"Ahh…" Clark adjusted his car mirror and smiled at himself, taking a minute to admire his cool sunglasses. "Great day to go to the beach, huh guys?" he said, looking over to his passengers, Lois next to him and Jimmy in the back seat.

"Totally!" Jimmy shouted, looking out the window dreamily as they pulled into the parking lot by Ramsey Lake, an artificial lake created by the army.

Lois was looking out the window too, but she seemed less enthusiastic. She had made it no secret that going to the beach was not her preferred choice of how to spend their rare day off, but she had been outvoted by the combined efforts of Clark and Jimmy. Ever since becoming the star reporter, she generally expected to get her way among the staff at the Daily Planet. Clark and Jimmy in particular were accustomed to deferring to her wishes, as they both respected her greatly, despite the fact that one of them was her biggest (and really, only) rival.

But the alternatives Lois had offered failed to tempt her two co-workers away from their chosen path. Going to the press club and attending a lecture debating the importance of freedom of the press vs. national security sounded tolerable to Clark, but held absolutely no appeal for Jimmy. Her second suggestion, to watch a documentary which she was only interested in because it quoted one of her articles at one point, was even less alluring.

As they parked, Clark quickly glanced at the beach using his super eyesight. All things considered, it wasn't particularly busy considering it was a hot summer day, but it was hardly barren either. There were kids building sand castles, adults lounging on towels, and people having fun in other stereotypical ways. Curious, he zoomed in on the sand. As might be expected from a man-made lake, it was rather coarse, with large, chunky grains. Slightly disappointing, but not a big deal. He then took a look at the water molecules of the lake – they were moving at a pretty good pace, so the water wouldn't be too cold (as if it would bother him even if it was, but at least now he didn't have to pretend to be cold). Clark smiled, anticipating a fun day was ahead of him and his friends.

He opened the door and got out of the car, went around to the back, and opened the trunk. He grabbed his bag (which contained his towel, clothes, and his Superman costume in a secret compartment) quickly as his friends snatched up their own belongings.

"Wow. Seems like forever since I've been to the beach," Jimmy said as they began walking.

"You're not the only one!" Clark said. "Also feels like forever since we got a day off, huh? Of course, I guess not all of us consider that a good thing." He gave Lois a playful nudge.

Lois stepped away from him. "Oh, come on, Clark. I'm not some work-obsessed killjoy just because going to the beach isn't my number one favorite thing to do. But I mean, that doesn't even mean I'm against the idea, I'm sure we'll have lots of fun! I just…"

"You just don't like not getting your way," Clark finished.

Lois looked a bit huffy.

"Hey, you win some, you lose some, right?" Jimmy said.

By this time, they were halfway to the water. Clark sighed – mostly a happy sigh of being about to experience something fun and refreshing, but there was also some wistfulness intermingled in his feelings of cheery anticipation. He remembered a time in his life he spent hours in the water on a regular basis – his college days, when he was dating the mermaid Lori Lemaris. Lori Lemaris was the first woman Clark had ever fallen deeply in love with. Just looking at the water brought back lovely memories of spending time with Lori in her native environment – and when she could be herself, and embrace her nature rather than hiding it, Clark felt that he could too. Clark felt truly comfortable around her in a way he had never completely felt around anyone else. When she had to return permanently to her underwater home, and Clark realized that their relationship wouldn't work out, it felt like a piece of Clark had been violently ripped away from him.

That was a long time ago, and that hurt had had plenty of time to heal. But when he thought about it…he still missed her. He missed having someone to share his life with, someone he could trust, someone who could understand what it was like to live a life of constantly hiding one's own nature, living amongst a species they could only pretend to belong to.

He knew he might not ever get all of that back, but he at least wished that he had a partner of some sort that he could love and trust, and who would love and trust him in return. Ever since breaking up with Lori, he had never had a steady girlfriend. No one could ever replace her…for most of his life after graduating, he couldn't even imagine loving anyone as much as he had loved her. And it seemed cruel to choose someone as his partner without being able to love them with all his heart and soul – to take them away from someone who might embrace them more fully.

Lois Lane was the first person who had ever changed his perspective. The first person he had met since Lori who he thought he could truly and fully love, to the point that she wouldn't feel like a replacement for Lori at all, but someone he could completely love just for who she was, without even feeling much temptation to compare her to his former lover.

…Of course, the fact that she wasn't actually interested in him was a bit of an obstacle. Well, sure, she seemed fascinated by and even romantically attracted to him when he was in his Superman identity, which was nice, but…it didn't really do much good, as far as actually establishing a serious relationship with her was concerned. He didn't really want Lois to see him as being some invincible hero. He wanted her to understand that he looked up to her as much as she did to him, if not more so…and he didn't think he could convince her of that as Superman.

"Hm? Something the matter, Smallville?" Lois glanced at him. "You look lost in thought."

"Oh! Umm…" Clark felt as though Lois had taken a pin and popped the thought bubble hovering over his head. "Uh, I'm alright," he said, smiling and rubbing the back of his neck. By now, they were right by the water.

"Whoo-hoo! Time for some fun!" Jimmy grabbed a Superman beach ball and whipped off his sandals and his cover-up, fully revealing his rather skinny form, and ran into the water.

Clark thought he heard a small grunt or sigh from Lois. She reached into her bag, pulled out a plain-looking, blue-and-white-striped towel, and laid it out flat on the sand. Clark thought she looked adorable in her sunglasses and hugely wide-brimmed sunhat, but he was even more allured as Lois began taking off her cover-up, revealing her slender, bikini-clad form. Clark couldn't help but smile, while also swallowing nervously.

Though he could feel the rays of the sun as well as anyone else, and even prefer certain temperatures to others, no temperature ever made him feel uncomfortable. The heat he was feeling right now, while intense, was simply pleasant to him, where it might not be to everyone else. But now, he was beginning to feel a bit of heat from within, and that was a different story. He didn't want to stare, so he quickly looked away, blushing as he did so. Lois rolled her eyes, obviously having noticed, and began lounging on the sun towel. She picked a book out of her bag and began to read it.

Clark had to admit, the temptation to stare at what was to him an extremely luscious sight was powerful. Especially since this might be the best I ever get, he grumbled to himself inwardly and cynically.

It was kind of strange, really. He rarely had a hard time being respectful to women. Heck, most of the time his level of attraction to anyone of the opposite gender (or otherwise, for that matter) was honestly surprisingly minimal, even if the individual in question would normally be considered quite a thing to behold. But on the rare occasion that he did fall in love…that was a different story. Slowly, he turned to glance at Lois out of the corner of his eye.

"Ugh. It's too darn hot," Lois said, pulling an umbrella out of her bag and setting it up, and also slipping her cover-up back on. "And don't look so disappointed, Clark. I'm not the only woman on this beach."

"Uhh…heh heh heh…" Clark felt awkward and looked away again. M-maybe I should just go in the water with Jimmy…

The funny thing was, Clark imagined that, in the minds of many, Lois, while attractive, was actually outclassed by many other bikini-wearing women on the beach that day. But Clark didn't really care to more than barely glance at any of them. He guessed he couldn't help but see any potential objects of his affection as complete packages – while he could certainly appreciate the physical comeliness of those with whom he was enamored, he rarely became that enamored to begin with unless he also had an appreciation or admiration of that individual as a person.

Well, that's enough self-analysis of my romantic urges for one day… Sighing slightly, Clark removed his cover-up and entered the water.

Lois was about to settle down and keep reading her book, but as soon as she saw Clark take off his cover-up, she stopped. Wh…what? She blinked, actually a bit shocked by what she was seeing.

Clark, the man she had stereotyped as a wimp and a coward, actually had the robust, muscular physique of a regular he-man.

Lois didn't know how to react. She had known the man for years, and didn't really ever realize that he looked quite like…that. She saw him every day, and knew he was a big, bulky man, sure. But she guessed he must never wear very tight-fitting clothes, because she had always assumed (maybe for psychological reasons having to do with her impression of him more than anything) that his bulk was, you know, not pure muscle - that at least a reasonable percentage of it was fat (easy to believe considering his appetite for goodies and sweets and ridiculous amounts of creamer in his coffee). But lo and behold, the man before her was a muscle-man through and through.

Lois suddenly realized that she had been staring at Clark for a few minutes while he was playing and talking with Jimmy. She quickly turned away and tried to distract herself with her book. But as she read a somewhat boring passage, her eyes, seemingly of their own accord, slowly wandered back to the burly body of her co-worker.

Eep! Lois thought to herself. I can't be attracted to Clark Kent! I can't! I'm not! I just…that's ridiculous. She tried to focus on her book in earnest.

Really? What's so weird about being attracted to him? a counter-voice in Lois' head went. He's quite a hunk, really.

Shut up! Lois shouted at herself, re-concentrating on the words on the page before her. This is Clark Kent we're talking about. Maybe he is a little…fit. But…but so what? He clearly isn't doing anything worthwhile with those muscles of his, other than…running away from danger! So there!

Lois felt satisfied that she had won her argument with herself. For about fifteen seconds.

Clark was oblivious to all this, too focused on tossing the ball being tossed back and forth between Jimmy and himself.

"Hmm…" Jimmy said as the ball landed in his hands for the umpteenth time. "This is kinda…not that interesting. Why don't we go farther apart or something?"

"Uh, sure Jimmy." Clark had to admit Jimmy had a point. He took a few steps back, then abruptly (and intentionally) tumbled backwards into the water with a mighty splash.

Lois rolled her eyes. Too bad his bulk doesn't make him any more coordinated…

"Oof!" Clark scrambled to his feet, quickly picking up his sunglasses from out of the water and putting them back on.

Lois flushed as she glimpsed Clark's face without his sunglasses. On the rare occasion that she saw him not wearing any eyewear, she couldn't help but notice, more than she usually did, the fact that he kinda maybe bore at least a passing resemblance to Superman…and seeing that right now didn't exactly help her in the fight to stem her growing affectionate feelings towards him. I just hope he doesn't notice… She hid her face behind her book.

But despite his powers of perception (both mental and literal) and impressive intelligence, Clark was still completely clueless to Lois' feelings. In this particular matter, the distraction of playing with and talking to Jimmy was as effective in blocking Clark's normally piercing vision as a five-foot-thick wall of lead.

Ironically, while the two friends were certainly enjoying themselves, they weren't even talking about anything particularly important nor doing anything more interesting than the rather infantile activity of playing catch. But it was enough to occupy Clark, a man quite accustomed to being attentive to his surroundings at all times, almost completely. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that it had been a while since he had been able to spend much time with Jimmy, and he was one of his closest friends.

"So like I was saying, Captain America could totally defeat Spider-Man even without his shield," Jimmy said as he threw the ball with all his might to the now slightly-farther-away Clark.

"Well, he probably could if the name of the game was 'no weapons or items allowed', but if Peter could still use his web-shooters, that might be a different story," Clark said as he threw the ball back.

"Of course, neither of them could even take one punch from Superman," Jimmy said, emphasizing his choice of words by tossing the ball in the air and punching it towards Clark.

"Not that Superman would want to punch them…" Clark said, retrieving the ball from where it had fallen in the water, just a few feet short of reaching him. "If they were real, I'm sure Superman would get along with them quite nicely. They're both quite admirable heroes, from what I've seen."

Truth be told, Clark didn't spend much time watching superhero movies or TV shows – he was a busy man who had to worry about his own real-life superheroing in addition to an often very demanding job as one of the premier journalists for one of the nation's biggest papers. (He could use his super-speed, which included super-quick perception, to consume entertainment media at a much faster pace, but he didn't really want to – on the rare occasions he had chances to do things just for fun, he wanted to savor it as much as possible.) However, he had watched a couple of rented Marvel movies with Jimmy – it was probably the most recent "fun" thing he had done with his young friend, and it had been over a month ago. It was just as well they had just been rentals; something about going to the theatre felt slightly uncomfortable for Clark – the experience felt a bit too absorbing, like it was a little harder for him to disengage every once and a while and take a quick scan of the city using his super hearing and eyesight to make sure there were no problems he should be attending to, which he was normally prone to do. And when he was in college, he had actually kind of enjoyed buying comic books every now and again, reading them, and dreaming of the day when he would officially kick-start his own career as a costumed crime-fighter. Peter Parker was a bit of an inspiration to him because he himself couldn't help but feel like a nerd sometimes (especially because of those aforementioned comic books), and Captain America – who couldn't love Captain America? If anyone could love truth, justice, and the American Way as much as Clark Kent, it was definitely Steve Rogers.

"Yeah, you're probably right," Jimmy said. "He'd get along with them, but I dunno if they'd hang out much. I mean, Superman is always saving the day and stuff and I don't really think he'd need their help most of the time. I mean, he's just so much stronger than any made-up hero."

"Yeahh…" Clark frowned slightly. "But just because they're not as powerful as Superman doesn't mean they couldn't be friends. I mean, you should know all about that, being 'Superman's pal' and all…" He smirked and tossed the ball back to Jimmy

"Ohh, come off it, Clark!" Jimmy said, blushing. "You know I'm no closer to Superman than you or Lois are. And anyway, none of us can do much to help him save the day other than…being kidnapped. Which is like, actually the opposite of helping." He lobbed the ball at Clark again.

"Well, yeah, but…my point is, don't you think Superman could like someone as a friend even if they weren't as powerful as he was?" Clark said, a bit concerned.

"Well, yeah, of course! I'm just saying, if Superman was friends with Captain America or Spider-Man, he'd probably be friends with them in the same way we are with him. I mean, sure, he's nice to us and all, but he's still Superman. It's not like we really hang out or spend much time together when we're not interviewing him or being rescued," Jimmy said.

"Yeah, I guess," Clark said, quickly turning and winking at the readers.