A/N: I asked what people wanted after "Pandora" and was told "hospital scene," "roses," and "coffee date." And somehow I came up with something involving all three.

The Deeper Meaning of Roses

Clark sighed as he paced back and forth in front of the display of flowers. Lois was upstairs, being seen by the doctor. Clark wanted to get back to her before the doctor was done. The last time he'd left Lois unattended, she'd been abducted from the hospital and had almost died. He wasn't going to take the chance again, but he thought he'd take the opportunity to get Lois a "get well" gift while she was being seen by the doctor. Clark wasn't allowed to be in the room, anyway.

The problem was, he didn't know what he should get her. He'd looked at the items in the hospital gift shop, but he was pretty sure if he got Lois a stuffed bear holding a heart that read "I love you beary much," she'd throw it at him. He wanted to get her something perfect, but he had no idea what that would be.

In the end, he'd decided that he should get her flowers. He didn't want it to look like he was trying too hard. But what kind of flowers should he get?

Of course, his first thought was to get her lilies. She'd told him once that they were her favorite. However, he discarded the idea. He would get her lilies someday, but for the moment…well, lilies just didn't seem right. He couldn't explain why.

He frowned and tried to figure out why it didn't feel right to get her lilies at this moment, but after a moment, he shook his head and let it go. It didn't matter why he knew this wasn't the right time to get her lilies. He just knew it wasn't.

So he turned his attention back to the other flowers. Most of them, he couldn't even name. He recognized the roses, but roses were just so…common. Weren't they?

"Excuse me," he said, turning to the elderly woman behind the counter.

She smiled indulgently when she saw his sheepish expression. "Yes, dear?" she prompted.

Clark cleared his throat. "I'm looking for something to get…a-a friend. Well, kind of a girlfriend. Not exactly, though. I mean, I guess we are." He paused. "But not really. It's complicated. I mean, I want her to be, but she's – I-I don't know. It's complicated," he repeated sheepishly.

The clerk looked amused. "I can tell," he murmured, rising slowly to her feet. "Well, roses are always a favorite."

He grimaced. "Yeah, that's what I'm worried about. I don't want to get her something too…common, you know? I mean, she's just so…" His frown faded from his face and his eyes lit up as he thought about Lois. "She's special."

The clerk chuckled, recognizing the signs and symptoms of young love. She remembered that feeling. Had she really been young once? "Well, it is true that roses are traditional, but that doesn't mean they're common. After all, they're so popular for a reason. The different colors of roses have different meanings."

Despite himself, Clark was intrigued. "Yeah?" he asked.

Skirting the counter, she walked up to the rose display and started to gesture to different colored roses. "Well," she said thoughtfully, pointing to some white roses. "White roses, for example, have several meanings. Purity. Reverence. Humility."

He pursed his lips thoughtfully. "What about the other colors?" he asked.

A short time later, Clark walked into Lois's hospital room and paused in the doorway, just looking at the woman lying in the bed. Very slowly, she turned her head to look at him, and he remembered the last time he'd seen her like this. He'd been so scared then, but that had been nothing compared to how he felt, seeing her like this now.

Lois was so many things. Strong and brave. Fearless. Relentless. And in a hospital bed, she looked fragile, and his heart twisted in his heart even as his breath caught in his throat. Of course, he'd never tell her as much; she wouldn't take it well. She hated any display of vulnerability; she would loathe being seen as weak. And, to be fair, "weak" was not a word that Clark ever associated with her.

She didn't want to be seen as fragile, in need of protection. And he didn't want to see her that way, but still…every time he saw her like this, he ached to protect her. To never see her in such a state again.

"Hey, Smallville," she said, shifting her position against the pillows. "Why the long face?"

He arched his eyebrows at her as he approached the bed. "You're in the hospital and you're surprised that I'd be worried about you?"

She snorted. "Geez, Clark. I got a little lightheaded at work and collapsed. I haven't been hit in the head, stabbed, shot, or thrown off a building. All things considered, I'm actually doing pretty well."

Keeping his voice mild, he said, "Wow, Lois. To think I don't find that terribly comforting."

She laughed and rested her hands on her stomach. "So what are you doing here? Don't you know there are stories to be filed?"

He took a seat in the chair next to her bed. "Well, I tried to get some work done, but I couldn't concentrate. My desk was too quiet, without you sitting across from me. Besides, without you there, who else was I going to get to edit my copy?"

Lois grinned. "You know, Smallville, I'm glad you mentioned this. There are these things they have in newspaper offices now. They're called 'editors' and they're actually pretty good at that sort of thing."

"Well, I can see that being in the hospital hasn't deprived you of your sense of humor," he teased.

Her lips twitched in amusement. "I had Jell-O for dinner and every time I roll over in this bed, a draft goes up the back of my gown. It's pretty easy to have a sense of humor about this sort of thing."

Clark's smile melted into a frown of concern. "Do you need another blanket, Lois?" he asked. "I can get one from the nurse."

She smiled warmly and shook her head. "I'm fine, Clark. You don't need to worry about me so much."

"If you'd stop getting yourself into trouble, I wouldn't have to worry about you so much," he pointed out.

She kept her voice deceptively bland as she asked, "But if I did that, what would you do for excitement? I'd hate for you to grow bored."

"Well, good thing there's no chance of that happening," he replied with a grin.

A sound in the doorway caught Clark's attention, and he turned to see a nurse in the doorway "I'm sorry, sir," she said softly. "Visiting hours are over."

He rose to his feet. "Do you mind if I stay?" he asked. "I really don't want to leave."

Behind him on the bed, he swore he could almost hear Lois roll her eyes. "As much as I appreciate the Mother Hen act, it's really not necessary. I mean, what do you think is going to happen, Clark? I don't think I'm going to get myself into trouble here at the hospital. I mean, I'm good, but even I'm not that good."

He sighed and looked at her over his shoulder. "You might be surprised, Lois."

She seemed to think he was joking because she shook her head. "Yeah, well, I think I'm going to have to take a pass on that anyway. The doctors tell me that I'm not going to released until tomorrow, and I'm going to take this opportunity to get a good night's sleep."

"You're sure? You're not going to try to sneak out of here tonight, when our backs are turned?" he asked suspiciously.

Lois feigned injured innocence. "Who, me?" she asked. Seeing his steady look, she grimaced. "Okay, if you really want to know, I've got a killer headache, and I'm still feeling a little sick to my stomach. I don't really feel up to doing much of anything right now, let alone getting myself into trouble."

His stomach twisted, and he rested his palm on her forehead, brushing her hair back tenderly. "You sure you're feeling okay, Lois? I could stay if you want me to."

"Thanks," she said with a wan smile. "But, really, I'll be fine. I just want to get some sleep, okay?"

He nodded. "Well, then, I'll come by first thing tomorrow to give you a ride home."

She shook her head. "No, don't. I'll be getting out of here early, but I probably won't be able to get to work until late. I have some things to take care of first, and there's no reason why we should both be late to work."

"But I –" he began to protest, but she cut him off.

"I'll be fine, Clark. Really! Now go, before the nurses come in here and drag you out."

"I'd like to see them try," he murmured as he bent over her. He pressed his lips against her forehead and then straightened. With one more reluctant look, he said, "I'll see you tomorrow."

As he walked out, he passed some nurses walk by, carrying five bouquets of flowers. He grimaced sheepishly when he saw all the flowers parading past. Somehow they hadn't seemed quite so…many when he'd picked them out at the flower shop. Perhaps he'd overdone it just a little bit. Pausing, he turned to look back at Lois, lying in her hospital bed. Overdone or not, he wanted to see the expression on Lois's face when she got his flowers.

She looked sad, as she lifted a hand to rub her head. Her frown faded as the nurses walked into the room. He saw shock as she looked at the parade of flowers, and he saw her lips move as she spoke. He could easily listen in on her conversation with the nurses, but he thought he knew what she was saying.

He smiled softly to himself when he saw her lips form his name, her eyes still wide in surprise. He couldn't see what the nurses replied, but Lois's surprise melted into a soft smile. There was such tenderness in her face, such warmth. All for him?

Even having seen a possible future in which the two of them had been together, if only for one night, it still surprised him to see such an expression on her face. It took his breath away to see her like that. Would he ever get used to the effect she had on him?

He hadn't realized that he'd taken a step towards her door until he bumped into a nurse walking down the hallway. When she asked if he needed help, he shook his head. With one last glance towards Lois's room, he turned to go, already looking forward to seeing her the next day.

"And you will take me to a monster truck rally," Lois said with a smile. Then she sucked in a deep breath, her shoulders lifting as she turned to the elevator.

Clark smiled and shook his head as Lois walked onto the elevator before him. Not that he had much experience asking women out, but he had a feeling that making a monster truck rally a requisite date was something only she would do. He didn't mind in the least. It was just such an incredibly…Lois thing to do, and he wouldn't change a single thing about her, not for the world.

Well, he amended as he stepped onto the elevator and turned. Maybe he'd give her a little more conscious awareness of her own personal safety. But then again, while he thought it likely that Lois's actions would drive him to an early grave, part of what he loved about her was her take-no-prisoners attitude. He just wished there could be some sort of middle ground that allowed her to be fearless but didn't involve quite so much death-defying.

As the elevator doors closed, Clark felt Lois's hand reach for his, her fingers curving into his palm. She didn't say anything; she didn't even look at him. Neither did he. He just stood next to her in silence, the weight of her hand comforting in his.

It was such a little thing, holding her hand, but to him in meant volumes. Lois was so strong, so independent, than she just wasn't the type to typically seek the unspoken comfort of a hand in hers, to feel the need to reach out and hold on to someone. And yet she had reached out for him.

He had told her to lean on him, that he felt stronger when he was with her. Did he dare hope that she felt the same; that she also felt stronger when he was by her side?

The elevator doors slid open and Lois smiled over at him as they stepped forward into the lobby. "So, where do you want to go for coffee?" she asked, her tone a shade high, unconsciously betraying her lingering nervousness. He didn't mind; this was a big step, what the two of them were doing. Taking this first step together to see what there might be between them. Clark knew that as well as Lois did.

"Lady's choice, Lois," he responded with a quirk of his lips.

She didn't miss a step as she huffed, "Now, see, Smallville? This is why it's a good thing we're going slow. You clearly need to learn the rules of dating etiquette!"

He ached his eyebrows at her. "There are rules?" he asked. "Other than that it's important to show up?"

Lois rolled her eyes at him. "Of course there are! That's why it's rules plural, not rule singular!"

"Oh, of course," he said with feigned gravity. "Okay, so what are the rest of these rules?" he asked as they strolled down the street together.

Looking very self-satisfied, Lois explained, "Well, Rule Number 2 is that you gotta pull your equal weight in the dating relationship! I picked what we would do, now you have to pick where. You can't expect me to make all of the decisions, can you?"

"Because you hate making decisions," he interjected with mock solemnity.

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously at him but apparently decided to ignore his comment as she said instead, "Rule Number 3. You are never allowed to be late for a date without calling first. I, on the other hand, will probably be late and you can't complain about it."

Clark frowned thoughtfully at her. "Isn't that a double standard?" he asked.

She shook her head at him pityingly, as if she couldn't believe that he'd ask. "Of course not, Clark. It's just that you and I are totally different people! I mean, when you go to get ready for a date, you just put on a clean shirt and you're fine! Do you know how much work is involved for a woman to get ready for a date? I mean, just getting your hair to cooperate can take hours!"

His eyes grew warm as he stared down at her. "Really?" he murmured. "I think you look beautiful just as you are."

"I – you – um," she spluttered, her cheeks reddening slightly. "Don't think that flattery will get you out of learning these rules, Mister! They're important!" she finally managed.

"Oh. Should I be writing them down?" he asked. She narrowed her eyes at him, so he grinned unrepentantly. "Okay, Rule Number 2: pull my own weight. Rule Number 3: don't be late. What's rule number four?"

Lois pressed her lips together and tossed her ponytail over her shoulder. "I think that's enough for now," she said loftily. "I don't want to overdo it, and as you said, we should take it slow."

Clark realized they had stopped walking and were standing in the middle of the sidewalk, staring at each other. "No, I think you were the one who said we should take it slow," he murmured, unconsciously leaning towards her. His gaze dropped to her lips, and he thought about kissing her.

Lois's tongue flicked against her lips, wetting them nervously. "Um…n-no," she stammered. "I-I'm pretty sure you said we should take it slow."

Clark almost grinned. It was just like her to insist upon wining the argument, even if it meant losing the war. "Then I take it back," he said forcefully. "I don't want to take it slow." And he bent his head to kiss her.

His lips were millimeters from hers when she took a quick step back. "No!" she cried. "We were going to take it slow, remember? No take-backs!"

He couldn't help it. He laughed. "It's just a kiss, Lois," he pointed out, grinning at her. She looked so flustered, he just had to tease her. Taking a step towards her, he asked mildly, "Don't tell me you're scared of kissing me."

"N-no!" she protested, taking another step back, her hands held up to ward him off. Clark arched his eyebrows at her in silent challenge, daring her to prove it. "Well, not scared, exactly. I mean, that's silly! I just – uh – I think that we should – uh – that we should take our time. We shouldn't rush things!"

"But we've already kissed," he reminded her. "In fact, you were the one to grab me and kiss me last." He took another step towards her, enjoying the way her eyes widened. She was staring at his lips, he could hear her pulse starting to race, and he knew that he was getting to her. "So what's wrong with me kissing you now!"

"Because!" she cried, and then realized that wasn't exactly a persuasive argument. "Because – um – if we kiss now…" Her voice trailed off.

He stared expectantly at her. "Yes?" he asked.

"If we kiss now…" she tried again. He nodded, encouraging her to continue and he chuckled as he saw her frown and try to think of a logical argument. "If we kiss now, we won't get that coffee you promised me!"

He was directly in front of her again, and he reached up and trailed a fingertip down her cheek. "So if you kiss me, you're afraid we won't take it slow, is that it?" he murmured softly.

"Yes," she breathed. "I mean, no!" she said quickly, correcting herself. "I just…uh…I think that we should…um…Hey, look! A coffeehouse! Let's go there!"

Before he could recover, she'd brushed past him and was racing towards a small hole-in-the-wall café. Clark grinned to himself and shook his head. He'd intended to tease her, but he should have realized that it would only make him want to kiss her even more. If that were possible.

"Take it slow, Clark," he muttered to himself as a reminder as he shoved his hands in his pants pockets and followed.

By the time he had followed Lois into the café, she'd already grabbed a table. She'd also regained control of herself and was more or less able to pretend like she hadn't been dying to kiss him just a few minutes before. Except she'd had a very strong suspicion that what began with mere kisses wouldn't end that way.

He sat across from her and gave his order to the waitress, and then they stared at each other in silence. It was something of a stalemate, but Clark didn't mind. Every time he looked at her, she took his breath away, and he could stare at her for the rest of the afternoon and be perfectly happy.

She played with various knick-knacks on the table as she waited for her coffee, and when the waitress delivered it a couple minutes later, she took a fortifying sip as she looked at him over the lip of her mug. How was it that he actually managed to get better looking every single day? At some point, didn't he have to hit some sort of sheer hotness limit? It wasn't fair, the effect he had on a girl's pulse!

"So," she said a little too loudly as she put her mug back on the table. Clark looked at her in surprise, and so she finished, "I was wondering. Not that I didn't appreciate them and all, but what was with all the flowers?"

Now it was his turn to look slightly abashed, and she grinned, feeling like she was on solid ground once again. "Oh, right. Those. A little much?"

"Oh, no," she deadpanned. "What would make you say that? I think I have several inches of free space on my kitchen counter," she teased.

He grimaced. "Sorry, I didn't realize there would be quite so many of them."

Leaning forward, she rested her arms on the table as she asked, "So, you wanna tell me what prompted you to send 60 roses to my hospital room last night? I had low blood sugar; I wasn't recovering from major surgery, you know!"

Clark raised his eyes to hers. "It was a dozen roses for each year I've known you. I've known you five years, so…five dozen roses."

Lois blinked in surprise. "Oh!" she breathed. She'd intended to tease him, but that sentiment was actually rather…sweet.

Taking advantage of her silence, he reached for her hand and grabbed it. "Did you know that roses have a different meaning, depending on their color?" he asked.

"Um…yeah. I've heard that, but I don't know what they are," she confessed, feeling thrown by his apparent change of subject.

"One dozen white roses, symbolizing purity, because the first year that I knew you, even before we were friends, there was just something about you. You are who you are, and you don't try to be anything else. And you don't ask me to be anyone else, either."

He felt embarrassed by his confession, thinking Lois would laugh at him. That she'd tease him for being corny. But she didn't. She just stared at him with wide eyes, and he heard her catch her breath and found the courage to continue.

"One dozen yellow roses, symbolizing friendship. Because even when you're driving me crazy, you're the best friend I could ever ask for. And I can't imagine what my life would be without you."

She swallowed, the muscle in her neck jumping, and whispered, "Go on." He could feel her fingers tremble in his, so he held them tight.

"One dozen pink roses, to thank you for being in my life. I know I haven't always been the best friend to you, and I know that I was blind to what was right in front of me for…for too long. But you've always been there for me, even when I didn't deserve it, and I'm incredibly grateful for the day I met you."

Her fingers tightened in his, but she didn't tear her eyes from his face as he continued, his voice lowering to a husky rasp. "A dozen orange roses, symbolizing desire," he murmured, his voice growing thick with need.

He could see her color rise, hear her heart start to race again, and he knew she wanted him as much as he wanted her. "A-and the last one? The red roses?" she breathed.

Standing, Clark moved around the table, pulling Lois to her feet as he moved to her side. "Do you even need to ask?' he rasped. He couldn't tell her how he felt about her in words; he knew that would be too much, too soon. She wasn't ready for that. But he'd had to show her how he felt about her, anyway. Even if he couldn't yet say it.

He didn't know if she leaned into him or if he leaned into her, but their lips met in a kiss. Her breath was warm against his mouth as he kissed her again and again, his fingers sinking into her hair as he cupped her face. But as much as he wanted her his touch was soft. Reverent.

When they finally pulled away from each other, Clark heard a smattering of applause and realized that the café's occupants had been looking on in rapt attention. Smiling sheepishly he said, "So much for taking it slow, huh?"

Lois looked startled but then she laughed. "Oh, no you don't, Smallville! You're not getting out of taking me to a monster truck rally that easily!" She tried to keep her voice light, but there was a huskiness to it that wasn't usually there and her eyes were unusually bright.

"I wouldn't dream of it," he confessed. Then, as she looked away from him, he blurted, "Lois?"

She turned back to look at him, her eyes expectant. "Yes, Clark?"

Now that she was looking at him, he didn't know quite what to say. He hadn't even consciously said her name. He stared at her in silence for a moment, but then his mouth relaxed into a smile. "What what was that you said about a picnic in the park?" he asked, raising her hand to his mouth to brush his lips across her knuckles.

The future was uncertain, and he had seen what a dark future it could be. But when he heard her laugh in response, he knew that whatever happened next, he could handle it as long as he had her by his side.