archly, raising her eyebrows.
30 Minutes Later
Star City was a sprawling city that looked even bigger than Metropolis, at least from the air. Not that Lois had seen Metropolis quite like this, though she hoped to have the opportunity quite soon. This was definitely the way to travel! Clark settled gently down on the balcony of a beautiful mansion. It was set on a hill on the edge of the city, overlooking the downtown and the bay beyond.
"I guess you've been here before," Lois commented, as Clark pulled open the sliding glass doors to the balcony and strode confidently into the house.
"Yeah, Oliver and I have become good friends," he said, leading her through a luxurious living room. He paused in the Spanish-style hallway and picked up the handset of a small white phone. "Hey, I'm here. Where's Chloe? OK, I'll meet you there."
Replacing the handset, Clark turned left and led Lois down several hallways and up some stairs. She didn't have time to really examine her surroundings, but she got the impression of graceful arches, white walls, fine art, and space.
"Where are we going?" she asked as they headed down yet another hallway.
"The guest wing - that's where Chloe is. Ah, here we are," Clark announced, entering a final hallway through a white-washed archway. There was muted carpeting on the tile floors and alcoves set along the hall with fresh flower arrangements. A man in a white serving jacket was just closing a heavy wooden door behind him.
"Mr. Kent, how nice to see you again," he commented, coming forward to shake Clark's hand.
"Please, Consuelo, call me Clark. And it is nice to see you as well. How are you?"
"Very well, thank you. Mr. Queen told me you were expected. You are here to see Ms. Sullivan, no?"
"Yes we are. This is Chloe's cousin, Lois Lane. Lois, this is Consuelo. He runs Oliver's house."
"Nice to meet you," said Lois, offering her hand.
Consuelo bent over her hand. "The pleasure is mine. I can see beauty runs strong in your family."
"Well, thanks," said Lois, with a sidelong look at Clark. He grinned at her, totally unfazed by this charming servant.
"May I offer you and Ms. Lane some refreshment, Mr. Kent?"
Clark looked at Lois, who shrugged slightly. "A cold drink would be nice, thanks. Can we go in?" He indicated the wooden door.
"Certainly. Mr. Queen will be joining you shortly." Consuelo made a short bow and headed silently back down the corridor.
"Well, this is quite some set up Oliver has here," Lois commented, opening the door to Chloe's room.
Chloe was sitting up in a large four-poster bed made of dark oak. Her face was bruised and one hand was bandaged, but she smiled broadly as Lois and Clark came into the room. "Hey, am I ever glad to see you guys!" she exclaimed.
Lois ran to hug and kiss her cousin, and then settled on the bed. Clark carefully leaned over to hug Chloe as well, and then stood behind Lois at the edge of the bed.
"How are you holding up?" Clark asked.
"Pretty well - some bumps and bruises, but overall OK. My leg is the worst of it." Chloe indicated a lump under the bed covers with a wave of her uninjured hand. "The doctor says it is broken in three places, so I'm not going anywhere for a while. But, on the bright side, look at this place! It's like a 5-star hotel, so it's not like I'm suffering."
"It's the least I could do, after what you've been through these past few days," said Oliver, coming into the room.
"Oliver, good to see you. Thanks for keeping Chloe safe," said Clark, shaking his friend's hand.
"Hey Oliver. Thanks for watching out for my Cuz," said Lois from her perch on Chloe's bed.
"Hi Lois. It is my pleasure. I'm glad you could visit. I'm sure it is lonely for Chloe to be stuck in bed all day. Maybe you can persuade her to listen to the doctor and take it easy for a few days," Oliver said, going around to the other side of Chloe's bed and smiling down at her fondly.
"That may be beyond the power of mortal woman, but I'll do my best," Lois replied.
"Hey, if you'd just get me my laptop and an Internet connection, I am sure I can keep myself amused," Chloe commented, grinning at Oliver.
"I'm sure. That's what I'm worried about." Oliver answered. His face seemed serious, but there was a twinkle in his eye. "Hey, Clark, can you help me with something for a minute? We can let the cousins get caught up."
"Sure. Chloe, Lois, I'll be right back." Clark turned and went out the door with Oliver.
As soon as the door shut behind them, Chloe grabbed Lois' hand. "So, spill. What's the 'long story?' And did I sense a little vibe between you and our favorite farm boy?"
"Did I sense a vibe between you and our favorite billionaire?" Lois countered.
"I asked you first. You tell me - then I'll tell you." Chloe answered with a laugh and a challenging look.
"What is this, grade school? OK, fine. So, Clark and I kinda - kissed. OK, happy now?"
"Yes, actually," said Chloe with a broad grin. "But that's not nearly enough detail. What happened?"
Lois looked down at the bed and smoothed the covers unnecessarily. "I was a little on edge after yesterday, and Clark happened to come in at a weak moment." She looked up at her cousin, who was nodding encouragingly. "If you must know, I cried all over him, like an idiot." Lois grimaced at the memory.
"And..." said Chloe, waving her hand in a 'continue' motion.
"And, he was pretty decent about it all, really. And then he gave me some Martha Kent pearls of wisdom about loving all of a person or something..."
"Wait a minute! Hold the phone! Did you say the 'L' word?" demanded Chloe, her eyes bright.
Lois looked away, flushing. "Well, he said it first," she mumbled defensively.
"Oh ho! I see," said Chloe, grinning wider than ever.
"You don't have to look so pleased with yourself about it!" snapped Lois.
Chloe's expression changed. She leaned forward in the bed and took Lois' hand, which was still fidgeting restlessly with the covers. "Seriously, Lo, Clark's a great guy. I'm happy for you both."
Lois blew out a breath and faced Chloe. "Thanks. Actually, I hate to admit it, but I'm happy too. But," and she sat up straighter and gave her cousin a stern look, "that doesn't excuse you for lying to me about Clark's special talents all this time!"
It was Chloe's turn to look away. "I wanted to tell you, but I couldn't." She faced her cousin squarely. "It wasn't my secret to tell. How much do you know?"
"Really?" Chloe raised her eyebrows.
"Yeah, about Krypton and everything."
Chloe breathed out a relieved sigh. "Oh, this will make my life so much easier. It's been really hard to cover for Clark lately with you two working together so closely."
"What do you mean? Wait a minute, all those times Clark had to suddenly run off, you mean that was related to his... What has he been doing, Chloe?"
Chloe picked at the edge of the sheet. "He's been using his abilities to help people - like if they're getting mugged or whatever."
Lois' eyes widened. "So that's how he's been getting all those great crime story scoops! The stinker - no wonder he would never share his sources with me! He was there at the crime, wasn't he?"
"Yeah, but he's had some close calls lately. He wants to be able to help people, but he also wants a personal life as plain old Clark Kent. Plus, he doesn't want the bad guys to go after his friends or family. But there's always the risk he'll be recognized - or found out by you or someone else at work," Chloe explained.
Lois nodded thoughtfully and bit her lip. "What he really needs," she mused aloud, "is a disguise of some kind."
"Yeah, we've thought about that but we haven't figured out what yet," Chloe admitted.
"Let me think about that. Maybe I can come up with something."
Just then there was a light tap at the door, and Consuelo entered with a tray of cold drinks.
Meanwhile, in a secret wing of the mansion...
"So far, we've been unable to trace who was responsible for yesterday's attack on Chloe," Oliver was saying, his face grim.
"Nothing? But we caught the kidnappers!" Clark replied, leaning against an instrument panel and folding his arms across his chest.
"Yes, and they are still in police custody. But according to my source in the department, they aren't talking. Whoever is really responsible is either powerful enough that they believe they are protected, or scary enough the kidnappers don't trust the police to keep them safe." Oliver said, running his hand through his hair in a gesture of weary frustration. "My guess is, it's both."
"And you've had no leads on the car, the warehouse, the weapons, or anything?"
"We're still working on that. Actually, I was hoping Chloe could do some of her computer magic once she is feeling better. She's the best we've got, and actively seeking out the guy responsible will probably go a long way to making her feel safer."
Clark nodded, his face serious. "Knowing Chloe, that's probably true. Oliver, do you think she was a target because of the work she's been doing with us - with the Justice League?"
"It's a definite possibility - either because we got too close to something, or to draw us out in her defense. Although, you and I and Cyborg all showed to rescue her yesterday, and there didn't seem to be a trap."
"That we know of," added Clark.
"Point taken. It is equally possible that she uncovered something in her work for the Planet that hit a nerve with someone."
"OK, how about Lois and I take a closer look at Chloe's latest investigations at the Planet, and you guys backtrack through the League's most recent work? Let's see if we can uncover what triggered this attack. You'll keep Chloe here in the meantime, where she'll be safe?" Clark suggested.
Oliver nodded. "You can count on it." He turned to head back to the main part of the mansion. Clark fell into step beside him. "So, you and Lois?" Oliver asked, with a half-smile and a sidelong look at Clark.
Clark shrugged slightly and gave a crooked grin before glancing at Oliver, then away again. "So, you and Chloe?"
Oliver smiled wider and kept walking down the hall. Clark snorted softly to himself and stretched his longs legs to catch up with his friend.
Back in Metropolis
It was growing dark in Metropolis when Lois and Clark touched down on the roof of Lois' apartment building. They'd stayed for lunch with Chloe and talked through recent investigations that could possibly be linked with her kidnapping and attempted murder. Now they had a list of stories to follow up when they got into work the next day.
Lois had secretly taken the opportunity to watch Oliver and Chloe's interactions. They were clearly crazy about each other. Lois was surprised by the adoring looks Oliver gave Chloe when he thought no one was paying attention. 'Would I want Oliver looking at me that way?' Lois wondered, probing the old wound like someone touching a sore tooth. 'No,' she decided. It was bittersweet, but that chapter had ended. She was happy to be with Clark. She suspected Clark would suit her better than Oliver, anyway. And she was happy for Chloe. Her cousin deserved a little luck in the romance department.
"Deep in thought, I see," Clark's voice broke into her reflections. He held open the roof door to the stairwell. Lois smiled at him as she went through before him.
"Well, it has been a thought-provoking day," she replied lightly. "Thanks for the ride, Fly Boy."
"Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" she laughed up at him. "I'm something of a genius when it comes to making up names," she added.
"Uh huh," Clark looked unconvinced. He stopped outside the door to her apartment and waited while she unlocked it.
Lois dropped her bag on the chair by the door and flipped on some lights. She turned and saw Clark standing by the open door, glaring at the walls as though they had offended him.
"What's the matter? Don't like my decorating taste?" she asked.
"Hmmm? Oh, sorry. No I was just checking there was no one in the apartment. Looks all clear," he replied, turning to smile down at her.
"How on earth would you know that from here? Can you see through walls or something?" Lois demanded.
"Well, actually..." Clark's smile was slightly sheepish.
"You can? Get out! Someday I really must get the complete list of your abilities," she said.
"Someday, but not tonight. I think we've both had enough excitement for one day. So, are you OK for tonight?" Clark asked.
"Yeah, get outta here, Smallville. I'll see you at the Planet at 9 tomorrow, OK?" Lois smiled, coming over to kiss him goodbye.
He held her for a moment, nuzzling her ear, before pulling away and heading for the door.
"Oh, and it's your turn to bring breakfast," she reminded him.
"I know. Good night, Lois." The door closed quietly behind him. Without Clark, the apartment suddenly felt too dark and empty. She hurried to latch the bolts on the door.
Lois grabbed some cold pizza from the 'fridge and tried to watch a stupid TV show, but she was too tired from the day to concentrate. After a few hours she gave up and switched off the screen in disgust. 'I might as well just go to bed,' she thought.
Several hours later, she sat up in bed and turned on the lamp. The blankets were all wound around her legs from all the tossing and turning she'd been doing. 'It's no use. I can't sleep,' she thought. It all kept running through her mind...seeing Chloe getting her leg broken on that damned video from the kidnappers, the possible suspects, Clark's secret, Clark's kisses, his arms around her.... She sighed and ran her hand through her hair. 'I can't just lay here thrashing around all night. I'll just have to swallow my pride,' she realized. Lois climbed out of bed and pulled on some sweats.
10 minutes later
Lois stared at the door to Clark's apartment. 'What am I doing? How can I explain why I needed to wake him up at 1 in the morning? I should just go catch a cab and go home again.' But the thought of the dark, lonely apartment and her mangled sheets gave her the courage to knock, quickly, before she chickened out again. She was just wondering whether she should knock again or run away when she heard the latches click open.
Clark stood in the open doorway. She could see in the light from the hall that his hair was tousled and his eyes were sleepy. "Lois? Are you OK?" He opened the door wider so she could enter. She waited until he shut the door behind her before speaking.
"I - I couldn't sleep," she admitted in a small voice. "Could I, maybe, stay here with you tonight?"
Clark paused, studying her before answering. "Sure. Come on." He took the bag off her shoulder and set it by the door before snapping the locks closed. With a warm hand on the small of her back, he guided her through the darkened apartment and into his bedroom. "What side do you like?" he asked, getting a spare pillow out of the top of his closet.
"The left," Lois answered nervously.
"Help yourself," Clark grabbed his own pillow from the middle of the bed and gestured to the cleared space.
Lois took off her shoes and her sweatshirt, and lay down in her t-shirt and sweatpants. She pulled the covers up to her shoulders and felt Clark settle in on the other side of the bed. She cuddled up to him, laying her head on his shoulder, and sighed with satisfaction when he circled her with his arm. 'That's what was missing!' she thought.
"Thanks, Clark," she murmured, already feeling sleepy.
He dropped a light kiss on the top of her head before settling in to his pillow. "Sure thing, Lois."
The next morning, Lois woke up disoriented. 'Where am I? That's not my ceiling.' Then she remembered. She turned her head. The bed next to her was warm, but empty. She could hear the shower running. Clark. She covered her face with her hands. 'What must he think of me? He must be wondering what he has gotten himself into, getting involved with a crazy lady who couldn't even spend one night alone in her own apartment!' She jumped out of bed and pulled on her shoes and sweatshirt. There was a brush on the bureau, and she made an attempt to tame her wild mane of hair. Then she headed for the kitchen. He'd been a gracious host, in extreme circumstances. The least she could do was make some coffee.
As she was switching on the coffee machine, she heard Clark came into the kitchen. From the corner of her eye, she saw he was fresh from the shower, dressed in a suit and tie for work. Ignoring him, she stood on tiptoe, trying to reach his coffee mugs. He came up behind her and lifted them down for her. He took advantage of his proximity to nuzzle the back of her neck before stepping over to the 'fridge in search of some milk.
"Good morning, Gorgeous," he said.
"Good morning," she said, keeping her back turned as she rooted in another cabinet for a box of cereal. She forgot her embarrassment when she saw what he had in his cupboard.
"Lucky Charms?!" she exclaimed, brandishing the box at him. "What are you, 12?"
"Is that why you came over," he asked, grinning, "to make fun of my taste in breakfast cereal? Besides, I like the little marshmallows," he added.
She watched him pour a large bowl of brightly colored cereal with narrowed eyes. "How do you stay so -" she gestured eloquently at his perfect physique," when you eat like that?"
"Just lucky, I guess," he smiled at her before wolfing down another large spoon of cereal. "I think there's some disgusting bran stuff in there from the last time my mom visited, if you prefer."
Lois blew out an exasperated sigh, then helped herself to a bowl of Lucky Charms and settled next to Clark at the table. They were actually quite tasty, if a little too sweet. Not that she'd admit it to Clark. For a moment the little kitchen was peaceful. Sunlight came in the small window and the rich smell of brewing coffee wafted from the pot on the counter. When the coffee machine beeped, Clark got up to clear his empty bowl and pour them each a cup. He settled back down next to her and regarded Lois over the rim of his mug.
"So," Lois began, "about last night."
Clark looked at her and grinned. Lois looked away, fiddling with her coffee cup.
"Sorry about waking you up. I don't know what got into me." She gave a brittle laugh, still avoiding his eyes. "It won't happen again." She risked a glance at him. He was still looking at her and grinning.
"Well, say something!" she demanded.
"What do you want me to say?" He looked confused.
"Something - anything! Don't just look at me."
"Why not?" Now he was giving her that innocent farm boy look.
Lois crossed her arms and regarded him across the table. "I know that look."
"I'm not giving you a 'look,'" he protested. "Besides," he added with his lazy smile, "I like the view."
She tried to stay mad with him, but she couldn't. All her indignation faded in the face of the famous Kent charm. She was starting to see why Chloe had had a crush on him all through high school.
"So what are we going to do?" she asked.
Lois rolled her eyes. "About the sleeping arrangements."
Clark raised his eyebrows and his thumb started to trace lazy circles on the back of her hand. "I like the sleeping arrangements," he said. "Although it is only fair to warn you that it's awfully tempting, lying next to you like that." He slid his fingers lightly up the inside of her wrist. "Eventually, I'm going to give in to that temptation," Clark added. He was smiling, but there was also something...hungry in his eyes. Seeing that look, Lois couldn't repress the shiver that ran through her. She found herself wondering what "eventually" meant, and what she could do to speed it up a little.
"So," she said, to break the busy silence, "how do you want to work this? Agree on the - night's...arrangements - at dinner?"
"Sure," said Clark standing, "we can try that and see how it goes. But for now, we need to get you ready for work. We need to get going or we'll be late." He put their empty mugs in the sink and led her to the door.
The Daily Planet
Lois pushed back from her desk and sighed. She tilted her head to stretch her neck, but the knot that had settled in her shoulder at about midday would not loosen. Giving up, she gathered all her papers and pulled up a chair next to Clark. He was on the phone and he held up a finger to indicate he would be free in a minute.
"OK, what have you got?" he asked, hanging up the receiver. Lois named off possible suspects as she leafed through the sheaf of papers in front of her. "It still could be Intergang - Chloe had somehow found a source inside the organization - or it could be that shadow boss behind all the new numbers racket and gambling places. Or Billy the Mouth."
"No, not Billy," Clark interjected. Lois looked at him questioningly. He gestured to his desk phone, "That was Lieutenant Roberts. He's been tracking down suspects for us all day. He says Billy was in a holding cell under observation for the whole time in question. He couldn't have done it or coordinated anyone else doing it."
"OK," Lois said, making a note on a paper and tossing it back on her desk. She unconsciously rubbed her sore shoulder. "Who do you have?"
"I've eliminated - or the police have - everyone except Danny Quentin. He swore revenge on Chloe for giving evidence against him 5 years ago - and he's out on parole."
"So what should we do from here?" Lois asked. Clark stood behind her chair to look more closely at the papers in front of her. He absentmindedly massaged her sore shoulder as he thought. Lois gave a groan of relief and let her head flop forward as his strong fingers released the knot in her muscles.
"The police are going to watch Danny Quentin. They agree he's a credible threat. Let's see if they turn up anything about him. I have some friends who can research the Intergang connection. I'll call them tonight. I think you and I should go undercover and look into this numbers racket. Let's go home and get changed into something appropriate for a night on the town." Clark looked at Lois, who was rapidly becoming a puddle in her chair. "Lois? You with me?"
"Huh? Yep. Right behind you," she said, standing up and grabbing her purse.
A seedy bar in Metropolis, later that night
"Have I told you recently that you look fantastic?" Clark whispered to Lois as he held the door open for her.
"Maybe once, or twice, or four times, yes," she whispered back, flashing him a smile. "Now hush and get into character."
Clark meandered through the smoke and haze and settled at a small table in the back. From here he could see both the front and back doors, and keep an eye on Lois at the bar.
Lois approached the bar pretending more confidence than she felt. She'd dug out her sexiest dress. It was such a dark blue it looked black in the dim bar lights, and it made her creamy skin glow. It only came down to mid-thigh, and the top exposed a generous amount of cleavage. When she slid herself onto a bar stool and crossed her legs with a silken whisper, she could feel every male eye in the place on her.
Lois gave the barman her most charming smile. She knew her outfit flattered her figure, but she felt rather underdressed. It was a little like skinny-dipping in a pool of piranha. "Hi," she said, "can I get a lemon drop?"
"Sure," the barman said, smearing the counter-top with a flick of his rag. He set a martini glass in front of her. "Eight dollars," he said. Lois threw down a ten-dollar bill.
"Do you know where a girl can find a little - excitement around here?" she asked him, sipping her drink.
The barman raised an eyebrow at her. "What kind of excitement are you looking for?" he asked.
Lois leaned forward confidentially, well aware this would distract the barman with the additional cleavage thus exposed, "I hear there are some thrilling games a person with the right inclination and resources can play."
"There might be at that," said the barman cryptically, walking toward the other end of the bar. Lois only had time to sip her drink once more and wonder what her next move should be when she felt a presence at her elbow.
"Now what's a pretty lady like you doing all alone in a place like this?" asked a gravelly voice.
'Nice. That must be the lamest, most clich pick up line of them all,' thought Lois wearily. She rapidly composed her face and turned to her new visitor. He was a short, stocky man with curly blonde hair and a scar across one cheek.
"I'm not alone any more, am I?" she asked archly, with a smile at the man.
"I hear you're looking for a little excitement?" he asked her breasts.
This was it. Time to see if the sources she'd spent all afternoon interviewing were right. She touched the man's arm where it lay next to her on the bar, lightly running her fingers along his sleeve.
"That depends on what sort we're talking about," she countered. "A little bird told me I should talk to Tim. You," she paused to sip her lemon drop and lick her lips. She saw him watching her mouth. "wouldn't know how I could get a hold of him, would you?" She smiled again.
After a moment, he wrenched his gaze back up to her eyes. "This little bird have a name?"
The blonde man scratched his jaw thoughtfully, looking at her with narrowed eyes. 'Oh, God, he's going to call my bluff,' thought Lois. She could feel the sweat running down her back and between her breasts, but she held herself still with a supreme effort and kept the bright smile plastered on her face. It was the hardest thing she'd ever done, not to let her eyes flick to Clark in the mirror behind the bar. Her face was starting to feel frozen in the fake smile. The silence stretched on for an agonizing period of time, though in reality it was probably only a second or two, before the man tilted his head and smiled slightly.
"I run a private -club - if you will, for discriminating people who enjoy a certain amount of risk. Now, normally my club is only open to members or people who come with an introduction from a trusted client, but for such a beautiful woman, I think we can bend the rules a little. You would be an ornament to our little establishment." He offered Lois his arm.
"With such a charming host, how can I say no?" Lois asked, sliding off her stool and putting her hand through his arm. With her other hand, she snagged her lemon drop. The man led her through the thumping bar music to a door at the back of the room. Lois was careful not to look at Clark as she passed his table. She knew he'd be watching her through the wall and be ready to intervene if there was trouble. She passed through a scarred red door, ignoring the enormous bouncer stationed next to it, and into the gambling den beyond.
2 hours later
Lois emerged from the red door at the back of the bar and made her way, with exaggerated caution, toward the exit. She only staggered a few times, once bumping into Clark, making it look like an accident. The fresh, cool air outside was a relief. She went far enough down the sidewalk so she couldn't be seen from the bar's grimy windows and huddled against a wall, waiting.
Clark followed her out a few minutes later. He hurried to catch up to her. She was shivering and rubbing her arms. He immediately took off his jacket and slung it around her shoulders. They started up towards a bigger street, looking for a cab.
"Well?" he demanded, "What happened? You were in there long enough. I was starting to worry."
"I had to gain their trust. And that required about $50 worth of drinks. It's a good thing I learned to hold my liquor early." Now that she was away from the bar, Lois was striding quickly and steadily down the street. "That is a serious gambling hall. Minimum bet is $100, but I saw a lot of people losing thousands in the time I was there." She caught his concerned expression. "Don't worry - I lost a couple rounds to look authentic, and then pretended to be too drunk to play any more. I spent my time cozying up to the regulars, to see what I could find out. This is only one of several halls run by some big boss - there are at least 5 in Metropolis alone."
"Did you get any information on the boss?" Clark asked, hailing a cab.
Lois waited until she was settled in the warm seat before replying in a low undertone, "No one at this level seems to know his name. They just call him 'The Wolf.' And they all seemed to feel he was no one to mess with. But I did get one lead. I'll show you when we get inside."
The cab pulled up at Lois' building, and they hurried inside. Once her apartment door was safely shut and locked behind her, Lois pulled a silvery card out of her purse and showed it to Clark.
"What is this?" he asked, turning it over in his fingers as he settled on the couch.
"It's a membership key card. It will get you into any of the five clubs in Metropolis. I thought we could see if Chloe could get any electronic information off it."
"How'd you get this?"
"I picked a guy's pocket," she answered nonchalantly.
"Well, if it helps us figure out what happened to Chloe..."
Clark sighed, looking at her and then down at the card. "I guess a stolen lead is better than no lead at all, but I still think..."
"Exactly!" Lois interrupted. "Now, we'd better get that to Chloe right away, before the guy realizes it's missing. They may reprogram things if they figure out I took it."
Clark stared at her for a moment, and then shook his head and stood. "I guess that's my cue. Can you call Chloe and warn her I'm on my way? And remember - cell phones are not secure lines, so don't refer to my powers directly."
"I know, I'll be careful. How long will it take you to get back?"
"Back?" Clark asked, looking innocent.
"C'mon Smallville, you know what I mean," she said, giving him a shot to the shoulder.
"Is that an invitation to stay here tonight? Shall I pick up my toothbrush on the way?" He grinned at her.
"Well, since you ask, OK, I guess you can stay," Lois replied, looking smug. "So how long will the round trip take you?"
"Well, that all depends," said Clark, moving closer and looking down at her.
"On whether you'll still be wearing that dress when I get back."
"Let's say I'm in my flannel pajamas?" Lois asked, tilting her head at him.
"Probably about half an hour. Maybe 45 minutes."
"And if I'm in this dress?"
Lois heard the knock and opened the door. Clark was grinning, holding a small bag over his shoulder. "My, you are fast when properly motivated. I'll have to bear that in mind in the future." She moved aside to let him into the apartment and locked the door behind him. "Do you want something to drink?"
"A glass of water would be nice," he replied. "Where do you want me to put my bag?"
Lois called from the kitchen, "Just put it straight in the bedroom, anywhere there's space."
Clark walked down the small hallway and into Lois' bedroom. It was a fairly large room for an apartment, with a queen-sized bed and a blue-and-white striped comforter. He put his overnight bag on the floor between the dresser and the closet, out of the way. Either Lois was a lot tidier at home than she was at work, or she'd cleaned up while he was gone. Either way, the room had a relaxed, spacious air to it.
Lois appeared at his elbow and handed him a glass. "So, what did Chloe say?"
"Thanks. She's working on it now. She said she'd call us in the morning with any information."
"Good. Well, I hope it gets us closer to understanding this whole thing," Lois said, running a distracted hand through her hair.
"Don't worry. We'll figure this out. Look at how many investigative stories we've done together in the past, and we always got to the bottom of things in the end. We're a pretty good team, Lois."
Lois sighed. "I know. You're right. It's just - we've never had so much riding on it before."
Clark set his glass on the dresser and pulled her in for a hug. "I know. I'm worried too. But you have to have a little faith, OK?"
Lois snuggled into his broad chest and felt herself relax. "OK. I'll try."
"On a totally different subject, did I tell you how much I like that dress?" Clark asked, stroking Lois' lower back.
"You know, you were pretty subtle about it. I did pick up on that, because (as an investigative reporter) I'm trained to notice these little clues," laughed Lois.
"Mmm, clever you," said Clark, bending down to kiss her. One hand lightly traced lazy circles on her back, slowly up and down, while the other traveled up to cup the back of her neck. Lois gave herself up to the kiss, pressing herself into Clark's hard body. His touch was so gentle, his lips so soft, she felt like she was melting into him. He stroked the side of her neck and caressed her ears, following his fingers with gentle kisses. Lois had her arms around Clark's neck, one in his thick, dark hair, and the other running over his shoulders and back. She kissed his neck inside his open collar and nuzzled him. He hummed softly in pleasure.
She ran her fingers down his chest, opening his shirt buttons one by one and letting her fingers slide over his smooth skin. His mouth returned to cover hers as their kisses became deeper and more passionate. His hand slid from her neck, down her collarbone, to gently brush the top of her breast. Lois gasped as a jolt of heat surged south. Clark moved his hand back up to her shoulder and pushed her away slightly so he could look in her face.
"Lois," he said, his voice low and rough, "what do you want?"
Lois was dazed with passion. "What do you mean?"
"You need to tell me now if you want me to stop. If I go much further, I might not be able to stop."
Lois dragged her gaze away from his full lower lip and focused on his eyes. They were dark and intense with desire. "I don't want you to stop," she said honestly.
The next morning
Lois awoke in a tangle of sheets and warm Clark. It was a marvelous way to wake up, she thought. He was sprawled across the bed on his stomach. One foot was hanging off the side of the bed, and his arm was thrown across her body. Lois scooted up on the pillows slightly so she had a better view. He was so big! He seemed to take up her entire bed. He had a beautiful back, smooth and muscled, with not an ounce of fat. Lois smiled to herself as she gently stroked his shoulder and ran her fingers down his back. She was just considering whether she could get away with lifting the sheet and peeking at the whole panorama, when he stirred. The hand across her body moved to caress her from hip to shoulder, and he turned his head to look at her.
For a moment Clark's eyes traveled over her, then he smiled. "Good morning," he said, his voice rough with sleep.
"Hey, you," Lois replied softly. She brushed his hair out of his eyes. "Sleep well?"
His smile widened, warming her down to her toes, "Yeah. You?"
She matched his smile, "Yeah."
Clark rose up on his forearms and dragged Lois lower in the bed to kiss her. She sighed happily and wriggled closer in his embrace. When she could speak again she brushed his ear with her lips and murmured, "Last night was..." but then her vocabulary deserted her.
He dropped a light kiss on her shoulder and nuzzled her neck before replying, "Left you speechless? That's quite a compliment."
"Mmm," she agreed, enjoying what he was doing with his fingers.
The phone rang. Clark reached out a long arm to snag the receiver off the bedside table and handed it to her.
"Hello?" she said, trying to ignore Clark, who was starting to work his way under the sheets. "Chloe?"
Clark stopped what he was doing and popped his head up to listen.
"Hi Lois. Listen, I worked on that item you gave me. It was a convoluted trail, but it seems to lead to a guy named Buck Strickland," Chloe said.
"What do we know about him?" asked Lois.
"Not a lot. He's a new player on the Metropolis scene - came out of nowhere last year. He's a CEO, running a multi-million dollar international corporation, in direct competition with Luthorcorp."
"That's interesting," mused Lois, "do you think he's competing with Lex on more than a legit business level? We know Lex is somehow involved with almost every shady deal in Metropolis. Is this guy trying to muscle in?"
"Possibly. His main holdings are under the name Timberline, Inc. Rumor has it he made his fortune in lumber and paper manufacturing in Oregon before branching out. One source told me this Strickland guy wants to BE Lex Luthor - even shaves his head."
"Nice. Powerful AND psychotic. Sounds like a likely candidate," commented Lois, catching Clark's eye. He nodded grimly. "Good work, Cuz. We'll check it out."
"OK," said Chloe, "I'm emailing you the list of his properties in Metropolis. Be careful. I hear this guy is pretty ruthless."
"We will. Don't worry, I'll have Clark with me," Lois replied.
"Is Clark there? I need to ask him something," Chloe said.
"Yeah, he's right here. Take care, Cuz," Lois said, handing the phone to Clark. "She wants to talk to you," she said.
Clark sat up and took the phone, "Hey Chloe. Good work." He listened intently for a moment. "No, not yet. Do you think that's necessary? Uh huh. OK, I will. Yeah, you too. Say hi to Oliver for me. We'll let you know what we find out." He reached across Lois to put the phone back on its base.
He ran his hand through his hair, sweeping it out of his eyes and turned to Lois. She was sitting up against the pillows, regarding him with a raised eyebrow. "What was that all about?" she asked.
Clark sighed. "Chloe thinks I need to tell you about my weakness."
"Your weakness? I thought you were invulnerable," Lois said, surprised.
"Usually I am. Bullets bounce off, and so forth." Lois opened her mouth to comment, but Clark was already continuing, "But when Krypton blew up, some of it came to Earth in a meteor shower. The pieces are radioactive green rocks, and they make me weak and sick. I lose my powers while they are near me, so I can be hurt, and if I am exposed for long enough, they can kill me."
"Oh," Lois said. She'd gotten used to thinking of Clark as somehow...always there, and it was unsettling to think of something that could kill him so easily.
"Why did Chloe think I needed to know about this?" she asked, tilting her head as she regarded him.
He raised his eyebrows at her. "In case we run into any Kryptonite -meteor rocks - in our investigation. You'd need to understand what was happening, and try to get them as far from me as possible."
Lois nodded, considering. "Good to know. So, I guess we should get going. Do you want the shower first? You have to promise not to take one of your marathon showers and leave me with no hot water, mind."
Clark grinned, "I think I have a solution to the shower problem."
"Yeah? What's that?"
"We could take one together." He slanted a glance at her, to catch her reaction.
Lois folded her arms across her chest, "Oh? I thought your family usually takes turns."
Clark reached for her, "That's only on the farm."
Somewhere near the docks
"Are you sure this is the place? It doesn't look like a millionaire gambling boss' headquarters, Smallville," Lois commented. They stared up at the shabby, two-story building that was covered in rusting aluminum siding. A battered and dirty sign proclaimed it to be "Ted's Trucking."
Clark thrust the sheet of addresses into Lois' hand. "Look for yourself. We've checked out every other location on Chloe's list. Either this is it, or it's someplace else Chloe doesn't know about. Besides, what do you expect? A big neon sign proclaiming 'Secret Hideout?'"
"Funny. You ever think about a career as a stand-up comedian?" Lois pulled her cell out of her pocket and dialed Chloe.
"Hey, Cuz, we're at the last location, and it's not looking promising. Are you sure this is the right place?"
"I gave you everything connected with our subject, but I'll look into it and call you back. There may still be locations we haven't found. I'll let you know," Chloe promised.
"Great. More walking. I think we'll check this out and call it a day. My feet are killing me," said Lois. "Talk to ya later." She hung up and dropped the phone back into her bag.
"Maybe your feet wouldn't hurt if you wore more sensible shoes," commented Clark, looking at her high-heeled boots.
"Fashion advice? From you? Do you really want to go there, Smallville?" asked Lois, glaring at him.
"Boy, you get cranky when you're tired," he said, turning away to scan the building.
"And hungry. After this is over, you owe me a steak," added Lois.
Clark turned, opened his mouth, saw her expression, and closed it again. "I think I'll just look around back. You coming?"
"I'll wait here. Shout if you see anything worth investigating," Lois said, rubbing the small of her back, which was also aching. As Clark disappeared around the corner into the alley, she looked around for someplace to sit down for a second. They'd been chasing worthless leads since eight that morning, and they hadn't managed any lunch, either. She was losing hope that they would find anything connected to Chloe's kidnapping. 'This is probably a big dead end. Maybe the police will find something on Danny Quentin. There is probably a message from Lieutenant Roberts waiting on my phone at the Planet right now.' She wiggled her toes, which were starting to go numb. 'Why wasn't there ever a park bench when you needed one? Or a curb, even.' Then Lois felt the hard pressure of a gun barrel poke her in the back, and a high, cold voice said, "Lois Lane, I presume?"
"...get that filing done?" a balding man with a paunch was asking a woman.
"Yeah. And I called everyone except the Anderson account. I'll do that in the morning," she replied. She looked about 20, with big, curly red hair and a tight skirt.
"Alright. Let's call it a night then."
Clark shrugged slightly. It looked like Lois was right; this was another dead end.
"Well, well, if it isn't Clark Kent. It looks like Lex was right...you do have special talents," came a high, cold voice from the alley.
Clark spun in mid-air to face the voice. A tall, bald man in a wrinkled white suit was standing at the end of the alley, pointing a video camera at Clark. Next to him an enormous guy stood, holding Lois at gunpoint. Her hands were tied behind her back, and the duct tape over her mouth gleamed silver in the fading light.
Meanwhile, at Oliver's house in Star City
"Was that Lois on the phone?" Oliver asked Chloe, settling on the edge of the desk next to her. The room was filled with top-of-the-line screens and computers. As the Green Arrow and leader of the Justice League, Oliver used a lot of search and surveillance equipment.
"Yeah. They've checked all but one of the locations I found in my search, and so far, nothing," Chloe said. She leaned back in her chair and stretched.
"Was she calling to say they'd given up?" asked Oliver.
"Sort of. She sounded pretty tired and discouraged. She said the last place didn't look promising, and would I check to be sure the address was right," Chloe explained.
"I'm not sure - I was just about to look. I may have typed it wrong. I was pretty tired when I sent that email."
Oliver gave her a sympathetic grimace and squeezed her shoulder. "You were working awfully late checking all those leads and following Strickland's trail. Plus, you're injured. It's no wonder you're tired. Why don't you wait and check this address in the morning?"
Chloe put her hands on the desktop and leaned over to rest her forehead on them. "Mmmm, tempting."
Oliver moved to stand behind her and rubbed her shoulders. "I'm not sure spending 20 of the last 24 hours working at a computer is what the doctor had in mind when he told you to take it easy. Take a break and come back fresh in the morning."
"Very tempting, especially when you work your magic on my shoulders." Chloe sighed. "But if I don't follow this up, it will bug me all night. I'll just look quickly, then I'll stop for the night. It'll only take 5 minutes. "
"OK, but I'm staying here to make sure it really IS only 5 minutes," Oliver said, pulling up a chair and sitting next to her. He left one arm around her shoulders, and Chloe smiled.
She leaned in to kiss him. "Sure, Boss," she said.
She pulled up her original list of Strickland's property under various names and holding companies and compared it to her email. "No, the address is right." She frowned and typed in another search on a special surveillance program. "But what the Hell...?"
Oliver leaned in. "What is it?"
Chloe pointed at the screen. "This is supposed to be a trucking company. What on Earth is that doing there?"
Ted's Trucking, near the docks
"Now, you don't want to go do something heroic that will only get your little friend killed and get your delightful floating stunt here broadcast on every major network in time for the 11 o'clock news," said the bald man, patting the video camera fondly, like a favorite pet. "I've been recording you this whole time, and the recording is going live to a distant digital feed. Even if you destroy this camera, I still have you flying on tape. I have an excellent shot of your face. So come on down, Mr. Kent, and maybe we can come to some arrangement."
Clark hesitated, looking at Lois and then at the camera. He was fast, but that gun was right against Lois' back. He slowly settled to the ground.
"A wise decision, Mr. Kent. Now, go into that door behind you."
"What do you want, Mr. Strickland?" he asked, his voice stern and serious.
"Oh, we'll get to that, my dear boy, all in good time. Now you need to know that I never make the same request twice. Horatio, break one of Ms. Lane's fingers."
"No!" Clark started forward, but Lois had already bent forward in pain. When she stood again, a moment later, blinking away tears, Clark looked in her eyes. She wasn't frightened, she was furious.
Clark opened the door and went into the building. It led into a large, mostly empty room. The walls were lost in shadow, but Clark could see reflections off glass lenses all around the room. More video cameras.
"I am happy to see that you can be trained. Go into that cage over there." Strickland pointed at a steel enclosure in the center of the room that was about 6 feet square, and 10 feet tall. "No? Horat..."
"OK, I'm going!" Clark called, moving into the cage.
Strickland threw a switch near the door, and Clark heard the cage door lock after him. A second switch activated a winch in the ceiling, and the cage slowly rose until it hung, suspended 10 feet off the floor.
"Horatio, let's not be bad hosts. Please show Ms. Lane her accommodations," continued Strickland.
Horatio roughly threw Lois into a cage similar to Clark's and slammed the door after her. Seconds later a click announced her door was also locked. Lois, still seething, put her back against the rear wall of her prison and slowly slid to the ground. She was almost grateful that her hands were tied behind her back so she couldn't see her broken finger.
"Now I'm not sure - yet - what all you have in your bag of tricks, Mr. Kent, other than the lovely floating you have so kindly demonstrated for me. I'm sure you will be delighted to enlighten me. In the meantime, I have taken the precaution of surrounding you with every kind of video camera possible - infra red, high speed, and so forth. I want to make sure to catch all your little stunts on film. The cameras all feed continuously to a variety of remote locations. So feel free to rescue Ms. Lane here...if you want all your secrets to be shared with the world. I am sure there are a number of government agencies who would be most...eager to investigate you, shall we say, thoroughly?" Strickland called up in his cold voice, eyeing Clark.
Clark barely managed to suppress a shudder at the thought of government labs and experiments. He made his face as calm and composed as he could, and took a deep breath. When he was sure his voice was steady, he called down to Strickland. "What do you want?"
The bald man smiled. "Did you know I was at school with Lex Luthor? Yes, I went to Excelsior too. Of course, I was several years younger, but even then, I could see his genius."
"It's delightful to take this trip down memory lane with you, Mr. Strickland, but what does this have to do with Lois and me?" Clark interrupted.
Strickland regarded Clark silently for a moment, his head tipped to one side. "Did your mother never teach you that it is rude to interrupt? Horatio, if Mr. Kent interrupts me again, shoot Ms. Lane." Horatio drew his gun, cocked it, and pointed it at Lois. Strickland tore his gaze away from Clark and glanced at Lois. "Oh, and try to make it a flesh wound, would you?"
The bald man looked back at Clark and continued, "So, as I was saying, even young as I was I noticed his genius. I knew his life would be extraordinary. I began to study him, to watch his every move. Even after graduation, I kept track of him. I applied his business practices to my own company, and see how I have prospered. I investigated every detail of his childhood, and who did I discover but you, Mr. Kent." Strickland smiled as Clark started in surprise. "Oh, yes, I know you and Lex were friends, for a time. And I know all about Lex's investigations of you and your... secret. Now that you are going to reveal that secret to me, and I will have your powers at my fingertips, I will finally be able to surpass even Lex's power and fame..."
As Strickland rambled on, Lois looked up at Clark. She knew he was trying to appear calm to their captors, but when he looked at her he paled slightly and she could see the bewildered hurt in his eyes. She knew how desperate he was to save her. Clark glanced at the cameras lining the room and back at her. She could tell he was thinking of using his powers regardless of the consequences. He mustn't put himself any further into Strickland's control. Beasts like Strickland never let you go once they have a hold of you. The blackmail was only beginning. Clark had to be free to help all of Metropolis. Her life was insignificant when compared to the many lives he could protect and save.
Lois wished the damned duct tape wasn't covering her face so Clark could lip read what she was saying. She looked him in the eye and shook her head slightly. 'Don't do it,' she pleaded silently. Clark's eyes scanned the cameras again before returning to hers. She shook her head as hard as she dared without attracting the attention of Strickland and Goon, Co. He must understand her! He frowned slightly, his eyes narrowing. After a beat, his mouth settled in a new, grimmer line and he looked back at Strickland. Lois took a deep breath. She hoped she'd gotten through to him.
He watched Strickland, who was still ranting about the genius of Lex Luthor. Clark stood still in the center of his cage, but his fingers twitched slightly and Lois guessed at the enormous self-control he was using to keep himself from ripping off the cage door and knocking out both Strickland and the guard.
"So I knew I had to find a way to see you in action, Mr. Kent," Strickland was saying. "I thought I would get some footage of you when you came to rescue Ms. Sullivan, but the camera at the warehouse in Smallville where my men were holding her mysteriously overheated." Strickland tilted his head, light gleaming off the crown. "You wouldn't know anything about that, would you?"
Clark remembered frying the surveillance camera with his heat vision as he and Lois and the Justice League rushed in to rescue Chloe. He looked again at the lenses surrounding him. He hadn't thought anything of it at the time - he certainly hadn't foreseen this.
"Then, when I got a description of the beautiful woman who was nosing around one of my establishments, I couldn't believe my luck! You were coming to me. All I had to do was set the trap and wait for you to walk right into it," gloated Strickland.
"Your issue is with me, Mr. Strickland, not with Lois. Let her go and I'll tell you anything you want to know," Clark said. He didn't have a lot of hope that this gambit would succeed, but it was worth a try.
Strickland laughed. It was the most chilling thing Clark had ever heard. "Now, why would I do that, Mr. Kent? Do you really think me so foolish as to lose my main leverage over you? In my recent investigations of you - oh, yes, I have been watching you for a while - I have noticed your fondness for our lovely investigative reporter here."
Clark felt like he had swallowed an icicle. Lois was in danger because of him and his secret. He should never have told her, never gotten involved with her. He knew it was dangerous at the time, but he'd been too selfish, too eager to share his life with someone. He'd have to fix that when they got out of here - if they got out of here.
He glanced again at Lois in her prison. Her face was drawn, and he knew she had to be in considerable pain. He didn't dare use his X-ray vision to check her finger since he was unsure what the cameras around him would pick up. There was no sense revealing more of his powers than necessary to this monster. Still, she gave no indication that she was suffering, and her eyes were still smoldering with anger. Anger was good - much better than panic. She would be ready to follow his lead when he came up with a way out of here.
Now he just had to come up with a plan. He could easily fry the cameras with his heat vision and the door to his cage wouldn't even slow him down, but there were so many cameras on him, at least one of them would catch him in action before going dark. Not that he cared about preserving his secret when it meant risking Lois' life, but what had she meant with all that frantic head-shaking? He wished they had some way of communicating behind Schrick's back. Clark gave an inward shrug and turned his attention to the problem at hand.
Was there a way to get them both out of this without revealing his secret? Strickland and the goon had both seen him fly. People could be disbelieved, but cameras didn't lie. He looked once again at the cameras. If only there were a way to disable the live feed...
Oliver leaned closer to the screen, "What are you talking about?"
Chloe pointed again, "Look at the data streaming off that warehouse. There must be seven live feeds coming off at least 50 data sources. Does that seem normal to you?"
Oliver frowned. "Can you tap into one of the streams?"
Chloe nodded, "I think so. Give me a minute." Her fingers flew over the keyboard. After a few minutes, a small picture in a picture popped up on her screen. "Am I good, or what?!" exalted Chloe, grinning. Her grin faded as her eyes made out what she was seeing on the screen. "Oh, my God!"
"Oh, sh*t!" exclaimed Oliver, his fingers tightening on the edge of the desk. "Is that Clark?"
Chloe turned to look at Oliver, her eyes wide and scared. "What are we going to do?"
Oliver was already pulling a phone out of his pocket, looking grim. "Can you cut those transmissions and trace where they are being sent? We're going to call in the cavalry."
Lois' broken finger had dulled to a throbbing ache, and she was beginning to lose sensation in her other hand. She shifted her shoulders a little in a vain attempt to ease the strain on her arms. Clark winced suddenly, and then he slanted a glance at her. Lois was surprised to see a very small smile curl up the corner of his mouth. She tilted her head. 'What is he up to?'
"So you see, Mr. Kent, I think it is time for you to start disclosing. Otherwise, Horatio will really have to start finding new parts to break on Ms. Lane," Strickland was saying.
Clark looked at Strickland again, and then at the goon, who was watching Lois, clearly bored. He raised his eyes to the cameras lining the wall behind Strickland and sent them each a burst of heat vision, quietly disabling them, one after another. "I can see you've thought this through," Clark said to Strickland, turning and waving his hand to indicate the cameras surrounding him. He used the gesture to cover the hot glare he was giving the rest of the room. Sweeping a look around all four walls, Clark checked he hadn't missed any cameras before turning back to the bald man. "There is something you should know about me," he began.
Strickland leaned forward, avarice naked on his face. "Yes, Mr. Kent?"
Clark took a deep breath and aimed at Strickland and the bodyguard with the gun. He let it out in a great burst of air that leveled both men and sent the gun flying. Using his superspeed, he broke open the door of his cage, flew down and grabbed both men, and flew back to deposit them in the cage he had so recently vacated. Then he used his heat vision to weld the door shut.
Strickland and the goon both looked up at Clark, startled to find themselves suddenly captured. "What? How did?" they said, bewildered.
"Don't you want to know what I was going to say?" asked Clark, grinning at them from mid-air next to their cell. He leaned forward and whispered confidentially, "The thing you should know about me is that I have some very clever friends." He gave their confused faces one last smile before flying down to free Lois.
As Clark tore off the duct tape, freed Lois' hands, and scooped her into his arms, the back door of the warehouse opened. Impulse and Cyborg ran in. "Hey guys, could you take care of things here? I need to get her to a doctor."
"Sure thing, Dude," said Impulse, giving Clark a grin. "Anything we need to know?"
Clark paused on his way past Impulse to whisper in his ear. Impulse looked up at the caged men and grinned even wider. "No problem," he said, " I think we can make that happen for you."
"Oh, and please let Watchtower know we're OK. And tell Control...thanks," Clark added.
"Our pleasure," said Cyborg, pulling a gas canister out of a loop on his belt and advancing on the cage. "Hi fellas, time to go nighty-nite," he said.
Metropolis General Hospital
The doctor had almost finished setting and splinting Lois' broken finger. The painkillers had finally kicked in and she was looking a little dazed. Clark looked up from his seat next to her and saw Oliver lurking in the hospital corridor.
"I'll be right back," Clark murmured to Lois, heading out the door. He closed the door of the examining room behind him and turned to shake Oliver's hand. "How can I ever thank you?" he asked.
"No need. You've come to my rescue more than once. It's what friends do for each other," replied Oliver, smiling. He turned to look through the window of the examining room. "How's she doing?" he asked, indicating Lois.
"Broken finger. She'll be OK," Clark replied.
"Chloe will be relieved. When we saw that video feed of you in that cage - well, it was all I could do to restrain her from charging after you herself, broken leg and all," said Oliver.
"She did the most important thing from the control room by cutting the video feed. I don't think I've ever been as relieved in my life as I was when I got your message on the special frequency," admitted Clark.
"Yeah, that frequency has come in handy," mused Oliver. "It's useful, you hearing things other people can't."
"Did you get a hold of the recordings of my..." Clark dropped his voice and glanced around the corridor, "activities?"
"The team took care of that, yes. Green Arrow found it to be a nice challenge," said Oliver, smiling.
"What about our eyewitnesses?" Clark asked.
"Our bald friend is in for a nice restful trip to Belle Reve. Apparently, he's paranoid, obsessed with Lex Luthor, and delusional - among other things, he claims he saw a man flying." Oliver winked at Clark before continuing. "I'm quite pleased with the solution we came up with our steroid-popping gentleman." He lowered his voice further. "We've injected him with Versed and brought him to the hospital. When he wakes up, his last few hours are going to be very foggy. It shouldn't be hard to convince him that he's been ill and had some very strange fever dreams - especially since there will be no evidence to the contrary."
Clark smiled gratefully. "You're a life-saver, Oliver."
Oliver clapped him on the back, "I'm just grateful you and Lois found out who was threatening Chloe. She'll be delighted to come out of hiding."
Clark smiled, but it was a sad smile and he looked at the ground, scuffing his feet a little.
"Uh oh, I know that look," said Oliver.
"It's my fault Chloe and Lois got hurt," said Clark, his voice agonized. "They were both bait so Strickland could investigate me."
"Clark, listen to me," said Oliver seriously. He waited until Clark looked up before continuing. "This is not your fault. You cannot control what every crazy person out there tries to do! All you can do is help when and where you can - and you already do that. Think of all the lives you've saved - on your own and with the League. Why, each of us has been indebted to you at one time or another."
"Yes, but..." Clark began.
"No buts. Now, I think Lois is waiting for you. Take her home and we'll talk in the next day or so." Oliver slapped Clark on the back one more time. "Get some rest."
"Thanks Oliver. Say hi to Chloe," Clark replied, watching his friend head toward the elevators. Then he forced himself to smile and headed back into Lois' room.
After a special Clark foot rub and some more pain pills Lois fell asleep almost immediately that night. Clark sat for a long time in a chair next to her bed, watching her sleep and thinking. He knew what he should do, but it was going to be difficult to make himself do it. When he finally did go to bed, he slept badly.
The next morning the smell of bacon, eggs, toast, and coffee woke Lois up. She sat up in bed just as Clark came in with a tray. He set it next to her on the wide bed and kissed her good morning.
"Oh, this smells heavenly! I am so hungry!" exclaimed Lois, grabbing a piece of toast and biting into it with gusto. "Thank you!"
"Well, I figured it was my turn to bring breakfast." Clark gave her a weak smile. "How's your finger?" he asked, sitting in the chair he'd pulled up to the bedside the night before.
"I won't be typing fast anytime soon," Lois said, looking at her blue and silver splint dispassionately.
"No change there, then," replied Clark, with a ghost of a smile.
"Funny. No, seriously, it aches a bit, and it's sort of throbby, but I've had worse. Did I ever tell you about the time that Bobby Bradshaw and I decided to ski off the roof and..." Lois broke off her story and looked at Clark with concern. "Clark? Are you OK?"
He quickly looked up from studying his fingers and gave her a brief smile, "Sure. Fine. What happened with Bobby Bradshaw?"
Lois put the half-eaten toast back on her plate and sat up straighter in the bed. She looked more closely at Clark. He looked tired and strained. The chair was a careful distance from the bed - easy talking distance, but too far to touch.
Lois tilted her head, considering him. "What's going on?"
Clark looked up, "What do you mean?"
Lois smiled and waved a hand at Clark and the chair, "You seem a little distant - and I mean that literally."
"Oh." Clark looked away. He swallowed, and then continued, gazing at the dresser, "I've been thinking. Maybe I've made a...mistake."
"A mistake?" Lois sucked in some quick air and forced her voice to stay calm. "What kind of mistake?"
"It would be best if I weren't, weren't...involved with anyone," Clark said miserably, staring at the wall.
'Oh God, Lois, you've screwed up another relationship,' she thought. 'What did I do wrong this time? I thought this one was going really well. I must have been too much of a burden yesterday.'
"Oh," she said in a small voice. "I'm sorry about yesterday - in the warehouse," she added.
"What?" Clark raised his head and looked directly at her for the first time. "Why are you sorry?"
Lois looked away and twisted the edge of the sheet around her uninjured hand. "I know I was a burden. I was stupid and got captured, and that made things harder for you." She took a deep breath, "Usually I'm pretty good at taking care of myself. I don't blame you for wanting to...fly solo."
Clark stared at her for so long, she turned to meet his gaze. "You think you were a burden? You think that's what this is about?" he asked incredulously.
Lois frowned, her eyebrows quizzical. "Isn't it?"
"No! Yesterday in the warehouse, you were amazing! You were so brave. And when you got hurt, instead of panicking, you were angry. I knew you'd be ready for anything we needed to do to escape." Clark stopped waving his arms and looked Lois in the face. "I was proud of you," he said softly.
Lois stared at him. "You were?"
She felt relief wash over her and a knot she hadn't even known was in her chest started to loosen. "Well, then," she asked, feeling calmer, "what's the problem?"
Clark looked down at his hands where they lay helpless in his lap. "Don't you see? It's my fault you got hurt - you and Chloe."
Lois cocked an eyebrow at him. "I don't recall you breaking my finger," she said dryly. "How is it your fault?"
"Strickland hurt you because he knew he could get to me that way. I knew that it was dangerous to tell you my secret. I guess it's dangerous just to be around me, to be...special to me. I was selfish and I got involved with you anyway," Clark confessed. "I'm sorry."
Lois was silent so long that Clark finally chanced a look at her. She was sitting bolt upright in bed, her arms crossed over her chest, and she was glaring fiercely at him. "Having a nice pity party, are we?" she asked icily.
"What?" he asked, confused.
"Stop it! Just, stop it!" she demanded furiously. "How dare you apologize for what has probably - no, definitely - been the happiest time in my life! I refuse to sit and listen to you beat yourself up for something that was not your fault. It was that psycho Lex-wanna-be Strickland's fault! And he's paying for it! And if you think I am giving up my chance at happiness just because there's a little risk, well, then, you don't know Lois Joanne Lane very well after all, do you?" She stopped, panting for breath.
Clark looked dazed. "I..." he began.
"You told me you loved me. Was that the truth?" she cut in.
"I...well, yes," Clark admitted.
"Do you still love me?" she demanded.
"Yes," he said sheepishly.
"Well, then, we'll have no more of this 'I can't be involved with anyone' nonsense. Face it Kent, you're stuck with me."
Clark gaped at her for a minute. Then something seemed to strike him. "Did you mean it when you said this has been the happiest time in your life?"
Lois considered making a snappy come back, but relented when she saw how vulnerable Clark's face was. "I meant every word," she said softly, and was rewarded with Clark's rare brilliant smile.
"Now are you going to come sit over here with me, or do I have to come over there?" asked Lois.
Clark moved the forgotten breakfast tray and sat next to Lois on the bed, leaning against the headboard. She lifted his arm and cuddled into his side.
"Now that we have that cleared up, I have some questions about yesterday," she said. "Why did you suddenly start destroying the cameras after restraining yourself so long?"
"I knew that Chloe had cut the live feed so I could act without being recorded," he told her, smiling down into her upturned face.
"How on earth did you know that?" she asked.
"Sorry, did I forget to tell you? I have super hearing - I can hear things from a long distance away, and on other frequencies. Chloe and I worked out an arrangement where she can contact me on those frequencies. Humans can't hear them," Clark explained.
Lois shook her head at him. "Sometime really soon I'm gonna need that complete list of skills from you. Maybe you can tell me tonight over that steak dinner you owe me."
"Maybe not in the restaurant, but possibly afterwards," he said, smirking a little.
Lois was silent for a moment, leaning her head against Clark's chest and listening to his steady heartbeat. He stroked her hair and rested his cheek on the top of her head. It reminded Lois of that night in the Talon. And that reminded her of something Chloe had said.
"I think you need a costume," she said, "so you can go do your work helping people and still keep a private life as Clark Kent. It might also draw the attention of psychos like Strickland away from you. They'll focus on the public guy in the costume."
"Chloe and I have been talking about that, but we haven't decided anything yet," Clark answered.
"I can help. You'll need something bright, to draw their attention away from your face and make you seem as different from everyday Clark Kent as possible." She smiled modestly up at him. "I'm almost as good at costume design as I am at naming people," she added.
"Oh, good," he said ironically. "I can hardly wait."
"Careful, Smallville. I know your weakness - and I am in reach of your earlobes!" she said, grabbing for them. Clark clapped his hands over his ears and rolled over in the bed, laughing.
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