The ring… somehow it was all tied to that strange ring...

As Lois came to consciousness at Met Gen, her mind focused on the ring she had put on while getting into a knock-down fight with Tess at the Planet over some deranged rant about an alien orb. After slipping it on her finger, all she remembered was a flash of light… She had no idea how long she had been out of it, but she had awoken on one of the high-speed city trains with some mad assassin woman on her tail. Lois had barely had a chance to process that before the train derailed, sending her crashing into the back window of the train. That accident evidently, had landed her here in the hospital.

She was lucky to be alive.

She wondered who had brought her here… a stranger? Her heart thrilled a little at the possibility that it could have been the Blur—she vividly remembered her last conversation with him. He had left a letter for her to print, in case he didn't make it in his attempt to rescue Chloe. She swallowed the fear that welled up in her if hadn't made it. It was almost midnight. If the Blur was still alive, she needed to get to that phone booth and-

"Lois! Where have you been? What happened to you?" Chloe said, coming to Lois' bedside to give her a hug.

Lois took her cousin in her arms, relieved that she was okay. "I don't know… All I remember was Tess rambling about some alien orb. Then we threw down in the middle of the Daily Planet and wham, I woke up in a monorail car with some ninja chick after me."

Chloe patted Lois' arm, and then reached up to brush aside her bangs to reveal a bruise on her forehead. "Alien orb? Lo, I think you just bumped your head in the accident. Where have you been?" Chloe asked again, her brow wrinkled with worry.

Lois brushed aside Chloe's hand, ignoring her concern for her wounds. "Where have I been? You were the one playing Thelma and Louise with the Creature from the Black Lagoon," Lois shook her head. "How did you manage to ditch Davis?"

"Well, I didn't exactly-" Chloe began nervously.

Lois suddenly figured what must have happened and smiled, "It was the Red-Blue Blur, wasn't it? I knew it. He promised me he'd save you and he did. That means he's still alive," she said, hope shining in her eyes. At the same moment, she realized that she needed to get a move on if she was going to meet him at midnight... Not only had he saved Chloe, but herself as well. "He saved the train, too, didn't he?" Lois asked, seeking confirmation.

Chloe looked back at her cousin, dumbfounded. "You've been talking to the Blur?"

Lois ignored the recrimination in her cousin's tone, unable to hide her smile or the truth. "Yes, he sort of confides in me," Lois acknowledged with some amount of pride.

"Of course he does," Chloe grumbled, rolling her eyes.

Lois overlooked her cousin's concern over her talking with the Blur as her eyes suddenly flickered past the clock again. "It's late," she said, knowing she needed to get a move on if she was going to make her midnight rendezvous with the Blur.

Lois started gathering her things, but Chloe tried to stop her. "Lois you are way beyond late, okay? I kind of need to drop a bomb on you…"

"Chloe, I have to talk to the Blur. He's the only one who can help me escape the jaws of crouching tigers," Lois said, slipping her cell phone into her pocket. "I'm sorry, Chloe. Whatever it is, it's gonna have to wait."

Chloe shook her head and tried to maneuver Lois back into bed as she said, "Lois, you really should take it easy-"

Lois realized she wasn't getting out of there with her overly concerned cousin in her way, so she momentarily relented. "Okay, you know what? You're right. I… I probably just took one on the noggin and now I'm flipping out. I think I could use a sedative," she said with a placating smile, moving towards getting back into bed.

Chloe turned sympathetic eyes on her. "I'll get you two."

Lois waited until Chloe had left the room before she slid out from under the covers. Her head was slamming with a headache, but she couldn't worry about that. She needed to get to that phone booth.

She left all of her belongings behind, knowing Chloe would come back and take care of things. Besides, she had less than ten minutes to make it five city blocks away. She had no time to lose.

Lois walked out of her hospital room, ruefully acknowledging to herself that she'd been there so many times, she knew exactly where to go to get out of there quickly. She spotted Chloe down at the nurse's station and turned the other way, sprinting for the front doors.

Lois took off down the street, wondering why her body felt like she had been through boot camp. She was a jogger, rarely missing her morning run, and yet she felt out of shape and bruised. Had Tess really done such a brutal number on her?

Half a block away from the meeting point, she realized she was already late. She glanced at the city clock, which read two minutes after midnight. But she had to try, had to talk to him…

Out of breath, Lois reached the phone booth and grabbed the handset. "Hello?" she said into the phone, trying to catch her breath. When there was no answer, she refused to panic, refused to believe that he hadn't called. "Maybe you're not answering—because you are here," she said hopefully, half to herself.

"Hello?" she called out to the empty street, looking around her for any sign that the Blur was nearby. "I know what you did for Chloe. At least let me thank you," she called out. When she didn't get any response, she started to worry that being late had been an unforgivable mistake. "Look, I'm sorry I'm late. I promise you can trust me!" she called out with some desperation. Maybe it was the headache or her confusion, but she suddenly felt anxious to make contact with him. She may have been a few minutes late, but the Blur wouldn't abandon her now, would he? "Please, I know you're out there somewhere," she said, almost frantic, spinning around, looking for a shadow or anything to hint that he was nearby. But all she saw was a lonely streetlight and buildings around her. "Where are you?" she whispered to the night sky.

Suddenly, it was too much for her. As her head throbbed with pain, she dropped to her knees on the pavement. She felt nauseated and the sense that she had lost something, or missed something vital overwhelmed her. Tears sprang to her eyes, yet she wiped them fiercely away.

Why did she suddenly feel so abandoned?

~\S/~

Lois realized she must have blacked out. When she awoke, she was still at 4th and Main, just a few feet from the phone booth where the Blur was supposed to have called her. Her head was still pounding, but she managed to stagger to her feet.

Just in time, too. There was a bum making his way over to her, mumbling something about spare change, with a leering look in his eye.

Normally, she might feel a bit more charitable and at least pass a guy like him a few coins, but she had left most of her things back at the hospital. Besides, she was in no mood to be fending off wayward hobos.

She glanced at the large clock tower that loomed over Metropolis, where Oliver used to live, and noticed it was almost 4 in the morning. She wasn't far from his penthouse, and she figured his place would be her best bet for a place to crash at this time of night.

The front desk immediately recognized her, but told her Oliver Queen wasn't home. When she asked where he was, they brushed her away, saying they couldn't give out personal information.

Lois pulled out her cell phone as she left the building, exhausted and her head filled with questions. She tried Ollie's cell, though all she got was his answering service. With frustration, she left a message: ""I don't know where you've disappeared to, but I'm already low on one superhero today and I have some she-ninja after me." She clicked the phone closed, debating. Who else could she call at 4 in the morning? She didn't want to hear Chloe rant about her sneaking out of the hospital or put her in danger if this assassin chick showed again, so calling her was out. And Clark…Lois didn't think he would come to her rescue this time. He had seemed so closed off and wrapped up in his own enigmas the other night that she wasn't sure he'd even talk to her. Besides, she wasn't sure what Clark could even do about her ninja stalker, especially if he was tucked into bed in Smallville. Regardless, Lois didn't want to face him like this: dirty, disoriented, and disheartened.

Lois wandered woefully around the city, wondering why the Blur hadn't been at their meeting point like he promised. She was certain he had survived fighting that creature that had taken Chloe—her cousin's hospital visit and her own survival of the train wreck had proven that…

So, why hadn't he met her?

Lois found herself back at the site of the train accident. She stepped inside to look for clues. The morning rays were starting to lighten the skies of Metropolis. She could head to the Planet in another hour or two and get a change of clothes at least.

Lois scoured the wreckage, uncertain what she was even looking for. Perhaps the ring? When had she lost it? Was it here?

She picked up a scrap of black cloth, recognizing it as having been worn by her ninja assassin. But that seemed to be her only clue. Lois spotted a newspaper nearby with the Daily Planet masthead, but she didn't recognize the headlines from the last edition. She picked it up and looked closer at the date. "September 24, 2009?" she said incredulously to herself. The last date she remembered was September 4th… "Just how long was I out of it?" she said, realizing too that the Blur hadn't forgotten about her—it was she who had been MIA. She had missed the rendezvous time by three weeks! But that fact only made her more concerned about how she would find the Blur again.

Tossing the paper aside, yet pocketing the ninja mask, Lois looked around for more clues. She paused in front of a strange stylized 'S' symbol burned into the glass. It seemed like it should be familiar to her somehow… but where would she have seen it?

A sudden flash of memory burned between her eyes, causing another stabbing headache. A red sun… and a tattered cloth hanging above her with that symbol…

She rubbed her temples, knowing she was probably just exhausted. Where should she go from here? That assassin was still out there somewhere, and for whatever reason, she was after Lois.

~\S/~

PT2

Lois headed to the Daily Planet a short time later. She tried Oliver several times again, but got nothing. She scanned through her phonebook, her thumb hesitating over pressing the 'call' button when she passed over Clark's name. She was still hurt at how he had been so closed off to her the last time she saw him… yet, it had been three weeks ago. Had he even been worried about her?

Resolutely, she slammed her phone shut. If he had been worried, then there should have at least been a text message from him…

Lois stepped into the elevator at the Planet, glad that she kept a change of clothes at work. And the Planet had a gym and showers, so she could get cleaned up before she did any more investigating.

As she entered the bullpen, her eyes couldn't help but flicker over to Clark's empty desk. Not that she wanted to see him, really, not in this state. But for some reason, knowing Smallville was nearby usually did help her through her day.

She swung open her deep bottom drawer where she kept her emergency duffel bag for late stakeouts. She also grabbed a chocolate bar from her backup stash. She hadn't eaten anything since the hospital, and she could tell she was running on low sugar.

"Where you been, Lane?" asked one of the guys who worked in classifieds.

"Oh… you know… on a story," she answered vaguely, promising herself she'd get a cup of coffee too before she left the building.

She spotted the latest gossip columnist, Rebekah, and Lois waved her over. "Hey, um, have you done any write-ups on Oliver Queen lately?" she asked. She knew Rebekah knew she had dated Ollie, and the columnist couldn't help smirking as she laid her latest article under Lois' nose.

"I don't know why you bother, Lane. Oliver Queen has taken a major nosedive…" she said, pointing to a picture of him drunk and laughing outside of the Ace of Clubs, his arm wrapped around some blonde starlet. "Rumor has it he's been street fighting, down near Hobb's Bay. But even I won't go down to that den of iniquity on a Friday night."

"Thanks for the tip, Bekah," Lois said with a smirk as she hoisted her bag over her shoulder. She had no such qualms in hunting Ollie down.

~\S/~

As Lois headed down to Hobb's Bay later that night, she wished she had called Clark after all. If Ollie was in as much trouble as she thought doing what was in all probability illegal street fighting, he might not be much use in helping her fight against this assassin.

Still, a girl had to have some pride. She and Ollie had a history together, at least. He would want to help her. Smallville on the other hand, was a complete mystery, and one she didn't like to dwell on. He blew hot and cold with her, and she needed someone solid on her side for this. She sighed, wishing she could just call the Blur to help her out… but all she had was the phone booth. Short of throwing herself off a building, she really didn't have a way of contacting him.

She thought of the 'S' symbol she had seen at the train derailment… Lois had done some digging at the Planet earlier, and it turned out that the Blur had started using the symbol a few weeks ago, shortly after she had vanished. He had stopped appearing in red and blue as well… She wondered what had happened to him. Lois didn't dare think his change in M.O. had anything to do with her disappearance, but from all accounts, the Blur had become less visible and yet more visible, all at once. He no longer wore red and blue, but he now felt the need to leave a calling card whenever he did a save… If she ever spoke to him again—no, when she spoke t o him again, she'd have to ask him what's going on. She didn't like how the press she had seen called him a vigilante, and she planned on writing a piece detailing his latest exploits as soon as possible.

But that symbol… it had also been in her vision and she couldn't help wanting to know exactly what it meant…

~\S/~

Lois found Ollie down at a warehouse at Hobb's Bay as Rebekah had suggested. He was fighting that night, but the bouncers up front wouldn't let her back to talk to him. That is, until she offered to fill in for a missing score card girl.

As Lois waited to make her 'debut,' she watched through the chain link fence as Oliver took one punch after another. He would swing and get in a few hits of his own, but she could tell that the reason he was doing so poorly was because he was actually quite drunk. Watching him get pummeled, she felt something she never thought she'd feel for Oliver- pity. Why did he feel the need to resort to street fighting? She knew he was full of guilt about something, but she had no idea what had brought him to this.

The bell sounded, ending the round, and Lois was shooed in to be ogled at and wave the score cards over her head. Ollie was on the ground, writhing in pain, and she fought the urge to help him up.

"Hello Legs," came his greeting through a grunt of pain.

Lois continued to walk around the ring with the scorecard above her head. "Legs? Really? Is that a good idea?" She glanced down at him and gave him a slightly pitying smile. "You're drunk."

"What are you doing here?"

"Didn't you get my messages?" she asked in return.

"My phone has been M.I.A. for a while… How did you know where to find me?"

She shook her head; she couldn't believe how much he had fallen. "Well, all I did was follow the trail of paparazzi and tabloids…" she said, a little too sardonically. "But your sexist boy's club wouldn't let me in. So I improvised," she said with a little pride at her clever plan.

Oliver was still struggling to get up. He shook his head as if to clear it. Whether from alcohol or the knockdown he had received a moment earlier, Lois couldn't tell. "Well, I should forewarn you, Lois. I'm not having my best round here."

She didn't want to hear his excuses, and inwardly she wished she had just sucked up her pride and called Clark. She sighed, "I noticed… Look, you may have some death wish fast track, but I could really use a little dose of hero right now," she said, letting out a little of her frustration in a rush.

Oliver gave another grunt, still struggling to regain his feet.

Lois gave up the pretense of being a sign girl and let out an exhausted sigh as she rested the edge of the large card on the toes of her boots. "Look, I just found out I have been missing for three weeks, and then I reappeared on a monorail with some ninja chick after me."

That seemed to get his attention, as he looked up at her, forgetting his own problems for a moment. "Can you repeat that?"

Suddenly, a hole was ripped out of the warehouse. Lois glimpsed the crazed assassin woman from the train, but before she could do anything, Oliver had Lois on the ground, his body covering hers. "Everybody down!" he yelled.

"Ollie, what the-?" Lois said, only hearing a whoosh around them.

After a moment, he sat up and Lois looked around once the coast was clear. She had no idea what had just happened, but she saw the Blur's 'S' emblazoned on a bit of metal and she couldn't help but smile. He was looking out for her, it seemed.

Lois glanced over at Ollie… he didn't look very heroic at the moment, but he had tried to protect her. She still felt some affection for the Green Arrow, despite all of his flaws, so she leaned over and helped him up.

"Come on, you look like you could use some assistance," she said kindly, helping him over to an area that passed for locker rooms.

She dug around and found some alcohol, swabs, and bandages. She set Oliver down on the bench a little more forcefully than she meant to, still disheartened by his fallen state. She had come to him for help, but she knew with him like this, he wasn't capable of offering her any.

"I'm disappointed in you, Ollie," she said, beginning to swab his cuts.

"See? Now you sound like every other ex-girlfriend I ever had," he said self-deprecatingly, adding a dose of the charming Queen smile to soften the blow of his words.

"Yes, but I'm not like every ex you've ever had," Lois retorted.

"No you're not, but you—I haven't been able to coax you back into my bed."

She knew this wasn't the real Oliver Queen talking. It was a front. And she wasn't going to let him get away with it.

"You risk your life to help strangers," she said softly. "So you can plaster that frat boy grin across your face all you want, but I know you're a real hero underneath."

Oliver seemed momentarily nonplussed by her statement, but quickly resumed his arrogant swagger. "Come on, Lois. You know I'm nothing more than a playboy… I got the tabloid covers to prove it."

"Then how do you explain the whole Green Arrow thing?" she said forcefully, trying to resurrect the hero she knew was buried in him somewhere.

She could see pain in his eyes, but again, he pushed it away with a cocky remark. "It distracted me for a while…" Then, just to add salt to an old wound, "So did you."

She pressed the alcohol swab a little deeper into the cuts on his face in answer, causing him to wince. "You're an obnoxious jackass," she said flatly, thoroughly disappointed that she wouldn't find the hero that she needed in him tonight.

"See, now you're finally starting to catch on," he said with a wave of his hand near his head, indicating to Lois that he was still quite drunk. "Look, I'm sorry if you ever thought I was anything more than that, Lois. But it's not my fault."

She stood up, about fed up with his hurtful and idiotic remarks. "You know what? That's okay."

"Really?" he asked in some surprise.

"I guess you know yourself better than anyone, right?" she countered, finally calling him on his game.

He stared at her, a little dumbfounded. Apparently he had thought his insults should have led to a pity party.

She glanced over at the emblem the Blur had left behind. "Maybe I don't really need you, Ollie," she said softly. " I've already found my real hero."

~\S/~

Lois left Oliver a short time later to either lick his own wounds or bury them deeper in more alcohol—the drinkable kind. She couldn't bear to see him destroying himself, but she didn't know how to stop it either. Normally, she'd take him out for a beer and they'd have a good laugh, but she didn't want to stoke that fire. He was already pissed enough…

Lois decided to head to Smallville. Chloe would have forgiven her by now for skipping out on the hospital, and Lois needed a good night's sleep. She found her jeep at the Daily Planet parking garage, and was relieved that no one had bothered it while she was gone. But at the same time, none of her friends had seemed to look out for it either.

She knew that Chloe had been dealing with the nightmare that was Davis, so that was understandable. And Oliver had obviously been… distracted. Clark would have been the next logical choice, but he had put all of this distance between them… She wondered if he was still hung up on Lana, even though she had broken his heart and left him- repeatedly.

Just that name made Lois sick to her stomach. That moment at Chloe's wedding would forever be burned into her brain—Clark had been about to kiss her, and then Lana had stepped in and ruined everything. Thank God the little brunette seemed gone for good now. But still, every time Lois thought there might be some interest in her on Clark's end, he'd back away.

Lois found herself driving past the Talon, heading instead to the edge of town. She told herself that she was just going by the Kents' to see if anyone was home, that's all. She wasn't going to bother Clark if he didn't want her there… but she just had to see the farmhouse. Her childhood had been full of new places, new cities, and very few homes. It was ironic that the Kent farmhouse was as close to home as she actually ever had, and it wasn't even her own family's. But with all of the confusion around her right now, she just needed to see it, and feel its comforting presence once more.

She was surprised to find the house completely dark. It was only just after eight, and if anyone had been home, surely some lights would have been on. But even the porch light was dark. Lois killed the engine and debated going in. She finally justified it by telling herself that if anything was wrong, the Kents would appreciate her looking in on things, especially with Mrs. K away in Washington.

Lois grabbed her long-handled police flashlight from her trunk, just in case there was any danger. She didn't turn it on, but kept it by her side in case she needed to use it as a weapon.

Lois shuffled up the porch slowly. She felt her heart hammer a bit, wondering if this was a fool's mission. What if that assassin had tracked her down to the Kents'?

"Calm down, you're just overreacting because you're exhausted," she said to herself. She realized the door was open, as she heard something move behind the screen.

"Hello?" she called out tentatively.

Then she heard a dog whimper, and she let out a sigh of relief.

"Shelby," she said, setting the flashlight on the porch. If the dog was okay, then there wasn't likely to be dangerous strangers lurking around.

She stepped inside and knelt before Shelby, giving her a pat, even as a sneeze tickled her nose from the dog dander. "Hey, there."

Lois stood up and flicked on some lights in the kitchen. Things looked much better with the lights on and she began to relax. Reality or not, she was home.

As she surveyed the kitchen, she noticed it was a bit dusty. She swiped her finger through a layer of it on the counter and shook her head. "Mrs. K wouldn't approve," she mumbled.

She glanced down at Shelby, who was standing by her dish. It was full of food, which puzzled Lois even more. "If Smallville's not here, who the hell's been feeding you, Shelby?"

Even more puzzling was the general state of neglect at the farmhouse. Where had Clark disappeared to? Again she pulled out her cell phone and debated calling him. She sighed, knowing she was too exhausted to deal with a verbal confrontation right now. Eventually she resolved that she'd at least call his mom tomorrow.

Lois opened the fridge, not surprised to find nothing to eat. She checked the freezer and found a tub of Rocky Road she had left there over a month ago—which to her was only a few days ago, really. She dug out a spoon from the drawer and made her way to the living room.

Lois wrapped herself in a blanket on the sofa, absently noticing it smelled like Clark. Soap, fresh air, wool, and leather. She switched on the television and dug into her ice cream.

~\S/~

Clark had more questions than answers… but what was new?

He had taken care of the assassin that had followed Lois from the future, but he was worried about what she had told him. Would he really become a threat in the not-so-distant future? And if so, how did he stop it?

Clark saw headlights pull into the driveway.

Lois.

She couldn't know he was here… He hadn't even realized he'd been standing in the dark, staring up at the sky from the barn window for the last half hour; he'd been so wrapped up in his thoughts.

Especially about the future.

It terrified him.

Jor-El claimed he had a special destiny here on Earth, one that separated him from the humans. Yet Clark knew deep down that he was a man, with real emotions and real worries. He couldn't isolate himself forever, no matter what his destiny ultimately was. It's why he came back to the farm… why he made sure Shelby got fed… why he would find himself on lonely nights listening to people's lives go by from atop the buildings of Metropolis…

Why he felt his heart stop when he realized that Lois was here.

It was strange how she seemed to know him better than anyone, even though she didn't know the truth about him. He was surprised by her insight about what he was going through when he talked to her as the Blur. And he was often touched by her kindness—even through her tough exterior—when he talked to her as Clark.

They'd always had a friendly rapport between them, but somehow Lois touched him deeper than any of his other friendships. And when she had disappeared three weeks ago—he'd realized that she meant more to him than he'd been willing to admit before. He'd danced around the attraction between them, and had even let himself be pulled into Lana's orbit when she had reappeared. But all of that was over… and the time Lois had been gone had given him time to think.

He realized that Lois brought levity into his life, and yet she grounded him at the same time. And when that tether to goodness, to humanity had disappeared three weeks ago, he had thrown himself into becoming the Kryptonian his father Jor-El had always wanted him to become.

But when he had saved that train the other night, and had seen her on board—all thoughts of destiny and heritage had fled. His heart had concentrated to her… and he realized just what she meant to him.

She meant being human. Even being flawed… She meant life.

And understanding.

Lois Lane had always understood him on a level that surprised and sometimes scared him. And that connection was what he was finding so hard to sever—no matter what his father wanted him to do.

Clark knew he should just speed off to the Fortress, as Jor-El was expecting him. But he just wanted to see her, to be sure she was okay. What had made her come to the farm anyway?

Once she realized the house was empty, surely she should have just turned her jeep around and headed to the Talon. But she hadn't—she'd gone inside, and he wondered if she planned on staying.

Clark sped over to the front porch. He didn't want her to hear him or see him, as he didn't know how he would handle her questions, which he was certain she would have.

He peeked in the window, and saw that she was sleeping on the sofa, a tub of Rocky Road on the table next to her. She looked peaceful… beautiful.

He was touched that she would feel so comfortable here, in his home, where she had lived with him a few years ago. He also thought it was telling that she had chosen to come here, rather than the Talon where she was currently living. She looked comfortable and content sleeping on his sofa. Clark was happy to let her consider the farmhouse her home as well—after all, it hadn't been much of a home since his father died and his mother had become a Senator. At least someone should feel at home here…

Against his better judgment, Clark stepped inside the house. Shelby came over and Clark let the dog out so there would be less noise. He stepped quietly over to Lois, watching the even rhythm of her breathing.

He noticed she had drawn his 'S' emblem into the dust on the table. Was she still hung up on the Blur? He kind of hoped so… though she couldn't know what she meant to him; she was his hold to the world, to humanity, and even though Jor-El resented Clark's connection here, he knew that he was lost without her.

The last few weeks had been hell without Lois, wondering where she was. He had suspected a while back that Lois may have found the Legion ring, though Chloe finally confirmed it for him this afternoon. What had Lois seen in the future? Did she remember any of it? And based on what the assassin had told him about destroying the planet—did he want her to remember any of it?

Her forehead suddenly scrunched up in concern… She tossed a bit, causing the blanket to slip off her torso onto the floor. She was wearing an old tank top and jeans, which couldn't be that comfortable to sleep in. She shifted again, kicking off a few sofa pillows as her features contorted in pain. He heard her whisper, "Zod." The name sent a chill up his spine. He wanted to calm her, comfort her. He wanted her to return to the blissful sleep of a moment ago…

In his guilt-ridden mind, he wondered if his very presence had brought her pain. Had she somehow sensed his presence even in sleep? He couldn't seem to avoid hurting those he loved…

Clark hesitated a moment, but then bent down to retrieve the blanket. He laid it across her gently, letting his fingers rest for just a second on her arm as he did so. After a moment, her features relaxed into a deeper sleep, and he let go.

He watched her longer than he knew he should. But he couldn't help himself. Seeing Lois, alive and in his house had sent an unexpected thrill of pleasure through him. Her very presence was a boon in what had become a pretty lonely life.

At last, he stood up, leaving the light on as she had left it. The tub of ice cream was empty, so he left that as well. There was nothing to tell her that anyone had been there.

He even let Shelby back in and was glad to see the dog hop up on the sofa to sleep at Lois' feet. She would have some company tonight, at least.

Clark repressed a sigh and headed out… maybe he'd patrol Metropolis for an hour or two before heading back to the Fortress.

Maybe it was his imagination, or maybe Lois had sensed more asleep than he thought she could. But as he headed down the steps of the farmhouse, he was certain that she had whispered his name. And even in the chilly fall air, his name on her lips warmed him to his soul.

~\S/~

PT3

Lois awoke to Shelby licking her face. She pushed the dog off her, trying so sit up. A sneeze tickled her nose, and before she could stop it, she let out a whopper, stopping Shelby in her tracks. The dog cocked her head humorously to its side and let out a small whine.

Lois gave Shelby a lopsided smile and patted her head as she got up. "I told you, it's not your fault. But still, you should keep your distance," Lois admonished playfully.

She noticed her canister of ice cream on the side table from the night before and took it into the kitchen. It was morning, just after eight. She realized she had slept almost eleven hours. She always felt guilty when she overslept, usually not finding enough hours in a normal day to do what she needed to do anyway. But she knew that she had needed the extra sleep, and she did feel revived.

Lois reached into the fridge, searching for something that was passable for breakfast. There was a pitcher of orange juice that she hadn't noticed the night before. She reached up for a glass to pour some. It would have to do for breakfast.

Lois started gulping down the juice, surprised that it was so fresh. If Clark hadn't been home in at least a week, where had the juice come from?

Lois' hand suddenly started shaking uncontrollably, and as the tremors increased throughout her body, the glass slipped from her hand. She tried to rest her hands on the counter to stop the shaking, but it was no use. She fell to her knees in an effort to stabilize herself. Shelby came over and whimpered in concern.

Lois reached for the dog, but before her furry friend could come within grasp, Lois fell to the floor as her world went dark.

~\S/~

Lois was starving, and here was a whole stack of food in front of her.

If only she didn't have her hands cuffed, it would be much easier to steal at least an apple or-

"Try the truffles. They're my favorite," came a snide voice from above her.

Lois reached for some food, anything to take away the dizziness she felt from not eating. But as she reached for a truffle, thinking maybe this guy would allow her to eat that much, he snatched it from her.

"To think, a few of these could mean the difference between life and death for your kind." He took a bite of the chocolate, and leaned in to taunt and intimidate her. "I'm General Zod and all of this is mine to give if you give me the names of whoever snuck you into the restricted zone."

Lois refused to feel intimidated, even though she was tired, hungry, and beyond confused.

"My dad's a general, too," she replied, hating that her voice shook just a little. But she pressed on, determined not to be seen as weak. "And he still can't get me to spill how I got an M1 Abrams tank to take me to prom. So I'm definitely not telling you anything."

She tried to step past him, but he grabbed on to her upper arm, his eyes dark like coal as they bore into hers. "Then you hear this," he whispered. "No matter how many times you resistance fighters break into the zone, you will never—" His hand slid into her front jeans pocket, shocking her and scaring her at once. She had stupidly hid the ring there. But his hand reaching to take it almost felt like a grope and Lois felt bile rise up in her throat at the intrusion. "You will never take down my tower…What is this?" he said, waving the ring in her face.

Lois, still shaking at his close proximity, held her ground and refused to answer. Her mind was racing with questions—Tower? What tower?

He suddenly let her go as someone entered the room, and Lois was angry if not surprised to see Tess Mercer dressed in army fatigues, apparently in league with General Zod.

"Tess? You red-headed rat!" Lois hissed in disgust.

"You know her?" Zod asked Tess, with slight disinterest.

"She used to work for me. But she disappeared about a year ago—"Tess said, but seemed unimpressed with Lois' miraculous reappearance.

Lois tried to swipe at Tess in her shackles, hating how chummy-chummy she sounded with Zod.

"Traitor!" Lois yelled.

Tess looked down her nose at Lois and snapped back, "I'm this planet's savior! I helped Zod and his people take power to ensure this Earth's survival."

Lois wasn't impressed. "Tess Mercer. The ultimate eco-terrorist!"

"And what are you?" Zod asked. "I understand you were seen talking to Clark Kent. It was only a matter of time before the resistance got to him."

Lois didn't like being ganged up on, especially not by Tess and this Zod guy. So she did what she always did when scared, she laid on more bravado. "I am going to kick both your asses! And if Clark were here right now, he would back me up."

Zod smiled at her, leeringly, even mockingly. "The only reason Clark is still alive is because I hoped he'd join the Kandorians. To bridge the gap between our people."

"Trust me, Zod," Tess said, her smug friendliness with Zod grating on Lois. "No one has worked as hard as I have to get Clark to see the good that we're doing, but I think we've fooled ourselves long enough. He won't come around."

Zod, who didn't seem to understand the value of personal space, came nose to nose with Lois once more. His intimidating tactics were working, but Lois was hoping that he wouldn't see it in her eyes. "Neither you nor Clark are any good to me alive, but a double execution will send a strong message to anyone who dare defies me. Take heart, Lois, at least you can enjoy a glorious last meal."

Zod apparently took pleasure in watching others suffer, but what was even more humiliating to Lois was the fact that she was hungry, and she couldn't help but reach for a piece of fruit. She hated that her eyes darted fearfully over to the general, thinking he'd take it away from her again, just to be spiteful. But he allowed her to eat a peach, and she almost thought the pleased smile he gave her in return was worse than his earlier behavior.

But Lois Lane was a survivor, and she knew that she would need energy to fight against Zod later. So she ate, glaring at Zod with simmering hate the whole time.

'Where was Clark?' she wondered. And why had the Kent farm been turn into a prison? Clark seemed to have some pull with these people, which made no sense. He was just a regular farm boy, right? Lois felt something in the pit of her stomach that was more than hunger—an unease settled there as questions began to build in her mind. He had seemed to have some pull with these Kandorians… as even his watch seemed to be enough to be traded for Lois' life. But why?

~\S/~

"Lois? Lois! Can you hear me? Lois!"

The voice pulled her back from the void. Lois felt something sticky on her fingers and carefully opened her eyes to see the concerned blue ones of her cousin looking back at her.

"Lois? What happened?" Chloe asked, helping Lois to a sitting position.

"Um, I don't know…" she answered, her hand not covered in orange juice coming to her head. Those headaches were back again.

"Lo, I think we should get you to the medical center," Chloe said in alarm.

"I think I'm all right… just—low blood sugar, I think," Lois said, unsteadily coming to her feet.

Chloe looked doubtful, but got a mop out of the closet. "Take it easy, okay? I'll clean this up. Why don't you lie down?"

Lois started towards the living room, but then turned back to Chloe in puzzlement. "Why are you here anyways?"

Chloe looked down at the floor she was cleaning as she answered. "I came to feed Shelby while Clark's—out of town."

"Where is Clark, anyway?" Lois asked, before she could stop herself. She had promised herself that she wasn't concerned about that farm boy, but the question had risen up unbidden anyway.

"I don't know… visiting… family—somewhere…in Michigan, or something," Chloe said vaguely.

"Well, I have to get back to the Planet today and make sure my job hasn't been taken over by some know-nothing intern… I'm going to take a shower, 'kay?"

"Just, take it easy, Lois. And you really should see a doctor."

Lois brushed off Chloe's concern with a vague smile and a nod. She had no intention of going to see a doctor. The answers she needed wouldn't be found in the four walls of a doctor's office anyway.

~\S/~

Lois relished the feel of the warm shower; the water pressure was always better in the country, and she enjoyed the pounding of it over her body. It seemed like forever since she had a proper shower—where the hell had she been for three weeks anyway?

Images flashed in her mind—remnants of a dream she had last night and parts of a vision she had this morning… The sun had been red… and the people around her seemed oppressed, defeated. She had seen Chloe, running and then—dead?

Lois swallowed. She needed to know more, yet she was fearful of what else she had seen in her dreams…What had it all meant? She remembered seeing Ollie…and Clark—

Her eyes flashed open as her body was suffused with sudden heat. In her dream last night, she had seen flashes of her and Clark in bed, making love. In the barren world with the red sun, they had found solace in each other's arms… And yet, as she delved deeper into the dream, she realized it felt more like a memory. Her cheeks flushed redder than the warm water had induced. She remembered what it had felt like to make love with Clark—as if it had already happened…

But that was impossible, right?

Lois shut off the water and leaned against the cool tile walls, trying to calm herself. She closed her eyes, searching her recollections of the dream—or memory?—for more clues…

She herself had been a prisoner—held against her will-

Tess had been there as well… in league with some warlord… What had his name been?

Was Tess responsible for whatever war Lois had witnessed? Before Lois disappeared Tess had been going on and on about some alien orb. What had Tess stumbled upon and did it have something to do with Lois' strange visions?

Lois stepped out of the shower and grabbed a towel. She may not have the answers about her visions of her and Clark, but she knew she needed to talk to Tess about that orb.

~\S/~

Lois found Tess at the former Luthor manor, working on her sparring skills. On the way over, Lois had again gone over the fragments of her dream, trying to piece together what it all meant. She knew Tess dabbled in some strange things, and she wouldn't put it past her to try mind games on Lois. Had Tess abducted Lois? Held her prisoner for three weeks? Were the images in Lois' mind real or had they somehow been planted there? And why would Tess want to plant images in her mind of her and Clark taking a tumble in the sheets?

Somehow Lois knew that the orb Tess had been ranting about had something to do with her strange dreams. Though she knew she wouldn't get direct answers from her temperamental boss, she would at least try and find out if Tess knew what had happened to her during those three weeks she had been out of it.

Lois put on her tough face, as she always did when facing the inscrutable redhead. "Seriously, what is it with you and physical violence?" Lois said with a smirk at Tess' choice of workout.

"Things did get a little ... physical last time I saw you, didn't they?" Tess teased, seemingly enjoying the fact that she had pretty much gotten the better of Lois in that confrontation.

Lois wasn't into comparing sparring notes though. She was there for answers. "What happened that night, Tess? I've apparently been gone for three weeks!"

Tess smiled elusively, making Lois wonder what Tess knew that she didn't. "You don't remember?"

"You know, a three-week concussion can do that to a person. What did you do? Have your goons lock me up somewhere?" Lois asked belligerently. Her head was starting to hurt again, and she had forgotten to raid the Kent medicine cabinet for Advil.

"Held you?" Tess asked in surprise, still beating up a punching bag with a sparring stick. "That's wishful thinking, Lane."

"Then what happened?" Lois pressed.

"Look, you were already gone when I came to…" Tess whomped the punching bag again and gave Lois a challenging smile. "We never did get to finish what we started, though. Little rematch?"

Lois crossed her arms, not interested in Tess' games. "I didn't come here to fight, Tess. I just came to tell you that I'm not leaving the Daily Planet."

"You were never leaving, Lois. I fired you," Tess corrected.

That took Lois aback a moment, though she held her ground. She couldn't let Tess fire her-"Well, I'm not going to get into the whole she said ... she said thing with you, but I do have friends at the Inquisitor and they would just love to run a story about LuthorCorp's CEO and her plans to launch a hostile alien takeover of the world." Lois was going on some spying she had done before and the flashes of the dream she'd been having. She hadn't been sure that's what Tess had been up to then, but based on her reaction, Lois knew she was pretty close.

Tess covered it up quickly and laughed derisively, "No one would ever believe you, Lane."

Lois shrugged, trying for nonchalance. "Maybe, maybe not, but do you really want the attention?"

Tess stopped her punching bag routine long enough to wipe her brow and nod to Lois. "Fine. See you Monday… just don't be late."

~\S/~

Lois sat at her desk at the Planet late Monday afternoon. She was writing up the story on the train derailment, leaving out her mysterious return from wherever she had disappeared to. She gave all of the credit of the save to the Blur. Even if he was using different tactics these days, she still believed he deserved to get the credit for this save. She certainly wouldn't still be here if it wasn't for him.

Speaking of the Blur, she pulled out the letter he had given her before her disappearance. She reread it, realizing he had really meant to say good-bye forever that night. What had happened, she wondered, to make him stay? He had seemed convinced that rescuing Chloe would be his last mission, yet there is proof all over the city that he is still around.

Lois looked up from her musings, suddenly staring at Clark's empty chair. She was already missing him and their playful banter. Had he missed her as well? Dare she think that he had left because it had been hard working here without her?

"Get a grip, Lane," she grumbled to herself, knowing she was getting into dangerous territory.

Suddenly, her phone started buzzing. The caller was listed as 'unknown'. It was either a bill collector—or it could be—

"Hello?" she answered, the hope that it could be the Blur overriding any good sense she had about wanting to avoid bill collectors or telemarketers.

"I'm glad you're okay," said the deep male voice on the phone. Lois closed her eyes in relief. It was him.

"I was afraid you had disappeared for good, but-," she began, looking down at a few of the articles scattered on her desk that told of the exploits of the Blur.

"I should have—I'm supposed to… but I can't," he confessed, puzzling her further. Why was he supposed to leave Metropolis, and by extension, her? "Promise this will be just between us?"

"I promise," Lois breathed, barely able to contain her relief. The Blur was here for now—and he was calling her at last!

She listened as he explained about him being the one who had taken care of the assassin, and that Lois had nothing more to worry about in that regard.

"But Lois, you need to be more careful," he said, and even through the voice modulator he used, she could hear his concern.

"Do you-do you know anything about what happened to me when I disappeared three weeks ago? I—I keep having these visions-"

"What visions?" the Blur interrupted.

Lois felt silly when she tried putting them into words, but she also felt the anonymity of the Blur was a good an ear as any to unburden herself to. "Well, it's strange… I keep having these flashes of people I know and care about—getting hurt. The visions are always under a red tinge, as if the sun itself is red-and—" she stopped herself, thinking about her visions with Clark.

"And?" he prodded.

"I—" she cleared her throat, deciding that no matter how anonymous these calls were, discretion was probably the better part of valor in regard to her steamy visions in Clark's embrace. "Well, I just keep having these very real images that make no sense-and yet I was out of it for three weeks. I wonder if someone, I don't know—implanted these images in my head for some reason. But that's ridiculous, right? … I wish I could talk to Clark," she finished absently, thinking about how good they were together with putting together mysterious stories like this one. She was certain he would have some idea about how to figure out what happened or who had done this to her.

"Clark?"came the voice on the other line, sounding a bit surprised.

She nodded her head. "Yeah, my um, intern—well, partner. Occasionally... And friend… he's just been visiting family lately," she said, hearing in her voice just how much she actually missed her farm boy partner.

"Anyway," she said, shaking herself out of the confusing morass that was Clark Kent. "Is there anything I can help you with? I could use a good story to distract me—"

"No, nothing for now, Lois. But—I'll call you in a few days, okay?"

~\S/~

"Clark?"

"What is it, Chloe? I told you not to call unless it was an emergency," Clark chided, but then immediately bit his tongue. His sometimes sidekick really didn't deserve the brunt of his frustrations.

"Ouch."

He sighed, "I'm sorry, Chloe. It's just-well, what's going on?"

"It's Lois. I'm worried about her."

"Lois? Why? What's going on?"

Chloe let out a heavy sigh of her own. "I don't know. You and I know that she has spent some time in the future, thanks to the Legion ring… but what we don't know is what lasting effects she may have from her trip down the rabbit hole."

"Lasting effects? What do you mean?"

"I mean, Lois has been passing out lately, accompanied by mild tremors. I found her on the floor of your kitchen Friday… Clark, she was mumbling something about Zod— When she came to, she thought she might have low sugar or something… but I got the feeling this wasn't the first time she blacked out."

"Did you take her to the hospital?"

"This is Lois we're talking about. She only goes to the hospital if she's already unconscious and doesn't have a choice… I don't know… I'm worried about her… but since I have you on the phone—since when have you been calling her as the Blur?" Chloe couldn't help asking.

"Chloe—"

"I know, you want me to stay out of it. It's just, Clark, if you're supposed to be training to become the hero your father wants you to become, aren't you just setting up Lois to get hurt?"

"I've been careful… and besides, it's just—I don't know—easy to talk to Lois these days. But I'm worried about these visions she's been having."

"Wait," Chloe cut in. "You knew, didn't you? She told the Blur about what has been going on, didn't she?"

Clark shrugged, even though Chloe couldn't see him. "Yes—but I didn't know she was blacking out when she was having them… Chloe, that's dangerous-"

"I think you need to find out exactly what she knows. Maybe she can shed some light on what Zod really wants… Meanwhile, I'll do some research into repressed memories and… blackouts, I guess."

Clark said good-bye and snapped his phone shut. He stood on top of the Daily Planet building, a favorite hangout for him lately, a way to be a part of the action yet remain hidden. He was honestly worried about Lois. Why were these memories causing her to blackout? And what if she remembered more than she needed to know? Would she figure out he was the Blur? And what did Zod have to do with the future?

Jor-El wanted him to continue his training, but Clark didn't know if he could with all of these unanswered questions. Lois knew something about the future, and she could be the key to figuring out how to stop becoming whatever it was the assassin had told him he would become. What would bring him to a future where he was the threat to the world?

So, despite his better judgment and indulging in his secret desire to be back in the bullpen, Clark whirred out of his Blur clothes and into a pressed shirt and pants.

He would come back to the Planet—if only to find a few answers.