A/N: My contribution to the Ficstravaganza challenge, and I hope you like it, Lessie! It is NC-17, but only at the end so if people want to read a fic but don't want to read the adult stuff, you can stop before the NC-17 stuff starts and you'll still get a complete fic.
My challenge: Season 9, Daily Planet: Roof, NC-17. And here we go!
A Second Chance at Destiny
Lois landed hard on the ground, the adrenaline coursing through her body numbing the jolt of the impact, though she'd likely feel the bruises tomorrow. She was about to jump to her feet and back into the fray once more when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a shiny metallic glint.
Momentarily distracted by the golden glimmer, she reached out and scooped the object into her palm, briefly forgetting the other woman who was no doubt gathering her wits in preparation to attack once more. It was a ring, Lois saw when she lifted it to her face. Seeing the "L" insignia on the top, she wondered if the ring could perhaps belong to Lex Luthor, former owner of the Planet. Flipping it over to check for any identifying markers or engravings, she felt the cold metal slide over the tip of her finger and was surrounded by a flash of light.
"What…" she began to mutter as the light grew brighter around her.
"…the…huh?" she finished, her voice growing weak as the light surrounding her dimmed and she found that she was no longer surrounded by the familiar environs of the Daily Planet. Instead she was lying on a street, surrounded by rubble. People were screaming and running around her, and Lois frowned in confusion as she tried to sit up to get a better look around. She had just started to lift her weight on her palms when the ground beneath her gave an alarming lurch and began to shake forcefully enough for her teeth to jar together.
An earthquake? In Metropolis? She wondered at the oddity of it before reminding herself that, for all she knew, she wasn't in Metropolis any longer. It made no sense, of course, since ten seconds before, she'd been engaged in a brawl in the middle of the Daily Planet newsroom. But incredible or not, the facts were undeniably the facts and there was no point in ignoring them just because they didn't make a good deal of sense.
As the tremors in the ground beneath her subsided, Lois staggered to her feet and gazed around, trying to get her bearings, trying to get a grasp of what was going on. Tilting her head back, she gazed up into a sky as black as pitch; there wasn't even the rather cold comfort of a familiar night sky to greet her. Instead, there was smoke and ash, the jarring sounds of people crying out in pain and fear, the deafening roar of a building collapsing not far away.
Spinning around, Lois's breath seized in her throat as she beheld a sight that should have been as familiar as the back of her hand and was somehow more painful to behold for the fact that it took her a moment to realize what it was. The globe of the Planet building could be seen peeking just above the edge of a tall building standing next to it, but this wasn't the globe that Lois knew so well. It was listing to the side, though as Lois raced towards it she could see that it was in fact the building that was crumbling on one side, about to cave in completely, and not some fault on the part of the globe itself. But that bronze sphere – the one she had seen a million times on her trips through the city, the one that greeted her every day when she walked into work, the one that towered comfortingly over her whenever her thoughts were so burdened that the only peace she could find could be found standing on the Planet's rooftop and gazing out at the city skyline – it shined no more. Its surface was black, so tarnished that it almost blended in with the night sky, and as Lois raced forward, she could see that its surface was crumbling. One entire side of it had already crumbled away, and the words which heralded the biggest newspaper in the world had long since fallen.
Somehow, it was the sight of this devastation that tore at Lois's heart and prompted a wave of panic that she'd been trying so hard to hold at bay. What was this place? How had she gotten here? Had she been knocked unconscious somehow in the fight and was now perhaps suffering from a bad dream brought on by a head injury of some sort? Though she spun around in desperate confusion, no answers were readily apparent.
"Oh, god," she moaned as the Earth beneath her bucked again, bringing her to her knees. The impact caused a jolt of pain that was undeniable. This was no dream. "What's happened to me?"
As she knelt in the street and covered her face with her hands, sucking in deep lungfuls of air in an attempt to quell her rising hysteria, Lois paid no attention to the people still scrambling through the streets around her. It was something of a miracle that she wasn't trampled. It was even more of a miracle that somehow, from the mass of strangers running in blind panic through the streets in this familiar place but foreign time, one person recognized her.
"It can't be!" she dimly heard someone cry, but she paid it no heed. In fact, it didn't register until someone grabbed her by the shoulder and gave her a hard shake. When she looked up, it was into unfamiliar brown eyes. "Lois La-Lane? You're here? But you were…!" The stranger noticed the ring that had slid down Lois's finger and gave a decisive nod. With a sigh, he murmured, "Of course. It makes sense now." Then he barked, "Never mind, you need to come with me, right now! It may not be too late!"
"Wh-?" she began, unconsciously rising to her feet. "Too late for what? Who are you? What are you talking about?"
"There's no time!" he yelled over his shoulder as he all but dragged her to the relative safety of a nearby alleyway, shoving her into an alcove that seemed to be of dubious safety as the ground lurched beneath Lois's feet once again and the buildings above groaned ominously. It took a moment for Lois to realize that the low rumbling that seemed to surround her came from the Earth below. Somehow, she knew that this was no ordinary earthquake, but she didn't even begin to understand what was really going on.
The stranger had to raise his voice to be heard over the din. "Lois, there's a lot I need you to take in, and I'm sorry, but I don't have a lot of time to explain everything to you."
Truer words had probably never been spoken, but Lois couldn't resist her natural impulse to pull away. She didn't understand what had happened to her; all she knew was that she was confused and probably more scared than she'd ever been in her life, and there was a stranger asking her to trust him. It was a little too much for her to process. "No, you have to tell me what's going on!" she demanded. "Who are you? Where am I? Where is everyone? Where's Clark? Is he okay?" She took a quick shaky breath, and then continued with her litany, "How did I get here? What's…what's going on; why are there…"
He cut her off. "My name is Rokk, and I'm…I was…a member of a group called the Legion of Superheroes. That ring that you're wearing, I gave it to somebody else. It brought you here. I know this is hard to believe, but you're in the future. Your future. And this wasn't supposed to happen. Now, you have to listen to me, because you're the only one who can stop all this."
"Stop all what?" she breathed. His explanation, so quickly and perfunctorily given, seemed ludicrous but the sight of the decrepit Daily Planet globe loomed overhead and Lois found that she couldn't entirely disbelieve him.
The stranger, Rokk, met her eyes gravely, a muscle in his jaw tightening and he struggled with some kind of emotion. Finally, he said softly, "The end of the world."
A few hours and a millennium before…
Jimmy sneaked a surreptitious glance at Tess's office as he walked through the Daily Planet newsroom. When he saw that the office was empty, he shot a quick glance over his shoulder to see if anyone was looking his way. It looked like he was all alone, so he changed direction and headed straight to the open office door. He had his suspicions about Tess Mercer, and he doubted he'd get a better opportunity to do a little digging than the chance that had just landed in his lap. Besides, Lois always said that nothing was ever gained from being too afraid to take a few little risks, and he had decided it was time to test her theory out for himself.
He was halfway across the room when he saw a flash of light off to the side and turned to see what it was. When he turned, the light had gone but he saw Lois lying on the floor, immobile and unconscious. At the sight, he forgot all of his more cunning plans to do a little spying and raced to her side.
As he knelt next to the prone woman, he saw blood on her scalp, smeared across her forehead. His motions clumsy with barely suppressed anxiety, he placed his fingers against her neck and was relieved when he felt the strong beat of her pulse under his fingertips. She was alive, at least, though he had no doubt she should be seen by a doctor. After all, even for Lois, it wasn't fairly unusual for her to be found unconscious in the middle of the Daily Planet newsroom.
The question was, of course, how she'd gotten in the state she was in. There were no signs of a struggle, and Lois wasn't the type of woman to go down without a fight. Neither was there any evidence of an accident; it didn't seem like she'd fallen over and hit her head on anything. Wrapping his hand behind her neck, he shifted her so he could look into her face in concern. "Hello! Is anyone there?" he called out as he looked around for assistance, wanting to call for help but inexplicably afraid to leave her side, as if something worse would happen to her if he turned his back. "I need some help! Anyone?"
There was a soft sound and Jimmy heard Clark's voice. "Jimmy, what's wrong? How did this happen?"
He sounded so concerned that Jimmy found himself wanting to provide comfort. Unfortunately, he didn't have any answers. "I don't know, CK," he replied softly. "I found her like this. I don't know what happened to her."
He saw Clark swallow heavily as he knelt by Lois's side and brushed her hair off her forehead. "She's been hurt," he murmured, his voice sounding pained. "What happened to her?" he asked, appearing to be talking to himself as opposed to addressing his companion.
Cradling Lois gently in his arms, Clark lifted her effortlessly, tucking her against his body. When he looked back up into Jimmy's face, his eyes were full of concern. "Listen, Jimmy…there's…there's something I have to take care of. I wish I could…I want to be here with her, but I just…I can't. I can't explain. Could you…?"
It clearly pained Clark to have to ask, and so Jimmy rushed to forestall him having to do so, "Sure thing, CK. I'll stay with her. I'll make sure nothing happens to her."
A tight smile crossed Clark's lips as he put Lois gently back on the ground, cradling her head gently as he laid her down. "Thanks, Jimmy. I'll call an ambulance, and I'll come find you in the hospital when…when I'm done."
There was clearly something preying on Clark's mind, but Jimmy couldn't bring himself to press for details. Instead, he turned his attention back to Lois, his plans to do a little investigating completely forgotten. Whatever Tess was up to would have to wait; for the moment, Lois needed him and Clark depended upon him to make sure she was okay, and that was all that mattered.
The next day…
"You have got to be kidding me!" Lois cried in exasperation. "There's no way I can stay here for a whole day! I'm fine! It was just a bump on the head; I didn't lose a limb or anything!"
Jimmy was trying to reason with her. "Lois, you were unconscious. The doctors just want to make sure…"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," she cut him off irritably. "I know all about what the doctors want. The point is that it's unnecessary. I'm perfectly fine!" Flinging her blankets aside, she swung her legs over the side of the bed as Jimmy tried hard not to look her way. "Besides," she said, oblivious to her companion's discomfort. "There are things I need to do. Has anyone heard from the Red Blue Blur since yesterday? I was supposed to meet him and I stupidly ended up in here. Is he okay?"
Somewhat thrown by the question, Jimmy stammered, "I-I don't know. I haven't heard from him, but he doesn't exactly have me on his speed-dial. But why do you think something happened to him?"
He couldn't tell if the sound she made was one of worry or annoyance as she grabbed her clothes off the nearest chair. "It's a long story," she said. "I doubt you'd believe it. Hell, I don't know if I believe it. Where's my stuff?"
"You could try me," he offered helpfully. "I might surprise you! And I think they have your stuff at the front desk."
"Great," she replied, sounding relieved. "Hey, could you go pick it up for me while I get changed? I need to get out of here."
"Lois," Jimmy protested, "I don't think that's a good idea. Really, you've been injured and the doctors want you to stick around. And I promised Clark I would watch out for you. I'm not sure you should –"
Resting her hand on his shoulder, Lois said softly, "Look, Jimmy, I appreciate your concern. Really, I do. But I can't waste my time in here doing nothing when I should be out there, doing…there's something I have to do. It's important. The Red Blue Blur…he needs me. He doesn't know it, but he does, and I can't explain why. But I need to go find him, and I need to do it right now. Could you help me?"
He knew he should probably refuse, but he couldn't turn her down. Instead, he sighed in resignation. "Okay, but when Clark gets mad that you left the hospital before the doctors gave you a clean bill of health, I'm blaming you."
"I understand," she said with a grin.
He didn't seem to think she did, because he continued, "No. Seriously. I'm going to tell him you tricked me and locked me in a closet so you could sneak off. I may even tell him you slipped me a sedative or something."
"He'll no doubt believe you," she admitted, giving him a subtle shove towards the door. "I appreciate your help, Jimmy. Hurry back, okay?"
"You don't have a lot of time?" he asked in concern as he headed towards the door. Though he had no reason to believe that she'd spoken the truth when she said the Red Blue Blur needed her, something in her voice or her face must have convinced him because he didn't argue the point.
Lois looked startled at the question, but then she scowled. "I don't know. I have a little time, I think. What I don't have is a plan."
As the door closed behind Jimmy's retreating back, Lois could almost swear she heard him mutter, "You need to come up with a plan? Heaven help him…" But that had to be her imagination.
Clark frowned in consternation at the wall of flowers before him. He knew that Lois loved lilies, but that knowledge didn't go as far as he'd hoped it would. For one thing, there were a lot more variations of lily than he'd ever thought. For another, they came in all different colors, and he couldn't for the life of him figure out which one Lois would like best. How had he never realized before how many variations of flowers there were?
"Can I help you?" the pretty blonde shop girl asked as she sidled up next to him. "You look like you've got a tough choice to make."
His smile was both appreciative and slightly abashed. "Something like that. I have this…friend, and I wanted to bring her flowers, but I don't know which she'd like best."
Pursing her lips in thought, the sales clerk offered, "Well, roses are always popular."
Clark shook his head. "I know, but lilies are her favorite, and everyone does roses, don't they?"
Her brow arched speculatively, his companion teased, "You know her favorite flower, hm? Sounds like you're good friends." Before he could confirm or deny, she reached out and stroked the soft petal of a pink lily. "These are always classic."
"She's not really a pink sort of person," he said doubtfully. "I like the white ones, but I'm not sure they're quite right, either. A dozen white lilies might be a little too…plain."
"Well, you could always get a combination," the clerk suggested. "You could combine them with some of the white and pink ones, or…" With a slight frown, she broke off and turned around thoughtfully. "I know you said that roses are a little overdone and pink isn't her color, but we could take some white lilies and combine them with some of these roses. They're just barely pink; almost white really. But they'll be a beautiful contrast to the lilies. And if we add some baby's breath, it'll make a lovely bouquet."
Clark looked a little doubtful but also somewhat intrigued. "And you really think she'll like them? I mean, you'd like them if you were her?"
The sales clerk smiled. "If a guy as handsome as you put this much thought into buying me flowers? I'd love them."
He flushed slightly but his smile was distinctly pleased as he gave a brisk nod to his head. "Okay, then. I'll…hold on just a second, will you?" His attention was momentarily distracted by the sight of Jimmy walking past the door to the hospital gift shop. But what was Jimmy doing there? He was supposed to be looking in on Lois.
Ducking around the shop clerk, Clark strode purposefully towards Jimmy, coming up behind the younger man as he took the large manila envelope the nurse handed him. "Jimmy, where's Lois?" Clark demanded, his voice hard with worry. Of all the questions that he'd pondered asking on the short trip across the hospital walkway, this one seemed the most pertinent. After all, knowing Lois, she could have decided to run off just about anywhere as soon as she was left alone.
Jimmy jumped at the abrupt question and then slowly turned, a pained smile on his face. "H-hey, Clark," he practically squeaked. "Lois is in her room." Seeing his companion's hard look, Jimmy rushed to add, "At least, she was a minute ago when I saw her last. And she promised to stay there and wait for me while I…got…her stuff." His voice broke near the end, and his eyes widened as if he realized that he was only digging the hole he was standing in a little deeper.
"Her stuff?" Clark repeated. He didn't need clarification; he knew Lois well enough to not need explanations. Turning on his heel, he stalked towards her room.
As Clark had known he would, Jimmy fell into step beside him. "Sorry, CK," Jimmy said sheepishly. "I told her she should stick around but…you know how Lois is."
Seeing the anxiety in his companion's face, Clark let his voice soften. It wasn't Jimmy's fault that he couldn't get Lois to listen to him. Clark doubted the man had been born yet who could do such a monumental thing. "It's okay, Jimmy," he said with a heavy sigh. "I'm not mad at you. I just wish she'd…" His voice trailed off, because it seemed at times like the list of things that he wished Lois would do was staggering long. In the past, it had been filled with entries like, "look before she leaped," "learn to duck," "stop being so pigheaded and stubborn," and "lose an argument every once and a while." More and more lately, though, Clark suspected that his traitorous mind might have been adding things to that list without his permission. Every once and a while, he'd catch himself in unguarded moments staring almost wistfully at Lois as she worked at the desk across from him, and he'd realize that he'd been wishing she would look up at him and…
With an irritated shake of his head and the slight twisting in his chest that always seemed to accompany thoughts of Lois as of late, Clark shoved the thought of his mental wish list out of his mind. He should probably give it a closer look, perhaps consider removing some of those more recent entries that made him catch his breath when she smiled up at him, but that would mean acknowledging the wishes he'd been unconsciously entertaining in private. And he wasn't sure he was entirely ready to do that just yet.
At Lois's room, Clark pushed open the door and then strode inside, unconsciously crossing his arms over his chest as he fixed the room's occupant with a stern look. He didn't know if he should be alarmed to find that he was entirely unsurprised to find her fully dressed, standing before a small mirror as she pulled her hair into a ponytail. "Lois, what do you think you're doing?" he demanded in a low voice tinged with exasperation.
She caught her breath and whirled to face him, her eyes wide. "Clark!" she blurted, and he kept his eyes fixed on her face. He'd found as of late that he loved watching her face when she'd been caught in the act, so to speak, and was trying to hurriedly concoct an explanation or alibi. The way her eyes would widen a fraction, the exact tilt of her chin she'd get when she lifted it in an unconscious display of forced bravado, the quick intake of breath sucked in between slightly parted lips. He knew she thought she was a good liar, but he doubted he'd ever grow sick of watching these little telltale signs that gave her away – signs he was certain that he was the only person to have ever recognized, let alone catalogued. He chose not to analyze too closely what might cause that to be the case.
To his surprise, however, on this occasion, though her eyes widened slightly in surprise, the action wasn't followed by a quick jerk up of her chin. Instead, to his utter amazement, she tucked her chin down and raced towards him instead. He caught her easily as she threw herself into his embrace, but when his arms wrapped around her, his heart seized in his chest when he realized she was trembling. "Lois, what…?" he began, his voice strained with worry.
He didn't even get the question out before she had stepped back, out of his embrace. He watched as she sucked in a shaky breath and shoved her hands in her back pockets. Then she took another step back and threw him a brilliant smile that was a little too hard to be entirely genuine. "Sorry about that, Smallville," she murmured, sounding somewhat abashed. Then, her eyes widening a fraction, Lois gave an unconscious lift to her chin and sucked in a sharp breath between slightly parted lips before saying, "I know it was a complete overreaction to everything, but I think I had a…a bad dream while I was out, and… Well, it's pretty stupid, huh?"
Not only did Clark not buy her story, there was something in her expression that scared him for a moment – something that was gone a second later."Lois, I don't…" he began, but she cut him off once again.
"Now, Clark, I know you're going to try to talk me out of leaving this place, but I'm fine. Really. And I have things I need to…Oh! Jimmy! Did you get my stuff from the nurse?" When the requested package was handed over, Lois tore it open and peered inside, her face tight with anxiety. Whatever she saw inside seemed to calm her, however, because she gave a deep sigh of relief. Reaching inside the envelope, she pulled out an object and kept it tight in her fist, obscuring it from view as she shoved it deep in her pocket.
"Lois," Clark barked, startling her out of her preoccupation. "You need to slow down. You say you're fine, but we've been worried about you! Do I really need to remind you that Jimmy found you unconscious in the bullpen? Aren't you even going to tell us what happened?"
Scowling, Lois jerked her shoulders in a dismissive shrug and said, "What can I say, Clark? Tess must be a better fighter than I gave her credit for."
"Tess?" he repeated, frowning at her in confusion. "What does she have to do with it?" Seeing her expression of surprise, he added, "I spoke to her this morning; she's been worried about you, too. She said you should take all the time you need to recover before coming back to work, so there's really no need for you to…"
"Wait," Lois interjected, lifting her hand in a halting gesture. "You talked to Tess this morning?"
Clark nodded slowly. "Of course. I figured she should know why you weren't coming to work today."
Her eyes narrowing thoughtfully, she pressed, "She didn't say anything about me being fired?"
"What?" he blurted, but she charged ahead, heedless of his surprise.
Her frown deepening, Lois demanded, "You didn't notice that the bullpen was destroyed this morning? And she didn't mention that it happened when I kicked her ass last night?"
"Lois, what are you talking about?" Jimmy cut in, speaking for the first time since he'd returned to the room with Clark. He sounded confused, and there was worry in his eyes as he gazed at her. "Tess wasn't even there! I found you, remember? The only thing that looked out of place in the bullpen last night was you lying unconscious on the floor!"
"That doesn't make sense," she muttered to herself, rubbing the back of her neck thoughtfully as she turned away from them as if she'd forgotten they were there. "Unless…"
Stepping towards her, Clark said softly, "Lois, there's something seriously wrong, can't you see that? When you saw me, you acted like…and now you're talking about things that never happened! I was with Jimmy last night right after he found you, and I saw Tess just this morning. Trust me, there is no way the two of you fought last night!"
"Clark," she said brusquely as she whirled around. "Listen to me. I know none of this makes sense; I know you don't understand, and I know how hard all this has to be on you. I understand all that, I really do, but I can't explain. I just can't. Maybe later, I'll be able to…but I don't really know that any of this will ever make sense. So I'm not asking you to believe what I say, because I can't even begin to give you an explanation you could ever possibly believe! I'm just asking for you to trust me." Stepping towards him, she grabbed his hand and wrapped it in both of hers, holding it tight. Her voice lowering, she murmured softly, "Trust me when I say that I know what I'm doing. I know the two of you must have been worried about me last night, but I'm fine, I really am. I can't tell you what happened to me, but I can tell you that there's something I have to do, and I can't do it here. I just need you to trust me, okay? Can you do that?"
For a second, the expression Clark had seen earlier on her face – the flicker that had so scared him – returned, and he finally realized what it was. Lois looked like she was carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders. "Can you trust me?" In an instant, it was gone, but it was with the memory of that expression fresh in his mind that Clark nodded.
"Of course I trust you, Lois," he said softly, stepping back so she could brush past him on her way to the door. Before she could walk through it, however, he asked. "What can I do to help?"
She paused and then looked at him over her shoulder. "For now, I need you both to go to the Planet and pretend like everything's okay. Tell Tess I'm taking the day off on doctor's orders, but I expect I'll be in tomorrow. If she asks what happened to me, try to put her off if you can, but if you can't, make something up. Just don't mention that I said anything about a fight, and certainly don't tell her I thought she'd fired me! Do you think you can handle that?"
He nodded reluctantly, and Jimmy parroted the gesture by his side. Clark said, "Of course, but are you sure there's nothing else I can do?"
Lois hesitated, and the expression flickered on her face again. "For now, I'm sure. But keep your phone on, okay? I'll call you if I need anything." And then she was gone.
Several hours later…
It had been a complete waste of a day, Clark decided as he sat back in his chair and glowered balefully at the complete lack of work he'd managed to get done. Of course, he could hardly claim to be surprised, since he'd been distracted the entire day by thoughts of Lois. He'd tried to figure out what had caused the worry he'd seen behind her eyes, but after several hours mulling over the problem, he was still no closer to an answer. If he'd ever felt more powerless, it hadn't been in a very long time.
Spearing his fingers through his hair, he glanced at the clock and was just considering whether to call it a day when his cell phone rang. Jerking back, he pulled the phone out with fumbling fingers and sighed deeply in relief when he saw Lois's name flash on his caller ID. Flipping it open, he pressed it to his ear and said, "Hello. Lois?"
"Hey, Clark," he heard her reply, and some of the tension in his shoulders eased at the simple sound of her voice. "I need you to do me a favor."
He almost replied with a blanket 'anything' but caught himself in the last moment with the reminder of who he was talking to. Instead, he responded with a more cautious, "What do you need?"
"I need my police scanner. You know, the one I have on my desk? I'd come in and get it, but I don't want to risk being caught by Tess and having to waste a lot of time with explanations. Do you mind dropping it by my apartment for me, instead?"
"Of course," he answered readily, jumping to his feet and grabbing his suit jacket. "I'll be there in ten minutes."
She sounded relieved when she said, "Thanks, Smallville. See you then. Oh, and…uh…you better just let yourself in when you get here. I'm kinda in the middle of something."
"No problem," he said, and he stopped just long enough to shove his phone back in his pocket, shrug into his coat, and grab the scanner off her desk before he sped off towards her apartment.
Though he killed a few minutes outside her apartment house to make his travel time more believable, when he let himself through her front door and called out her name, he realized he must have misjudged as Lois called out, "Clark? Is that you? How'd you get here so fast?"
Grimacing slightly, Clark rushed to explain, "Oh, uh…traffic was surprisingly light." Then, figuring he should change the subject, he said quickly, "So, what do you need the scanner for?"
"What?" she called out from the back room. "Oh, hold on; I can't hear you!" A moment later, she stepped around her bedroom doorway and into the living room, and Clark caught his breath when he caught sight of her. He didn't know how she managed to look more beautiful almost every time he saw her, but tonight was no exception. The little black dress she was wearing looked like it had been made just for her – as if, in fact, the very concept of the little black dress had been conceived just for her, in preparation for just this moment. Pausing, Lois lifted her arms out at her sides, turned slightly to show her figure off to even better advantage, and asked, "Well, what do you think?"
"You look…" he managed to force out from lungs devoid of oxygen in a chest that seemed too tight to contain his racing heart. A hundred adjectives flashed through his mind, from amazing to incredible to breathtaking. In the end, he settled with, "You look great, Lois. I haven't seen you in…uh…I mean, is that a new dress? You look like you're going on a date." Then, realizing how he sounded, he added hastily, "Or something."
Though he felt like he must surely sound like an idiot, Lois didn't seem to notice as she tossed the cascade of dark brown hair over her shoulder and said with a laugh, "This old thing?" He noticed that her cheeks had pinked with pleasure, but then she spun around. "I don't suppose you'd mind doing the honors again, would you?"
"Uh…what?" he asked, noticing the strap of black silk that was revealed to his gaze. He followed the tantalizing line of her spine down to the tantalizing scrap of black lace that peeked from the bottom of the V formed by the open folds of her dress.
Staring at that intriguing inch of fine black lace, Clark only realized he was standing in the middle of Lois's living room, gawking like an adolescent schoolboy, when he heard Lois bark, "Zip!"
"Ah…right," he agreed as he stepped towards her and reached for her with trembling fingers. Though he knew the wise thing to do would be to zip her up in all haste, prudence warred with temptation, and instead, his fingers hovered over the exposed area at the base of her neck. He wondered what she would do if he leaned down and kissed that tantalizing patch of soft skin. He could feel the warmth of her body under his fingertips, smell the gentle fragrance of her floral perfume, and he wondered how she would react if he gave in to the desire to see if she tasted as enticing as his imagination would lead him to believe.
With a level of self-control that Clark hadn't even realized he'd possessed until that moment, he managed to resist the almost overpowering urge, though neither did he reach automatically to zip up the dress. Instead, he leaned his head down until his lips hovered above the patch of skin that he found so incredibly tempting and murmured, "Hold on a second. Your hair…" He almost felt her shiver as his breath caressed her skin, and the edges of his mouth curled up in a smile.
"I can move it," she offered in an undertone, and he was oddly gratified to hear that her voice wasn't as steady as he was sure she would have liked.
"No, I've got it," he offered solicitously, though there was really nothing altruistic about his intentions. In truth, her hair wasn't in his way at all, but it gave him an excuse to reach for her, to feel the softness of her skin as he slid his fingertips under the few silky strands of hair that had escaped the waves she'd pulled aside to tumble over one shoulder.
For a moment, he let his fingers rest on the spot at the back of her neck that had so enthralled him, feeling her skin warm beneath his touch. Then he trailed his fingertips around the curve of her neck, to lightly caress the sensitive skin just above her right collarbone. His touch was hardly more substantial than a breath, and yet he heard her gasp when he stroked the spot just beneath her ear. With his forefinger, he trailed a path towards the curve of her jaw and was gratified to feel the way her pulse raced beneath his hand.
"Y-you 'bout done?" she asked, and though he knew she was trying to sound nonchalant, he was close enough to hear the catch in her breath, to feel the muscles in her neck flex momentarily as she swallowed heavily and tried to maintain her composure.
"Not yet," he breathed. She shivered again when his breath hit her neck and leaned back towards him, though she stopped herself before fully closing the scant inches between them and pressing her body against his.
There was a part of Clark that wondered at what he was doing, that marveled at the boldness that was typically so uncharacteristic of him. And to do this – to tease Lois (or anyone else for that matter) in this fashion – was so unlike him. He was normally so restrained, and though he was no prude, neither was he accustomed to being so distracted by almost prurient desire.
When his hand trailed a path back along the neck of her dress to return his attention more or less to the task at hand, however, his fingertips snagged against a tiny piece of plastic and he paused, dipping his fingers under the line of the garment. As he brushed against a paper tag, he had to swallow a chuckle – not too hard to do when a thought occurred to him that dissolved his humor in a fit of jealousy. Lois had apparently been so eager to go on this date with whoever she was getting dressed up for that she hadn't even realized she'd left the tag on the dress she was wearing, though of course she'd tried to convince Clark that her dress wasn't new at all.
Straightening abruptly, Clark deftly snapped the tiny piece of plastic in his hand and removed it from her dress. Then he stared contemplatively at the long line of Lois's back. Jealousy and temptation warred within him. Jealousy told him to zip up her dress and walk away. Temptation told him to indulge himself in the moment for as long as he could.
"Everything okay back there, Smallville?" Lois asked, though the breathlessness took some of the lightness out of her teasing words. "You know, it didn't take them this long to make the dress!"
He didn't doubt that. Deciding to give in a little to both of his urges, Clark reached for her zipper and slowly pulled it up, letting the backs of his fingers brush against the gentle curve of her spine, savoring the softness and the heat of her skin.
Once he'd finished, he placed his hands on her shoulders and felt her lean into him. "Lois?" he asked as she turned, tilting her head back so she could look up at him. Her cheeks were flushed and her breathing was ragged, but she didn't move away. With her so close, he couldn't resist and he leaned down, feeling the soft caress of her breath as it fanned his cheek, her mouth only an inch away from hers.
Her eyes were locked on his, but as he leaned into her, they fluttered shut and her tongue flickered out to moisten her lower lip. Her mouth was under his, only a few millimeters to be breached and he would feel her kiss. But before he could breach that gulf, she rested her palms against his chest and pushed, exerting just enough pressure to cause him to stop.
"Lois?" he asked again as he paused, and her eyes flickered open so that she could stare up at him once more.
Swallowing heavily, she cleared her throat and then said abruptly, "My father…the General…he always used to have these little sayings. Drove me nuts when I was growing up. You know, dance the last dance with the one that brought you, that sort of thing."
"Da – You want to dance?" he asked, frowning in confusion.
"No, I…Well, yes, but…No! That's not the point!" she blurted. "Don't start something you can't finish! That's what I was getting at! He also used to say 'don't start what you can't finish!' And…and that's the point. What about you? Are you starting something you can't finish?"
Her words hit him like a bucket of ice water, and he straightened abruptly. He didn't bother to feign ignorance; he knew what she was asking him. This wasn't the first time that they had stood like this, so close that their lips were almost touching. And the last time, they had been interrupted and then…well, he supposed the General would say that Clark hadn't danced the last dance with the one he'd brought to the party.
Perhaps it was understandable that Lois had neither forgotten nor entirely forgiven what had happened at Chloe's wedding, but the sad truth was that it was just as likely she was right to be dubious of his intentions. He didn't even know his intentions.
He'd wanted to kiss her, he'd known that. But after that? Was he ready to deal with the aftermath? Was he ready to pursue whatever it was between the two of them? If he kissed her, he'd be leading her on, leading her to believe, perhaps, that the two of them might have a future – or at least that he was willing to find out if they had a future. Was he ready to take that step, that chance with her?
He didn't know, and he could tell that she could see as much in his face, because she increased the pressure of her palms against his chest and pushed him away. "Guess we've got our answer, huh?" she asked with a sardonic twist of her lips. "Anyway, I don't have time for this. Thanks for zipping me up…and for bringing over the scanner. I appreciate it."
As she spoke, she scooted around him and crossed the room, increasing the distance between them. If it weren't for the flush that still tinted her cheeks, he'd think that the two of them hadn't been about to kiss just a moment before.
Shoving his hands in his pockets, Clark scowled at her retreating back. Of course, he understood why she had pulled away from him. He couldn't even blame her for it. But, at the same time, it soured his mood. Or perhaps it was the fact that he could see the way the dress hugged her curves as she walked across the room, and he was once more reminded that she was probably wearing the dress for another man's benefit. "So, who's the lucky guy?" he griped, his voice taking on a bit of an edge.
"What?" she asked absently as she grabbed some earrings off the table and started slipping them on.
When she looked over at him over her shoulder, he explained, "The date. The one you're dressed up for. I was wondering who it was with."
To his surprise, she laughed. "Why, Clark, if I didn't know any better, I'd think you were jealous!" she teased, though her voice had an edge to it that led him to suspect it wasn't entirely a joke – and that she wasn't nearly as ambivalent about his failure to answer her challenge as she had tried to pretend.
"Not jealous," he corrected. "Concerned."
She shrugged. "Well, you don't need to worry; I'm fine. I doubt I'll be in any danger from the Red Blue Blur."
"Th-the Blur?" he stammered, shifting awkwardly. "You have a date with him?"
"In a manner of speaking," she practically chirped, her face breaking into a wide, almost goofy-looking grin. "Let's just say, he's not going to know what hit him!"
"Does he know about the date?" he asked, since of course he knew that there was no way that he could. When she shrugged, he said with a frown, "So that's what the scanner's for."
"Well, I figure there's always trouble going on in Metropolis somewhere, and the Blur's bound to show up to save the day. And tonight, I'm going to catch him." She sounded so determined, Clark wanted to laugh, but then she turned her back on him and grabbed the large manila envelope from the hospital off the table. As she bowed her head, he heard her mutter, "I have to," and he frowned again. Her voice had taken on an edge, and he wondered at its cause.
"Lois, is everything okay?" he asked softly as he stepped towards her, and as she turned back to face him, he saw her flip open the envelope and dump its contents into her palm. He glanced almost unconsciously at the item that spilled out of the envelope, but when he saw the golden glint of the object in her palm, he could swear that his heart almost stopped.
It was a golden ring with an L emblazoned on it – the ring he'd gotten from the Legion. But where had she gotten it? "Lois, wha-what's that?"
"This?" she asked with a contemplative frown as she held it up to look at it more closely. For a moment, she didn't answer him. Instead, she bit her lower lip thoughtfully. When she spoke again, he had the feeling she was choosing her words carefully. "Just a ring. I found it at the Planet when I…recently. I think it belongs to the Blur. It's a little hard to explain, but I think he might have dropped it there when he…ah…recently." When she repeated the word, her eyebrows arched in curiosity. Speaking haltingly, she concluded, "Anyway, I thought he might need it and so I wanted to try to give it back to him tonight."
"Lois, I'm not sure that's a good idea," he said lamely, his eyes still fixed on the ring as his mind raced, searching for a way to get it from her without clueing her into his secret identity. When Rokk had given him the ring, he'd said it would take Doomsday to the future. Clark hadn't used the ring for that purpose, but if Lois put it on now, he was afraid she would unwittingly be taken to the future instead. "That ring…if it does belong to the Blur, it could be…it could be dangerous."
"Dangerous?" she asked with a laugh, lifting her eyes to his. "What do you…" When her gaze locked on his face, he saw her eyes widen and heard her sudden intake of breath. "Oh," she breathed.
Afraid of what she'd seen in his expression, Clark took a step back and said her name again. "Is everything okay?"
She stared at him for a long moment, and when she tore her gaze away, she breathed a heavy sigh. "No, I…yeah, everything's fine," she said softly, and he could swear she sounded sad though of course he had to be wrong. Why would she sound sad? Glancing back up at him, she grinned, though the expression was almost a grimace. "Everything's fine, Clark," she reiterated. "I just…There's something that I have to do, and I just realized that it's not going to be as easy as I thought. But I guess I have no choice, so…" She shrugged and looked away from him.
"Well, is there anything I can do to help?" he asked, though he didn't have a clue what she was talking about. It didn't matter; he could tell that she was upset and he wanted to do what he could to make it better.
"Help?" she repeated and then let out a bark of harsh laughter. "No, I don't think you can help me."
He expected her to explain but, instead, he watched in horror as she slipped on the ring. "Lois, no!" he cried, but to his surprise, nothing happened. She didn't disappear in a flash of light, as he'd feared she would.
At his outburst, she startled and looked over at him. "Everything okay, Clark?" she asked, the harsh edge gone from her voice.
"Yeah, everything's fine," he said sheepishly, feeling foolish for his behavior. Of course, just because she hadn't disappeared didn't mean that she wouldn't. He wished he could find a way to convince her to take off the ring, to hand it over, but he couldn't think of a way to do so that wouldn't raise suspicion. At least, any more than he'd done already.
Turning her head away from him again, she grabbed a necklace off the table and slipped the chain over her head, letting the pendant fall to rest between her breasts. "Anyway," she murmured, "like I said, thanks for everything, but I really have to finish getting ready. I guess I'll…" she paused, her mouth twisting in a wry expression. "I'll see you later!"
Her cue for him to leave wasn't exactly subtle, and he couldn't think of a way to convince her to let him stay. So, with a murmured goodbye, he brushed past her and headed towards the door. He hadn't planned on it, but it seemed like he really was going to have to find a way for Lois to meet up with the Blur this evening – at least he would if he wanted to make sure Lois didn't take any unexpected and accidental trips through time.
Two hours had passed since Clark had left her apartment, and Lois still hadn't moved from the position she'd taken on the couch, her head in her hands. How could this have happened? How could things have gotten away from her like this?
Well, but of course that wasn't really true. Things hadn't gotten away from her. Rather, it seemed like she had just caught up for the first time. She'd found the answers, and for the first time in her life, she rather wished she hadn't.
Clark was the Red Blue Blur. How was that even possible? How could he be the man who sped around town, saving people? Oh, she could believe he'd want to save people; it was just the type of man that he was. But to think he had superpowers and used them to do it? She just couldn't believe it.
Not that her disbelief made a difference. Whether or not she could believe it, it was apparently true. She'd seen it on Clark's face, when he'd caught sight of the ring that she'd found at the Planet – the ring that had taken her into the future. He'd recognized it, and, more, he'd known what it could do. She had seen it in his eyes.
And that changed everything. She'd thought her task tonight would be relatively easy – just find the Blur, talk to him for a few minutes, and move on with her life. Actually, more to the point, let him move on with his. She'd thought it would be so simple, to do what Rokk had said must be done. But that was before, before she'd known that Clark was the Blur, before she'd realized all that it meant.
"Oh, Clark," she murmured. She didn't have to do this. She could ignore Rokk's words, forget the warning she'd received. She could go into work in the morning and pretend like nothing had changed.
Lifting her head out of her hands, she took a ragged breath. No. She couldn't. She couldn't forget that decaying globe off the top of the Planet, the terrified screams of the people as they raced past her. It was the absolute last thing that she wanted to do, but it seemed she would have to have that date with the Blur tonight, after all.
Rising slowly to her feet, Lois ran nervous hands across her lap, smoothing out the lines of her dress. Then, lifting a hand to finger the pendant she wore around her neck, she walked purposefully towards the kitchen and pulled open the refrigerator door. As she pulled out the bottle of chilled champagne, she smiled wryly. When she'd run to the store earlier to buy the bottle in her hand, she'd thought she would be drinking it tonight with the Blur – perhaps as she even landed the first front-page headline with the city's resident superhero. Now it looked like she'd be sipping it with Clark as she broke her own heart into pieces. Or maybe toasting him as she let him do it for her.
Either way, she couldn't do it here, in her apartment. She'd planned on tracking down the Blur at a crime scene, but that no longer seemed necessary. Still, she just couldn't bring herself to call Clark back here, to the place where just a few hours ago, the two of them had almost kissed. The evening was going to be painful enough, without the addition of that memory. No, it would be better to conduct this particular meeting in a more neutral location.
Before she could change her mind, chicken out and leave the future to sort itself out, Lois tucked the bottle under her arm, snatched two champagne flutes out of the nearby cabinet, and strode briskly toward her front door, grabbing her purse on the way. She knew exactly where she had to go. If she was going to have her heart broken tonight, it somehow seemed oddly fitting that it be done on the rooftop of the Daily Planet – after all, after tonight, she was probably going to throw herself into her work in an attempt to forget. Of course, with Clark working at the desk across from her, she already knew had a snowball's chance in hell of being successful.
The commute to the Planet had never taken so little time, Lois decided as she walked out onto the newspaper building's rooftop a few minutes later. Given her level of dread, she would have thought that the universe might have helped her out a bit and at least slowed time a little, let the commute take maybe a year or two to complete. Instead, it was barely fifteen minutes after she'd left the apartment, and she was already here.
Closing her eyes, Lois brought forth the memory of the future she'd seen, using it to bolster her reserve. She was doing the right thing, and she had to remember that, no matter how painful it would be. Knowing there was no point in delaying the inevitable, she opened her eyes, pulled out her cell phone, and dialed Clark's number.
"Hey, Clark," she said as she heard his voice come through the other end of the line. "It's me. Um…so, listen, I was wondering if I could get your help with one other little thing." At Clark's affirmative reply, she continued, "It's a little hard to explain. Can you meet me at the Planet? I'm on the roof. Thanks. Yeah, I'll see you in a few minutes."
As she snapped her phone closed, she settled her weight against the wall, placed the two flutes on the balustrade next to her, and uncorked the bottle of champagne. At least now that she knew Clark was the Blur, she could rest reasonably assured that he wouldn't leave her waiting for long.
She was right. Clark walked out onto the rooftop a scant eight minutes later. "Hey," he greeted her warmly with that heart-stopping smile of his. "I was in the neighborhood." She nodded, not pressing for further explanation. From what she knew of the Blur, Clark could have been in Bolivia and he'd have gotten here as quickly. "So, what's up?"
Grabbing a flute, she filled it with champagne and handed it over. Then she filled her own and took a sip. "Well," she said slowly, delaying the moment for as long as she could. "Actually, I was hoping for a dance."
"A dance?" he repeated, frowning in confusion. Then, with a slight shake of his head, he asked, "Lois, is everything okay? I don't understand. I thought you needed my help, that you…"
"Clark," she interjected, taking a step towards him. "I do need your help. Honest. There's something that I need to do, but…I'm nervous. I'm sc-scared, actually, if you want to know the truth, and don't think that was easy for me to say. So, before I do it, I thought…I thought maybe if we…if we danced, that I would calm down, and…and maybe this wouldn't be so hard."
He walked towards her until he was only a couple of feet away. "What's so hard?" he asked in concern, reaching up to brush a lock of hair off her cheek.
Offering him a shaky smile, she promised, "I'll tell you when the dance is over. Please? Just give me this moment?" It was only delaying what she had to do, and she knew it. It was also probably going to make the subsequent conversation more difficult and certainly more painful. But if this was the last time she could have a moment with Clark like this, before she did what she knew had to be done, she wanted to steal one last dance and pretend, if only for a few minutes. "Please?" she asked again.
"We don't have any music," he pointed out reasonably, even as he reached for her hand.
"Don't underestimate me, Smallville! I've got it covered!" she chirped with a relieved grin as she grabbed for her phone. When she hit a few buttons, a song began to play and she put the phone on the balustrade next to the champagne bottle. "Always be prepared, that's my motto," she said as she moved a little closer to him, resting her free hand on his shoulder.
"I thought that was the boy scouts," he murmured as he wrapped a hand around her waist, pulling her in towards his body.
Though she normally would have responded with some sort of quip, she let him have the last word for once and instead rested her head on his shoulder, releasing his hand to wrap her arms around him instead. She'd planned on maintaining a certain measure of distance between them, in some sort of attempt to safeguard her heart a little, but having him so close, she'd changed her mind. This was her last chance to hold him like this; she couldn't resist the urge to be selfish and enjoy it for all it was worth.
The lyrics began to play over the tiny speaker, the singer's voice sultry and slow. Lois barely paid attention to the song, concentrating instead on the feel of Clark's arms around her, the way his palm warmed the skin of her back where they pressed against her, the strength of the arms he had wrapped around her body. If she could freeze time, if she could pick one perfect moment of her life to live for an eternity, it would be this one. But, unfortunately, such was not in her power and she well knew that 'eternity' was exactly what was on the line. So instead of freezing the moment, she did everything she could to at least engrave it into her memory – the feel of Clark around her, the sound of his breath, the scent of his cologne. Maybe the memory of this dance would comfort her on the long nights ahead.
As it was, the song ended entirely too soon, and as it came to an end, Lois rested her cheek on Clark's shoulder a moment longer and then steeled herself and pulled away. When she looked up into his face again, she could see his confusion there, along with desire. In a moment, she knew he would be feeling neither.
"Well, Clark, I guess it's time. I promised we'd talk when the dance was over." She handed him his glass and then downed her own, pausing to refill it. "I guess it's time I explain."
"Explain what?" he asked cautiously as he moved to stand beside her.
"What happened to me yesterday. I said you wouldn't believe it…but then again, maybe you will." Pausing one last time, she took a fortifying sip of champagne. She wished she'd had enough foresight to bring a couple of chairs up from the newsroom; Clark was probably going to need to sit down when he heard everything she had to say, and heaven knew she was feeling none too steady on her feet.
Knowing she was stalling and hating herself for her cowardice, Lois took a deep breath and plunged right in. "Yesterday, Tess and I had a bit of a fight in the newsroom. No," she said quickly, forestalling his comment, "Hear me out. When I'm finished, it'll all make sense – well, as much sense as it can ever make, I guess."
And so she started to explain – about the fight with Tess, the discovery of the ring, and how it must have slipped on over the tip of her finger when she tried to get a closer look at it. She'd also explained about the bright light and how, when the light faded, she found that she wasn't in the bullpen any longer. Clark didn't take his steady gaze off her once, even when she described the Planet's globe as she'd seen it in what she'd come to realize was the future.
"I was trying to figure out what had happened to me when I was approached by this guy. He knew me, or at least he recognized me because he knew my name. He called himself Rokk and he was the one who told me what had happened. This ring," she held up her hand to show him the ring she knew he'd already recognized, "it took me to the future. To the end of the world. But Rokk said things weren't supposed to end that way, that the past had been changed. And he told me that I had to fix it."
She paused in her story as she tried to gauge Clark's reaction. It was an incredible story, undoubtedly a hard one to believe – even by the man who was secretly the Blur. As if on cue, he said slowly, "That's an incredible story, Lois."
"It gets better," she told him with a twist of her lips. Then, breathing a heavy sigh, she continued. "We didn't have a lot of time, but he did his best to explain. Like I said, something in the past had changed, altering the future. The world was ending. Well, to be more accurate, the Earth was being torn apart. He didn't have time to really explain, but trust me, if you'd been there, you'd know how easy it was to believe that something like that was happening."
"Did he happen to tell you what had changed?" Clark asked, putting his champagne flute aside, his entire attention focused on her and the story she was telling.
She nodded, then she shrugged. "Well, yes and no. Like I said, there wasn't a lot of time. He said that because he and a group of friends had changed things in the past, something had happened to the Blur, something that wasn't supposed to happen." Lowering her eyes, she stared at the second button down on his shirt, as if it was the most fascinating thing in the world when in reality, she just couldn't stand to meet Clark's eyes as she continued.
Staring at the button as if it held the secrets of the universe, Lois heaved a heavy sigh and let herself remember.
The stranger, Rokk, met her eyes gravely, a muscle in his jaw tightening and he struggled with some kind of emotion. Then he said softly, "The end of the world."
"The end of the world?" she repeated. "Are you insane?"
He ignored her comment and instead began to explain. "I have this group of friends. Well, I had them at any rate. We went back into the past, and we changed things. Things that weren't supposed to be changed. We didn't mean to do it, but we did."
Rokk's tone was implacable, his gaze unwavering as he stared at her. "You change one thing in the past, it can change the entire future, in ways that are impossible to predict. That's why we're not supposed to go back unless we have to. It's why we aren't supposed to tell people their future."
There was another rumble beneath them, and he paused, his face twisting into a grimace. Lois had to take a moment to regain her balance when another shockwave under her feet threw her sideways into the building. As she scrambled to remain on her feet, Rokk raised his voice and spoke quickly over the rumble coming from beneath them, "When we were in the past, we met the man you call the Red Blue Blur. He wasn't alone; there was a girl there – just a normal girl, but someone the Blur cared about. Imra…she had only the best of intentions, but she told the girl her future, and by doing so, she changed it.
"Imra hadn't told her the whole story, so what she said was misunderstood. It doesn't matter how; what' s important is that a little while after we left, the girl…you have to understand, she thought it was her future! There was this suit that could give people superpowers, and she put it on. She thought she could help, but she didn't understand the consequences!
"The suit was a trap. There's only one thing out there that can kill Su…the Blur, and the suit absorbed it, making it impossible for her to be around him. She had to leave or he would die, and that wasn't how it was supposed to happen!"
He had to pause in his story again as a groan of twisting metal came to them the building to their left. Grabbing her hand, he ran with her further into the alleyway, moving out of the way just in time to avoid a shower of debris from above.
"We have to get out of here!" Lois screamed, turning to run back onto the street. "We have to get out into the open, away from these buildings! They're going to fall!"
Rokk didn't let go of her hand. "It doesn't matter! You're not going to be here much longer; none of us are! I just need you to understand so you can go back! So you can fix it!"
She shook her head. "Fix it? How am I supposed to fix it! I don't understand what I need to do!"
He glanced up at the building above them and then whirled to face her. "The suit changed everything! He wasn't supposed to lose her like that! Because of one thing we changed by accident, the entire future changed. It's called the butterfly effect. We changed one thing, and it changed everything! As a result of what we did, the man you call the Blur lost the woman he loved. He gave up on humanity, turned his back on the world. And it wasn't supposed to happen! Thiswasn't supposed to happen!"
"But what can I do about it?" Lois screamed as the rumbling in the earth grew louder, the shockwaves more powerful beneath her feet. She had to brace her arms on the buildings on either side of her, to keep from being thrown to the ground. "I can't go back and make her forget about her future!"
"No, but you can remove the suit's power, the radiation that would kill Su…the Blur – her too, in time." Reaching into his pocket, he pulled out what looked like a pendant on a long golden chain and thrust it into her hands. "Imra had this made when she realized what she'd done, but she…she never had the chance to go back and fix things. Take this back with you, give it to the Blur."
"I don't understand!" Lois had to scream to be heard over all the noise. "How is this supposed to fix things?"
"When she puts it on, it will destroy the suit's power, making her human again! The two of them will be able to be together!" Rokk screamed into her ear.
Lois understood. With the power of the suit gone, the Blur could be with the woman he loved. He would not lose his faith in humanity, and whatever he did in the future, the world wouldn't end on this day. "All right! I understand! Now send me back!"
"Wait!" Rokk bellowed, grabbing her hand just as she pulled off the ring. "There's one more thing you have to do! You have to tell the Blur how you feel about him!"
"I have to what?" she screamed and then let out a surprised cry when the earth beneath her gave one final lurch, throwing her off her feet. As she lay sprawled on the ground, she realized that all the noise around her had ceased; the world had gone utterly still.
Somehow, Rokk had remained on his feet, and he took the opportunity to kneel by her side. "It's happening," he murmured. "It's the end. I have to stay here; I can't risk going back again or more things could change. But listen to me, Lois. You have to promise me that when you get back, when you give the Blur the necklace, you'll tell him how you feel about him."
As he spoke, he grabbed her hand and helped her to her feet. "I'm asking you to make an incredible sacrifice, I know, but I wouldn't ask it of you if it wasn't important. The Blur's faith in humanity must be restored, and you're the only one who can do it. So no matter what else happens, no matter how painful it may be, you need to tell him how you feel about him."
Lois was confused. How she felt about the Blur? Well, she admired him. Maybe she had a little bit of a crush on him, but even if telling him as much would restore his faith in humanity (which she found a little hard to believe), she failed to see how it would be that much of a sacrifice for her. "I don't –" she began, but Rokk cut her off.
"You can do this, Lois," he said. "We've read about you, you know. If even half of what they say about you is true, then you can do this. In fact, you're the only person who can."
Lois started to respond, but it was too late. With a deafening roar, the ground split beneath her feet and the buildings on either side of her crumbled. She threw her head back and screamed, raising her arm to protect her face, as a metal beam and several concrete blocks hurtled down towards her.
"Think of the moment you left!" Rokk bellowed, grabbing her hand, but Lois couldn't think clearly as she felt him slip something over her finger. And then, in a flash of light, she disappeared.
Bringing herself back to the present, Lois stared holes in Clark's button as she continued to explain, "Rokk told me something about a power suit, that it had caused the Blur to lose somebody who was important to him. He lost the woman he loved. And then he told me that I had to fix it."
Clark's button moved in her view as he shifted uncomfortably. "Okay, well…that's pretty interesting, but why are you telling me all this?"
Her mouth twisted into a grimace as she reached up and pulled the necklace back over her head. With an effort, she tore her eyes off his shirt button and raised them to his face. "Because you need to give this to Lana. It'll destroy that suit, make her normal again. And then you…" her voice caught and so she had to swallow heavily before she could continue, "the two of you can be together."
His eyes fell to the necklace in her hand and he stared at it intently, not taking his gaze off it as he said weakly, "I don't know what you're talking about, Lois. Lana doesn't…I mean, a power suit? But I…you're acting like I'm the Blur and I'm not."
"Don't," she said softly. "This is hard enough, please don't lie to me. And it's okay, Clark. I understand. I'm not mad that you kept the truth from me. I just…" She paused and then said in a softer tone, "It's what you've always wanted, don't you see? She's what you've always wanted. Even if I hadn't been to the future and seen the end of the world, I'd want to give you this."
"Lois, I don't understand," he said, finally raising his gaze to hers once more. To his credit, he didn't continue his protestations. Instead, he reached out with a shaking hand and took the necklace from her grip. "Why?"
Relinquishing her prize, she took an unsteady breath and stepped back. "It's not fair, is it, to have everything you've ever wanted and have it taken away? You save the world all the time, and yet you can't be with the one person who makes you happy. That just…it doesn't seem fair, is all."
"Is that really it?" he asked quietly, clenching the pendant in his hand and then stuffing it into his pocket.
Lois squeezed her eyes shut and felt a shudder wrack her body. She remembered Rokk's words, that it was important for her to tell the Blur – Clark – how she felt about him. And there could be no doubt that Rokk knew exactly what he was asking of her. He'd said it was the only way to return Clark's faith in humanity. But being with him now, looking at him, she didn't understand how this could possibly be true. He was in love with Lana, and she'd just given him the means to be with the woman he loved. Surely that would return his faith to him!
"I'm asking you to make an incredible sacrifice," he'd said, and at the time, the comment hadn't made any sense. But when she'd realized that the Blur was really Clark, she'd thought that Rokk had sadly understated matters. It wasn't just an incredible sacrifice. It was quite possibly the worst, the most painful, moment of her life.
She shook her head, unable to speak for the moment, and Clark pressed, "Lois, why do you think that I'm the Red Blue Blur?"
She laughed, a harsh sound, and raised her hand. "In my apartment, you recognized this ring. You were afraid, when you saw that I was about to put it on. Since I knew the ring had belonged to the Blur and it had come from the future, there was no reason why anyone else would know what it could do. So there was no reason for you to be afraid of it." Heaving a shaky breath, she added, "That was when I fully realized that you were the Blur, but that wasn't the only reason I knew."
A long silence stretched between them, and then Clark said sheepishly, "I need to work on my excuses when I run off to be the Blur, huh?"
Her chuckle was pained. "You might, but that wasn't what I meant." Biting her lower lip, she looked back up at him. "I should have known that you were the Blur because Rokk said I had to find a way to tell him…tell him how I felt about him, and that it would be hard to do. But my feelings for the Blur are easy. I've admired what he's done, maybe I had a little bit of a…a crush on him.
"So when Rokk said what he did, it got me thinking. It wouldn't be hard for me to tell the Blur what I felt for him, but it would be hard for me to tell…you." He was standing still, staring at her as if he didn't know how to react. The expression on his face was both maddeningly cryptic and irritatingly familiar. How many times had she wanted to know how what he was thinking, how he felt, and gotten nothing but that expression in reply?
She wanted to back out, to make up some kind of lie. She wanted him to just leave, to go back to Lana as she knew he would and leave her to her heartbreak. But Rokk had told her that it was important to tell Clark how she felt about him, and if there was even the slightest chance that his happiness depended upon the words she needed to say, then it was worth the sacrifice. But, god, it was going to kill her.
So, trembling so hard she thought she might break apart into a million pieces, Lois folded her hands in front of her, clenching them together until her knuckles turned white from the strain. Her eyes fell to the familiar button on his shirt as she said, "The truth of the matter is that Rokk's words – that it would be hard for me to confess my feelings – would only make sense if I had to confess them to you. Because the truth is that I…I…I c-care about you, Clark. More than I've ever cared about anyone, I think."
Her voice shaking only slightly, she plunged ahead. "And I don't want you to think that I'm expecting anything in return for telling you this. I don't think you're going to return my feelings, and I don't expect you to…I'm not asking for anything. I don't even want you to tell me what you feel about me, certainly not right now. That's not the point of all this. I just had to tell you that…I know I'm not the girl of your dreams. Well, maybe your nightmares," she amended with a feeble laugh. Her attempt at humor fell flat, but she couldn't help but give in to the temptation to try to deflect. "And I know that if you had a choice, it would always be Lana. And then maybe Chloe…the girl who works at the Starbucks…half the female population of Kansas…and then maybe me, if you had no other choice," she added with a grin that probably looked more like a grimace.
"Lois, don't…" Clark began, and when she saw the button move a step closer, she took a hasty step back and raised her hands defensively. Her eyes flew instinctively to his face, though she winced when she met his eyes. She didn't know what she'd expected – certainly not that her confession would lead him to proclaim his undying devotion to her. So she had no idea why it should hurt so much that it didn't seem like he was teetering on the brink of doing that very thing.
"No, it's okay, Clark! Really, I understand. I've known for a while now how important you are to me…and that I'm never going to be as important to you. And it's okay, really, because I don't need to be…," her voice fell to a whisper, "to be special to you."
"You are special to me, don't you know that?" Clark demanded, and once again she took a step back when he tried to move closer to her.
"Please don't," she whispered, unsure if she was referring to his forward progress of the sentiment he was trying to express, the one she didn't really believe. Either way, he stopped in his tracks and didn't say another word as she tried to get a hold of herself. Her lower lip trembled for a moment, and so she clenched her jaw and pressed her lips together until she was certain that she could continue without completely humiliating herself. Of course, that meant that she had to keep from crying for another few minutes, as well, and that she did not know how she was going to manage.
"At Chloe's wedding," she said, attempting to keep her voice steady, "there was a…a moment between us. At least, I thought we had a moment. And for just a minute, I thought that you…needed me. And then Lana came back, and that's when I realized. If you had your choice of anyone in the world, you'd choose to be with her. You'd always choose to be with her.
"And that's wonderful, really! At least, I guess that's wonderful. If she makes you happy, then that's all I need to know. But what Rokk told me…he told me that you didn't have a choice any longer. That the choice had been taken away. So that's what I'm giving back to you, because it's the only thing I have to give." Her heart had already been given, and it was the one thing that it seemed Clark didn't want. "I just want you to be happy. That's all I've ever wanted."
Clark looked away from her and sighed heavily. When he looked back up at her, his expression was pained. "We did have a moment at Chloe's wedding, Lois. I need you to believe that. It's just…it's not that simple, not when it comes to that other life of mine. I'm…different, and I know that's a hard thing to deal with."
Lois frowned at him. "It's only hard to deal with if you think of your abilities as something that makes you different, rather than something incredible that you can do. You aren't defined by your powers, Clark. You're defined by what you choose to do with them."
He scowled and pulled the pendant out of his pocket to stare down at it contemplatively. "When I was growing up, I thought I'd never find someone. I thought there was nobody out there who could accept me for what I am, for all the things I can do. I need you to understand, Lois, that…I've found that with Lana. She – she knows who I am, and she's okay with it. It's all I ever wanted, growing up." His voice was defensive as he explained. "She understands me, and she wants to be with me."
There were a thousand things Lois wanted to reply to that. She wanted to challenge him, to demand why, if Lana really understood him, she'd felt that she had to change herself in order to be with him. She wanted to know whether Lana felt that a power suit was more important to her than Clark's feelings. She wanted to tell him that he was an idiot for thinking that nobody could love him, since the greater mystery by far was how anyone could not. And, mostly, she wanted to tell him that she understood him, that she knew him – that she didn't look at him and see a picture of what she wanted or expected him to be any more than she looked at him and saw a reflection of what she wished herself to be. She looked at him and saw Clark, the good and the bad. She hadn't known about his powers, but his abilities did not make the man, and it was the man that she knew and loved.
But she had exposed herself enough as it was, and she figured Rokk had stressed to her that it was important that she express her feelings. He hadn't told her she had to drive the point into the ground by telling Clark things he quite clearly did not wish to hear – at least not from her – thereby humiliating herself irrevocably in the process.
"Then go to her," she said softly. "I know she's what you want, you should go to her and tell her how you feel." Turning her head, she looked out at the city lights, blinking back the tears she was far too proud to shed in front of him. It had hurt to try to hold onto him when she didn't know how he felt about her, but it was killing her to let him go.
"You don't have to worry about me, Clark," she said in as upbeat a tone as she could manage. "I'll be fine. And, anyway, if you don't realize that I'm amazing and you're an idiot for letting me slip through your fingers, it's your loss, right?" she asked with a tremulous laugh.
"Lois." His voice was a plea, but she didn't turn around. Whatever it was that he wanted from her, she didn't have the strength to give it to him – at least not if she was going to have the strength to do what she needed to do, for her sake if not for his. She could spend the rest of her life not being loved by Clark. She couldn't spend it never knowing if she was only a second choice, a poor man's Lana, only a stand-in for the women he'd always loved but couldn't have. She deserved better, and, frankly, so did he.
Squeezing her eyes shut, she felt the breeze on her face and smelled the unmistakable scent of moisture in the air. It would rain soon, cooling down the hot summer night. "There's a storm coming," she said, speaking about more than just the weather. "You should get on your way before it hits; I'm sure you don't want to be caught in the middle of it."
She heard Clark move closer until he stood immediately behind her. He'd been just this close not too many hours before, she remembered. What a difference a revelation made. "I don't want to leave you like this," he said softly.
The bark of laughter hurt her throat, and she raised a hand to her face to wipe away the moisture on her cheeks, cursing her bad timing that she couldn't yet blame the rain for its presence. Steeling her shoulders, she turned to face him, and though the pain was still fresh, she gathered her courage and looked him unflinchingly in the eye. "You don't understand, Clark. I'm not asking you to go. I'm telling you that I don't want you here."
"So you're saying I don't have a choice," he said in frustration, reaching one hand out to touch her.
The look of warning Lois threw him stopped his hand in mid-air. "No, Clark. You always have a choice. But love isn't something you get just because you want it; it's not even something you get because you think you deserve it. It's not a door prize handed out to the most popular girl at the party; it's something that you either have or you don't.
"Well, for a year now, I've been wondering where I stood. I've spent endless hours trying to decode your cryptically mixed signals, to find a way to talk to you without running full-speed into that emotional wall you've put up between us. And you know what I finally realized? I realized that not having an answer from you was my answer."
With a sigh, she admitted, "I'm not mad at you, Clark. You can't help the way you feel, any more than I can. But I have a choice, just like you do. I can continue feeling this way, knowing that the most I can ever hope for is to be second best. Or I can realize that I can't keep putting my heart on hold for someone who is never going to return my feelings. Well…" she paused and her eyes skittered away from his for a second as she almost lost her nerve. "Well," she repeated more firmly, looking him in the eye again, "I've made my choice, just like you've got to make yours. I deserve better than to be second place."
Slipping Rokk's ring off her finger, she held it out to him. "We all have decisions to make, Clark, and that's mine. I promised Rokk I'd give you the power to go back to Lana and that I'd tell you how I felt about you. And that's how I feel. I c-care about you. I'll probably always care about you. Powers or no powers, you're one of the most incredible – most admirable – men I've ever met. You're my best friend Clark, and I hope you always will be. But that's all that we'll ever be.
"I don't know if I'll ever find someone who'll love me forever, but as hard as it may be to believe, that's what I want. All or nothing. And maybe I won't ever find it, but I know myself well enough to know I'd be happier alone than I could ever be as someone's consolation prize. I can't deal with the uncertainty of never knowing whether you'd still be there for me, with me, if you had the choice. I'd always wonder and, what's worse, I'd always wonder if you were wondering the same thing.
"So I've made my decision, and now I want you to go. Whatever happens between you and Lana, that's your choice to make. But I've made mine. I won't be second place with anyone, not even you."
Clark tried to argue, but Lois turned to look out at the city lights again, taking advantage of her position to hide her face from view. And perhaps Clark recognized that her arguments had merit, because he stood in silence behind her for a long moment, and then he sped away.
Lois felt the breeze at her back from his exit and lifted a hand to her face to wipe the tears from her eyes. She tried to keep a hold of herself, but standing on the rooftop with the city spread out before her, having pushed away the only man she'd ever really loved, she realized that she had never felt more alone. So she gave in to the desire to rest her head in her hands and sob.
An hour or so had passed since Lois had felt her heart break on the Planet's rooftop, and she still hadn't returned home. The thought of returning to her apartment, standing in the living room where Clark had touched her not long before, was still too painful. Besides, she was fully intending to lose herself in work to forget about her heartache, and there was no reason why that process couldn't start right away.
Unfortunately, she decided that the stars had to be aligned against her, because there just wasn't much for her to do in terms of work-related emotional therapy, so instead of burying herself in a story, she found herself staring at a blinking cursor on her computer instead. The cursor on the blank page was mocking her, she could swear – reminding her with every blink that she couldn't even manage to hide from her pain, as she wished to do.
Tilting her head to the side, Lois sighed and tried to think of something else she could do to kill time. She found her gaze unconsciously straying towards Clark's desk and she snarled in frustration. If she was trying to forget about the pain in her chest, stealing her breath, she was doing a poor job of it.
Jealousy tasted bitter on her tongue as she dragged her attention back to her computer. Glowering at the blinking cursor, she started to pound away at her keyboard. She liked lists; why, the last list she'd written up had been framed by Clark. And while that wasn't exactly a memory she wanted to entertain at the moment, it had been a list that had encouraged her that there might be something between her and her sometime-partner. Perhaps a list could make her feel better about what she'd lost.
Things I'd Willingly Suffer Through Before I'd Watch Clark and Lana Together she typed in big bold letters at the top.
A root canal without novikane. That one definitely had to be on the list.
A cross country trip stuck in a car with the General and Lucy.
She rather liked that last one. In fact, she wondered if she might use it as an excuse to avoid their company in the future. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I can't go on a double date tonight! I'm afraid I've contracted the plague and have plans to spend the evening hacking up a lung!" Except how would one go about faking plague symptoms? Lois imagined that a simple forced coughing and wheezing wouldn't be enough. At the very least, she'd probably have to find a way to fake a pustule or two.
Even with her ingenuity, she doubted she'd manage to convincingly pull that off. Perhaps the only solution would be for her to actually contract the plague. Would slowly dying of the plague really be less painful than having to watch Clark and Lana act lovey-dovey together? After a moment's thought, Lois concluded that it probably would, but even so, it definitely had its drawbacks as a long-term plan. Besides which, she wasn't entirely sure how she would go about willingly contracting the plague, and it seemed unlikely that she'd solve that particular problem before Clark carried the love of his life back to Metropolis and Lois died of slow torture anyway. Perhaps it would be better to shelve the plague issue and focus her attention on other matters.
Pursing her lips, she pondered the screen in front of her. As gratifying as her nebulous list was, it wasn't really helping her forget her heartache, which was the point of the entire exercise, after all. With a frown, she deleted her work in progress and decided to start again, this time attempting a list that would be more productive. Or at least that would be less likely to end in Lois exposing herself to an incredibly painful fatal disease. After all, Lana was coming back in town, that was enough of a plague for any one city to manage, Lois thought uncharitably.
Staring at the newly blank page, Lois started to type again, this time more slowly.
Non-Clark-Related Things I Would Miss if the World Ended she typed in large letters. After all, Rokk had made it very clear that if Clark lost the love of his life, the end of the world would be the eventual result. So if Lois was going to be the impetus to Lana and Clark ending up together, it might behoove her to bear in mind all the reasons why this was a good thing.
Double chocolate fudge crunch bars. Speaking of which, she made a mental note to pick up a case of them on the way home. She was definitely going to need the chocolate therapy.
Guitar Hero.She pondered this last one for a few minutes. True, she loved playing Guitar Hero, but she particularly enjoyed playing it with Clark. Would the game hold less appeal for her, now that she would be playing it alone? She wasn't sure, so she wrote a note to herself. **List subject to revision.
The Daily Planet.
She had to admit that the last two entries were rather lame, she decided as she tapped her fingers against the desktop and contemplated the list in front of her. She concluded that the problem wasn't that there weren't things she would miss if the world ended tomorrow; rather, it was the near-impossibility of coming up with non-Clark-related things that she would miss. Her life had been so closely tied with Clark's in so long, there was precious little that wasn't somehow related to Clark, that didn't remind her of him.
With a groan, Lois switched off her computer without saving the document. It was time to come to terms with the fact that she was in for a miserable evening, no matter where she was or what she was doing. If it was inevitable that she was going to feel wretched, she might as well do it in her pajamas.
She stood up and scooted around her desk, intending to head straight for the elevators, when a loud crack of thunder rumbled overhead and the lights flickered. Lois had been so concentrated on her own misery that she hadn't realized that the storm had hit, and she jumped in surprise at the sound, stubbing her toe against the leg of Clark's desk.
"Damn it!" she bellowed, louder than the situation warranted. Slamming her fist down on the top of Clark's desk, she hobbled over to his chair and flung herself into it. "How could you have been so blind? So stupid? It was right there in front of you; you couldn't see it? But it was just so easy for you to walk right past it, to pretend like it wasn't there! And now all I've got is a broken…toe." Slipping her foot out of her shoe, she frowned down at the afflicted area, though it didn't really hurt. Or perhaps it was just that the pain in her toe was nothing compared to that in her chest.
Well aware that she hadn't been screaming about her toe the entire time but either unwilling or unable to decide whether she was most angry at Clark or at herself at the moment, Lois stood and slid her shoe back on. This was pathetic; it was time she grabbed a pint of rocky road ice cream and headed home.
She was just about to hit the button to call the elevator when she felt a breeze behind her and her heart stopped. "Lois?" Clark asked, his voice soft. "You're still here."
Though he'd pointed out the astonishingly obvious, she didn't call him on it. Neither did she turn around but instead kept her gaze fixed on the golden doors in front of her, trying not to catch his reflection in their surface. "No," she replied, although of course his comment hadn't really needed an answer. "I was just heading home now."
"I tried to get back here before the storm hit," he said as the lights flickered again.
She sighed. "It's okay. You had…something to take care of. I didn't expect you back at all."
"Lois, are you okay?" he asked, and she felt him move up behind her, his reflection in the elevator doors growing clearer. To avoid staring at it and, perhaps, seeing something there that she wasn't quite prepared to deal with just yet, she bowed her head and closed her eyes.
Her breath was ragged when she replied. "I'll be fine. I just…I hurt myself a little bit ago, but it's nothing I won't recover from, I don't think."
His hand hovered over her shoulder, and though he didn't touch her, she could feel the warmth radiating off his skin. It was odd how it only made her feel colder and even more alone. "You're crying," he murmured.
Was she? She hadn't noticed, but when he mentioned it, she realized that she was. Three times in one evening had to be some sort of record, though it wasn't the kind of record Lois had hoped to keep and certainly not one she ever wanted to beat. "I wasn't prepared," she whispered. "I thought I was, but I wasn't, and it hurt more than I thought it would."
"I'm sorry." His voice was soft but not hesitant. "I'm sorry you were put through that."
"It was inevitable though, wasn't it?" she asked, lifting her eyes to gaze at his reflection finally. "It was bound to happen, it was just a question of when. I've learned in the past day or two that you can't choose your own destiny. I guess the only thing left to do is just wait for the storm to blow over and hope that things get better when it does."
They weren't talking about the rain or her broken toe, but then again, they never had been. "You were right," he said on a sigh. "What you said earlier. All of it. With the way things were left between Lana and I, I've wondered what would have happened if…if things had gone differently. And you deserve much, much more than to be somebody's second choice."
"Is that all you have to say?" she demanded, her heart rending in two. "You didn't have to come back here to explain. I already knew. You can't help the way you feel about someone." Furious with Clark and disgusted with herself at having prolonged the conversation, she stabbed viciously at the elevator's call button.
"No," he agreed, his reflection first distorting and then disappearing as the elevator doors slid open. "You can't."
"So what do you want from me?" she demanded, storming onto the elevator and whirling around to face him for the first time. "My understanding? My forgiveness? For what? Because you don't love me? I already knew that, Clark, and I told you that I accepted it. What possible reason could you have for coming back here tonight, if it wasn't to torture me?"
Clark slammed a palm against the side of the doors, preventing them from opening, though his voice was level as he replied, "I didn't come here to hurt you, Lois, you have to believe that. I came here because I want a second chance!"
She shook her head and glowered at the hand that obstructed her from leaving, though she didn't do anything to move it. "Sorry," she said curtly. "I don't do second chances."
"Yes, you do," he contradicted her. "That's what this entire evening has been about, isn't it? That's what all of this has been about. You went into the future so Rokk could give the Blur a second chance to get things right. You gave me the necklace so I could have a second chance with Lana."
"Right!" she cried angrily, storming forward and poking a finger into his chest. "I gave you a second chance with Lana! And you know what? You took it! You ran off to be with her, so if she doesn't want you now, don't come to me and pretend like –"
He grabbed her hand and used it to pull her closer. "You didn't give me a second chance with Lana. You gave me a chance to choose. To know that the way I feel is real. The necklace gave me an opportunity to make a choice, so that I wouldn't have to wonder anymore, and neither would you."
Lois shook her head angrily. "No, now you're twisting things. I saw the future, remember? And Rokk explained everything to me; he told me that you and Lana have to be together. For the fate of the world." The words were bitter on her tongue, and she loathed the destiny that would do this to her.
"Is that really what happened?" he asked. The alarm on the elevator had started to ring, so he gently pulled her forward so that the doors could slide shut behind her. She didn't protest, either because she was too occupied with her thoughts to notice that he'd shifted her closer to him or because she didn't mind that he'd done so. "Are you sure that's what Rokk told you?"
"I - Yes, of course I am!" she retorted, though her brow was creased in confusion. "I was there, remember? I saw…He said…"
"He said that I'd lost the woman I loved," Clark finished for her, his voice soft. "That the actions of the past had changed the future, I'd lost my chance to choose to be with Lana, and that as a result, I lost the woman I loved and the future had changed because of it. But he never said that it was Lana, did he?"
Lois was angry now, furious with Clark for trying to make her doubt her decision and livid with herself that she wanted to let him. "You're being deliberately obtuse, and I don't appreciate it," she spat. "Who else could he have been referring to, if not Lana? She's the only person you've loved and lost, remember?"
"You," Clark said confidently, his eyebrows arched gently in challenge.
"Ha!" Crossing her arms over her chest, she glowered up at him. "I'm right here, remember? So how did you lose me, exactly?"
"But you weren't here," he pointed out, and she frowned in confusion. "You were in the future, remember? So that means that for a while, you weren't here in the present. Or in the past, as it were."
Lois spluttered for a minute as the complexities of time travel eluded her. "But I came back!" she finally crowed triumphantly. "And you were never even aware that I'd been gone, so how could losing me have caused you to be as upset as Rokk said if you'd never even known that I'd left?"
He seemed to ponder that for a moment, and then he said slowly, "But you also said that you'd had a fight with Tess, only you came back before any such fight took place. In other words, you returned before you'd ever left, so of course I didn't know you'd gone."
"R-right," she agreed weakly as she tried to make sense of it. Returned before she'd ever left? Well, of course she'd already determined that she had, but when she tried to really get her mind around it, all she got was a headache. "But the point is that you didn't know."
"But what if you hadn't?" he retorted, causing her headache to throb just a bit more as she tried to sort it out. "What if you hadn't returned? What if you'd stayed in the future? Then I would have lost you, wouldn't I?"
"Ah…" she moaned. "Well, but…but you didn't because I'm here," she shot back. "Obviously."
Clark almost looked amused at the absurd nature of the conversation as he replied, "But at the time that you were in the future, you still hadn't returned to the present so, for that period of time, I had."
Lois shook her head, as if to clear the cobwebs. "Only while I was in the future, the past was still the past and this entire conversation is in the past and that means that it was…um…past. That future's past. If you see what I mean." She hoped he did because she'd certainly confused herself irrevocably.
Clark placed his hands on her shoulders and stared into her eyes. "If that were true, then the future is set in stone and nothing we did tonight could change it, regardless of what Rokk said. Is that really what you believe?"
"I-I don't know," she answered honestly. Rubbing her forehead, she tried one last time to take a stab at making her point. "The thing is, Clark, that none of that matters. It all boils down to the fact that even if you lost me, it wasn't because of what happened to Lana. So either Rokk was lying and the past wasn't changed because of what they did, or –"
"Or I lost any chance at being with the woman I love," he broke in, his voice firm, "because neither of us would have been able to move past the doubt over what might have been." Her eyes flew to his, and he straightened. Lowering his eyes to the lock of hair he held in his hand, he rubbed it absently and asked, "Isn't that what you were saying earlier, on the rooftop? You could never know if I would have chosen to be with you, if there was even a chance to be with Lana. You'd never even know if I could ever know for sure, and the doubt would eat away at you. Maybe at me, too. And I think maybe you were right."
With a shaky breath, Lois reached up and grabbed the hand that still held her hair, feeling the cold metal of the gold ring on Clark's finger where it chilled her skin. "What are you saying, Clark? Are you saying you want to be with me?" she demanded.
"I'm saying," he began, turning his hand over to link their fingers. Exerting slight pressure, he pulled her closer, though he didn't quite pull her into his arms. His voice low, he continued, "that I'm ready to finish what we started. You gave me a chance tonight to be with Lana, to have everything I ever thought I'd wanted, and I realized that it's not what I want anymore. Maybe I never would have known that for sure, otherwise, but I do now.
"I gave her the necklace and explained to her that the Kryptonite poisoning would kill her one day if she didn't remove the suit. It took a while, but she finally believed me and now…the suit's been destroyed and she's back to the way she was before." There was a flash of sorrow in his eyes - sadness, perhaps, at what could have been, to have one more hero in the world. But it was quickly gone. "And I won't lie to you; we talked about being together again. I considered it."
Lois tried to remove her hand from his, but he wouldn't let it go. Instead, he continued, "But I decided that's not what I wanted. The Kryptonite wasn't the problem; the problem was that she thought she had to change who she was in order to be enough for me, to make me happy. I doubt she would ever have stopped believing that. You said that you aren't defined by what you can do but who you choose to be, and she thought she had to change who that was to be with me. I don't blame her for thinking it; there's a part of me that has always thought I would have to change what I am in order to make her happy, to be the man that she wanted."
"So you decided you can't be with her because she can't cope?" Lois asked, unsure of how she felt about the prospect.
"I decided that I don't want to be with someone who needs me to be somebody else and who doesn't feel like she can make me happy, just as she is," he corrected her.
"But what if she could?" Lois pressed, forcing him to let go of her hand when she brushed past him and began to pace back and forth in front of the elevator bay. "What if you're wrong about all of it? What if you find out that you're giving her - and yourself - too little credit?"
Clark sighed and stuck his hands in his pockets. "There will always be 'what if's' Lois. What if Lana was a different person? What if I hadn't been born with superpowers? What if you found out later down the line that it's harder to be with me than you thought it would be, that my life is much more complicated than you were prepared to handle? Every relationship has risk, and if you're looking for a life without the slightest measure of doubt, you'll be looking for a really long time."
She didn't appreciate that particular measure of truth, but she couldn't hold it against him that he'd forced her to consider it. Still, she huffed, "You make it sound like I'm being unreasonable for having my doubts."
"Not at all," he countered. "I understand why you're afraid. I'm scared too. But there's one thing that I just can't get past, no matter how uncertain the future is." At her searching look, he explained, "I love you, just as you are. You're not perfect; you're stubborn, bull-headed, and you have a tendency to jump to conclusions before all the facts are in. But I wouldn't change one single thing about you – not one – because all together, they make up who you are and it's that woman – not some idealized picture I have in my head – that I fell in love with. In return, I don't ask for huge gestures of devotion, and I don't want you to ever change yourself to be the person that you think I want. All I want is for you to love me, just as I am…even when I'm being blind or when I sometimes forget that I can't lose myself in my other life. As long as we can do that, I'm willing to face any of those fears head-on. Because you are my first choice, Lois. No matter how uncertain our future."
At the reminder of the future, Lois bit her lower lip anxiously. He sounded so confident, so sure of what he wanted, but she had seen the future that could be if he was mistaken. "And what if you're wrong, Clark?" she asked. "I saw the future. You were miserable, you gave up on humanity, and…it was the end of the world. How can you be sure that you're making the right choice?"
For the first time since the conversation began, the features of Clark's eyes softened and he smiled warmly at her. "Because I can't imagine that how I feel for you could ever be a bad thing. I love you, Lois, and what I feel when I'm with you is different than anything I've ever felt before. You make me proud of what I can do with my powers, not ashamed that I'm different. When I'm with you, I'm scared of losing you – because you take such risks with your life, not because I'm scared that you'll find you can't deal with what and who I am. Over the last year, I've looked forward to the times that I could call you up as the Blur, to talk to you about the things I'd done and the things I wanted to do, and I wanted to be able to do that without a phone line between us. Without you, my life might not lack meaning, because I could still go out there and save people, do what I can to help. But my heart would be emptier if I couldn't come here every morning and see your smile at the desk across from me or hear you tease me for being late.
"Above all, you make the world a better place, just by being in it. And you make me a better man, not because you demand that I live up to some image of me that you have but because I want to be that man for you. You don't have to ask me to do it; I do it because I never want to let you down or give you a reason to think that whatever faith or trust you have in me is misplaced. And, more than anything, I want to be with you because, perhaps selfishly, I'm never happier than when the two of us are together, whether we're fighting or whether…" he stepped closer, his eyes darkening as he threw her a meaningful look, "whether I'm zipping up your dress."
"So if you never believe anything else that I tell you, at least believe this: I choose you. First, last, and always. You are the woman of my dreams, and the worst nightmare I could ever imagine would be losing you, particularly if it was due to my own stupidity. You may not be the first woman I ever loved, but I swear to you that you will be the last. And if you decide to take a chance with me, I would choose the worst day with you over the best day with Lana, Chloe, the Starbucks girl, or the entire population of Kansas."
Lois caught her breath as Clark turned her earlier words around on her. She didn't have to ask if Clark meant what he said; she could see it in his face. For the first time, when she looked at him, she didn't have to search to try to discern his feelings. The words he had spoken about the love he felt for her were reflected in every line in his face. It was more than she had ever even dared imagine, and seeing it, she found that she was struck speechless.
The lines around Clark's eyes crinkled with his smile, and he reached for her hand. "Come up to the roof with me."
"I – the roof?" she repeated, the unexpected suggestion breaking the spell and helping her find her voice.
Unperturbed by her reaction, he turned and hit the button for the elevators, which slid open immediately. With calm confidence, he led her onto the platform. "I told you, Lois. I want a second chance."
Ignoring his cryptic comment about second chances for the moment, she turned to him. "Clark, what you said back there, well…isn't it just like you? Just when I've decided to give up on you, you come here and say all this and it's…" she paused and took a step closer to him. "It's perfect." Reaching for him, she placed a palm against his chest and slowly dragged it up to his shoulder, reveling in the way the muscles shifted under her touch when he sucked in a sharp breath. "How do you always do that to me?"
She wrapped a hand around her neck and leaned into him, intending to kiss him right there in the elevator, but Clark lifted a hand and pressed a finger on her lips, stopping her. Their faces were inches apart, and so she could see the desire in his eyes as he said in a husky voice, "Not yet. This isn't the right moment."
She'd been thinking about kissing him for a year now, and he was going to tell her now – after nearly giving her a heart attack with everything he'd said to her not five minutes before – that the time still wasn't right for the two of them to kiss? Was he trying to kill her? Lois was a good person in the cosmic scheme of things – or at least she tried to be – but for heaven's sake, she wasn't a saint!
Her thoughts were clearly all too apparent on her face, because Clark chuckled. "I'm telling you, it needs to be on the rooftop. You see, the entire time I was racing to get back to you, I kept thinking of what I should have done earlier. I need to have a second chance to make it right."
Pressing her lips together, Lois rolled her eyes up at him, knowing he would be amused by the gesture, but she didn't protest. Granted, at this point, she didn't much care where he kissed her as long as he did it, but if it was important to him, she wasn't going to argue. She did, however, grin slightly and mutter, "You are such a dork."
Clark ignored her as they stepped off the elevator and walked up the short flight of steps to the rooftop in silence, but when he opened the door, Lois stopped and threw him a wry smile. "I think we're going to have to take a rain check on reliving the moment," she said with a nod towards the rooftop. "It's pouring down out there and this happens to be my best dress."
He didn't seem in the least bit fazed by the rain. Instead, he held out a hand to her. "Dance with me," he said.
She crossed her arms over her chest and shook her head. "No way. Romance is one thing, Smallville, but it's practically monsoon season out there! I'm all for kiss-dancing with you," she corrected hastily, hoping her blush wasn't visible in the dim light. "But I don't see why we have to get pneumonia to do it!"
Clark laughed and took her hand. "You're exaggerating. It's barely sprinkling out here!" She glowered at him, since his statement was just as much of an exaggeration as hers was. "Come on; dance with me," he prompted again, heedless of the scowl on her face.
"And why is this so important to you again?" she groused, though she didn't pull her hand away.
He threw her another heart-stopping smile. "Because for the last hour, I've wanted to have another dance with the woman I love on the Planet's roof, and I'm not going to let a little rain get in my way."
Her heart soared at his words – "the woman I love" – and so she didn't protest as he led her out onto the roof. "We don't have any music," she pointed out, but she threw her head back and laughed joyfully as he spun her around.
Clark grinned as he shifted his hold to wrap his arms around her. "We don't need any," he replied, his voice a rumble in her ear, his hand warm on her back as he pulled her closer. And then, standing on a rooftop in the rain, with the Planet's enormous golden globe spinning slowly up above, he pressed his lips to hers as they swayed to a song that only they could hear.
Lois didn't even notice that the two of them were soaked to the skin. She didn't really feel the droplets of warm summer rain that fell against her cheeks, washing away any trace of the tears she had previously shed. All she was conscious of was the softness of Clark's breath against her face, the taste of his lips, the softness and the strength of his touch.
Dimly, she registered that they were still swaying together as she moaned softly and opened her mouth under his. She felt the wet strands of his hair between her fingers, the wet cotton of the shirt she had clutched in her hands. But none of that compared to the pounding of her heart or the raggedness of his breath or the curious weightless feeling that came when he kissed her again and again.
"Clark," she moaned as he lifted her high against his body, and her arms wrapped around his neck. "Stay with me tonight," she whispered into his ear.
His entire body went still and then he pulled away so that he could look her in the eye. "Are you sure? There's a lot you still don't know about me, and it might change…things."
Tilting her head to the side, she considered him closely. "Do you honestly think it will change the way I feel about you?" she challenged.
"It might," he said softly, his eyes downcast. At her gasp of outrage, he rushed to explain, "No, listen. My best friend from junior high, Pete, when he found out about me…it was too much for him. He had to leave; he couldn't handle the pressure of knowing and not being able to tell anyone. He was afraid he'd let something slip, even if he didn't want to. Lana, when she found out about me, thought she had to change who she was to be with me. When Chloe found out, she looked at me differently. I was no longer just this guy she went to high school with, who sometimes did really stupid things and made mistakes. It was like I was on a pedestal, and since she found out my secret, it's like she sees who she wants me to be, not always who I am. She wants me to be a certain kind of hero, and I know there are times I let her down. But sometimes, I wish that we could go back to the days when we were just friends, and we got to hang out together and just have fun. It seems like years when we've been able to do things together as just friends, without the fate of the world hanging in the balance.
"Knowing my secret has always changed the way people look at me. Always. It's why I've hidden my identity as the Blur from you. It's not that I don't trust you to know it; I know you can handle my secret. But I like the way things are between us, and I didn't want that to change. Knowing my secret always changes things."
Lois brushed back the single curl that had fallen across his forehead. "It didn't change the way your parents looked at you, did it?"
"No, but that's different," he countered. At her raised eyebrows, he explained, "They loved me, and it didn't matter to them where I came from or what I can do. They'd wanted a child for so long, they were just happy to find me. They took me in and they loved me, and I never felt like it mattered to them one way or another that I'm different. But they were my parents!"
Framing his face between her hands, Lois looked him straight in the eye and willed him to believe her words. "Okay, listen up, Smallville. I'd say I was only going to tell you this once, but it's important so I'll tell you as many times as it takes for you to believe that what I say is true. That said, I hate repeating myself, so it would make everything easier if you'd listen really closely this time.
"I love you. It doesn't matter where you came from or what you can do, because all I care about is the person that you are. And that person is incredible, with or without your powers. I once said, when I thought I was in love with Ollie, that he could tell me he was from a different planet and I would find a way to pass it off as an endearing quirk. Well, I didn't have the first clue what I was talking about, because I didn't know – really know – what it felt like to love someone until I fell in love with you. So I don't care if you're from Topeka or Jupiter. Hell, your parents could have grown you in a lab for all I care! The important thing to me is that you're here. You're here, and I've found you, and you have no idea how long I've been looking for someone to love the way I love you.
"And before you freak out and start assuming that things will change between us, just because I know you're not like every other guy I've ever met, then let me tell you this: It's because you're not like every other guy that I've ever met that I love you. I've never met a guy who was more compassionate or kind, more eager to save the world. There's nothing you wouldn't do to help people you've never even met before, and I've never known anyone like you."
Tilting her head forward, she kissed him and then she murmured, "I know it must be hard for you to have faith that my knowing your secret won't change things. I just want you to know that I'm sure that it won't always be easy to keep your secret, but having you in my life is worth it. I can't ask you to change, to try to be better or more perfect than you are, because heaven knows I'm far from perfect and I'm not about to change either! I just need you to be who you are and know who that is, and I need you to accept that you're not perfect and I don't ask you to be. I've kinda grown attached to you just as you are now – brave, heroic, funny, smart, strong, compassionate…occasionally irritatingly blind, oblivious, and so stubborn that I want to strangle you! Plus, I've never known a man who was better at hiding what he's thinking or feeling! And I think sometimes that it would just kill you to admit that I'm more often right than I am wrong so you should listen to me more often than you do. Oh, and did I forget to mention that you've decided to have the most romantic moment of my life take place in the rain, so the jury's still out on your sanity…"
Clark grimaced, though the quirking of his lips belied his pained expression. "Is there a point in our near future?"
With an exaggerated roll of her eyes, Lois replied good-naturedly, "Yes, of course there is. The point is that your abilities are a part of you, as much as everything else that I just listed. And I love you for the things that make you the Blur just as much as I love you for the things that make you Clark Kent. So when I say that I want you to stay with me tonight, please believe me when I say that yes. I am absolutely sure it's what I mean." To make him laugh, she added, "Besides, you should know better than anyone that I'm pretty stubborn, once I've made up my mind about something. I've decided that I love you, and I know I heard you say me, so just try to get rid of me now!"
As she'd hoped he would, Clark laughed. "Well, I guess it's too late for me." Leaning in towards her again, he murmured, "Now, where did we leave off, exactly?"
"One second," Lois cut in, raising her finger to his lips as she looked over his shoulder with a frown. "Not to radically change gears on you or anything, but I do have one small question before we continue. How exactly did we make our way to my balcony? Because last I checked, we were still on the roof of the Planet."
Straightening abruptly, Clark looked around with a frown that mirrored Lois's own. After a moment, his frown faded and he threw her a sheepish smile. "Well, about that. I suspect I know the answer, but I'm not sure you're going to believe it."
"Try me," she challenged with a grin.
"Um…well, it's entirely possible that we…uh…flew here," he explained.
Nodding very slowly, Lois pursed her lips thoughtfully and said, "Flew here, huh? And is that something you do often?"
"Um…not really," he answered with a tiny abashed grin. "I'm pretty sure this is the first time. Well, the first time that I've done it as myself. I did it once before when I wasn't myself, really. But that was right after we met, so you probably don't remember. And I've jumped really high a few times, but I don't think that counts."
Lois chuckled. "So that's how you ended up naked in a field in the middle of nowhere? You flew there?"
"Oh, no," he responded readily. "That time I fell. I flew later."
"Okay, well, I think we've established that your life is completely insane," she said good-naturedly with a shake of her head. "And I hope you know that I'm going to want all the details later." Tilting her head back, she felt the drizzle of rain against her cheeks. The storm had let up quite a lot, but there was still a fine mist falling from the sky. Her voice lowering to a husky whisper, she wrapped her arms around Clark's neck again and murmured, "But for now, I believe we were in the middle of something a moment ago…?"
Lois expected Clark to make some sort of witty reply, but instead, he stooped and swept her into his arms without a word. Carrying her across the threshold into her apartment, he set her lightly on her feet right inside the doorway. "Wait right here," he murmured. "You don't want to drip all over the floor, do you?"
"Oh, Clark!" she cried on an exasperated laugh. "Like I care about my floor right now!"
His eyes glinted mischievously and he shook his head. "You may not care now, but trust me, you will later. We have to get you out of those wet clothes."
"Oh," she breathed as she caught on to his intent. "Well, if you insist." With a smirk of satisfaction on her face, she kicked off her shoes and turned her back on him, lifting her palms to press them against the sliding glass doors in front of her. Tilting her head back, she said over her shoulder, "You wouldn't mind helping me out of this dress, would you?"
The rain had plastered her hair against the side of her neck, and her dress caressed every curve of her body like a second skin. Swallowing heavily, Clark breathed, "Ah, right. Of course." Grabbing the mass of her hair, he pushed it gently over her shoulder before letting his fingertips trace a soft path across the soft, damp skin, to capture the tiny hairs that had escaped his hold. When she shivered under his touch, he bent and pressed a light kiss against the side of her neck. "Your hair was in my way," he breathed into her ear, causing her to shudder with desire.
Though the words caught in her throat, she managed to stammer, "W-well, we can't have that, c-can we?"
"Hmm-mm," he hummed in agreement as he reached for the zipper to her dress. With excruciating slowness, he inched the zipper down, staring at every inch of skin the parting cloth revealed as if it were for the first time. When the zipper had reached the bottom, he ran the back of his fingers along the length of her spine, his touch parting the fabric even further.
Her breathing was ragged as she crossed her arms over her chest, reaching for the straps to her dress, but Clark stayed the movement before it could be completed. "Not yet," he chastised her gently. I want to take my time."
With a huff of exasperation, Lois groused, "Oh, come on, Clark. It's not like you haven't seen me naked before."
Their eyes met in the reflection in the glass, and Clark said sternly, "That was different. I couldn't touch you back then. I'm not even sure I'd have known what to do even if you'd said I could."
"Not like you'd have wanted to, anyway," she teased as she dropped her hands.
Clark's snort of disbelief took her by surprise. "Are you kidding me? I was a teenage boy, Lois, and you were an incredibly sexy woman, even then. I recognized that much, even if you did make it your personal mission to drive me absolutely insane. Of course I wanted to. I thought about it, at least."
Feeling that this couldn't pass without comment, she spun around and looked up at him in astonishment, her mouth slightly agape. "But…but you couldn't have! You're so…you've always been so…nice!" 'Nice' wasn't really the word she was going for, but it was a lot less insulting than the word that first came to mind.
From the look on Clark's face, she knew he was well aware of where her thoughts had gone, but he didn't seem to take offense. Instead, he said in a remarkably mild tone, given the circumstances, "Lois, I may have been…somewhat naive, but I'm not a saint and I wasn't dead!"
"So…so you've thought about this before," she said, her tone conveying her mild disbelief.
"Not exactly like this, no," he replied honestly, though he seemed somewhat bemused. "It was…different." Her skepticism must have been written on her face, because he said, "Turn around. I'll show you."
With a slight frown of confusion, Lois did so, wondering what he had in mind. Wrapping his arms around her waist from behind, Clark held her close against his body as their eyes met in the glass. "There is a difference," he said softly, his breath tickling the side of her neck, "in touching somebody and feeling them. Do you understand what I mean?" Keeping her eyes locked on his, Lois gave a slow shake of her head. "Well, then let me explain," he offered, a distinctly devilish glint in his eye.
Placing his hands on her shoulders, he ran his palms down her arms and linked his fingers in hers. "When I touch you," he began, nuzzling the soft skin beneath her ear, "it's all about my gratification." As he spoke, he tightened his hold on her right hand and curled it around her stomach, using it to further anchor their bodies together. "It's about…wanting to know how soft your skin is, or how your hair would feel as it runs through my fingers." Lifting his hand, he swept some errant strands of damp hair back over her left shoulder.
With the back of her neck exposed again, he pressed a light kiss at the nape of her neck. "But when I feel you," he breathed against her skin, "it's about so much more. I want to know what makes your breath catch in your throat." As if to prove his point, he rested his hand against her side and slowly slid it down over her hip, until his fingertips caught the bottom line of her dress and her breath caught. "I want to know what makes you tremble with anticipation." With his left hand still on her thigh, he lifted his right to her shoulder and teased the strap of the dress off her shoulder. Then he trailed his fingertips slowly along the line of her garment to the plunging v of her neckline. When his hand hovered only a few millimeters over her breast, he felt her body tremble slightly against his. Shifting his hand, he wrapped it around her ribcage, his fingers following the curve of her breast. "And, of course," he breathed into her ear once more. "I want to hear the sounds you make. I wonder if you'll moan my name."
Lois bit her lip, determined not to gratify him on this one point. It was a game they were playing, and the competitive side to her nature came through. She would not, she swore to herself – absolutely would not – moan his name aloud.
His reflection didn't seem at all perturbed by the appearance of her stubborn streak. In fact, he looked almost amused, except that even in the glass, Lois could see that his eyes had darkened in desire. He might be teasing her, but she wasn't the only one affected. "Feeling someone is about exploring their body," he said in a gravelly voice as he wrapped his left hand around the inside of her thigh, the hem of her dress catching on his hand as he shifted it slightly upward until she gasped. "Memorizing it." He kissed a path along the curve of her shoulder and then nuzzled her neck so he could growl in her ear, "Touching someone is as different from feeling them as having sex is to making love."
There was something almost hypnotic in his voice, in the words he spoke to her. Lois didn't know when Clark had gotten the ability to entrance her so, but as she let her head fall back against his shoulder, she knew she wasn't about to protest. It was odd, because she'd always found the distinction between having sex and making love to be a rather silly one – the latter being nothing more than the romantic gloss put upon the former in order to pretend like the entire experience was something more than just a biological act, a natural urge to mate. Standing here like this, though, she found herself re-evaluating her prior opinion. As much as Clark had been captivating her with his actions, she'd found herself soaking in his every reaction as he did so. She'd noted what made his face darken with desire, what caused his breath to hitch in his throat, what changed the husky tenor of his voice. These little nuances had never interested her quite so much in the past but, then, it seemed like she'd touched men before but had never felt anyone until this moment.
"Clark," she moaned, her thoughts betraying her as her voice wavered, tinged with both desire and a hint of fear. But his arms were around her, his presence surrounded her. He terrified her and comforted her at the same time.
"Being here with you like this, it reminds me of how I feel whenever I think of flying. Exhilarated but a little scared, too. Do you think this is what it's like?" he asked, his gaze locked on hers in the reflection in the glass. At any other time, she might not have understood, but somehow she knew just what he meant in that moment and she nodded. "It's okay, Lois. I've got you." Her sigh was ragged, and the hand Clark held trembled under his touch. His voice was tender as he asked, "Do you want to stop?"
"N-no," she replied quickly. "I trust you." Though she had never felt so vulnerable or so scared in many ways, neither had she ever felt safer than she did in his arms.
Releasing her hand, Clark curled his fingers under the left shoulder strap of her dress, running his hands along its length before slipping it off her shoulder. The dress remained where it was for a moment, caught on the curves of her breasts. Then it fell to the floor, where it smacked wetly against the hard wood when it landed.
With his eyes locked on hers in the glass, he reached behind her, and Lois held her breath as he unhooked the clasp to her bra. Then he nudged the straps aside until they too slipped down her arms and the bra fell in a heap on the floor. Her name was a soft prayer on Clark's lips as his eyes traveled down the full length of her reflection. Lois tilted her head back and captured his lips as he wrapped his arms around her once more. Her chilled skin was warmed by his touch as he cupped one breast in his hand, and she moaned again when he rubbed the pad of his thumb against its tip.
When Lois arched against his touch, Clark lowered his other hand and slid it between her legs, fondling her through her panties. Though they were still damp from the rain, she knew that her desire would have betrayed her regardless. At first he teased her, running his fingertips lightly across the black lace, causing her breathing to grow even more ragged, her hands to clench uselessly into fists.
"Clark!" she cried aloud as he slipped two fingers beneath the line of her panties to stroke the wetness of her body. She had to do something, and soon, if she didn't want to lose control.
"What about you?" she demanded suddenly as she broke away from him and whirled around in his arms. Resting her palms on his chest, she looked up at him through her lashes and panted, "Do you trust me?"
"Absolutely," he said, his mischievous smile matching her own.
In an impatient movement, Lois pulled off his tie and tossed it aside. "Well, that's good," she breathed. "Because I want to feel you, too." As she stretched up onto her toes to brush a kiss across the curve of his throat, fumbling fingers unbuttoned his shirt.
"I want to know what makes you gasp," she murmured as she splayed her palms against the muscles in his stomach and was gratified when he sucked in a sharp breath at her touch. "I want to know what makes you go weak in the knees." She trailed her fingers down to the buckle on his pants and toyed with it before slowly unfastening it, wondering if Clark realized that he had held his breath as he waited to see what she would do next. "But mostly…" she breathed as she tucked her fingers under the line of his pants, idly fingering the button to his slacks, "I want to know what would make you beg for more." With excruciating slowness, she popped the button of his slacks out of its hole and threw Clark a devilish grin as she lowered his zipper.
He didn't breathe, his gaze locked on hers, as she slipped her hand beneath the folds of his slacks and fondled him through the light boxers he wore. "L-Lois," he groaned, his voice pained. "I can't…"
She let out an exultant laugh as he stepped forward and pulled her into his arms, and her laugh hadn't entirely faded when she found herself lying in the middle of her bed. She was on her back, Clark above her, his weight braced on the arms he had pinned on either side of her head. More interestingly, she noted that he was naked, though she didn't have much time to enjoy the view. "How did you –?" she asked, although she already knew the answer.
"I'm really fast," he answered her anyway as he lowered his weight on top of her and pulled her hard against his body, capturing her lips in a passionate kiss.
"Not at everything, I hope," she moaned, tasting his impatience and matching it with her own. With all the nights that she'd laid awake, thinking of Clark, fantasizing about having him above her the way he was now, she wasn't sure how much more foreplay she could take.
Clark laughed against her mouth as she wrapped her leg high against his hip, giving him room to slide his hand beneath her. "Not when it's important," he agreed, slipping his hand underneath the panties she still wore.
"Thank god," she breathed, eliciting another laugh from him.
And then everything inside her stilled as Clark rose onto his knees and stared down at her. When he reached for her, she lifted her weight onto her heels so that he could slide her panties down her legs and toss them aside. As she settled back onto the bed, he simply stared at her in silence for a long moment. Not moving. Barely breathing.
Finally, he spoke. "My god," he said softly. "You're beautiful."
She had never felt more beautiful than she did at that moment, with him gazing hotly down upon her. But she was also impatient, her body quickened with desire, and she couldn't wait any longer. Grabbing his hand, she pulled him down on top of her, one hand fisting in his hair as she kissed him. She spread her thighs, wrapping her legs around him in a silent invitation.
He needed no further prompting. As she arched against his body, he plunged inside of her in one smooth stroke. She gasped at the sensation, and for one endless moment, he rested fully inside of her, filling her completely. And then he began to move, pulling away from her only to plunge inside her once more. His hands wrapped around her, pulling her hard against him with each stroke, and she lifted her hips with each thrust, their bodies unconsciously falling into the rhythm of the most timeless of dances.
With a groan, Clark brought her hard against his body, holding her so that the two of them remained joined as he raised her into a sitting position. She curved her legs around his hips as he settled her on top of him, and then they began to move together again. She rolled her hips, stroking him with her body as he wrapped his hands around her waist, lifting her weight easily to plunge into her again and again.
Their bodies were slick with sweat; Lois's cries reached for the ceiling as she threw her head back and bucked harder against him. She was close, so close. She was just about to go over the edge when she felt Clark tremble beneath her.
There was something about that slight movement that caused her to snap her head down to look into his face. The muscles in his neck were corded, his features tightened as he neared his own climax, but that wasn't what caught her attention. It was what she saw in his eyes. There was desire there, but there was also fear – a nameless fear that she couldn't understand, let alone assuage.
"Clark?" His name was a question on her lips as she lost the rhythm their bodies had found.
"I don't want…to hurt you," he groaned, thrusting fully into her once more. He held her against him, his lips pulled back in a grimace, and then began to pull away. Somehow, Lois knew he was about to leave her, to pull out of her for the final time, and she tightened her hold around him, staying his movement. "My powers…" he explained weakly, though he didn't break out of her hold.
"It's okay," she murmured, cupping his cheek in her palm. "It's okay, Clark. I've got you." It was, she supposed, a rather ridiculous thing to say. But just as he had comforted her with these words, she comforted him now. "I've got you," she murmured again.
He moaned her name, a soft sound of protest, but he didn't pull away. Brushing a soft kiss against his lips, she said softly, "Trust me. It'll be okay; I know it."
"But my powers…how can you be so sure?" he asked, holding her tight against him.
"Because I love you, and I can't imagine that the way I feel for you could ever be a bad thing," she responded with a smile, remembering the words he'd spoken to her earlier. "I trust you. I trust this. And I know somehow – I know – that it'll be okay. So if you can't trust yourself, then just this once, trust me." With her eyes locked on his, she lifted herself slightly and then sank slowly upon him once more.
"I trust you," he said, and it was like a dam broke inside him as he surged against her, his movements growing faster and more frenetic as he thrust inside her again and again. She matched him stroke for stroke, crying his name aloud as she squeezed her eyes shut and reached for the stars, coming undone in his arms.
Beneath her, she felt his entire body tighten, and he cried her name in a hoarse voice as he poured himself inside of her. His body trembled against hers in the aftermath, and she pulled him down on top of her as she toppled backwards against the pillows.
Still panting from their exertions, Clark rolled to the side, pulling her atop him as he lay on his back. With her head pillowed against his chest, her body tucked against his side, Lois breathed deeply in the silence and then fell into a deep sleep, her body temporarily sated.
Clark awoke a few hours later when he heard the soft sound of footsteps outside of Lois's balcony door. Instantly alert, he slowly pulled his arm out from under her head, murmuring comfortingly into her ear when she moaned in protest. "I'll be right back," he promised her as she rolled over and fell back asleep.
His movements quick but silent, he jumped to his feet and then, at a loss for anything better, he pulled on the boxers and slacks he'd discarded before. When he strode into the living room and turned towards the balcony doors, he was unsurprised at the identity of the person on the other side.
"Rokk," he greeted his companion, keeping his voice low so as not to wake Lois. The rain had stopped but the ground was cool beneath his feet as he pulled open the doors and stepped outside. "If you're here to tell me I've made the wrong choice, you should save your breath. I love Lois, and given a hundred chances to change my mind, I'd still choose to be with her."
Rokk shook his head but the corners of his lips quirked up a bit. "Actually, I came back for my ring." As Clark slipped placed it in his palm, he explained, "I don't want to take the chance that we'll unintentionally change history again."
Clark frowned as he searched his companion's face. "You know," he said slowly, "Lois was under the impression that if I didn't end up with Lana, the world would end."
Rokk lifted his shoulders in an almost imperceptible shrug. "The point wasn't that you choose Lana or the world would end, Clark. The point was that you choose. Now that you have, I think the future will sort itself out."
"So it was all a trick?" Clark concluded angrily. "How could you trick her like that? You had to know what it would do to her, to think that the fate of the world depended upon me being with Lana!"
With a thoughtful look, his companion remarked, "It wasn't a trick; you needed to be faced with a choice before you could understand. I can't tell you the future – well, I could, but I won't. But I don't think you need me to do that, anyway. If you lost Lois, how would you feel?"
Clark opened his mouth to answer, but when he realized what he was about to say, his anger faded. He heard Lois say his name softly, and he turned to see her standing in the doorway to her bedroom. Her hair was mussed from sleep, the sheet was wrapped around her body, and there was a concerned look on her face. He knew he didn't really need to answer Rokk's question, but he did so anyway, "Like…like I was lost. Maybe not like it was the end of the world, but certainly like it was the end of my world."
Rokk gave a self-satisfied nod. Slipping the ring onto his finger, he rose up into the air, hovering over the balcony. As Lois took a nervous step forward, he asked somewhat rhetorically, "She's everything history says she is, isn't she?"
"She's more," Clark said quietly, for he doubted that there could ever be a way to accurately describe the woman before him in mere words.
"Garth's going to be jealous that I got to meet her and he didn't," his companion muttered as he shot off into the sky, but Clark was no longer paying him any attention. Instead, he was walking back towards Lois's side.
"Everything okay?" she asked in concern as she clutched the sheet tighter to her chest. "Out on the balcony, I thought I saw…" she stopped, as if she couldn't bear to utter her worries aloud.
With a reassuring smile, he wrapped her in his arms and held her tight. Stooping, he brushed a kiss across her lips. "Everything's okay," he assured her. "I was just thinking. About the future. About destiny." Lifting her into his arms, he carried her back towards the bedroom.
Though she still sounded a little anxious, she relaxed slightly against his chest as if comforted by his touch and asked, "And what did you decide?"
Without a word, he laid her on the bed and lowered himself on top of her, capturing her lips with a kiss. When he raised his head again, his gaze was hot and he slid a hand down her stomach, teasing her with his touch as he settled himself between her thighs. As he entered her once more, he threw her a mischievous smile, his voice a seductive growl when he said, "I was thinking that sometimes it takes a second chance to get it right."