A/N: I want to thank you all for taking the time to read my story, and I want to send a special thank you to those who took the time to review! You've been wonderful! Now, however, it's time to bring this story to a close, and that means a…shameless plug.Ifyou likedA World Without Lois Lane,stay tuned for my next few stories, coming soon!

The Murder of Clark Kent: When she sees Clark killed right before her eyes, how far will Lois go to bring his murderer to justice? (Contrary to the title's implications, Clark will actually appear heavily in this story...as will the Green Arrow.)

The Year of a Relationship 2: The Next Year (working title): Clark had no idea what he was in for when he wondered what was in store for the new Mr. and Mrs. Kent. He's about to find out that life is full of more surprises than he'd ever suspected.

And, last but not least...

A World Without a Superman: Because there can be no Superman in a world without Lois Lane, Clark has to take a journey to recover what he never had - and become the man he was supposed to be.

And now, the long awaited...

Epilogue

Heartbeats

When the light faded, Lois found herself still standing in the middle of Clark's loft. Nothing appeared to have changed in the world around her, and she certainly didn't feel like she'd just taken a multi-dimensional trip. Of course, she hadn't before either, had she? Still, she was not encouraged when she turned and saw that her bag was still resting where it had been thrown on the couch. The only difference in the tableau, in fact, was that Clark was nowhere to be seen.

Spinning on her heel, Lois hurtled down the steps to the ground below, almost tripping over her feet in her haste to get outside. She had to find Clark as soon as possible. She'd had to endure endless days without him; she didn't think she could wait another minute to have him in her arms.

When she came bursting through the door, she saw Martha Kent walking up the path to the porch, a bag of groceries in her arms, and Lois stumbled to a halt as a new, horrifying thought occurred to her. What if she hadn't really been sent home, after all? Maybe the universe wasn't through playing its cruel joke and had sent her to another reality, another Clark in need of his Lois. She didn't think she could bear her disappointment if that was the case.

"Mrs. Kent," she began in a choked voice, her heart racing as she stumbled forward a few feet. The older woman turned at the sound of her name. "Did I…do you know who I am? Do you recognize me?" she asked, holding her breath as she waited for the answer.

"Lois, is that really –?" Martha began, the bag of groceries falling to the ground. Lois didn't hear any more. She felt a sudden breeze, saw a blur out of the corner of her eye, and then, in a move too quick for her brain to process, she found herself enveloped in a warm embrace. Strong arms wrapped around her, trembling slightly as they held her tight while she heard the harsh rasping of someone's ragged breath in her ear.

"Lois…oh my god, Lois…" It was Clark's voice in her ear, and she buried her face in the curve of his neck, almost sobbing with relief. As she clutched onto him and held him tight, she felt the beat of his heart, racing in time with her own. She was home; she'd finally made it home. Hadn't she?

With a cry of alarm, Lois put her hands on his chest and shoved him back as hard as she could. Of course, to the man who was secretly Superman, this would have no real effect, but she supposed Clark was surprised enough by her sudden movement that he let her go.

Staggering a few steps backwards, Lois caught her breath as her eyes searched his face, desperately seeking proof that he was the Clark she'd left behind. For all she knew, he was a Clark who had lost his fiancé (or perhaps his wife, his girlfriend, or his best friend) in a car accident. Much as she hated to admit it, she knew that just because he was happy to see her, it didn't mean he was the same man she'd left behind. And she couldn't live with even the smallest shred of doubt that this Clark was the man she loved; she had to know.

"Wait!" she cried as he took a step towards her, and though he did as he was bid, she suspected it was more out of confusion than anything else. He looked so hurt, she wanted to reassure him…but her need to know for certain was greater. "How…how do I know you're really my Clark?" she demanded tremulously, well aware that she probably wasn't making much sense.

It was therefore not much of a shock to her when he asked, clearly wounded by her rejection, "Lois, what do you mean your Clark? I don't understand…"

Lois felt her lower lip begin to tremble, and she knew the tears wouldn't be far behind. She couldn't take this any longer. How much torture was one woman supposed to be able to withstand? "Please," she begged in a broken whisper. "Please, Clark…I'll explain it all later, but for now, please…tell me something only you would know. Tell me…I just need to know that you're really the man I love, because I just c-couldn't…i-if there's any ch-chance…"

Her face crumpled, her dignity not far behind, but she didn't care about that. Clearly, however, Clark did, because he stopped trying to move closer to her for the moment and closed his eyes instead. He pushed the hair off his forehead with shaking fingers, and though she could tell it was taking all his self-control to restrain the urge to pull her into his arms, she didn't move. It still wasn't enough.

"The last night we were…the night before you disappeared, the two of us stayed up late discussing how we were going to get to our honeymoon. You thought I should just fly us both, to save us the hassle, expense, and time of dealing with the airports. I insisted we take a plane, and you demanded to know why I was being so stubborn."

She remembered the story, and she also remembered his retaliation for what he called the pot calling the kettle black. Her cheeks would have burned at the memory, except that she had become lost in his words, wrapped up in the memory. "You wouldn't tell me," she murmured softly, remembering how he'd deflected her questions and distracted her from her purpose.

"It was…that time we flew to Blȕdhaven to cover the riots; do you remember? We'd only been partners for about a year and a half." Lois nodded. She recalled the trip only because it had been a complete disaster from start to finish, but she didn't quite understand his sudden reference to it. "That's the best trip I've ever been on."

"But…but it was awful," she said, frowning in confusion. When he looked about to object, she interjected, "No! Really! It was! Don't you remember? I mean, what could you possibly have enjoyed? The part where the airline lost our luggage, or the part where I had that bad sushi that first night and was sick for the next two days? Or how about that hotel room we got was so small and cramped, you had to sleep on the floor, which, if memory serves, you described as having the unique aroma of a wet llama?"

Clark winced, but a shaky smile quirked at the corner of his mouth as he said, "Actually, I was referring to the trip back home."

Now Lois was even more confused. "But…but our flight got cancelled due to snow, and we were stuck camping out on the floor of Blȕdhaven International Airport for fifty-two hours until the weather cleared up enough for us to get a flight out!" she protested.

"I know," he told her, slowly bridging the distance between them and wrapping his arms around her once more, and Lois let him as she lost herself in the warmth in his eyes. "But For those two and a half days, you barely left my side…granted, that was mostly because you were too weak by that point to move much at all. But, still, it was the first time I could remember in a long time that the two of us just sat and talked. It wasn't that we talked anything particularly important, but it was still just the two of us, and…well, it was the first time that…I got to know you more during those two days than I had the entire previous year and it was just…being there with you, it was perfect."

"Oh, Clark," she breathed as she placed her hands on his shoulders and dug her fingers into the fabric of his shirt, holding on so tight that her knuckles turned white. It was almost impossible to believe this was anyone other than the man she loved, and she was afraid to let him go, afraid somehow she would lose him again. She was going to cry; she knew it. And considering her usual hard-nosed persona, she knew that if she were to do that, it would break some sort of personal record. Not that she gave a damn.

Her breath was still catching in her throat when, moving his hands to her cheeks, Clark brushed her hair off her face and stared at her as if seeing her for the first time. There was a hint of wonder in his voice when he murmured, "I thought…I thought I was crazy. I heard your heartbeat, and I thought…for five days, you've been haunting me, and…I thought I was hearing things. I can't believe…is it really you? Are you really here?"

His question demanded an answer, but she didn't know what to tell him. There was too much, and she wasn't ready. Not yet. So, before he could say another word, before she could lose the last vestiges of her dignity, before she could think too long about all of the people she'd come to see in a different light over the last few days, before her joy at having the man she loved was marred by the memory of the man she'd left behind, she kissed him.

Maybe it was because she hadn't seen him in a few days and had begun to believe she never would again. Maybe it was just the magic of the moment. But this kiss, this embrace that felt so familiar, was also somehow new to her. The way his lips brushed against hers, the taste of his kiss, it felt like their first, and Lois lost herself in it.

When she finally broke away and looked up into his face, she saw that his eyes were wet with tears that mirrored the ones she was about to shed. "You're real," he said in such amazement that bordered on disbelief, it broke her heart.

"I'm real," she replied as she took his hand in hers, for once uncertain of the two of them together. She knew he was waiting for something, and she knew there had to be some way to diffuse the tension that had fallen between them, but she still wasn't sure. She wanted to believe this was the man she loved, but she still wasn't sure.

At a loss for what else to do, Lois looked around and realized Martha must have already headed inside, offering the two of them a chance to be alone. So, taking Clark's hand in her own, she nodded towards the house. "I'm sure you…both of you…have a million questions. Let's go inside, and I'll tell you…I'll tell you where I've been."

When Clark escorted her into the kitchen, she saw Martha awaiting them with an anxious look on her face, and she stumbled out of his arms and into his mother's. As the older woman's arms wrapped around her, Lois had to close her eyes against the memory of the last such embrace she'd received from Martha in that very kitchen – and how Jonathan Kent had been standing right next to them both at the time.

"Lois, honey…what happened to you?" Martha asked, breaking the spell as she pulled away, her cheeks wet with tears.

It was a long story, and not one easily told. Looking between Martha's anxious face and her son's, Lois took a deep breath. "Maybe we should sit down," she said, turning to the kitchen table. Or, rather, where the kitchen table should be, but it wasn't there.

"I had…uh…an accident," Clark said sheepishly from behind her, clearly picking up on her surprise as he wrapped his arm around her waist and walked with her into the living room.

When she sat next to Clark on the couch, she grabbed his hand and linked her fingers with his. It wasn't going to be easy to tell them about her last few days, she knew, but she took comfort in having his solid presence by her side. On a deep breath, she looked down at the hand she had in her own and said, "I suppose it all started with the light."

And so her story began. It was three hours in the telling, and those three hours were some of the most difficult ones of her life. It was hard, telling Clark that he had been engaged to Lana in another world. It was harder still, confessing that the patriarch of the Kent family had been alive and well. Still, as painful as her narrative was at times, she did her best to relay events exactly as they had happened; even if she had the inclination to lie to them about what had happened to her, she had become resigned to the fact that, to this family at least, she lacked the ability to do so.

So she told her story in as linear a fashion as possible, though it was peppered with the odd aside and only interrupted by Mrs. Kent's occasional need for clarification (Clark was oddly silent during the telling). Still, while they might have had difficulty coming to terms with the fact of what she had to say, neither of them seemed to doubt the truth of it, as not even once did either of Lois's companions express disbelief in her tale. She supposed she was fortunate, at least, in the fact that the Kents were likely the only people on the planet who could believe her story without evidential proof – but, then again, a family who had discovered and raised an alien child with superhuman powers had a definite advantage in the ability to believe in the so-called "impossible".

"I don't know what convinced him to send be back, in the end," she concluded finally, "but he did. I can hardly believe it myself." Lois saw Clark swallow heavily, and he seemed unable to speak for a moment. Instead, he squeezed her hand jut a little tighter, looking as if he expected her to evaporate in front of his eyes at any moment. Meeting his eyes, she murmured earnestly, "I'm sorry, Clark. I know how scared you both must have been."

There were shadows in his eyes when he replied, "And I can't imagine what it must have been like, to know you'd been taken so far away and not know if you'd ever make it home." As he spoke, he released the hand he held and wrapped his arm around her waist, instead, holding her close. Tucking her head against his chest, she heard the steady, comforting beat of his heart, still somewhat faster than normal, and she squeezed her eyes shut, never wanting this moment to end.

A moment later, however, her eyes flew open again as she heard Martha softly clear her throat and say, "I should probably make a few phone calls; a lot of people have been worried about you, Lois. I'm sure everyone's going to want to see that you're back for themselves, and I don't think the two of you will have much time to yourselves once they begin to arrive, so I'll leave you two alone for now."

Lois jumped to her feet and wrapped her arms around Martha as the older woman rose. "Thank you so much, Mi…Ma…Mom," she finally managed to say.

"Oh, sweetie, it's just good to have you back," Martha replied and captured one of Lois's hands as the younger woman pulled away. Quietly, she murmured, "I'm glad you got to see Jonathan one more time, Lois. I know…there were things you didn't get a chance to say to him."

"He already knew," Lois replied with a slight shake of her head. Though the memory was now accompanied by a sharp stab of guilt that she got those last few days with Jonathan Kent and his family didn't, she still felt a faint sense of wonder when she thought about the conversation she'd had with him in the hospital and all the things he'd said to her. "All those things I wanted to say, he already knew."

"Of course he did, Lois," Clark said as he rose to his feet behind her and rested a light hand on her shoulder. When she turned to look up at him, she could see in his eyes that he was aware of her conflicting emotions, and though she knew the regrets he held over Jonathan's death, he didn't begrudge her the time she alone had spent with his father. "He loved you like a daughter."

Lois thought of the man she'd seen only hours before, with his kind eyes and easy smile, and she knew Clark was telling the truth. Turning to face him, she whispered, "He loved you so both so much, you know." It was the only consolation she could offer the man by her side. "And he was so proud of you. I told him about you, and he said…he said he hoped his Clark could one day be as happy as you and I are together."

She could tell her words had affected him, because he paused and then said softly, "He must have come to care about you a great deal, to have let you go."

Lois knew he was no longer referring to his father, and she offered him a watery smile, not really certain how to reply. "He was a good man, Clark," she finally offered as a response to his unspoken questions. "He was just…lost."

"I know how he felt," Clark murmured, and that haunted look was back in his eyes. "When I thought…I was scared I'd never see you again," he said tremulously as his face contorted with the effort to fight back the force of his emotions.

Lois caressed his cheeks with her fingertips, the tightness in her chest making it impossible to reply for the moment, and wordlessly offered him comfort in whatever way she could. As her lips met his, she felt some of his tension drain away, and she melted into his kiss.

When he finally pulled away, Lois smiled and took his hand, but he still seemed uncertain about something. "Are you sure, Lois?" he asked, stopping her short when she turned toward the stairs, and she remembered the uncertainty she'd felt about the man by her side. It had somehow slowly faded over the last few hours, but, considering how she'd asked him to prove himself upon her return (and everything she'd told him since), she couldn't blame him for needing reassurance. "I-I don't want…I couldn't bear it if you thought there was even a chance I wasn't…"

As she turned to face him once again, Lois looked into his eyes and caught her breath. There it was. Her past. Her present. Her future. And a love that was stronger than anything she'd ever known – stronger than distance, death, or even fate. "I'm sure," she replied with conviction, and a heartbeat later, she was in his arms again.

The shadows were gone from his eyes as he murmured fiercely, "I love you, Lois."

"I love you too, Smallville," she replied, wrapping her arms around his neck, and she caught her breath as Clark scooped her into his arms and carried her upstairs. She could barely believe it herself, but she was back where she belonged. In his arms.

Later that night, Lois let out a soft sigh and shifted slightly. Shivering slightly when her movement caused his bare flesh to brush lightly against her own, she flung her leg across Clark's and rested her chin on the arm she had curled atop his chest. With an answering sigh, Clark threw his arm around her waist and tucked her closer against his body, staring down at her with heavy-lidded eyes. "Penny for your thoughts," she murmured softly.

"I was just thinking…I can't imagine what he must have gone through. I can't imagine what it would be like, to have to live my life without you," he replied, idly twirling a lock of hair as if this insignificant act and the feeling of the silky strands between his fingers was further reassurance of her presence. In a similar fashion, she had begun to lazily trace invisible patterns across his bare chest with her fingertips. They acted as though these simple distractions would keep the last few days' demons at bay.

Staring at the patterns she was making, Lois swallowed heavily at the memory of that other Clark and murmured, "Oh…" She didn't know quite what to say.

"I can't imagine ever loving anyone but you," Clark continued. "I just wonder…do you think he'll ever find someone to love as much as I love you?" It was a rhetorical question, which was fortunate, as Lois suspected the only honest answer she could offer would be a tragic one.

Then, just when she was about to shove the memory and the tiny nagging doubt she felt that she'd turned her back on something she should have done in that other world, she thought about the look on the Clark from the other world's face, that last time she'd gazed at him over her shoulder. He looked so resolute, even through his sadness. "I don't…I don't know, Clark," she said, tilting her head so that she could rest her cheek upon his chest, listening to the slow, steady rhythm of his heartbeat. "But, you know, I think he was much stronger than even he realized."

There was such sadness on his face as he stroked his hand down the length of her spine. "You think he'll find happiness some day?" he asked with a quirk of his eyebrows.

"I think it's never a good idea to underestimate Clark Kent," she replied honestly.

In the silence that followed, Lois closed her eyes and breathed deeply, finally letting go of the last of her regret. "It must have been so hard for him to let you go," Clark said finally, and her eyes flew open as she looked up at him. "I can face just about anything in this world, but the thought of letting you go, knowing that I'd have to live the rest of my life without you…? Honestly, I don't know that I could have done it."

Slowly moving up his body so she could capture his lips with hers, Lois murmured fiercely, "Don't. Don't let me go. Don't ever."

Her hair cascaded over his hand as he pulled her closer to him. "Never," he swore against her lips. "I promise." Then, in a soft symphony of shared sighs and low moans, Clark Kent and Lois Lane gave a physical demonstration of how much they loved and how much they had missed each other.

For nearly five days, Lois had seen the life Clark might have lead and the man he might have been, if he'd never met her, and her memories of those few days would always be bittersweet. As she drifted off to sleep, she spared a moment to wonder about the life that other Clark would lead, and she hoped he would find happiness someday. In the darkness, she thought about all the other worlds that might exist out there; might there also be a world in which she had never met Clark Kent? And what would that Lois be like?

Chilled at the thought, Lois shuddered and shifted closer to the man by her side, warmed by his presence. Happily, she was never going to find out. After five days, she was finally where she belonged. She was home.