The effect was disorienting. Lois was suddenly watching the conference room door at the Planet closing. Yet the body she was occupying--her body-- was moving without her having any control over it. She felt like a camera being operated by someone else. She turned. Clark was there smiling. He was so young!
"He was right!" Lois heard herself saying. "Platt was right." Platt? Platt! The Messenger shuttle.
"Now we can write the story," Clark said.
"*I* can write the story," 'Lois' corrected.
"With *my* help."
"With your help," she agreed. "And if we can convince people there was sabotage, and who was behind it...."
"We can stop them," Clark said firmly.
"Oh, God!" Lois heard herself squeal, and then felt her body move impetuously to embrace Clark. He laughed warmly in her ear. His hair was so long.
They broke from the embrace and Clark's eyes locked with hers. It was his turn to be impetuous. "Why don't we have dinner?"
"Oh," her former self wavered. "I don't know."
"We should celebrate," Clark said, taking the 'date' onus off the suggestion.
She relaxed. "Okay. Dinner."
"Okay," Clark said, but was so happy the word dissolved into a chuckle.
"Oh, wait a second, what am I talking about? I can't, I have plans tonight."
Plans? Lois tried to think back, but it was so long ago.
Clark's jovial expression quickly sobered. "Luthor?"
Oh, yes, that worthless interview dinner with Lex Luthor. How could she forget. She mentally sighed waiting for her 1993 self to speak, which in turn would trigger Clark to launch a nasty argument, but ... nothing happened.
Lois wiggled a finger experimentally. Yes! She had control. She looked into Clark's grim eyes. "Yes, but I don't want to stay long," she said, and was amused by the higher pitch of her voice. "It might just be me, but Lex Luthor kind of made my flesh crawl."
Clark's brows peeked over the top of his old, heavy-framed glasses. "He did?"
"Yeah," Lois shrugged, and then placed her hands softly on his chest. "We haven't known each other long, Clark, and I know I haven't been the easiest person to get along with so far...."
"I hadn't noticed," he said warmly, completely unaware that Lois could feel his heart pounding under her palms.
"Thanks." Lois smiled. "Then would you mind rescuing me at nine forty-five tonight?"
"Come to Lex's penthouse and just say that Perry wants us pronto," she said, and moved her hands to his lapels. "Then we can go out for coffee and late night jazz at this little place I know." She smiled. "And celebrate."
Clark shook his head, but returned the smile. "Deal."
* * *
Though Lois had avoided the argument that had taken place in the original time line, she had done little to accelerate the relationship. She was still stuck listening to Lex drone on about himself as he dodged direct questions and made polished passes at her. Strangely enough, Lois felt nothing as she tried to remember questions to ask Lex that had seemed so important a long time ago.
"All work and no play," Lex crooned. "Is that your credo, Lois Lane?" he asked, finally tiring of the endless line of questions.
"I don't think...."
"Why don't we just enjoy the evening? Enjoy each other. Let down your hair, loosen your tie...."
"I'm not wearing a tie."
"You're so tense," he said, and took her hand. "Here, just let your defenses down."
Lois pulled her hand away. It was amazing how fast he moved to crowd her. Overwhelm her. Eyes that had seemed intense and piercing four years ago now seemed haunted and on the edge of insanity.
Lois grabbed her note pad. "I have a story to write tonight. I should get going."
Lex leaned away and smiled. He was still at a point in his life where he could more or less control the madness. He still had the capacity to discern when he was pushing too hard and when it was time to relent. "No dessert?"
"No, I ... uh ... I only have dessert when I'm in love," Lois said, but regretted the wording instantly. She wasn't even sure why she phrased it that way other than the word dessert itself always made her think of Clark feeding her chocolate on their first date. However, she knew how Lex would misread the comment, and she was right.
"No lover, Lois?" he asked, his tone more of a challenge than a question. "You don't know what you're missing."
"Mr. Luthor," Asabi interrupted. "Pardon me, sir, but a Mr. Clark Kent is here for Ms. Lane."
Lois' whole posture became a visual sigh of relief, but she noticed Lex's eyes flash with anger as he glanced up at Asabi. It was only momentary, and something most people who didn't know him would never notice. His demeanor quickly eased back into reptilian coolness.
Lex dabbed at the corner of his lips with his napkin and then casually tossed it on the table. "Don't keep Mr. Kent waiting, Asabi. By all means, show him in."
"Yes, sir." Asabi bowed and retreated.
Lex turned back to Lois. "You know, Lois, it's a good thing I'm not suspicious by nature, or I'd suspect Mr. Kent's sudden interruption to be of a ...," he paused, pretending to search for the proper wording, "...prearranged nature."
"Prearranged?" Lois stalled.
"Well, yes," he said smoothly as he clasped Lois' hand once again. "Perhaps little Red Riding Hood, fearing she'd be trapped in the lair of the big bad wolf, convinced a gullible farmer from the village to come to her aid."
Lois pulled her hand away. "I think you've gotten the wrong idea about this dinner, Lex."
"I see," he nodded soberly. "So I'd be wrong in assuming that Mr. Kent will be rushing in here to spirit you away to some late breaking news story your editor just happened to stumble upon at this late hour?"
Lex was so clever. Always one step ahead. Always able to keep an opponent off balance. Lois cleared her throat. "Well, actually ...."
"You would be wrong, Luthor," Clark said as he took Lois' coat from Asabi. He walked to the table and pulled Lois' chair out for her. "Ready?"
"Yes," Lois said gratefully as Clark helped her on with her coat.
Clark turned to Lex. "Lois estimated your interview dinner would last about two hours and so wanted me to pick her up afterward so we could leave from here for our date."
Lois sighed inwardly. God bless super hearing and male posturing. "Right," she said, and picked up her note pad.
"A *date*?" Lex asked in a tone that Asabi seemed to fear. The servant stepped back reflexively.
Clark shrugged. "Just coffee...."
"And dessert," Lois added, locking eye contact with Lex momentarily before exiting arm in arm with Clark.
Lois was sure she heard the whole elegant dinner setting clatter to the floor in a characteristic fit of Luthor rage as she began to fade from the current time era. Pity, she would have loved dessert ...
* * *
Once again Lois found herself in a body that was moving robotically without her input. She saw Clark round a corner in the wrong glasses and wearing a server's tuxedo. Oh, God, the Metro Club. Anything but that!
"Lois!" he said in a distraught, strangled whisper.
Lois put a finger to her lips. "Shhh!" She whispered and then motioned for Clark to join her.
Clark hurried forward nearly colliding with two chorus girls dressed in humiliating animal costumes. Lois entered the supply room with Clark hot on her heels. He closed the door. "Did you see him?!"
"Of *course* I saw him," she replied and noticed she had a rose in her hand. A rose Lex had thrown to her while she was on stage.
"Well get out of here, now! Don't even stop to get your things."
"Lex Luthor is a friend of mine. He wouldn't do anything to hurt me," Lois' naive counterpart insisted. "And besides, he's way too smart to let anything slip."
"I don't trust him. What's he doing here anyway?"
Lois waited for herself to respond, but realized she was in control when the rose slipped from her hand. She knew that in about one minute Toni Taylor would be coming through that door and in about five minutes after that, Lois would end up in a garbage dumpster.
She had to think fast. "Doing here? It's a nightclub, Clark. Why *shouldn't* he be here?" she said, glad for the chance to state the obvious this time.
"I still don't trust him, and if he talks ...."
"Okay, okay," Lois said and patted Clark's chest. Time was running out. "Toni's looking for a leak, so if you sell me out, she'll stop looking for one and your cover will still be intact."
Clark blinked slowly. "You're *volunteering* to be sold out?"
Lois sighed. "Clark, you were right. You're a man, she's a woman and you don't have to draw me a diagram. You're currently in a better position to, excuse the expression ... score," she said, and extended her hand. "Deal?"
Clark smiled and took her hand, pleased by the turn of events. "Deal," he whispered, his voice gone soft and smoky.
Lois noticed the door beginning to open. She brought her other hand up and grabbed Clark's wrist and then began to struggle, or rather pretended to. "Let go of me!"
Clark, suddenly confused, tried to release her hand only to find Lois' grip increase.
"I said let go of me!" she demanded as the door swung open.
"Run out of olives?" Toni Taylor asked placidly.
Lois finally released Clark's hand as if it took every ounce of her strength. "Okay, you win," she said in a defeated tone. "Your goon boy here found me out."
Clark frowned. "Goon boy?"
Toni looked from Lois to Clark. "What?"
"Uh ... this is your leak," Clark said, finally snapping back into character. "Lois Lane. A reporter for the Daily Planet."
"Good work, Charlie."
"What do you want me to do with her?" Clark asked, taking Lois' forearm aggressively.
Toni merely tipped her head to the side indicating the exit. Clark quickly hustled Lois from the storeroom and winced as she called him several names, "jerk" being the mildest of her epithets.
Though Toni was obviously impressed with Clark, she didn't seem to completely trust him since one of her well-fed thugs joined the escort to the exit. Lois decided to seize that opportunity to forestall the inevitable trip to the garbage dumpster.
She put on the brakes and continued to pretend to struggle in Clark's grasp. "What do you mean you're putting me on a bus! Is your boss too cheap for cab fare?"
The tuxedo-clad thug leaned inside the doorway. "You ain't worth cab fare."
Lois took a sweeping kick at the thug that did not connect. "There isn't even a bus stop near this place!" she lied.
"How'd somebody so dumb get a job at a newspaper?" The thug laughed. "There's a bus stop right around the corner."
"Let's go," Clark growled convincingly and began ushering Lois back toward the street. As soon as they turned the corner, Clark released his grip. "Okay, what was that all about?"
"I needed a chance to talk to you where that trained penguin couldn't hear us," she said, keeping her voice low. "Toni has a bag of groceries tucked away in her office. According to the backstage gossip, she's planning to visit you tonight and give you a home cooked meal ... if you know what I mean."
"Clark, just listen. The bus will be here any minute and if you don't get back to the club after it passes by, they'll get suspicious," she said, and glanced down the street. "After your romantic dinner with Toni, ask her about Lex."
Clark folded his arms. "What would she have to do with Luthor?"
Lois sighed. "She was sitting ringside with him tonight, Clark. How many patrons does she do that with? I think she and Lex are up to something."
Clark smiled. "You're jealous."
It was Lois' turn to fold her arms. "Ah, so that means you're jealous of Lex Luthor."
"That's ridiculous," Clark said, his self-satisfied expression giving way to a defensive one.
"Oh, I see. If a woman is suspicious of another woman, she's having some territorial emotional response, but if a man is suspicious of another man, like your suspicions about Lex, the man is being logical?"
Clark sighed. "Okay, I'm sorry. You're not jealous of Toni."
"Actually," Lois said. "I probably would be jealous of Toni if I liked Charlie King, but I don't. He's a self-centered, condescending creep channeling Bruce Willis from a rejected Moonlighting script."
"Now wait a minute!"
"Clark Kent, on the other hand," she said casually as the bus pulled up, "is the kind of man a lot of women might get territorial over."
Clark, his jaw gaping, watched the bus pull away from the curb.
* * *
Lois slipped off her shoes and then her earrings as she walked towards the bedroom. This time she would not be caught in her schlumpy bathrobe when Lex paid his visit. She remembered how uncomfortable and vulnerable she had felt. He probably loved that, she thought as she wiggled out of her gown. "The snake," she whispered and pulled a t-shirt out of the dresser.
Lois was well ahead of schedule since she hadn't gone to Clark's apartment to chew him out over blowing her cover this time. Not that it had done her any good. The smarmy smug expression never left his face the whole time. Lois sighed as she buttoned her jeans. 'Smug' was not something Clark wore well, and it probably explained why Lex, though attractive, was never really handsome in her eyes.
She sat on the edge of the bed a moment after tying her sneakers. She wasn't looking forward to her meeting with Lex, but this time she wouldn't feel ambushed and off her guard either. She began to formulate possible responses to Lex's well-oiled routine, but realized she'd spent too long lost in her counterpoint thoughts when they were interrupted by a knock on her door.
Lois took a deep determined breath and headed for the door. She smoothed her hair back and put her hand on the doorknob. "Here we go," she whispered, and opened the door.
No, no, no, this was *all* wrong. What had she done? She looked furtively into the hallway, grabbed Clark by his vest, and pulled him into her apartment and slammed the door.
"What are you doing here? You're supposed to be at your apartment while Toni spins her pasta web!"
Clark merely shrugged casually and pulled a large bag from behind his back and walked over to the sofa and sat down. He placed the bag on the coffee table and started extracting small cartons. "It occurred to me," he said as he opened a package of paper plates, "that you might not have time to fix dinner after your farewell performance at the Metro Club and it didn't seem fair that someone was going to fix dinner for me, but not for you."
"So, I thanked Toni for her thoughtful gesture, but told her I had a date tonight. I was able to save most of the groceries she threw at me."
"Clark, the story ...."
"Lois, I know what you're going to say," Clark interrupted, "and you're right. The story is the important focus, but I don't want 'the story' showing up on my doorstep with a bag full of groceries," he said, and turned slightly to face Lois more directly. "Where do we draw the line? I'm still new to all of this. If I find out something important for the story, I want to find that out at the Metro Club, not at my apartment while Toni is ... what did you call it ... 'spinning her pasta web'?"
"Something like that," Lois said and offered him the parmesan.
Clark smiled and waved off the offering. "I just like having a private life ... a personal life away from work. Though," he said, after a thoughtful pause, "I have to admit I enjoy *discussing* work ... at least with you."
Lois smiled up at Clark. "That's probably because work is about all I ever talk about."
Clark laughed, but the moment was interrupted by a soft rapping on the door. "Expecting company?"
"No," she lied, having forgotten all about Lex. "Could you get the door and send whoever it is away?"
Clark rose from the sofa. "You sure?"
Lois nodded. "We only have enough spaghetti for two."
"Okay," he smiled and headed for the door. "I feel like a butler anyway in this vest."
"Oh!" Lois bolted from the sofa. She ran to Clark and began undoing the buttons on the vest while Clark just observed her in stunned silence. She didn't think Lex had taken notice of Clark as the bartender, but that server's vest was a dead giveaway.
"You told Toni you had a date," she said as she peeled the vest from his shoulders. "So, now you look more like you're on a date and less like a caterer."
Clark watched her fold the vest and place it beneath a sofa cushion. "And I thought pasta affected *me* strangely," he muttered as he opened the door.
"Let's do ... it?" Lex Luthor said as he belatedly noticed Clark had answered the door, and not Lois.
"Excuse me?" Clark said, and folded his arms.
"Song lyrics, Kent," Luthor said as he walked in uninvited. "Birds do it, bees do it, even ..."
"Educated fleas do it," Clark said, finishing the line.
"You've surprised me yet again, Mr. Kent," Lex said, and punctuated his sentiment with a condescending smile. "I wouldn't expect someone who has the blush of youth still so prominent on his boyish face to be familiar with the old standards."
Lois rose quickly from the sofa. "Hi, Lex, this is a surprise," she said and moved to Clark's side and slipped her arm around his waist. "I didn't even know you had my address."
Clark unfolded his defiant stance and draped an arm over Lois' shoulders. "Can I get you something to drink, Luthor," he offered casually.
"Yes, we have some nice wine," Lois added.
"*We*?" Lex said as if tasting the word and finding it bitter. "Then you two are a couple?"
"Yeah, just don't ask a couple of *what*," Lois responded, laughing at her own joke and nudging Clark with her hip. She was determined to undermine Lex's image of her. The image of a Lois Lane who was sultry, deep and not mundane. She would destroy that fantasy for Lex even if she had to rent bowling trophies and paint-on-velvet Elvis portraits. Actually, she could probably get both from Perry.
"I see," Lex said thoughtfully. "I should have phoned before dropping by. I'm sure you have plans for this evening that my intrusion might disrupt."
"Not really," Clark shrugged. "We were going to finish dinner, and then turn in early."
Lex's spine stiffened despite his efforts to appear unaffected. "Well, I won't detain you any longer. I had just wanted to congratulate you on your bravura performance at the Metro Club, Lois."
"More like my swan song. My undercover assignment didn't quite pan out," she said, and opened the door. "Though I wondered why *you* were there, Lex. You told me you never went to public places."
Lex merely half-smiled. "A bistro hidden away in an economically depressed area of Metropolis hardly seemed that *public* to me, Lois. However," he added thoughtfully, "I'm interested in some property in that area and so I decided to mix a little business with pleasure."
"You can certainly get property at fire sale prices there, Luthor," Clark noted dryly.
"Astute, Mr. Kent. Goodnight, Lois," he said with a slight nod of his head, and departed.
Lois closed the door with a sigh of relief and then smiled conspiratorially at Clark. Soon the smile turned to laughter for both of them and they embraced.
* * *
Lois drifted from the embrace, metaphysically speaking, and found herself in darkness. Her hand swam through the dimness and tripped a light switch. It was Clark's apartment. As with all times before, Lois was still on auto-pilot. Her body turned to the open doorway. "Clark? Come in. This is your place. Does it look familiar?"
Ah, the Nightfall asteroid. Clark's amnesia. She watched Clark look into his apartment. He was wanting to remember, but she could tell it meant nothing to him. "Not yet," was all he said.
Lois followed him as he looked carefully at various books and mementos on display in his apartment. Each was met with the same blank, but pained expression. He picked up the game ball he'd been awarded. She smiled as he put the football to his nose and inhaled.
"You played in college," she said, but her smile faded as the football, like everything else, failed to trigger a memory.
He lifted a framed photograph. "My parents?" he asked, and looked to Lois for confirmation.
"Nice people," Lois said, still not under her own control, though relieved she'd been kind and patient with Clark that far back in their relationship. "The office tried to get in touch with them, but they didn't answer. Phones have been overloaded all over the country."
Clark gave the photo one last look. "I'll keep trying," he said, but his voice sounded unsure.
Lois handed Clark his apartment keys. "Well, I should get going."
Her heart sank as she turned from him. Still not in control of her actions, she did as her former self willed her to do.
"Do you have to?" Clark asked. His tone was almost urgent.
She turned back. "Clark, there's too much at stake, I can't just write Superman off, we need him."
"You're right, we should keep at it," he said, though now, from this new rearview mirror perspective, it was so easy to see that all Clark wanted was to be with her.
She walked back towards him. "No, *I* should keep at it. We need you too. You've been through a lot. Why don't you get a good night's sleep. I know you must be scared."
"To have time running out, and not even know what you've missed, it's ..."
"Well, you've traveled the whole world, and you have a family that loves you," she said and touched his chest. "You haven't missed anything important."
Nothing important! Lois was screaming for control, but again, she turned from Clark and began to walk away.
"And we're friends, right?" he asked, once again causing her to turn and face him.
"Sure we're friends."
Clark met her halfway this time. "Are we ... more than friends?" he asked, and dropped his voice as if it were the most private intimate thing he could ask.
"More than ...," Lois' past self paused, trying to take in Clark's question and its implications. Lois remembered that moment -- now her skin seemed to burn with the realization. Clark was feeling something he should not have been feeling for her. Lois had not known about the bond back then, and yet she knew something was telling Clark that despite any comments or evidence to the contrary, there was some very deep connection they shared.
Let me speak! Lois mentally demanded, but her past self continued on. "Well, like I told you, we're partners. We work closely together."
"How close?" Clark asked quickly.
"Close," she responded, and at that moment her former self finally relinquished control.
Unfortunately, Lois had been thinking how much she would have loved to hug Clark. To comfort him. Not expecting to have complete control at that moment, her mental desire became a physical act. She was propelled forward, her arms wrapping tightly around Clark's neck. Before she could react, Clark folded his arms around her.
"I knew it," he whispered into her hair. "I could feel it ... something between us."
Clark pulled away slightly. "I ... wasn't wrong, was I?"
Lois searched his eyes. Clark was always so strong, so focused, but here, in this exiled moment, nothing was real to him except... her. He looked so forsaken. Lois considered the consequences of moving things too fast in any one time line as she'd been warned, but she couldn't bear to see Clark like this.
[end of Part 3]