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From Part 14:


“Lois, don't.” His voice was gentle, with a note of sorrow. “Don't be nervous with me, please. We've been friends for so long... I couldn't bear it.”

“Everything's changed, though...” Strangely, the strongest emotion she was experiencing was sadness. It was as if she was experiencing a sense of loss for the ordinary guy she'd thought she knew. Even though Clark was still standing beside her, he wasn't the Clark she'd known, worked beside... and loved.

“One thing has changed,” he agreed. “But nothing else has to, unless you want it to.”

She didn't - couldn't - answer. Clark sighed softly, then said, “If you really want coffee, I'll make some.”

“No.” She took a deep breath and looked straight at him, determined to deal with this revelation and to get to the bottom of the mystery of the other Superman. The truth, even if it was hard to hear, had to be better than not knowing. “Let's talk.”

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v1/photos/1/11220/95594/individual60-vi.jpg?1017857544[/img]

********

Now read on...


She'd worked it out, of course - he already knew that beyond doubt, even though she'd been sceptical there on that cliff-ledge. The way she'd been looking at him on the way back, the way she'd watched him out of the corner of her eye while they'd been talking to Mayson and the FBI officer; even if she still didn't know how to explain CK, she knew that he was Superman. She'd resisted the conclusion at first, of course, as would have been expected, but he knew that even before he'd flown back to the mountain-side with her she'd accepted the truth.

Now, all he had to worry about was how mad she was.

“Lois, you know I'm Superman,” he began carefully. “And - ”

“Yeah, I worked that one out,” she told him, a caustic edge to her voice. “What I haven't figured out yet is why you never told me - and just who that guy in MetroGen is. And if you and he have been playing games with me the whole time!”

“I don't know what you mean about games,” Clark said, puzzled.

“Well, you and he... I mean, if you're both Superman, which of you have I been with? Which of you took me flying? And... and other things? And... oh, you haven't both been Clark, have you?” Now Lois was beginning to sound seriously on edge, and Clark hastened to reassure her, on that point at least.

“Lois, it's only ever been me. He - the other guy - has only been around for the past couple of days. But can we leave him for later?” Clark asked. “It's just that... well, I know you're going to think it's pretty weird and incredible and...”

“No more incredible than the fact that I worked next to you for a year and a half and I never noticed that you had a little sideline going,” Lois pointed out; this time he recognised that the sarcasm in her tone was directed at herself.

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v2/photos/1/11220/95596/supermanb01-vi.jpg?1022876394[/img]

He gave a helpless shrug. “I've been covering up for myself a long time, Lois. Even before I became Superman, I had to hide what I can do.”

“So... You're no farmer's son. You're from Krypton, and you can fly,” Lois said thoughtfully. “Were you ever going to tell me?” The acerbic note was back.

“Yes, I was!” he insisted defensively. Then he sighed and became calmer. “You're right, I should have told you a lot sooner. I should have told you before I asked you out.”

“You should have told me before I...” Lois broke off, shook her head and then sat on the sofa. “Before I thought you'd been killed right in front of me,” she finished softly, a tiny choke in her voice.

Clark winced inwardly. As he'd implied to CK, he'd felt guilty about his actions at that time ever since, but there wasn't a lot he could do now to change anything. “I know,” he replied quietly, coming to sit beside Lois and wondering if he dared take her hand in his. “That was... cruel. My only excuse is that at the time I had no idea how cruel it was - how upset you'd been by thinking that I was dead.”

“You thought I wouldn't care?” The hurt in her voice flayed him, and he longed to pull her into his arms and comfort her. Somehow, though, he knew that this wasn't the time.

“It wasn't like that,” he said, trying to find the words to explain. “I guess I thought you'd miss me... but... well, I was just your partner - okay, your friend by then. But... well, just a friend,” he said, reluctant to tell her how much he'd longed for her to regard him as someone she loved. “I guess I knew you liked me, but I didn't realise... well, I never thought you'd care that much. And anyway,” he finished quickly, before she could interrupt him, “I was trying to come to terms with the fact that it looked like Clark Kent really was dead. And I didn't know how it would help you to know that he wasn't, if it meant that he - I - couldn't come back anyway.”

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v4/photos/1/11220/95594/2205-vi.jpg?1021995805[/img]

“Because even though you were alive and well, the world believed Clark had been killed,” Lois mused aloud. “I guess I can understand that... but, Clark, knowing you were alive would have helped me. You have to understand that - and it hurts to know that you didn't then,” she finished, turning to look at him with an accusing expression. “It hurts to know that you didn't think I cared that much about you.”

“I'm sorry,” was all he could say, shaking his head regretfully.

Lois grimaced, and he could see the conflict in her expression. “It's over and done with. I'm not happy about it, and you know me well enough to know that I can stay mad for a darned long time if I want to. And I might yet. But... I think right now we have more important things to talk about.”

“If I was going to tell anyone, it would always have been you,” Clark interjected quickly; it was the truth, and he wanted her to know that. “I've known for a while that if I could turn back time, I'd have told you then.”

“I guess hindsight makes us all perfect,” Lois said wryly. “I wish you had, Clark. That's the one thing which...” She broke off and shook her head, then continued. “I can understand why you didn't tell anyone about Superman. I can even understand why you didn't tell me, even when we became close friends,” Lois told him, surprising him by how reasonable she was being in the circumstances. “I mean, I guess you've been keeping this secret all your life. And... maybe I didn't give you enough reason to expect that I could be trusted with it. Yeah, I've been thinking about all this,” she added, making him realise that his surprise must have been visible.

“I should have trusted you, though,” he admitted. And he knew it was true. “Lois, I never thought you'd... well, use the information against me or anything like that. And that's not why I didn't tell you after I was shot.”

“I know that,” she said quickly. “I just wish you could've trusted me then.”

“Me too,” he said heavily. “I swear to you, Lois, if I had that time again...”

“Please, no!” she said, cutting across him. “Thinking I'd lost you once was bad enough...”

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v5/photos/1/11220/95594/2212-vi.jpg?1021996015[/img]

“You didn't,” he pointed out huskily, this time reaching for her hand. She curled her fingers around his.

“Yeah, I didn't.” She surprised him by tilting her chin to look at him and giving him a tentative half-smile. “Don't ever scare me like that again, Clark!”

“I'll try.” He smiled back at her. “Just as long as I can manage to stay away from Kryptonite, I guess.” He fell silent then, remembering how CK had looked in the hospital bed. Then, because he wasn't quite ready to explain CK just yet, he added, to move the subject away from Kryptonite again, “I really do trust you, Lois. I know it might not have looked that way, but I never thought you'd do anything to expose my secret or anything like that.”

“Not even if it could have got me a Pulitzer?” she challenged wryly.

“Oh, when we first knew each other, you might have, I guess,” he agreed with a smile. “But not for a long time after that. Don't forget, I know how much newsworthy stuff about me you've held back on. And don't think I don't appreciate it.”

“I should hope so!” Lois sobered then. “Clark, you've got a lot of explaining to do. And the only reason I'm not making you do it all now is that I need to know who's in MetroGen masquerading as you, and because we have to stop Diana Stride before she tries to kill you again!”

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v2/photos/1/11220/95596/supermand032-vi.jpg?1022876748[/img]

“And tries to expose me as Superman,” Clark completed. “Lois, I promise you that I'll explain everything,” he promised her, speaking intensely. “Not now, but as soon as we get some time when we're not trying to foil a psychopathic murderer,” he added dryly. “I want you to know everything about me.”

Was that saying too much? he wondered. This had to be a lot for her to take in, and he didn't want to scare her off. But he wanted her as so much more than a friend in his life, and that meant that he wanted to have no secrets from her.

But she smiled shyly at him. “I'd like that.”


*********

From being uncertain about where the revelation took them, and ashamed of the way she'd treated Clark, Lois had found herself becoming hurt and angry as she and Clark had talked. But now, as his genuine contrition and earnestness had made its impression on her, she was suddenly feeling awkward again.

He wasn't just Clark Kent any longer. He was a man who could see through things, and could hear from long distances away, and could move at the speed of light... and who could fly.

He was Superman.

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v3/photos/1/11220/95598/0619-vi.jpg?1022584431[/img]

And she was Lois Lane, reporter, and ordinary human.

A Kerth-award winning reporter, though, and she'd never realised who her partner was. Oh, she'd richly deserved not being nominated this year!

Freeing her hand from Clark's suddenly, she reached for his glasses and pulled them off. He let her, sitting unmoving as she did so. Even still, he didn't look like Superman. He didn't look much like Clark either. But then he brushed one hand over his hair, flattening it, and then she saw.

“Superman,” she murmured softly, looking at him.

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v1/photos/1/11220/20033/youngDeanCain-vi.gif?994786754[/img]

“Clark,” he responded, equally quietly. Letting his hair settle back into its normal springy style, he reached for both her hands, holding them firmly in his own. “I'm still Clark, Lois. I've always been Clark - I've only been Superman since that day on the Messenger transport.”

So, Superman had grown up on Earth - but then, she should have worked that out as soon as Clark had shown her who he was. After all, she'd been to his family home; she'd seen photos of him as a baby.

Did that mean that Martha and Jonathan...? No. No, they were just ordinary Kansas farmers; she'd swear to it. An ordinary Mid-West couple who'd found themselves raising an extraordinary man.

And that extraordinary man worked as a reporter on a daily newspaper, earning a salary just like anyone else. He lived in an ordinary apartment, paid his taxes and voted, just like any other citizen. Why had no-one ever considered that Superman might be hiding in plain sight? Why was Superman hiding in plain sight?

But yet that one wasn't as much of a puzzle as it seemed. He'd told her that he was Clark, not Superman - which meant that the Clark side of his identity meant more to him than the Super-hero side. And that made sense, when she thought about it. She'd known both men - both versions of Clark - for around eighteen months. And it was obvious that it was the Clark version who had the more well-rounded personality. As far as Superman was concerned, she knew that he had a highly-developed sense of civic responsibility, something of a sense of humour, and could kiss amazingly well. But that was all she knew of his personality.

Clark... well, she could fill pages with what she'd known of Clark's personality even before this discovery.

Which reminded her... Clark could be pretty impressive in the kissing department, of course. So why had she never made the connection between him and Superman?

Idiot! You only saw what you wanted to see! she told herself.

“Lois?” Clark prompted.

“Sorry - I was thinking,” she apologised, letting her gaze drop to their joined hands. That was a reassuring factor, she reminded herself; she'd been in danger of thinking that Clark the Super-hero wasn't going to want to have anything romantically to do with Lois Lane, ordinary reporter, but his behaviour certainly seemed to be suggesting otherwise. Maybe she shouldn't write off their date just yet after all...

“I know it's a lot to take in,” he agreed. “But nothing's really changed between us. And nothing's different in the way I feel about you.”

She was tempted to ask... but then her courage failed. She wasn't entirely sure whether she was afraid to find out that he didn't care enough, or cared too much. Was she ready to be loved by Clark "Superman' Kent? There had, of course, been a time when she'd asked Superman to love her, but she'd known then that she was reaching for the unattainable. That was why the prospect of loving Clark had been so much more scary: he was attainable, within reach, and therefore much more likely to hurt her. Clark, in his new guise of both Super-hero and mortal, was at the same time attainable and way, way out of her league.

No, that was a subject better left for now.

Freeing her hands, she said, “I think you need to tell me who the other Superman is.”

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v3/photos/1/11220/95594/1177-vi.jpg?1021989659[/img]

He sighed and shifted back along the sofa, away from her. “Okay. This is where you're going to think I've gone completely crazy...”

“You think?” she challenged him. “Right. I've just discovered that my partner - and the man I've agreed to go out with - is actually Superman. You think that anything else is going to surprise me after that?”

“This will.” He reached for his glasses, which she was still holding, and put them on the coffee-table in front of them. “He's another Clark Kent, from a parallel universe.”

Lois stared at him, her jaw dropping. He really expected her to believe that? “Come on, Clark - this is reality here, not an episode of Sliders!”

He simply looked at her, his dark eyes, now unobscured by glasses, telling her even more emphatically than words that he was telling the truth. And, she reminded herself, this was Superman she was talking to. Superman never lied - well, except for that one time which, she now realised, was in an attempt to protect himself. And anyway, she'd always known Clark to be irritatingly honest, except at those times when he just disappeared without warning...

...and which had obviously been occasions when he'd had to go and be Superman. How clear it all was now!

So Clark was telling the truth now. And the Superman - Clark Kent, he'd told her - in MetroGen was from another universe.

“Explain,” she said simply, and waited.

The story he told her left her reeling in amazement. There was another universe almost exactly like theirs, with a Daily Planet and a Superman and Lois Lane, and almost all the events of their lives had been duplicated in that other universe.

“It sounds creepy,” she said with a little shiver. “The thought that someone else has been living my life...”

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v2/photos/1/11220/95596/thsm102-vi.jpg?1022877544[/img]

“Well, it's not quite the same in every detail,” Clark interjected. “Actually... well, going back to what you were saying earlier, CK told his Lois the truth about himself after he was shot.” He sounded uncomfortable, she thought - and no wonder!

So, the other Clark Kent had confessed the truth to the Lois Lane in his life, and hadn't let her go on believing that he was dead. At least he'd had some sense of decency! All the same... “I bet she yelled at him,” she said dryly, raising an eyebrow at her Clark.

“So I believe,” Clark agreed, looking rueful. “I... well, I wasn't surprised, I have to admit.”

“It's not that I - well, she - that we wouldn't have been glad to know that you were alive, Clark, but - ”

He grimaced. “Let me guess. He lied? He didn't trust her? He left her not knowing for... well, however long it was before he went to see her, and I don't think it was immediately. Am I right?”

“Yeah,” she agreed, and realised that, though he probably didn't know it, Clark's words had reinforced for her still more that, regardless of what she'd found out about him this evening, he was still her partner and her best friend. Only Clark knew her that well; only Clark would have been able to predict her reactions that accurately. He was still Clark, and always would be, no matter what.

But somehow, the thought of telling him that was something she shied away from. After all, he took his dual identity in his stride - of course he did! So to admit that she was having a lot of trouble coming to terms with it and reconciling the two sides of him in her mind was just a step too far. Especially when Clark, rather than Superman, was the side of him she most feared losing in the wake of his revelation.

So instead she forced herself to refocus on what they'd been talking about, expressing some of the feelings which were welling up inside her without actually giving away what had been bothering her most. “And more - you know, Clark, the more I think about it, the more I realise... I mean, you made me think that you were two different men! And the way I behaved with Superman... compared to the way I behaved with you...” She broke off, biting her lip and looking away in embarrassment, wondering whether the other Lois Lane had been equally stupid, equally so blind as not to see what was right under her nose. Had she been equally cruel to her Clark?

And could her Clark - could either Clark - forgive her?

She felt a touch on her shoulder, and glanced up to see Clark giving her a concerned look. “Lois, none of that matters,” he said earnestly. “You didn't know. And you've been the best friend I could ever have wanted. Even when you were yelling at me, I always knew that you were there for me. And even though you knew I've been lying to you about something, you never let that get in the way of our friendship.”

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v1/photos/1/11220/20033/Clarksmile-vi.gif?1007650273[/img]

“Clark...” she began uncertainly, almost lost for words; his sincerity, and the look in his eyes, was making her almost tear up. He really didn't seem to mind about the way she'd treated him in the past, compared with her attitude to Superman. And didn't what he'd just said mean that he valued her relationship with Clark? That the Clark side of his persona was important to him too?

“Lois, I know this has been a shock,” he said, his gaze concerned - and something else was lurking in his eyes too. Regret? “If you want to forget Saturday, or take a rain-check for a while, it's okay...”

Their date. He thought she wanted to change her mind.

It had been occurring to her to wonder why he'd want to go out with her anyway. He was Superman - so why would he want Lois Lane? But now he was looking at her in such a concerned, vulnerable way... and she reminded herself of one crucial fact.

Clark had asked her out. He wanted to go on a date with her. The fact that he was Superman was nothing new to him; he'd wanted her when she didn't know, and she had to assume that he still wanted her now that she did. And the way he was looking at her, with such an anxious expression as he waited for her response, told her that this mattered to him. He did want her.

“Clark, I meant what I said the other evening. I don't want to postpone our date. I don't need... I mean I know things have changed, but you're still Clark, aren't you? Just with a few... well, added extras, I guess.”

That made him laugh. “That's one way of putting it!” But his eyes held an expression of deep affection... and something more. As she looked at him, holding his gaze, Lois wondered how many times she'd seen that same expression in Superman's eyes, but had missed its significance.

Clark had very deep feelings for her. Unless she was very much mistaken, he loved her. Not as a best friend, but as... more. He loved her the way he'd once told her he felt about her; the way she'd almost told him once that she felt about him.

The way she'd told Superman she felt about him... oh god, it was no wonder he'd rejected her that night!

Unable to speak for the lump in her throat, she simply gazed back at Clark. And then his arms came around her and he tugged her against him, hugging her warmly as he rested his chin against her head. She felt him drop a soft kiss against her hair and, deeply touched, she murmured, “Clark... don't ever let me lose you.”

[img]http://images.fotki.com/v5/photos/1/11220/95594/2214-vi.jpg?1021996062[/img]

I love you, she thought, but didn't dare to say the words. Not now. Not yet. Some time... maybe... she'd try to say them again. When she had the confidence to say them - and when she thought that Clark might actually believe her. Believe that she loved him, and not his cape-wearing alter ego.

“I won't, Lois, I swear it,” he promised, a sincerity in his voice which made her heart contract.


********

...tbc