Author's Note: This epilogue ended up being longer than I intended, and the wait for it was extremely longer than I intended. I'm sorry about that, but again, a thousand thanks to everyone who has reviewed, followed, or added this story to their favorites! :) Hope you enjoy!
Once they were back in front of the Planet and Clark reluctantly let Lois pay the fare, he nudged her with his elbow. She looked up at him and he tilted his head toward the sign on the other side of the street. "Jean's Beans for lunch?"
She nodded in approval. "Better get it to go, though, if we want to make sure your story is ready by deadline."
"Don't you mean 'our' story," he asked with a playful grin that sent warmth rushing through her.
A half-hour after deadline, Lois got an IM from Perry that was too terse to bode well. "My office. Now."
She grimaced slightly and glanced over her shoulder to the desk where Clark was steadily working away. Whatever her boss wanted, it didn't involve him. Rising to her feet, she crossed the bull pen and knocked on his door.
He leaned back in his chair, waving her in, and Lois shut the door behind her.
"I told you to show Kent the ropes, not micromanage him," Perry grumbled. "What do you think you're doing sharing a byline?"
Oh. Lois wanted to kick herself for not seeing this coming. "Look, Perry…"
He gestured toward the bullpen. "Here I thought you'd finally had a break on that mysterious lowlife who's been covering his tracks so well, but no, you're off on a fluff piece with the new guy. What is your problem with him, Lois?"
"You didn't make any secret of your disdain for him…"
"I don't hate the guy…"
"...so I'm about ready to pull my hair out that you would pull a stunt like this."
"I just couldn't believe he would wear a flannel shirt and expect anybody to take him seriously."
Perry thumped his desk with the flat of his hand, cutting her off. "Lane, I don't know what to do with you two. This prose...shines. It's got your fingerprints all over it, but it's got something your writing usually doesn't."
Lois felt a flash of indignation. "Perry, I'm a Pulitzer-winning journalist!"
"I know," he said, nodding slightly. "You're also too sharp for your own good sometimes. Kent, he's got a softer approach, and it...rounds out your writing. I know you've got personal issues with him, but frankly I don't care. I know you're a professional and I expect you to act like one. I want to try teaming you up with Kent for the gambling-ring half of your next piece."
Lois wanted to punch the air but fought back the urge. Act normal, act normal... "Perry, you can't do that! It's my story, and Kent would be coming in cold."
"So bring him up to speed. It's not like I'm permanently partnering you - it's just an experiment."
"I can't believe this," she huffed with crossed arms, turning to glare through the window at Clark, who just happened to have his head up and was staring at the argument he was no doubt eavesdropping on.
Lois winked at him, and he got back to work, a hint of a smile flitting across his lips. She hastily wiped the grin off her face and, whirling on Perry, narrowed her eyes at him. "Fine, but when it's a complete disaster, I'm going to say 'I told you so' until you're ready to fire me."
He steepled his fingers. "All I'm asking is that you give this a chance, Lois. I thought you were bigger than this."
She rolled her eyes and let her hands fall to her side in defeat. "I said, 'fine.' I'll give it a chance. I'm just saying I don't think it'll work."
"It won't if you're not at least civil to him."
"I'll even try to play nice. Happy?"
"Immensely," he rumbled.
"Are we done here?"
"Yeah, sure," Perry said, reclining in his chair again now that he'd won. "And I mean it - give it a chance."
Lois let herself out of the office and crossed back to her desk. Both Lombard and the gossip columnist Cat Grant were watching her with open curiosity, and it gave Lois an idea. She continued past her workstation and marched up to Clark.
He looked up at her and she crossed her arms defiantly. "Perry says I have to be nice to you, Kent," she said loudly enough to be overheard by casual eavesdroppers.
Clark straightened. "That's..."
She leaned over and planted her fists on his desk. "He's also teaming us up on my story."
"O-oh," he stammered, at a loss for words in the face of her hostility.
Lois almost broke character when the Man of Steel was so clearly intimidated, but somehow she held it together. "Here's the deal. You're taking me out to dinner tonight so I can get you up to speed. Not some dive, either - someplace good. You will be the junior partner, which means you do what I say and stay out of my way and if you're actually any good, you just might learn something." Then she turned on her heel and returned to her desk, managing to keep the grin off her face until she was sitting down and could hide it behind her hands for a minute. Today couldn't get any more perfect.
At five o'clock, an IM from Clark popped up on her computer screen. "I've been given to understand you work quite late. What cuisine are you in the mood for and when will you be clocking out?"
Aware that her work station was most likely still being spied on, she wrote back, "This *is* work. Whenever is good for me." She contemplated her own tastes, decided against a simple 'surprise me' as too flirty for the bullpen, and tried to think of where she'd go if this were with any other newsroom partner. She finally settled on, "Italian sounds good." That could range from a pizza joint to some of the nicer establishments in town and gave him plenty of wiggle room.
Ten minutes later she caught movement out of the corner of her eye and looked up to see him almost shyly approaching her desk. "Yes?" she demanded.
"I've got a 6:30 reservation at the Cucina Toscana. The Planet gave it five stars in its review. Does that work?"
"It'll do," she allowed, glancing down at her attire and calculating whether she'd have time to run home. Fortunately, this wasn't casual Friday so she was in slacks, a button-down and heels. It was a bit underdressed for a restaurant that nice, but there was no time for her to go change into something more appropriate. Besides her date...partner would be wearing flannel.
"It'll take almost an hour to get there by transit," he said in a lower voice, "unless you want to take a cab..."
Again she weighed her options. Cabs were quicker and more private, but they were also more expensive and she'd be willing to bet Clark couldn't afford the Cucina Toscana to begin with. The subway would be cheaper and more casual - more like their "dates" before he started here at the Planet.
For better or worse, those days were over.
"A cab," she answered. "Like I said, this is purely business." For good measure, she muttered, "Four-eyes."
He frowned to cover the smile she saw in his eyes. "Then we'll leave in forty-five minutes?"
"That's right. So put it to good use if you plan on trying to keep up with me." Swiveling in her chair, she pulled up the computer folder for her current story and gave him viewing rights. "Read up on what I've got so far."
He nodded briskly and returned to his desk.
The time seemed to crawl by, and Lois found herself checking her clock every few minutes. After a quarter of an hour, she was kicking herself for not choosing the subway. They could be away from the Planet, away from prying eyes and ears, and holding hands somewhere right now, but no, she had to keep up appearances.
Eventually forty minutes passed and she decided that was long enough. She shut down her work station, pulled on her jacket and grabbed her tote. Clark had noticed, of course, and was standing beside his desk when she approached. "Ready?" she asked.
"Whenever you are."
She bobbed her head once and marched toward the elevators with her head held high and without a backward glance. He would follow her, she had no doubt. Probably to the ends of the earth and back - and she was more than okay with that.
Unfortunately, the elevator was packed, so Lois decided to postpone conversation until they were safely anonymous in a taxi. She still didn't fully trust her ability to act normal around him.
Once they were seated in a cab, she cleared her throat. "So...a few ground rules if we're going to be partners. First: you spare me the trauma of seeing you in a flannel shirt again."
"But it's my lucky shirt," he protested.
She grimaced. "I don't care if the queen of England gave it to you, unless we're going undercover as farmers in Kansas, you don't wear it on the job."
Eyes sparkling, he pressed, "What about if we're in Nebraska?"
She gave him a glare that was too warm to be convincing. "No."
Clark tilted his head, thinking hard. "What if we're going undercover as lumberjacks?"
Despite herself, she cracked a grin. "I'll make you a deal. We go undercover as lumberjacks and we'll wear matching flannel."
The playful light in his eyes made giddy butterflies dance in her stomach. "Sign me up."
"You've got to find a lead first that's better than the story I've already got."
Leaning closer, he said in a low voice, "How 'bout this headline: Superman Wears White Shirt to Work That Reveals Giant S."
Oh. Lois blushed to her ears in embarrassment when she realized that - DUH - a standard white dress shirt wouldn't hide the symbol on his chest if he was wearing the Suit underneath. "I guess I'm going to have to keep persecuting you for wearing flannel, then."
"I think I'm tough enough to handle that," he teased back.
Lois nodded her head once in agreement.
"So what's second?"
Lois looked up at him curiously, and he explained, "You said there were a few ground rules. That does imply more than one."
Lois frowned thoughtfully. "Don't be so adorable all the time."
He opened his mouth to say something, but his gaze darted to the cabby and he closed it again. Instead he canted his head and gave her a slightly exasperated look. "I didn't realize flannel and adorable went together."
"They don't - unless you're six years old and in pigtails. That's why it's so disconcerting."
Fighting a grin, he said, "So I should be more...lumberjackish?"
"That's not a word," she automatically said.
"Because I think I'd get some odd looks if I started carrying an axe around."
Lois nudged him with her shoulder. "You know what I mean. We've got too much history to pretend to be complete strangers. I honestly don't think Cat or Perry believed our act today."
Clark's grin faded. "I hope you're wrong."
She looked up into his serious eyes and warmth washed through her again. He was here and he was real and he was going to stay this time - if they could make this work. "Me, too." She looked out the window and they rode in silence the rest of the way.
At the restaurant, the host seated them at a quiet booth at Clark's request and Lois again took the opportunity to slide into the bench next to him. They shared a menu this time, agreeing on appetizers before looking at the entrees. Lois' suspicions about this meal breaking his bank were confirmed when he only ordered the steak and all-you-can-eat shrimp instead of five different entrees. Once their waiter had left, Lois looked up at him.
"So...you probably have some questions."
"I do have one, actually," he said, glancing down, and she had the insane impression that he was gathering his courage before he again lifted his head. "What's it like, working with...Superman?"
She gave him a dumbfounded look, and his lips quirked up in a hint of a smile.
It took her a couple of seconds to form an answer. "Honestly? Mind-blowing."
"I see," he said, poorly hiding the crestfallen look in his eyes.
"In a good way," she protested, "despite my reaction back in Perry's office. I just can't believe he's partnering us."
"That wasn't my intention when I applied at the Daily Planet. I was hoping to bump into you from time to time, not…" He trailed off as if still a little stunned himself by the turn of events.
"Get stuck with me?" she playfully supplied.
"Stick you with a dead-weight rookie," he countered seriously.
"You're hardly a rookie, much less a dead weight," she said. "Perry's no idiot - he wouldn't take you on if you couldn't pull your own weight and he really wouldn't partner us if he thought for a second that it would detract from one of his best reporter's writing. Who am I to question my editor's judgment?"
He raised his eyebrows in doubt and Lois tipped her head, acknowledging that she might have butted heads with Perry once or twice.
Clearing her throat, she said, "And going back to my original question, I meant, 'do you have any questions about the story research I sent you?'" She'd have given anybody else at least overnight to read and wrap their heads around the sheer quantity of information she'd thrown at him, but this was Clark. Superman. Calling him "quick" was an understatement.
In a low voice, he said, "You suspect Lex Luthor."
And with those words, Lois knew this partnership would work. "I know it sounds crazy - he's Metropolis' most generous philanthropist - but…"
Clark gave her a wistful smile. "I'm not the only one known to lead a double life."
She frowned thoughtfully. "But it's just a gut feeling right now. What made you suspect?"
He shrugged and pushed his glasses up his nose. She couldn't help but do a double-take at the sight. It was so...human. Disarmingly, adorably human.
Clark either missed or deliberately ignored her reaction. "I don't suspect him. Yet," he added when she opened her mouth to protest. "It was just some of your notes pointed toward a half-dozen or so possible individuals or entities, and Luthor's the only one in Metropolis. If you had leads on anybody else, you'd be there instead of here."
Lois nodded and briefly wondered if she should be worried that he knew her so well already but dismissed the thought before it could plant itself in her mind. "So the question is, how do I pin him down?"
"He's a big fish," Clark pointed out. "Are you sure you want to bait that hook?"
"I took on the US military - and won," she reminded him. "And while flannel is negotiable, fishing metaphors aren't, greenhorn."
Surprise flitted across his face at the term, followed by a shy grin. "Deal."
They brainstormed on Lois' story until their meal arrived, then moved on to more mundane topics - how Martha was doing, how Lois' family was doing, which neighborhoods he was considering for an apartment of his own.
When the waitress asked if they wanted dessert, Lois insisted she was stuffed, and for once Clark didn't argue with her, again reminding Lois that this was probably more than he could afford. She was able to successfully talk him into letting her cover the tip again, though. She grinned as she took his arm on the way out, pleased that they were already establishing these little rhythms in their lives.
"Cab or subway home?" Clark asked as they emerged onto the sidewalk.
A mischievous thought occurred to her and, glancing up at him, she said, "Subway."
His brow furrowed in mild confusion - at what, she couldn't imagine - but he slowly agreed, "Subway it is, then." They'd only made it a couple of blocks, though before Lois made her move. She snatched his hand and dragged him into a side-alley. He was grinning widely when she pressed him against the brick wall and leaned in to enthusiastically kiss him.
Solid, familiar arms encircled her, and Lois knew with certainty that their dating days were far from over. Against all odds, he'd made the impossible chimera a tantalizing - and very real - possibility.
An arm snaked around her throat and rough hands yanked Lois away from Clark. In the light of the distant streetlamp, she could see the glint of steel. Knives. They were being mugged for real this time. Four thugs, including the one who held her. That one also had a knife, judging by the sharp point she could feel on her side.
Clark finally opened his eyes and they widened in alarm as he took in the scene. "I'll give you anything you want…"
"Your wallet," the thug holding Lois demanded.
Clark tossed it so that it landed at his feet and one of his buddies picked it up.
"And her." Lois' thug started backing down the alley, the three others closing in around Clark.
Even in the low light, Lois saw the change in his eyes, and he said in his Superman voice, "Not a chance."
Sudden fear filled Lois - fear that he would blow his cover now, would destroy the chimera they'd worked so hard to make reality. "Clark, don't do it."
The arm around her throat tightened, and the mugger growled, "Shut up, bitch."
For a long moment, Clark searched her eyes, and Lois silently pleaded with him to trust her.
"Anything," Clark repeated in a louder voice. "Please, I'm begging you."
The thug snorted and brandished his knife in Clark's direction. "You're not doing a very good job of it."
Hands held wide in surrender, Clark fell to his knees and ducked his head. "I'm begging you. Anything but her."
"Now that's more like it," the thug rumbled, a sneer in his voice. "Rich guy on his knees. Take him dow..."
Lois drove her elbow into his gut and ducked under his arm. A swift kick to his hand sent her thug's knife flying. She whirled but Clark was dispatching the last of the muggers that had "attacked" him with a light chop to the wrist that drove the man do his knees. The first was holding his knee and screaming, and the other one's arm was hanging limp.
She turned back toward her mugger, but he was already scurrying away down the alley.
"Lois!" Clark grabbed her by the elbows and looked her up and down. "Lois, are you okay?"
High on adrenaline and relief, she lifted her face and kissed him with complete abandon...until the screaming of the hapless mugger with the probably-shattered kneecap became too much. "We'd better call 911 because apparently nobody else can hear these guys."
"Sure you can, Clark. You don't have to hide anymore."
He glanced furtively at the moaning, screaming, and groaning thugs. "No, I mean...the other me can't be tangled up in an encounter with the law."
"Why not? You're a reporter now. You're going to write about this whole mess tomorrow on our piece about the rising crime wave or something. It'd be really strange for the police to find out about it through the front page of the Daily Planet."
"Front page?" A slight smile tugged at his lips.
Lois grinned as she pulled out her phone. "We're partners now, and like I said earlier, I own the front page. Get used to it, Farmer Brown."
A little less than an hour later, Lois looped her arm through Clark's and they strolled out of the police station. Both of them had declined medical treatment, and since all of the muggers had warrants out for their arrest, the police were treating it as an open-and-shut case. The officer taking their witness statements had repeatedly told Clark he was lucky to be alive - much less unharmed - and had sent him off with a stern warning against any further heroics. Lois managed to hold in her laugh until they were outside.
"What?" Clark asked, glancing down at her.
"I'm just a sucker for irony, that's all."
"Yeah," he agreed, a mischievous sparkle in his eyes, "he was directing his lecture to the wrong person."
Lois snorted. "I did wait until his knife wasn't pointed at me anymore. You distracted him. You were the one who was all heroic."
Clark pressed his lips together thoughtfully and glanced around before taking off his glasses and pulling her into another dark alley.
"Don't you think we're pushing our luck?" Lois protested, but Clark caught her around the waist and, holding her close against him, drifted heavenward.
"Oh!" she breathed as they climbed above the skyscrapers. "I'd almost forgotten…"
Clark furrowed his brow. "Forgotten what?"
"What it's like to fly Air Kent."
He chuckled as he cradled her against him. "Then let it be a reminder as to why I wasn't the heroic one tonight. I don't bleed, and my secret is not worth your life."
"Jonathan would beg to differ." She felt like a heel for saying it, but it was true. "I'm sorry."
He didn't answer for a long time. In the silence, Lois tried to get her bearings and finally realized they were only a few blocks away from her apartment. That sent her heart to her throat. Had she really not known when she'd locked her door this morning that Clark would be part of the Planet? Was it really such a short time ago?
"That may have been the right choice for him, but..."
She waited expectantly for him to finish his sentence, but he never did. They touched down on her balcony, and she felt ridiculously nervous when she looked up into his gentle eyes. Judging by the warmth there, she was at least partially forgiven.
Considering just who she was standing in front of, she couldn't even say the sky was the limit and she had to muster her courage to ask, "Care to come in?"
"I'd love to, but…" He dodged her gaze. "I have to work tonight."
Of course he did! Lois had completely forgotten about his job with the reconstruction downtown. "Oh, I'm so sorry! I probably monopolized the time you normally sleep."
He shook his head before lifting his gaze again. "Don't worry about it. I'm still only a stringer with the Planet so I probably won't come in until noon most days. I can sleep in the mornings." In a lower voice, he added, "I don't need as much as other people, especially if I'm in the sun."
The mental image of him shirtless and sprawled out on a bed in the morning sunlight flitted through her mind, more tempting than she cared to admit.
He smiled with a hint of humor in his eyes and said, "So...see you tomorrow?"
The words sent warmth rushing through her again. Tomorrow, and the next day and the day after that. "See you tomorrow," she echoed, and his smile broadened into something almost stunning with joy.
Bobbing his head once in farewell, he turned and took to the sky.
Author's End Note: If you're interested in a sequel to this story, I just started posting it as "Rosy-Fingered Dawn" here on FFnet. Hope you enjoy!