A/N: Not so long ago, someone asked me why I don't do stories where Lois and Clark are already in love, and this story idea came to me. So I hope you all enjoy. Oh, and I own nothing. Now that that's all said and done, it's time to get to the story!

Will You Marry Me?

The first time Clark had proposed to someone – if what he did could actually be considered a real marriage proposal – it was a mistake inspired by little more than excessive hormones and reckless teenage lust. He didn't even really remember what he'd said in the midst of that frenzied pawing, fueled by the influence of red Kryptonite, as he came perilously close to losing his virginity on the couch in his barn loft with a girl he'd barely known. But he and Alicia had raced off to Vegas to get married with no thought to the consequences, disappointing both his parents and – once he'd regained his grasp on both reason and sense – himself with the rash thoughtlessness of his actions.

The unconsummated union of dubious legality, performed by a Vegas preacher to whom Clark had slipped a fifty for the privilege, had lasted only about as long as the ceremony itself. And since he had been "under the influence", so to speak, at the time that he'd exchanged those hastily-spoken vows, he was able to walk away from the experience with few consequences and only a murky sense of his own culpability in bringing the entire fiasco about.

The repercussions of his next proposal would not be nearly so easily dismissed.

The second proposal Clark had offered had been a categorical mistake, to put it lightly. At the time, of course, he had truly believed himself to be in love with a woman he'd adored from afar for years, and he had honestly thought he could happily live out the rest of his days with Lana by his side. He had been young and deeply mired in an infatuation that had felt more real than it had honestly been, and Lana made him feel like he could have the life he'd always wanted – a normal life, unremarkable in its banality. By her side, he fooled himself into thinking he could somehow lead a life that didn't include superpowers and the constant reminders of the perceived freakishness that plagued his adolescent years.

It didn't take long, however, before their relationship began to suffer from the conflict between his dreams and reality – and an almost endless list of secrets his very existence forced him to keep from her. When he realized their brief love affair was crumbling, he'd made one last-ditch gamble to stem the tide of fate, confessed his secrets, and asked her to be his wife. Of course, he'd had no idea of the terrible consequences that would stem from his stubborn refusal to let go of a love and a destiny that had never been his own.

The events that transpired after his carefully planned, if hastily considered, proposal were some of the happiest and saddest of his teenage life. For one day, he'd had the woman he had been so certain he was born to love, and then he'd lost her. Unable to cope with the reality of the consequence to his actions, he had acted hastily, demanded Lana be restored to him, and in return lost the man who had meant the world to him. In defying the laws of time, he'd unwittingly chosen Lana's life over his father's and had never truly come to terms with the role he'd played in Jonathan Kent's death.

His third marriage proposal had been an unfortunate combination of both of his previous experiences. He didn't bother to inject even a touch of romance – or, for that matter, foresight – into the affair; his words were a challenge thrown down in jealous anger, entirely lacking in tender sentiment.

"Don't marry him; marry me," he'd commanded of Lana in his barn loft while again hyped up on the effects of red Kryptonite. It wasn't, in retrospect that he loved her so deeply that he couldn't live without her. He simply longed for the life he thought she represented so badly that he didn't want to let her go. He couldn't stomach that she was moving on when he was unwilling to do so, and he particularly couldn't bear the thought of her moving on with his greatest nemesis, Lex Luthor.

It was also, again in retrospect, a colossal waste of time, energy, and foolish pride. The gauntlet he'd thrown down had been ignored with an indifference that was almost callous. Lana had kissed him but chosen Lex, had told him she loved him but left on another man's arm. She'd walked out, moved on, and, in the end, he should have done the same.

Instead, he'd lashed out and held on tight to the promise of Lana Lang, even after she chose to give that same promise to another man. In return, Clark had made a slow descent into one of the most shameful periods of his personal history, his reluctance to let go of the dream of what might have been culminating in both the pursuit of a married woman and his fourth and final proposal to date.

Though it was sadly not of his own doing, it was definitely to his benefit that this final proposal was thwarted before it could officially be offered, as even his dog Shelby – the only witness to his foray into redundancy – seemed both unimpressed and a bit ashamed by his intent.

And while not even the man Clark was today could say he didn't regret the next few months or would have wished the loveless marriage of Lana's choosing upon her, it was with a certain amount of relief that he realized he had narrowly avoided a similar fate for himself. In the time that had passed since the day that Lana exchanged the surname Lang for Luthor, he had matured in many ways and come to a number of personal revelations. Perhaps the biggest one was that it had not truly been Lana but what he wanted her to be that he loved, and, once he recognized that fact, he was able to let her go, relieved that she had, in the end, not chosen to take on the surname Kent instead.

Four times in the past had he asked for a woman to be his wife (though not always in quite those words or with quite that sentiment), and each time, something had intervened that had saved him from himself. Perhaps it had been fate itself, though Clark had long ago come to cringe at the word that was so prevalent in his history, unwilling to accept the idea that his life was to some degree not his own. Still, the simple fact was that he never had offered another woman that vow – a vow which, once given, he never would have retracted, regardless of how much he might have come to wish he could do so.

His parents had taught him that the promise of marriage should be for life, and though he had not always truly had the depth of understanding of the sentiment that he had now, he was fortunate that it was a promise he was still free to make. He only had to work up the nerve to ask.

"L-Lois, I was wondering if you would…no, hoping is better. I was hoping you would consent…what kind of a word is that? You're not asking to borrow her car, Clark, you're asking her to marry you," he chided the image in the mirror that stared nervously back at him. This was really not going well.

With a sigh, Clark walked over to his bed and lowered himself dejectedly onto it. Why was this so hard? He had absolutely no doubt that she was the woman he'd been waiting for his entire life, even before he knew what he wanted, and that he would love her to the end of his days. Every cherished memory of the past couple of years had her in it, every plan for the present included her, and she featured in every dream he entertained about what the future might bring.

He wanted to spend the rest of his life beside Lois Lane, and he knew it. Everyone knew it! The twelve year old who delivered his paper every morning no doubt knew of the feelings Clark harbored for the love of his life, and they all knew how very much he wanted to ask her to be his wife.

Everyone but Lois herself, that was. She was still operating under a depressing ignorance of Clark's intentions, for which he really couldn't blame her. He hadn't exactly told her, after all…which was, when he came right down to it, the whole purpose for the exercise he was currently quite miserably failing.

"Way to go, Kent," he muttered darkly to himself. "Why don't you just sweep her off her feet entirely and say, 'Hey, baby, let's get hitched!'"

It wasn't that he wasn't sure what he wanted. The problem was that he knew what he wanted – knew he'd never wanted (even needed) anything so much in his life as he needed to have her by his side for the rest of it, and he wanted to find a way to express to her exactly how he felt about her. He wanted her to know, to understand. He wanted to sweep her off her feet and show her exactly how she made him feel, and then, when he laid his heart and soul at her feet and asked her to be his, he wanted that moment to be perfect – and not just for himself, not, as he had in the past, to hold selfishly on to something without consideration for the other person's happiness, but because, with everything she'd given him and regardless of her answer, she deserved a perfect moment in return. There was so much he couldn't do for her, but he could make this night the most romantic of her life, a memory she could cherish, regardless of how she felt about the question itself, for the rest of her life.

Of course, to do that, he was going to have to manage to stop tripping over his tongue. "You…me…ring good?" had never ranked high on anybody's list of romantic turns of phrase, and even as unconventional as Lois Lane could be, Clark doubted she'd be the exception in this particular case.

"Okay, Clark, you're making this a lot harder than it has to be. You don't have to recite poetry to her; you just have to say, 'Lois, I love you and I…" he cut off with a yelp when the phone rang, startling him. He was wound so tight from nerves, he almost crushed the receiver when he picked it up to answer.

"Hey, there, Smallville. So I'm just about ready to go, but I thought I'd give you a call and see if maybe you'd cave and tell me about this big surprise you have planned tonight if I asked you nicely enough." The voice on the other end of the line belonged to none other than the woman who dominated his thoughts, and he had to swallow heavily and take a deep breath before he could respond in a similarly teasing tone.

Hoping his nervousness wasn't carrying down the line, Clark said lightly, "Well, I don't know, Lois. Do you think you have it in you to pull it off? Besides, don't you know that if I told you, it wouldn't be a surprise any longer?"

When he heard her chuckle, some of his earlier tension melted away. He didn't know how she did that – put him at ease without even trying, but he never wanted her to stop. "I've thought about that," she said firmly, and he could just imagine the serious expression on her face as she paced back and forth across her living room floor, frowning in contemplation as she tried to think of a way to convince him to see her side of the issue.

"And…?" he prompted with a grin, eager to hear what she excuse she'd find.

"And," she replied confidently after only a moment's pause. "I've decided I don't care."

Clark couldn't help but laugh; it was just such a typical Lois response. "A compelling argument, Metropolis," he replied in an attempt at seriousness, though his humor was evident in his voice. "Unfortunately, I don't think it's quite compelling enough. I'm afraid you'll just have to wait."

He heard her sigh in exasperation, and then she groaned through gritted teeth, "Okay, but hurry up and come get me, will you? I want to know what this surprise of yours is, and patience and I have never been the closest of friends."

"I never noticed," he teased, but before she could return fire at him with both barrels, he said, "I'll be there in just a few minutes." As he hung up the phone, he took one more look at the ring in his hand before slipping it into his pocket. When the moment was right, he'd find the words to tell her how much he loved her and that he wanted to spend the rest of his life with her by his side. It couldn't possibly be that hard, could it?

It could indeed, he realized an hour later as he fingered the ring in his pocket nervously. They were having dinner at the restaurant rated Metropolis's most romantic for several years running, and Clark had to admit that it was everything it was rumored to be. The very air around them practically screamed romance – there were violins and a sultry singer on the stage, dinner itself had been a work of art, and the soft glow of candlelight helped to set a mood that needed no great encouragement. All that was lacking was the words.

Pulling the diamond engagement band out of his pocket and clenching it into a fist almost tight enough to bend the precious metal, Clark cleared his throat for what had to be the eighth time and used his free hand to nervously pull at the knot on his tie. Was it possible a simple strip of cloth was cutting off his oxygen? "Lois," he croaked incomprehensibly before clearing his throat once more and trying again. "Lois, there's something I want…need…w-want to ask y-you," he stammered, and she looked up from the slice of Death By Chocolate she'd been eating and met his eyes with an encouraging smile.

He couldn't make a sound. Oh, god, it should be this hard. He was an award-winning journalist, having received professional acclaim for the persuasive and hard-hitting articles he wrote every day. But now, when it was most important that he find the words to tell the woman in front of him how he felt, he couldn't string together a single comprehensible sentence to save his life. "I…I was…I mean, you and I…you know, there's a time in every man's life that he…he, uh…he starts to think about…um…"

The look of loving encouragement fell from her face, to be replaced with an expression of mounting concern. "Oh, my god, are you okay?" she blurted, looking at him with such worry in her eyes, it took him by surprise and threw him off track, just when he'd been about to actually manage to get a coherent string of words out – at least as coherent as he was likely to get – and ask The Question.

"Um, what?" he asked in confusion.

Lois's worried look morphed into genuine alarm as she stared intently at his face. Leaning forward, she mumbled in low tone so as not to be overheard by the surrounding tables, "You're sweating. You never sweat. Never! In fact the only time I've ever seen you sweat was when you were…oh my god, have you been exposed to Kryptonite? Is that what happened? Honey, you know you have to tell me when you…"

Before she could launch into an endless worried rant, Clark cut her off. "Lois, I haven't been exposed to Kryptonite." She opened her mouth to argue, but he knew what she was going to say, so he assured her, "Sweetheart, I think I would know."

She looked unconvinced, but at least a fraction of her anxiety seemed to have been eased. "So…you're sure you're okay?"

"I-I'm sure." Grabbing hold of his courage with both hands, he cleared his throat one more time and attempted to speak with the confidence of his convictions. "I was just…well, actually, I wanted to ask…"

He never got the question out. Just as he was about to say the fateful words, the girl on the table to his left burst out in a loud squeal of excitement, "Yes! Yes, of course I'll marry you!'

For a moment, he thought the girl at the neighboring table had read his mind and was answering the question he'd not managed to yet ask, but then he saw her burst into tears and throw herself into the embrace of the man who'd come around the side of the table to wrap her in his arms. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Lois watch the couple with avid interest, a curious smile on her lips. When he turned to look at her, she met his eyes, nodded discreetly in the couple's direction, and murmured, "That's something else, huh, Smallville?"

Nodding in response, he asked tentatively, "Pretty romantic, huh?"

A casual shrug, and she clearly dismissed the issue. "I suppose," she answered noncommittally. "So, anyway, what were you about to ask me?"

"Oh…I…uh…" There was no way he could do it now. He wanted the moment to be perfect, and somehow, having his thunder stolen by the table five feet away just didn't fit the bill. He would just have to think of something else. Clenching his fists in his lap in frustration, he slipped the ring back into his pocket before he could do some unintentional damage. "I…uh…I wondered if I could steal a bite of your cake," he finished lamely, nodding at the remnants of the slice in front of her.

She regarded him with narrowed eyes for a moment before asking suspiciously, "That's it, really? That's what you were so nervous about?"

"Well, I know how you are about defending your chocolate," he responded as teasingly as he could manage, trying to deflect attention from his earlier bout of anxiety.

He must have done a better job than he'd thought, because she laughed and nudged the plate closer to him. "Funny man," she muttered with a grin and a small shake of her head. "Well, yes, normally I'd defend my chocolate cake to the death, but I suppose I could be convinced to share. Just be glad I love you so much, because otherwise, I'm afraid there'd probably be bloodshed."

Clark forced a laugh as he ate a bite of cake he really didn't want, his brain scrambling to find a way to salvage the situation all the while. "Do you really?" he blurted as he swallowed, and he flushed when he realized that he hadn't meant to ask such an inane question, particularly since he had no doubt of the answer. Maybe he was just looking for reassurance that she might accept his proposal, should he ever find a way to offer it.

"Yeah, you've kind of grown on me," she replied teasingly, but then her eyes narrowed again as she searched his face once more. "Clark, honey, are you…?" she began to ask, then shook her head, reached out to him, and gave his hand a quick squeeze as they rose to their feet. Side by side, they walked to Clark's car together, and though he was railing at himself for having missed the perfect opportunity to propose, in all other respects, he didn't want the evening to end.

She apparently felt the same, because when he walked her to her front door, she didn't waste any time lingering on the doorstep before inviting him inside. Standing in the middle of her living room, however, a brilliant idea struck, and he grabbed her hand to pull her out to the balcony, where the moon shining bright overhead and the soft jazz music filtering out of a neighbor's window set the mood he'd lost back in that restaurant.

This was it. This was a perfect moment. This was the moment he was going to propose.

He opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to the punch, wrapping her arms around his neck and brushing a series of soft kisses across his lips before saying, "You know, the torture of not knowing what you had in store for tonight aside, it was a pretty incredible evening, Clark. Absolutely perfect, in fact."

"Almost. Almost perfect," he corrected her. "Lois, there's something I want to talk to you ab –" He never got the words out, since the sharp peal of the phone inside her apartment interrupted the tender moment.

With a scowl and a roll of her eyes, she pulled out of his arms and said, "Hold that thought, handsome. I'll be right back."

As always, he let her out of his embrace only reluctantly, but this time, there was also a brief moment of relief. Now he had a chance to practice what he was about to say, make it absolutely perfect. Turning away from the balcony door, he walked to the balustrade and looked out over the lights of the city as he pulled the ring out of his pocket. Pretending she was there in front of him, he muttered to himself, "Lois, you mean the world to me, and I…I think about you all the time. No. That's terrible. Lois, from the moment we met, I knew that…uh…I knew that the there was…uh…no." In actuality, it had taken him at least a couple months after meeting her to realize how amazing Lois was, a little more time to come to terms with how much she meant to him, and even once he'd begun to do so, he'd done everything he could to deny the truth of it to himself for a while still.

He'd never been so tempted to hit his head repeatedly against a wall in frustration in his life, and he might have done so now if it weren't for the fact that he knew it would be impossible for Lois to explain to her landlord how her concrete railing had shattered. Aggravated, he cried a little louder than he'd intended, "Lois, I love you, and I –"

"I love you too, Clark," she said, sounding amused as she walked up behind him. He startled at hearing her voice so suddenly; lost in his musings, he'd completely forgotten that she wasn't going to be gone long. In his surprise, he fumbled with the ring, eager to get it back into his pocket before she caught sight of it. Instead, however, it slipped through his uncharacteristically clumsy fingers and fell into the darkness beneath her balcony.

Clark let out a squeak of dismay as Lois came up behind him and wrapped her arms around his waist. While he leaned over the railing and desperately scanned the ground, trying to find the ring, she murmured suggestively, "Now, where were we?"

"I have to go!" he blurted, scooting out of her arms and whirling on her. She looked surprised – and a little hurt – so he did his best to cover. "I mean, I…uh…I have to go," he repeated apologetically as he gestured out at the city lights, wordlessly indicating the world beyond her balcony and subtly implying that his alter-ego needed to go to work.

Though her disappointment remained, the hurt faded from her eyes. "Oh, okay. I'll see you tomorrow, then, handsome," she said and gave him a quick kiss goodbye. Though he didn't want to leave her, he made sure she saw him rise into the air and fly away before streaking back to her apartment to rescue the ring – and maybe a fraction of his pride – from the ground beneath her window.

The next two days didn't go any better, and Clark could tell that Lois was beginning to seriously worry over his sudden tendency towards jumpiness whenever she came near. He couldn't help his nervousness; he'd tried just about everything he could think of to propose to Lois, but he'd been thwarted at every turn. He'd tried taking her to the place where they'd had their first date, but before he could ask her to marry him, a genuine crisis had come up across town and he'd lost his chance. He'd tried taking her for a flight above the clouds, but before he could ask her to be his wife, he'd realized that he'd secreted the ring in the boot to his supersuit and was, thus, unable to present it to her. He'd even tried taking her out for dinner and asking the maitre'd to hide the ring in her champagne glass so he could surprise her. Of course, before the bottle could even arrive, she'd gotten a lead on a breaking story and had to leave.

Discouraged only temporarily by these numerous setbacks, Clark decided to take a little time off from plotting his next proposal attempt and invited Lois to the family farm for a couple of days. She'd readily consented, and he found all of his tension melting away as he spent an evening having dinner with the two women he loved most in the world – his mother and Lois.

Once dinner wrapped up and the kitchen was restored to its previously pristine state, Clark and Lois strolled outside to take advantage of the cool evening air. Without a particular destination in mind, the headed towards the loft to Clark's barn, his so-called "Fortress of Solitude", once upon a time.

Standing by the loft window, Lois looked out at the sun setting on the fields around them and idly remarked, "You know, I've always loved this place."

"The farm in general? Or the loft?" he asked, standing behind her and wrapping his arms around her waist.

"Either. Both," she replied with a laugh. "No, honestly…I mean, I know I used to tease you when we first met about all the time you spent moping in the barn, but I could see why you liked it so much up here."

Clark frowned softly and said, "I didn't mope half as much as you thought I did, you know."
She scoffed and contradicted him, "Of course you did, Smallville. What do you think you needed me for?"

Though he chuckled and brushed a kiss on the side of her head, he didn't reply. There were so many things he'd needed her for – so many reasons he was grateful to have her in his life – he wouldn't know where to begin. "I suppose I moped a bit," he conceded reluctantly. "It was just…" He stopped and sighed. How to explain what he'd gone through during his teenage years? "It's strange, I know, and I don't know how, but I somehow grew up not realizing how different I was. I don't know if it was because my parents never treated me like there was something wrong with me, but…"

"There is nothing wrong with you!" Lois protested fiercely, whirling on him to fix him with a glare so fierce, he'd have retracted the statement if he'd actually meant it.

With a warm smile, he brushed his lips against hers in an attempt to mollify her and said softly, "I know that now, but I didn't always." She looked ready to protest, so he rubbed her shoulders soothingly. "I'm not saying I still feel that way, Lo."

Giving him one final glare – apparently to let him know that, in case he changed his mind, she wasn't going to stand for it – she kissed his chin and then slowly turned to look back out the window. He didn't know how she knew that he would have an easier time talking about his awkward teenage years if she wasn't looking at him while he did so, but that was Lois. She just knew these things about him.

"Anyway," he began after a moment had passed and he'd returned to his former position of holding her in his arms as they looked out at the sunset. "They said I was special, but they never treated me like I was different, like I didn't belong, and while I knew I wasn't exactly like other kids, I never really thought much about why. My parents told me I had to keep my abilities a secret, and while it never occurred to me that I was an alien, I…I guess it was just easier for me to be alone than to be around other people. The farm was the only place I could really be myself, and then…" He let his voice trail off. There were things he'd never talked about before with anyone because he didn't think they'd understand, things that Lois probably knew by now but he still had never really openly talked about with her. Still, he should have been surprised to discover that he wasn't afraid this time, not with Lois. He felt like he could tell her anything.

So he would. "I didn't find out that I was an alien until I was in high school, and then…" Heaving a heavy sigh, he frowned as he thought about conflicted man he'd once been. "I knew my parents loved me and that I would always have them, but I…I'd never felt so alone. I thought I was a freak, and I realized…I realized that most people wouldn't understand. One of my best friends – Pete, who I'd known for years – he found out about me, and…he just couldn't handle it, so I figured I'd never be able to let anyone get close to me. My parents were worried about what would happen to me if anyone ever found out, and I…I thought there'd never be anyone who could accept me for what I am. Every day, I felt like I was standing on the sidelines, watching everyone else live the life I wanted, and…"

He paused and took a deep breath, grateful for Lois's silence, though she did make a small sound of dismay. This was harder to get out than he thought it would be. "For a long time, I wanted nothing more than to give up my abilities. A couple of times, I almost did." This wasn't any news to the woman in his arms, he knew, but there was still something about saying it out loud to her that felt cathartic, somehow.

Turning her to face him, he looked into her eyes and said with heartfelt sincerity, "Lois, there's a lot of things I've done in my past that I'm not particularly proud of, and that's never been more true than those first couple years after you and I met. I did a lot of stupid things, most of them because I'd spent years looking at the world around me and wanting to be somebody I wasn't, thinking nobody would ever accept me for what I was." He paused and smiled down at her. "And then I met you."

"If I didn't realize how truly amazing you were from that very first moment we met…if I spent years pushing you away instead of admitting how I felt about you…it's because I never thought that someone as incredible as you even existed, let alone that I would be lucky enough to find you. And even if things had never worked out between us and I had become just some guy that you used to care about, one upon a time, to think that I somehow have been so extraordinarily fortunate in my life to have been the man you've loved for even a little while…" His voice trailed off and he shook his head in renewed wonder.

Only now Lois was looking at him in concern as she interjected, "But, Clark, it isn't like that. You're not just some guy that I once loved, you're the man I know I'm going to love for the rest of my life."

Some of Clark's tension eased though he frowned, knowing he wasn't being as clear as he would like to be and wanting more than anything for Lois to understand what he was trying to say. "I know I'm not, I'm just trying to explain…From the day that we met, you might have driven me crazy on occasion, but you never…you seemed to accept me as I was, not as you wanted or expected me to be. You knew that there were things about me that you didn't know, and you were my friend anyway. I'd never really had that before.

"I know I've let you down sometimes, and I've even…I've even made you cry." He had to swallow heavily at the thought, because the memory of those tears he'd caused her to shed still tore at his heart. "There were even times, I'm sure, that I've made you so angry that you wanted to just walk away.

"But you never did. You never walked away from me…from us…and for the life of me, I don't know what I did to deserve you. You're the bravest, most amazing, most passionate woman I've ever known, and what's more important than anything I've said so far…You're the best friend I could ever have. I'm only the person I am today because I've known you; and if I'm constantly trying to be a better man tomorrow than I was yesterday, it's because I want to be the man I know you deserve.

"I don't know how you do it, Lois, but you constantly show me that I can be superhuman and still be human at the same time. And it…it sounds strange, I know, but if Clark is strong, it's because you're by my side and if Superman is weak, it's because I've never loved anyone in my life the way I love you."

With trembling fingers, Clark pulled the ring out of his pocket and held it out to her, her gasp of surprise causing his mouth to go suddenly dry. He hadn't started this conversation with a proposal in mind, but he couldn't think of a more perfect moment to ask her to be his wife if he tried. Right here, where, in many ways, it all began when he saw a side of Lois he knew not many others had and, in return, was accepted by her in a way not many others could, he wanted to ask her to spend the rest of her life with him. "I may not have loved you from that very first moment, but I have no doubt I'll love you until my very last. And if you…if you say you'll be my wife, I promise you that a day won't go by that you'll ever have to wonder how much I love you or how incredibly grateful I am for the day I met you."

One more deep breath, and Clark asked the question he'd been wanting to ask for so long, "Lois, will you marry me?"

He heard the deep breath she took and the sudden racing of her heart as she lifted her eyes to his. Pulling her lower lip between her teeth, she stared at him with wide eyes. "Clark," she began softly, just when he thought his heart was going to break. "That was…I can't tell you how much it means to me that you shared all that with me, but in return, I feel like there are some things you need to know before I give you my answer."

Clark was convinced his heart was about to stop. She looked so nervous, so vulnerable as she looked up at him. Was it possible she was gearing up to gently turn him down? But then she grabbed his free hand in hers and gave it a reassuring squeeze before linking their fingers together, and he finally remembered how to breathe again.

"When I…when I first met you…" she began haltingly, her voice trembling a bit, "I was a different person back then. I was so lost, afraid to let anyone get close to me because I didn't want to let them down like I knew I probably would. I…I had the General and Lucy, but I hadn't really had a family in as long as I could remember, and while I'd lived in a lot of different places by the time I was a teenager, I don't think I'd ever really had a home."

A sheepish smile crossed her lips, and she said apologetically, "I'm not as good at words as you are, Clark, but…that's what you are to me. You're my home. It doesn't matter where I am or what I'm doing, I always know I have a place I belong as long as it's right next to you.

"You're the strongest, bravest, most honorable man I've ever known, and it has nothing to do with your powers; it's just the man that you are. And even before I realized how much you meant to me, I knew that I would be lucky to be able to love a man like you some day.

"Clark, you say that you're both stronger and weaker for having known me, but the truth is that I'm the same for having known you. I honestly don't know who I'd be today if you hadn't come into my life, and, frankly, I don't think I want to. If I have faith in myself and my ability to make a difference in this world, it's because of you. When you first met me, I was this stupid teenage girl without a point or a purpose in this world, and you were the one who showed me that there was more to me than anyone, including me, ever would have believed."

Looking down at the hand she had clutched in hers, she said softly, "Maybe because I'd never known what it felt like to have what other people had – a place to belong, but I spent so many years running from place to face, trying to find…something, I suppose. Something I'd never had before. I didn't think I'd ever stop…I didn't think I'd ever find a home or a family or even…a place where I could be myself. And I certainly never thought I would find someone who would love me, even if I wasn't perfect. So I kept moving, going from place to place, because it was easier to move on than it was to face the thought that if I got too close to someone and then let them down, they'd…they'd give up on me" She stammered to a halt before raising her eyes to his.

Taking a deep breath, she said, "But you gave me a reason to stop running, Clark, and I love you so much for that."

Clark felt the trembling in her fingertips, heard the tremor in her voice, and wanted to pull her into his arms and hold her tight. But because he knew it was as important for her to speak now as it had been for him a few minutes earlier, he somehow managed to hold his ground.

"You tell me that I've changed your life, but the truth is that…you've done things for me that I can't even…I can't begin to explain. If I'm ever truly brave, it's because I have your faith in me the keep me going, and if I get scared sometimes, it's because I'm worried that I'll somehow discover someday that I'm not really the person I see through your eyes.

"But one thing's for sure. I'll never be as happy alone as I am by your side, and, if I searched for a million years, I'd never find anyone I loved half as much as I love you. On our first date, I remember that you asked me if I believed in fate, and I said I didn't. But the truth is that sometimes I wonder, because of all the billions of people in this world, with everything you and I have been though both separately and together, I wonder sometimes how we ever got so lucky as to find each other. So maybe fate does exist, and maybe it brought us together, but even if I'm wrong – even if it's all just dumb luck and choice – I would still choose you…and for the rest of my life, until the day that I die, I will never choose anyone but you. So the real question is: knowing all of this, will you marry me, Clark Kent?"

In the end, he didn't have to answer her question; nor did she really have to answer his. The kiss they shared in the light of the setting sun said it all – about truth, destiny, and a love that would last forever.