A/N: I hadn't really been planning on writing a sequel to this so soon, because I have so many other stories that are desperately in need of an update. However, sometimes there are stories that grab onto you and don't let go. This is turning into one of them.

I'm going to have a little fun with this and there are some spoilers incorporated into the story. However, if you don't know the spoilers, you won't know which bits they are, so that works out pretty well! I may incorporate new spoilers as they come out, so we'll see.

Anyway, this is the oft-requested sequel to Dream Lovers. You should definitely read that one before this.

Dreams Echoed

Chapter 1

Lois's stride was quick and efficient as she took a sip of her cup of coffee and walked purposefully down the street toward the Daily Planet. Stifling a yawn behind the rim of her cardboard cup with its plastic top, she jogged across the street, deftly maneuvering around the typical lockjam of irritated and bored drivers caught in traffic on their way to work. Yet another thing to love about her new apartment; she was no longer one of the throng and could therefore sleep in an extra hour or so in the morning.

As she passed a newsstand, she paused and grabbed a morning paper. "Morning, Al," she said brightly as she passed over a dollar and waited for change.

"Morning, Miss Lane!" the seller greeted her, a wide grin splitting his face, causing the lines of his weathered features to grow deeper. "I read your article in the paper last night. Not bad, not bad. You coulda had a punchier lead, though."

She grinned, taking the criticism as she did every morning. Al had been selling papers longer than she'd been alive, and he figured that just about made him an expert on writing for them. "Yeah, but I spelled all the words right this time, didn't I?" she joked with him as he handed her back her quarter.

"You did at that. I bet that was your editor's doing, though, wasn't it?" he shot back with a jovial chuckle. "You owe that poor suffering man a thank-you for all the hard work he does for you. Maybe you should bake him cookies. Maybe you should bake me some while you're at it."

"I bake that man cookies, he'll no longer agree to be my editor," she confessed unabashedly. "And you'd refuse to have any more of these daily talks with me. Trust me, Al, you do not want me anywhere near a stove if you can avoid it. Ask Clark if you don't believe me."

Al shook his head, a bemused expression on his face though he tried his hardest to throw her a mournful look. "I swear, I don't know how that nice Mr. Kent does it."

Though inwardly she winced at the unintentional reminder of her current predicament, Lois didn't let her smile falter. "He's a saint, I guess," she said brightly, dropping her quarter into the tip jar and snatching her coffee off the shelf. "Later, Al!"

"Later, Miss Lane!" the elderly man's farewell was swallowed up by the sounds of the city as she tucked the paper under her arm and continued on down the half a block to the Planet.

She was almost there when she heard the sound of a scuffle nearby. Pausing in her tracks, she turned and looked to her left, peering down a dark alleyway towards the source of the commotion. Two men in ragged clothes had pinned a woman between them – while one man grabbed at her purse, the other made a grab for her neck, as if to snatch away a necklace.

"Tel em o–!" the woman yelled in a language Lois didn't recognize, her cry cutting off as one of the men jerked her forward, causing her to lose her footing. She landed hard on her knees.

The newspaper fell at her feet, the coffee cup got flung aside, as Lois raced down the alleyway. "Hey!" she bellowed, startling the men. As they turned to her, she cried, "Let her go." They didn't move immediately, so she shifted into a fighting stance and threw them both her most menacing glare. "I'm warning you. If you don't leave here now, they'll be taking you away in an ambulance."

"Man, it's not worth it," one of them grumbled and turned, sprinting down the alley. His companion followed suit, and Lois stepped forward to give the stranger a hand.

"Hey," she said with a friendly smile. "You okay?" Before the woman could answer, Lois rolled her eyes and grimaced in self-reproach. "Jeez, stupid question. You probably don't even understand a word I'm saying, so I'm –"

The woman placed her hand in Lois's and rose awkwardly to her feet. "I understand you," she said without the slightest trace of an accent. Her blue eyes were friendly as she smiled at Lois. "Thanks for the help; I really appreciate it. It was stupid of me to get caught like that, but I had something else on my mind and I was distracted."

Lois startled at the flawless English. "Oh!" she cried, a puzzled expression on her face. With a slight shake of her head, she said, "I'm sorry. I didn't think you spoke English. I heard you say something to those guys, and I –" Her companion was looking at her in confusion, so she shook her head again. "Never mind. I must have misheard you. Anyway, you sure you're okay, Miss…?"

"Zatara. Zatanna Zatara," her companion said, and Lois's eyebrows shot upward at the unusual name. Zatanna looked down, as if checking herself for injuries, and then shrugged. "Yeah, I think I'm okay. Just skinned the hell out of my knee, but I'll live."

Tilting her head to the side, Lois looked at the injury in question. It was bleeding, though not too badly. However, given the general dirtiness of the alley they were standing in, it would still be a good idea to get the scrape cleaned out. "I tell you what," she said abruptly, "I work two doors down, at the Planet. I've got some first aid stuff in my desk – I cannot tell you how many times in the span of a week I can injure myself on the job. Why don't you come with me and we'll get that taken care of. I wouldn't want to guess at what you could pick up from this place."

Zatanna paused and then nodded with a grateful smile. "Thanks," she said. "You don't really have to go through all the trouble, but I appreciate it anyway."

"Not at all," Lois said as she slung her purse over her shoulder and turned. As they walked, she looked at her companion out of the corner of her eye. She was slightly shorter than Lois, and looked very dramatic dressed in a white blouse, black pants, and black leather boots. Black curly hair fell just past her shoulders, and her bright blue eyes were fringed with dark lashes. "You know, I could swear you look familiar to me," Lois said speculatively as she gestured Zatanna through the Planet's revolving doors before following her through. Once inside, she continued, "Have we met?"

Zatanna paused. "I don't think we've met, no," she said, with a strange emphasis on the word 'we.' Maybe you've seen a poster for my show." At Lois's curious look, she explained, "I'm a magician. Ever go to any magic acts?"

"Me? No," Lois said on a laugh, hitting the button for the elevator. The doors slid open only a few seconds later. As she walked inside and hit the button for her floor, she scoffed, "Seeing rabbits pulled out of hats isn't exactly my idea of a good time." Belatedly, she realized that she had probably just insulted her companion's profession, so she added quickly, "No offense!"

"None taken," Zatanna said, seeming to take Lois's skepticism in stride. "But, you know, there's a lot more to magic than card and hat tricks."

"Don't I know it," Lois said glumly. "The last time I had a run-in with some magic, I got whammied with a love potion and ended up with a tattoo of a heart on my –" Her voice broke off abruptly as she realized what she'd been about to confess. "Here's our floor!" she blurted instead, her voice overly loud in her attempts to cover up her embarrassment. Zatanna simply looked amused.

The bullpen was bustling as they walked off the elevator and made their way to Lois's desk. Yanking open the bottom drawer, Lois pulled out her first aid kit and grabbed a large band aid and some antiseptic ointment from inside. "This should take care of it for you," she said, passing the items over. "You'll want to wash it out, though, before you use these."

"Thanks. I really appreciate this. Um…where's the bathroom?" Zatanna asked, glancing around. Then she turned and walked towards the direction Lois had indicated. "Great. I'll be right back."

When she returned a few minutes later, Lois was sitting in her chair, looking through a pile of messages and grumbling darkly under her breath. Zatanna's noticed the disparity between the clutter of Lois's desk and the neatness of the one right across from it. Tilting her head, she read the name plate. Clark Kent. Any other time, Zatanna might not have remembered the name, but she recognized the face of the woman who had come to her aid, though the two of them had never met.

So this was the woman who had the life a birthday girl had once envied. Zatanna wondered if Lois would agree that her life was all that easy. Perhaps not, and it had almost certainly not been helped by the hex Zatanna had cast when a girl had made a wish upon a cupcake. She probably owed Lois an apology, but maybe she could do her one better.

"Is everything all right?" she asked as she returned to the desk.

"What?" Lois asked, looking up in surprise. She appeared preoccupied, lost in her thoughts, and it seemed to take a few seconds before she placed the woman before her. "Oh…yeah. No, everything's fine." Her words weren't spoken with conviction.

"Well, I think I owe you one for this morning. Is there anything I can do to help?" Zatanna offered.

"I wish," Lois said with a heavy sigh, the look she cast at the desk across from hers betraying her.

Grabbing an empty chair, Zatanna took a seat. "Guy problems?" she prodded gently.

Hazel eyes turned towards her. "No offense," Lois said, "But I'm really not very good at the whole girl talk thing. I'm better at talking about other people's problems then my own. And, really, you shouldn't feel like you owe me anything just because I –"

Ignoring her protests, Zatanna said, "You know, sometimes it helps to talk over a problem, put it in perspective. Is there anyone you can talk over your problems with?"

The hardened reporter wilted slightly, and she bit her lip thoughtfully as she pondered Zatanna's suggestion. What harm would it do for her to share just a little of what had been bothering her lately? No, she typically wasn't the type to divulge anything she perceived as a personal weakness, but those dreams of hers were starting to drive her insane. And if she was never going to see Zatanna again (and there was no reason to expect she would), what harm would it do?

"It's just…" she began slowly, picking her words carefully. "I've been having these dreams lately. Really graphic dreams, if you want to know the truth. And I don't really know what to do about them. It's every single night, you know? The same dreams, over and over. And I'm starting to get really worried about what they could mean."

"About Clark?" Zatanna suggested, noticing the look Lois threw the desk across from her own.

Lois shrugged and admitted in an attempt at an off-handed manner, "Sometimes." Taking a deep breath, she sat back in her chair and lowered her voice so she wouldn't be overheard by anyone else in the bullpen. "The thing is, I thought he cared about me once. And then I thought he didn't. Now I think he does – I mean, he says he does and I guess I believe him. But he also says that when he blew me off for our date that wasn't a date, it was because he was confused about his ex-girlfriend. Which, incidentally, I totally believe, but if he doesn't know how he feels about her, than how am I supposed to know how he feels about her? You know?"

Clearly Zatanna didn't – or, at least, she was having a hard time following her companion's train of thought. "Yes?" she finally ventured in a slightly hopeful tone, as if she wasn't entirely sure that was the correct answer.

"Exactly," Lois confirmed with a brisk nod of her head. Having begun to confess her problem, she realized it felt good to get it off her chest, so she continued. "So I was already pretty confused about Clark, and now I've started having these…um…these dreams. They're pretty…explicit."

Zatanna's eyebrows arched. "Explicit how?" she asked with a knowing glance that indicated she was pretty sure she already knew.

"Let's just say that Cinemax after Dark has nothing on my overactive imagination," she explained, sounding put-off at the thought. But I'm beginning to think that's the least of my problems."

"It is?" the question came with a good deal of surprise, as if it was amazing that someone could have greater problems than sexually explicit fantasies starring the man who worked across the desk from them.

"I've also been having these…this horrible feeling about the Blur. Like there's something important that I've forgotten. Something I need to say or to do…I've tried to figure out what it could be, but it's been weeks now and I don't have a clue where this feeling is coming from! It just keeps getting worse and worse…" Lois paused, remembering the letter he'd asked her to print in the paper, before she went away. Like he hadn't expected to ever come back. Leaning forward, she spoke her greatest fear aloud, each word slow and deliberate. "But I can't help but feel like if I don't figure it out – and soon – something terrible is going to happen. Something worse than anyone can even imagine. That's insane, right? So why can't I shake this horrible feeling?"

Silence fell between them as Zatanna threw her a sympathetic look. "I don't know," she finally said. "Have you tried talking to him about it?"

Lois shook her head. "No," she admitted. "The thing is, I went away for a while, apparently. I don't really remember any of it, but I lost three weeks of my life. But when I got back…he was different. I mean, he still calls me like he used to – and the way he talks to me, I know it's not that he's trying to avoid me or anything. But he's…different. Talking to him, he's not the same as he used to be. He sounds so…like he lost hope, or faith in other people, or something like that. Like part of him has given up. And it breaks my heart.

"You know what I think? I think he doesn't realize how much he means to m – to the world," she corrected herself hastily. "I wish there was some way he could know, because I think if he really knew what we think of him – how much we need him and how grateful that we are that he's there – I think…I don't know, I think maybe it would help."

Lois finished with a sigh and sat back in her chair. As she shifted positions, she could swear it looked like Zatanna's eyes sparkled under the harsh fluorescent lights. In a moment, though, her eyes were back to normal and the look on her face gave no indication that anything strange had occurred. Rising slowly to her feet, she grabbed her purse. "You never know, Lois. Maybe you'll get your wish somehow."

With a flick of her wrist, Zatanna presented a card to the woman still seated behind her desk. "Anyway, I have to go; I'm running late. But I owe you for this morning. If you ever need anything, give me a call."

Taking the card, Lois looked up at her companion with an arch expression. "I thought magic wasn't about card tricks," she said with a smile.

"Well…not all of it is," Zatanna admitted and winked as she turned to go.

Leaning back in her chair, Lois gazed speculatively at the brightly colored card in her hand. "Weird girl," she finally muttered to herself, slipping the card into her desk drawer with a sigh. She'd wasted enough time this morning; it was time to get to work.

Clark whistled softly under his breath as he pulled his truck into his parking space and jumped out. Generally, he didn't have to deal with the problem of parking – he just ran to work at super speed. However, he didn't want Lois to get too suspicious about how he made the commute from Smallville to Metropolis without the use of a car, and so he tried to drive in every once and a while just to forestall any suspicions on her part.

His stride was easy-going as he strolled towards the Planet, stopping briefly to buy a Danish and a cup of coffee on the way. As he passed by Al's news stand, he stopped and picked up a paper, throwing the newspaper vendor a smile as he handed over the money to pay for his purchases.

He was just about to wish Al a good morning when he heard a woman's voice behind him. //Hello, gorgeous. Now that ass was worth getting out of bed this morning!//

"Excuse me?" he blurted, whirling around in surprise. Normally, he'd let a comment like that go, but it had startled him and he'd reacted without thinking.

The woman behind him raised her eyes to his face and looked puzzled. "What?"

Throwing her a suspicious look, he asked cautiously, "What did you just say?"

"I didn't say anything," she answered with a slight confused frown.

"Oh. Sorry. Never mind, then," he said, feeling sheepish as he turned around and grabbed his paper. Apparently, he'd been mistaken.

//Damn. And he's just as fine from the front as he is from the back. What were you thinking, letting him walk away? You should have asked for his number! Too late now, I guess…but watching him walk away provides a hell of a view.//

Throwing a startled look behind him, Clark sped up, feeling suddenly self-conscious about the fit of his black trousers.

He was still mulling over the unusual incident as he walked into the Daily Planet's bullpen, but he saw Lois seated at her desk, looking through some papers, and he smiled. "Morning, Lois," he said as he walked up to his desk, and though he tried to keep his tone strong and even, there was a betraying softness in his voice.

"Hey," she said in greeting, not bothering to look up as she looked around at the floor surrounding her desk. "Damn it! Where'd I leave that paper?" A second later, she winced. "Oh. Right."

With a grimace, she glanced up, saw the paper in his hand, and jumped to her feet. "Thanks, Smallville!" she said brightly as she snatched it from him.

"No problem, Lois," he said dryly on a sigh. "Guess I should be grateful you left me the Danish. This time."

She snorted and took her seat again. "I would'nt have, but you know I don't like their cheese. The strawberry ones are better."

Taking his seat, he put his Danish aside, suddenly not terribly interested in it. "I'll bear that in mind the next time I want to have my breakfast stolen."

To his disappointment, she didn't respond. Instead, she just flipped open the paper and started rifling through it while he turned his attention to checking his e-mail. //No new stories on the Blur. Damn it! Though I guess I shouldn't complain because if there were going to be any, I'm going to be the one writing them.//

"Lois, you don't own the rights to reporting news of the Blur," he said with a tinge of amusement in his voice as he glanced around his computer screen at her. "Other people can write on him too."

"I know!" she cried defensively. "I was just…curious to know if there was anything new out on him." He chuckled and turned his attention back to his computer screen just in time to hear her say, //Like, you know, his name, age, phone number, and any indication of whether he's single.//

Clark's hands froze over the computer keyboard and he sucked in a sharp breath. He'd suspected Lois had a crush on the Blur for a while now, but given the moment they'd shared not too long before in her apartment – not to mention the incredibly graphic fantasies he'd been entertaining with her as the featuring participant – he was surprised she'd talk with him about it like this. "Lois, I'm pretty sure if anyone figured out who the Blur was, you'd be the first to know."

She sounded slightly surprised as she replied, "I know. Of course I would! I'd be the one doing the figuring out!" Her surprise changed to irritation as she continued, "Now, are we going to spend the morning talking about the Blur, or are we going to work on my story?"

"Our story," he corrected her mechanically as he deleted a spam e-mail advertising the latest breakthrough in the battle for thick, lustrous hair.

"My story," she replied equally as quickly, and he heard her rise to her feet. //He's wearing the dark red shirt today. God, he looks good in that color.//

"You really think so?" he asked in surprise, his gaze shooting up to her face, his e-mail correspondence completely forgotten in that moment.

Arching her eyebrows at him, she perched on the edge of his desk and looked down at him. "That it's my story? Absolutely!"

He shook his head slowly. "No. The – the other thing."

"Other thing?" she prompted, the look of confusion on her face a little too good to be faked.

If he didn't know for a fact that there was nothing wrong with his hearing, Clark would be tempted to race off to get it checked. "About…my shirt?"

"What about your shirt?" she asked, sounding vaguely bored as she picked up his Danish and took a bite.

//Lane and Kent are at it again. Man, I wouldn't mind being stuck on an overnight stakeout with her. I wonder if Kent's ever had the guts to try to make a pass at her. Probably not. Though I would be all over that if I had a chance!//

"Hey!" Clark blurted angrily, jumping to his feet and glaring around as he tried to identify the perpetrator of the offensive comment. Though a number of people looked startled, he couldn't figure out who had spoken.

"You okay, Clark?" Lois asked in concern as she dusted off her hands and cocked her head to the side, throwing him a considering look. "You look…" //Amazing.// "Weird."

There it was again. He had distinctly heard her say 'amazing' but he'd been watching her lips as she spoke this time, and he'd seen that she hadn't actually said the word. Was his imagination playing tricks on him? He'd already been having fairly graphic fantasies involving Lois; was his love struck brain now veering into the realm of auditory hallucinations now, as well?

As he lowered himself slowly back into his chair, his eyes darted around desperately in search of an explanation for the rather alarming turn of events. There had to be some explanation for what he was hearing. Could his nights of sleep deprivation finally be catching up with him?

"No, seriously, Clark, are you feeling okay? You really don't look well," Lois continued, the concern in her voice growing sharper.

"I-I'm fine," he said feebly as she leaned forward and pressed her palm against his forehead.

"Hm. Well, you're a little warm, but I don't know if that's unusual. You always feel a little warm to me," she muttered as if to herself. "It's a little warm down here, I guess. Maybe you just need to cool off a bit." She reached for him again, giving a quick tug to his tie to loosen the knot. "I can get you some wat–"

Saying her name, he reached up and grabbed hold of her hand, his eyes locking onto hers.

"Lois." With a coy smile, she scooted over on the desk, the friction causing her skirt to inch up, exposing a tantalizing glimpse of bare thigh.

"I thought you needed help with a story," she said playfully as she deliberately moved again, causing the skirt to inch up even further. "Change your mind?"

"Not at all," he breathed, wrapping his hand around her thigh just below the line of her skirt. With a gentle tug, he pulled her closer to the edge of the desk and fingered at the strip of black cloth above his hand. "I'm looking for…inspiration."

Lois lifted first one foot and then the other, placing them deliberately on the seat of Clark's chair on either side of his body, pinning him between her legs. "Oh?" she taunted him with a mischievous grin. "And what kind of…inspiration…did you have in mind?"

He braced her thighs in his hands and slowly ran his fingers up the length of her leg to her hip, hiking up the bottom of the skirt as he traced his path upwards. "I'll let you know when I find it," he taunted her in turn. His breathing was rabid, his heart racing as his exploration unveiled inch by inch of her body. As he hooked his fingers under the strap of her panties, she lifted her hips off the desk so that he could slide them slowly down her legs.

She was bending towards him, and he leaned in for a kiss, but she pulled inches away from him before he could make contact. He leaned towards her further still, and she pulled away again, her eyes teasing him as she licked her lips in an invitation that was impossible to ignore. "Ah, ah!" she chided him. "You should know better than that, Smallville. Here at the Planet, if you want something…you'll have to work for it."

"I'll bear that in mind," he said, jumping to his feet. Her legs dropped at the sudden movement, and her panties fell unheeded to the floor. It was his turn to have the upper hand, and he braced his hands on either side of her body as he leaned towards her until he could feel the soft caress of her breath against his face. "But you know, I'm still pretty new at this. I may need someone to…teach me how it's done." With one hand, he lifted her hair off her neck as he deftly unbuttoned her shirt with the other.

"I guess I might be willing to walk you through it," she replied, undoing the knot of his tie a vicious yank. As the folds of her blouse parted underneath his hand, she pulled off the silky swath of tie and gripped it between her fists. Then she threw it behind his neck again, using it to pull him towards her until their lips met.

His lips devoured hers as she slipped her tongue into his mouth, her breath coming in short gasps. With one arm, he swiped the top of his desk clear as he leaned her back onto the flat panel of wood.

"Whaddya know?" she murmured against his mouth as she released her hold on his tie so that it fell to the ground next to her panties. "You're a fast learner."

"I aim to please," he growled, bowing his head and licking the cleft between her breasts as his fingers cupped her, tracing a pattern along the lacy edge of her black bra.

With a gasp, Lois arched against him, her neck curving as her head fell back. "Oh, I hope so," she moaned, and then her moan became a sigh of pleasure when he turned his head to suck her nipple into his mouth, dampening the fabric of her bra with his tongue. "Is that a promise, Smallville?"

"Earth to Clark! Hello Clark!" Lois said loudly, waving her hand in front of his face.

"It's a promise!" he blurted, his eyes shooting to her face. His fantasy from the night before faded, leaving him flushed and embarrassed – and giving him no other alternative than to lunge for a pad of paper on his desk. Using it to quickly shield his lap, he hoped Lois's observant eyes hadn't noticed the biological reaction he was trying rather desperately to hide. "I mean…uh…what?"

She was looking at him like she had serious doubts about his mental health. "You okay, there, Smallville? I coulda sworn I lost you there for a minute. What were you thinking about?"

He fervently hoped he wasn't blushing when he lied badly, "Oh, I was…nothing. Just…um…I was thinking about something I have to take care of. Later. By myself." When he realized the possible double meaning of the excuse he had given, he could feel the blood rush to his face and he grimaced, thankful that Lois, at least, could have no idea of the unintended double meaning of his words.

"Right. Okay. Well. That's…weird. But pretty much par for the course when it comes to you," she said with a shrug. But her eyes were still locked intently on his face as silence fell between them. //The way you were looking at me a minute ago…I could almost swear…//

There it was again! He was once more hearing something he knew she hadn't said. At this point, he figured that either he was having some sort of psychotic break or there was something strange going on. Before he could piece what exactly that might be together, he heard it again.

//Could that look he gave me really meant what I thought it meant? Damn it, Lane, are you going to do something about it or aren't you? Stop being so chickenshit and just do it!//

"Come with me," she said abruptly, grabbing his hand. When she pulled him to his feet, he fumbled with the notebook in his hand and would have dropped it if it hadn't been for his abilities. "You can leave that here."

He didn't dare, since his 'problem' had by no means entirely abated just yet. "Uh…actually, I'd like to keep it," he said with as much confidence as he could muster, though even to his ears it didn't sound like much. "I need to go over a few notes…" She merely shrugged at his lame excuse and whirled, dragging him away from his desk. "Uh…Lois? Where are we going?"

"I need to talk to you," she said in explanation. "Privately. Away from a bunch of reporters."

Since he'd already come to grips with the simple reality that he would allow this woman to drag him anywhere in the world she wanted to go, as long as it meant he would be by her side, he didn't protest as she headed towards and empty office that had not long before belonged to the city editor who had since transferred jobs. Propelling him inside, she shut the door behind the two of them and then looked up at him with a grave expression on her face. She didn't say a word.

When the silence stretched to uncomfortable lengths, Clark cleared his throat and asked, "Um, Lois? What did you want to talk about?"

She didn't answer him right away, but still he heard her speak. //God, he's looking at you like you're from Mars or something. Don't just stand there; say something! … But what if you blow it? What if he's really not over Lana? He said it was hard for him to move on after they broke up. How can you be sure he knows what he wants? How can you be sure it's you? How can you be sure that HE can be sure it's you? Oh, shut up, Lois. You're only making it worse.//

That was when he realized. He wasn't imagining things, and he wasn't hearing voices. He was hearing thoughts. Her thoughts, to be more precise. And apparently other people's thoughts, too, if the incident in the bullpen and at the newsstand were any indication. Was that a new power he had? The ability to hear thoughts?

His stomach sank at the very idea. The discovery of each of his powers had been – in their own way – incredible. He still remembered the thrill and the fear he'd felt when he'd first developed his heat vision. But this…this was totally different. He supposed it could be thrilling. Even helpful, as it might allow him to determine a crime was going to be committed even before it got underway.

But it was also terrible. Lois was such a guarded person. So private. Hard to get close to, reluctant to give her trust freely. It had taken him years, but he'd finally gotten close to her. Finally convinced her to let him in. But this. Hearing her thoughts. It felt like a violation, this ability to take something from her that she wasn't willing to freely give. She was a woman who lived her day-to-day life barricaded behind impenetrable emotional defenses, and without the slightest effort, he could knock those walls down and reveal sides of herself that she kept hidden, even from him.

He wanted to know Lois, to know those private things she thought to herself in the night, in the dark, when she thought she was alone. But he wanted to know those things because she had decided she wanted to share them with him, not because his abilities allowed him to eavesdrop on thoughts that weren't his to hear.

His revelation was so huge, so incredible for even him to believe, that he didn't react at first. He simply stared at her in shock that grew to a dawning horror as he realized that he had to get away from her as quickly as possible. And then he would have to stay away from her for however long it took for him to get his newest ability under his control.

But Lois, who did not have the ability to read his thoughts as he could read hers, spoke before he could think of an adequate excuse and duck out of the room. //Moment of truth, Lois.//

"Clark," she croaked. Clearing her throat, she tried again. "Clark, um, I've been doing some – some thinking. About that coffee date. And I think that…I'm ready. I mean, I want to have it. With you. A date. If you're still interested, that is."

He groaned inwardly as he heard her confession. They were the words he had wanted to hear for what felt like an eternity, and yet she couldn't have picked a worse moment to share them. He couldn't go out with her, not until he got this new ability of his under control. But he knew her; he knew that if he turned her down now, she would erect steel bars in that emotional wall of hers, and she would never let him through.

He opened his mouth, so tempted to say yes. Desperate to say yes. But then he heard her thoughts again.

//Oh, god. He hasn't said anything yet. That can't be a good sign. No, look at the way he's looking at you. Lois, you idiot! Why did you have to do this? … Why isn't he saying something? Is it me? Is there something wrong with me?//

She was intensely private when it came to her innermost feelings, but her own mind was betraying her just by her thinking them. He couldn't accept her offer now. To hear the innermost thoughts that she had not agreed – and would not wish – for him to hear would be the worst kind of violation. He simply couldn't do that to her.

"I can't," he said heavily. Then, before she could start breaking out the steel and reinforcing her wall, he added hastily, "I mean, I can't yet. I have…something I have to take care of first. I'm sorry."

Her smile was a fraction too wide, a shade too bright, to be genuine. "Oh, yeah. Sure! No problem, Clark! I was just…I mean, it was just a thought. We'll get coffee some other time. In fact, why do we really need to go get coffee anyway? We can get it free here, even if it's not the best." She started nodding her head up and down, so eager to convince him that she was unfazed by his rejection that she almost looked like a bobble-head doll.

"Anyway, I'd better get back to work now. Those stories don't write themselves!" she said, brushing past him to get to the door.

"Lois," he said, throwing an arm in front of her to stop her in her tracks. "Wait, please. You don't understand."

Squaring her shoulders, she dragged her gaze up to his face to meet his eyes, and his heart ached to see the shadow of tears she was trying hard not to shed. "I understand, Clark. It's okay." Her voice dropped a half an octave and wavered from the force of her feelings as she repeated. "I understand." //You don't want me.// The bald statement of what she perceived to be fact, so straight-forward and unequivocal, broke his heart in two.

"No, it's not that at all," he said as forcefully as he could. "It's just that…I have to go. There's something I have to take care of. I can't explain it to you, and I'm sorry, but…it's for the best, really. Look, can we talk about this when I – later? Can I call you later?"

Her smile grew brittle from the effort of holding it in place for so long. "Yeah, sure, Clark! Go take care of…whatever it is you've gotta race away to take care of. Don't worry about me; I'll be fine." Stepping back, she flung her arm towards the door in a magnanimous gesture, inviting him to leave.

"I'm sorry," he said one last time, knowing his words weren't nearly enough. Turning, he yanked open the door with such force that he almost tore it off his hinges and stalked out of the office, filled with self-loathing at what he'd had to do.

Behind him, he could hear her ragged sigh, and though he tried not to listen in on them, he could hear her thoughts as well. //There he goes. The King of Mixed Signals strikes again. And once more, you're bouncing off that emotional force field of his. When are you going to learn, Lois, that he is never going to let you in? He says he cares about you, that he's scared to lose you. But then he just keeps pushing you away, doesn't he? I guess he's realized that losing you doesn't really matter all that much to him, after all.//

Though he knew he should leave, put as much distance between himself and Lois as possible until he could find a way to keep from hearing her innermost private thoughts, he couldn't just walk away, leave her with those thoughts. Leave her believing that he really didn't care about her.

Very slowly, he turned to look at her over his shoulder. She was still standing inside the empty office, the door cracked just far enough for him to see. She'd lifted her hands to her face, hiding her features behind the palms pressed tightly to her eyes, but he could see that her shoulders were slumped in defeat, her breathing uneven as she tried to get a hold of herself so that she could hide her feelings from the world. //He doesn't want you, Lois. When are you going to stop doing this to yourself time and time again and learn that simple fact? He doesn't want you.//

Spinning around, Clark stalked back towards the office, his mind made up. He still had to leave, he had to keep his distance from her for just a little while. But he couldn't do it until he was certain that she believed him. He caught her in the doorway as she turned to walk back to her desk, and she looked up at him in surprise as he herded her back into the office, kicking the door shut behind him. Spinning her around, he pinned her against the wall, his palms pressed against the wall on either side of her body.

"Clark, what –?" she began, but he didn't let her finish the thought.

Grabbing her by the arms, he stared steadily into his eyes, willing her to believe him. "Lois, please believe me. If I had a choice, I would stay here with you right now. I want to go on that date with you more than I can say, more than I've wanted anything in a long time. You have no idea how hard this is for me. You're the only thing I think about lately. The only thing I dream about at night is…kissing you." His gaze fell to her lips, and he heard her suck in a sharp breath. His voice dropped to a husky timbre as he continued, "There is nothing – nothing – I want more than to say yes, but there is something I have to take care of first. I have to. Do you believe me?"

"Well, I – yes, I mean, of course I believe you, Clark!" she stammered, and the tip of her tongue flicked out and wetted her lower lip. "I already told you I understood."

He watched the pulse beat under her skin, the muscles of her neck tense as she swallowed nervously. "You said that, but you didn't really –"

He should walk away from her now, before he intruded on any more of her private thoughts. But having her right there in front of him – with that look in her eyes that he had dreamed of seeing for so long – he found he couldn't leave her so easily.

He breathed a word of defeat, and then, before he could think better of it, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her tightly against him. For a second, he savored the feel of her body flush against his, a thousand times better than any fantasy, but it wasn't nearly enough. Bending his head, he kissed her, his lips hard and demanding against hers.

She gasped, and he swallowed the sound even as he took advantage of her surprise. He flicked the tip of his tongue against her lower lip and then, as her mouth parted under his, he swept his tongue between her teeth, deepening the kiss.

A groan rumbled in his chest as his arms flexed, holding her tight against him. He was hard and throbbing again, and he was certain she could feel the evidence of his arousal against her hip as he pressed against her. She moaned, a soft sound of pleasure that he could feel dance along his nerve endings, causing a shiver to shoot down his spine.

As the kiss deepened, his lips softened against hers. His mouth no longer captured hers in silent demand; instead, he used his lips to tease her. To coax a response out of her. His teeth scraped against her lower lip and he chuckled softly at the tiny sound she made.

Against his better judgment, he dropped his hands to her sides, bracing her hips between his palms. He should stop touching her, back away. He was pretty sure he'd made his point, allayed her greatest fears. But now that he had her in his arms, he was finding it almost impossible to let her go.

He could feel her hand fist in his hair as she wrapped her arm around his neck, pinning him to her as if he'd had even the slightest hope of breaking free from her spell anyway. Throwing his head back, he sucked in a deep breath as he slid his hands down to her thighs, lifting her weight easily.

Her legs wrapped around his waist as if they were made to hold him, and he stepped forward to pin her back against the wall. With a low, tortured groan, he thrust his hips forward, pressing the hardness of his erection against her. Lois rolled her hips, teasing him further, and he swallowed a curse.

"I want you, Lois," he growled, thrusting against her again and relishing her soft gasp as he pressed against her core. "Don't ever doubt how much I want you."

"Then stay with me," she demanded, her nails digging into the skin of his back through the thin fabric of his shirt. //Don't stop. Whatever you do, don't stop.//

Clark bent his head and licked the soft skin at the side of her neck. The silky strands of her hair tickled his nose as he nuzzled her earlobe, causing her to shiver. He lifted his hand to cup her cheek, and his thumb brushed against her lower lip. Lois nipped at the pad of his thumb and then parted her lips, sucking it into her mouth.

"I've thought about this, you know," he breathed into her ear, and she trembled in his arms. "Kissing you. I've dreamt of holding you like this. Touching you."

She arched against his hand when he cupped her breast, lifting its weight in his palm, and purred in the back of her throat. //Oh, god, this is just like my dream. I thought I would never get to hold him like this.//

Clark paused as he heard her thoughts and tilted his chin down, breathing heavily. She had dreamt about him? She had dreamt of this? While he was gratified to know he hadn't been alone in fantasizing about what the two of them together, he felt guilty that he'd found out this way. He'd done what he didn't want to do and discovered something with his new ability that Lois hadn't chosen to tell him herself.

Feeling like he was cheapening the moment by "cheating" so to speak with his abilities, Clark kissed Lois one more time and gently set her back on her feet. He desperately wanted to stay with her, perhaps take her somewhere more private and continue what they started. But he knew that if he continued to take advantage of the situation, he wouldn't be the man she deserved. "I wish I could stay here, Lois, but there's something I have to do. Just…you have to trust me when I say that I wouldn't be leaving right now if I didn't have to."

//He's leaving? Right NOW? Why does this always happen just when I think I know where I stand with him? I swear, I will never understand Clark.// Breathing deeply, Lois sighed and stared searchingly at his face. Finally, she said slowly, "Okay, Clark. I won't lie and say I really understand, but I'll trust you. If whatever's going on with you right now is that important, then you should go do it. I'll cover for you here."

With his heart in the pit of his stomach, Clark turned and headed out the door. He'd finally had Lois in his arms – it was even better than it was in his most erotic fantasies. Having to leave her…he had to get control over his newest power immediately, because if he ever had to walk away from her like that again, he was pretty sure that it would kill him.