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[-15-]

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"I need five minutes!" Tess heard through after she knocked on Toni Taylor's office door.

The club manager had allowed Lois to use the office as a private changing area away from the other musicians and performers that were already scheduled to play that night. The only thing is… Tess knew Lois didn't need to change her clothes after the performance. They were supposed to leave for the hotel directly after the second song. They needed to leave soon or the place would be surrounded by fans tipped off to Lois's presence by the people already inside the club. Tess knocked again.

"Five minutes, Tess!"

The catch in Lois's voice confirmed what Tess thought she had heard the first time. She pulled out her lockpick kit—something that had come in handy when dealing with Lola—and made quick work of the door.

"I knew we shouldn't have let him in," Tess said with a sigh as she entered the room and closed the door behind her. Lois was curled up on the black leather couch that was in the far corner of the large office.

"Can't you let someone have a breakdown in private?" Lois demanded with red eyes. "And that's not what this is about."

"The hell it isn't," Tess groused, walking over and sitting down on the couch next to her charge. She curled an arm around Lois's shoulders.

"It's not," Lois argued weakly, dropping her head onto Tess's shoulder and allowing herself to be comforted. "It's about closure."

"Closure," Tess repeated, hardly convinced.

When Lois had approached she and Perry earlier to tell them not to bar Clark from the venue, Tess had been against it. How Clark found Lois to even ask for permission to come, Tess could only guess, but she was ready to draw the line at having him actually follow through. Lois had been adamant, though, and when Tess had turned to Perry for backup, he—to her surprise—had acquiesced to Lois's request. When Lois was gone, he had merely responded to Tess's questioning look by saying, 'It's not over.' Tess still hadn't understood what that meant and Perry clarified by tapping the left side of his chest. 'It's not over until knows it in here.'

Tess looked down at the top of Lois's head where it lay against her shoulder and sighed. She was starting to think that something significant actually *had* happened between Lois and Clark, and Perry seemed to have known about it.

Narrowing her eyes, Tess wondered exactly how much of this story she really didn't know. Lois was acting heartbroken and that didn't compute with the Lois Lane that had been touring and singing since her brief hiatus. Tess was an expert on Lois Lane's personalities and yet she had still been fooled. Tightening her hold on her sobbing friend, Tess leaned back into the couch.

If Lois needed five minutes to once and for all purge Clark Kent of her system, then she would give them to her.

~\s/~

Lois entered the living room area of her hotel suite yet again thankful that Tess and Perry were with her. They were the best at their jobs, and even with the unexpected delay had found a way to get her away from the Metro Club undiscovered. She loved performing, she really did, but she wasn't ready to have to deal with the all the extra problems just yet. The media and the paparazzi tended to swallow artists whole, and she wanted to preserve her sanity. It was a lesson that her parents had wanted to keep her from learning the hard way.

Unfortunately, some things just didn't sink in otherwise.

Having just taken a bubble bath in the room's Jacuzzi, Lois had dressed in her favorite pajamas—baby blue flannel with dancing donuts on them—and her bunny slippers. It had been a good show—however brief—and she was ready to do a little song writing before falling asleep.

In fact, what she really was trying to do was divert her thoughts and emotions into an activity more productive than crying her eyes out. She'd been putting on a good show all day. A good show of growing up… a good show of moving on… a good show of being calm… all until Tess had blown her cover. She was tired of people blowing her cover.

She had physically and mentally prepared herself for Clark to be there tonight. She had chosen how she was going to act if their eyes met across the room. She had chosen how to balance the inflections of the song she was going to sing. She had even chosen how to bow and say good night. It was planned. Open and shut. Start and finish.

But then her traitorous heart had gone and chosen for itself how to feel.

So for five minutes—or maybe ten, depending on when you started your clock—Lois had let herself feel. Feel and mourn. She said good bye. Twice.

And now that part of her life, too was, done.

She was about to pull out her trusty notebook when she heard the sound of knocking. Knowing that the only people who could possibly be at her door unannounced were either Tess or Perry, she walked over to the door and looked through the peephole. Not seeing anyone there, she cracked it open wide enough to poke her head through just to be sure. Still, no one was there.

The knocking sound came again, and she realized that it was coming from behind her—from the balcony door.

Cursing her neglect to travel with a baseball bat, Lois scanned the room around her in search of something to use as a weapon, all while wondering if turning off the lights would fool whoever it was into believing that no one was home.

The knock sounded again and she blindly grabbed whatever was nearest to her hand.

"Lois…"

The muffled sound of her name drew her closer to the door, fatally intrigued by the fact that, not only had someone somehow gotten onto her balcony which was twenty-five stories up, but that they also knew who she was. The last part was even more of a mystery because they always used aliases when checking into hotels. Her current reservation was for Sadie Blodgett.

"Lois…"

The sound of the voice so close to her startled her into realizing that she had moved to the door. Hesitantly pulling at the curtain, she blinked in surprise when she got a glimpse of the face of Clark Kent. Pulling the door open, she stepped onto the balcony and looked around.

"How in the world did you get out here?" she asked, forgetting to be surprised that he'd found her. She looked left and right but the neighboring balconies seemed too far for him to have climbed them. The same was true when she looked down. Finally she looked up and assumed he must have gotten access from the room—which was crazy, but the only possible conclusion.

"Stalker much?" she asked, stepping backwards through the door but stopping just inside.

"Can I come in?" he asked.

"No!" she replied, vehemently but quietly. "I told you at the diner we were done. Why are you here?"

"I want to talk to you… Please."

"I don't want to talk to you, Clark," Lois said flatly. "I don't want to see you either."

With a sigh, he backed away from the door. "Fine."

Then, to her amazement, he swung a leg over the ledge of the concrete railing, followed it with the other leg, and then dropped out of sight.

With her heart in her throat, Lois leaped to the edge, gripping onto the inside of it while she leaned over trying to get a look at what she knew was going to be a grisly scene… but there was nothing.

"Clark?" She slid to the right, gazing down and trying to figure out if she was seeing things—by not seeing things.

"Careful." The voice coming from behind her made her jump and she might have gone over the edge herself had he not stabled her.

Angry, Lois brushed his hand off and stalked into the suite. "Jerk!" she yelled, momentarily forgetting about not wanting to be loud enough to draw attention. "Are you trying to scare me to death?"

Clark was still standing on the balcony, just outside of the threshold to the room. "I'm sorry. You said you didn't want to see me."

She narrowed her eyes. "Well come in if you're going to be suicidal about it." She dropped down onto the couch, still trembling from the shock of what had just happened.

Clark stepped into the room and slid the door shut. In the light, Lois finally saw him clearly. He was wearing the same black jeans and shirt that he had been wearing earlier when she'd seen him in the audience at the club, only now he also had something around his neck.

"What are you, a magician or something? Why do you have a blanket hanging on your back?" With her adrenaline pumping, she was having a hard time not sounding hostile toward him… but then again, she was *feeling* hostile toward him.

He looked sheepish for a moment, pulling the blue blanket from his shoulders. "I was testing the feel of something…" he explained lamely. Then he focused on her again. "Why are you holding a teddy bear?"

Lois looked down and saw that the 'weapon' she had grabbed was in fact a harmless bear. Lifting her chin, she pulled it to her chest and tried to look nonchalant. "For protection."

His grin made her even angrier, but now that her breathing had calmed, she refused to let him irk her again.

"Protection?" he asked, smirking. "Does your guard bear have a name?"

She arched an eyebrow in challenge. "Puppy."

"You have a bear named Puppy?" he asked with an amused frown.

"Yes, because one day I plan on having a puppy named Bear." She glared at him again. "What are grinning about?"

He waved a hand toward her. "It's just… the teddy bear, the bunny slippers… Not what I was expecting."

Forcing herself to not be amused by his amusement, Lois set the bear down next to her on the couch. "Shut up." She then crossed her arms. "What are you doing here?"

Clark tilted his head and she could tell he was up to something. "Which is it?" he asked. "Do you want me to shut up or tell you what I'm doing here?"

Yep, definitely up to something, she thought. He was trying to get a rise out of her… the thing was, she didn't know why. She sighed heavily and uncrossed her arms in preparation of standing up and showing him the door.

He must have read her mind because he stepped forward with a raised hand. "Wait, I just want to talk to you, okay?"

She didn't stand up but she remained at the edge of the couch ready to do so when needed. This was making her tired. They had already dealt with this… *she* had already dealt with this. Why was he back? "We said everything we needed to say," she said. "Including good-bye."

Clark nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "We did… but then I came to your show and you sang that song, and I got to thinking…"

Lois looked down at her lap and clasped her hands together. "It was just a song, Clark."

That seemed to make him pause for a second before he continued. "…I got to thinking that maybe everything is not as face value as I thought."

She shook her head, not understanding and not wanting too—and rose to her feet. "You need to go."

"Wait," he pleaded again. "I have three things I want to say and then I'll leave if you still want me to."

"Of course I want you to," Lois muttered.

"The first one is called Lois Lane…"

"You have cue cards?" she interrupted, seeing that he had pulled some little white cards from his back pocket and was reading from them.

He glanced up at her. "They're important," he said in explanation before looking down again. "The first is called Lois Lane, Lies, and Lyrics."

She scoffed and paced away from him, refusing once again to be amused. She knew that she shouldn't prolong this… whatever *this* was, but couldn't help but admit to herself that she wondered what he wanted to say.

"I was ready to let this go," Clark said to her back, still standing in his spot near the balcony door. "After the diner, when you said that you were over me… I realized that I wasn't."

Lois swallowed the surge that threatened to close her throat. She didn't care what he had been thinking. She was over it.

"I wasn't over you, but I hadn't even known that until I realized that what I thought I was feeling before wasn't really what I was feeling."

Lois turned around to face him again, confused by his words.

He ran a hand through his hair, mussing it up in a way that reminded her of the times at the farm when he would pull off his hat after working… She pulled her mind back in as he spoke again. "I'm not saying this right."

Lois watched as he looked down at his cards again as if to clear his thoughts. "Um, Coachella…"

"You already apologized," Lois said. "And I told yo…" She trailed off as he lifted a hand again.

"At Coachella, I thought that I was in love with you. I wanted to find you and tell you that so you would come back to the farm with me… for me."

There were so many things wrong with that statement that Lois didn't know where to begin shooting holes in it. It was the argument that had been hovering over them the night she left. *She* was supposed to drop everything for *him*?

"I was wrong," he said. "I wasn't in love with you… because love is not about control."

She lifted her gaze to his. "No?"

Clark shook his head. "No."

Lois's pacing had left her near the door leading to the hotel's hallway… which in her mind was a sign. "Great," she said, controlling the sarcasm in her tone. "You came here to tell me that you didn't love me and ginsu'd my career for nothing. The end."

"I'm not done, Lois," Clark returned, holding his note cards aloft.

She sighed and leaned against the wall. The nearness of the door gave her some comfort in knowing she could end this at will.

"I didn't love you then…" he stated, "but I love you now."

Lois rolled her eyes. You don't love someone after not seeing them for over a year, she thought. And since it sounded good to her, she said it him. "You haven't seen me in over a year, and before then, you didn't even know who I really was."

Clark nodded emphatically. "Good point. I was going to bring that up, too. Thanks."

Lois bristled at his gratitude, annoyed that she appeared to be playing along with his idiotic plan—she didn't know what his plan was, but she was convinced of its idiocy anyway. Still, she took in a breath and refused to let her ire show.

"The Lois Lane that I met was not a complete person," Clark recounted, taking a step away from the door. "She was some kind of caricature of a person she thought she had to be. But then the real Lois started to reveal herself. She started to feel comfortable around hay and she understood the difference between water pumps and satin ones."

Lois didn't find that funny.

"But even then," he continued, "that wasn't the real Lois Lane. The real Lois Lane wasn't the caricature and she wasn't the singular version of herself that was just putting up with farm chores for a few weeks so that she could get back to dining with friends at The Fern…"

"The *Ivy*," Lois corrected.

Clark just smiled, and she realized that he was goading her. "The real Lois Lane wasn't either-or. She was this amazing combination of the two. She was the one who tried to Tom Sawyer her way out of manual labor… and the one who sang Sesame Street songs to chickens."

Lois tilted her head, surprised that he knew that and a little—a miniscule amount, really—interested in what else he was going to say. "That's who Lois Lane was?" she asked, wondering why everything he said was in the past tense.

"Yes."

"And now? Who is Lois Lane now?" To her, this was the clinching point of the whole argument. He didn't know the Lois Lane of now, thus he couldn't *love* her either.

"She's a liar."

That response caused Lois to pull back as if she'd been slapped. "Excuse me?"

Clark held up his note cards again. "My first point, remember? Lois Lane, liars, and lyrics. The Lois Lane part was about knowing who she was and who she wasn't. The second part is about knowing who you are…"

"A liar," Lois completed, putting her hands on her hips.

"Yes… No… um, hear me out." Lois noted that for the first time since he'd appeared on her balcony, he looked unsure. "This part is about both of us. I realized that we both were liars."

Lois closed her eyes and shook her head. He was making no sense and her mind—and ego, for some reason—were bruised.

"Neither of us were our true selves…" he added, "…until we were together."

Lois began massaging the bridge of her nose, keeping her eyes closed.

"Your true self—your passion and fire and… your vulnerability—drew out *my* true self. Or the self I have the potential to be. And then at the diner today, you were so cold and detached… it took me awhile but I realized that you weren't just being mature and moving on." He was quiet for a few seconds. "You were lying."

Lois popped her eyes open and blinked at how physically close he was to her at that moment, having crossed the room while she wasn't looking. She was suddenly taken back to the memory of how he'd cornered her in the barn the day she left. Narrowing her eyes, she stepped past him and went back to the couch.

He turned his body to face her now that their positions had changed. "Lying to yourself, maybe, but definitely lying to me," Clark said. "I didn't even realize it until after you sang tonight… Which brings me to my next part of point one… Lyrics."

"It was just a song," she mumbled, repeating her earlier words.

Clark cleared his throat and started to sing, "Remember all the things we wanted/ Now all our memories, they're haunted/ We were always meant to say to goodbye…"

Lois held up a hand to stop him. He was really *really* off-key. "Tonight was the first time I ever sang that song, how do you know the words?"

"I have a really good memory."

'Too bad you don't have a really good voice,' she wanted to say, but she didn't because bantering with him would have sent the wrong message. Instead she just arched an eyebrow… and remembered that she was mad at him.

"Are you going to explain your little disappearing act out there, Houdini?" she asked, pointing toward the balcony door.

"I'll get to that later," he said. "Stop trying to distract me. Lyrics. Is that why you wanted me to come tonight? Did you write that to me?" he asked.

Yes. "No," she answered.

"I think you're lying," Clark responded. She could see something unspoken glinting in his eyes. "But I'll play along. What was the song about?"

Lois cleared her throat. "I wrote it about two people who just weren't meant to be. Instead of finding ways to love each other they found ways to hurt…"

She trailed off and he raised his eyebrows. She gave in. "Okay, fine. Yes. It was a message to you—but just the chorus… and maybe the part about moving on at the end." She paused.

"…And the part about the perfect kiss?" he asked softly.

She sighed. "Yeah. All of it." When his expression morphed to feature a self-satisfied smirk, she bristled. "Why does that make you happy? The song was saying goodbye… good riddance. So far over you that I'm 'already gone.'"

His smile grew. "Because, you thought you loved me too."

'Love you enough to let you go,' Lois silently quoted from her song, automatically knowing what he was thinking of.

If clichés were true, Lois would have seen red. "Past tense," she bit out, wanting to erase that damn smile. "I didn't know who the real Clark Kent was." She felt like the tables were turning and caught her stride. She always felt better on the offensive side of the board. "The *real* Clark Kent was a hypocritical jerk who only put his own desires first," she said grimly.

She enjoyed that he flinched at that. Standing up from the couch, she pointed an accusing finger at him. "The real Clark Kent was a mama's boy who couldn't step foot off of his farm because he was too scared to see his own shadow!"

"I'm not on the farm anymore," he said quietly, smiling again.

That made her angrier. She stepped forward. "The *real* Clark Kent was a backwoods country bumpkin who bumbled onto the scene only long enough to make a complete fool out of himself and everyone who ever cared about him!"

"There she is," Clark said in a soft voice full of reverence and adoration. "…The Lois Lane that can't pretend to be indifferent about something that she cares about."

The wind went out of her sails. Exhausted and out of practice, she decided that she wanted off the rollercoaster ride of emotions he was purposely taking her on. "Clark…" she sighed, ready to put an end to it once and for all.

"I have another point," he inserted, seeming to read her yet again. "It's called, 'I Spent the Night With Lois Lane.'"

She blinked, momentarily surprised, and that gave him the distraction he'd been going for.

"I know you said that it didn't matter—that you forgave me and moved on, and I know that you know I didn't write that article…" He met her eyes with sincerity. "If I had written it, I want you to know what I would have said."

She frowned, blaming her sudden feelings of uncertainty on it having been an *incredibly* long day… which also explained why she didn't automatically step back when he moved closer.

"I spent the night with Lois Lane," he started. "If I had written it, I wouldn't have talked about an affair, or about underwear. I wouldn't have written about deceit or the things that I did… I would have written about the things that I love. Like, for example, the fact that no one recognized your heart. Or your smile when you're truly excited about something. Or how you hum when you're eating food that you really enjoy, how you never back down in a challenge even when it has to do with something you've never done before. I love how much your *true* self you give to the people you care about. Like Chloe. You gave her songs and promoted her career even when you were sabotaging your own… or like my mom."

Lois frowned. "Your mom?"

"Um-hmm. You invested in her business," he said simply.

"She… she told you?" Lois stammered, surprised.

Clark shook his head and laughed. "My mom is like a Knight of the Templar when it comes to secrets. She knows everything but never shows her hand. No, she didn't tell me, but when I went home for Spring Break this past April, there was something different about my room. I thought maybe mom had used a new fabric softener on the comforter or something. When you kissed me today, I figured out what it was. Your shampoo."

Lois didn't buy it. She doubted that even a bloodhound could match the smells of a muted fragrance across the span of months. He was fishing again, right? She had only been back to the farm once, and that was before her first show. She had a fondness for Martha Kent, and the older woman had been a great comfort and confidante. She still was on the occasions when they talked on the phone… Uncertain, she didn't say anything to confirm or deny.

"It made me wonder," Clark said, changing the direction of his movement and adding space between them. "I mean, tonight… when I finally put it together—I wondered, why would you stay in my room?"

His pacing reached the far wall and he turned around—Lois eyed him suspiciously the entire time.

"Maybe," he thought aloud, lifting one finger. "Maybe mom didn't have enough of a pre-warning before your visit to get the guest house ready… Or, maybe…" He met her gaze and lowered his voice an octave. "Maybe you missed me."

Lois sighed internally. Maybe she was tired of this conversation. Maybe… maybe it was time for some truth.

"So what if I did?" she demanded, taking a step to close the distance. "What if I had missed you? Forgiven you? Loved you?" she asked. "What difference does that make?"

Clark was grinning so brightly she thought she could use some sunglasses. "Every difference, Lois." He stepped forward and put his hands on her upper arms. "It makes every difference, don't you see?"

They dueled gazes.

"I live a crazy life," she said.

"I'll follow you anywhere you go. I already have."

She didn't understand what he meant by that. "Everything part of my life is scrutinized. I can't cross the street without a blogger in China critiquing my pace."

He shrugged. "You seem to have done a pretty good job going unnoticed. We'll beat them at their own game."

She blinked, forcing herself to stay on her toes and limber for this dance. "We weren't right for each other," she stated. "We didn't work."

Clark shook his head. "No. The people we used to be didn't work. The people we *are* right now… those two are right for each other."

He sounded convinced, she noted. "I don't…"

"*We're* right for each other," he insisted. "Can we try?"

Lois gazed up at him. "Try?" She asked it even though she knew what he was getting at. She was just trying to buy herself some time to think…

"Yeah, our last launch got cut short," he said. "And then, of course, I kinda messed up the landing."

She had to laugh at that. "I'll say." She had to buy herself some time to find a way to end this conversation before she did something stupid…

"So? What do you say to second chances?"

"I say…" Before she did something like…

Clark jumped in. "Lois, I know that I…"

Before he had a chance to say anything beyond that, she kissed him.

Her arms lifted to curl around his neck, and for a minute—or ten, depending on when you started your clock—she just felt. Lived. Loved. And he met her every step of the way.

This was the something stupid. She knew it was, and yet she jumped anyway. This was what she had been trying to convince herself that she could go without. She shouldn't want this—want *him*… Tess knew it, Perry knew it, the media knew it…

She shouldn't have let him in. She shouldn't have let him start talking. But…

Her thoughts trailed off as his arms moved from her hips to circle around her waist and pull her closer.

She shouldn't have enjoyed that, but she did. She deepened the kiss, finally giving in to the traitorous idea that *this* was the one she had wanted earlier that day in the diner. This was the kiss that said that maybe they could get past their past with time… that maybe they had grown up but not quite apart… that maybe…

But something else was dancing around with all the maybes. Some little tickle at the back of her brain... Well aside from the need to breathe, that is. Something he'd said… "Wait," she whispered, panting as she reluctantly pulled back. "You said three."

She bit her lip as she took in Clark's adorably flustered appearance. After all his bravado and confidence, she had him confused and bereft. There was something to be said for being the top banana, and that something rhymed with the word 'empowered'. "What?"

"Points. What's the third one?"

He blinked, still lost, and then his eyes cleared with comprehension. "Oh, right." He looked down to the floor where his cards had dropped and she knelt to pick the top one up.

"Master of disguise?" she questioned, reading the note next to the number three.

He flushed. "Yeah, see… I was wondering if you could help me with a costume."

~\s/~

The End.

A/N: The song referenced in this section is entitled "Already Gone," by Kelly Clarkson.

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And… The Epilogue.

Knowing that she wasn't going to get back to sleep anytime soon, Lois pointed the remote toward the television and clicked it on. A news-type talking heads show was in progress.

"…biggest news of the day is the report that power-couple Lane-Kent are in France, taking a break from the humanitarian tour they've been on since they went public with their relationship and marriage last year. Sources say that family members of the duo were seen boarding airplanes last week, and speculation has it that the pitstop in Paris is actually a family reunion."

Lois chuckled at the irony as another of the panelists chimed in.

"I heard it had to do with the return of Ella Lane."

Lois glanced down at the sleeping child that was nestled against her chest. "Don't worry, baby girl, they'll find something new to talk about soon."

On the screen, the reporters started to fidget with their ear pieces as a breaking news graphic appeared on the screen. "Ladies and gentlemen, we just received word that Oceanic Air Flight 815 out of Sidney has reported landing gear failure on its descent into Los Angeles. The flight crew has informed the tower of its distress and is going to attempt to halt its descent in order to use up fuel. The video to your right is the scene at LAX where officials are… Wait… is that a bird?"

Another of the panelists cut in, "I think it might be another plane…"

"No… No… that's… That's a man in a cape!"

Lois kissed her daughter's fine hair and smiled. "See, Ella? I told you."

~\s/~

Fade to Black.