Note: Hey all! So sorry it's taken so long. This has been one chapter I really wanted to get right. Hopefully, I have. I know normally, our SV Clark wouldn't be so verbose, but frankly, he has a lot of 'xplainin' to do. And after a lifetime of repression, I gave him permission to explain here. Lois, not so much since we all know where she stands. Thank you all so very much for sticking with me on this one. I have not only loved writing it, but loved getting to know your thoughts and feelings about our wonderful Clois through your feedback. As always, I hope you enjoy!

Also: Big, big, HUGE thank you to daydreamer10101‏ for previewing this for me. You are WONDERFANTABULOUS!

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Chapter 9

"Good." He nodded his own acceptance of events. "I'm glad we're on the same page."

"Are we, Clark?"

She had no strategy. She had no plan. In fact, after receiving Lana's package, Lois Lane hadn't thought beyond the moment.

She simply packed her bags and jumped on the first plane.

Back to Clark.

Now, here in the same room with him, she felt unsure. Unsteady. Like she was standing on a slippery rock in the center of a raging river.

She could see the lush, green bank of safety. Fragrant flowers of desire filled her senses. A curved, familiar path of shared feelings stretched with carefree abandon in front of her. In the distance, there was hint of something waiting for her…just beyond her wildest dreams.

It was all so close. Close, but still unreachable.

She didn't want to hurt him. She didn't want to make it difficult or punish him for taking so long to figure it all out. After all, she hadn't been that far ahead of him herself.

And she wanted to take the plunge that would sweep her to shore. She wanted it so bad, she could taste it. But insecurity lashed out at her in waves. Doubt tickled her toes, causing her to squirm. Fear of slipping into waters so deep she'd never recover, paralyzed her.

It was at the precise moment that Clark Kent reached out his hand, bridged the space between them, and offered her a way home.

"Yeah. Yeah, I think we are." Clark paused considering his best course of action. He knew this wouldn't be a cake walk. He'd need to prove himself. Prove his feelings.

To do that, he needed to start at the beginning.

And go further than he ever had.

"You know, I said I went away to think." Clark started slowly. "It was more like going to war with myself. I faced the real me, Lois. It's not the first time, and I doubt it will be the last. But this time, I discovered things that are completely unacceptable to the man I want to be."

"And what kind of man is that?"

"Something more than I've ever been." Seeing the confusion in her eyes, Clark hastened an explanation. "I know that's vague, but it's all I can give you right now."

Lois pondered that a brief moment. "Because it belongs to the answers we're saving for another day?"

"Yeah. That's exactly why."

Pursing her lips in thought, Lois nodded. "Ok."

Clark Kent was floored.

No questions. No pushing or prodding. No nagging insistence. Just complete acceptance.

Just like that.

If it had been Lana, she'd have…

Clark shook the thought out of his head as he tried to keep a smile from taking over his expression. This was the very reason Lana Lang wasn't standing in front of him. Why she wasn't the woman he was going to spend the rest of his life with.

Every cell in his body was alive and alert to that life-changing, world-shattering fact. Now, if he could only find the words necessary to convince her.

"So what are these things you discovered?" Lois prompted, ending the unconsciously prolonged silence.

He shifted. His arms crossed protectively over his chest. His gaze focused on a distant, but fresh realization.

"Just that I've spent most of my life pining away for a dream. Torturing myself because it was always just out of reach or because I'd lost it for…" A flash of regret and near disgust slipped through his eyes. "…too many reasons to name. The funny thing about dreams…they're often unrealistic. And pining is just a way to escape…living."

"So is fear. And that's been an integral part of my life too. I've been too afraid to let anyone get close or reveal who I really am. To be everything I am meant to be." A resolved gaze met hers. "I'm done being afraid. I'm done pining and hurting, and wasting time. And I am so very done with letting life run over me like I have no control." He paused. "I'm ready to live it."

"Those are some pretty big realizations." Lois commented warily, hopefully.

"Yeah. And the first person I wanted to tell…" A hint of pain settled in Clark's eyes. "…was out of my reach."

"But Lana…"

"Was not that person."

"How is that possible?" She didn't doubt his sincerity. Still, the reality of what she knew, what had always been apparent, and his candid words needed to be reconciled. "After everything you've gone through, she was here, Clark. Your dream wasn't unrealistic. It…was." It was a whisper. "You finally got everything you wanted."

"And it wasn't enough." The simple intensity of his words was an unexpected blow. "Only you are."

He saw the doubt in her expression beginning to crumble. Crumble, but not break. Hope flared instantly, then faded.

"How can you be so sure? I mean, you've spent all this time thinking she would be. Now suddenly, she isn't? What if it's just the chase you enjoy? Or even…the sadness?"

Tough questions. Fair accusations.

"Because I haven't been chasing you." Clark noted softly. "I haven't put you on some unattainable pedestal. I haven't dreamed of some magical someday with you. And until the past few weeks, your absence has never left this kind of hole in me. This kind of ache." He paused. "Believe me, I did not enjoy it."

"Neither did I." The admission slipped out unexpectedly.

"See?" Clark's lips tilted knowingly. "Same page."

"So, I'm the one you want now." Her guard slid back into place. Not as alert as before, but there just the same. Her shoulders hitched nonchalantly. "Just like that."

"No. Not just like that." Clark patiently tried to navigate the raging doubts still thick in her eyes, her voice. "What happened between us that night was a long time coming. What I'm telling you now is only the result of realizing that."

She was still unconvinced. History gave her the right to be. "But I've been here. I've seen the two of you. I've watched you love her…despite everything. Beyond anything."

"You watched me love a phantom, a dream. And cling to something that didn't exist."

"Don't do that, Clark." Shaking her head, Lois rejected the thought outright. "Please don't act like it was less than it was just to soothe my ego."

"I'm not." Straightforward. Honest. Sincere. "I did love Lana, but in truth we never had a chance. And do you know why?" He didn't wait for an answer. "Trust. She didn't trust me. And to be honest, she had reason not to. Because I didn't trust her, not really. Not for a very, very long time. And by the time I did, I guess the damage was already done."

"But, I always thought the two of you were like…the ultimate, perfect couple. You know…" The words sounded strange to her, even coming from her. "…the star crossed lovers that were destined to be."

"Destiny has better plans." Clark quipped confidently without further explanation. "And appearances can be deceiving." The off-handed way he continued signaled a fundamental change in Clark Kent. It was a change that was not lost on Lois Lane. "Which was another problem. I wanted her to be something she simply couldn't be."

"And what was that?"

"Perfect." Clark answered with a shrug. "Saw her that way, in fact, for a very long time. Which I know is impossible and unattainable and that's not even quite what I mean."

"Then what do you mean?"

A door had been unlocked. And out tumbled all the skeletons. The broken moments. The repressed emotions Clark had built up over the years. The rejections, the fears, the struggles and pain.

"At the same time I was hiding myself, I expected her to know me. To not question my motives, my actions. And maybe that was unfair, but…I mean…" His cast his gaze upward as if he could find the words he was looking for floating in the air above him. He shook his head with a half-chuckle, the irony of the words he found hitting him. "…that's what a soulmate does, right? They recognize you. The real you. The one behind all the masks. They go on instinct and believe in you, despite how things may appear. Despite everything."

A realizing gaze met hers, willing her to understand the underlying message in his words. "I can't tell you the number of times she did just the opposite. She doubted me. Misunderstood…so much. Little thing. Big things. It didn't matter. She never quite accepted me as I was, where I was."

Years of pent up frustration and hurt spilled out in an intense speech that ended with a sigh. "And you know, in the end, none of that really matters. Who did what. Who didn't. Who's to blame. Because ultimately, the real reason Lana and I couldn't make it, is because…" A meaningful gaze swept over her, landing at her eyes. "…she isn't you."

"Clark…"

Unfinished, he cut her off. "You walked into my life, Lois, and there it was."

"There what was?" She knew the answer. That didn't keep her from needing to hear it.

"Trust. Acceptance. Instinct."

"But…we didn't even like each other." Lois countered reflexively, her hands in full gesture mode. "Clark, I beat you over the head about your various wardrobe catastrophes and, and being a Kansas farm boy and just…generally everything! And you…you think I'm rude and pushy and irritating as hell."

Clark chuckled. "Doesn't matter. While Lana was still trying to figure me out, you knew me, Lois. Where it counts. And you accepted me, flaws and all, in your own frustrating, unique Lois way."

He could see it all over her face. She wasn't trying to be difficult. She just needed…

Examples.

The only problem would be picking which ones of out…how many?

"Look." Clark plunged ahead, starting at the beginning. "You weren't living with us a week and you were already finishing my sentences. And Chloe's non-death? Sure you badgered me about being wrong, but you followed me every step of the way until we found her. And that time when I believed that Alisha was innocent….you're the one who found me, Lois. You're the one who saved me, and pulled me back from a ledge I would have never recovered from. No questions asked."

He jumped to the present.

An animated Clark was on a roll. "And just now, Lois? About Lana's choice of words? About the man I want to be? You're the pitbull that doesn't know how to let go. I didn't even give you an explanation and you just accepted it. Understood it. Why is that?"

"I…I don't know, Clark." Clearly flummoxed by the truth hitting her from all directions, Lois struggled to put her unexplainable actions into words. "You're not a story to me. You're…Clark. If you say to wait then I know there's a reason. If you say you'll tell me, I know you will when you're ready."

"Exactly! That is what I'm talking about. That instinct. That trust." He emphasized his point with uncharacteristically jabbed finger to the air. "And it goes both ways. Because I know you too. I know you like I know every inch of this loft."

"Do you?" Another challenge.

And he rose to that challenge.

"When the General calls, there's a three second pause between your first hello and your next words. Your entire body tenses and you hold your breath in that pause. Every. Single. Time. You'd rather die than let anyone know Donny Osmond is your favorite artist, second only to Whitesnake. And Peter Cetera? Forget it." He brushed the thought away with a wave of his hand. "You're a gonner every time 'One Good Woman' comes on the radio."

She swallowed hard and felt something inside of her give way.

"When you've hit the bottom, Rocky Road is your ice cream of choice. It's wild cherry when you're flying high. And mint chocolate when life is just…good. Good, in that sit-by-the-fire-in-your-fuzzy-slippers-and-watch-Die-Hard-four-times-in-a-row way."

"You bite your nails when you're afraid, your bottom lip when you're nervous." His non-stop ramble came to an abrupt halt. An intense gaze focused on his latest subject. "Or when you want something really, really bad." His voice softened. "Like a kiss."

Though they were still a room apart, Lois felt as if he were standing right in front of her. Touching her. Reaching inside of her. Finding the deepest part of her heart and carving out a permanent place fit just for him. Every word was a gentle nudge against an already crumbling wall of doubt. Every look, an open plea that pierced her very soul.

Suddenly, she could see them. Stepping stones stretched from a slippery rock of insecurity to the safety of the shore. Steady pebbles of truth. Imbedded boulders built over time. Built by moments. Big, small. Ignored, denied. Finally realized. Moments that tiptoed their way through the dangerous waters, giving her heart a firm place to stand.

She was no longer on that slippery rock.

His gaze caressed her face before locking with hers. "And I know how you're struggling right now…this very second…to hide the hurt I've put in your eyes. You think your tears show weakness. To me, they show just how strong you are. Your feelings…God, Lois, they run so deep, yet you don't let yourself be ruled by them. Right and wrong. Truth. Loyalty. Instinct. These are your guide. Your code."

"Who's on a pedestal now?" The soft quip trembled with emotion. Arms wrapped around her protectively, Lois was trying to hold herself together. To not become a complete fool and launch herself into his arms.

She paused in the journey, halfway to shore.

"Not you." Clark responded gently as he shook his head. "Not unattainable."

An awed smile danced over his expression and landed in his throat where a deep chuckle prompted his eyes to spark with life. "This past year, I have laughed with you, cried with you. Teased you. Been embarrassed by you. Fought with you and compromised. I've protected you, and been protected in return. And yes, you get under my skin like no one ever has. You're irritatingly pushy. At times, off the charts crazy. You never think you're wrong and always admit when you are in words that so cryptic it takes a genius to decipher them."

"Life with you has been one frustrating, dangerous, chaotic mess." A pause. A conclusion. "It's been the absolute best time of my life."

A responding chuckle. A trembling sniffle. A tear slipped unbidden.

"And you know why?" The intensity in Clark's gaze took Lois' breath away. "Because I have discovered you, Lois. And in discovering, I have lived."

"Clark…"

Victory was in reach. He charged ahead. Oblivious to anything but the priceless treasure at the end of the battle.

"By anyone's estimation, the perfect princess is my ideal. And why wouldn't it be? It's all I ever wanted." He held out his arms in a helpless gesture. "Yet here I am, Lois…" The emotions were thick. The love in his eyes, undeniable. "...unexplainably, irrevocably yours. Because in reality, you aren't a dream. You are flesh and blood. Heart and soul. And your name is the one Destiny has written on my heart."

Her lips trembled. Her heart shivered. Her eyes bubbled with tears.

One last step.

One last question. One last doubt. Irrational, given all that had transpired. Irrational, but real. "For how long, Clark? How long will this last before she walks back in and puts me right back where I've always been?"

"She can't. The boy that loved her is gone, Lois." Devotion slipped through his words. Awe filled his expression. "And in his place is the man that you've seen all along. The man you coaxed into life. And believe me…he doesn't want anyone…but you."

At that moment, Clark Kent reveled in the fact he had superpowers she didn't know about. Without effort, he heard her pulse race. Her breath catch, then quicken. And her heart skip a beat. Several, in fact.

He pressed his luck before it ran out. "So, you haven't answered me."

"About?" The tremor in that one word was noticeable.

"That question mark hanging over your head."

"I'm here, Clark." Lois' disbelieving chuckle warmed him. The tear that slipped out of the corner of her eye made his heart ache. That she didn't even try to brush it away made it soar. "Despite all reason and doubt and fear. If Lana's story hadn't brought me home, your call would have. That I even have a place to call home is because of you. Only you."

Now, it was time for a few revelations of her own. "You know, you're not the only one who fought a battle. I've beat myself up thinking all of this was just my imagination. That I'd gotten it wrong, once again. Or that I wasn't good enough. Perfect enough." Her lips quirked. "Who would've known 'perfect' was no longer your ideal?"

Voice softening, Lois eyes shimmered with fresh, unshed tears. "I missed you. So very much." A chagrinned smile began. A roll of her eyes followed. She blinked the tears back. "Which is why…there's been a sudden explosion of primary colors in my wardrobe. Not to mention a few plaid pieces and…" Scrunching her face in disgust, a shudder preceded her mirroring words. "…I shudder to admit…" She paused. An eyebrow rose. "…flannel."

Clark bit back a smile, his eyes growing warmer with each revelation.

"Even found a stray dog outside the hospital." She continued, some semblance of control slipping back into place. "Looked just like Shelby. I snuck it into the hotel, gave it a bath and let it lay all over me while I sneezed and boo-hooed my way through a seriously sappy chick flick."

"Yeah? Which one?"

"Somewhere in Time."

"You mean the one with the guy…"

"…that has piercing blue eyes, dark wavy hair, amazing build and looks like he could play some world famous superhero?" Lois finished for him drolly. "Yeah. That would be the one."

Teasing knowledge slipped through his eyes. "Not to belabor the point but, the one that…"

"Yes, Clark…" Lois rolled her eyes and sighed. "…the one that reminds me of you."

His low chuckle filled the room. A pillow sailed through the air and hit him with pinpoint accuracy right between the eyes. Knowing he deserved that and a whole lot more, he let it fall to the floor without thought of retaliation.

"So, you brought a dog home?" Seizing on an earlier comment, Clark perked up.

"Nah." Lois shrugged and waved his excitement away. "It belonged to a kid down the street. I got a fine and a very stern lecture from the boy's seriously overly-reactive mother. Seems she thought I'd traumatized her son for life. Of course, she probably right. After all, what kid wouldn't be after being taunted with Lois Lane's version of 'Who Let the Dogs Out'."

Clark laughed aloud.

Lois beamed.

"And as if that weren't bad enough…" She sounded amazed, but the double meaning of her words were intended, and clear. Her brows furrowed. "…did you know my favorite drink the past few weeks has been coffee, black. No cream. No sugar?"

A slow, knowing smile made an appearance. "But you hate that."

"Apparently…" Lois pushed herself off the perch and discarded the book that started it all. She didn't need to cling to its pages anymore. Not when she had the real thing standing in front of her. Waiting for her. Loving her. "…I've acquired a taste too."

Eyes were shining with deepening emotion, she took a few deliberate steps forward. Stopping abruptly, she tucked her hands behind her back and tilted her head in an almost girlish gesture. She was open. Ready. "I think it's only fair to warn you…I'm not her. And I never will be."

Clark grinned. His eyes danced with anticipation. His chest rose and fell with a victorious sigh. And suddenly, all the broken pieces of his heart from all the years of rejection and fear and waiting, finally fell into place.

Finally.

He pushed himself away from the desk and mirrored her actions. "And I think it's only fair to tell you, that's the best news I've heard all day. Well…" His gaze shifted as teasing lit his eyes. His head tilted in acknowledgement. "…second best."

"So…this…" A few more deliberate steps. She motioned with her hand. "…us…we'll be nothing you've ever experienced."

Clark did the same. His voice lilted hopefully. "Is that a promise?"

Another step. "Do you want it to be?"

"Yes, please." Another step followed.

"Promise." Lois whispered, then added an unnecessary warning, with an upraised eyebrow. "I'm not always the easiest person to deal with."

"I think I can handle it."

"And there are going to be times you're probably going to want to kill me."

"And that's different…how?"

Each banter brought them one step closer until they were standing only a breath away. His warm gaze roaming every beautiful inch of her face. His hands ached to touch her. His arms, to hold her.

Lois felt herself melting under his gaze. The scorching tightness in the center of her chest was quickly becoming an all too familiar burn. She shivered. And swallowed. And felt herself coming undone.

"Clark?" All teasing was abandoned. The vulnerability in her eyes rocked him to his core. The grin slipped from his face. Her next request was probably the most difficult she'd ever made. It was certainly the quietest. And the most broken. "Please…don't break my heart."

Eyes locked on hers, Clark took her face in his hand with deliberate slowness before leaning forward and brushing his lips against her forehead. A kiss of protection. Of gentle possession. Of confident devotion.

Connecting his forehead with hers, his fingers caressed her skin. The hint of smile skipped across his expression. "Love doesn't hurt, Lois. It heals. Protects. Trusts. You're the one that taught me that."

Another tear slipped down her cheek as Lois nodded her silent acceptance and bit her lower lip. When Clark caught her tear without hesitation, Lois Lane knew she'd placed her heart in good hands. Strong, loving hands. Her gaze dropped to his lips as her own spread into a smile.

She was finally there. On the solid shore. On the path to something beyond her wildest dreams.

Suddenly focused on her lips and a long overdue kiss, Clark was oblivious to swift change in her expression. The devilish mischief that flashed through her eyes. He did make her suffer after all. With no word. For weeks. Perhaps a little payback was in order…

Dodging his expertly aimed kiss and dancing out of his arms like a pro, Lois beamed up innocently at a suddenly very confused and slightly irritated Clark Kent. The shift happened so suddenly, he nearly lost his balance. "Wh-what…"

"So very hungry, Smallville. I think we should head into town, hug Bella, bug Dom and…" Trying to bit back her complete and utter enjoyment at the look of incredulity on his face, Lois slowly backed away from him as if getting ready to leave. "…didn't you have a bet with Morris to win?"

The flutter of Clark's long lashes was like hummingbird's wings. "Yeah, but…"

"How's he doing with that, by the way?" Lois inquired as if that were her only care in the world. As if she was completely unaffected by the events of the past several minutes. Or the feel of his hands on her skin. His body so close to hers.

"Uh…" Clark was clearly still trying to get his bearings. "…beautiful flowers. Fresh. Every day now for a week."

"Great! I'll just get my bag and…"

His hand shot out and grabbed her arm just as she was about to sidestep him. Fighting the thrill that shot through at his touch, she turned to him with a somewhat passive expression.

His expression, not so much. Clark Kent had recovered quickly. And finally caught on. If she wanted to play…

"Tomorrow." He slowly pulled her toward him. "Lois Lane, you and I have some unfinished business."

She blinked innocently. "We do?"

"We do." His eyes sparkled with teasing adoration. His voice was steady and confident. Another side of Clark Kent emerged. His gaze roamed her face openly. His voice lilted flirtatiously. "In fact, as I recall…the last time we were in this barn together…we were rudely interrupted right in the middle of something pretty important."

"Riiiight." Lois nodded her head as her gaze shifted in sudden, prolonged concentration. "And as I recall…we weren't really in the middle yet. The beginning, perhaps, but…"

A finger stilled her lips. Her gaze snapped up to meet his. "Middle. Beginning. It's still unfinished."

Suddenly, she didn't feel like playing any more. Brushing his hand away, she kept it firmly in her grasp. "Maybe we should do something about that."

"Maybe we should."

They came together like two magnets. Instinctively. Effortlessly. His arms were around her waist. Hers, slipped around his neck. The heat between them rose. The air grew thick with delicious tension. They slowly leaned in savoring every tantalizing second.

Lois' cell rang. And broke the spell. She flinched and pulled back, wincing as if suddenly remembering something. "Oh. Crap."

Concerned by her reaction, Clark's brows furrowed. "What is it?"

Digging her phone out of her pocket and gazing down at her display, Lois' expression faded in apology. "It's…Bruce. He needed an answer today." Seeing the confusion on Clark's face, she hastened to explain. "He offered me a job in Gotham City."

His brows shot up almost as high as his disbelieving voice. "And you considered it?"

A scrunched face. A helpless shrug.

Clark sighed and held out his hand in a silent command. Without argument, Lois handed him the phone.

"Hello? Who is this?" Clark inquired after answering the phone.

Though Lois couldn't hear Bruce's response clearly, she got an idea from Clark's responses and his expression. She stood back and watched still another side of Clark emerge.

"I asked first." Clark responded smugly.

"Bruce Wayne." There was an uncertain pause. "Can I speak with Lois please?"

"I'm sorry, Lois is unavailable." Intense blue eyes snapped to hers. His possessive tone, the desire in his eyes, sent shivers down her spine. "In every conceivable way. For a very long time to come."

"Who is this again?"

"Just the guy that has permission to answer her phone." Clark echoed an answer he'd heard…what seemed like a lifetime ago.

"Clark Kent." It didn't take Bruce Wayne long to put two and two together. "So, I guess I have my answer."

"I guess you do." His voice was as tight as his lips. Lois' upraised eyebrow softened his expression. "Bruce. Thanks for taking care of her for me." He sighed with resignation. "And uh…for pushing all the right buttons."

Lois bit back a grin.

"I didn't do it for you." Came Bruce's meaningful reply.

"I know." Clark answered just as meaningfully. "Thanks anyway." Clark clicked off the phone and tossed it to the couch.

"Well, I guess that funding source just went out the window." Lois grinned up at Clark, admiration dancing in her eyes.

Clark lost no time in putting Lois back where she belonged…in the center of his embrace. "You are staying very, very far away from that man for a very, very long time."

"Yeah? Who says?" Lois challenged as she tilted her head to gaze up at him, her hands resting against his chest.

"I say."

"Oh, you think you have a right now, huh?"

"Absolutely." Borderline arrogant, Clark smirked at her. His gaze dropped back to her lips. The desire in his eyes was scorching. His voice was raspy with sudden need. "Now, where were we?"

"I think we were…" Suddenly breathless, Lois' voice shimmered with hunger. Her hazel eyes darkened with a craving that had been building for way too long. "…at the beginning?"

The heat between them rose. The air grew thick with delicious tension. They slowly leaned in savoring every tantalizing second.

"The beginning." Clark echoed, his own eyes mirroring hers. "Yeah. Yeah, that's sounds about right…"

Bodies molded together. Lips met. Hearts collided.

And something in the universe shifted.

Something fundamental snapped into place.

And it was there, at the sum all these, that a legend began.

The End