Author's note: This is written in the same vein as my MoS fic "Interludes," basically a between-the-scenes story that will at times overlap with scenes from Justice League. As such, it will have some pretty big spoilers. This story also makes direct references to "Interludes" and to my post-BvS story "Good." You should be able to enjoy this story without having read those fics, but if you want to read more, now you where to look. ;)

Regarding timing, I'm assuming Clark died in DoJ sometime in the late fall or early winter based on the Friends of the Metropolis Library event happening during Dia de los Muertos. JL clearly happens in a time other than winter, though, since the final battle is in "northern Russia" according to Barry Allen, and they're not under 2 feet of snow. (Also, I'm a gardener and the height of the corn on the Kent Farm puts Clark's reunion with Lois and Martha during the early to mid-summer.) Since I've been enjoying the solar myth Zac Snyder has been weaving into Clark's story, I'm keeping things simple and running with the idea that Clark died in early December and came back to life sometime in June.

Also, the song referenced in the first scene is "Gone, Gone, Gone" by Phillip Phillips.

Hope you enjoy!

Dust motes dance in the sunlight streaming through the barn's open door, swirling in time with them as Clark sweeps her off her feet to a beat. "For you, for you," he croons along with the radio, and Lois laughs. It's their song – has been since the Valentine's Day interview – and she never tires of hearing it. "You will never sleep alone, I'll love you long after you're gone..."

It's a perfect moment, the thrill of their shared happiness singing through her veins, and she wants to live in it forever.

"Like a drum my heart never stops beating for you..."

A ringing phone dragged Lois from the dream, dragged her through the cold knowledge that memories were all she had now, dragged her into a dull, gray, broken world.

She reached for the phone, intending to shut it off. Sources didn't call her anymore, just telemarketers. Even then they were robo-dials most of the time. But the caller ID read "Bruce Wayne."

Her stomach dropped. He hadn't contacted her in months. She should have been thrilled – either Gotham City's richest man or its last defender wanted to talk to her. There was a story here. There should be – she knew it in some rational part of her brain. But she couldn't feel it, couldn't see it – the words didn't flow anymore. That analytical part of her, the part that owned any story, had died when Clark did. She remembered what the thrum, the form of the engine of the world should be, but whenever she forced herself to look, the engine was too-still and she could only see the S-shaped hole in it.

I can't. I can't. I just can't...

The phone fell silent in her hand, and guilt started creeping in. It had taken her a while to understand what Diana had meant. "Do what would honor Clark Kent the most," the Amazon had said. "Change the world." But Lois couldn't carry on Clark's legacy. She couldn't be that strong. She wasn't enough without him. No one was.

The phone started ringing again, and pushed by guilt more than pulled by excitement or even courage, she swiped the screen and said, "Hello?"

"Lois. I need you downstairs in fifteen minutes."

His words were further evidence that the whole world had gone off the rails. "What?"

"I don't have time to talk right now, but I need you downstairs in fifteen minutes. Alfred will be there and he'll explain everything."

He wasn't being reasonable. It was still the gray twilight before dawn and she hadn't had her coffee yet. "I can be ready in about an hour."

"Lois. The fate of the world is in the balance right now. I need you downstairs."

Why couldn't he just go away? "I appreciate the exclusive," Lois tried again, "but I'm not on the investigative beat right..."

"We're going to try to bring him back to life."

Her lips went numb with the shock of his words. "What?"

"Downstairs. Fifteen minutes. Alfred will explain." The line clicked dead, and something long-dormant in Lois roared to life. Tossing back the covers, she threw on her clothes, yanked a brush through her hair, grabbed her purse and press pass, and was running as fast as her heels would let her to the fancy car in front of her building within ten minutes.

"Miss Lane," Alfred cordially greeted as he held the front passenger door for her. She fumbled her seat belt and then forced herself to stop and take a deep calming breath. She could feel again, even if it was the most tremulous of hope, and it was a bit overwhelming. The reporter in her was alive and focused, and it frightened her (because what if Bruce failed?), but she did her best to push the fear aside. By the time Alfred had walked around the car, buckled his own seat belt, and pulled out into traffic, she thought she could more or less pass for a rational human being again.

"So," she began, breaking the ice, "Bruce said you would explain?"

"To the best of my ability, yes. There is a...being, another extraterrestrial, that has come here with the intent to destroy humanity. The Amazons were unable to stop him, as were the Atlanteans."

"The who?" she interrupted. "Did you say Atlanteans?"

"The world has changed, Miss Lane," he said, his smile somewhere between amused and bemused, though he remained focused on driving. "We walk among legends."

"I walked with a god," she pointedly said. "And speaking of him..."

"Yes. This alien, Steppenwolf, has two...talismans of the three necessary to destroy us. Master Bruce and the others hold the third, but they are not enough to defend it. That talisman also has the power to give life."

"And they're going to use it to resurrect Clark?"

"They're going to make the attempt, yes. The world needs Superman."

She was almost afraid to ask, but the moment was etched into her brain: a hulking brute with a green-tipped spear about to kill the man she loved. "And after this Steppenwolf is defeated?"

"What of it?"

"Will the world still need Superman?"

Alfred hesitated just long enough for her to know he understood and took her question seriously. "Without question. And Master Bruce feels that the team would benefit from Clark's contributions as well."

Lois let out a breath she hadn't realized she'd been holding. Now that her internal lovesick fangirl was satisfied, the reporter in her reasserted herself (and it felt so good for her mind to be working properly again). "So Batman woke me up early and was considerate enough to send you to come pick me up just because he was feeling generous?"

Alfred glanced at her, a knowing smile flickering across his face. "If you are insinuating that this was more than a courtesy call, you are correct. We feel that there are certain...risks associated with waking Superman up. Should he prove...difficult, Master Bruce feels you will be able to reason with him when no one else could."

"I'm his fallback plan." Lois couldn't help feeling a little bit irked that she was just a cog in his machinations. If he was going to include her in the plan, he should have at least given her a little more notice.

"The world needs Superman, the team needs Clark, and – we suspect – he needs you."

Lois smirked at Alfred with grudging amusement. "You're much easier to work with than Bruce."

Alfred's grin was genuine. "Yes, I am. Thank you." He sobered, his smile fading. "Master Bruce knows that neither he nor Clark would forgive him if harm came to you because of this plan. Our first hope is that Miss Prince will be able to persuade Superman to join them, considering they have fought side-by-side in the past. If that fails, Batman will try to convince Superman..."

Lois swore softly under her breath. "Is he suicidal?"

"He could not put you in danger without first making the attempt."

Lois considered that. While it might be true for Bruce Wayne, she knew enough about Batman (after reading up on him in the last six months) to recognize that that motivation was too sentimental. "He's worried Clark and I will fly off into the sunset and he'll never get Superman's help."

This time Alfred was the one with a grudging smile. "Into the sunrise, actually, but yes, that as well."

Bruce's gravelly Batman-voice came through the car speakers, interrupting them. "If that happens, Lois, the fate of the world will rest on your willingness to send him away."

The words were harsh enough to knock the wind out of her. That, and she didn't realize the Bluetooth had been turned on.

That's why they didn't have her there the moment Clark came back – she saw that now. It had less to do with protecting her and more to do with not distracting him. Bruce was willing to risk his life because he didn't trust Lois to be strong enough to not ruin his plan.

The knowledge stung all the more to realize that, if she were in Bruce's place, she wouldn't trust her either.

"Once Superman's recovered enough from waking up, of course," the butler added.

"Alfred!" Bruce's voice reverberated through the cab of the car, an edge of panic to his voice. "He's taking all four of them down. I'm going in."

"Understood," Alfred answered, his grip on the steering wheel tightening. Through the speakers, Bruce called out, "Clark!" Their car started accelerating.

"All four of them?" Lois echoed.

"Miss Prince, a cyborg who was named Victor Stone when he was fully human, a half-Atlantean ally named Arthur Curry, and Barry Allen, a human whose speed rivals Superman's."

Lois tried to wrap her head around it, but her thoughts were interrupted by a thud and crash that shook the speakers – so vivid that Lois flinched in her seat. The car started weaving in and out among other vehicles, drawing honks and (Lois was sure) flipped birds. "Alfred, I need the big guns," Bruce's voice filled the cab.

Again she saw in her mind the Bat, spear drawn, ready to skewer Clark alive. Speaking over Bruce, she said, "You said the world would need Superman even after..."

"I did. It's true," Alfred answered, and Lois clung to the door as they turned a corner, tires squealing.

"But he said 'the big guns.'"

"He meant you."

Yesterday, she would have said the compliment was misplaced. Today she felt ready to walk into a lion's den, into pitched battle, into hell itself if it meant fixing this horrible, months-long mistake. She wasn't going to get a name plaque with "The Big Guns" for her desk, but she'd take the title – and the strength it implied – and run with it now.

Lois heart chilled when an almost-familiar voice said over the car speakers, "You did this?"

Horrified, she whispered, "Is that...?" as Bruce answered, "I had to."

"Superman," Alfred confirmed.

"You won't let me live. You won't let me die." The tone made the hair on Lois' arm stand on end.

"The world needs Superman," Bruce said, and Lois wasn't sure if he was talking to Clark or to her.

"But does it need you?" Clark said over the speakers. She'd never heard his voice so distorted by hate before.

Had Bruce done what Lex failed to – turned Clark into another Zod? "Please, drive faster," Lois pleaded.

"Almost there" Alfred curtly answered.

"Tell me," the almost-Clark voice growled, "do you bleed?"

Alfred slowed to a stop on the grass of Heroes Park, and Lois threw open the door. "Clark!"

Though she'd been mentally preparing herself for this for the last half-hour, the sight before her took her breath away. It was him, hovering in the air, holding the fully-geared Batman with one hand as if he was a rag doll. Not a dream. Not a memory. She ran toward him – slipping past a police officer, so that she was front and center – and saw in his face what she'd heard in his voice. It wasn't just hatred for Bruce that was distorting him. Something wasn't right in Clark's eyes, in his mind.

He died, a voice in the back of her mind whispered. You wouldn't be yourself either.

How to help him, if he even could be helped? She inched away from the brutalized police car, but tears welled up in her eyes. A part of her had held back, not daring to believe the chimera – the stunning impossibility of his return – but seeing Clark now, she couldn't lose him again. Not like this, regaining him physically but losing his soul. "Clark," she called and the fierce light in his eyes softened in recognition.

He tossed Bruce aside, the gesture only deepening her sense that there was something horribly wrong in him, and she pleaded, "Please." Please be real. Please let me just touch you.

Then he landed near her, and she found herself calmly striding close enough for him to take her into his arms. "Please." Please be in there somewhere. Please come back to me.

The shock of his embrace left her hands trembling. She clung to the impossible reality of his warm skin, his warm voice as he murmured, "Lois."

The sound of his voice – so much more like him – breathed life into her whole being, but already cops were on-site, and they were surrounded by office buildings full of people and their cell phones.

"You need to go away," she said, knowing it was necessary even though Bruce would disapprove. Clark needed to get away from this place where he fought Doomsday, where he thought his allies – even Diana – were enemies. "Go. Just...let's go. Let's go."

Their sudden takeoff forced the air from her lungs, and too late she tried to cover her ears against the sudden change in pressure. He slowed, then, leveling off and turning to create a sheltering wake – a space where she could at least breathe. Did he remember that from their many recreational flights over the last two years? Or was he sensing her human limitations now as he cradled her face against his bare chest, reading in her skin her own fear and painfully-ringing ears? That shouldn't be what he read in her after being dead for more than half a year. Closing her eyes, she turned her thoughts inward to the awe and joy of holding him again, even if it was under these circumstances.

He was alive. They could work through anything as long as that was true. Full-fledged hope – strong and fierce and blissfully beautiful – swept through her soul. The whistling wind dried her tears, and Clark kissed her forehead.

"I'm sorry." She felt more than heard the words rumble in his chest.

"You're alive," she said in answer, knowing he'd hear her just fine. "Don't apologize."

He said nothing more, and Lois relaxed against him, reveling in the sound of his heartbeat, in the feel of his smooth, unmarred skin. He didn't even bear a scar from that horrifying hole in his chest.

She wasn't sure how long they'd been in flight before she stole a peek at their surroundings, squinting against the wind. They were well beyond even the suburbs of Metropolis now, flying over what looked to be the Appalachians, and she idly wondered where he was taking them. It didn't matter, really. He was alive and they were together. In this moment, everything was right in Lois' world.

You've been kidnapped by an undead alien, that voice in the back of her mind whispered, and she snorted softly at her own mental commentary. That snarky part of her had a point, though. While she was confident he had no intention of harming her, he clearly wasn't right in the head. Clark had been almost obnoxiously overprotective at first when she'd wanted them to range farther in free-flight. She had to keep telling him she was fine, that his body heat kept her warm, and that she could breathe without trouble – unlike now. He'd never even approached the sound barrier with her unless she was in some kind of sheltering vehicle. The ringing in her ears was mostly gone, but it was evidence that, while Clark was very much alive, he wasn't quite back. Would he ever be? How would she know?

That last thought was just borrowing trouble, and she pushed it to the back of her mind. One day, one minute, one breath at a time. That's how she needed to handle this. She needed to be his rock. She needed to be strong for him – and fresh tears overflowed at that. Months of despair, and each day had left her a little more broken, not less. The pain had dulled but also deepened. She wasn't the strong one.

He nuzzled her, and she turned her face to kiss the base of his throat once. She shouldn't push him to be intimate with her, but if he was running on instinct instead of rational thought, maybe the love-struck fangirl was her best way to reach him – if he remembered she had human limitations. Regardless, though, that should wait until they were on the ground again. Even before...Doomsday, he hadn't trusted himself to both keep her safe while in swift flight and make love with her. Levitating had been fun, though...

When they touched down, Lois looked around, trying to get her bearings in a reality she still only half-believed in, and the old, white farmhouse told her where they were. "You brought us here? You remembered." Although this place didn't belong to the Kent family anymore.

"This is home," he simply said.

The windswept scent of his skin made a host of memories – breathtaking memories – wash over her, and she murmured. "You smell good."

"Did I not before?" he asked, honestly puzzled, and Lois would have laughed if the whole situation wasn't beyond surreal.

Instead, she extended her hand in invitation, and when his hand clasped hers, the hope welling up in her was joined by joy. Together, they strolled toward the old house.

As they approached, Lois' smile faltered slightly. She wasn't a counselor or a shrink or anything of the kind. For once, she was completely out of her depth. The trick was to keep him from turning violent again, she decided, and this wasn't just home, it was a safe place. His instincts had guided him well, and she would trust that.

Still, when he started up the steps of the front porch, Lois let go of his hand and stayed on the grass, uncertain what his reaction would be. "It's probably locked."

When the knob didn't turn, he came back down the stairs with a ghost of a smile on his lips. "I know how to break into my own home." He strode around the corner of the house, and Lois hurried to catch up. How could he remember that detail and not the fact that both Bruce and Diana had fought beside him against Doomsday?

Her phone rang, and she fished it out of her purse to see it was Perry. Huffing in frustration, she powered it down and stowed it again. The last thing they needed right now was interruptions. She found Clark on the back porch, sliding a window open. "This latch has been broken for longer than I've been on Earth," he said, almost like it was supposed to be a joke.

Once he'd climbed through the window, he turned and offered her his hand. She would have preferred to enter through the door, but he was exploring a world that had spun on without him, and she was content to let him lead for now. Perching on the windowsill, she swung her legs into the house. They were standing on the landing near the base of the stairs. The whole kitchen and dining room were visible, and so was part of the living room. It was...abandoned. Several empty cupboards stood open, a burned spot in the linoleum hinted at the missing fridge, and a broken bookshelf listed against a wall in the living room. Maybe this wasn't the best place for him right now.

She glanced up at Clark, and his jaw was clenched as he studied the scene. Fortunately, his expression was more of consternation than anger, though.

"I would have helped her," Lois said. "She didn't say a word about it until she flew in to Metropolis for a visit."

A wistful smile flickered on his lips, and then he started to climb the stairs.

The air in the closed-up house felt dead and stifling, the summer heat growing with each step climbed. The first room on the second story was the library. The built-in shelves were about a quarter-covered in yellowing paperbacks, and the threadbare couch she'd slept on at first was still there. Several withered plants haunted the large, east-facing window.

"This was your room," Clark said, the memories apparently surfacing for him.

"Yes. For the first few visits."

"Hm," was his only answer. Turning, he went back out into the hall. The room across the way had been used for crafts and storage – mostly memorabilia from Jonathan's life. It was empty, though the pattern of wear in the carpet showed where his mother's sewing machine table had stood and where the bankers boxes full of old taxes and good memories crushed the pile.

The next set of doors was the upstairs bathroom on the right (converted from a former bedroom) and Clark's room on the left. He pushed the bedroom door open, and the hardwood floor was completely swept clean. Only a small hole in the ceiling indicated where Clark's mobile of the solar system had hung, suspended over his bed.

Our bed, Lois mentally corrected herself, aching to be so close and yet so very far from Clark right now.

Everything here felt wrong – hollow – to her. What was it doing to Clark? Lois glanced up at him, but he had a distant look in his eyes, like he was puzzling over something or was using his super-hearing. He quickly moved on to the last door, the master bedroom.

It was much like the storage room, completely empty with only imprints in the carpet reminding her how this room had once been arranged. The shape of Martha's bed was outlined in dust bunnies.

Clark turned and headed back down the hall, head tilted like he was still listening for something. Once again, Lois found herself hurrying to catch up. Instead of going downstairs, though, he turned into the library and sat heavily on the couch, his head lolling back and his eyes closed.

Lois stood in the doorway, reeling with uncertainty. He looked the same on the outside, but she had no idea what he was thinking or feeling. Was her Clark even in there still? Or was he like this house – just a soulless shell of the being he once was?

The worst part was feeling utterly helpless, so she did the one thing she could to improve the situation. She crossed the room and opened the window. Even though it was late June, the temperature outside was cooler than inside, and the fresh air felt wonderful.

"You loved me," he said behind her.

Lois turned, but Clark still sat motionless on the couch, head tilted back and eyes closed. "Yes," she admitted. "I still do."

"I frighten you. And I hurt you, when we were flying."

There was no point in lying to him, and she stepped closer to rest her hand against his cheek, willing him to read in her touch the truth of her words. "I don't care. I still love you."

He finally lifted his head and met her gaze. "Do you know when I started loving you?"

She smiled in relief to hear him imply he loved her. "No. When?"

Instead of the playful grin she expected from him, though, he frowned. "I don't know. I was hoping I had told you before..." He closed his eyes and let his head fall back again.

This wasn't the first time Lois had seen Clark go all brooding, and she was not about to let him wallow. She sat beside him on the couch, and catching his chin, made him look her in the eyes. "You kissed me in the middle of a war zone. It was our first kiss. Do you remember that?"

He blinked, struggling to recall. "Everything was gray? Everything except your eyes."

"Yes. I think you must have loved me before that."

He nodded, accepting her answer, and looked away.

Just to set the record straight, she added, "And the thing about smelling good...Your pillow stopped smelling like you months ago. I thought I'd never..." Her throat tightened, and she swallowed hard. "...catch the scent of you again."

His hand moved as if to hold hers and then he firmly clasped his hands together.

He was still so remote, so closed to her, and it made her heart ache. Reaching out, she took his hand. "Any other questions I can answer for you?"

He stared intently at their intertwined fingers. "Does it gross you out to touch someone who was a corpse this morning?"

She started giggling, then realized he was serious. Tears overflowed as the reason for his hesitation came crashing down on her. She didn't dignify his question with an answer, not a verbal one anyway. Straddling his lap, she kissed him. It was supposed to be for his benefit – to make sure he knew in no uncertain terms that she welcomed his touch – but as she did, months of grief and longing and need swept through her. It was gloriously reckless, and she felt alive for the first time in what seemed like forever.

Clark's gentle hands rested on her shoulders and eventually managed to pry her away a little. Sitting the way she was, she could intimately feel that she had his attention, but his expression was only one of concern. "Are you alright?"

She choked on a sob. This was her Clark! This man who was so giving, so powerful, and so gentle all at once. Whether he ever sorted out his memories or not, her Clark was back and she kissed him again, only getting her words in edgewise. "I. Love. You. Clark. Kent."


Lois lightly dozed on the library's couch cushions, which were more or less bunched together on the floor. Clark had claimed the hardwood didn't bother him, and he was sprawled out on his back beside her. Lois' arm was draped across Clark's chest, and she luxuriated in the blissful feel of his warm, living skin. Whatever else he might have forgotten, he was still her super lover.

"Lois, I need to..."

She sleepily smiled to herself when his voice trailed off and pulled her arm away from him. Even Superman needed to use a bathroom sometimes. "Go ahead." The welcome breeze coming through the open window made her cool enough to drift off, and she fell into her first good, deep sleep in months.

When she awoke, she wasn't sure if it was twenty minutes or two hours later. Clark hadn't returned, though. Frowning thoughtfully, she stood to retrieve her phone and, while it booted, mused on all the other things that hadn't returned: fear, grief, despair, tears, that twisting ache near her heart. She knew – mind, body, and soul – that her Clark was alive. She even suspected that he was as well mentally as he was physically, now that he'd had some time to catch his breath and piece some of his memories together.

The fate of the world will rest on your willingness to send him away.

Lois closed her eyes, the weight of Bruce's words pressing her back down to the couch cushions. She wanted to call him on the phone and scream that he asked too much. She wanted to swear at him. She wanted to curl up in a ball right here until Clark came back and kissed her into oblivious bliss again.

For months, she hadn't been strong. Just this once, though, she had to be. She had to. Because if Bruce was right and the world would end without Superman joining the fight, it would be entirely her fault if Steppenwolf won.

Clark had sacrificed himself for this world. Diana was right that his sacrifice made him the best man alive. If she wanted to walk with him again – to walk among gods and legends – she would have to make a sacrifice, too. She hadn't carried on his legacy. She had failed him. And if he knew the things she knew, he would go help the man who once had every intention of killing him and very nearly did. That was the kind of person he was. He was fundamentally, unflinchingly good, and if she wanted to be good enough for him, she would have to make the only penance she could. She had to send him away.

The phone in her hand started vibrating with texts. At least a couple dozen of them scrolled down through her notifications, and they were all variations on the same theme: Is it true? Is he alive?

Two names caught her eye, though, and they both deserved a response. The first was Perry, and she sent him a text that she and Superman were both alive and well, but she wouldn't be physically in the office for at least a couple of days. The second was Martha, and she deserved so much more than just a text. Lois called her, and when Martha picked up, she blurted out, "Is it true?"

"Yes," Lois said, the word sinking deep into her soul. "It's true. He's alive, and you'll never guess where we are."

"You're not at the farm, are you?"

Lois chuckled. "Yes. Wanna see?"

Martha squealed for joy on the other end of the line, but the sound was cut short as she hung up.

Lois told herself she wasn't stalling by calling Martha; Clark needed his mom as much as he needed her. Bruce would want her to put Clark's mind and heart back together as much as possible and as quickly as possible. He trusted her to accomplish that when no one else could, and that's why she was the big guns. What he didn't trust was her ability to let go. Allowing Clark to at least say hi to his mom would be an important part of Clark's recovery, but then...then she'd have to send him away. Maybe if she told herself that often enough, it would be easier when the time came.

Getting dressed, she decided she'd better go find the superhero both she and the rest of the world couldn't seem to live without. He wasn't anywhere upstairs, and she didn't see him in the kitchen or living room downstairs, either. The front door was ajar and when she stepped out onto the front porch – despite the fact that she knew he was alive again – her heart leaped to her throat to see him standing in the waist-high corn. He was even wearing flannel, red and black flannel that clashed horribly with his navy-blue pants, and the observation made her smile as she descended the steps. It reminded her of their running gag about his countrified fashion sense: her pretended aversion to flannel and his (hopefully pretended) devotion to it. Yes, he was her Clark again alright. Where would he have found that shirt, though? Probably in the barn. Martha had removed anything personal from the house.

When she had assumed he was slipping away to use the restroom, he probably had gone exploring again, Lois realized. The exposure to the sunlight could only help him, but it was a little out of character for him to let her wake up alone like that.

He turned his head to give her a sidelong glance. "I'll take that as a yes."

"What?" Lois felt a flash of concern. Was he still confused, hearing someone in a neighboring house and thinking she was speaking?

Turning, he grinned and her heart ached for joy. "The ring."

She took it for granted after six months of wearing it, and the reminder made her fidget with it. Last night, that ring had been a symbol of all she'd lost; this morning, it was a promise of all that could be, assuming her intuitions about him were right.

"Are you okay?" Lois tentatively. "You brought us here, but you've hardly spent a minute inside the house."

"I know, but...just got out of a wooden box?" he said in answer, clearly trying to make it a joke and failing.

The reporter in Lois wanted to bombard him with questions, but she only allowed herself one. "What was it like, coming back?"

"Itchy," he said, again trying and failing to make light of it. Still, she smiled that he was himself enough to even make the attempt. "Honestly...weird in so many ways."

The fate of the world will rest on your willingness to send him away.

Their time was almost gone, but she needed him to understand. She didn't want him to have even a chance to mistake her meaning. She was sending him away because of her failings and the need to make up for them, not for his.

He continued, "Mostly just..."

Swallowing hard, she said, "I wasn't strong..." and he's the epitome of strength. "I didn't, um..." How to make him understand? "You would have been very disappointed in me. I wasn't...Lois Lane, dedicated reporter..."

He crossed the distance between them and rested his warm, comforting hands on her arms. "I'm the idiot who left. But I'm back now, and I'm going to make things right." He sealed that promise with a kiss, and Lois found herself melting into him again. She wasn't strong enough to resist.

Fortunately, he remembered that she needed to breathe and broke off their kiss, instead holding her tightly. A heartbeat later, he said, "You called mom."

"Of course."

"Thank you."

Still he held her, and her heart broke a little. Her last distraction was almost here. In mere moments she would have to send him away, despite the enticing scent and taste and feel of him filling her mind. True, he was much less likely to die this time around, but once burned, twice shy.

The fate of the world will rest on your willingness to send him away.

She wanted to be as good as Clark, and while it was an impossible aspiration, she had to do her best. Beating around the bush wasn't getting her anywhere – it was too hard and besides, it wasn't her style. Trying again, she said, "I was hoping it would take you longer to recover."

He leaned away a little in surprise. "Why?"

Clark slipping through her fingers, wobbling in flight, thrown off balance by the green-tipped spear...

She couldn't hold him back then, and she couldn't now, no matter how desperately she wanted to. "Because now I have to send you away."

"Bruce," he said, understanding lighting his eyes.

Relief rushed through her, softening the lump in her throat. He knew she didn't want him to leave – even though he had to. It made her almost lighthearted. "Yes, well, end of the world, that was the deal, I think. He was pretty intense about it."

A smile lit his face – wry but still the stuff of her dreams – and he said, "I guess I do owe him one."

They both did. "But no dying. And I get the exclusive."

He genuinely grinned, and she could finally see everything that had been missing in his eyes earlier. Clark was whole. "Yes, ma'am."

The gentle drawl promised her exclusive rights to much more than just his story, and it warmed her all the way to her toes. Martha had better hurry, or Clark might be delayed by another detour to the couch upstairs.

Then she could hear what Clark must have heard a mile or more away – the roar of the truck's ancient engine. Lois was both relieved and a little disappointed.

He turned, already looking elsewhere, already leaving her, but she clung to his promise: he was going to make things right. And the only way Lois' world could be right was if he were in it. With him, she could be strong.

When Martha stopped her truck and climbed out of the cab, Lois got choked up again as the older woman's expression melted from disbelieving to amazed to overjoyed. While Martha had tried to be careful about the whole mother-in-law thing, Lois had known since before Clark died that the older woman thought of her as a daughter-in-law. Watching Martha now, Lois couldn't deny the affection she felt for the woman. While Clark and Martha joyfully babbled about him being alive, her thoughts turned to what kind of wedding she could handle. A simple affair before a judge in Metropolis would suit her just fine because, after all, it was just a formality. But seeing Martha now, remembering the motherly love she'd offered even when in the depths of her own bereavement and pain, Lois knew she couldn't deny her anything. The picture in Lois' mind shifted to a Smallville wedding with a white dress and the farmhouse full of guests who were joyful instead of in mourning. The mental image made her happier than she expected. Of course, the farmhouse wasn't Martha's anymore...

"Lois will have to explain the details – I don't know all of them yet myself," Clark was saying, making her focus again. "I'll come back as soon as I'm able."

"I'm staying in town now," Martha said, "In Henry Hasting's old place."

Clark immediately frowned in concern, but Martha planted an accusatory finger in the middle of his chest. "Don't you worry about me, son. If you need to be somewhere else right now, then go. I can take care of myself."

Turning to Lois, Clark pulled her and his mom into a group hug and said, "Promise to keep each other out of trouble until I get back?"

Lois half-smiled. "That's a tall order. I'll do my best, but you'd better hurry."

"That I will." Stepping back, he paused and tilted his head. "Where is my suit?"

Lois hesitated, unsure how he would take the news. "Wayne Manor, in Gotham City." At Clark's stunned expression, she added, "I tried having them put you in the stasis chamber on the scout ship – the one you used to heal me back in the Arctic. STAR Labs had to remove it from the ship and everything to get it up and running, but..." She shrugged. "It repaired the Suit and even the wounds in your body, but it couldn't bring you back to life. The Suit was too incriminating for either of us to hang on to, so when Bruce offered to keep it safe in the Bat Cave, we agreed."

"Guess that's my first stop." He stole one last kiss, and then he was gone in a shock of summer air.

Lois shielded her eyes as she looked upward, watching him fly off into danger – genuine, planet-threatening danger – and felt like someone had knocked the wind out of her.

Martha, however, was blithe when she turned to her. "Well, Lois. You've got some explaining to do."

Lois appraised the older woman, and a slow smile spread over her face. Martha was as rock-solid as her son. While there wasn't any blood-relation between her and Clark, Lois couldn't help but notice (and appreciate) the family resemblance. "Over coffee, " she agreed, but her stomach suddenly rumbled.

Martha smiled and added, "And lunch!"