Chapter Fourteen

Metropolis, 2019

"Good night, hon. Don't let the bed bugs bite." Lois closed Jason's door gently behind her. She stood there for a moment, holding on to the handle, a slight smile lighting her face.

"Not too bad, Lane," she murmured softly to herself. As she made her way down the stairs to the kitchen, she thought about how it wasn't too bad being a mom. Seeing the excitement in Jason's eyes while he described the Kent farm had been contagious. He really was a sweet little kid.

The smile died away, however, when she thought back on the events of the day. After the disastrous meeting at Chloe's super-secret facility (where they had pretty much managed to waste a lot of time getting nowhere, in Lois's opinion), Clark had sent Lois back to Smallville with Bruce to pick up Jason from the Kent farm. He'd been distracted, saying he had something important to take care of, but Lois suspected he was still reeling from the revelation that she had feelings for the Clark back in her world. He had looked incredibly disappointed in her for lying to him, and while Lois understood how hurt he must be, there was a part of her that was starting to get pissed off that he chose to avoid the situation, rather than just talk to her about it.

Bruce had told her that it would take Clark some time and she needed to give him space, but Lois felt that time was the biggest problem they had. Regardless of whether or not she'd be able to leave this world, she had to admit that she really liked this world's Clark (didn't love him, but liked him) and the fact that he was hurting because of her was causing her no small of guilt. And Lois Lane hated feeling guilty.

She tried explaining this to Bruce, but Jason's presence in the car trip back to Metropolis had made further conversation of that nature impossible. Even if Jason hadn't been talking away a mile a minute about how great Martha was and how much he loved Krypto, she still felt that it would have been a conversation unsuitable for Jason's ears. Especially since a lot of cursing would have been involved.

Lost in these swirling thoughts, she barely had time to register that the door bell had been ringing for the past few minutes. When it sunk in, she glanced at the clock. She figured it was the Chinese food she'd ordered from a local restaurant right before starting Jason's bed-time ritual. It'd only taken them thirty minutes to deliver. Not bad.

"Just a minute!" Lois called out, as she grabbed her purse and fumbled around for the wallet inside. When she finally found it and opened the door Lois was shocked to find Richard standing there instead.

"Richard!" Lois exclaimed, almost dropping her bag in surprise. "What are you doing back? I thought you were gone until the end of the week?"

"I decided to come home early." Richard gave her an odd look and she winced, realizing belatedly that she sounded quite unwelcoming.

"I mean… ah…c'mon on in." Lois opened the door a bit wider to let Richard enter the house.

"Sorry, I had to ring the bell," Richard apologized in a low voice. He wheeled his carry-on into the room and placed his briefcase on the floor next to it. As he shrugged of his suit jacket, he turned to her and explained, "It turns out that I forgot my keys. I didn't wake up Jason, did I?"

Lois wrapped her arms around herself and shook her head slightly. "Nope, he's down for the night. He went to bed over an hour ago."

Richard glanced at the wallet still clutched her hand, now partially hidden under one arm. "You ordered food?" He raised a brow and stated dryly, "Good to know that some things don't change."

Lois didn't exactly know how to respond to that, so she just nodded in confirmation. "Yeah, I ordered some Chinese. I thought you were the delivery guy." She placed the wallet back down on the front table and gave him an uncomfortable look. "Um… how was your trip?"

"It was fine," Richard responded a bit tersely. He pulled his own wallet out of his pocket and placed it next to her purse on the table.

"OK, great," Lois replied. She affixed a bright smile to her lips, even though she was cringing inwardly at the awkwardness of the whole situation.

They both fell silent, looking around the hallway, avoiding each other's gaze. As the silence stretched between them, Lois took a deep breath and tried to figure out what to say next. What did one say to a fiancée who wasn't really a fiancée? Should she just tell him what was going on? Before she could formulate her next sentence and decide what to do, the doorbell rang again.

Richard let out what seemed like a sigh of relief. "Why don't I get it, Lois? You want to set the table? I'm pretty hungry, too."

Lois leapt on the excuse to get away from him. "That's a great idea. There's more than enough for both of us." She hastily retreated to the kitchen, allowing Richard to take care of the front door.

The next twenty minutes passed quickly, with Richard and Lois completely focused on putting out the food and plates. Both were famished, so they used their hunger as an excuse to concentrate on the delicious meal and not talk to each other. When their hunger had abated somewhat, it had almost become ridiculous for them to avoid talking to each other, so Lois decided to start up the conversation again.

Lois figured that the weather was the perfect conversation starter. "How was London? Rainy this time of year?"

"It was okay," Richard put down his chopsticks to look her for a second. He took a deep breath and stated, in an almost casual tone, "I got your message that you were taking Jason to Smallville. To visit Clark Kent's mother? What was that about?"

Lois looked at him in surprise. She hadn't thought that Richard would think anything was unusual about that. Clark had mentioned that Richard might think it was odd, but she since she was used to staying at the Kent farm when she was in Smallville, it had seemed natural to her to have Martha baby-sit.

"Weelll," Lois answered slowly, "Um… we had that interview with the FBI agent, remember? And since it was Saturday, I had to do something with Jason. Clark volunteered his mom, so it seemed like a good idea at the time…." Lois's voice trailed off and she raised a brow. "Why?"

"Oh, it's not a big deal," Richard responded quickly, even though his tone seemed to belie his words. "It's just that I thought it was a bit weird. I mean, we usually use Serena, Jimmy, or Chris for baby-sitting and I couldn't understand why you would take Jason all the way to Smallville instead of calling one of them." Richard shook his head slightly and took a small sip of water. "I'm sure you had a good reason." He gave her a look that clearly indicated that he was waiting to hear to her good reason.

Lois blinked for a second and then nodded. "Um, yeah. I couldn't find anyone else. I, well, I figured it was the easiest thing to do. I mean, I didn't know that we had all those people we could call. Memories, remember?" Lois added in hastily.

"You could have called me. I would have told you."

"Yeah, but…" Lois ran her finger around the rim of the water glass in front of her, avoiding his direct gaze. "Clark suggested the farm and I figured that Jason would have fun. Why not?"

Richard studied her, his head titled to the side a bit. It was apparent that he was considering her words and finding her explanation lacking. "Did you like it?"

"Did I like what?" Lois's brow furrowed in confusion and she pushed her plate away. This odd conversation had made her lose her appetite. "I'm not sure what you're talking about."

"Smallville," Richard responded tersely. "I mean, you kept talking about it with Clark before I left for my trip. You thought you'd met Clark there when you were younger. So, I was just wondering – did you like it? Did it live up to your… ah… memories?" The last word was uttered in a faintly sardonic tone.

Lois stared at him for a full minute, feeling an odd queasiness. "What are you asking, Richard?"

"I don't know," Richard paused and glanced away from her. He seemed to take time to compose himself and met her eyes once again. "Were you lying before or are you lying now?"

"Lying?" Lois repeated and one brow rose in confusion. Had he figured out that she was from another universe before she had a chance to tell him what was going on? Well, if he was thinking about that, then he was taking it much too personally. She hadn't lied to him exactly – she just hadn't told him all the facts, because she'd promised Clark she wouldn't tell him until they knew more about what was going on. She decided to tread carefully. "So, what am I lying about, exactly?"

Richard rolled his eyes and let out an audible sigh. He pushed himself away from the table in frustration and started clearing the mess in front of them. He smiled a bit sadly. "I talked to Jason today. And, as much as it hurts to admit this, I didn't actually figure everything out until right at that instant. I can't believe I've been this stupid all along. You guys must have had a good laugh at my expense."

Oh, so he was talking about the body switcheroo. "Look, Richard," Lois explained hastily, "Maybe I should have told you. But it was so hard for me to even accept it, how was I supposed to tell you? And then you just hopped on a plane to London. If you want to know the truth," Lois continued, when she saw he wasn't responding, "I was hoping this would all be resolved before you even got back."

If anything, her explanation made him even more upset. "What do you mean? Were you planning on leaving me while I was gone, then?"

Lois shook her head in confusion, not understanding why he would be so sorry to see her go. After all, wouldn't he be happier to his own Lois back? "Wha-at? What're you talking about?"

Richard crossed his arms and leaned back against the counter. He glared at her and he said in a stiff voice, "I'm talking about the fact that Superman and Clark Kent are the same person." He looked grim as he stared at her, almost daring her to deny it. "The way Jason described Martha Kent and how she was with him. It was pretty obvious there was something deeper there. And I've had my suspicions, anyway – it all just kind of clicked into place."

Lois turned white, as her mind raced to formulate a response. Clark and Bruce had explained to her the dangers of people finding out about Clark's secret and she had to admit that she agreed with them. If this world's Clark Kent had decided to keep this a secret from Richard White, he had a good reason and it wasn't her place to start outing him to random people.

So, Lois mustered up a fake smile and let out a shrill laugh. "I don't know what you're talking about. That's crazy."

"Let it go, Lois, I know you're protecting him." Richard paused and let out a sigh, which seemed to deflate most of his anger. Suddenly, he just looked very tired. "It's fine. I get it, kind of. I'm not going to lie – it hurts that you didn't tell me. But I think it just hurts more that you're clearly in love with him in a way that you'll never be in love with me."

Lois swallowed back a lump in her throat. She felt his pain as though it were real and tangible thing. This had gone on too far. "Richard, there's something you should know –."

"There's nothing to know, Lois," Richard cut her off flatly. He cleared his throat and looked at her with a pained sort of understanding in his eyes. "It's my own fault. I always knew that I was second place to Superman in your life. The whole time he was gone, I knew there was a part of you that wished you were with him instead of me. And I was the stupid one who was content with being second fiddle to him. After all, he's Superman, right? He's like a god! Any mere mortal should be honored to be second place to a god."

Richard stopped talking for a moment, as he rubbed his hand across his mouth and contemplated her in grim silence. He looked like he was waiting for her to say something to either negate or confirm his suspicions.

But what should she say to a man she didn't even know? And the fact was that she didn't know enough about this world's Lois to have any clue how to handle this situation on Lois's behalf. So, in the end, she settled for silence.

"But then you were in this accident and when you woke up, you didn't remember Superman. You didn't remember me or even your son. Instead, you remembered Clark Kent." He stopped and gave her a piercing look. "And that was weird, but I think it all started to click then. The way you looked at him when you woke up…the way he always looks at you."

"Richard," Lois finally interrupted. She couldn't let this continue. It wasn't fair to him and it wasn't fair to the older Lois. "I'm not her. I'm not your Lois Lane."

Instead of expressing shock, he just nodded sadly. "Yes, you're right. And the sad part is that I always knew you weren't mine, but I thought I could make you happy. It's just now that I realized that I can't. And I'm done with trying, Lois. I can't do it anymore."

"No, no…" Lois protested, shaking her head in dismay. "You've got it all wrong."

Lois moved closer to him, in an effort to get him to listen to her. But Richard pulled away, side-stepping her outstretched hand and began walking towards the front door. Rather than just letting him walk out, Lois followed him, trying to explain the situation, but all her words fell on deaf ears.

"I'll be staying with Kevin for the next week, until I can find a place of my own," Richard told her, as he grabbed the carry-on next to the door. "I'll get in touch with you about Jason." He looked at her steadily. "I know he's not biologically my son, but I want you to know that I love him more than anything. Even Superman can't keep me away from him."

Realizing there was nothing she could say at that point to make Richard stay, Lois gave up and just nodded. "Yes, of course." She smiled slightly as she thought of Clark – rather she thought of her Clark back home. "If I know Clark half as well as I think I do, I know he won't even try to stop you. He'll understand."

Apparently satisfied, he opened the door. But, at the last moment, Richard hesitated and turned back to face her again. He lifted a hand, as though he was going to touch her but stopped himself. Lois looked back at him, wanting to say something, but knowing that there was nothing she could do that would make a difference or make this any easier on anyone.

Richard gave her a faint, sad smile. "I hope he makes you happy, Lois. But I can't say that I think he will."

Lois swallowed and closed her eyes, feeling his words hit her like a dagger. When she opened them again, he was gone and she was alone once again.

Gotham, 2008

After searching several rooms to no avail, she finally hunted down Alfred to get an idea of where Clark might have gone to brood. The butler informed her that Clark was on the roof the manor. He gave her directions and, a few minutes later, she found herself standing a few feet from Clark, gazing at him silently as he looked out over the ledge of the building. The wind was chillier up at this altitude and her thin t-shirts were no defense against the cold. She shivered a bit and wrapped her arms around herself to warm herself up.

"Lois, I'll be down in a minute," Clark said, without bothering to turn around. "You didn't need to come get me."

"How'd you know it was me?" Lois asked, walking over to stand next to him to look at the view he'd been contemplating. This spot on the roof was overlooking the Wayne gardens and the view was beautiful. "I could have been Chloe or Bruce."

Clark glanced down at her. "I heard your heartbeat. Plus, you're kind of noisier than Bruce would ever be. And Chloe would have been talking away a mile a minute even before she got up here. You talk a lot – but not as much as Chloe."

Lois couldn't help but smile at that comparison. "Yeah, I could see that. Chloe does have a tendency to talk a lot. And she mixes her metaphors quite a bit. I wonder why that is?" Lois mused aloud.

Clark glanced at her, but he didn't answer. Lois smiled back and then turned her attention to the gardens. If she squinted, Lois could just barely make out the figures of Bruce and Chloe in the distance. She might have been mistaken, but she had a feeling that a lot more than just botany lessons was taking place.

Lois waited a few beats and then finally broke the silence. "Clark, what's wrong?" Lois decided it was best to just get to the point. She had never been one to beat around the bush. "Chloe tells me that it's not like you to be so…" She paused, searching for the right word, "… so blunt. And I have to say that if you're anything like my Clark, I can agree with that."

Clark winced. "I'm sorry, you're right, I shouldn't have been so rude to you."

Lois waved one hand dismissively. "No, it's not a big deal. It's just… well… if something's bothering you, then you can talk about it, you know?" Lois gazed up at him thoughtfully. "You don't need to be so strong all the time, Clark."

"Hmmm, I know," Clark smiled at her slightly. Then, almost in an off-hand manner, he added, "Lori and I broke up."

"Oh!" Lois blinked in surprise and cleared her throat self consciously. "Is that what you were doing in Metropolis in the morning? Breaking up with Lori?"

"Yeah," Clark replied, apparently trying not to look guilty and completely failing in that respect.

"I'm sorry, Clark," Lois said sincerely, placing her hand on his arm.

"Not as sorry as I am."

"Why do you say that?"

Lois wrapped her arms around herself again. She tried to hide her chattering teeth, but Clark noticed. He immediately pulled his jacket off and wrapped it tightly around her. Lois took a deep breath, soaking in the warmth of the jacket.

Lois smiled up at him and repeated, "So, why do you say that? Do you regret it already?"

"No, it's not that. I'm just… I feel bad that I hurt her. I'm just… I just…." Clark searched for the words that would explain how he felt and he could figure out how to make Lois understand. "After what happened with Lana and Lori, I just can't help but feel that maybe I'm just not meant to be with someone. I've hurt every girl I've ever loved."

Lois frowned. "Are you saying that you think you're not meant to be happy? That you can't have a girlfriend? Just because you broke up with your high school and college girlfriends?"

"Well, yeah." Clark looked down at her solemnly. He looked like the weight of the world was on his shoulders. Dejected and unhappy, full of guilt and sorrow.

Lois studied him for a second and then snorted in derision. "Not to be insensitive or anything, but… um… are you crazy? You break up with a couple of women and suddenly you're destined to be alone for eternity? Man, I've gone out with…" Lois broke off when she saw the odd expression on Clark's face and finished hastily, "…well… the number's not important. The point is that you're young, Clark. You've got your whole life ahead of you. Very few people meet their soul mate when they're in high school."

"But what if I have?" Clark responded intently, as he searched the delicate features of the beautiful woman before him. He'd gazed upon that same face so many times, without allowing himself to think those thoughts. And, today, she was all he could think about. Lois Lane. All he could think about was Lois and how his life would never the same when she got back. And how it would be terrible if he ended up hurting her the way he'd hurt every other girl in his life. "What if I have met her, Lois? And she's you? Or, I guess, our world's version of you."

Lois swallowed and said simply, "Then when she gets back, you tell her that. And see what happens." She stuck her hands in the pockets of Clark's jacket and stared up at the man who was the younger version of the man she loved with all her heart. "If she has half a brain, she'll grab you and never let go, Clark."

Clark seemed to consider her words for a second. It was obvious her simple words had an impact on him, because he immediately looked much lighter and happier. With a huge smile, he asked teasingly, "So we're assuming she has half a brain now? Aren't you the same one who got fooled by a pair of tights and glasses?"

"Hey! It was good disguise!" Lois protested, pretending to be outraged. Then she added, with a wicked grin, "In my defense, when he wears those tights, it's not his face I'm focusing on."

Clark eyes widened and even though he blushed, he couldn't help but laugh at that. "I have to say, Lois, I don't know how you're going to get back to your world… but I'm glad I met you." He placed his hand on her shoulder and looked down at her with appreciation. "It's been an experience."

Lois pulled one hand out of the warm depths of the pocket and placed it over his hand. She smiled back appreciatively and nodded. "I'm glad I met you, too. I feel like this is the first time I really met the real Superman – both the Clark Kent version and the suit version."

Lois never heard Clark's response. At that moment, his voice was drowned out by an odd noise and everything suddenly went pitch-black.

"Clark!" Lois yelled out, frightened, as she tried to tighten her grip on Clark's hand. It was as though it had faded away, right under her fingers. Try as she might, she couldn't find his hand or feel anything else around her. She moved forward a bit and lost her balance as the ground shifted below her feet. Lois tried to regain her footing, but ended up falling backwards, instead.

"Uh-oh," Lois whispered, as she felt herself sliding down what seemed to be never ending slide. "This cannot be good."

Metropolis, 2019

Lois had spent the better part of the last hour sitting in the living room staring off into space. While she had known, rationally, that what had just happened was not her fault, she couldn't help but feel guilty. After all, a point would come where the Lois who usually occupied this time-line would come back to reclaim her life and, in place of the perfect world she'd left, the older Lois would find the tattered remains of a broken engagement. Lois glanced down at the diamond ring adorning her left hand and felt even more horrible.

"Lois? Are you okay?" Clark's soft voice interrupted her thoughts.

Startled, Lois turned around and saw him hovering near the open balcony doors. He was dressed up in the spandex Superman costume and looked very concerned.

"Smallville! Where have you been? It's been all day!" Lois demanded crossly. She tried to hide her anger and frustration at his absence, but she failed. "In case you hadn't noticed, I'm still here and we need to work towards getting me back."

Clark looked fatigued as he landed on the balcony and entered the room slowly. "I heard a fire in Grainsville – that's why I left you with Bruce. After that, there was an earthquake in China… a couple of other things happened and I had to head up an emergency meeting of the Justice League." Clark gave her slight smile. "You know, the usual."

"Oh, of course," Lois responded in a small voice. She blinked away the sudden tears came into her eyes. "I forgot – you have that Superman thing going on…." Lois's voice trailed off as her anger completely faded. How silly on her part to think that Clark had nothing better to than sitting around and baby-sitting her. She forced a smile and managed to get out an upbeat, "Sorry… should have known." Lois nodded towards the sofa. "Why don't you sit down?"

Clark ignored her request and stared at her with a concerned frown. His arms were folded across his chest and he looked huge and formidable. "What wrong? Why do you look like you're going to cry? Did something happen?"

"Weeelll…" Lois pretended to think for a minute. "I managed to break up with a guy I'm not even engaged to… so, all in all, it was kind of an interesting day. It's a first for me, now that I think of it. Usually, I'm actually going out with the guy who dumps me. It's nice to know I've moved on to getting dumped by guys I'm not even in a relationship with… that's got to be a step up, right?" Lois sniffed and gave Clark a sheepish grin.

Clark winced and finally sat down on the chair Lois had indicated. He looked up at her with a serious expression. "You broke up with Richard? Isn't that kind of wrong? Since you're not really with him?"

"No, he broke up with me," Lois shot back irritably. "I tried to stop him, but he wouldn't let me get a word in edgewise – oh, and he knows your Superman, by the way," Lois added in, not feeling any desire to soften the blow.

Clark sighed and buried his face in his hands. After a moment, he glanced up at her grimly. "Yeah, I had a feeling that was going to happen. Richard has been suspicious for awhile." He shrugged and shook his head. "I can't say I'm not relieved. With the whole Jason situation, it's probably for the best that he knows. Richard can help me protect Jason better. I know how much Richard loves him."

"Yeah, he told me that he had every intention of staying in Jason's life."

"He's an honorable man, I wouldn't expect any less from him," Clark responded evenly. He stood up and began pacing the room restlessly. "When it comes down to it, he actually has more rights to Jason than I ever will."

"Why do you say that? Because you missed the first few years of his life?" Lois asked curiously. "Because that's not what really determines if you're a good father, you know." Lois smiled faintly and added, "Trust me – my father rarely missed any moment of my life and he was one of the worst fathers a girl could have."

Clark looked at her for a moment. "You didn't get along with your father? Lois has mentioned him a few times, but I don't know much about him. She doesn't speak to him."

"Well, I think Lois has the right idea," Lois muttered softly under her breath. In a louder voice, she added, "I can't blame her if the General is anything like his counterpart back in my world."

Clark stopped pacing, coming to a halt a few feet from where Lois stood. "Why is he so terrible?"

"It's not that he's terrible…." Lois tried to find the words to explain what Sam Lane was like without sounding like a whiny brat. "He provided everything a father needs to provide for his children. A roof over our heads, a meal when we were hungry, enough money for us to get any education we wanted…."

Clark looked confused. "So what did he leave out?"

"Love," Lois answered simply. She shrugged and avoided Clark's intense gaze. "When it came down to it, he couldn't love us. He was incapable of it."

"Come on, I'm sure that's not the case," Clark responded, appalled that a person could believe that of their own parent. "Maybe he just didn't know how to show it."

Lois smiled a bit sadly. "That's what I used to think while I was growing up, too. But the fact is – I had known him when he could show love. Back when my mother was alive." Lois paused and shook her head, clearing her throat a bit. "I always thought that when my mother died, all of his love was buried right along with her. You see, he never wanted kids. I overheard him and my mother fighting about it once – before she died. He was mad at her," Lois explained, as she wrapped her arms around herself for warmth. "He was mad at her because she was going to leave him – leave him with us. With Lucy and me."

"He was probably just scared, Lois. I remember that when my father passed away, my mother had no idea how she was going to handle everything. Grief and fear co-exist a lot of the time, especially when a loved one dies."

"Yeah, I know," Lois blinked. "But that doesn't make how my dad treated us any better, Smallville. He was still a terrible father. He wasn't there when my sister would cry herself to sleep. I was the one who let her crawl into my bed every night. He wasn't there when I kept getting into trouble at school, hoping he'd notice me and actually talk to me for a change. He was only there to yell or threaten. Never to love or understand." Lois contemplated the man standing before her. "But you, Clark – you'll never do that. That little boy upstairs… I know you – you'd die for him. And that's why it doesn't matter that you missed the first few years of his life. All that matters is that you love him and he'll know that for the rest of his life."

Clark was silent. He was struggling, she knew, to accept everything she said to him even though he felt that he didn't deserve it.

"I hope you're right, Lois."

"I am," Lois responded breezily, with a faint flick of her hand, "I'm always right."

"Can I ask you something?"

Lois let out a resigned sigh. "Looks like you're going to, anyway," She had a feeling she knew exactly what he was going to say.

"Why did you tell me that you weren't in love with Clark?"

And she was right, again. "Does it matter, Clark?"

"Well, yes. You lied to me." Clark didn't look as angry as he had before. If anything he just looked a bit offended.

"Well, I didn't lie exactly," Lois responded cautiously, going for the option that made the most sense. "I just didn't tell you the whole truth."

"You lied," Clark responded flatly. "And I have to say, my Lois has many bad qualities, but she's honest almost to a fault."

"Okay, so maybe I didn't feel like sharing my personal feelings. So sue me."

"What was the purpose? You knew it would hurt me. I told you all about my feelings for Lois and you made it seem like you didn't care at all."

"Why would it hurt you? You're not my Clark. He's not like you - he doesn't even care if I like him."

"How do you know that?"

"Because… because I just do!" Lois threw her hands up in the air in frustration. "He's with someone else, Clark! He's known me since we were teenagers and he's always chosen someone else. I was right there in front of him when he was obsessed with Lana. Then, he fell into a brief marriage with Alicia and I was there the day she died – he was crushed for two seconds and then back to the Lana obsession again. Fast forward a few years and when he could finally realize that I was there all along, he fell in love with my roommate!!"

Unexpectedly, Clark began to laugh.

Lois paused mid-rant and bit her lip uncertainly. "What's so funny?"

Clark shook his head. "Nothing… it shouldn't be funny, I know. But I can't help but think it's hilarious."

"What is?"

"It's like… you're me and I'm you," Clark explained.

"Okay, like things aren't complicated enough with us trying to tell apart the two different Loises? Now you add things like that in and expect me to follow along?"

"What I mean is – I've been in front of my Lois all along and I've watched her fall for every guy except me. Well, she falls for Superman, but he's not really me. Not the me I want her to fall for, I mean."

"Yeah, of course. That makes perfect sense."

"The fact is, I'm not that guy," Clark finally said. "I see her with someone else, even if it's just Superman, and I just let it happen. I can't make her break things off with Richard to be with me. I'm not the sort of guy that can make her see me that way – I want her to break up with Richard on her own."

"Yeah, and I'm not that girl." Lois nodded in agreement. "I never want to be the girl who breaks up the couple." Lois shuddered at the thought. "Do you know how many women fall for Clark? Every girl that gets within a ten foot radius of the man falls madly in lust with him. Why should I get in line and be the one who makes him realize that Lana is bad for him or that Lori is clearly too annoyingly perfect to be a decent girlfriend?"

Clark and Lois both stared at each other in perfect understanding for a few seconds.

Lois added, "You know, they never fight. Never."

"Who?"

"Lori and Clark. I mean, I fight with Clark all the time and I've never seen Lori raise her voice even once!"

"Yeah, Lori and I didn't fight all that much, either," Clark nodded. "I think it was just because she could read minds. She'd win every argument even before the debate started, so there was no fun in it."

"WHAT?" Lois yelped and her mouth dropped open in shock. "Lori can read minds??"

"Yeah, all mermaids can," Clark said. "Wait, you didn't know?" He looked very much like he regretted letting it slip.

"Wow… I had no idea." Suddenly everything started making sense. It made sense that Clark was with someone who had special powers like him. A thought suddenly struck her. "But Lori hates going to the beach."

"Because salt water makes her convert back to a mermaid," Clark explained. She must have still looked a bit confused, because he expanded a bit. "Historically, the human population has been known to be quite prejudice against mermaids, so – about a thousand years ago – the Merpeople decided to keep their identity a secret from the Landpeople. If she went to the beach, chances are quite high that her tail would show and she'd end up revealing herself to all the humans there. And she's not allowed to do that."

"So why is she in college at Met. U.?" Lois asked, starting to get totally confused. "Why hang out with Landpeople then – why not just stay in the sea?"

"Once a merperson become "of age" —which is about one hundred years their time and about twenty years our time – they are given the opportunity to live on land for two years in human time. During these two years, they're supposed to live like humans and feel what's like to be a land-dwelling person. After the two years are up, they have a choice: either go back to the sea and live as a merperson for the rest of their existence or they can choose to become human, instead," Clark paused and added quietly, "The cost is high – they can never dwell in the sea again and a lot of the merpeople will disown you and you may never see your family again."

Lois felt a bit of sympathy for her roommate. Talk about a difficult decision. "What about Lori's family?"

Clark took a deep breath and shrugged. "Lori's situation was different. Her family is royalty. Her father is one of the Kings of the Sea. Since her destiny is to help rule her kingdom, it was kind of expected that she'd choose to go back to her people."

"Did she?" Lois asked curiously.

"Yes, she did. I proposed to her and she refused because she knew, in her heart, that she was meant to rule her people and I was meant to help humans. According to her, we were not destined to be."

Lois mulled that over for a few seconds. "So, what if she'd decided to stay? Would you two have gotten married?"

"Yes, probably. I loved her a lot."

"I see."

"But let me tell you something, Lois. If I had met Lois Lane before I met Lori, I would never have looked at Lori twice." Clark smiled slightly. "In fact, if I met Lois while I was actually with Lori, it would have tested even my morality. I'm glad that I didn't have that choice to make. It must not be easy for your Clark."

Lois shook her head sadly. "That's sweet, but you don't know that. My Clark is very different than you."

"Not so different, I'm sure," Clark gave her a soft, almost tender, look. He reached out and rested his hand on her shoulder. "You're a very special person, Lois. And I'm not just talking about my Lois Lane. I'm talking about you – the young woman I've gotten to know over the past few days. You're smart, you're loyal and you're clearly a very ethical person. Any man – whether from this planet or not – would be lucky to be loved by someone like you. Never forget that."

Lois placed her hand on his and gazed up at him with silent gratitude in her eyes. "Well, right back at you. If this Lois doesn't get her act together soon, I'll have to come back to kick her butt!" Lois quipped with a slight laugh.

Lois never heard Clark's response. At that moment, his voice was drowned out by an odd noise and everything suddenly went pitch-black.

"Clark!" Lois yelled out, frightened, as she tried to tighten her grip on Clark's hand. It was as though it had faded away, right under her fingers. Try as she might, she couldn't find his hand or feel anything else around her. She moved forward a bit and lost her balance as the ground shifted below her feet. Lois tried to regain her footing, but ended up falling backwards, instead.

"Uh-oh," Lois whispered, as she felt herself sliding down a never ending slide. "This cannot be good."

2008 and 2019

Her heart racing, Lois tried desperately to stop the endless slide down what appeared to be cold, metal shaft. Her voice echoed through the chamber tube, but stopped yelling after several minutes, knowing that she was alone.

After what seemed like an eternity (but was probably only about five minutes, if she was honest with herself) she felt the tube widen and she, literally, saw light at the end of the tunnel. The long tube ended abruptly and, as she skidded to a halt, she noticed she was dropping down an open shaft that led straight to a white, tiled floor. She raised her arms to cover her face and closed her eyes, grimacing as she prepared to hit the hard surface.

When she landed, however, she was surprised to feel no pain. Instead, it felt like she'd been dumped – quite unceremoniously – onto a bed of soft pillows. Lois took a few seconds to compose herself, breathing quickly and trying to get her heart beat down to normal.

After a moment, she calmed down and cracked one eye open cautiously. It some coordination, but Lois managed to pull herself to standing position and she glanced around the room curiously. To say it was huge was an understatement. There appeared to be no walls in the room at all. She glanced up, looking for the opening of the tunnel she had just dropped from, but she couldn't see it – in fact, it looked there was no roof at all. Lois slowly did a 360 degree turn and all she could see for miles out was white, empty, space.

"Hello!" Lois called out, finally. "Anybody there?"

No one answered. At this stage, though, Lois had to admit that she didn't know whether to be relieved or frightened at the lack of people around. After much internal debate, she decided that standing around in one place wasn't going to get her anywhere. So she closed her eyes, held one arm out and spun in a circle. When she stopped, her opened her eyes again and looked down at the direction that her finger was pointing towards. "Due… whatever direction this is… it is," Lois muttered to herself.

Lois set forth, keeping an eye out for any anomalies as she went. Anything out of the norm – but the whiteness was unrelenting. Just when she thought she couldn't take it anymore, she squinted. She could see a tiny speck in the distance. She sped up, trying to close the distance between them, so she could figure out what it was. As she got closer, she saw that the tiny speck was a person and that the other person was also running towards her, as well.

When Lois was close enough to recognize that it was a woman, she slowed down. She saw that the other woman had also slowed down.

As they both approached each other, a bit warily, Lois felt herself stiffen in shock. Her eyes widened as she searched the familiar face of the other girl. It was like looking into a mirror.

"Oh my God," Lois whispered, as she stared in fascination at the younger woman in front of her. "Are you…?"

"Hi," the younger Lois responded, almost brightly, as though this sort of thing happened to her every day. "I'm Lois. Lois Lane."

Lois swallowed. "Well, that's a problem. Because so am I."